South of Bikini: E5- Travel for Friends and Family

Alex Steinert’s strange new life continues to develop as the ‘Empress of Time and Space’ spreads her wings and enlarges the crew of Sand Dollar. She learns firsthand what her newfound ‘gift’ can do even as one crewmember’s developing gift may have tragic results.


Copyright 2006 R.G.Beyer


South of Bikini

Episode 5

“Travel for Friends and Family”

1301hrs, Five miles west of Tuba City, Arizona, August 10th, 2026

The banner stretched across the two-lane pavement in the distance read ‘DARPA 20th Annual Fully Autonomous Solar Vehicle Ecological Challenge 2026’.

“We’re here! Welcome to the next millennium!” I said with excitement.

“Where are we, Alex?” Ma said confused by the instantaneous scenery change.

“As I recall, we’re five miles west of Tuba City, Arizona. It’s Monday the 10th of August, 2026, Ma, see?” I pointed to the banner about two hundred yards up the road.

“This is real?” Ma asked.

“Yep, feel the sand, Ma. It’s real and you’re really in the future! You believe me now, Pa?”

He remained quiet and just looked around.

I noticed two women approaching from the crowd gathered at the finish line. I recognized their clothes and their faces. Bri was already facing them.

“Aunt Brie! You made it after all!” My daughter Samantha shouted as she ran the last few yards to us.

“Hi…”

“Samantha, Aunt Brie. Mom, is she okay?” My daughter asked as she stared in confusion at me. I saw her squint at me slightly; a look of realization then filled her beautiful face. She immediately knelt on one knee.

“Empress! Welcome to 2026! It is August 10th, Empress.” She bowed her head.

“How many times have I told you people? My name is Alexandra!” I growled in annoyance.

“Sorry mom, but you asked us to address you that way when you brought other people along.” She rose from her knee and hugged me, kissing me on the cheek as she did so.

“Sam, I’d like you to meet your grandparents, Fredrick and Dolores Steinert. Ma? Pa? This is my second daughter Samantha. I have no idea when she was born because I haven’t got that far yet. Sorry Sam.” I nodded to her as I apologized.

“May 19th, 1952, mom! Geez, talk about CRS!”

“Aunt Brie!” Cassandra greeted Bri. “Welcome to 2026, Aunt Brie!”

“Hi…”

“I’m Cassandra!” Cassie hugged Bri enthusiastically. She moved over to me. “Hi mom, good to see you again, and again, and again! You do know that two of you are over there in the crowd with Aunt Emily already, don’t you, Empress?”

“Yes I know I’m over there!” I stuck out my tongue.

“Grandma and Grandpa, I’m Cassandra Steinert. It’s nice to see you again. Oh, March 12th, 1950, mom. In case you forgot…again.”

Again I stuck out my tongue.

“That’d make ya seventy-six years old and you seventy-four if this really is 2026! Ya don’t look a day over twenty-one! How’s that possible?” Pa was truly dumbfounded as he pointed to his two granddaughters.

“Y’all both look so much like your mother, you could be sisters!” Ma complimented them both.

“You could say that Grandma.” Cassie giggled as she shared a knowing glance with her sister, Sam and I.

“You two should go back with your Aunt Emily. I’ll see you shortly, but don’t tell your Aunt that I was here.” I pointed to where I was standing.

“But I want to stay here with grandma and grandpa a little longer, mom!” Sam complained.

“Alright you can stay a few minutes more, until Ricky Lynn’s car appears, Sam. Cassie you better go help Aunt Emily, honey.”

“Okay, but she still won’t tell me how you do it!”

“How I do what, Honey?’

“How you keep multiple you’s from completely driving you crazy! How do you keep them all straight?”

“When I figure that out I’ll be sure to tell you Cassie, now go- shoo!” I waved my hand toward the crowd.

When my oldest was out of earshot, Sam started asking questions.

“Aunt Brie, what’s it feel like to be a boy? Did it hurt when you changed? How are Dee and little Fred doing? I haven’t seen them in like four years! Dee should be about eighty-two now, right?”

“Sam! Aunt Bri just underwent her Mahanilui seven days ago, time relative that is. Grandma and Grandpa have just found out about your Aunt and I, honey. Ease up with the questions, you’ll overwhelm them.”

“I know, mom, I saw this day ten years ago, remember…oh, you probably don’t remember do you? Hey, I see Ricky Lynn’s car coming!”

“Yes, Sam, I remember. I’m right over there with Emily, which is where you’re supposed to be as I recollect- now scat!”

“Sometimes you’re too pushy, mom!” Sam embraced Ma and Pa. “Later Grandma! Bye, Grandpa! I love ya both! Don’t be strangers, especially you Aunt Brie!” After hugging Bri, she embraced me and kissed me on my cheek. “I love you mom!” She then bowed her head to me again. “Until another time, Empress.”

Sam smiled, turned, and jogged back to the crowd.

“Mind tellin’ me what that was all about, Empress?” Ma asked with a raised eyebrow.

“When I found out I could travel through time and change locations at will, the women we rescued from Kili Island started to call me the ‘Empress of Time and Space’. They claim I’m some sort of Deity that their ancestors’ prophesized about a thousand or so years ago. Believe me, I’m no one special, Ma!”

“That’s hogwash, Alex! Look around us! Look at that strange automobile comin’ down the road!” We all watched as the ‘Sand Dollar 4’ passed by us in silence. “You’re far from ‘nothin special’, child!”

Ma hugged me tight. “You’re both very special to us, Alex!” Her eyes were wet as she looked over to Bri as well.

“Ya did us proud, Alex! I’m sorry I ever doubted ya, honey!” Pa gave me a hug too. It surprised me how strong he was. He also kissed my forehead- something he had never done before.

“Alex, did she say I got two kids? One of ‘em’s eighty-somethin’ years old?”

“That’s what Sam said, Bri or is it Brie now. I think Brie sounds better. Don’t you, Ma?”

“If that’s what your nieces call you in the future it must be so, Brianna.”

“Great! Alex goes an ‘girlies’ up my name and her daughters who ain’t been born yet give me a ‘girly’ nickname!”

“You’ll get used to it, sis!”

I suddenly had one of my feelings. ‘We should stay longer?’ I asked myself. I got a big response.

“Time to leave! Everyone hold on to me.”

“We have to go so soon, Alex?” Ma asked.

“’Fraid so, Ma, I just got one of my feelin’s. They kinda warn me as to something bad about to happen, so, ya, we gotta go now. Don’t forget we can come back later. I know this really crazy blonde who can travel through time ya know!”

“At first I thought you was crazy, I don’t anymore, darlin’!” Pa mumbled. I felt better knowing he had accepted me.

I made sure all three had a good hold before I jumped.

The open desert and heat instantly became my bedroom again.

The instant we arrived, I heard a knock at the door downstairs.

“Freddy? Dee? Anybody home?”

If memory served me, that was the Sheriff’s voice. Brie recognized it too.

“Alex, it’s the Sheriff! He must be looking for us!”

“Let him look Brie! Pa, we have to be going now. If the Sheriff asks, you haven’t seen us, alright?”

“Anyone home?” The Sheriff knocked a few more times then I heard the screen door spring groan as he opened it up to come in.

“We have to go, Ma!” I turned and kissed her on the cheek.

“Alex, put her back in the jail cell, honey.” Pa said in a calm, controlled voice.

“What?” Brie and I both exclaimed.

“Put her back in the cell and yer Ma and I will drive up and get the charges dropped. I won’t have either my daughter’s runnin’ afoul of the law. Now, please, put her back, Alex! You kin come by later an’ take her back to the future. She kin stay here for awhile- sides, yer Ma could use the help with the chores!”

The sound of footsteps on the wood stairs forced my decision. I grabbed Brie’s hand and phased out just as the Sheriff appeared in my doorway.

“Oh, sorry to interrupt, but I was just comin’ to tell ya that…

We were back inside the jail cell.

“You behave yourself now you hear me, sis?”

“Yes, oh mighty and mysterious Empress!” Brie bowed before me with a mischievous grin.

“I mean it! A girl could find herself in a whole lot of trouble if she ain’t careful!”

“I’ll be careful, big sister!” She smiled.

“I’ll be back in two months to check on you! Welcome home Brianna!”

“You better go. Ol’ Roger’s comin’.”

“Hey! Who’s back here?” The door opened and in rushed Deputy Kincaide.

“You!” He reached for his gun.

“Yes, Roger, I brought Brianna back to face the human judicial system. Our Council has decided this will teach her a lesson!”

I turned to face my sister and gave her a hug.

“I…I…I shot you the other day!”

“You must have missed, or maybe, just maybe I can’t be killed! You decide! Speaking of decisions, you should decide whether I was actually here or not, Roger. Your employment depends on it! Oh, by the way, it’s not polite to shot someone in the back, Mr. Kincaide! If I can walk through these bars, just think what I can do to you. Now re-holster your sidearm, sir!”

“How’d ya know I pulled my weapon?”

“Really? Roger, if I can appear and disappear, walk through steel bars, and not be killed, would it not be possible for me to foresee the future also? Oh, Mary’s pregnant. It’s gonna be a boy, Roger!”

While the deputy pondered what I had said, I said goodbye to Brie.

“Until another time, sister.”

“Travel safe, Empress.”

I disappeared.

2100 hours, Ala Moana Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 24th, 1944

“Empreth of Time ‘n Thpath, take me home!”

“My word they disappeared again!”

“Jack, did you get any hint to where they went?”

“Sorry Emily, they just went silent like before!”

“Mina, do you have any idea where they went?”

“Not the foggiest, Emily! I don’t think they went to the future, though. I would see that.”

“Mina, will she be doing this constantly? I think I would feel safer if I were back in the Sand Dollar’s brig!”

“Ensign, keep that attitude up and I will personally return you to the brig!”

“I’m sorry, Miss Cummins!”

“Mina!”

“Yes doctor?”

“Mina, I found them. I found Alex and Bri…Brianna. They’re at the DARPA Competition!

“Ah. Yet another item to tick off my list!”

“You knew about Brianna?”

“Only when she appeared in our future, doctor”

“Excuse me, Lt. Scott, but who is Brianna?”

“That’s Alex’s brother, Tish. She must have had some of Sand Dollar’s water when Alex brought her forward in time. The last drink she had tonight must have been tequila or something just as strong. She underwent the Mahanilui. Alex calls her Brianna now.”

“Wonderful, we’re going to need a bigger base!”

“In my wildest dreams, I could never have seen our society expanding as it has lately, Jacquelyn!”

“I find that implausible, Mina.”

“So do I Jack,” I said as I rephased.

“Where the hell have you been, Alex?”

“Nice to see you too, Jack!”

“Alex, why did you go back to 2026? Can’t more than one of you in any given time cause problems?” Emily questioned.

“Apparently I’m a special case. Does anyone have the correct time? I’ve been jumping back and forth too much to keep up.”

“April 24th, 1944. 2107hrs, Empress.” Jack answered.

“Would you like to see how far back in time I really could travel, Lt. Commander?” I grabbed her shoulder.

“Sorry, but I thought it best to give you the whole deal, Alex. You did say you jumped so many times you lost track! With all due respect, ma’am, I wouldn’t be a good first officer if I didn’t keep my captain informed!” She said, immediately jumping to attention.

Still glaring at her, I decided to have some fun. “You know… they fall to one knee and bow before me in the future, Jack. Do I not garner the same respect here?” I tried to keep from laughing.

“That was Samantha’s idea, Alexandra, after Cassandra called you an over controlling tyrant! Cassie was infuriated that you wouldn’t let her go out with a boy from school. What was she, fifteen?” Mina scolded.

“And just how could I know that, Mina? I just meet them last week!”

“So we have a new sister, Alex?” Emily laughed and changed the subject.

“Ya, Brie got into Sand Dollar’s drinking water,” I had to stop and think what day it was, “this morning, er afternoon. I found ‘her’ about fifty yards away from my tree house after we jumped back to Missouri.”

“What is a tree house, Alexandra-sensei?”

“In my case, Tish, it was a wooden floor constructed around the trunk of a tree, maybe ten feet off the ground with a few boards nailed to the trunk to serve as a ladder. It was my private place while growing up.”

“The Imperial Army has something similar; they call them ‘Watch Towers’.”

“Did I make a mistake putting that uniform on you Tish?”

“Is the ‘Empress’ the only one allowed frivolity, Alexandra-sensei?”

“How is it they treated young, homeless girls back in feudal Japan, Tish?”

“Alex, lighten up! I think Jack’s idea to inform you of the date and time when you appear to us is genius. It could serve as an official greeting identifying one of our sisters to you and help you get your bearings all at once. Leave Tish be; she’s been worried sick that you wouldn’t return and that she would somehow end up in the base brig!”

“I know she has, Emily. I wanted to see what I looked like when I disappeared, so I stayed out of phase until after Brian and I jumped.”

“Why can’t I hear you when you’re ‘phased out’, Alex?”

“I’m not sure, Jack, Brie is the only one I know that can hear me when I’m phased so far. She couldn’t see me back in the jail cell, but she could hear me.” A thought struck me suddenly. “She also knew the deputy was coming before he opened the holding area door! She can see the future too!”

“Of course, Alexandra, you are all sisters! What did you expect?”

“What jail cell, Alex?

“I’ll debrief in a few minutes. Just let me rest my feet.”

‘Alex! It’s a girl!’

“What was that, Emily?”

“Excuse me?”

“Didn’t you just call my name and say ‘it’s a girl’?”

“Why would I say that, Alex?”

Of course she wouldn’t say that! If Emily didn’t say anything, then…

“Brie! It was Brianna! If I heard right she just gave birth to a baby girl! Hell, I’m an aunt!”

“Correction, we are Aunts, Alex!” Emily closed her eyes and shook slightly. “She named her after your mother, Alex- Dolores. A healthy baby girl, thirteen inches, seven and a quarter pounds, she’s beautiful, Alex!”

“You can see her, Emily? I didn’t know you could see the past too!”

“I can’t Alex. We’ll see Brie and her baby some time in the future.”

“You two…you three are frightening, you know that?” Jack shook her head.

“Who lifted two men two stories in the air and threw them down an alley with just her mind, Jack? You tell me who’s frightening!”

My Ex-O began looking randomly around the ceiling, a forced, uncertain smile on her face.

“Alex, can we go see our new niece? Please?” Emily pleaded.

“For some reason I’d like to see your new niece too, Alex. I don’t know why I would want to- some stranger desire, I can’t explain it!”

“It is your maternal instinct, Jacquelyn, and one of evolution’s strongest! I would like to go along also, Alexandra, if you’ll permit it.”

“I, too would like to join you, Alexandra- sensei.”

“Alex, Carroll’s on her way up. I told her we were waiting for her report.” Jack interrupted as she walked over to the suite’s door and opened it- just as Carroll was going to knock.

“You know, Jack, that is very disturbing!”

I noticed the wide smile immediately.

“So?”

“So, what?” Carroll asked as she entered the room.

“Report, Miss Sheldon! Your date…how was it?”

Carroll’s eyes took on a far away gaze.

“It was wonderful. We sat together in a booth. He ordered for me. We talked. We held hands across the table. Our meal came. We ate. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, Skip! He paid for dinner! We walked along the beach. When he held me I felt so safe! Oh Alex, I feel so strange! In a good way, I think! He asked me to dinner again tomorrow!” Carroll finished with excitement.

“Alexandra-sensei is an Aunt!” Tish blurted out suddenly.

“Emily-Chan is also an Aunt, Tish” Emily sounded annoyed.

“Forgive me, doctor.”

“Wait. You don’t have any sister other than Emily, so how can you both be aunts?”

“My brother just gave birth to a girl, Carroll! Isn’t that wonderful?” I beamed.

“It would be if your brother was a gir…oh, I get it. You went back for him didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“You showed him the boat?”

I nodded again.

“He drank some water while onboard?”

“Yep!”

“Let me guess, you all went out to celebrate?”

“Unfortunately.” I yawned.

She looked around at all the excited faces and sighed.

“When do we leave?”

“How about in the morning, 0800hrs? I think the time changes have finally caught up to me?” I looked to everyone for approval.

“Sounds okay to me, but you better have me back in time for my date with Philip, Alex!”

“I think that can be arranged. See, I know this crazy blonde that can travel through time. I’ll talk to her, Carroll.”

Lt. Sheldon fell to one knee and bowed her head. “As you wish, Empress!”

“Did you ever go to the museum to see the dinosaurs, Carroll? Would you like to meet one in person?”

She got a worried look on her face and swallowed hard. “I was just…never mind. I’m going back to the room, Commander. See you in the morning everybody!” she waved with a big smile on her face as she headed for the door.

“I’m gonna take a bath and go ta bed. Goodnight everybody.” I turned and headed for my bedroom to retrieve my nightgown and a clean pair of drawers, then went into the bathroom. It felt like I hadn’t bathed in days.

1300hrs, Fredrick W. Steinert Farm, Oak Ridge, Missouri April 25th, 1944

“Welcome to Missouri, y’all.” I exclaimed as soon as the farmhouse appeared in front of us. We all wore our dress whites for the occasion.

“That was fantastic, Alexandra-sensei! Let’s do it again!”

“Later Tish.”

I heard a familiar noise behind us.

“Pa, put the damn shotgun down! It’s me, Alex!” I raised my voice in annoyance.

“Hey! What in Sam Hill?” I heard a rustling sound and two distinct clicks. “Gimme that back! How’d ya do that, Alex?”

I looked back at Pa to see his favorite shotgun silently hanging in mid-air in front of him. Both hammers were cocked back and he was two feet from its twin bore business end.

“Jack, give him back his gun, please. I promise he won’t hurt us.”

Both hammers slowly relaxed. The gun split at the breach and two shells popped out and fell to the ground, the breach then closed and the gun went muzzle up. It turned around and presented itself to Pa. He looked left then right for wires or some such apparatus then quickly grabbed the floating weapon.

“My word, Alexandra, is that how you greet each other in this part of the colonies?”

I just rolled my eyes at Mina.

“Thought you told Brie you would be back in a couple months?”

“I had just got back to Hawaii when I heard her call me, Pa! I didn’t have time to get back ta 1942!”

I felt five…no, six pairs of eyes staring at me.

“I’m still new at this, y’all give me a break!”

“Yes, Empress!” came back in unison from five of those pairs.

“I can make a side trip you know!” I looked at my friends individually. “Pa, I’d like you to meet my friends.” We walked closer. I pointed each out as I introduced them.

“Lt. Philamina Smith, Lt. Carroll Sheldon, Lt. Cmdr. Jac…Jacquelyn Cummins, Ensign Takashi Moritsu…”

Pa tensed up a little.

“Pa, Tish is okay! She grew up in Hannibal!” I hoped she got my hint.

“Howdy, Mr. Steinert! Congrats on the new ‘rival!”

Pa seemed to relax and cautiously shook her hand.

“Ma’am.”

“Pa, I’d like to introduce my sister, Emily.”

“Nice to finally meet you Mr. Steinert, although, I had hoped it would be under very different circumstances.”

Pa looked at the two of us for a few minutes and shook his head. “Since when does my daughter call me Mr. Steinert? Ya pay me the same respect my other two daughters does, Emmy, ya hear?”

“Whatever you say, Pa!” Emily giggled as Pa gave her a hug.

“Welcome ta the fam’ly, Emmy!” He kissed her forehead.

“Pa, how’s Brie doin’?” I inquired.

“She’s restin’ up, now. Somehow she know’d y’all was comin’. I didn’t believe her…guess I was wrong again. You women folk give me the shivers!”

“We get that a lot, Pa!”

“So, how’d ya do tha…?” He pointed at his shotgun and let the question drop.

“Short version? We each have our own abilities, Pa. Mina calls them our gifts. You’ve seen some of my gift in action already. Emily, Brie, and Mina can see into the future as well. Carroll is a wiz at mathematics. Tish can learn a foreign language in just a few hours, and Jack…well you seen what she can do just now!”

“Fritz, you gonna keep flirtin’ with them young ladies or you gonna let ‘em come inside an’ see little Dee ‘fore she needs nursin’ agin?”

“You heard yer Ma! Y’all sachet right into the house, Alex knows the way! I’ll be along presently.”

Ma greeted us at the door. I introduced her to everyone leaving Emily for last.

“An’ you must be my new daughter, Emily! Welcome to the family, child. Alex must think highly of you- she kept callin’ yer name when she was on the mend from that bullet back in ’42.”

“You were shot again? Why didn’t you tell me you got shot again, Alex?”

“I didn’t have the chance, sis!”

“The high an’ mighty Empress of Time ‘n Space don’t have the chance?” Ma ridiculed.

“Aw, not you too, Ma!”

Laughter erupted from the living room.

“Um serious, Alex! Someone who can move like you ought to have all the time in the world, child!”

“Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, Ma! I had been back in 1944 for what, five minutes?” I looked around at everyone. “Before I heard Brie tellin’ me I was an Aunt!”

“Mrs. Steinert, I can vouch for our captain. She had just returned from this very house, and within five minutes she started hearing Brianna’s voice in her hotel suite.” Mina informed her.

Our conversation was interrupted by little Dee letting everyone in the house know she was hungry.

I immediately felt the urge to go to her. The sudden feeling or need caught me completely off guard.

Looking around, I could tell the newborn’s crying had the same effect on all of us. I guess my expression mirrored those thoughts as Mina met my eyes with a slight nod.

“Land sakes! Hasn’t even been two hours! Poor Brie’s gonna go dry if this keeps up! Alex, go fetch little Dee for yer sister. Doc Miller wants her to stay off her feet fer a few days.”

“Mrs. Steinert?” Emily received Ma’s patented ‘What’d you just call me?’ glare. “Sorry…Ma, I’m a Physician. If you don’t mind, I’d like to examine Brie and the baby?”

“Hey, Pa! We got us a doctor in the family!” Ma shouted at the door.

“Quit yer bellerin’, woman, you’ll wake the baby!” Pa scolded as he immediately opened the screen door. “I was just comin’ in, Dee!” He looked up at the ceiling hearing little Dee cry then looked to the floor and shook his head a few times.

“Dee woke up not a minute ago, so don’t be complainin’ bout me bellerin’! Emily here is a full-blown doctor, Fritz, what ya think of that?”

“Woman doctor, eh- well don’t that beat all?”

“Emily is an excellent surgeon, Pa. I trust her with my life!” I declared.

“After I’ve seen our new mom and daughter, I’d like to look at that left hand of yours, Pa. Your index finger has a hairline crack that isn’t going to heal unless I splint it for you.”

Pa just raised his hand and looked between that and Emily.

“How’d you know’d I hurt my finger the other day?”

“The same way I know Ma has been having pain in her right foot every time she puts weight on it! I could have that spur out in a matter of minutes, Ma, if you would like. You would be up and around again in a month, tops!”

“Child, that foot’s been painin’ me for years. I’ve learned to ignore it. So, y’all can see people’s diseases? Handy talent, child! Now get along up the stairs, the baby’s waitin’!”

As Emily and I ascended the stairs, her eyes kept alternating between me and the steps in front of her.

“What’s wrong with Ma, Emily?”

“She should get that spur removed, Alex.” She answered too quickly.

“There’s something else! I know that look, sis!”

We stopped at the top of the staircase.

“Alex, Ma has a lump on her breast. It’s still quite small, but I’m afraid it’s cancerous.” Tears had started to form in her eyes.

It felt like someone kicked me in the gut.

“How long, sis?”

“I don’t know, Alex, I can’t see it. Maybe I don’t want to see it! I just met the woman, Alex!” She leaned into me as her tears began to run.

As I comforted her, I used my own gift to foresee the outcome.

“It’ll be okay, sis! It doesn’t end the way you think- not for a long time. Trust the Empress on that. Remember, she protects the ones she loves, Emily.”

My sister’s head pulled back from my shoulder. I could see a slight smile emerging, as she looked me in the eyes.

“The Mahanilui!”

“If she’ll go for it, yes.”

“What if she declines, Alex, you said she’s twice as stubborn as you!”

“I can only help her if she accepts, sis. Otherwise…” I let it drop. “Let’s get Dee to her mom. I can’t fight the impulse to go to her too much longer!”

“That’s your maternal instinct kicking in, Alex. We all feel it.”

There she was, Dolores, a red-faced squirming bundle of joy, crying for her ma. I swept down and picked her up like I had been doing it for years. It was the strangest feeling! The infant settled right down as I held her and walked into Brie’s room.

“Motherhood looks good on you, Alex.” Brie teased as Emily and I approached her bed. She was sitting up waiting patiently for me to hand her daughter over.

“Sis, I’d like to look you both over if you don’t mind?” Emily said in her soothing, professional voice as I presented Dee to her ma. Brie immediately moved her pajama top to one side and moved little Dee close. The child knew exactly what to do and lunged.

Brie gave a squeak and grimaced then let out a sigh. “Sure, but Doc Miller says I should keep off my feet fer a few days. Tell the truth, I feel fine, sis.” Brie’s voice had this unusual calm, satiated tone to it.

“Doctor Miller doesn’t know you like I do, Brie! Mind if I move the covers?”

“Go ahead, sis, just don’t do anything to make me jump! Dee’s latched on for dear life!”

“I’ll let you know before I do anything to make you move suddenly.” Emily reassured our sister.

After several minutes, Emily determined that Brie was completely healed- not a surprise to either of us.

“Do you need to examine Dee now, Doc?”

“Nope I did that while I was examining you, Brie. She’s as healthy as we are.”

“How’d ya do that, sis?”

“Alex isn’t the only one with a gift, you know. We all have a gift or two…or three.” Emily glanced back at me with a smile.

“Speaking of that, why didn’t you come back in two months like you promised, Alex? You see what happens when you make me wait around?” Brie nodded to her sleeping daughter and gently placed her finger in the infant’s mouth to break the suction.

“I’m sorry, Brie, but I had just gotten back to the hotel room in Honolulu when I heard your voice tell me you had a girl. Once Dee was born, I couldn’t come back. Remember what I told you about changing the future of those I care for? If I had come back two months after I had initially left, Dee here might not be. Can I ask who the father is? Anyone we know?”

“You heard my voice? Way up in 1944? How is that even possible, Alex?”

“I’m not sure, sis, but I heard you loud and clear. You said ‘Alex, it’s a girl’! We traveled here the following morning. Do you remember what you were thinking yesterday when the baby was born?”

“I was kinda busy, Alex. I really don’t remember too much ‘cept Ma tellin’ me ta push. Then it was over. After that Doc Miller arrived. That was pretty much it.” Her face lit up as she thought of something. “I do remember wishin’ you were here though, and I might have been thinking ‘bout how to introduce you to Dee when you finally showed up again, I can’t be sure, sis. It all happened so fast!”

“Fifteen hours of labor, and it happened too fast? Child, you sure you didn’t jump ahead in time like yer sister?” Ma said as she and the others entered the now crowded room. Little Dee never flinched.

Brie slowly slid her legs out away from the bed and stood up.

“Child, Doc Miller said to stay in bed!” Ma scolded her.

“Ma, I just examined her. She’s completely healed.” Emily interrupted.

Ma looked at Emily in disbelief.

“Took me four days ‘fore I was able to stand! What makes y’all think she’s ready?”

“Ma, there is something special about everyone that underwent Mina’s Mahanilui.”

“Ya, I kinda got that figured out when Alex took us out to Arizona!” She said sarcastically.

“What Emily is trying to say, Mrs. Steinert, is that we not only have received individual gifts, but that we have other common abilities as well.” Mina explained for Emily.

It was Jack’s turn. “You see, ma’am, we can heal faster than normal people and we don’t get sick either. Not only that, we live longer, too.”

“Live longer? What, a few years longer?”

“Actually a few hundred years longer, Mrs. Steinert, three or four hundred to be sure.”

Ma started to tilt and reached for something to hold her up. Being closest, I caught her with Carroll’s help.

“So that’s where you get it from?” Emily smiled at me. I ignored the comment and attended to Ma.

“Ma.” I tapped her face gently. “Ma, come on you got visitors! Ma!” She started to come around.

“I must have been dreamin’, thought you said y’all would live for four hundred years!”

“It’s true Ma! This Mahanilui that we all went through changed us in more ways than you can imagine- just ask Pa! He found out when we arrived not to mess with Jack here.” I pointed to her.

Ma gave her a confused look- one that dared demonstration.

“Jacquelyn Cummins, put me down!” Pa’s voice echoed through the house from downstairs. I immediately looked over to her.

“Jack put him down before he wakes the baby.” My finger went to my lips.

“Oh, all right! Your mother dared me to demonstrate, though!”

“You could have just told her, Jacquelyn!”

“What fun would that be, Mina?”

Lt. Smith just shook her head.

“Mrs. Steinert, there are many advantages the Mahanilui affords us, longevity being only one. For instance, how you see us today is how we will appear three hundred years from now. We are also capable of procreating for just as long.”

Brie’s mouth dropped at Mina’s statement. Mina smiled at her in amusement.

“Brianna Steinert that does not mean you must procreate for the next four hundred years, young lady! Please restrain yourself, dear. Mrs. Steinert, you are most welcome to participate in the Mahanilui should you wish to join us. I guarantee you shall suffer no ill effect. You will simply sleep while it works its magic, mum.”

Hearing Mina’s offer, Emily and I looked at each other. We both shrugged our shoulders and resigned ourselves to her well-developed foresight.

“What would become of my Fritz? Would he continue to grow old while I stay like this?” She motioned to her body.

“Unfortunately, yes, mum, unless he decides to undergo the Mahanilui also.”

I lurched forward, a movement that both Mina and Ma picked up on immediately. Both stared at me- but for different reasons.

“There is one small side effect to that option though, Mrs. Steinert. Mr. Steinert would have to remain celibate to any liquor for the rest of his very long life.”

“Why, what would happen to him?” Ma looked at her with contempt.

“Ma?” I asked to get her attention. “This is what would happen.” I motioned to us all.

“You mean he’d…” She let the question drop.

Mina nodded and continued. “But you would not look like you do now, mum! Your physical age would be returned to a youthful eighteen to twenty. You would look like you did when you first met your husband, and you would be cured from any or all ailments.”

Ma proved she was more insightful than she let on. “So yer sayin’ I got some serious ailment, Lt. Smith?” I recognized Ma’s tone. Her and Mina weren’t getting off to a good start.

“I said nothing of the sort, mum! I was simply illustrating the benefits of…”

“Sounds to me like yer tryin’ to sway me to take this mahayayho thing cause I’m dyin’ or something! You found something more than a spur didn’t ya, Emmy?”

Mina dropped her eyes like a kid caught with her hands in a cookie jar, as did my sister and I.

“Listen girls, I may notta made it past the third grade, but I kin still tell when I’m being swindled, Lt. Smith.” Ma over-emphasized her name and rank- I had heard that before and I could see the fur risin’ on her back- not good. “Yer not the only ones with special gifts, gals! I can spot when things ain’t right a mile away! Now fess up, Emmy!”

Emily took a minute to figure what to say then took a big breath and began her answer. “When I scanned you downstairs, I picked up a very small lump in your right breast. I’m afraid it will develop into cancer at some point in the future.” Her eyes grew wet. “Look, Ma, I just met you! I’m in no hurry to lose you, or Pa!” Emily sniffed.

“Why, what’s gonna happen to Pa, Emmy?” her question was laced in contempt. I knew what lay next. Ma was getting’ ready to blow any second.

Mina suddenly looked like she was going into one of her trances. Slowly she repeated what sounded like an obituary.

“Fredrick Steinert was found unconscious at the family barn outside of Oak Ridge, Missouri on Tuesday. Efforts to resuscitate Mr. Steinert proved unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead of heart attack by Dr. Theodore K. Miller, GP at 3:24PM. Mr. Steinert leaves behind his wife of twenty-nine years, Dolores Marie Steinert, an adopted daughter, Emily Scott, two daughters-in-law, Brianna and Alexandra. He also leaves four beloved grandchildren, Dee, Cassandra, Samantha, and Fredrick. Friends and relations will be received at the family farm through Thursday. Burial services to follow Friday morning at Oak Ridge Cemetery.” Tears filled Mina’s eyes as she snapped out of it.

That did it!

“Dear God, what are you people?” Ma choked out.

“We’re people just like you, Ma! Mina can see the future, as can Emily and I- and to some extent Brianna. I’m sure you noticed that by now, sis.”

Brie was still wiping her eyes with her free hand and nodded. “I need to put Dee down in her crib, excuse me a moment y’all.” Brie knew what was coming next and wanted Dee out of firing range. Ma surprised me by taking a few steps back from exploding- maybe because she had been exposed to my gift previously?

“All yer Pa has to do is stop drinkin’? This mahellabaalew will cure both us?”

“As it has many of our sisters, mum!” Mina guaranteed.

“Ensign Banes is a prime example, ma’am. She was dying of the plague until she went through it. She has never been sick since.” Carroll added.

“No, ma’am, we are in no way, shape, or form, related to or in league with, the devil, Mrs. Steinert! We are all God fearing women like yourself.” Jack unexpectedly stated firmly to Ma’s unvoiced question. The anger gauge just stepped back up a step.

“You kin read minds, Jac’lyn?”

“Yes, ma’am, that is also part of my gift.”

“What can you do, Tish, melt iron with yer eyes?” Ma asked sarcastically through her latent tears.

“No, ma’am! I kin learn languages just by talkin’ ta people. So far I learnt twelve different languages includin’ four variants. Would y’all like to hear a few of ‘em?”

“Not really. An’ you, Miss Sheldon, what kin you do?”

“Nothing near as impressive as Mina, Jack, Emily, or even Alex, Ma’am. I’m good with numbers. I can calculate complex equations in my head, Mrs. Steinert.”

“Fine, next time we go to the bank for a loan, I’ll call ya!” Ma’s sarcasm began overflowin’ the room. I gently nudged Emily away from Ma in case I had to intervene and slowly moved between Ma and Mina.

“Mrs. Steinert! The Mahanilui bestows individual gifts that enhance us, not make us monsters! Some of our sisters develop extra-sensitive hearing; others can adjust the size of objects. Still others excel at the sciences: Hydraulics, Electrics, Mechanics, Physics, and so on. We are a very diverse group, mum! I can assure you none of us has declared allegiance to Beelzebub or any of the other downcast Seraphim!”

Mina had switched to her regal voice.

“Neither will I permit or condone such alignments in our society, Dolores Marie Steinert of Oak Ridge, Missouri, United States of America! Either you choose to believe that or I will have your eldest daughter return us from whence we came. I give you that choice, mum!”

If Pa had heard this, he’d openly announce that the feathers were about to fly.

“Look out! The feather’s is about ta fly, ladies. Best move back an’ giv ‘em room to squabble!”

Pa always did have poor timing.

“Pa, keep yer nose outta this! Me an’ Miss British hoity-toity, I got a better education than y’all, is havin’ a dis’greement!”

Quickly, I placed myself between Ma and Mina and put a hand on each one’s shoulder.

Brie’s bedroom disappeared to be replaced by a complete void with a single dim sun providing the only light.

“Where are we, Alexandra?”

“I knew it! Y’all are hell-spawn!”

“Shut up, Mother!” I screamed. There was no echo whatsoever.

“Wha’d you say ta me, child?”

“I told you to shut up, mother! We’re tryin’ ta save yer life here an’ you just keep goin’ on ‘bout the damn’d devil! Y’all want ta meet him in person, Ma? ‘Cause I’m just the girl to make that happen, though I still don’t know how far I kin go back in time, Ma! Keep this up an’ we find out! Now hear Mina out!”

Ma just started crying. Mina looked to me in disbelief. I didn’t care; Ma had to understand that we loved her too much to lose her. Not when there were still options.

“Alexandra! How dare you address the woman who brought you into this world in such a manner! Tell me where this place is or take me back to Honolulu, this instant!”

“I call the shots here, your highness! We leave after this spat gets resolved, not a second before.”

“Yer highness? What, you some British royalty?” Ma spat.

“Ma, enough! Mina is the queen of Kili Island- she’s also older than you by about thirty years! I suggest you listen to her! She is trying to give you all the information she can about the Mahanilui. Now shut up and listen!” I growled.

“Fine I’m lis’nen! Yer…Highness!”

“Alexandra, could you please tell us where this place is first?”

I took a breath to settle my anger. “This is the place I came to when y’all were houndin’ me ‘bout bein’ the Empress. I have no idea where here is, Mina. I think it’s an alternate universe, though ‘cause I talked with Brian here. At the time, Brian was still dead.” I couldn’t help sob as I looked at Ma and continued my explanation. “Brian convinced me that I really was this Empress that everyone insisted I was. He told me that only the Empress could call him here from…I don’t know…heaven? He said that only I had the power to reach this place. I had no idea how long I was here, but I don’t think time has any meaning here. That sun…” I pointed to it. “That sun never changes; never moves.”

“Listen to za girl, Dee! She’s special, zis vone!”

A figure slowly materialized not far from us.

“Grandpa!” I shouted out. “I was just thinking about you, Grandpa!”

“Precisely zee reason I’m here, Alex! Ach, aren’t you zee beauty!” The figure looked to my left. “Been a long time, Miss Mina!”

“Entirely too long, Captain Steinert.”

“Wait!” I pointed between Mina and my newest guest. “You two know each other?”

“She’s za real spitfire, ay, Mina?”

“To which do you refer, captain?”

“Like muzer, like daughter!” He replied, shrugging his shoulders while tilting his head to the left.

“Both are frustrating at times, I suppose, but let us get on with this, shall we, Alexandra?” Mina answered Grandpa then looked over to me.

“Yes, Alex, I vould like to get back to resting if you do not mind. Like I zed before, Dee, don’t be such a hardhead all your life. Try accepting new zings. Not everything you do not understand is zee vork of zee devil, Liebchen!”

“How can you be here, dad? You been dead goin’ on ten years now!”

The older gentleman waved his hand at Ma. “A mere flash in time, Liebchen! I am here because zee Empress of Space und Time has called me here! She is zee only Deity capable of doing such zings!”

“I’m not any kind of Deity or Goddess, Grandpa!” I felt my face blush.

“Not from vere I’m schtanding, Liebste!” He readjusted his glasses and I felt my face really start to burn

“Dad, come on back with us, Fritz would be tickled!”

“Alas, Liebchen, I only exist here for as long as zee Empress requires! Therefore, I cannot follow you into your vorld. Her vill alone holds me to this dimension. Vhy is it you called me here, Empress?”

“Grandpa, I was thinking how you got Ma here to settle down when you were still alive. She repeatedly accuses Mina and I of being demons and such!”

“Ach! I believe I have already handled zhat, Empress.”

“Grandpa!”

“Dee, have you not taught your children to pay zee proper respect? I do not mean any disrespect, Alex. You are zee Empress und should be addressed as such. As for you, Liebchen, Alex und Mina are no more demons zen you. You see Mina has seen zee future- a future zhat had Alex and his crew suffer a terrible fate. In addition, an entire race would now be extinct had Mina not taken measures to change zee future. Now, thanks to zee Mahanilui, zair race is growing in number. Dee, zee sings you vill learn from zees vimen, zee sings you vill see! Think of zem not as demons, but as angels, Liebchen. Zhey certainly dress zee part, do zhey not?” He pointed to me again with a proud smile.

Grandpa moved closer to Mina and lifted her chin slightly with the side of his finger so that their eyes met. “Mina, meine Liebste, I have missed you immensely since your departure from my steamboat zat summer. I enjoyed our talks und your company in mein off-duty hours.”

“As did I, captain. Our conversations were entertaining and I miss them also. Had I the choice, I would have made more trips on your Mississippi!” Grandpa turned his head slightly in Ma’s direction, his eyes still locked with Mina’s.

“Liebchen, promise me you vill listen vith zee open mind und heart to zee Empress, her lady und zisters.”

Ma didn’t reply, instead she nodded as she wiped tears away.

“Thank you, Empress, for allowing to see mine daughter und spectacular granddaughter! Also accept mine thanks for allowing zee honor of seeing meine Liebste, Mina.”

“Grandpa, no thanks are necessary, but thank you for coming.”

“If ve are finished here, I ask for your release, mine Empress.”

I nodded once and Grandpa faded. My attention now turned to Ma.

“Ma, now will you listen to Mina?”

“You really are this Empress, ain’t ya, Alex?”

“Yes, apparently I am, Ma. I’m the Empress, Ma, not the devil! Now are ya ready ta hear us out?”

“I’ll hear y’all out, but I’m reservin’ my decision for later.”

“That’s all Mina, Emily, and the rest of us wanted, Ma. We want you to know we care about you- that we would do anything to keep you around and healthy.”

“I’m ready ta listen, but could we go home? This place gives me the chills.”

Placing my hands on their shoulders we were immediately back in Brie’s bedroom. Ma shaded her eyes from the bright light of the room.

“Welcome back, Alex! I trust you two got things ironed out?” Emily looked to Ma, then Mina.

“Alexandra can be quite persuasive when she needs to be, doctor. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Steinert?”

Ma ran to Pa and wrapped her arms around him. “I talked to yer dad, Fritz! He was there and talkin’ as if nothin’ happened!” She broke down and cried.

Mina caught my attention. “Empress, never take me to that…that place ever again, I beg you.” She shivered. “How can you stand to be out of touch with the world like that? I was unable to see any future whatsoever, but I believe you are right; time does not exist there. I found it disheartening at best.”

“I didn’t know what else to do Mina, I’m sorry. Ma had to be shown I mean business. I needed us to be on neutral ground and that’s the only place I knew that fit the bill. Please forgive me?”

“You have achieved your goal, Empress.” Mina whispered to me as Ma released Pa from her bear hug and wiped her eyes.

“I want to apologize to y’all for my behavior. I let my fears blind me of who I was talkin’ to. Though I have ta admit you folks can scare the life outta me!” She wiped her eyes again. “I want y’all to stay for dinner if ya can.”

She looked directly at me. “Land sakes what am I sayin’! ‘Course you got time to stay for dinner! Brie, since yer all healed, you, Emmy ‘n Alex can fix dinner. Mina ‘n me are gonna have us that chat. Pa you entertain the other three ladies there- an no funny stuff, ya hear?”

As Emily and I cut potatoes, we discussed my unexpected disappearance. “So you actually told her to shut up? That must have taken her by surprise. How did she respond to that, Alex?”

“Ma cried. Mina reprimanded me for talking to Ma that way! She looked pretty shaken when Grandpa showed up though! Get this, Grandpa Steinert knew Mina!”

“You’re kidding! Your Grandfather knew Mina?”

“Yep. He called her Liebste. I think that means love in German.”

“That woman really gets around. Were you able to narrow down a year or date?”

“No, just that she spent time, maybe traveled, on his steamboat during the summer. They shared conversation and…” I stopped at the sudden realization.

“No! Mina and Grandpa Steinert? What are the odds?”

“I’d rather not think about it, Emily. There, that’s the last spud. Brie, what else can we do?”

“You do know Grandpa wasn’t really there, Alex. He was only a representation, nothing more!”

“You saw him, Brie? How?”

“I didn’t see him as much as hear him, Alex. I also heard you go off on Ma too! Relax I think she was bein’ unreasonable too. You had to prove to her that we ain’t evil creatures.”

You heard me…wherever I was, you heard me?”

“Don’t ask how. I’m not sure myself. Maybe Mina has the answer. All’s I know is that I could hear everything the four of you said!”

“Could you turn around, sis, I’d like to see your back if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, but I should tell you I got this tattoo on the small of my back- don’t know how though. Ma brought it to my attention shortly after I met Dee’s father. She accused me of defiling myself. Let me guess, y’all got one too.”

I nodded and lifted the back of my sister’s blouse. “Emily, she has the family symbol, but I’ve never seen the second mark before. What do you suppose it means?” Emily looked over at it.

“It looks similar to your second symbol, Alex.” She pulled up the back of my blouse. “In fact, it looks like your second and third symbols superimposed.”

“You got three tattoos, Alex?” Brianna said in surprise and leaned back to look.

“Alex is the only one of us that has three symbols, Brie. Mina says that’s what identifies her as the Empress.”

“So my sister really is special? Sorry, Emily, our sister…our sister really is special!”

For some odd reason, I felt like sticking my tongue out at her.

“Any idea what my second, what’d ya call it, a symbol, means?”

“My guess would be you are the only one capable of following Alex on her travels- not really following, but listening, communicating with her no matter where she goes.”

“Kinda like a bloodhound follows a scent, eh?” Brie inferred looking a little disgusted.

In order to avoid any more disagreements today, I gave another simile. “More like the radio station at the base, Brie. Listening to reports and giving orders.”

“I’m your H.Q.?”

“Sort of, I guess.”

“I’m H.Q. for the Empress of Time ‘n Space! An’ Ma didn’t think I’d amount to much!” Brie gloated.

“’Never said that, child! I always hoped you’d become an officer like Alex! I never figured you’d give us our first grandbaby! Not like this anyway.” Ma gestured to her body.

Brie blushed as she wiped her hands on the dishtowel and picked up some potholders to check on the meatloaf.

“Sisters, Dolores has decided to wait until her malady becomes more pronounced, at which time she has chosen to undergo the Mahanilui!”

“Alex and Emmy, I know it’s not what y’all wanted, but me an’ Mina talked a spell an’ we agreed it’s the best way ta go. Maybe by that time Pa would be ready to give up on his still. If not, I’ll make ‘em some lemonade with the special water from that submarine of yours. Then I’ll sit back and watch the show! It’d teach him right!”

“Mina, you told her when it would happen?” Emily spoke out.

“I gave her a general idea, doctor, yes.” Mina nodded.

“What ever happened to ‘people should not be told too much about their future’, your highness?” I asked with more than a bit of sarcasm.

“I wasn’t the one who took my parents and sister into the future, Empress- one I might add was well beyond their years!” Mina saw my sarcasm and raised it.

“I didn’t have your guidance, my queen!”

“Stop it! I swear you two sound like a couple teenaged girls!”

I looked at Ma in disbelief! The room erupted in laughter.

“Ma, tell our guests dinner’ll be ready in twenty. As soon as the potatoes is ready.” Brie said as our laughter died.

“My, ain’t you the bossy one! Give the girl a title ‘n she thinks she’s top hen in the roost! Come on, Mina, let’s leave the youngin’s to dinner!” Ma said feigning insult as she pointed her thumb at Brie.

“Those two seem to have finally hit it off!” Emily commented as soon as the three of us were alone again in the kitchen.

“I wonder how they’ll get along after?” I wondered.

“Well, I don’t see any serious medical emergencies for either of them, sisters.” Emily giggled. The three of us laughed again.

Dinner was uneventful with the exception of Pa nervously glancing over and over at Tish as we ate. Of course he denied doing it when I called him on it.

“Pa, not every Oriental is the enemy! Don’t forget the Chinese are on our side.”

“I told you I wasn’t looking at her, Alex!”

“Pa, I kept count! Do I have to take you back a few minutes and point it out?”

Pa’s eye’s widened at my threat. He took a breath, looked at Ma at the other end of the table, and took another deep breath. “She reminds me of someone! I seen her somewhere before is all.”

“Pa, Tish may have some Oriental in her, but she’s half Navajo too. You can’t get more American than that!”

“That’s were I seen her! When you two was young! Remember, we took the train up ta St. Louie? We walked through that museum ‘n seen all them paintin’s? That’s where I seen you, Tish! You was one of them paintin’s!”

“Mr. Steinert, that couldn’t be me. I saw the same portrait at the Tokyo art museum in 1927. Oops.” Tish had dropped the southern drawl for her natural, Japanese accent. Pa looked at her with renewed concern.

“Okay. You win, Pa, I lied!” I dropped my fork to the plate and raised my hands above my head in defeat. “We rescued Tish after we torpedoed her ship! Takashi Moritsu was badly broken up when we brought him aboard the Sand Dollar. Emily administered to his wounds as best she could and we confined him to our brig. He became Tish after one of the girls on guard duty gave him some Mexican liquor to help with the pain. Having changed like us, she couldn’t really be kept in confinement back at Pearl now could she?” I looked him straight in the eye.

“Instead of subjecting her to possible violence, I elected to make her part of the crew. My decision was strengthened by her response to an incident involving a disabled PT boat and a dishonorable enemy sub commander waiting for the cover of night to attack! Tish was appalled by the act as were the rest of us. She deemed it cowardly. Pa, he was just the ship’s senior cook- conscripted into the Imperial Navy against his will. I…” I looked around the table. “We trust her as much as any other member of our crew. Furthermore, the girls love her and treat her no different.” I paused. “Pa, Tish is a valued member of my crew and I will not stand for any prejudice toward her from anyone…is that clear, father?”

Pa’s expression grew angry. Thoughts of rare visits out to the woodshed jumped into my mind. Instead of continuing to scowl at me though, he looked down the table to Ma. She shook her head slightly, as her eyebrow raised and she looked in my direction.

Pa let out a sigh. “Well if you say she’s alright, I can’t argue with that, Alex! Tish, you’re welcome in this house anytime, darlin’.”

Tish looked across the table at me. Her eyes spoke volumes. I noticed wetness in their corners.

“I thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Steinert. I understand the resentment displayed toward my people and ask for your forgiveness on their behalf, sir.” Tish spoke in her perfect British accent.

“I like that voice better, Tish. That other one reminded me of this girl Alex courted a year before he graduated. She come ‘cross the river from Tennessee. Nice girl, dumber than a stump though!”

“Pa!”

“Well, she was, Alex. You know I call a spade a spade, honey! When it come to bright, she was missin’ the wick.”

“That’s enough, Fritz! Let the poor girl alone! She couldn’t help her upbringin’! ‘N can’t ya see yer embarrassin’ poor Alex?”

“Humph!” Pa set his attention back to his plate.

After dinner, Dee made her presence known and Brie brought her down to the living room where she made the rounds of her ‘Aunts’. While I was holding the little pixie she made several attempts at my bosom. Ma just smiled at my response, as did Mina, Emily, and Brie. I felt strangely disappointed she hadn’t succeeded.

The mantle clock chimed ten and we decided our visit should come to an end. Everyone thanked Ma and Pa for they’re hospitality and complimented Brie on dinner. Little Dee had long since fallen asleep in Brie’s arms. I swear my sister had this glow about her!

I asked Brie to keep me up to date via our newly discovered connection- to let me know if the four of them needed anything.

After a long round of hugs, the six of us held tightly to each other.

Ma and Pa’s living room became the living room of our suite back in Honolulu. The sun was centered in the window. We all separated.

1900 hours, Ala Moana Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 25th, 1944

Carroll looked at the wall clock. “I have to get ready for my date, Alex. You have a wonderful family and a wonderful niece. Thank you for inviting me. Until another time, Empress.” There was a devious smile on her face as she turned for the door.

“I’ll go make our nightly report to Admiral Demmit. I’ll be back in a flash, literally.”

“There, that didn’t take long. I think it’s time for a hot bath. Wait, where did Tish go?”

I heard the bathroom door shut.

“Looks like Tish had the same idea, sis!”

“Well, I guess I won’t take a hot bath yet. So, Mina, how did you finally persuade Ma?”

“Your mother is a very strong-willed individual, Alexandra. Convincing her of the numerous benefits was the easy part. You, my dear, handled the hardest part in your usual diplomatic manner. Had it not been for your intervention and a visit to your personal void,” Mina visibly shivered, “Dolores might not have been so receptive.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness Ma at her worst, Mina. When she flies off like that I just get so angry! I could see she was starting that with you- I just couldn’t let it happen. You didn’t deserve that, Mina.” I paused to fight back the anger that started to bubble up from just thinking about it. “You may have noticed that Ma carries a chip on her shoulder. She feels those of us that finished college…or university, look down on her third grade education with distain. Mina, I think she is one of the most intelligent people I know. She may not have book smarts, as she calls it, but she uses the brains God’s given her for their intended purpose. In many ways she’s smarter than most of my instructors at Annapolis and it hurts me when she goes on the defensive like she did with you!”

Mina shook her head slightly and giggled. “The two of you are more alike than you realize, Alexandra. During our conversation, Dolores repeatedly confided to me how impressed she was with you. She was frightened at first by your threat to meet Lucifer and rightly so!”

I noticed Emily’s brows raise and mouth open.

“Yet she was impressed with the way you took control of the situation. You proved to her how committed you were to her welfare and she understands that you’re driving force is your unconditional love for her, Alexandra.”

“As our conversation continued, she revealed her phobia toward those with higher education. I confessed to her that, though I had completed university, most of my education came from traveling the world- experiencing other cultures. New Yorkers, I think, call it street smart. I indeed agree with you, Alexandra, your mother is a very intelligent individual, your father, likewise. In order to illustrate how the Mahanilui could help her, I used Ricky Lynn’s continuing affiliation with Carnegie Tech to prove that she did not have to stand for an elementary education- that she could in essence continue where she left off. I believe that is what swayed her decision.”

“Alex, I agree with Mina’s assessment. I wasn’t picking up hatred, but envy. Your mother envied all of us for our educations. She felt embarrassed- unworthy of our attention, but, did you notice how fast her mind works? Within a minute of your return from…wherever, she had come to terms and understood that we wanted nothing but the best for her. A minute later she had compiled a list of things she could do with her life. She even planned out your father’s future and how she could deter him from consuming alcohol. Your mother had everything planned out to the finest detail in under two minutes! I had a hard time keeping up with her, Alex. Her mind is very impressive.” Jack said it so fast I had a hard time following.

“Mina, that obituary you repeated to us about Pa, did you happen to notice the date?” Emily inquired with a dead serious look.

“Insert your own date, doctor. The whole thing was improvisation on my part. As far as I can see, Fredrick Steinert lives a very normal existence dying at ninety years of age, in 1983. Of course, that is if the Empress does not intervene prior.” Mina flashed a devilish smile at me.

Emily looked at me for a response.

“The Empress might be so inclined to intervene, provided her advisors could construct and agree to a viable proposal that would be acceptable to all parties involved.”

“Is there to be monetary compensation for such appointments, Empress?” Mina couldn’t help giggling.

“No, but the travel benefits are outstanding, Mina.”

We laughed.

1005 hours, Oahu, Hawaii, April 27th, 1944

“So tell me again why the CO of the boat ain’t here to oversee the munitions reload, Chief?”

“Honestly, Wesnuski, I haven’t got a clue. The Lieutenant ordered us to reload SS353 with modified mark 14’s and fifty cals! His orders were to do it regardless of the CO being here or not. I was ordered not to touch anything- just do the job and leave. Now, get back to work before I have you thrown back in the brig.”

“Wesnuski, what’d he say?”

“He said get back ta work, Simonetti! Be careful with those fish, you guys want to get us all killed?”

“I’ve been handling high explosives since I could walk, Wesnuski!”

“You keep fumbling around with them and you won’t be! Now let’s get these things strapped down, we got the aft room racks to fill yet.”

“There! You happy now, Chief?”

“About time! Come on you lunkheads, let’s head aft. Everyone up the ladder!”

The five men waited until their boss was up on the deck.

“Hell with that! I’m taking the cooler route!”

“The chief’s going to be pissed, Simonetti!”

“What’s he gonna do throw me back in jail? We go back there after we’re done here anyway, Wesnuski!”

“You have a good point! After you.” He gestured up the ladder to the compartment’s bulkhead hatch.

“Why does it smell like perfume in here, Wesnuski?”

“How should I know? Hey, I’m thirsty, wonder if they left the water pump on…Oh ya! Hey you wanna drink, Simonetti?”

“Ya, I’m feeling a bit dry, thanks.”

“Any of you other guys want a cup?”

“Ya, sure.”

“Why not.”

“I’ll have some.”

“Mind the catwalk guys sometimes the grease and fuel gets on the grating and makes it slippery…Hello? What’s this?” One of the five picked up, opened, and sniffed a glass bottle filled with a clear liquid. “Wow, that’s some strong hooch!” Another grabbed the bottle and took a sniff.

“That’s straight alcohol, idiot! They use it to clean off the grease!”

The sailor grabbed the bottle back. “Well, they won’t mind if I borrow some then! I’ll just fill up my trusty flask and…”

“Come on! The chief is waitin’!”

2005 hours, Oahu, Hawaii, April 27th, 1944

“So what are we going to do tomorrow, Alexandra-sensei?”

“Whatever you want to do, Tish.”

“Maybe we could go to the volcano.”

“Been there.”

“Go to the beach again?”

“We were there Saturday. I’m still not ready to be ogled at again, sorry.”

“Shopping?”

“I spent most of my money at the bar and in St. Louis the other night, Tish.”

“I wish I had found a boyfriend like Lt. Sheldon! Then I would have no problem finding something to do!”

“Look, Tish, I have done more than my share of traveling this shore leave! Can’t we just stay…in…aw, what the hell?”

“What’s wrong, Alex?”

“Oh, I just got one of my feelings again. Let me check.”

Our room phone came alive. Its ringing was a rare occurrence.

“Hello?”

“Emily, Is Alex there?”

“This is Commander Steinert, Admiral.”

“Oh…sorry, Alex. You two sound alike over the phone. Alex, we have a situation. I’m sending a car over for you, Emily, and Lt. Smith. It should be there in fifteen minutes.”

“What kind of situation, sir?”

“I’d rather not say on an open line, Alex.”

“Is it too late to call back the car, Admiral? We can get there a lot faster.”

“Sorry, I forgot about that, Alex. I’ll cancel the car. We’ll meet in my office. Hurry, Alex!”

The line went dead.

“What did Uncle Rick want, Alex?”

“Grab your kit, Emily. Something has happened back at the base. Tish here’s your chance to travel again.” I paused a second anticipating the knock on our door.

“Ok, Alex, I’m ready. Did Uncle say what happened?”

“No, but I have an idea. We just…have…to…wait…for…”

There was a knock at our door.

“Beware ye, all who enter!” I shouted to the door.

“Wow, I never heard that greeting before!” Jack entered the room followed closely by Mina.

“So what’s the situation, Lieutenant?”

“New recruits, Captain.”

Jack looked back at Mina in surprise. “More mouths to feed? Wonderful!”

“Everyone hold on.” I advised.

Our suite became Admiral Demmit’s office.

“Don’t let go yet, I haven’t phased us in yet. Let’s all move to the right a foot or two.” I said when I noticed Tish was partially in the Admiral’s desk. Once she was standing in the open, I rephased us.

“What took you so long, Captain?” The old man growled with a smirk.

“I can only move so fast, Admiral!” I responded. The Admiral just shook his head and laughed.

“What’s the situation, Admiral?”

“You already know the situation, Alex.” He nodded to Mina.

“Ya, I guess we do. Who were they, Admiral?”

“A work detail from the brig. They were loading ordinance to Sand Dollar and just had to drink your water!”

“Um, if they were in the brig, where’d they get the liquor?” Jack asked.

“One of them liberated some degreaser from Chief Samuel’s engine room supply.”

“But that’s straight ethyl alcohol! They should have been dead, blind at least!” Emily burst out stunned.

“How many, sir?”

“Five.”

I just rubbed my forehead in frustration.

“Have you told them anything?”

“No, we’ve accused them of helping their boyfriends’ escape, who then got them dunk, and double-crossed them. I thought it best to play it that way until you all had arrived.”

“Are they dangerous, Admiral? Why were prisoners loading munitions onto our sub?”

“Ensign Moritsu, I’m surprised you would even dare ask questions! But, to be fair, I authorized a work detail made up of misdemeanor offenders: drunks, brawlers, those caught doing questionable activities, sneaking off base, and such. These are sailors that obviously need better things to do, so we keep them busy.”

“The Empire also keeps their prisoners busy, Admiral. I have heard stories that they have been used to build roads, bridges, and they’re own concentration camps. Rumor has it the camps are very inhospitable.”

“We do have prisons stateside that offer hard-labor, Ensign.”

“Thank you, sir! I will let my senior officer’s speak now, sir!” Tish said, she bowed slightly realizing Admiral Demmit’s subtle hint.

“So, what do you have in mind for them now, Admiral?” I asked with a sigh.

“The Sand Dollar needs base support staff, if you wouldn’t be opposed to it, Alex?”

“They’ll need full disclosure, new identities, and new clothes, Admiral. They will also need to be taught the basics, like we did.” I looked to Lt.’s Smith and Scott both of whom nodded back in agreement.

“I understand, Captain. I’d also like to scare them a bit. They could use a little humility. Alex, would it be possible for you to…” The old man snapped his fingers.

“Do you think that wise, Admiral?” Mina questioned. “The Empress’ power should not be abused.”

“Lieutenant, these men…women are just small time offenders. Putting a little fear of God into them should help them in the right direction. Run the scenario if you please, Mina.”

“I have, Admiral, once again your tactics prove sound however that will not always be the case, Richard.”

“I know, Mina. Whenever you’re ready, Alex.”

The old man closed his eyes tightly and cringed as if expecting the worst.

“Um, Admiral? What are you doing?”

“Are we there yet, Alex?”

I had to laugh- it was just too comical!

“Where, Admiral? You haven’t told me where to go.” I asked when I could speak again.

“Laugh all you want, Captain! I’m just preparing for the trip!”

“Where should I take us to? A destination could help you know!”

Demmit eyed me up. I could almost read the word ‘Court-martial’ in them. “We’re holding them in the brig, Captain. I suggest we start there.”

“Fine. Everyone hold on and don’t let go until I say so!” I stared intently at Uncle Rick. He again started to close his eyes tightly.

“Uncle Rick, the trip is instantaneous. It’s also quite painless. You can keep your eyes open. Just hold on to me- not so tight though!” I felt his grip on my upper arm loosen slightly.

When everyone was ready I jumped us into the brig’s outer office. I wanted to make sure the place was empty.

“Everyone remain holding on. We haven’t phased in yet.”

“We haven’t what?”

“Try to touch the desk with your free hand, Admiral. That should explain it.”

We all watched with amusement as the old man’s hand went right through it.

“That’s unbelievable!”

“Yes, it is, sir.” Satisfied that we were alone, I rephased us. “Okay we’re back in phase. Wait here while I have a look at our new recruits. Jack I’d like you to come along.”

Only Jack remained holding my hand as we phased out again.

“You know…walking through that steel door was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had, Alex!”

“You get used to it Jack. Wait…stranger than realizing you can use your mind to throw things?”

“Okay, it runs a close second then. What are you thinking of doing, Cap?”

“Well…the Admiral wants to scare them a little so let’s play the benevolent Deity come to collect her minions.”

“Huh?”

I rolled my eyes at her and rephrased my idea. “I’ll play the benevolent Deity and you provide the effects.”

“Oh, gotcha!”

All five women were huddled on the two cots in the jail cell; their ill fitting clothes a reminder of who they had been.

“Jack, can you read them like this?”

“Ya, Alex, pretty standard stuff. ‘What happened to me?’ ‘Why, how?’ Boo hoo, that kind of thing.”

“Can you make the bars clatter a little bit and maybe blink the lights a few times?”

“Sure thing.” She replied with a wicked smile. Soon the bars started rattling and the lights blinked on and off. That got their attention!”

I made sure we were in the clear and rephased us as the lights went out.

“Good evening, ladies! I hope you haven’t been too inconvenienced?” I greeted as the lights came back on.

“Where the hell you come from?” The obvious leader, a girl with thick black hair and a New York accent demanded.

“Missouri! Why, sugar?” I let my drawl loose. I noticed several women had wet spots on the front of their dungarees. I guess we succeeded at scaring something out of them.

“How did you get in here?” A brown haired girl asked.

“The Admiral invited us. Now I get to ask some questions. Why were you on my boat?” I hissed in mock anger.

All five jumped to attention as they noticed our rank. It certainly took them long enough!

“Who are you?” The outspoken Italian girl said again.

“I’m asking the questions here! Why were you on my boat?” Jack rattled the bars and blinked the lights again. Again I tried to sound angry. In fact, I knew exactly what they were going through and felt bad that Sand Dollar had taken on more crew.

“We…we were ordered to load ordinance, ma’am.” The brown haired girl answered.

“As I recall, the torpedoes are kept forward and aft! What were you doing in the rest of my boat?”

“It…it was hot outside so…so we decided to cut through, ma…ma’am.”

“What’s your name sailor?” I glared at her.

“Wesnuski, ma’am. Seaman Aldrice Wesnuski.”

“Well Miss Wesnuski, why were you women loading torpedoes in the first place? I have it on good authority that there are no women assigned to the CINCPAC docks!”

“We aren’t women, ma’am.”

I went over to Wesnuski and cupped her breast. “You expect us to believe that, Miss Wesnuski? This feels real to me!”

“They weren’t there this morning, Ma’am!” She hissed. I could see her mixed reaction.

“So…they just appeared then?” I looked back at Jack. We both shook our heads.

“So, just were did you…come from, ma…ma’am?” The black haired one with the Mediterranean complexion again asked sarcastically.

“What’s you name, honey?”

“Simonetti, Michael.”

“Well Simonetti, Michelle, I come from everywhere, yet nowhere.” I jumped a few feet to the other side of the bars. “I was from there, now I’m from here.” I jumped back to my original spot next to Jack. “My friends and I are originally from a far away place. Admiral Demmit has been kind enough to let us help with your war effort. We don’t like intruders on our boat, Miss Simonetti!” I glared at her. Jack rattled the bars again and smiled.

“We ain’t girls!” She shrieked.

“But you are now!” I paused to see any reactions. Five pairs of eyes got wider than saucers. “Y’all were someplace ya weren’t supposed to be! Our submarine doesn’t take kindly to strangers! So it made y’all…less strange.” I let that soak in.

“The boat changed us into girls, ma’am? Why?” Wesnuski asked in confusion.

“That is what the Empress said, Alice Wesnuski. Do listen more carefully.” Mina said with a straight face as she and the others walked into the brig. I looked to her with intent.

“Empress? Empress a’ what? We don’t listen ta no Empress!”

“Can it, Simonetti! The Empress can travel through time! She can go back to the night you were conceived and make sure you weren’t!” Admiral Demmit growled his warning. Surprisingly, he had a satisfied grin.

“Look Admiral, I thought you was the law of the land around here? Why you stickin’ up for these pinups?”

Pinups? I looked at Jack then back at Mina, Emily, and Uncle Rick. All gave me a nod of approval. I nodded back.

“That was the wrong thing to say sailor!” I said as I phased out, moved beside her and rephased long enough to grab her shoulder.

The crowded cell was replaced by sandy beach, palm trees, explosions and the roar of planes overhead. We were standing on Ford Island facing the burning Arizona.

“Welcome to December 7th, 1941, Seaman Michelle Simonetti!”

“No…not again! No!” She screamed.

“Oh yes, Michelle! Not again, this is the only time! I can leave you here should you wish to relive history. Your choices are to apologize to us, or I leave you here! I will not stand for insubordination from those under my command!”

“Under your command?”

“Michelle, honey, the minute you drank that water you became my responsibility. By drinking that degreaser you effectively joined my crew.”

“But what about my present assignment?” She asked in disbelief.

“Michael Simonetti does not exist anymore, sailor, but you can still try to convince his CO if you’d like. Good luck with that by the way!”

“So what’s your choice, stay here or apologize?” I eased up slightly on her shoulder.

“No, please, no! Don’t leave me here again! One time was enough! Please take me back, Em…Empress!” She dissolved into tears.

We were back in the cell.

“Where did you take her, ma’am?”

“Do you really want to find out, Miss Wesnuski?”

“No, he don’t wanna go there, Empress! Trust me, Wesnuski it ain’t a pleasant place! She’s the real deal! Listen ta her, all you!” Michelle Simonetti warned as she tried in vein to wipe the tears from her face.

“Does anyone else need a demonstration?” I shouted as I scowled at the five individually.

“Good, now Admiral Demmit would like a word with y’all. Admiral?”

“Thank you, Captain. Ladies, we know who you all were, but for secrecy we had to act to the contrary! As of 2000hrs today, you have all been reassigned to Captain Steinert’s base on Ni’ihau. After proper instruction and training you will be…” the old man looked at me for approval. I nodded and he continued. “You will be transported there and assigned duties. Captain Steinert and her crew are the only people you will talk to while here at Pearl! No one, repeat, no one else is to know who or what you were previously! Is that understood?”

Four answered to the affirmative while one girl, a frail, little blonde, remained huddled up in a ball on her cot. I approached her and held my finger up to keep the Admiral from shouting. Sitting down next to her, I started to rub her back gently.

“Sailor, what’s your name?” I asked gently.

“Ramsey Marsh, ma’am.” She started to bawl.

“Swampy’s always been a little shy, ma’am.” Simonetti blurted out again.

“Cmdr. Cummins, the next time Seaman Simonetti speaks out without being addressed, I want her up against the ceiling!”

“Aye, Cap!”

“Up against the ceilin…urgh!”

The black haired girl was tightly pressed against the room’s ceiling.

“Thank you, commander.”

“My pleasure, Cap.”

“Miss Simonetti, it is better to be thought of as stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt! Now, if you promise to follow that rule, I’ll have the commander put you down. Do we understand each other, Michelle?”

“Oh huh!” she squeaked, barely able to breath. I motioned to Jack to let her down and returned my attention back to Seaman Marsh.

“Miss Marsh, I understand this is a big change for you, but it isn’t the end of the world. We all went through it and we survived. You’ll get used to it.”

“I…I…I don’t want to be…to be…a girl!”

“Neither did we, but we got over it.”

“But…but my dad will…he’ll kill me!”

“Why is that, Sweetie?”

“He…he killed my little…my kid sister. He said girls were useless and he… Now I’m useless too! I don’t want to die!” She started crying harder. I wrapped my arms around her to comfort her as I looked up at the others.

“I know that look! Alex, do the research on it first, sis!” Emily warned.

I felt the anger welling up inside.

“Captain Steinert? Let it go for right now! You can address that problem after we get your new girls acclimated.

“Alexandra, please listen to the Admiral, dear.” Mina advised.

“Miss Marsh, I guarantee you your father will not lay a hand on you, sweetie. You have my word on that! Now we need to get you out of here and into some appropriate clothing. If y’all will stand up and take hold of my arm, we’ll be leaving.”

Admiral Demmit produced a key and opened the cell door. Jack and I walked through and joined the others. No one else moved.

“Pardon me, captain, but…um…where are we going?” Seaman Wesnuski asked in a small, unsure voice.

“Do you want to walk around base in those oversized things or do you want something that will actually fit nice? I was thinking we would go clothes shopping!”

“But the Quartermaster is closed after 1700hrs!”

“Wesnuski, she took me back to the attack!” Simonetti clinched her eyes shut expecting to feel the ceiling again.

I motioned to Jack to hold off.

“What attack?”

“THE ATTACK! You know, the one a few Decembers ago?”

Seaman Wesnuski just looked at me in confusion.

I waved my hand at her. “Hello? Empress? Able to move through time, remember?”

“Is that really possible?”

“You bet yer ass it is! Show him, Skipper!” Simonetti closed her eyes tightly again.

“Just grab my arm…all of you! I’ll show you what is and isn’t possible! Emily, where would one find proper attire and undergarments at reasonable prices?”

“Macy’s, New York, Alex, why?”

A busy city sidewalk replaced the brig. People walking along it passed straight through us. I found the new girl’s reactions entertaining- Uncle Rick’s too.

“I suggest you not let go, ladies. Emily, what floor are lady’s undergarments?”

0700 hours, Oahu, Hawaii, April 28th, 1944

An annoying sound met my ears as I rolled over. Through my half-opened eyes, I found and pushed the alarm plunger in. I again promised myself I would refrain from those long travel sessions. I felt like I hadn’t slept in a week! I thought about how many days it had actually been. Only two days!

We had spent yesterday touring the north end of the island then we had spent last night at HQ introducing ourselves to our five new recruits. Then we had again spent yesterday in New York City at Macy’s Department store buying them new britches and other undergarments. That, I think, proved more tiring than anything else. Had we protested so much when we underwent the Mahanilui? I didn’t think so, yet as I thought back, we were ‘captive’ so to speak in our boat. Maybe that had something to do with it. Regardless, the five now had a week’s supply of clothing that fit properly.

A knock at the door caught my attention. Whoever it was wouldn’t take the hint and go away, so I pulled myself from the sheets and answered the door.

“Morning, Skip! Hey, nice nightgown, the color suits you!” Carroll’s cheerful, happy, RESTED face met me at the door. I left the door open and walked away to the bathroom.

“Looks like someone had a busy night!” She talked to me through the closed door.

“Ya, busy night.” I deadpanned.

“Are Emily and Tish up yet?”

“Haven’t made it to their room yet.” I flushed the toilet.

“So, who was he? Do I know him?” Carroll asked assuming I had been out late with a fella.

“They, who were they, Carroll, five of them.” I was still half asleep and stood at the sink splashing water on my face.

“You went out with five guys last night? Wow, Alex, you really are living it up!”

“What do you mean I was living it up?” I asked as I opened the bathroom door still drying my face with a towel.

“Well, I thought…five guys…I mean…it’s strange just going out with one guy for me, but five guys…in one night…wow!”

“You need help, you know that, right? Five guys assigned to reload fish onto Sand Dollar just had to drink the water yesterday.”

“Okay, so they drank the water…oh, no! They…”

“They drank the water.” I repeated with her. “Afterwards, they chased that with a hit of ethyl alcohol they borrowed from the engine room. Mina, Emily, Tish, Jack, the Admiral, and I spent all yesterday in New York City buying clothes for our new base’s long shorem…shore women. We’ve been up for two days straight, Carroll- time relative that is. Now, what do you want?”

“Well, I’m sorry to inform you that today is the end of our leave. We have to report back to base at noon, Skip. Of course I could leave and come back in a few minutes from now. Give you guys a chance to get another day’s worth of sleep.”

“No, I’ll get everyone up. Have a seat, Carroll.” I turned and opened Emily’s door. She and Tish were still sawing logs cuddled up against each other. Tish’s long hair was draped over her side of the bed and almost touching the floor.

“Hate to be the barer of bad news, but it’s 0730hrs. Time to get up ladies.”

I was met with two different groans- one from Emily and one from Emily’s back.

“Come on girls we have to be back on base by noon.”

More groans came my way. They sounded like I felt. I just shrugged my shoulders and walked out and headed to my own room to get dressed for the day. My makeup did a fair job of hiding the dark circle under my eyes, but did nothing for my demeanor.

At 1000hrs, Tish, Emily, and I met Jack, Mina, Ricky Lynn, Randi, and Ricki Peterson at the restaurant across the street for a late breakfast. Shortly after arriving, Josie and Scotti arrived and sat down at the table next to us.

“So, we heard you guys had a busy night?” Ricky Lynn asked.

“New recruits, Chief.”

“No! How many?”

I held up my hand with fingers spread.

“What er we gonna do with them?” She asked in surprise.

“Shore duty.” I said as my toast and coffee arrived. “Spent all day yesterday getting them new uniforms.”

“I thought you were up at the north end yesterday?”

“We were!” Tish cut in. I glared at Tish then motioned with my eyes at Chief Samuels.

“Oh, I get it. That’s why you all look so tired.”

“Except Lt. Sheldon here. She had a date again last night. She was able to get some sleep!” I glared at her too.

“Oh!” Our chief’s eyes got bigger, her brows rose.

“Not sleep like that, Ricky Lynn! Phillip had me back early last night. We said our goodbyes at the door.” She got that far away gaze again. “I’m going to miss him. He told me to look him up when I get shore leave again.” She let out a big sigh.

“Looks like the Lieutenant got it bad for the guy, Skip!” I just smiled at my Chief’s comment.

Looking to my radio chief I asked. “I heard you might have found someone, Randi?”

“Naw. The guy only wanted me to put out. He wasn’t interested in ‘me’; he was interested in my body, Skipper. Men like that are better left far behind. It did feel nice to be wanted though!”

“How about you, Josie? You see any of Mr. Red horse?” I asked our petite Code Talker.

“Adam and I got together and we went out a few times, Captain. I still cannot understand the prejudice toward my people though- even here on Hawaii! Adam and I were told to leave several establishments before we were even seated. I look to the day we are treated equal.”

“Sister, I know how you feel. Even Alexandra-sensei’s own father looked at me strange until she called him on it. My name alone is enough to disturb some people! I even learned that people of the East born in the United States have been rounded up and placed in holding camps because they look Japanese.”

“Tish, you’re drawing some attention.” I quietly said across the table as I noticed two men glancing over toward us from the bar.

“So then ah told em they could talk all they wanted, but mah Daddy was still a Senator and he’d have the whole durn show-me state a huntin’ for em. Ev’ry coondog in the county’d be a’sniffin’ for em if’n they’d make fun a’ my eyes one mo time! Daddy don’t like them kinda people, no siree!” Tish spoke loud enough in her best Missoura drawl to be heard throughout the Tavern. The two men at the bar turned around and returned their concentration to their drinks.

“You do that very well, Ensign!” Josie complemented.

“I had a good teacher, sister.” Tish looked at me and smiled. “And…I am eager to learn my inherited language as well…if Alexandra-Sensei would permit.” Her smile took on a devious cast.

“Let’s not talk about that here, ladies. We can discuss it back onboard the boat- more private.” I gestured toward the two guys at the bar with my eyes and brows. They had been checking us out on and off since we walked in. I started to get a bad feeling when one of them decided to approach our table.

“You girls in the Navy huh? What they have ya doin’- laundry? Er, is it the cookin’?” He let out a loud, long laugh, as did his partner back at the bar.

Immediately, I saw Ricky Lynn’s face turn red in anger. I simply put out my hand indicating to her that I would take care of this clown. I stood up from my seat.

“Oh sugar, I’ve never heard that one before! It was very funny- if y’all have limited mental faculties! Care to try for something a little more intellectual? I know…how about…’I heard you WAVEs like men so much you like to go up and down all the time! Now that was funny, right girls?” I saw the guy’s face grow angry.

“Hey Gabe, looks like this little whore needs a reminder about who’s in charge around here!” This was where the slap in the face comes in. I had seen enough bar fights to know, plus I saw it coming. Sometimes foresight can be fun!

His open hand went right through me and he ended up almost losing his balance.

“I bet you’re not so good at baseball, are you?” I taunted. I heard Jack’s voice in my mind asking if I needed her help. ‘No, I can handle this’, I thought back.

My internal friend alerted me to the guy’s fist approaching and I easily jerked back to avoid it.

“Is your name ‘Max’ perchance, ‘cause you sure hit like him?”

Another fist; another miss.

“And another swing and a miss! The count’s full up folks, I don’t know how much…” I ducked out of the way again. “Ow, another swing and a miss, folks! That retires the batter, let’s see how the next one fairs against…”

He nearly caught me with that one. I was done playing now. Time to take this idiot down.

“Sugar, if you’re going to hit me, do it so we can leave. I have to touch up my makeup yet, okay?” He threw himself at me- I guess, to knock me down or something? I was ready for him though and wrapped my arms around him.

“Oh, sugar, if y’all wanted to dance why didn’t ya just say so?”

The restaurant disappeared to be replaced by the inside of a nondescript barracks.

I immediately let go of him.

“Hey, where’d ya go? Where am I? How’d I get here?” He looked around the hall in confusion. I remained out of phase and observed.

“Where the hell you come from?” A tough looking Army Master Sergeant shouted out.

“None of yer damn business, jar-head!” Definitely the wrong thing to say to a DI!

“You got five seconds to tell me how you got in here before I rearrange your face and show you the way out, son!” I laughed, as the Master Sergeant got right up in his face.

“Some ignorant, WAVE bitch brought me here!” He shouted back as he looked around the barracks.

“Son, that’s no way to talk about a lady! Since I don’t see a woman around here, I’m going to guess that you’ve been drinking, right?”

“But that disgusting whore just had her arms around me! When I find her again I’m going to kill that bitch!” He spat.

“Son, no woman deserves that kind of abuse and we don’t take kindly to that around here!” The Master Sergeant looked around. “I believe you need to be taught some manners.”

In the blink of an eye the guy was laying on his back holding his jaw. The Sergeant bent down, picked him up, and a second punch put him back on the floor. After three or four more hits, the handsome Master Sergeant left the severely pummeled nuisance on the floor.

“Pansy asshole! Pickin’ on women! Hope you’ve learned some respect. Don’t ever come in here again threatening to kill a woman. Now get your sorry ass out of my barracks!” The Master Sergeant kicked him in the ribs once and walked out the door shaking his head.

I phased in. “You aren’t so smart are you? Picking a fight with the biggest Drill Instructor at Schofield- that takes some real kahuna’s!” I helped the guy back up and wrapped my arms around him again. I concentrated on the exact time we had left the restaurant.

To those around us it seemed we had never left, but as I released my ‘dance partner’ it became visibly evident that he had been through some sort of hell. The guy collapsed at my feet.

“Isn’t that just like a man! Shoots his…mouth off, and then falls asleep! Come on girls let’s finish, settle up, and get back to base.” I heard a giggle from the waitress a few tables over. I looked over to her and winked with a wide smile.

As we left the restaurant and reached the other side of the street, Chief Samuels asked me where I had taken the guy.

“You remember telling me about that huge Army DI that you got in a fight with last year? Well, I found out he hates people that beat up on women. In fact, he spent several weeks in the brig for beating a guy to a pulp after witnessing him slap his girlfriend. Soooo, I took Mr. Funny to see him. I have to admit the Master Sergeant does good work. He’s very handsome too.”

“Things can certainly get interesting with you around, Alexandra-Sensei! From where I sat it looked like you two never left. Do you think they will come after us?”

“Nah, Tish, who would believe him? He’ll claim some woman took him to a barracks somewhere; she disappeared; then he got beat up by some Sergeant, and all in the blink of an eye.”

“I saw it happen and wouldn’t believe it!” Jack admitted.

“You know Skip, me an’ Miss Cummins’ woulda’ helped ya! You realize I ain’t got in no scuffle our entire leave?”

“That’s something that will look very good on you service record, Lt. Samuels!” I saw her smile as I looked back at her.

“I find what happened to that poor man abhorring!” Mina said in disgust.

“I have no tolerance for men like that, Mina- before, now, or ever!”

“Neither do I, Alexandra. I find his total lack of manners abhorring! You should have sought out his parents and had them watch- better still, insisted they participate!”

“Mina! I can’t believe you said that!” Emily said in surprise.

“Doctor, since we have been on this island, I have consistently been witness to abuse, both physical and command-oriented, also rampant discrimination! It’s a wonder you people can work together to fight a war!”

“We do seem to have our problems, Mina, but those people only make up a small portion of our society. Most folks would give you the shirt off their back if required. Tish, I’m sorry for my Pa’s reaction when I introduced you. Since the attack, people have overreacted to anyone of Oriental descent. Some people even discriminate against military personnel. Brie and I ran across a few, especially a policeman, in St. Louis that wouldn’t give us the time of day because we were women in uniform! I could have used your skills then, Jack.”

1130 hours, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, April 28th, 1944

We met the rest of the crew dockside by the Sand Dollar. They had arrived there straight from the hotel while Jack, Carroll, Emily, Mina, Tish and I reported directly to Admiral Demmit’s office. While there we received our orders to proceed to our new base on Ni’ihau. I also had to answer questions about Ensign Moritsu’s presence. He caught me off guard with one question.

“Captain, if you trust her as much as you say, why isn’t she with the rest of the crew?”

I thought for a minute. Why wasn’t she with the crew on the dock? I did trust her, didn’t I?

“Emily and I have just grown so accustom to her presence that we forget she’s not part of our command staff! She’s like our kid sister, Admiral.”

“Well, next time leave your ‘kid sister’ back at the boat, Alex. No offense, Ensign Moritsu.”

“None taken, Admiral.” Tish replied as she instinctively put more room between her and the Admiral. Demmit was amused by her actions.

“That’s all I have for you, Alex, ladies. I hope you like your new base. You depart tomorrow morning at 0700hrs. I’ll arrive in three days for a formal inspection. Ladies, until then, dismissed.”

The rest of the day was pretty standard: Stowing supplies and gear, and readying Sand Dollar to get underway. Just past 1600hrs my presence was requested topside. Two SP’s delivered our five new recruits and their gear. Jack assigned them temporary racks and duty stations for the short trip to our base. A possible problem arose almost immediately. One of the new girls, Seaman Abner ‘Abby’ Penne, became highly agitated in the confined spaces of the boat. Claustrophobia they called it. I was forced to make a decision about her, since the confinement might lead to breakdown or injury. I decided to talk with Emily about it.

“So how is Abby doing, sis?”

“As well as can be expected, Alex. You know she can’t help it, don’t you? Some people just aren’t cut out for submarine service. Seaman Penne happens to be one of them- Seaman Marsh might be another.”

“I understand, sis. I watched several midshipmen wash out during training. For a few, it wasn’t a pretty sight! What do you think about me running transport service for our shore men?”

“Would they even want you to do that? As I recall, Seaman Simonetti wouldn’t even look at you the whole time we were in New York. She remained shy about holding your arm even when we returned. You better ask them first, Alex.”

I nodded.

“Excuse me Captain?”

“Yes, Lt. Smith. Can I help you?” Mina caught my attention as I headed for my quarters a few minutes later.

“Captain, I heard rumor you may make a trip to our base to drop off Seamen Simonetti, Wesnuski, Penne, Stephen, and Marsh. May I also request passage for Ensigns Truman, Hastings, Hardt, Langford, Banes, and myself? Ensign Banes asked if she could go ahead to prepare our quarters, and your sisters wanted to help her. As ranking officer, I’ll keep an eye on the recruits.”

“Rumor, Mina? From you that is down right humorous! Having seen the end result already, I don’t see any reason to deny your request. I still have to ask the new girls though.”

“I…um…I took the liberty of asking them already, Captain. Since you have otherwise been occupied. Hope you don’t mind.”

I just had to laugh, as she looked everywhere else but at me while she spoke.

“Good job, lieutenant. How much time should we give Ensign Banes to work her form of magic? I’m sure you’ve already seen the answer to that, eh Mina?”

Lt. Smith’s cheeks turned a light shade of pink. “Three days would be fine, Empress. That combined with Sand Dollars travel time should prove adequate.”

“She only needs four days to do all that? I would have thought two weeks would be more like it!”

“Four days is all she requires, Empress. May I remind you that you and I are not the only ones with powerful gifts?”

“Sometimes it slips my mind, your highness. Have your landing party ready for transport at 1800hrs, Lieutenant.”

“Thank you, Empr…Captain!”

I found Jack and told her of the change of plans.

“As long as Mina is in command, they should be fine, Alex. How long did you say they would be there?”

“Just three days, Jack. Ensign Banes specified three days. I can tell you that you just love the place!”

“Should I ask how you know, Alex?” She rolled her eyes.

“You told me your self, Jack, next Tuesday.” I smiled.

Mina, Ensign Banes, and our four half-sisters met Emily, Jack, and I in the galley.

“Empress, you honor me with your charity!” Mariah bowed slightly.

“It is a pleasure, Miss Banes! I should be bowing to you, though. The amount and detail of your work is absolutely awe inspiring!”

“Twasn’t much work, Empress! Truly it is love- love of working with my hands to coax the hidden beauty from the piece.”

“Spoken like a true poet, Ensign!”

“I’ve known quite a few, Empress.” She giggled with a devious smile.

“Mariah, please…I keep telling everyone to just call me Alex or Alexandra! Empress is too…too…um…too regal!”

“By your request, Captain Steinert!” She smiled.

Seamen Simonetti, Wesnuski, Penne, Marsh, and Stephen joined us. All had their duffels and newly issued purses. Emily, Jack, and I just carried our purses. I asked if everyone was ready and got five unsure looks, everyone else just nodded. With our party holding on to me, I concentrated on our base, three days ago, midmorning- in particular, the mouth of the tunnel.

Palm trees, sand, and a gentle tropical perfumed breeze surrounded us. Steel Quonset huts could be seen hiding among the foliage a short distance away. The bright sun almost directly overhead, indicated we were exactly where I wanted us to be. Quickly, I looked around us to see if we were alone. Seeing no one in the immediate vicinity, I rephased us.

“Welcome to Mysterious Island, ladies! It’s just a working title until I can think of something more fitting.” I babbled in response to the strange looks I received.

Is this better for your claustrophobia, Abby?” I got no response from the lithe brunette. The five foot five girl couldn’t go more than one hundred pounds. A good wind could carry her away. “Seaman Penne, is this better for your claustrophobia?”

“Huh? Oh, sorry, Captain. I’m not used to my new name yet. Yes, ma’am, I don’t feel so closed in now, ma’am. Thank you!”

“Everyone else okay?”

“I’m sorry, Skipper, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that form of travel!” Seaman Gerri Stephan admitted as she rubbed her upset stomach.

“I find it exhilarating, Seaman! I would rather travel this way than spend three months in a frigate transiting the Atlantic!”

“Three months to cross the Atlantic? When did it ever take that long?” Wesnuski asked Ensign Banes in confusion.

“You have me there. Two and a half if the wind was right and we carried enough sail- my mistake.”

“Girls, you will find Ensign Banes has been around for a long time- longer than any of you can imagine. Once settled in, we can discuss that and many other topics relating to you, my sisters.” Mina informed the five. “Shall we go into town?”

Before us sat a dozen Quonset’s, all measured roughly thirty by forty-five feet. A larger building sat at the center of the other buildings. It was about twice the size.

“That must be the Galley over there. “I pointed to it. On our way over, we inspected several of the smaller buildings.

“These certainly look a lot different from the last time I saw them!” I admitted.

“Didn’t you just come off a ten day leave, Skipper?”

“I was here a week from now, Miss Simonetti! You, of all people should know what I am capable of! As a matter of reference, you five have just finished loading our forward torpedoes as we speak. Any minute now one of you will decide to help yourself to our water supply. The other four will follow suite. In another few minutes you will reach the aft torpedo room- one of you several ounces heavier from the ethyl alcohol you borrowed from engine room number two. In three hours you will all fall into unconsciousness and awake tonight as you are now.”

“But if we’re three days in the past, how come we ain’t men again?”

“For us, here,” I pointed to the group, “time continues as it normally would. Since you have already changed, you remain this way. Today is still in your past- nothing can change that.”

“So why can’t you just go back to Pearl today and stop us from drinking that water?”

“Because that would be interfering with the lives and welfare of my sisters. I cannot…will not, do anything to change the destinies of my sisters!”

“I don’t think we’d mind, Skipper- really!” Michelle Simonetti gestured between the five of them.

“Michelle, you, Alice, Gerri, Romney, and Abby are more important now than you know. You five are integral components of this base and our society from now into the future. I can also guarantee that within five weeks you won’t want to change back, even if you could.” Jack glanced over at my last sentence.

“Can I help you ladies?” A deep voice from behind us echoed through the unfinished building.

We all turned to the voice with a start. The Chief immediately stood to attention.

“Sorry, Commander, I wasn’t informed of your arrival.”

“My fault, chief, we just decided to pop in for a look around. Things seem to be on schedule? Has the generator been hooked up yet?”

“No, ma’am, not yet. We’re having problems containing the thermal vent. Every time we seal one leak another presents itself. We’ll get it though, rest assured! The lights will be on when the sub crew arrives.”

“Wonderful, Chief!” I flashed him a smile. “Carry on.”

“Would you ladies care for a tour? Just so happens I’m on break.”

“That would be wonderful, chief. Oh, I’m Commander Alexandra Steinert, my EX-O, Lt. Cmdr. Jacquelyn Cummins, and our Doctor, Lt. Emily Scott. This is my forward crew, Lt. Mina Smith, Ensigns Kayla Langford, Lailu Hardt, Mia Hasting, Nina Truman, Mariah Banes, and Seamen Romney Marsh, Alice Wesnuski, Michelle Simonetti, Geraldine Stephan, and Abigail Penne. They’re here to oversee preparations for our arrival. You are to cooperate and assist Lt. Smith and Ensign Banes as needed. Admiral Demmit has assigned Ensign Banes to oversee the design of the building interiors. You will report to Lt. Smith until our arrival in four days.”

“Aye, Commander.”

“Now how about that tour, Chief?”

The end result I had seen stood in stark contrast to the mostly bare rooms we were observing now. When we arrived at the new pier, our guide looked around in earnest. He looked confused as to how we had arrived.

“Seems you lost your boat ride, ma’am! I can radio back to Pearl for one if you’d like?”

“Not a problem, chief! We brought our own transportation.” I looked at our group with a smile. “I have assigned quarters to my forward crew, chief. Please show them to buildings eight and ten.”

“Aye, ma’am. Ladies, if you will follow me?” The handsome chief raised his arm, still confused.

“Chief, Cmdr. Cummins, Lt. Scott, and I are going to check out the submarine pen. We’ll be leaving from there. Thank you for the wonderful tour! Lt. Smith, we will see you in four days. Keep an eye on those five.” I pointed to our new recruits and saluted.

“Aye, Commander. Things will be ready by then, ma’am.” Mina saluted, as did the others.

It was a three-minute walk back to the mouth of the tunnel.

“So, are we actually going in, Cap?” Jack asked with one eyebrow raised.

“You know me better than that, Jack!” I told her as I took her and Emily’s hands.

We were back in the galley onboard Sand Dollar.

“Welcome back, Skip!” Chief Samuels greeted us.

“Thanks, Chief. Are we ready for departure tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, ma’am, everything is up and running! Just give the order, Skip!”

“Excellent, Chief!” I paused. “Jack, Emily, Chief, the Admiral is planning another one of his inspections for 0630hrs. I trust everything will be in order?”

“Now that we know his plan, yes ma’am!” Jack gave me an evil grin.

“Uncle Rick isn’t going to like that, sis. You know how he likes to find problems.” Emily looked at me with a quirky smile.

“Oh, he’ll still find problems, Emily. He’ll just have to look harder, is all,” I gave her my own devilish grin.

0830 hours, ten miles North-Northeast of Oahu, Hawaii, April 29th, 1944

“Well, I thought it went well! The Admiral is down to counting finger smudges on the bulkheads, ladies. Congratulations on a near perfect inspection!”

“Yes, but we cheated, Skipper!” Carroll declared.

“We did not cheat. We simply used the means at our disposal to anticipate his visit, Lt. Sheldon. That is not cheating.” I reiterated.

“You know he knows, Alex!” Emily calmly stated.

“I do. I also know that he will look harder when he visits the base in three days. For example, I get unofficially written up about being in two places at one time. You get written up for a stray brassiere again. Carrol, you get warned for the same thing. Josie, he finds a stray hair wrapped around the microphone in the radio shack. Scotti is warned about a pair of drying britches hanging from her lavatory sink towel bar. I could go on, but that would be cheating wouldn’t it, lieutenant?” I looked to Carroll for a reaction. She just lowered her head in defeat.

“Who would have thought our uncle would sink so low, sis?”

“I don’t think he likes it when we use our gifts around him, Alex. I definitely feel he dislikes your mode of travel. Did you happen to see how pale his face was when we arrived in New York the other day?”

“Ya, but seeing his face when that woman with the baby carriage walked straight through him, now that was priceless!”

“I thought he would be sick on the spot, sis!” Emily and I giggled and the others followed suit.

“Ricki, how is Miss Moritsu taking to her duties as assistant cook?” I asked to change the subject.

“She’s doing good, Skip. As a matter of fact, tonight’s dinner is one of her specialties- something called Sweet and Sour Chicken. Before our leave, she asked me to add pineapple to the galley’s restocking list. Damned if I know what that’s for! Aside from that her only complaint is the height of the uppermost cabinets. She needs a ladder to reach them.” Chief Peterson shook her head.

“Well, if the Japanese officers lived through it, we can.” I rolled my eyes. “See that she has a stepladder or something to stand on, chief. We don’t need her dropping something during any inopportune times. Randi, are you and Josie ready for tonight’s report?”

“Aye, Cap. Should be just a routine check in- unless you see something to the contrary. Josie and I have overlapped our shifts slightly so we can compare notes. It should make our nightly reports more streamline with less repeat and dead air.”

“Sounds good. Whose idea was that, chief?”

“Actually, Scotti here observed that we spent more time fumbling through our notes and waiting for HQ to reply. She suggested we adjust our schedule to allow time to compose a report. It would be nice to just type a report up and send it from the typewriter without writing it down, Cap.”

“Actually two companies, IBM and Xerox will develop that very idea just after the war with Vietnam. They call it E-mail, Randi. You will use a computer instead of a typewriter.”

“A computer? What, like the one they built in D.C.? That thing takes up a whole city block I heard!”

“They get smaller, chief! People will carry them in their back pocket sixty years from now.” I quickly put a hand to my mouth acting as if I let something slip.

“Alex, Mina told us not to talk about the future like that! It might change it!” Emily scolded.

“Wait sis, what if someone we know should have bought stock in those companies, but not before 1973 mind you, and didn’t because I stayed quiet. What if they didn’t make a fortune in the stock market and helped finance our sisterhood? Would that be changing our destinies as well?” I winked at Emily and glanced across the table to see who took the hint.

“Well, if that were to happen…I mean, should someone actually do that, I guess it would be okay, theoretically, sis.” She winked back. I noticed Randi intently scribbling something in her notebook. It looked like she was drawing some kind of picture.

"Chief? Penny for your thoughts, Randi.” I watched as her pencil flew at an impressive speed around the page then moved to the next page and the next. We all watched as she wrote like a madwoman. She seemed to be in a trance or something close to it. Finally, after ten or so pages she stopped and looked around at us. We were all staring.

“What? Why are you all looking at me like that? Did I drool or something?” Her hand wiped her mouth.

“Or something, chief.” I pointed to her notebook. “Do they mean anything to you- the drawings?”

“How did they get there?” Randi looked at Ricky Lynn and Josie. Both shrugged.

“You’ve been drawing them the past ten minutes, chief. Care to tell us what they are?”

After a few minutes of ‘um’s’, ‘oh’s’, ‘that’s not right’s’, ‘really’s’, and ‘ingenious’, our radio operator gave her interpretation.

“I have no idea what this could be, Cap! It looks like some kind of receiver/ transmitter, but the frequency is way too high! Eight or nine hundred megacycles! I didn’t know you could go that high, Cap! You sure I drew this?”

We all just nodded.

“Why don’t you requisition the pieces and build it, chief? See if it’s useful for something.” I had a vision as soon as I’d said that. I paused a moment then restated my suggestion “Yes, Randi, build the new radar system. I’ll get the Admiral to sign off on it.

“You know what this does, Alex?” She looked at me in surprise as she began drumming her pencil point to the open page.

“Not until a minute ago, Randi. See, you show me four months from now. We install its rotating reflector dish antenna- I think I said that right- on the mountain peak above the grotto. You, Josie, Scotti, Tish, and Ricky Lynn will team up to build it. I can tell you it impresses the hell out of the Admiral, too! There was something more…” I closed my eyes and fought to remember what it was. “Oh, ya, right! You told me to tell you to keep the leads as short as possible, shield the oscillators, and use plenty of fans.” I opened my eyes to see Chief Van Pelt staring at me in disbelief.

“I told you that?”

“Yep!”

“Three months from now?”

“Four…four months, chief.”

“You really are frightening, Cap!”

“I get that a lot now, chief. Get on that as soon as we get settled in on Base.”

“I’ll start working on the bill of materials after we’re done here, Cap.”

“Wonderful. Jack, I’d like you and Lieutenant Williams to work together on Base security. From time to time we get visitors, male visitors. We need some way of keeping everyone safe when that occurs. Oh, and Miss Williams we do not run a convent or prison! Conjugal visits will be allowed if requested- understand?”

“Yes sir, Skipper! Not that I would be doing that anytime soon, though!”

I just looked at her because I knew better.

“Jack, I’d like a draft in my hand after we dock in the grotto.”

“Aye, Cap.”

“Lt. Scott anything you want to add?”

“No, Captain. Everyone is healthy. I’ll just continue on at navigation.”

“Great. That’s it ladies. Let’s get back to work!” I said as everyone stood.

“Cap, could I have a word with you, please?”

“Sure, chief, what’s on your mind?”

“I was hoping you could tell me, Cap.” Chief Van Pelt held up her notebook. She looked very concerned. In fact, she looked a little pale. “I have no idea how I did this, Alex, it’s scaring the hell out of me! I have absolutely no memory of doing this.”

“If Mina were here, she would say that your gift has finally started manifesting itself, Randi. Apparently your gift has something to do with electrics.”

“Electronics, Cap.”

“What? What’s electronics?”

Randi got a strange, confused look on her face, which had now drained of all color. “This…” She pointed to the notebook again. “These are schematic circuit drawings of our new radar system.”

“Yes, I know. I told you, remember?”

“You told me what, skipper?” Randi blinked then looked at me even more confused- if that were possible.

“You just told me what I told you before- that this is the new radar system.”

“I did?”

I nodded. “You also told me that these are schematic drawings and used a term called ‘electronics’.” I pointed to the notebook as I got an overwhelming hit from my gift.

“Skipper? Help me? I…I…I have this whirlwind in my head! Things are swirling around…” Chief Van Pelt suddenly pleaded as her hands went to her temples. She let out a blood-curdling scream and immediately collapsed to the floor.

“Randi!” I reached for the squawk. “Dr. Scott to the Wardroom!”

“Randi! Chief, can you hear me! Wake up, chief!” I felt for a pulse- she was still alive. I tried patting her cheeks to wake her. Nothing seemed to work.

“What happened, Ale…oh, no,” Emily exclaimed as she reached the doorway!

“What happened to her, Emily?” I cried.

“She’s in a coma, Alex! What did you do to her?

“Me? I didn’t do a thing! After you left, she asked me what was happening to her- about her drawings. She asked for my help then complained about a whirlwind in her head, screamed and collapsed! That’s all that happened! Will she be all right, sis?”

“I think she’ll be okay, Alex, she may be slightly different though.”

“Different? How so?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m picking up some unusual activity in her brain, sis. I can’t be sure what it means.”

“Unusual brain activity? Like none of that goes on around here now?” I pointed to the two of us.

“Is she okay, Cap?” Jack had joined us.

“Emily says she’s in a coma, Jack.”

“If that’s the case her mind is saying the opposite, Cap! That brain of hers is moving at an incredible rate- even faster than your Ma’s, Alex! I just get a mishmash of, what looks like ones and zeros sprinkled throughout with visible thoughts and ideas. What’s happening to her, Doc?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Commander! We’ll just have to wait and see!”

“I told her I thought her gift was finally emerging.” I said quietly. “Would it be possible to roll her over to see her symbols?”

Carefully Jack and I rolled our unconscious chief over and pulled up the back of her blouse.

“I’ve never seen a symbol like that before- either of you?” I asked observing the darkening tattooed symbol.

Emily and Jack just shook their heads.

1130 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, April 30th, 1944

“Jack amidships tanks now. Carroll, ease off the planes a degree.” I reached for the squawk. “Maneuvering, ahead full on my command.”

“Keel eight, six-seventy ahead.”

The Sand Dollar started to shake and buffet a bit.

“Chief give me full power now!” I said into the mic.

“Keel, five. Six-sixty ahead.”

“Ahead full, Skip!” came back over the speaker.

“Keel just went through the floor, Skip. Plus five thousand! Six-forty ahead though.”

“Jack blow aft tanks to the same level! Carroll, level out the planes!”

“Maneuvering…slow ahead!”

“Keel, thirty five. Six hundred ahead, Skip.”

“Slow ahead, Skip.”

“Keel at thirty five. Five-sixty ahead.”

“Keel constant at thirty five, Skip. Five hundred ahead.”

“Keel still at thirty five, Skip. Three- sixty ahead.”

“All stop!”

“All stop, aye.”

“Jack, take us up.”

“Aye, Cap.”

“Ladies, welcome to our new home!”

“Jack, if you, Carroll, and Emily would join me on the bridge?” I motioned to the ladder. As expected we were greeted by pitch black. The only light entering our grotto was from the tunnel we had just transited behind us, and the small, bright speck at the far side ahead of us.

“Jack, would you do the honors and flip the switch? It’s to the left of the yellow brick road.

Light immediately flooded the grotto from around its circumference. The faint, echoing click of the main switch followed directly after. The four of us marveled at how the light shimmered, refracted, and reflected around our new fantasy world. All around us the crystalline quartz stalagmites and stalactites converted the high power lights into the entire color spectrum. The effect was dazzling- truly amazing.

Lt. Smith and her party met us at the newly built dock.

“Welcome to Atlantis-Minor, Captain Steinert!” Mina cheerfully greeted. “I hope your journey was without incident?”

“You know better than that, Lieutenant!”

“How is Chief Van Pelt, Captain?”

“Still in a coma, Mina. But you knew that!”

“So I did, Alexandra! I also know you will find the answers! Welcome home my sisters!” Mina greeted the four of us with a friendly kiss.

“I trust Ensign Banes worked her magic successfully?”

“Why would you ask a question that you already knew the answer to, Alexandra?”

“I was taught by the master, your highness.” We all laughed.

Two of our three chiefs appeared from the forward hatch. Chiefs Samuels and Peterson helped lift the litter with a still comatose Randi Van Pelt strapped to it over to the gangplank.

“Permission to go ashore, Captain?” Ricki Lynn asked as she saluted us. Both she and Ricki Peterson looked like they had been crying since yesterday.

Emily looked to me. I nodded and she took the lead. “Permission granted, Chief, I want Randi taken straight to the infirmary.”

“Yes, ma’am, we’ll be careful not to bump her too much.” Chief Samuels stated stoically.

Chief Peterson looked at Emily and I in numbed confusion.

“That would be straight out the yellow-brick road and forth building on the left. There’s a sign on the front that says ‘Infirmary”. You can’t miss it, chief.” I answered.

“I’ll be right behind you, Ricki.” Emily said as she headed for the conning tower ladder. “I just need to get my bag and I’ll be right there.”

“Jack, I’m surprised you didn’t answer her.”

“The question was posed to you, Alex, not me. Sometimes it’s better not to answer those kinds of unasked questions.” Jack replied in a somber tone. “Alex, can you see any others reacting to their gifts like Randi?”

“Jack, I’m afraid we have to ask the master about that. Mina?”

“Miss Van Pelt is the worst, Captain, although Seaman Lupitski will run a close second. I don’t see that happening for another six months, so we have time to prepare, Alexandra- unless circumstances elect to change.” She looked at me with a worried grin.

“Maybe after we get Randi back I’ll look into that, Lieutenant. Shall we get settled in?” I gestured toward the dock and watched as Randi and my Chiefs quietly disappeared into the tunnel.

This was not the welcome I had pictured, although I knew for a fact I would find a way to bring Randi out of her deep sleep. After all, I had talked to her four months from now. That single memory helped lighten an otherwise dismal mood as I reached the end of the ‘yellow brick road’ and looked upon our new base. Mina called it Atlantis-Minor. To me it was ‘home’- at least for the next few years.

Mariah didn’t disappoint! Our quarters were magnificent! After seeing that Emily and Randi were settled into the base infirmary, I found myself facing a building marked ‘Base Commander’. Once through the Quonset’s unassuming screen and wooden door, a small full width lounge area done in what looked like red oak trim met the eyes. Six hand-carved wooden reclining chairs sat, three on either side, each had its own small lamp and side table complete with ashtray- behind them bookshelves lined the outer walls. A hand woven area rug covered the standard issue wooden floor in the center. Thick, room-darkening drapes framed the two side windows and the light in the door. A motorized fan spun slowly from the ceiling. Beyond was a short hallway with a door on both sides and also one at the back.

The room on the left proved to be my personal office. A large red oak desk filled the center of the room. It left just enough room for two filing cabinets and a second oak chair. Several pictures of vintage sailing ships hung from the three straight walls. Again thick, room-darkening drapes framed the single window behind the desk.

Across the hall was a small lavatory complete with a white cast iron bathtub. A pleasant flower patterned shower curtain provided privacy when showering. Above the lavatory sink hung a lavish, hand-carved, oak medicine cabinet- a matching towel rack hung beside the tub. The small window on the outer wall had a curtain of material similar to the other rooms. I began to wonder what surprises the last room, my bedroom, would hold. On my previous visit I had neglected to visit my own quarters, instead opting to check out Sand Dollar’s new mooring.

I was not disappointed when I opened the door to my private room! This room took up the last third of the building and was appointed in the same rich red oak trimmings as the rest of this building. A large, thick, heavy red oak bed frame directly ahead of me commanded my attention. Both foot and headboards were carved with various sea mammals: Whales, Dolphins, Sea Lions, and even Sea Otters. To either side of my headboard sat small nightstands with reading lamps atop them. Another hand-woven area rug covered the plain wooden floor. Another reclining chair sat to my left in front of two half-height bookshelves and a floor lamp. Sitting on one of the bookcases was a highly detailed, hand-carved, model of my Sand Dollar. She was complete down to the screws. Looking closer, it even had several splinter marks where the two Zeros had unloaded on her foredeck! How had Ensign Banes managed such spectacular results in just four days?

Adjacent to my reading area was a large closet with two sliding doors. Above the headboard and to either side of the door hung more pictures of ships. To my right an oak dressing table and chair, a chest of drawers, and a large wardrobe completed the room. Again the windows had the same thick drapery. A motorized fan spun lazily on the ceiling making the tropical heat bearable.

A knock at the doorframe caught my attention.

“Wow! Mariah did a spectacular job didn’t she, Alex?” Emily bubbled as she gazed about the room. She even whistled. “You look like this is the first time you saw it.”

“Last time I was more interested in the grotto. How are your quarters, sis?”

“Not as lavish as this! You must have really made an impression! How could she do this in just four days, Alex? More over, how did she come by all this wood? I don’t think oak grows naturally on this island.”

“As far as I know it doesn’t, Emily. I can’t believe the attention to detail- it’s so beautiful! Our Miss Banes truly has an amazing gift, sis! Such talent!”

“I stand humbled! To receive such high praise from the Empress is worth the labor ten-fold!” Ensign Banes and Lt. Smith had quietly entered while I talked with Emily.

Mariah’s smile, down turned glance, and blushing cheeks spoke louder than her words ever could. I closed the gap between us and embraced the talented woman!

“I’m the one who should be humbled, Mariah! It’s all so beautiful! Thank you so much!” I whispered in her ear. I released her to dry my eyes. “I hope your lodgings are comparable, your highness?”

“Mariah spared no expense on any of our quarters, Alexandra. I am afraid the Admiral will find our base somewhat decadent though! Of course, he will be more understanding when he learns no extra Navy funding was employed- once he visits his guest quarters! Shall we take in the rest of Mariah’s efforts, Captain?”

“After you, your highness! Ladies?”

2130 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, April 30th, 1944

“Chief, its 9:30 and you and Ricki have been up for more than thirty-six hours straight. I think you should go back to your quarters. Randi will be all right and Ensign Hardt will be in the next room anyway.”

“I’d rather stay here, Doc.”

“Ricky Lynn, if you don’t get some rest you’ll be the next one occupying one of these beds!”

“She would do the same for me, Doc!”

“I know she would, chief, and I’d tell her the same thing if you were on that bed instead. Now go get some sleep. Alex will find a way to bring her back to us, Ricky Lynn. She’s already talked to her a few months from now, remember?”

“Ya, I heard her say that, Doc. Still doesn’t shorten the wait though!”

“Just get some sleep, chief! I promise I’ll call for you the minute Randi wakes up!”

I looked at the alarm clock for the twentieth time in five minutes. Our first check-in from this new base had just concluded ten minutes ago. Chief Van Pelt’s presence was sorely missed. Josie’s report, even her tone, seemed strained- mechanical. Even the air in our new radio shack felt thick and stifling. To me, it had been the longest five-minute report on record.

Now I sat here, in my beautifully decorated quarters reading and re-reading the last few days of Sand Dollar’s log entries searching for something that would trigger an idea to help my radio operator. So far, I had nothing! The logs were straightforward and nothing stood out as inspirational. Yet, I knew I would find the key to unlock her condition. I silently scolded myself for not asking Randi four months from now how she came to be so technically competent. Wait…was that the key? Was it that simple? A knock at my door startled me from my thoughts.

“Am I interrupting, Alex?” Jack asked from the doorway.

“Wow, Jack, you look as tired as I feel! Can’t sleep either?”

“Worried about Randi is all.” She stated flatly.

“Me too. I keep going over everything that happened prior and the best I can come up with is going forward a few months to ask her what I did. I’m not convinced that would help though, Jack. Something about it just feels wrong.” I said as I rubbed my face for the umpteenth time tonight.

“I can’t see how going ahead could change things that much, but if you say it feels wrong…well, I can’t argue with that, Alex. What if you and I just go forward and you keep us out of phase? I’ll try to search her mind for an answer. She’ll never know we were there.”

“I’ll have to run that scenario, Jack. That’s better than what I’ve come up with so far though. I’ll let you know what I decide in the morning.”

“One other thing, Ricki and Ricky Lynn are taking it hard, Cap. Emily says they refuse to leave Randi’s side- especially Ricky Lynn. She’s been up over thirty-six hours already. Alex, if we get the call I’m afraid we leave base short our Chief Pettys! We can’t afford them falling asleep on duty!”

“Jack, I knew about Chiefs Samuels and Peterson at her bedside. I’d probably do the same if it were you, Emily, Carroll, Mina, or any of the crew for that matter! Those three have become inseparable over the last three weeks and I never thought that would happen- ever! Emily promised me she would have Ricky Lynn get some sleep even if she had to tranquillize her. Just in case though, note adjustments in your duty roster, Jack. In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for a possible resolution to Randi’s situation. Try to get some rest, Jack. One of us needs to be bright-eyed.”

“You too, Alex. What good is a sub without her captain? Don’t forget, sometimes the strangest things can lead to the answer. Well, goodnight, Cap. I’ll come by in the morning.”

“’Night, Jack.”

Again I checked the alarm clock by my bed. I still read 0135hrs (1:35AM). It felt like three days to me. Several hours of running variations of Jack’s suggestion through my head resulted in little or no responses. In other words I would have to physically try one. The safest way to achieve that would be to go it alone. The less baggage I had the faster I could move. I decided I could be road-worthy in about fifteen minutes especially since I was just wasting time here.

As on previous trips, I decided to wear my dress whites. This was beginning to become my time travel uniform of choice.

A quiet knock at the door and Jack’s voice interrupted me as I adjusted my cover in the dressing table mirror.

“I’m coming along, Alex. Don’t try to stop me- I know what you’re thinking so don’t!” She stated firmly. She also wore her dress whites.

“You’ve been listening to my thoughts, Commander?”

“Looking out for my Captain’s well-being, ma’am.”

Did she really know the dangers involved? What if I start my cycle as happened with Brie in St. Louis? What if we somehow lost physical contact during a jump?”

“I’m well aware of the dangers, Captain. So we spend an extra week in the future. If it cures Randi, I’ll take the chance! Now let’s get going, Empress!” She took a firm hold of my arm.

“As you wish, Commander.”

Sunshine filled my quarters.

“Keep holding my arm, Jack…um, maybe just my hand instead. That would be more comfortable.” I felt Jack’s other hand nervously grasp my arm then she quickly took my hand in hers. “I’d never intentionally let go, Jack!”

“You just thought about it, Alex! I know you don’t want me along. Trust me, I won’t slow you down!”

“You have my word, Jack. I won’t let go. Now, let’s find Randi, she should be working on the new radar unit in the grotto.”

The daytime heat and height of the sun told me it was at least July, around noon I would guess. We headed off to the yellow brick road. On the way over we tried to avoid walking through or being walked through by base personnel.

As we entered the mouth of the tunnel, an extremely loud, low-pitched thrumming sound assaulted our ears. It seemed to emanate from the tunnel itself. The sound was so loud; Jack and I had to release our hands in order to cover our ears! As quickly as it started, the sound stopped completely. Jack and I looked at each other still stunned and ears ringing.

“Empress. Welcome to Atlantis-Minor. It is Wednesday, July 26th, in the year of our Lord 1944.”

The voice from behind made us both spin around in surprise.

“Welcome to you also, Cmdr. Cummins.”

“Thank you, Mariah. I’m afraid you startled us a bit.”

“It is you who startled me, Empress! You just appeared to my fore this instant. Had I been a second quicker we would be one right now. To what do we owe your visit?”

“We came to talk to Chief Van Pelt, Mariah, could you tell me were she might be?”

The Ensign’s face instantly grew sad; tears immediately fell from her eyes. “I’m afraid Randi passed two weeks hence, Empress. The base still mourns her loss, ma’am.” She said as she slowly looked to the ground.

I did everything I could to keep my mouth from dropping open. “No! That can’t be right! I talked to her here…on this date, the last time I visited. She demonstrated her new radar system! I tell you she was alive and breathing! Jack, can you hear her anywhere around?”

“Everyone but her, Alex. Mariah seems to be telling the truth.”

“Empress, Chief Van Pelt died of starvation. Doctor Scott tried everything she could to nourish her, including something called an IV. Nothing seemed to work. She dwindled to seventy-five pounds before her heart stopped, God rest her soul.” She sniffed a few times and wiped her tears. “I’m sorry, Empress, it never gets any easier no matter how many times…” She fell into my arms. “You said you would help her, Empress! Why did you not?” I felt her heaving sobs, as she finally could not contain her sorrow any longer.

“I’m sorry, Mariah! This is our first stop on our quest to help Randi! As I said before, I talked with her on my last visit to this time.”

“Then somehow you have caused a paradox, Alexandra! I have told you time and time again that our temporal existence is fragile at best! One slight unconsidered change- one tiny mistake can upset the world! You should know that by know, Empress!” Mina reprimanded.

The way she emphasized ‘Empress’ indicated I was not the most popular visitor on this base at the moment.

“Lt. Smith, you will not address me in that tone of voice or…!”

“Or what, Empress, would you court-martial her?”

Jack and I spun back around to the tunnel hearing my voice.

“Alex? B…b…b…but you’re right here…next to me! Oh, this isn’t good!” Jack looked white as a sheet. I prepared to catch her should she pass out.

“It’s fine, Jack. There have been three of us in the same vicinity before and the world didn’t end. Hi, Alex. Care to explain why I’m being so sarcastic to myself?”

“Empress, we let her down…we let them all down! All we had to do was figure out the key. I traveled for four months straight looking for an answer! In those four months I got a total of forty hours of sleep and in the end it did no good! Randi died because I couldn’t find the solution, Alex.” She approached and cried into my shoulder repeating ‘I couldn’t save her’ several times.

“Mina, I think you’re right about causing a paradox. In fact I think our timelines have diverged. Last time I was here…in this moment…this point in time, I felt a tingle when the two of us accidentally touched. There was no such sensation just now between your Alex and me. We need to sit down and put everything on the table to find out just where your timeline took its tangent. If we can determine that point, I can go back a little before to stop it.” I stopped talking as one very important side effect crept into my thoughts.

“If I do go back and stop the divergence to this timeline…it will never have happened. Y’all wouldn’t exist. We” I pointed to Jack and I, “would continue on as if nothing happened. Therein lies the paradox!” I rubbed my face in frustration and drew a deep breath.

“I have to kill the people I vowed to protect in order to save them! I have to tell y’all I’m not too keen on that idea! It goes against everything I believe in!”

“Well, I for one can live with the knowledge that I did what had to be done in order to save one of us!” Alex said.

“Nor could I forgive myself for not making the supreme sacrifice to save a life, Alexandra! If one dimension should forfeit to save another, I say do so, the cost is warranted. There are millions of other dimensions out there; the loss of one is negligible!”

“Mina, I don’t even think this you would notice. You just wouldn’t happen.”

“Can we get down to brass tacks here? All this dimensional, temporal, paradoxical talk is giving me one helluva headache! Empress, we need to figure out just where everything went ‘fubar’!” Jack said, a little more than anxious to get back home to something close to normal.

“I quite agree, Jacquelyn. Shall we reconvene in your lounge, Captain?”

“Yes!” We both said.

I think Jack almost passed out when we did that.

1406 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, July 26th, 1944

“That has to be the defining moment, Alex! When you decided to come here to ask her what she did! I’ve been searching everybody’s mind during the discussion and we all share the same memories up until 1AM April 30th!”

“Well that’s all well and good, Commander, but what makes you so sure Mina and Emily’s memories are accurate? You would think they would notice the divergence!”

“You of all people know I was listening to the whole camp that night, Commander! Oh God! Now I’m talking to my self as well! Doc, ya got any aspirin? It feels like Josie’s people are having a war party in my head!”

“Make it two, Doc! Looking at me sitting across the table from me gives me the willies! I like your makeup by the way, Jack, it compliments our color.”

“Thanks, Jack. Um…you know you have a pimple on your chin there?”

“Right here?”

“No, right…”

“Sit down, Jack! I told you two it might not be such a good idea to touch! I don’t know if the multi-me thing is exclusive! Just sit down and never mind the pimple, Commander!”

“You should bring Jacquelyn along more often, Empress. Maybe then she would start to understand her part in the universe better.”

“Thanks for that Mina. Sometimes I get just as confused.” I raised my arms above my head to stretch- both of me that is.

“Sis, you have no idea how disturbing that is.”

“Sorry.” We said in unison.

“Stop that!” Emily scolded.

“So, Alex, let’s talk about what you’ve done and where you’ve been in our quest. I take it you’ve been to our private dimension and called on Randi? What did she have to say?”

“I haven’t gone there since I took Ma and Mina, Empress. I was still reeling from the news when I got back. It must have slipped my mind.”

“Well, that’s the first place I’ll check. Jack would you like to come along?”

“I’d love to.” Both answered.

I looked across the table. “Maybe another time, Jack. Jack, you’re coming with me. My Jack that is!” I looked at me. “See? This is why we work better alone. I only have to talk to myself! That in it’s self is confusing enough! Give me your hand, Jack! Ladies we’ll be back.”

“It’s so quiet here, Alex! I only hear two voices, yours and mine. It’s as if we are the only two people that exist!” Jack said as she looked around in amazement.

“It gives me a chance to think, Jack. Right now I have to concentrate on Randi.”

“Does that sun ever move, Alex? What keeps this place warm? How long does it usually take?”

“Jack, I’m trying to concentrate! I don’t understand it! She should have been here by now!”

“Maybe she’s not here, Alex. Maybe she went…” Jack pointed to her feet… “down.”

“A soul is a soul, Jack! No matter where they are they should come to me! Both Brian and Grandpa said so. Why can’t I call her?” I said to myself in frustration.

“Like I said, maybe she’s not here. Maybe she’s stuck somewhere…you know…in between?” She said sheepishly. A flashbulb went off in my head.

“Maybe she is just that, Jack…stuck!”

“Excuse me?”

“Maybe she’s stuck! How could a soul not be here, you ask? If it was stuck somehow- if it were unable to leave its body for some reason!”

“I don’t get it, Alex. How could a soul not leave the body once it dies? They never taught us this in bible study!”

“A glitch!”

“Glitch?”

“My daughter Cassie, told me that Ricky Lynn had to work out some glitches in her car’s programming before she could enter it in the contest in 2026.”

“Let’s go ask her then! Maybe future Ricky Lynn can tell us how to fix the glitch?”

“We can’t go straight from here, Jack. Maybe she doesn’t enter the contest in this altered timeline. We have to start over- go back to square one- hop over the divergence. Take my hand.”

“That was fast! What did she tell you, sis?”

“She wasn’t there, Emily. I called and called, she never showed. Jack and I think she may be stuck somewhere.”

“How on earth could she get stuck ‘somewhere’, Alex? I saw her die with my own eyes!” I looked at Jack…my Jack…then looked back at her. “You saw her body expire, sis. What if she…if her soul was caught in some kind of glitch? If her soul is still trapped in her body or some other container?”

“Reincarnation!” Mina exclaimed.

“What?”

“Reincarnation, Alexandra. The people of India…people of the Buddhist and Hindu religions believe that a soul can be reborn as another living creature- a tree, grass, butterfly, bird, or such. That could be one possible explanation as to her boycott.”

“That’s reasonable, Mina, but I think we may be over thinking this a bit…a bit.” I thought about that word, ‘bit’. I had heard the term used before, but where? Thinking further, I had heard the word ‘glitch’ used in the same sentence, or sequential sentences. ‘Sequential’, everything happens in a sequence. Ricky Lynn’s car used a sequence- a program. A glitch had caused untold problems with the thing.

“I think I’ve partially solved this!” I announced with excitement. “I have to go back to 2026- to the DARPA competition. Cassie told me that Ricky Lynn’s entry had a few ‘glitches’. Problems with its programming that wouldn’t let it function properly. Maybe she could shed some light on this?”

“The DARPA competition doesn’t exist anymore, Empress! I tried to go there, remember? Ricky Lynn went AWOL last week. We think she slipped off base on the supply ship. It never made it back to Pearl, Empress. We think it was sunk by the Japanese on its way to Midway.” I informed me.

“Ah, but did you think to go back to the beginning before you went to the end, Alexandra?” I asked.

“That’s it! Sometimes I surprise even my self, Empress!”

“We do work together well, don’t we?” I giggled.

“Doc, more aspirin please, I’m getting that headache back again…this time I’m starting to feel nauseous too.”

“Make that a double, Doc!”

“Stop that, the four of you!”

“Empress, I believe you two have your work cut out for you.”

“Thank you, Mina. Jack, it’s time to go, please take my hand.”

“Until another time, Empress!”

“Until another dimension, your highness.”

2339 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, April 30th, 1944

“Emily, how’s Randi doing?” I asked as Jack and I entered the infirmary.

“Weren’t you just in here, sis? You just walked out of here not five sec...” Emily’s face flashed a huge smile as she noticed my uniform. Her eyes sparkled. “You two found a way to help her! Oh, Alex, that’s wonderful!” She gave both of us a hug, but held me longer. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“This is only a stopping point…I mean a starting point, sis. I’m still in my quarters wracking my brain for the answer. Jack and I have already jumped forward to late July. You don’t want to know what happened there. The timeline went askew! It wasn’t pretty, I’ll tell you that much!”

“So where do you go from here?”

“Back to 2026. That seems to be a key event to what’s happening now.”

“But isn’t that spot already full of Alex’s? Won’t the universe spontaneously collapse if another one of you appears there?”

“It’s a chance I…” I looked over to Jack as she began to frown at me. “We…a chance Jack and I take willingly. Jack what am I thinking at this moment?”

“Your scared, Alex! Your deathly afraid that this might not work!”

“No Jack, the other me…in my quarters!”

“Oh. You’re running my idea again…and again…and…”

“I get the idea, Jack!”

“Dammit, Alex, this Empress shit is getting ridiculous! First you’re talking to yourself…literally…then I’m talking to my self- across the table from me! I’m tired and I have a headache!”

“Maybe you should stay here then.”

“Not a chance, Empress! You’re stuck with me until Randi opens her eyes- that’s final!” She let me know in no uncertain terms.

I noticed Emily giggle. “Is it true, sis?”

“Is what true, Emily?”

“Have you finally given up rebelling against the name ‘Empress’?” Her devious smile was infectious.

“Sis, right now I have no time to argue monikers! We…oh, ha ha! I’m the Empress, I have all the time in the world, don’t I.” I deadpanned. I put a serious face on. “Did you ever stop to think that I’d use up my four hundred year existence faster than anyone else? Do you think time stops for me just because I’m physically not here?”

“As Mina would say, don’t get your knickers in a bunch, sis! Mina explained that concept to us while you were away that first time. To answer your question, yes, I understand that my sister won’t live as long as my other sister. I accept that- I don’t like it, but I accept it! I thought a little teasing would lighten the mood, Alex!”

“I’m sorry, Emily. This whole situation has got me balled up in a knot. I’m afraid I’ll change the future again- maybe worse this time!”

“You haven’t lost as much sleep as with the PT boat incident, sis.”

“One of my crew and a dear friend wasn’t involved that time!”

“Alex, Ricky Lynn is on her way back here! She intends to stay the night again.”

“Sis, you have to get her to rest! She’s going to be in here for a reason soon!”

“Let’s take her along, Alex!”

“How would she get any rest if we keep moving around, Jack? Wait…sis, could we talk a minute…in private?” I looked back at my Ex-O.

“Sure, let’s go into my office.”

We walked the dozen or so steps back into Emily’s office.

“Take my hand, sis, please?”

Emily placed her hand in mine.

Jack’s voice echoed into the small office. “That’s not fair, Alex! I wasn’t going to listen!”

“I take it we’re out of phase?”

“Yes. I need clarification on a few things, sis.”

“Ask away, Alex.”

“A woman’s cycle is what, twenty-eight days?”

“Usually, why?”

“Since I returned from 1942 I’ve been here a total of eleven days?”

“Yes, but we repeated a day or two when you took us to New York.”

“Exactly. That’s twelve days. Plus I’ve spent another five days, I think, with Ma and Mina in my void. Jack and I spent another day in the void just an hour ago. A day here a day there…” I continued to count days spent in different times during my travels. I come up with roughly twenty-six days, give or take a day. Emily, I’m going to start after we get to 2026! If we take Ricky Lynn with us she’ll have to wait until I finish. Seven days! She would have no choice but to rest, would she?”

“You are so devious, sis! I could scan you and tell you exactly how long until…”

“Not necessary. I have a feeling I’ll know. The question is should we take her to meet herself? Could she handle the strangeness?”

“As long as the two don’t touch…I could make it an order, sis!”

“No, that won’t be necessary either. I’ll ask her if she would like to come along- that she could do Randi more good that way.”

“I think she would jump at the chance!”

“Good, then it’s settled. You can let go now, sis. We’re back in phase.”

I opened the door and we walked out into the larger infirmary area. A very tired, very disheveled Chief Samuels walked through the front door.

“Commander? Skipper? Why you all dressed up?”

“Chief, the commander and I think we may have found a way to fix Chief Van Pelt. Would you be interested in helping us? It would require some…um, travel.”

“Really, Skipper? You found a way to help Randi?”

“We think so, but for our plan to work we need you to come along. How ‘bout it?”

“Skip, you know I’d do anything to help her! Count me in!”

“Emily, what time do you have?”

“2340hrs, Alex.”

“Chief, I need you to get yourself pulled together in fifteen minutes! Shower, makeup, and dress whites, lieutenant, on the double! Meet us back here no later than 2357hrs.”

“You are so devious, Alexandra Steinert!” Jack accused after Chief Samuels raced out of the infirmary. “You think she’ll be happy when she realizes this was all a rouse?”

“Of course she won’t be happy, Jack! It’s for her own good though. Remember I pledged to take care of y’all- even if it’s the unpopular choice.”

“Alex, you’ll need some different clothes if you’re going to be stuck there for seven days.”

“I know. We do dress differently in 2026, Emily. Would it be too much to ask if you could have me pack a few things from the house before I leave for the race?”

Only if you promise to bring some clothes back for me, sis, from what you’ve told me they sound very comfortable. Anything is better than a wool skirt in the tropics!”

“I have to agree with that, sis. I’ll see what I can do…wait! Put a few things in for yourself as well. That should work. You know what you’ll like, so just do that.”

“Thank you, Empress.” Emily’s eyes twinkled as she smiled.

Lt. Samuels walked through the infirmary door at exactly 2356hrs. Aside from the slight dark circles under her eyes- the part her makeup couldn’t cover- she looked very presentable.

After going over to check on Chief Van Pelt, she joined Jack and I.

“Is this going to hurt, Skipper?” She asked in a shy voice.

“Will what hurt, Lieutenant?”

“Time travel, ma’am. Will it hurt?”

“Take my hand, Miss Samuels, and be enlightened.” Jack grabbed my right hand as I offered Lt. Samuels my left and a stolen quote from Louis Carroll.

“Be careful, sis! Oh, um…until another time, Empress.”

“See you in the future, sis!”

“You never told me if it would hurt, Skipper!”

The dimly lit, small infirmary turned into the bright, hot, vast Arizona desert. About thirty yards head of us a crowd of people cheered and clapped for some reason. The backside of a banner was stretched across an asphalt-paved road.

“You tell me, Lieutenant! Did it hurt?”

If Ricky Lynn could’ve spoken a single word with her mouth that far open, I’d have been amazed! Jack reached over and gently pushed her mouth shut.

“Keep holding my hand, Ricky Lynn. We aren’t here yet.” To demonstrate, Jack passed her hand right through a small barrel cactus beside her.

“Honestly Lieutenant, can you keep your mouth off the ground? They have scorpions here you know!” Jack and I laughed.

I looked around us. Everyone’s attention was focused on the winners of the race; so I rephased us.

“Okay, Ricky Lynn, you can let go now, we’re here.”

I motioned to Jack and Ricky Lynn to follow me.

“Now you should know a few things, Lieutenant. You will be meeting your future self. Under no circumstances can you two physically touch each other! That goes for you too, Jack.”

“You mean I’m here too! And I forgot to bring more aspirin!”

“Ya, well there are three of me here already! The future me; me in my future body; my parents, and me with Brie and now you two with me! Who needs the aspirin, Jack?” I raised an eyebrow to her.

I noticed Emily in the crowd as we drew closer. To her side stood a very stiff looking Alexandra Steinert. Ricky Lynn was talking to her.

“Empress, I see you have made it.” A voice said from above and behind us.

“Josie! I thought you couldn’t make it?” I waited until she climbed off her horse and greeted her with a kiss on her cheek.

“Forgive me Empress, I’m a little out of practice these days. Welcome. It is August 10th, 2026, Empress.”

“Thanks, Josie. I already knew what day it is. I’m over there with Emily already, but I would appreciate it if, when you go over to talk to Ricky Lynn, that you don’t talk about me being here.” I pointed to the other me down the road from us.

“No matter how many times we’ve traveled together, you always manage to confuse me, Alex. Should I even ask why you’re over there already?”

“Josie, that me,” I pointed to our left, “is possessed by the me just after our PT boat incident in 1944.”

“Ah, the day your Samantha spoke of ten years ago.”

“Yes. And I’m also a few hundred yards down the road with my parents and Brie- just after her Mahanilui. Does that clear things up?”

She paused to think over my explanation. “I brought some pre-NSAID ban ibuprophen. Does anyone else need some?” She asked as she looked at Jack and Ricky Lynn.

“If that’s like aspirin, Josie, I’ll take a few. Better give a couple to Ricky Lynn here too.”

Josie shook her head as she reached into her saddlebag and removed a small bottle and three strange looking, clear bottles of water.

“Would you care for a bottle of water also, Empress?”

“No, I’m good Josie, thanks.”

She dropped the reigns of her horse to the nearby cactus.

“Stay here, Charolette, I’ll be right back.”

“Who’s Charolette?” Jack asked looking around for another person.

“Charolette is my horse, Commander.” Josie giggled.

“You talk to your horse?”

“Of course, Commander! Just like I talk to my dogs, cats, hamsters, and ferrets- oh, and the goldfish too, let’s not forget them either!” Josie laughed.

“This is Jack and Ricky Lynn’s first time traveling to the future with me, Josie. I haven’t told them too much about it yet.” I admitted. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t say anything to the others. If they knew how many of me were here, Emily would nag me senseless for the next three hundred years!”

Charolette gave a low, disgusted snort and turned her head toward me. Josie immediately went back and rubbed her muzzle.

“Now now, girl, she didn’t mean it that way! The Empress loves you too. Now settle down, I’ll be right back.”

Josie turned her attention back to us.

“Oh! Well, I’m sure you two will enjoy this trip. I remember the first time the Empress took me to the future; I just couldn’t believe my senses. That was such an overwhelming experience! But I think I’ll let you three go about your business. I want to go congratulate our Ricky Lynn on another contest well fought! I’ll see you all later, Empress, Commander, Lieutenant!”

Josie gave each of us a loving embrace and headed into the crowd.

“Alex, did she just talk to her horse?” Jack asked again- this time with a look of amazement.

“I believe she did, Jack! Remember, we all have gifts. Before we left, Josie’s hadn’t appeared yet- as far as we know.”

“Come on Skip, we gotta get over an talk ta Randi! We need to get back soon as possible so we can cure her!” Lt. Samuels cried out with excitement.

“We’ll get there, Lieutenant! It’s best that certain people not see too many of me though. I’d have to reveal too much…too much,” I thought about how to say this, “I’d have to let out certain secrets, chief- secrets that shouldn’t be revealed at this time! Understand?”

“I understand, Empress, but he may not!” She pointed behind me.

“Who may not, Chief?”

“Alex, there you are!” A man’s voice chimed.

A pair of hands spun me around. Before I knew what was happening, a pair of lips positioned themselves on mine and I was involved in the best kiss of my life! My eyes focused on the face of a man, about thirty years old. His brown hair was slightly longer than regulation, but looked nice. Light brown, almost gray eyes stared back at me with lust as his liplock continued. The sensations coursing though my body weren’t entirely unpleasant. Who am I kidding? I was totally off balance and loving it!

I tried to put some distance between us by pushing his shoulders away. Finally succeeding, I gasped for air.

“A body has to breathe every so often!” I gasped trying to catch my breath. “Who are you, sir?”

“Brandon Covington! Leave my sister alone, you romantic fool! I’m over here!” My voice laughed from behind the handsome six foot-two, well-built man. I looked around him to see Emily and I hurrying over to us.

“Oh, Allie, I’m so sorry! I thought you were Alex! I can never tell you two apart and Alex didn’t tell me you’d be here. Welcome back.” He hugged me- this time without the toe-curling…this time without the kiss.

“Welcome back, sis! Glad you three could make it, how was your trip?” My future version asked us as we exchanged an embrace and peck on the cheek.

I felt the slight, but sharp tingle that I hadn’t felt on our last meeting in July of 1944. I was reassured that we were in the right dimension and immediately smiled.

“Hi, sis, how were things at the base?” Emily asked cheerfully.

“About the same, only this time we’re on the right track.” I said as I looked at ‘Brandon’. “You honestly thought I was Alex?” I asked him to acknowledge to Emily and ‘Alex’ that I understood that Brandon was not a party to our secret.

‘Alex’ continued. “Brandon, you remember Joss Cummins and Lynn Samuels don’t you? Girls, I bet y’all would like to say hi to your sisters?” She winked at us.

“Of course, nice to see you both again! Wow, who would have thought I’d be lucky enough to know so many beautiful sets of twins when I met you, honey?” He said as he leaned over and kissed ‘Alex’.

“Yes, who would have thought?” Emily deadpanned. “Come on girls, let’s go see the winning team!” she pointed to the noisy, still cheering, crowd.

“Um, Alex? Could I have a word for a minute?”

“Sure, sis. Brandon, honey, you go ahead with Emily and the girls. We’ll be just a minute.

“Okay, but don’t take too long. Ricky Lynn has to load up the car yet.” Brandon said as he, Emily, ‘Joss’, and ‘Lynn’ walked toward the crowd.

“Empress.” Alex said as she got down on one knee. “It is Monday, July 10th, 2026. Welcome!”

“Not me too! Honestly!” I huffed.

“You’re too easy, Alex! What is it you wanted?”

“About before,” I pointed to the crowd, “I’m sorry I took us over like that. I didn’t know that would happen- I didn’t even know how it happened, Empress. Forgive me for imposing, it was wrong of me.”

“Alex, you forget we’re the same person! I knew what to expect, I went through it already, remember?”

“It just gets so confusing sometimes! Does it ever get easier, Empress?”

“Let’s get one thing straight, Alex. When I’m traveling, I’m always the Empress- I’m always ‘Allie’. It just makes talking to each other simpler and people like my Brandon won’t suspect anything out of the ordinary. The same goes for Jocelyn and Lynn. They must pretend to be their twin.”

“And just who thought that rule up?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“We did, Empress!” Alex giggled.

“I’m going to have a long, strong talk with myself!”

“We will tonight, back at the Condo.”

“What’s…a Condo? 1944, remember?” I pointed to my chest with my thumb.

“Sort of like a larger multi-bedroom apartment; kind of like a timeshare…oh…never mind! Let’s go join the celebration, Allie.” Alex said in frustration.

As we walked, I decided to ask if Alex had brought any clothes for me.

“Oh, Allie, you think I would forget something like that? Of course I packed extra clothes for you! I asked Cassie to do that just before we left the house.”

“You didn’t?” I gasped.

“Just checking, sis. I wanted to make sure it was me and not the other you.”

“What other me, Alex?”

Alex stopped and looked at me closely. “You don’t know do you? Allie, remember that alternate dimension Joss and I visited?”

“Ya, just like it was yesterday…wait…scratch that, it was just last night. Of course I remember it, Alex!” I said to her with just a little bit of sarcasm. “Why, what about her?”

“Never mind. I took care of it. Forget I said anything.” Alex scanned the crowd. “There they are. Cassie, Sam, Alex, look who decided to pay us a visit!” She shouted.

“Aunt Allie!” Young Alex yelled as he dashed to me and wrapped his arms around me. At sixteen he was already catching up to me in height. He was the spitting image of me at the same age…when I was still a man.

Cassandra was the next one in line.

“Empress, long…”

“Don’t you dare young lady,” I cut her off mid-sentence and pointed my finger at her! She started over.

“Aunt Allie! So good of you to come!” Apparently my sarcasm ran in the family.

“Well, I’m certainly glad to see you, Aunt Allie!” Samantha said as she too gave me a firm hug.

“Nice to see you again as well, Sam. Let’s all go find Ricky Lynn, shall we?”

We were just in time to see the ‘Samuels twins’ greet each other.

“Lynn! Oh my God, Lynn, you made it!” Ricky Lynn shouted as she saw her twin approach.

I cringed then panicked expecting the universe to end in a flash as she ran to her ‘sister’ and wrapped her arms around Lt. Samuels.

“Mom, relax! The world isn’t going to end. You were wrong about that. Aunt Emily can explain it better than I can.” Samantha said, trying to calm me.

I immediately heard Jack in my head. “I thought you said touching was a no-no, Alex?”

“No, that was a popular misconception, Jack. Emily thinks it has to do with the cells in our bodies completely replacing themselves every so many years. My cells are not the same as your cells, Jocelyn, time-wise. Therefore its safe to touch.” Echoed in my mind as Jacquelyn explained- I guess to the three of us.”

“Aunt Jacki always has to take the fun out of things!” Sam groaned beside me.

Apparently she explained it to all of us just in case.

Lt. ‘Lynn’ Samuels didn’t waste any time.

“Where’s Randi? We got to find out what’s wrong with her!”

“Lynn, keep yer damned voice down! Some of these people got no idea what yer talkin’ ‘bout! They might think my ‘sister’s’ losin’ it!” Ricky Lynn chastised her.

“What you mean ‘losin’ it’?”

“Yer sanity, Lynn Samuels! Come with me, I’d like you to meet the crew.”

“I think the Lieutenant’s definitely ready for a vacation, Captain!” Joss said as she leaned over to me. Sam laughed along with us as we followed the Samuels twins. I couldn’t help be amused. What did the regular people think about three sets of twins at this event? Surely the odds were stacked against such a thing.

I felt a mild cramp in my gut.

Emily looked over to me- both of me- a devious smile appeared.

“Allie, I need to speak with you a minute…let’s go to the ladies room.”

“Out here? They have lavatories in the middle of the desert now?”

Emily rolled her eyes and just pulled me along with her.

“Don’t be silly, Allie! According to my scans both of you have just started! How did you know that would happen, sis?”

“I didn’t know, Emily! I was just playing it by ear.”

“Oh, come on! You had to have seen this! Don’t hand me that innocent routine!”

“Honest, sis, I had no idea it would happen that way! It does make things easier though.”

“I trust you came prepared?”

“Yep. Got the belt right…”

“Wait, I can’t let you put one of those obsolete things on- here, put this on instead. Just peel the paper off the back and stick it to your panties. As soon as a Port-o-pot is free that is.”

I looked up from the small flat package in my hand to see a line of about two dozen women waiting in the hot sun near six funny looking outhouses. Sliding the package Emily gave me into my purse; we took our position at the back of the line and waited.

“So where’s Randi? We was ‘spose to find Randi! Where is she, Chief?”

“Cool it, Lieutenant! You’ll see her tonight. Right now you should take it easy! You’re in the future- enjoy the wonders of technology!”

“Ricky Lynn, is your sister on that kick again? Maybe I should talk to her. May I?” I asked as Emily and I finally made it back. I immediately pulled Lynn aside.

“Listen, Chief, if you want to keep those bars you better lighten up! We’ll talk to Randi and get what we need! In the meantime, enjoy this. You are one of the few people to experience their future. Don’t forget we can return to the same time we left! Randi is obviously alive and well here some eighty years later, so we know we succeeded in helping her! You can rest assured we’ll talk to her. If you keep going on about ‘talking’ to Randi you draw unwanted attention to not only you, but also the people you traveled here with! The fewer questions asked, the better. Remember, loose lips sink ships, Lieutenant! Now, will you be able to just enjoy our seven days here?”

“Seven…” I quickly put my hand to her mouth in order to mute her shrill protest.

“You aren’t going to shout at me are you, Lieutenant?”

Her eyes grew wide as she shook her head.

“Good. Now, quietly.”

“Seven days?’ She whispered loudly. “I thought this was going to be a ‘we’re in, we’re out mission, Skipper?”

“It was until I got my period, Chief. Now we can’t go anywhere until I finish. I can’t even phase out! I’m afraid we’re stuck here for the next seven days.”

“What about the other you? Can’t she take us all back home, Skipper?”

“Emily says she started too, Chief. That means neither one of us is going anywhere! I’m sorry.”

“You two planned this! I mean…you can see the future, so you got together with her and Emily to…”

“How dare you accuse me of such a thing, Lieutenant? I’ll have you know that this is only my second time! I can honestly say I had no idea the other me would start at the same time!

“Great! Just great! What do we do for clothes, or food, or a room, Skipper?”

“Emily has retained what she calls a Condo in the next town- Flagstaff. She’s talked to several of our sisters here and collected money for clothes and other necessities. It appears we are a charity, Lieutenant. Emily assures me we’ll have nothing to worry about. She says to just relax and enjoy the vacation.”

“Allie, Lynn, could you come here and help us, please?” Ricky Lynn shouted over to us. She was standing by her Sand Dollar 4.

“Let’s go, Lynn. Try to blend in, will you?”

Jacquelyn and Jocelyn met us at the car. Apparently Jack was coping with this situation better than the chief.

“Jacki says to just make it look good, she’ll do the work. Ricky Lynn likes to show that her all-female crew can do just as well as the guys! Just make like it’s a little tough to push onto the trailer.

Seven of us pushed the fifteen-foot long Sand Dollar 4 up the ramps and into a large, box semi-trailer. Only the rear portion of the trailer was used to carry Ricky Lynn’s latest creation The mid-section of the trailer contained tool chests, and shelves of, I guessed, extra parts. She motioned for us ‘twins’ to follow her.

“Connect her up to the network, girls. Ladies, please follow me.” She said as she pressed a number code into a small keypad on the wall.

The bow of the trailer was what I would term a control room. I had expected it to look similar to a Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon type control room. This looked more like a secretarial office or steno pool. The u-shaped counter ahead of us held a half dozen portrait-sized color movie screens, each were accompanied by what looked like a typewriter keyboard, but without its platen and mechanism. Seven women turned and stood when we entered and started shaking hands with Ricky Lynn. One of the seven looked directly at me and nudged her companions. One by one, all seven knelt to one knee.

“Empress, Welcome to 2026!” Six women said in unison. One familiar face responded differently.

“Alexandra-Sensei, Welcome to 2026!”

“Takashi-Chan!” We embraced tightly and kissed each other on the cheeks.

“I was wondering when I might run into you, Tish! How have you been?”

“I’ve been busy over the years, Captain- as you can see.” She moved her hand to the other six women. “But I have found other things to occupy my time as of late. “She pointed back at the counter.

“These are all yours? Six beautiful girls, Tish! Congratulations.” The six still knelt before me.

“You know…this is getting ridiculous, Ricky Lynn! I might actually start behaving like a real Empress! Girls, please, don’t do that. No one should be made to kneel before another…ever!”

The six stood. One of the daughters looked toward Tish and bowed slightly. “Mother, you have not understated her selflessness in the least- I like her!”

“Um, I take it this is the first time we’ve met?” I motioned between Joss, Lynn, and I, then to the six women opposite us.

“I’m sorry, Skipper!” Ricky Lynn interrupted. “Girls, this is our Empress, Alexandra Steinert, Captain of the USS Sand Dollar…” The girl directly in the middle of the group gasped as Ricky Lynn said my name. “Her Executive Officer Jacquelyn Cummins, and Senior Chief Ricky Lynn Samuels. Ladies, these are Takashi’s girls: Rebecca, Yoshi, Alexandra, Abigail, Jacki, and Mina.”

All six shared their mother’s black hair in varying lengths and her post Mahanilui Navajo/Japanese heritage.

“Very nice to meet y’all, ladies!”

Young Alexandra carefully approached and hugged me. “Becky and I have met you before, Empress, several times over the last few decades, but this is were it all began, ma’am. So you have told us.”

“So, do we get along then?”

“Fantastically, Empress!” I couldn’t help notice her British accent.

“It’s ‘fantastically, Alex or Alexandra’…or during visits like this, Allie.” I looked beside me at Alex. She nodded her agreement.

Tish’s Alexandra smiled, stepped back in line, and said something to the other five in Japanese. All six giggled among themselves like school-age girls.

“Um, how old are y’all?”

Tish answered. “Alex is the oldest at twenty-six. Becky, 24; Yoshi, 21; Jacki, 19; Abby, 18; and Mina is 16.”

I noted a cloud come over Tish as she spoke her youngest girl’s name. I wondered if I should ask why, but Ricky Lynn interrupted.

“So ya ready to talk to Randi, sis?”

“Damn right I am! I’ve met everyone else on the planet! Where the hell is she?” Lynn Samuels spat.

“I’m right here, Chief. I forgot how impatient you are!”

Her voice seemed to fill the small, ten by fifteen room.

“Dammit, I ain’t got time ta play games with ya, Randi! Show yerself!” Lynn said, more than a little agitated.

“That might be a little difficult at this time, Ricky Lynn. I’m sort of disembodied right now.” Randi replied with a slight giggle.

“Yer what?” Lynn’s face grew really red and angry. “Get that pertie little ass out here so’s I can talk to you, Chief!” Lynn shouted.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to see my pretty tush, honey! Step over to one of the monitors, Lynn.”

“What’s a damn monitor?”

“Right over here, and please calm down, Lieutenant Samuels. This is an LCD computer monitor.” I think her name was Yoshi said as she guided Lynn over to one of the movie screens.

“Monitor three, Randi.” Yoshi said to no one in particular.

Randi’s face immediately appeared on the screen before the Lieutenant.

“This is why I can’t physically talk to you, Ricky Lynn. I’m in here, well, actually I’m still in the Sand Dollar 4 but not for very much longer, right Red?”

Ricky Lynn approached the monitor. “Estimated time to completion of download, Randi?”

“Seventeen minutes, professor. I’ll be ready to upload into host by the time we get back to Flagstaff. It’ll feel good to get back into my own body again, Red.”

“You’re a machine?” I gasped out in surprise.

“Empress, Welcome to 2026!” Randi’s voice giggled through the room. “I’m glad the three of you could make it, Captain!”

“Three of them? Are you still possessing Alex, Alex?” Ricky Lynn looked at Alex in surprise.

“No, chief, It’s just me in here, and Allie is right next to me. Alex said with an evil smile.

“My visual recognition system noticed another Alex three hundred yards before the finish line. She was with her sister Brie and two older persons my archived files recognize as Frederick and Delores Steinert.”

“There were three of you here? That has to be a record…even for you, Alex…I mean Allie!”

“Actually, officially there was four of me here at once, Ricky Lynn. Jac…sorry, Joss, Lynn, and I got here as you were talking to Emily and me in Alex.”

“How do you do that and keep your mind and the universe from shattering?”

I heard Alex giggle. I looked at her as she put her hand to her mouth.

“I don’t know yet, Chief. It’s just something I do! Feel free to add to that explanation, ‘sis’!”

“Family trade secret, Ricky Lynn. I’m afraid if we told y’all, we’d have to shoot you.” Alex laughed.

“Ricky Lynn, how about we talk after Red here puts me back in my body? I’ve got so much to tell you- important things you’ll have to know in your upcoming future- with your permission of course, Empress.”

Again I looked to Alex who nodded once.

“By all means, Chief. We see no harm in that.” Alex winked at me.

“Ricky Lynn, we should be going. Emily is waiting for us. Our three ‘out of town’ guests will be staying with us at the condo in Flagstaff. I suspect Jocelyn and Lynn will want to room with their sisters for the remaining six days.”

“As long as there’s plenty of asprin, ma’am!” Joss added in an apprehensive tone.

We met Emily just outside the trailer after exchanging hugs and congratulations again with Ricky Lynn and her team. She led us to her ‘car’, a smaller version of a field ambulance, sort of.

“What did you call this thing again, sis?” I asked, bewildered by the ‘Ford’ nameplate on the back.

“It’s called an ‘Expedition’. It’s a 2019 Ford Expedition Hydrogen Fuelcell, sis.”

“A 2019?”

“What… you think I can afford to go out and buy a new car every year? I’m not made of money, sis!”

“No, I just repeated the year, that’s all. It still sometimes feels like a dream to be here.” I apologized to her.

“Try going back in time, Allie. I mean back a few hundred years. Talk about being out of our element!” Alex injected. I found the lack of engine noise disconcerting- what passed for music from the radio even more so.

“Are we there yet?” Lynn asked.

“No, and if you keep asking your going to walk the…” Emily looked at her through the center mirror then down at something called a GPS and back again. “The last fifty miles to the Condo!” Her tone was not friendly.

Alex looked over at me. “Long story, don’t ask.”

“So this is a Condo?” I asked looking out the window at the three-story Chalet with two-car garage. Attached to either side were similar buildings. In fact, they lined both sides of the street.

“Yes, this is a condo, sis. Five bedrooms, three baths, a good-sized kitchen, living room, and family room- all air-conditioned for your maximum comfort, Empress!” Sarcasm dripped from her words.

“Are you going to do this every time I show up, Emily?”

“Um…Let’s see…yup!” She laughed as she pressed a button on the overhead console and the garage door in front of us began to open. Once inside, I noticed that the other bay contained a similar vehicle. Blocking it, there were two more trucks of different makes in the driveway directly behind.

“I take it the kids got here ahead of us?”

“No, the one in the other bay is mine and Brandon’s. The white Chrysler just outside the other door is Cassie and Greg’s, and the Red Silverado is Jim’s.” Alex informed me.

“You did it, Emily? You found what you were looking for?” I shouted in excitement.

“Damn straight I did, sis! Thank you, by the way. In advance.”

“That’s wonderful, I’m so glad for you!”

“Let’s go inside and get you three into something comfortable and up to date.” Emily suggested.

By the way, Greg has no idea what we are, ladies. Cassie has told him about you ‘twins’. Those of us native to this time will try to cover any questions or conversation containing recent history posed to any of you three.” Alex informed us. “Just one of the reasons you two are going to stay with your twin for the duration. Allie, if I remember correctly, you have some knowledge of the sixties?”

“July of 1969, yes, Alex. I…we were in the Pentagon for the moon landing.”

“Someone landed on the moon?”

“Yes, chief, America landed two men on the moon. If they had run out of fuel any higher up they would have crashed.” I informed Lt. Samuels.

“What are you talking about, Allie, they had thirty seconds of fuel left when they landed?” Emily corrected me.

“This Allie hasn’t been to NASA yet, sis.” Alex corrected our sister. “Give her a year or so.” She said with that devious look we shared.

“Sometimes I get just as confused as she…as you do. Alex!”

Emily quickly put her finger to her lips. We all stopped talking as she opened the door to the basement.

“Hi Greg, we’re back.” Emily announced.

“Well, how’d she do, Auntie Em?” A brown haired man with some traces of gray in his late thirties tilted his head slightly back over the top of the couch before us. A large movie screen on the far wall was playing what looked to be a football game. Commentary and crowd noises emanated from around the room.

“Ricky Lynn won again, Greg. If you’d pull your head out of that television screen for a minute!” Alex growled.

“Not when I got money riding on Tennessee! When’s dinner?”

“Soon as y’all get off yer ass and fix it, Gregory Miller! You volunteered to cook tonight, remember? And it’s a pre-season game! Who bets on a pre-season game?”

“I do! Oh, that’s right I did say that didn’t I? Hey, did our elusive Aunt Allie show up like she was supposing to, Ma?”

Lynn Samuels looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I ignored her.

“As a matter of fact I did show up, Gregory! You volunteered for kitchen detail,” I walked around to the side of the couch, picked up the remote from the armrest, pointed it at the television, and pressed the power button, “and I expect my niece’s significant other to fulfil his commitment!” I growled.

“Let me guess, you’re the evil twin? The one Cassie calls the ‘Empress’?”

“Most people refer to me as ‘Commander’, Major!” I said as I moved in front of the blank screen to face him. His eyes grew large when he saw my rank and ribbons.

Greg Miller immediately stood to attention. “Sorry, Ma’am, Cassie didn’t tell me you were Navy.”

“Don’t you have somewhere to be, Major?”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

“Then get to it Mr. Miller- on the double!”

“On it, Ma’am!”

Greg took off up the stairs to the first floor. I think he missed a few steps in the process.

“Did anyone get video of that?” Alex laughed. “That’s the fastest I seen him move since the halftime break of the Superbowl!”

“How did you know he was in the Marines, Allie?” Emily asked, amazed that I would know.

“He has the Marine crest tattooed on the back of his neck. I saw it when he leaned forward.” I admitted.

“But how did you know he was a Major, sis?”

“I saw the picture of him and Cassie on the wall back there.” I pointed to the wall we had just come in. “He looks about the same in the picture, except for the beard and mustache. It has the year in the lower right corner- ’23.” I smiled.

“I never thought you were that observant, sis.”

“Hey!” both of us cried at once.

“Just…just stop that right now, you two! I hate when you both do that at the same time!”

Alex and I smiled at each other.

Well, how did you know to use the remote to turn off the TV?” Emily asked.

“Jacki told me.” I pointed to my head. Emily stared at Jacki while she just looked around the room and whistled some random notes.

“Let’s go up stairs, shall we?” Alex said changing the subject as she led the way. “That was the Family room and this is the kitchen. There’s a bathroom and small office up front, and through here is the Living room.” We walked in.

“Spencer, honey, look who we found just standing out in the desert.” Emily said as we entered the large room.

Another large television was displaying someone playing golf. A thirty something man with blonde hair pushed the footrest of his easy chair down and stood up to face us.

“Allie, Nice of you to come! I hope you didn’t go AWOL just to visit us? I see you brought Joss and Lynn with you this time, too. Wonderful!”

I noticed Emily mouth ‘my husband’ as he welcomed each of us with a strong bear hug. When he embraced me, he whispered into my ear, “Welcome to 2026, Empress.” I guess my eyes got wide because I saw Emily’s head nod slightly.

“Thank you, Spencer, it’s nice to see you again. I hope our arrival doesn’t ruin your plans?”

“Nonsense! You are always welcome here!” He winked.

“Hey are we out of propane for the grill?” Greg called from the kitchen.

“Quit stallin’ boy! Yer makin’ dinner and that’s final! You want me to get Allie out there?” My ‘brother-in-law’ shouted.

A loud sigh echoed through the room.

“I take that as a no!” Spencer concluded.

“He’s not afraid to work- he’s afraid to start!” He shook his head.

“You want a beer, Uncle Spencer?” Came from the kitchen.

“No! You know I don’t drink, Greg! But you can bring in five cold ones for the ladies!” Emily and her husband rolled their eyes. “What’d yer Daddy used to say, Alex? When it come to bright, he’s missin’ the wick?”

“That’s what Pa used to say, Spencer! Greg isn’t quite that bad though…really.” Emily confirmed.

“How’s Ma doin’ these days, Alex? It’s been a while since we talked.” I raised both eyebrows.

“Ma’s doing good, her and Freddie should be here later tonight, Allie.” Alex smiled as she winked.

“Really! I guess those two have become inseperable?” I winked back, amazed that Pa wouldn’t stop his drinkin’.

“You could say that! Freddie…she just don’t know when ta stop, Allie!”

“She was warned! That’s the best we could do.”

Spenser just rolled his eyes and shook his head trying not to laugh.

“Did I hear you say Dee and Freddie were coming by later, Auntie Em?” Greg asked as he came in with our drinks.

“I told you, I don’t like to be called ‘Auntie Em’! Emily is just fine, Gregory!”

“Everyone has to have an Auntie Em! What would Dorothy have done without her?”

“If I weren’t on leave we could find out, Marine!” I growled at him as I grabbed the sweating can from his hand.

Greg looked at me for a second. “You’re a scary bitch, aren’t you?”

“We all are, Gregory! You would be surprised by how scary we can be! How’s dinner coming?” Alex taunted.

“It’ll be ready when Cassie and the others get here, Ma!”

“Good that means you’re microwaving tonight then? They just pulled in, Gregory.” Emily informed him- it sounded like she really liked this guy.

Joss and Jacki both leaned close so that only Alex and I could hear them. “Gregory could have a series of slight accidents in his sleep tonight since neither of you can give him a history lesson. Just give the word and Joss and I could make it happen, right sis?”

“By all means, sister! Just give the word, Cap!”

“Naw! Not worth the effort, Miss Cummins. Besides, he’s a Marine- they’re like cockroaches- you can’t kill ‘em!” I used an analogy I had heard years before. The four of us laughed like mad women!

Greg looked at us as we continued to laugh, not knowing what we were laughing at.

A new voice came from the kitchen.

“I thought dinner was supposed to be ready when we got here! Greg? Why isn’t dinner ready?” Cassie called out.

Greg got a worried look on his face, and hurried toward the kitchen.

“He was probably watching sports again, sis!” We heard Sam say to her sister.

“Hey Greg! Were you watchin’ the pre-season game?” We heard Young Alexander ask. “Who won?”

“I don’t know, kid. Your Mom and Aunts crashed the party. I didn’t see who won.” Greg said with distaste.

“Miami beat the pants off Tennessee.” Sam interrupted them.

“How do you know these things, Sammy?”

“I’m psychic, moron!” Samantha said in disgust.

Alex put her hand on my shoulder. “She gets her diplomacy from us, sis.”

“And her judge of character.”

“Yes. We like him sooo much. But Cassie loves the guy. We all know how oblivious that can make us…well, most of us, anyway.”

“I know, I know, I’ll find out soon. I get it already, Alex!” I said with a sigh.

“No, not for another…” She stopped to think, “four and a half weeks.” Alex snickered.

I was really starting to annoy me!

“Can we go change clothes now, sis? You know, I could use a nice warm bath!”

“You said there were three bathrooms in this joint, didn’t you, Doc?”

Emily nodded to Lynn.

“Care ta show me to the closest one, I need ta check my face.”

“Come right this way, Lieutenant Samuels. There’s one just off the office.” Spencer said as he took Lynn’s hand and led her away.

“Dibs on the one downstairs!” sounded in unison from the Cummins sisters. Joss and Jacki looked at each other in surprise.

“Dibs on the one upstairs!” They shouted again. Again looking at each other.

“I’ll take the upstairs, Joss, you take downstairs.”

“Oh, all right!”

The Cummins sisters walked off in two different directions.

“Now I know how Emily feels when we do that. It’s annoying!” I exclaimed.

“What’s really annoying is realizing that all three bathrooms are now occupied, Allie! Come on up to my bedroom. We’ll get you out of those antiques.

“That’s one big bed! You have a chart to navigate across it?”

“It’s what they call a ‘king-size’, Empress.” Alex informed me as she pulled things from her dresser.

“Stop calling me Empress! You know how much we hate that!”

“Allie, you know it’s a sign of respect. Remember what Granpa told Ma that time.”

“I remember! Doesn’t mean I hate it any less though.”

“Here put these on.” She gave me a pile of clothes and another one of those small, flat packages along with a small cylindrical thing in similar wrapping. I looked back at her in confusion.

“Just in case you want to try one. You just follow the directions on the package.”

I picked up the small object and started to read the words aloud.

“To use, remove from wrapper and insert into…WHAT? Insert into my…I can’t do that, Alex! No, I can’…”

“Oh come on! We both know you’ve explored down there already- several times in fact! It doesn’t hurt, Allie! I’ve been using them for years. Just try it, sis.” She chided.

I looked at her like she had a third eye.

“I can show you how if you’d like, Empress.” She giggled.

“No, I can do it! What should I do with this?” I asked as I pulled down my skirt and britches.

“You saved the package for that right?”

“Why would I do that?”

Alex sighed and began searching through her top drawer. “Here. Always save the plastic wrapper. Fold the used one up and wind it up in the wrapper, then toss it in the waste can. Now…that door goes into the shared bathroom. Joss is finished in there so its your turn to get washed up.” Alex spun me around and pushed me over to it.

“Oh.”

Once done with that I came back into the bedroom and approached the pile of new clothing. I promptly held up the miniscule item on top. “Um…which way does this go? What is it and how do I put this thing on, Alex?”

“It’s called a thong, Empress! The small triangle goes in front. Once you get past the wedgie, they’re quite comfortable.”

“What’s a wedgie?” I asked as I quickly pulled the pink ‘thong’ into place. I let out a small yelp as the string dove deep between my butt cheeks. “Never mind, I think I found out, sis!” There was that devious smile again.

Next I removed my blouse and brassiere. I examined the next piece of pink clothing.

“Alex, where’s the rest of it? Shouldn’t there be more to the cups?”

“It’s called a ‘demi-bra’, sis! Just put the thing on already, you’ll look fabulous!”

Next came the top. I pulled the light red ‘tank-top’ over my head.

“It’s a little tight isn’t it?”

“That’s the style.”

“Don’t you think it shows a little too much cleavage?”

“Put the shorts on, Allie, then sit on the bed!”

Once I had the shorts on, I sat down.

“These are called footies. They’re like short socks.” She handed me the small white cotton ‘footies’. Alex went over to her closet and fetched a box from it.

“I bought you a pair of cross-trainers. We think they’re more comfortable.” She waited until I had the pink and white deck shoes on.

“How do they feel, sis?”

“They’re so light! These are way better than those leather heels I was wearing!”

“Good, now let’s get that forties style stage makeup off you and I’ll show you how we modern girls do our faces.” She giggled as she headed back into the bathroom.

After scrubbing my makeup off, she brushed and pulled my hair back into a ponytail, Alex spent fifteen more minutes redoing my face.

“Go have a look at yourself, Allie.” She pointed to the full-length floor mirror.

“When did lipstick start coming in different colors, sis?”

“Do you like it or not?”

“I like! Thank you for working your magic on me, Empress.”

“Keep that up and next time I’ll make you look like a five dollar whore!” I gave her a devious smile. “Let get back downstairs. Supper should be done by now.”

“Damn you clean up nice, Skipper!” Lynn exclaimed once she saw me. Joss and Spencer gave me thumbs up.

“Now that’s the Allie I’m used to seeing!” Emily gave me a tight hug. “How do they feel?”

Not bad…except for this.” I said as I reached back to fish out the damned string from my crack for the umteenth time.

“You’ll get used to it, sis.” Emily consoled.

“Dinner’s ready, folks! Hey, lookin’ hot, Allie!” Greg shouted from the kitchen.

“Eww!” I shook the chills from my spine. “Do they have anything out that will cut your period short, Emily?”

“No, but I can prescribe a drug that can reduce the number to four times a year!” Emily giggled.

“Alex, how can you put up with this snake you call a son-in-law?”

“They’re not married, Allie.”

“Does Ma know about this?” I asked in alarm.

Emily, Spencer, Jacki, Sam, and Alex laughed.

“Yes, Ma knows about it, sis.”

“Dee Steinert is the poster child for nonmarital relationships, Empress.” Spencer added.

“Close the gaping hole, Allie, this is the new millennium! Those old taboos went out the window in the nineties. Same-sex marriages are all the rage now.” Alex said nonchalantly.

It was at that moment I wished I could return to 1944!

Dinner was good- just burgers and something called brats- they looked like hot dogs to me. With all the complaining and sidestepping from Greg, I thought a more opulent menu had been planned. Once we filled our plates, everyone went into the living room and laid claim to a chair or couch or the floor in front of the television. Only light conversation occurred while we ate except for several specific inquiries from Greg.

“So, Allie, where are you, Joss, and Lynn stationed?”

“A little place called Pearl Harbor. Ever hear of it, Gregory?”

“Ya…I think I might have once or twice! You in an office on base?”

“We’re with CINCPAC, I’m in command of a submarine, Major!” I tried to sound arrogant and indignant.

“Oh, I didn’t know they let women command expensive equipment like that?”

How I wish I could travel!

“Allie, here, is the first female submarine commander in the Navy, Greg! It’s quite an honor and a huge responsibility!” Alex declared on my…on our behalf.

“Wow. So, how long have you been in the service, Allie?”

“Since before the war, Gregory.” I said as anger started to seep into my voice

I glanced around the room and noticed I was the center of attention. Alex’ face was just as red as mine felt- apparently our opinions differed little. I noticed Samantha nod to Jacki, who nodded back.

The doorbell rang.

“Greg, why don’t you get that?” Alex recommended in as chipper a tone as she could manage. As he left the room, Sam came over and sat between Alex and I. She put an arm around both of us.

“Mom, I can tell you’re both ready to pop! We only get to see Cassie once, maybe twice a year, so please don’t do anything crazy? Yes, Greg’s an ass, but Cassie loves him so we have to live with that. You two,” she pointed to Jacki and Joss, “You two mind your manners! No…” she put a finger to her head and pointed to both with her other hand, “No funny stuff!”

Samantha pointed to Lynn next. “And you better stop changing the size of that fork, Lynn. If Greg notices that, we’ll have a hard time covering!”

She paused a minute.

“I think we should go up to the pool! That would get you away from Greg for a while and give you time to relax. What do you think, Mom?” She looked to both of us.

“I don’t know, Sam. I haven’t really had the chance to dawn a swimsuit since the Mahanilui! I…I didn’t think to bring one. I figured I’d be out in the desert.”

“Sis, I brought some extra suits with me just in case. Jacki, did you remember to bring an extra one too?”

“Sure did, Alex, just like you told me to…oops.”

Lynn raised her eyebrows when she heard Jacki’s slip-up.

“Yes, chief, Emily and I planned this before we left Base this morning- 1944! You refused to leave Randi’s bedside and get some rest, so I worked out the timing of my period and it just so happened I was due to start today! I figured if we got stuck here in the future you would have no other choice but to relax! My future self, starting at the same time was only an unknown variable, yet still a plus. So, don’t keep eyebrowing me everytime you find out I lied!”

Lt. Samuels stood from her seat and walked over to where I now stood. Her poker face was perfect and neither Alex nor I had a clue what she would do next. I tried not to see my crew’s immediate future unless I got one of my feelings.

Unexpectedly, she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tight.

“Thank you, Skipper.” She said quietly, her face buried deep into my shoulder.

“Thank me for what, Lieutenant?”

“For taking care of me so well! No one’s ever cared what I done to myself before! It was always: Samuels? He can take care of himself! That’s what I used to hear all the time, Skipper. I never been treated this way by officers before.”

I felt her shudder as she started to cry softly- her tears quickly soaking through my light cotton ‘T’.

Greg and Cassie appeared at the entrance to the room.

“Well, no one was at the door. You might have to get that doorbell looked at Em… Woohooow, Way ta go Allie, Yaaah! That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”

I think Cassie sensed what was coming as she took a few steps away from him. I know I had reached my limit!

“Stow it, ya damned Jarhead! I have had it up to here!” I raised my free hand above my head. In case y’all haven’t figured it out yet, we traveled all night to get here! All night! The three of us have been up for at least twenty-four hours! Lynn has been so excited about seeing her sister that she hasn’t slept a wink in thirty-five! So, if you want to read anything sexual or perverse into being tired and cranky then we can take this outside! Are you up for it, Marine? I may be just a woman to you, but I can still kick that unkept, forty year old body of yours into next week! And I do mean next week!” I quickly glanced to my oldest daughter. “What did you ever see in this arrogant, disrespectful, piece of shit, Cassie?”

“I’m ready when you are, Cap!” I heard in tandem in my head. I waved Jack, both of them, off.

“Greg’s old school! His father beat him when he was a kid!”

“Ya, well he didn’t beat him hard enough, sweetie! Pa beat me to within a hair of my life and I don’t go ‘round wearin’ it like a damned sash! I’ve tried not ta make the same mistakes Pa did- not use them as an excuse! Do you even know what it is to be a marine, boy- a real marine?”

“Allie! Sis, settle down! He’s not worth it! He’s an asshole and always will be! Don’t let him get ta y’all!” Alex intervened as she leaned closer. “Besides, there will come a day…” She whispered in my ear and let the sentence drop. A picture of Gregory somewhere in a thick jungle of strange looking trees formed, until I took her hint and asked the obvious question: ‘what does she mean by there will come a day’?

“Well, thanks for finally admitting your true feelings about him, mom! I never thought you would take Allie’s viewpoint on him!” Cassie hissed in sheer anger at the both of us.

“I always tell you how I feel about him, Cassandra! You just never listen! They say love is blind, but with you it’s also deaf, dumb, and stupid!”

“That’s it! I’m out of here, mom! Greg and I will find some place else to stay tonight!” Cassie’s voice sounded like a spoiled little child’s.

“Fine, leave, Cassandra. Have fun walking into town because James’ truck is blocking yours and he has the only key fob! So, y’all have a nice walk!” Alex waved at our oldest.

“Let’s forget this all happened, honey. Allie’s right. I was out of line and they’re tired from the trip. Besides, there’s no way she could hurt me! I got her by a hundred pound, at least!” Greg did his best to not gloat too much and still sound apologetic.

“Greg, you’re a stupid fool! Mom and Aunt Allie can hurt you more than you could know! Even if you would manage to get an upper hand, you…would…lose! Let’s just go downstairs, Greg.” Cassie looked at us with real fear.

Greg looked directly at me with a cold hard stare. I guess he was trying to intimidate me. “What are you, some kind of Transformer?”

I stared directly back at him and calmly answered his question. “No, but I know several people that are.”

Check and mate!

Greg blinked several times as he determined if I was telling the truth or just plain crazy. Finally, what little common sense he had, won out.

“Come on, honey, I think we should go downstairs and let everyone up here cool down.” The two turned and headed for the stairs. Joss waited a moment then waved her hand and we heard the stairway door slam shut.

Jacki looked at her twin. ‘Nice touch, sis!”

“They’re just lucky I didn’t do more, but I think the doc likes her pots and pans without dents. Emily agreed with a nod.

“Is he always that rude, Alex?” I asked.

“Sis, if it weren’t for Emily here, Gregory would be dino-chow by now.”

“I don’t know what that is, but I get the idea, sis. Spenser, I’m sorry you had to see that, I’m really sorry!” I apologized.

“Nonsense, Empress! That was the best entertainment we’ve had here in a long time! Why, the only thing to top this was Jacki moving their truck four blocks away that one night, remember, Emily?”

“We can lift a truck, Jacki?” Joss asked in amazement.

“You would be surprised what you can do, sis!”

“Enough of this! Let’s get dressed and have some fun at the pool!” Emily announced.

“You’re, making me pay for something I haven’t done yet, right?” I whined as I looked at the small scraps of cloth.

“Just returning the favor, Empress! You did the same thing to me when I was in your place.” Alex smiled with contempt.

“We get headaches a lot, don’t we?”

“I don’t follow, sis.” Alex looked confused.

“Cassie commented earlier today that I…we refuse to show her how we keep all this straight. How we can keep the whereabouts of all of us straight. I haven’t got a clue…you?”

“Over eighty years and I still couldn’t tell you how we do it, sis! As for Cassie, the intrigue of finding our secret keeps her coming around for visits. She reminds me so much of her father. Are you going to put that on or would you rather go naked?”

I held up the two pieces of cloth again. “I don’t see much of a difference; just help me tie this thing.” I said as I tied the bottom string in front of me and spun the whole top around. I spread out the bottoms of the two small triangles as much as I could and held the two strings from their tops behind my head.

“You know, by now you should be able to do this on your own!” Alex sighed in resignation.

“Empress’s perogative!” We both said in unision and started laughing.

As our laughter died down, I looked at my future twin. “I guess we really are the same person, Alex.”

“That has never been an issue, Alex! There, you’re all done! Have a look in the mirror, sis.”

“They swim in these?”

“Not really, but they attract guys like flies to manure!”

“Wonderful, as if I wanted that to happen!” I said sarcastically. “What are you going to wear, sis?”

“I have this darling one-piece, you see I have this slight little bit of pudge right here,” she grabbed the skin on her abdomen and jiggled it slightly, “that I haven’t been able to get rid of since Alexander was born.” Alex blushed as she did.

“That was sixteen years ago!” I reached for her waist and pulled her shorts down her legs.

“Why you little…”

Before she could complain anymore, I pulled her top over her head.

“Looks like you suddenly, and quite miraculously, lost that baby fat, sis! I see no reason we can’t dress as twins!”

“You saw that I had two bikinis.” She accused.

“No, I saw us later at the pool sunbathing next to each other in matching swimsuits! Now get dressed!”

“Of course, Empress.”

We laughed and giggled as she produced a matching bikini and put it on.

“Here,” Alex said after she looked at herself in the mirror, “I bought these to go along. It’ll keep the guys from undressing us too fast and keep traffic accidents to a minimum!”

She produced two identical silky wraps, one she placed over my shoulders, the other over hers. She placed some thin sandals on the floor for us- flipflops she called them. We slid our feet into them. They felt a little strange to walk in at first.

“Okay, let’s go downstairs and thrill the boys!”

We were met with eight pair of eyes when Alex and I walked into the living room.

“All right mom! You and Aunt Allie look fantastic!” Samantha exclaimed with excitement.

All us girls wore similar bikinis. Jacki and Joss wore orange ones with a palm tree pattern. Joss looked like she hadn’t been too happy about her sister’s wardrobe selection. Lynn looked completely uncomfortable in her green and yellow tropical print. Emily and Sam wore identical black bikinis with narrow white pipeing around the openings and Alexander was wearing a pair of blue boxers with red trim, Spencer, a plain red pair.

“Let’s go, the sun should be low enough to still get a tan, yet not burn too fast!” Emily announced as she and Spencer moved into the kitchen and down the steps.

“I brought a beach towel for everyone, mom.” Samantha said as we started out the door and handed Alex and I a pink one that matched our bikini and wraps. “I also have some sunscreen.”

As we walked toward the clubhouse and pool, I asked something that was on my mind.

“Alex, I don’t want to pry, but will we be seeing Randi and Ricky Lynn anytime soon?”

“That isn’t what you were going to ask, Cap.” Jacki interrupted.

Alex and Emily stopped and looked at me.

“Okay! Okay! Why didn’t we get some smart-assed comment from Greg when we left the house, sis?”

“Sammy?” Emily nodded to our youngest daughter.

Sam looked around us. Once satisfied everything was clear she disappeared from in front of us and a minute later re-appeared behind us.

“You can phase-shift!” I responded in surprise.

“But I don’t have to be in physical contact as you do, Empress!”

“Improvement on the old model, sis?” I looked to Alex.

“It’s part of her gift.” She shrugged.

“I take it Cassie and company never saw us leave?” Samantha pointed to me with one hand and to her nose with the other.

I responded by taking her arm and pulling her into a tight hug. “That’s just wonderful, Samantha!”

“Wait. You’ll see how wonderful it is when she disappears from her crib then reappears there an hour later when she gets hungry or needs changed- after you search the house and neighborhood for her!”

“Mom, that was, like, seventy-two years ago! Can’t you let it drop?” Sam rolled her eyes.

“I’m just giving myself the heads-up, honey. I told you I did this.” Alex giggled.

“Joss, Lynn, I’m getting another headache. Can I interest you two in another round of that ibuprophen?” Jacki said as she rubbed her forehead.

“Answering your first question, Allie, it takes a while to put Randi back in her body after one of these races. They usually stop over the day after for lunch and dinner. Let me tell you, that girl will eat like a horse for the next few days, sis!”

“Just as long as she can talk while she eats, I don’t care, Doc!” Lynn jumped into the conversation.

“You two can catch up at the pool tomorrow, Lynn. Randi likes to do laps afterward. She says to exercise her muscles because of the nonuse while she’s the car’s A.I.” Alex told her.

“What’s an A.I.?”

“Artificial Intelligence. Randi serves as the brains of Ricky Lynn’s car…has for the last seven years!”

“Isn’t that cheating, Alex? I thought the idea was to be fully autonomous- as in completely automatic?”

“Relax, Allie, Randi is fully autonomous. Besides, the idea is to develop new instruments and equipment to help the car see…know where it is. The programming is left to the individual teams. Ricky Lynn just uses a prewritten, tested program.” Alex said matter-of-factly.

“We have incoming, everyone!” Jacki suddenly announced.

Three of us looked around for shelter as we crouched low.

“No, I mean Cassie is coming up behind us.” She informed us.

Turning around I saw no one. I looked to Alex. “She can phase out as well?”

“I’m afraid so, sis, only Jack can read them.”

“You don’t know how reassuring it is to do that, Cap! With you it’s blah, blah, blah, nothing! I can read Sam, Cassie, and Alex from several miles away.”

“Alex too, huh? I must have been pulling my hair out when they were little!”

“Don’t worry, sis, it grows back- faster than you would think!”

“Hey, you said I wasn’t as bad as those two, mom!” Alex cried out in his defense.

“That’s because your gift didn’t kick in as soon, honey! For some reason, Allie, guys don’t develop their gifts as fast as us gals. Mina said it’s always been that way.”

I looked at Emily’s husband, Spencer. “What gift did you receive, Spencer?”

“I haven’t been brought into the fold yet, Empress. I have not partaken from the Sand Dollar.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed that…well, when you reminded Greg you didn’t drink, I just thought you had our water.”

“Maybe one day, Empress, but I have never found a use for alcohol in my life. I prefer to remain sober, thank you! When I’m ready or if something terrible happens, Emily already has my permission to conduct my Mahailui; isn’t that right, dear?”

“I asked you not to talk about that anymore, Spence!”

“Thought you could sneak past me, sis?” You know I can see you!” Cassie said as she materialized in front of us. Her choice of swimming apparrel stood in stark contrast to ours.

“I thought you told me this was the smallest they got, Alex? I’ve seen sand fleas that covered more area!”

“Give it a rest, mother! You say that everytime I put this one on!”

“I’ve never seen you in that before, child.” I said to her.

Cassandra stomped her foot to the ground in anger, “Oh, I hate it when you two do that to me!”

“Do what, Cassie?” I asked innocently.

“Dress the same so I can’t tell you two apart, that’s what!”

“But we’re the same person, honey! You couldn’t tell us apart if you tried!” I laughed.

Emily and Alex looked to each other. “Head games!” They pretended to play some sort of invisible instrument. Both saw my confusion and started laughing.

All eyes were fixed on us as we entered the fenced pool area. Cassie just smiled wickedly, removed her translucent wrap and dove headlong into the pool. Where was the back of her bikini bottoms?

Emily read my surprise. “It’s called a thong bikini, sis. It was all the rage on the French Riviera the end of last century. Those that feel no shame still wear them.”

“Makes sense to me.” I said as I prepared to wade into the inviting water. Will I be all right in the water with…” I pointed to my abdomen as I looked at Emily? Alex was already heading down the steps into the shallow end.

“You’ll be fine, sis. Nothing to worry about, they do a good job of absorbing stuff.”

Several unfamiliar sensations assaulted me as I went deeper into the cool water- most notably, the inability of the thin fabric of my top to contain my stiffening nipples. I hurried into the deeper water and quickly submerged to my neck. Alex swam over to me with a wry smile.

“Forgot to mention these things don’t hide very much! Relax Allie that happens to all of us. Come on, forget about that and enjoy yourself!” Alex then splashed me and swam away quickly.

I laughed as I thought about that. I was playing with myself! How strange is that? I decided to find out if I could still swim as well as before my change. Taking a deep breath, I dove under the surface. Opening my eyes, I zeroed in on Alex’s feet, grabbed, and pulled.

“That was for the splashing, sis!” I said as we both surfaced for air.

“Ya, sis, I know. Remember?” Alex gave a short lazy smirk.

Suddenly, both of us found ourselves underwater. I looked around under us but saw no one close. I detected a slight shimmer in the floor below us and headed for it. Sam suddenly appeared and began her escape. Not having a good supply of air, I was forced to surface. Sam came up a short distance away and started laughing. I swam over to her.

“You do know I could partially see you on the bottom?” I quietly said to her.

“You could?” Sam seemed genuinely surprised.

“Not so much you, but a shimmering against the bottom.”

“You never told me that you could see me before, mom!” She whispered back to me.

“Maybe the water won’t let you phase out properly.” I suggested. “Still it isn’t a good idea to do that in a public pool, Sam. Someone could start asking questions.”

“I just felt I needed to do that, mom and I checked before I did. Nobody saw.”

Spencer had surfaced beside us. “Wrong, sweetie. I saw you disappear. You’re lucky I was the only one. Please be more careful, Sammy.”

Samantha blushed four shades of red.

I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed. “That’s okay, I still love you, honey!”

“How sweet, mother and daughter caught in a tender embrace!” Cassie’s saccharin sweet voice deadpanned from behind us.

I quickly spun Sam around and pointed. “Look close, honey. See that shimmering on the water’s surface?”

“You’re right, mom! I can see her outline! Cassie, we can see you!”

My oldest reappeared. “No way, you can’t! You just pointed to where you heard my voice, sis!”

“I swear, Cassie. I could see you shimmering in the water! If you don’t believe me, watch.”

“I saw it too, Cassie.” Spencer confirmed.

It was Sam’s turn to vanish. I pointed to the shimmering silhouette in the water.

“Cassie look here.” I pointed. “Sam, honey could you move around some?”

The shimmering began moving and circled us almost twice. Sam reappeared on my opposite side.

“See?”

“Why didn’t Mom or Aunt Emily ever tell us they could see us?” Cassie said in disbelief.

“Because I just did, girls. Time relative, remember?” Alex said as she reached us and put a hand on my shoulder.

“I get it!” Sam burst forth with a wide smile as a light suddenly went on.

“Well, I don’t, sis! You’re never going to tell me how you do that, are you, Mom?”

Alex and I looked at each other and smiled. “No!” we said together.

Cassie’s face grew angry and she disappeared. We watched her shimmering silhouette move toward the steps at the shallow end and decrease in size as she left the water. She reappeared a minute later laying on a chaise lounge on the far side of the pool. No one seemed to notice or flinch as she did so.

“That girl is going to get us all outed if she ain’t more careful!” Alex warned.

“Or worse!” I added.

“That’s right, I forgot about that option entirely, sis.”

“Wait. What worse option, Mom?” Sam asked as her face went pale.

“Back in ’44, we didn’t know if Uncle Rick would help us or not. It was the general concern around the Sand Dollar that her officers, crew, and passengers might be hauled off to some research facility…some lab somewhere, to be…” I didn’t finish the implied sentence.

“Crap! You mean all that conspiracy garbage actually happened? Mom, why didn’t you tell us sooner?” Sam cried, but limited her volume.

“I just did, honey- time relative!” Alex answered.

“Stop with the ‘time relative’ stuff! I get it already, Mom!”

“Relax, honey, obviously it didn’t happen or we wouldn’t be here!” I said trying to calm her. Alex took over for me.

“As it worked out, the Admiral helped us as best he could…right up to the day he…” Her voice trailed off.

“Oh, I remember that day, Mom.” Sam replied solemnly.

“Don’t tell me!” I held up a hand. “I can’t do anything about it now anyway. I can’t change the destinies of those I love. If I change his future, I might do serious harm to this one.” Alex slowly nodded to me in forced agreement.

“He didn’t want it any other way, Empress. He told you that himself.” Samantha said quietly as she looked to the pool’s bottom.

“Alex, where’s Mina these days?” I asked out of the blue.

“Oh…she’s around…here and there. Traveling the world.” My future twin responded immediately with little concern. I saw right through my lie.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at that. Alex knew.

“Hey, I just talked to her last week. She sends her love, sis.”

“Talked with her where, Alex? In our private dimension?” I watched to see her reaction. I was rewarded with a quick wide-eyed look of sadness, then an even faster forced smile. It was extremely difficult to keep the truth from one’s self.

“I’ve had enough of the water for now! Let’s go work on our tans.” She turned quickly and headed for the steps. I let the subject drop knowing how it affected me.

On the way over to our selected lounge chairs, Alex paused, then stopped me and turned to face me.

“Look, she made me promise that I wouldn’t tell you, Alex! I will advise you to make the most of the time you have with her though!” I saw tears forming.

“Thank you, Alex! I’ll remember that!” I said as I hugged her gently.

“Hey, where’s the camera when you need one, you two?”

“Remember that sensation I got when Emily showed up on the dock at Mare, sis?” I asked as I heard the…familiar male voice behind us.

“Boy, do I!” Alex answered with a roll of her eyes.

We both turned to see Greg walking toward us. Closing from behind was Brandon. To our right I spied Jacki and Joss relaxing on their lounge chairs- their eyes hidden by sunglasses.

Joss nonchalantly raised her right hand and flicked her pointer finger at Greg, who suddenly flew to the left into the pool and entered the drink with everything in his possession. The Cummins twins calmly bumped fists in triumph.

“Hey! Why’d ya push me, man? What’d I ever do ta you?” Greg complained as he surfaced and held himself against the side of the pool, still in shock.

“I didn’t push you, Greg! I was about six feet behind you, how could I do that?” Brandon stood over him and laughed in his face. “Geez, now they have to clean the pool, Greg!”

“We have a good crew.” I sighed in admiration as I waved thanks to Jacki and Joss. Both waved back in acknowledgement. Alex and I couldn’t help but giggle as we turned around and resumed our course.

“So, where did you find this one?” I pointed over my shoulder back at Brandon, still arguing with a very wet, very angry, Greg.

“We met about seventeen years ago in San Francisco. One of the few straight guys left there these days. I fell for him immediately, sis. We’ve been married for sixteen blissful years!”

“Then how do you explain young Alex looking the spitting image of us at sixteen?”

“Emily thinks our DNA is genetically stronger. It has a tendency to overwrite our partner’s. It also could be the reason more girls are born than boys- you should have noticed that already, sis.”

“Umm, I have, and it makes sense. Are you ever going to tell him about us?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I know he suspects something is different about us- he’s definitely no dummy, sis, and I told him as much before we got married. Still, so far you and I have acted just different enough not to draw his suspicion.” Alex paused. “He’s a good man, Allie! But, I guess in less than ten years he’s going to realize I haven’t gotten any older; that’s the time I’m dreading. Emily and I can tell you that it never gets any easier- losing the love of your life- to either process, Empress!”

I mentally posed a few questions. “Don’t worry, Alex, I’ll be there for you- I promise! He’ll take it better with the both of us at his side, guaranteed!”

“We really do act like twins when we’re together, don’t we, Allie?”

“It beats snapping out of existence as our molecules zero each other out, sis!” I giggled as we reached our lounge chairs and stretched out to soak up some sun.

“You know the shame of this,” Alex looked over at me, “is that any tan we get will fade by tomorrow morning. It’s the price we pay for enhanced healing abilities, I’m afraid.”

“It feels really good in the here and now though, sis.” I admitted as I felt the soothing warmth penetrate my skin. I vowed to do this more often when we got back to base.

“Allie, wake up! The sun is going down and it gets cold after dark in the desert. Let’s go home, sis.” Alex said as she shook me awake. I felt really energized after my little nap.

“How long was I out?”

“About an hour and a half. Any normal woman would have been fried to a crisp in that amount of time.”

“I never claimed to be normal, sis!”

“That we aren’t! Let’s go.” She tossed me my coverup as I stood.

2040hrs, Flagstaff, Arizona, August 10th, 2026

When we reached the house, I noticed a new vehicle in the now full, driveway.

“Who’s is that?”

You’ll see, come on!” Alex said as she motioned to the door.

As we entered, we spotted Greg and Brandon on station on the couch watching some strange, futuristic looking, war movie. They both had some strange looking device in their hands.

“I didn’t think it would take too long for you two to start that stupid game! Not to be a buzz-kill, but did either one of you pick up the ice cream like I asked?”

“No, I thought you asked Greg to do it, hun!” Brandon glanced back from the screen.

“No way! She asked you, Brando!”

“How ‘bout the both of you go and get it! Since I asked y’all almost twelve hours ago!” Alex reached for the remote and hit the power button.

“Now you two, before the stores all close!”

With rather colorful comments, both got up and left the house with a slam of the door.

“Boys will be boys, sis!” Alex laughed as we headed up the stairs and into the living room.

Several new faces had been added to the group that met us.

“’Bout time y’all got here! We been waitin’ half the day fer y’all ta get back!”

“Hi ta you too, Ma!” I said, barely recognizing her youthful face. The woman sitting next to her looked more familiar. I stifled a giggle. “I see ya just couldn’t lay off the shine, Pa!” I noticed her blush.

Both women walked over and lowered themselves to one knee.

“Welcome, Empress!” They said together.

I rolled my eyes in annoyance.

Both stood and embraced me, laughing as they did.

Ma stood back and picked at the edge to open my wrap. “I thought I taught you kids better! Could you find anything skimpier, child?”

“No, she couldn’t Dee, but you could- an’ did!” Pa…Freddie answered on my behalf.

“Ma’s face turned crimson.

“I’ve already been painfully briefed on your promiscuity, Delores Steinert!” I replied in the regal fashion Mina had taught me.

“I’m still yer Ma, an’ don’t give me that ‘hoitie-toitie, well-edge-cated’ tone, child!” Ma hissed as her voice went to the next octave.

“Well excuse the hell outta me, Prof. Steinert! How are things at Notre Dame these days?” I hissed back.

Ma glared at Alex with squinted eyes. “You told her!” She accused.

“No, Mother. I’ve…” I glanced to Alex, “we’ve known since we came to see baby Dee!” I looked to Alex- we nodded.

“I’m the Empress of Space and Time, Dee Steinert!” We said in perfect unision.

“I hate it when y’all do that, Alex! I just forgot y’all kin see the future as well as traverse it.

“Woow, big word there, Dee! How many PHD’s you hold now, Ma?” I asked with a grin.

“Just three for now, child. English, Sociology, and Philosophy. I’m halfway through my Psychology doctorate now. By next summer I should have it finished. I’ll have Brie send you a Spacial-text invite.”

“For Alex, or Alex and Allie?” I batted my lashes several times at her.

“What do y’all think, child? Would I ever leave any of my children out of the loop- no matter how many there would be?”

“There were four of me at the race today, Ma.” I said calmly, and quite off-handedly.

Ma and Freddie’s mouth dropped.

“I don’t see how y’all can keep track of that and still stay sane, Empress.” Freddie stated shaking her head and making her light brown, curled, tresses dance about her breasts and shoulders.

“The boys are back!” The Cummins sisters announced in unison.

Ma pointed at them with a scowl. “You two…stop it…this instant!”

We all stopped talking and faced the kitchen. We remained quiet as we heard two male voices enter and open the refrigerator door.

“I don’t know what she was talking about, there’s plenty of ice cream in the freezer!”

“She just don’t like us playin’ video games, Brandon- er, maybe they had a coven meetin’ or somethin’!” Greg’s voice said sarcastically.

“That would be the day, man! Like any of them are witches! You’re too much sometimes, you know that?”

“How’d you explain my little dip into the pool earlier then?”

“Just admit it! You lost your balance, man. No need accusing the girls, own up, Greg!”

“I tell ya it felt like an invisible hand pushed me!”

“Give it a rest, Major!” Brandon implored him.

They appeared in the archway and stopped- both looking at all of us looking at them.

“Let me guess, you picked up the ice cream this morning before heading to the race?”

“Yes, dear. I figured you two would forget.” Alex focused in on Greg. “Oh, and Gregory, if we were going to convene a meeting of the coven, I would have sent you to Pheonix for ice cream instead of just down the street! Those meetings take lots of time to set up.” Alex giggled.

From my peripheral I caught Jacki flick her pointer finger.

From the kitchen, the gong-like sound of something striking one of Emily’s hanging skillets echoed through the rooms.

“What the Hell?” Greg exclaimed as he rushed out of the room.

Brandon looked directly at Jacki and Joss. “I don’t know how you did it, but good one ladies!” He gave the two thumbs up. Surprisingly, Cassie remained quiet and removed the whole time.

Alex leaned close. “I told you he was no dummy, sis!” She whispered in my ear.

I had always liked ice cream, but the invention of flavors other than chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, was pure genious! My bowl of chocolate chip- cookie dough evaporated before my eyes! Alex looked on in fascination as I gobbled it down.

“Do you want a conveyor belt for that, sis?” she laughed.

“Wow! Don’t they feed ya on them boats, Allie?” Greg’s mouth opened.

“As a matter of fact, Gregory, it isn’t as good as the fillet minion Cookie serves, but it definitely beats the slop they serve you boys in the field!” I replied with wasted smugness.

This time I caught both Cummins girls flick a finger in sequence.

“Bong! Bing!” came from the kitchen.

“What the hell is doing that?” Greg cried as he ran into the other room.

“You two are telekenetic, aren’t you? That is sooo cool!” Brandon said as he pointed at Joss and Jacki. Both immediately turned crimson and looked to the floor.

“Don’t worry. I knew things like that existed; I just never experienced it before. Your secret is safe with me, ladies.” He paused. “You know. I read somewhere once, a long time ago, that twins have certain connections…psychic connections among other things. I didn’t believe it til now!” Brandon said as he glanced directly at Alex and I briefly then looked back at Jacki and Joss. “It must really be hard for you to be so far away from Ricky Lynn, Miss Samuels?”

Lynn blushed. “To tell the truth, we ain’t been around each other lately, sir.” She caught my glare. “I mean… with me bein’ stationed in the Pacific an’ all. We don’t get to see too much of each other.”

“Auntie Em, I’m sorry, but two of yer pans fell down out there- just a few scratches is all. Did they predict an earthquake today?” Greg’s slightly excited voice called from the other room.

“Yes, they can do that, Empress.” I heard Jacki’s voice in my head.

“No, Gregory! No earthquakes. Maybe you forgot to hang them up right. Mind double checking them, dear?” Emily shouted over her shoulder.

Mumbling came from the kitchen. Low enough that we couldn’t make out what was said.

“You don’t want to know, Empress! It would make a sailor blush!” I heard again in my mind. I looked over to see the two trying to hold back laughter. I smiled back acknowledging their quip. Again, Cassie remained surprisingly quiet. What was with that?

“Mom?” Young Alexander whispered and nodded slightly in Cassie’s direction. “She’s doing it again.”

“Doing what, Alex?” I quietly inquired of my twin.

“Brandon can you get the camera from our bedroom, dear? I want to show Allie what she missed.”

“Yes, I almost forgot about that, sis! I’d love to see the before pictures, Brandon,” I adlibbed.

“And just how long should it take me to get the said camera, honey?”

“It shouldn’t take you more than five minutes, dear.”

“Fine. I’ll be back in five.” A dejected Brandon got up from his seat and walked out of the room.

“Remember what happened to me today at the race? Cassie has those same spells.”

“But that was just a mistake, Alex. I already apologized for that. It only happened once…didn’t it?”

“Yes it only happened this once, sis. Damn freaky though, not being able to control yourself!”

“She does it frequently though, Empress.” Samantha chimed in.

“NO! Stay away from me!” Cassandra suddenly cried out.

“Jack, can you get a read on her?”

“I think so, Cap!” Came back in stereo. I noticed Emily shake her head.

Both women looked at each other, concentration evident on the faces.

“Can’t get through, Cap.” Joss shook her head. Jacki looked at her twin and raised an eyebrow. “Maybe if we combine our talents instead of trying individually…”

“Already on it, sis!” Joss said as she grabbed Jacki’s hand and held on. “Take what you need.”

I looked to Alex. “They do this often?”

“It’s the first time I saw this!”

After a minute a very red faced, perspiring Jacki broke the handhold. “We still can’t get through, Cap! I don’t think we can.”

“Maybe if you both helped out, Cap?” Joss said with a glimmer of hope.

“Sure, why not! Come on Alex, take hold.” I said with excitement.

“Now just close your eyes and let us do the work. You may feel a slight drain of power.” I heard Jacki in my mind.

At first everything was dark as the four of us held hands. Little by little I started to see small pinpoints of light. Soon, more and more stars filled my vision until nothing but bright light filled my view.

Slowly a figure began to form in the light.

“Cassie?” I shouted as the dark figure came into focus.

“Mom, how did you get here?” She seemed surprised.

“Where is here, honey?” As I asked the question more details came into focus. It appeared we were in a city somewhere- and a strange looking one at that!

“I don’t know, Mom, but I’m a little scared!” I noticed Cassie’s body shaking in fear.

The city began to change and reorganize itself into a big, bright, white room or auditorium. “Well, I have no idea where we are, honey, it’s your trip. Use you gifts, Cassie. Where are we?

“I’m not sure where this is, Mom. I don’t think this is the future though. It seems more like the past- way past!”

“What are you wearing, Cassie?” I noticed she now wore white linen of some sort. It was wrapped or draped around her like a toga.

“I guess the same thing you’re wearing!”

We both brought our arms into view. I was dressed in a similar manner.

“What was happening to you, Cassie? Back in the living room we heard you yelling for someone or something to stay away. What was so frightening?” I asked as I walked over to her side.

“That is what’s frightening, Mom!” She pointed behind me. Several dark shadows stood not twenty feet from my previous position.

“Who are you?” I shouted. “What do you want?”

The shadows seemed to shimmer slightly then began to coalesce into three distinct figures. Within a second or two we stood opposite three beautiful women dressed in attire similar to ours.

“Who are you?” I inquired again.

“Welcome, Empress!” The dark skinned, raven-haired women in the middle greeted us. Her voice was confidant, her tone, gruff.

“How do you know who I am?”

“How do you know who you are, Empress?” The woman calmly countered with her own question.

“I’m still not sure who I am, how do you?” I issued back in a stern tone of my own.

“How dare you…” The two women either side of her placed a near hand to her shoulders and mumbled something to her.

“Mom, I don’t think you should piss her off.” Cassie squeezed my shoulder gently.

The woman smiled curtly. “Apparently, I know you better then you know yourself, Empress. You do not recognize me?”

“No one pops to mind, no. Didn’t we meet in a beer garden or something, one time?”

“Insolent…!” Again her two attendants nudged her shoulders.

“You always were the comical one, Alexandra!” Her smile grew ever so slightly.

“Okay…so you know my name! Is this going to be one-sided, ma’am?”

The woman’s smile disappeared immediately. Her companion to her right whispered something to her.

“Yes, you are right, it may have been too long- she may not remember. Alexandra please let me introduce myself, and my companions. To my left is Deirdre, Goddess of all knowledge and the sciences- to my right, Cassiopeia, Goddess of beauty and love. I, myself, go by many different names, Jupiter, Hera, Juno, just to name a few. I prefer Janelle though.

“Nice to meet y’all. Now, where are we?” I didn’t ease up on my tone or expression.

“We have introduced ourselves and yet you do not pay us proper homage?”

“Look, I get it. Y’all are goddesses and you’re…you’re something bigger than a Goddess. And I’m the Empress of Space and Time! So what, tell me, where are we?” I cut her off as my attitude turned foul.

“Janelle, we’re losing her!” Deirdre announced loudly. It looked like she was pressing some invisible buttons or fooling with some unseen control of some sort. “I can’t hold her, Janelle! Something is pulling her back!”

The three strange women lost focus and started to fade. “We will meet again, Empress!” was the last thing we heard before the shadows faded entirely. Cassie and I were alone again.

“Who do you think they were, Mom?” Cassie was still shaking.

“Goddesses, of course! As I recall from my Western history classes, Hera, Juno, and Jupiter were the names of the Queen of the Gods in Roman, Greek, and Norse Myth.”

“I knew that, Mom! I’m not entirely dense!”

“Then you should also know that nowhere in those myths do the names Deirdre or ‘Janelle’ appear. Those women, Cassie, were not Goddesses- they were scientists!”

“How could you know that?” Cassie looked at me in confusion.

“Before they started to fade, I heard the one called Deirdre say she was losing us. She appeared to be making adjustments to some sort of equipment- almost like tuning in a radio to a certain station. She was desperately trying to keep us in that place!”

“So what is pulling us back, Mom?”

“If I’m not mistaken, your sister, brother, Aunts, and friends. Take my hand sweetie, I think its time to get us home.”

Cassie took my hand and I repeated that immortal movie phrase, “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!”

The bright light started to fade. Everything went to black until I opened my eyes and found I was back in Emily’s living room. I noticed Alex and I had been joined by everyone else in the room- all holding hands. Alex had a very concerned look on her face. Slowly Jacki and Joss opened their eyes.

“You saw that didn’t you, sis?” Jacki looked around the room and then to Joss with saucer-sized eyes. Joss just nodded slowly.

“You mean the three scary bitches in the white linens, Jack?”

Jacki and Joss nodded slowly as they looked at me. Alex said nothing, which was quite out of character for the future me!

“Mom?” I heard Cassie cry out and noticed Emily holding her hand. “Thank you for bringing me back, Mom!” She stood up and ran over to us, putting an arm around Alex and I. I heard her sniff back tears. When she calmed down, she moved back and looked at me.

“That was the corniest exit line I’ve ever heard, Empress!”

“What can I say, I like the Wizard of Oz?”

“Cap, where was that place?” Joss asked.

“If I had to guess, ladies, what you saw was a laboratory somewhere.”

“Who wears clothes like that in a lab, Empress?” Spenser asked. I was really surprised he would participate.

“I didn’t say I knew when it was, Spencer, only like it looked like a laboratory somewhere. Thank you for helping us though. Your power may have helped shift the balance and pulled us back. Thank you again, Spencer!”

“I couldn’t just sit here and guess at what you all were going through! I am part of the family you know and you are welcome, Empress- as always.”

“So, what did I miss?” Brandon asked from the archway.

“We decided to have an impromptu coven meeting anyway, dear. You just missed it!” Alex finally chirped. “Where’s Greg? I thought he’d have something slimy to say about a bunch of women all holding hands?” Cassie gave her a disgusted glare.

“He’s lost in that old Halo game downstairs. You’d think he had enough of that when he was a kid! I take it Cassie is back with us again?”

Alex smiled and winked at me- apparently her concern had faded. “Back with us, Brandon? She was sitting right over there the whole time. Where did you think she went?”

“If I had to guess, some place off this planet. From the glazed over look, that is. Never mind. If you don’t want to tell me I can understand. I’ll be down killing aliens with numb-nuts.” Brandon pouted as he turned for the kitchen.

“Stop right there, you idiot!” Alex said as she walked over to him, turned him around, and kissed him. “You know there are things we can’t talk about! When I feel you’re ready you’ll be the first to know, Sweetheart. I was thinking about turning in for the night after I get Allie, Joss, and Lynn settled in.” She rubbed a hand up and down Brandon’s arm. The guy never had a chance. Brandon just closed his eyes with a contented smile.

“Okay, you win, Alexandra. I’ll be up in half an hour.”

“I’ll be waiting, dear. Don’t be late.” She kissed him again.

Once Brandon was clear of the room and out of earshot, the concerned look returned.

“Allie? Can I have a word? In private, I mean?”

Sure thing…where?” I looked around at the crowded room.

“Follow me, sis.” She motioned me to follow.

We made our way upstairs to her bedroom. Without warning Alex turned and wrapped her arms around me.

“What is this for?” I asked in surprise.

“I’m just checking to see if we’re still one!”

“I suppose we are, Alex, I felt that tingle I always feel when we touch.”

“I did too, but…”

“But what, Alex?”

“But…what happened downstairs just now…that…I don’t…Alex, it never happened to me! Do you understand? It never happened to me! When I was in your place that never happened. Have we gone and inadvertently caused another dimensional offshoot…like the other Alex?” I saw terror appear on Alex’ face.

“I don’t know…I…we won’t know for another six days.”

“You were right the first time, Empress. You won’t know for another six days. If I understand the theory of these paradoxes, you, Empress, are the only one capable of returning to the original timeline. I am but a continuation of this line. If I were to go back this dimension may detach itself entirely! We wouldn’t be the same Alex!” Her arms tightened around me.

“Alex, let’s think this out as rationally as we can- given our abilities. First, do you remember everything that happened in that place?”

“I think so. Everything was dark at first- like when we first went to our private dimension, remember?” I nodded. “Then it got brighter and brighter. Cassie developed out of a shadowy form. That strange city came into focus. I asked her what she was afraid of and she pointed behind me, that’s when those three appeared behind me.”

“You keep saying me instead of us, Alex. We were holding hands in the living room, remember?”

“Ya! I didn’t see you there though! It was just Cassie and I! Where did you go, Empress?”

I thought things out for a minute or two. Only one of us was there with Cassie. Not Allie and Alex; not Alex and the Empress; not Allie and the Empress, just ‘the Empress’! Just Cassie and the Empress!

“Alex, I don’t think we’ve created a new dimension here. I think that lab…that place, was outside time as we know it! If we both saw and experienced the same things, yet there was only one of us there…”

“We’re both still the Empress! It must be some place only the Empress can go!” A huge smile formed on both our faces as she finally put some distance between us. “But what about Cassie? Why was she there? How could she be someplace the Empress can only go? As far as I know, her gift is fully developed. We are the only ones who can travel through time and dimension- God, I sound just like Rod Serling!”

“Who’s that?” I looked at her in confusion.

“Never mind. You’ll find out in twenty years. My point is, how was it possible for our daughter to be there in the first place?”

“She’s our daughter? I don’t know! Maybe because she is our daughter is the reason she was there?”

“Then why wasn’t Sam there too, Alex? She’s our daughter too, you know- and why not Alex? He’s ours too!”

“Look, we’re the Empress of Space and Time, that doesn’t mean we have all the answers, Alex. How many times through the years have we played things by ear? Since the change, I mean.”

“More times than you can remember, younger Alex!”

“Younger Alex! We’re the same person, Alex!”

“You forget, dear sister, I’m ninety years older than you.”

“Oh ya. Huh, that never dawned on me. Still, we are the same person…technically.”

“This isn’t helping answer the original question, Alex!”

“I know! Look, maybe it’s because it was her trip to begin with! She initiated it, we just lent our presence.”

“Okay, I can understand that. Next question: Why would someone be after Cassie?”

“Um, to get to us? Someone wants the Empress, Alex! It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Okay. Who and why?”

“I guess we’ll find that out in the future, Alex.”

“That doesn’t help, Empress!”

“Let’s see you do any better…Empress! This is just great!”

“What’s so great?”

“I came all the way out to 2026 just to have an argument with myself!” I stopped to let that sink in. “You know… I’m going to take Jack’s advice, Alex.”

“What advice is that, sis?”

“I’m going to take a few of those ibuprophen things and go to bed! This entire highbrow dimensional, paradoxical, thinking crap has given me a severe headache! I think I’ll go get ready for bed, get a nightcap, and then settle into that nice comfortable bed you showed me earlier! We’ll continue this discussion in the morning. When’s breakfast- 0700hrs?”

“Alex, wait!”

I stopped and turned around.

“Thank you for helping me get Cassie back tonight!”

“That’s the way we are, Empress!” I gave her a large devious smile as I turned, opened the door, and headed down the hallway to my shared bedroom.



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