South of Bikini: E6- First Mission

Alex, Jack, and Ricky Lynn’s trip to the future continues as the trio learns more about their future selves. The cure for Randi Van Pelt’s mysterious illness is just as strange. Alex goes on her first mission as ‘Empress’ and finds that sometimes, they don’t end as expected. Which is more of a headache: the missions, friends, or family, and can the pharmaceutical companies keep up with the demand for aspirin?


Copyright 2006 R.G.Beyer


South of Bikini

Episode 6

“First Mission”

0800hrs, Flagstaff, Arizona, August 11th, 2026

“Good morning, Empress! How did you sleep?” Spencer cheerfully greeted as I cleared the last step and shuffled, still not quite awake, into the kitchen.

“Have you ever slept in a Quonset hut, or on a regulation cot, Spence?”

“Can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure, Allie.”

“Well, this was nothing like that! That mattress was worlds better than anything I’ve slept on up to this point- except Mariah’s custom-built bed of course! I’ve only slept…tried to sleep on it once so far. To answer your question, I slept like a baby, Spence!”

“Glad to hear that, Allie. Emily and Alex spent about two weeks searching from here to Santa Fe for mattresses ‘fit for an Empress’!” He chuckled as he removed a ceramic cup from the wall cabinet, filled it with coffee and placed it before me. “I assume you like your coffee the same as Alex?” His question was more of a statement. I nodded. Joss and Lynn soon joined us in the kitchen and Spencer fetched two more cups and poured them coffee as well.

“I guess it’s hard to get the military out of your system?” Spencer posed the question to the three of us.

“Kind of. Seeing as yesterday morning we were still at war with Japan…”

“And today they make most of our best consumer goods!” Spencer finished my sentence, though not the way I had expected.

I could tell by the expressions on my two companions’ they had not been briefed on this era’s political and economic situations.

“Yes, you two, Japan became an ally after the war. We helped them rebuild their industries and they began to out produce the United States beginning in the 1960’s.”

“Allie’s right, after World War II, the Allies helped to rebuild war-torn Europe and Japan. We reestablished trade with both countries, well, half of Germany anyway, after the Korean conflict.”

“Half of Germany?” Lynn always looked cute when she was confused.

“Half of Berlin and the Eastern portion of Germany went to Russia, at that time the Soviet Union, after Germany surrendered in August of ’44. In the fifties I think, the Soviets started construction of a huge wall that separated East from West until the fall of the Soviet Union in the late ‘80’s.”

“So, we won the war?”

“Yes, we won the war, Ricky Lynn. In winning that war though, we opened up Pandora’s box- the Cold War arms race, and the Nuclear Age! Ale…Allie can tell you two all about how Emily and I met.” Spencer began to adlib while motioning with his eyes behind us. It didn’t take my gift or Jack’s to tell me who was there.

“Good morning, Gregory. Up rather early aren’t we?”

“How did you know I was here?”

“We’re Witches, remember? You called us that last night- something about a coven meeting, I believe? No, actually I smelled your cheap cologne as you came down the stairs.”

“Cassie likes it, you don’t have to.”

“I wonder?”

“You wonder what, babe?”

“When Cassie was younger, she always asked me to bring her a pet. I wonder if she would still like a toad.” I rolled my hand mystically at him as he came around the large kitchen table. Spencer tried hard to hold back his laugh. Joss and Lynn had no problem breaking into hysterical laughter though.

“I’m on to you, Allison Steinert! You play this incredibly tough bitch to the entire world, yet I think that’s just a cover for the soft-hearted, sexually deprived, Lesbian you really are!”

Spencer noticeably tensed up as Joss and Lynn tried they’re best to keep from killing my daughter’s asshole partner.

“You’re right, Gregory, I’m soft-hearted, but I don’t play at anything.” I hissed. I let my intense stare burn deep into his forehead. Six days left! Six…long…days until I could show this buffoon how dangerous it really was to push my patience!

“Aunt Allie, are you and Greg butting heads again?” Cassie’s weary voice sounded from the stairway.

“No, I’m not butting heads with anyone, dear. I’m just having a battle of wits with an unarmed person. At the very least I’m conversing with a butt.”

Spencer’s coffee shot out his nose, spraying halfway across the table. I received a very ‘threatening’ look, a very conspiratorial look, from Greg- a look that failed to frighten me in any way, shape, or form.

“Why don’t you two call a truce?”

“Ya, babe, how about a truce?”

“Cassandra, I have not yet begun to fight!” I exclaimed then downed the last of my coffee and rose quickly from the table.

“Chester Nimitz, right?” Gregory apparently wasn’t comfortable with just one foot in his mouth.

“No,” I said in total disbelief, “John Paul Jones. Where did you learn your history- the five and dime?”

“Mo…Aunt Allie that is enough! I will not have you and Greg nuking each other every time you meet! He’s mine and I’m keeping him a while longer, do you understand?”

“Have it your way, sweetheart, you’re old enough to know your own mind. I think I’m going to go to the pool, anyone care to join me?” I turned and headed up the stairs without a second thought.

“Allie, we’d like to talk with you about last night.” I opened my eyes to see the Cummins twins standing over me in their matching bikinis. Raising myself up a little in the lounge chair, I moved my sunglasses up to my forehead.

“Sure, what’s on your mind, Jack?” I pointed to the empty chairs to either side. “Have a seat. Relax.”

“Cap, we’re really concerned that that was only the first of many attempts. Joss and I agree with your analysis last night though, and…”

“You were listening to me…again? Do I have to go to my dimension to have some privacy anymore?”

“No, Alex! I…we only listen when it involves someone’s safety! From what everyone who joined us saw last night, our eavesdropping seemed warranted!”

“That’s very considerate of you, Jack, but I felt I was in no danger from those women. In fact, I felt a certain amount of concern from them. Not so much from the one called Janelle, but from her two ‘goddesses’. I got the feeling they were playing at something, but for the life of me I don’t know what! Could either of you get any sort of vibe from them?”

“Vibe, Cap?”

“I know what she means, sis. She wants to know if you sensed…anything…from them.”

Joss shook her head.

“No, Alex, nothing. It was like they were there, but not there.”

“Like phantoms, Cap.” Joss added.

“Well whatever they were, they weren’t gods or goddesses! As I said last night they looked like scientists. The one looked like she was frantically trying to tune something in- like possibly trying to tune Cassie and I in?”

“Like she was trying to beam you back!” Jacki raised her voice slightly in excitement.

“Huh?” Joss and I asked at the same time.

“Nothing, just an old TV program reference, that’s all. Never mind. Could it be that they think you should be there instead of here for some reason?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Time for a dip in the water; you two coming in?”

Jacki leaned close as I got off the lounge chair. “You do know Samantha is in the water, right?” She whispered.

“For about fifteen minutes now, yes.” I whispered back.

Once over the shock of the water, we made our way over to the slight, stationery, oval shaped ripple in about three foot of water at the shallow end. I motioned for Jacki and Joss to surround the ripple.

“We know you’re here, Sam. No one is looking so you can re-phase.” I said quietly to the motionless shimmer.

“You two told her! I saw you say something to her before you got in!” Samantha said after reappearing. I noted with some irony that Sam and I wore matching bikinis.

“I knew you were here before Jack even got here, Sam. Mother’s have a sixth sense about their kids, didn’t you know that?”

“Yes, mom! I may not have any children yet, but you’ve told me repeatedly.”

“So, are you tailing me too?”

“I thought I’d stay close, yes.”

“Come here!” I hugged my youngest daughter. “That was thoughtful, honey, but I’m in no danger. I don’t think those women will harm me. I think they may be trying to retrieve me.”

“Retrieve you?” She looked at me curiously. “If it’s alright with you I’ll still worry about you, mom.”

“As a good daughter should, wouldn’t you agree, Cassandra?” I said as I turned and looked suspiciously at an empty lounge chair near the pool’s edge. The Cummin’s girls reached for their heads simultaneously.

“No! We didn’t even know you were here, Cassie! Stop yelling at us! If your mother heard that foul mouth, she’d start looking for the Phel’s-Naptha soap! Look, just materialize already and stop bitching!”

I still wasn’t comfortable with Jack’s one-sided conversations, but I understood why she did it.

“You two can suck the life out of any party, did you know that?” Both Jacks gave her a quirky smile.

“And just how is this any kind of a party, Cassandra?” I inquired, more than a little miffed at her unheard vocabulary.

“You don’t seem to be taking any of what happened last night seriously! Even in their presence you openly mocked them, Mom! What if they are these gods they claim to be? They could possibly have the power to ‘ffffffft’ you!” Her hand opened quickly to signify a burst. “Mom, no one wants to see you die!” Her voice had a concerned, yet angry growl to it.

“I’m a hard thing to kill, honey, just ask Aunt Brie!”

“Oh, you mean the story she told us back at your parent’s farm? About how you and Brie were escaping from the Oak Ridge lockup and you were just a little slow to phase out? Brie told us you were out cold and healing for two days, Alex!” Joss related with a catty grin.

“You were in jail, mom? You never told Sam or I about that! My mother was a jailbird- a fugitive!” Cassie said with a slight giggle.

“I was breaking your Aunt out because of a misunderstanding, besides your grandparents dropped the charges, honey.” I downplayed it with a shrug of my shoulders.

“You aided and abetted a known criminal, mom? Now I know where Cassie gets it from!” Sam interjected with a devious smile.

“Ya, like you never did anything wrong, Miss ‘oh, did that just drop into my bag?’”

“Belay that you two! I’ll find out about it soon enough! My point is that I’ve survived being shot…twice, almost blown up by a stray enemy torpedo, attacked by a large Japanese officer, attacked by a drunken longshoreman, almost incinerated aboard the Arizona…”

“Wait, you were on the Arizona?” Cassie interrupted in surprise and raised her hand.

“Brie never told you?” I asked, equally surprised. Both Sam and Cassie shook their heads. I looked to Jack. They both raised their arms and shrugged.

I looked around us. The immediate pool area was deserted. It was as good a time as any to begin the story.

“Your Aunt Brie was originally killed aboard the Arizona, 0810hrs Sunday December 7, 1941. They were trapped when the compartment next to his took a direct bomb hit.” I felt a shudder run the length of my spine as I recalled the scene. “My brother Brian and ten of his fellow sailors were killed instantly. After I found I could travel through time, I decided to try and save them. That Sunday morning I ported into his compartment. We were so close to that bomb, we could hear the timer spinning down over the screaming and other explosions. I used my new feminine charms to get all eleven to hold onto me and ported them out in the nick of time to the beach directly across from the ship on Ford Island.”

“After we rephased, only Brian stayed close enough for me to protect as a Dive-bomber missed his target. The stray torpedo skipped across the water and impacted on the beach directly in front of us. We had nowhere to go and no time! I managed to shield Brian from the blast as I phased us out, but I wasn’t quick enough- my back was exposed to a small fraction of the intense heat. The back of my uniform was burned completely off and my skin was severely burned.”

“Even so, Brian and I traveled back to 1944. We stopped aboard Sand Dollar so I could change my uniform. That’s when he just had to have that drink of water… Y’all know the rest.” I concluded the tale with tear-stained cheeks.

“That’s terrible! Aunt Brie just told us you came to her rescue, mom. She never went into the details, though- now I see why.”

“I remember it like yesterday, girls. Every time I tell that story the images of those eleven people come back to haunt me.”

“You just said ten…ten men from the Arizona, mom. Where did the eleventh come from?” Sam immediately caught my mistake.

“Cynthia Riggby, Lt., J.G. She worked as a secretary at the Navy hospital. Cindy was kind enough to offer me a place to stay that Saturday night. She was killed when a bomb exploded just outside the office she worked in. The blast was so intense it blow her through the office wall and into the hallway, breaking her neck, Emily told me.”

“Empress, you can travel back and save her, remember?” Cassie quietly reminded me as she gently grasped my forearm.

“It’s not that simple, honey! Your Aunt saw her die! She was in the hallway not thirty feet from her! If I were to go back and save Cindy, I would risk changing your…our history. I can’t take such a big risk! I have to get out of this water. I’m getting all prunie.”

I sniffed to clear my tear filled sinuses as I made my way to the steps. With all those images still freshly dredged up, I began to consider Cassie’s words. How on Earth could I rescue that kind woman from under Emily’s nose? Was there a way?

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. There was plenty of time for me to formulate a possible plan. Surely I would have one in five days. Reaching the steps, I turned and saw that Jacki and Joss were wiping tears from they’re faces. I waded back over.

“I take it you both were looking into my head?”

“Cap?” Joss asked for them both. “How do you keep it all inside? All those men…the pieces…the blood- how can you do that?”

“Let me ask you a question, Jack. Have you ever thought about all those sailors we’ve sent to a watery grave during the war? Most of those men were only trying to do what they thought was best for their country- some, like Tish, never wanted any part of it, but served because they had to! Do you lose sleep with images of their gruesome demise?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s our job, Alex! It was our job to kill the enemy!” Joss spit out.

“Yes, Jack, it was our job…in part. But because of these changes,” I waved my hand at us, “my job has unexpectedly become exponentially more complex! I’m forced to now be the ultimate strategist. Carefully picking and choosing what I can…should change and what has to be left…” I wiped my eyes again. I decided to describe it to them as I saw things.

“Scientists claim there are four dimensions: three physical dimensions and time. I must coordinate, interpret, inspect, remedy, and interact with at least five. Confusing things even more, time has become variable! At least y’all have the security that sequential time affords- Monday flows into Tuesday flows into Wednesday.” I could feel their argument forming.

“I’m not saying my situation is any more overwhelming than yours- I’m sure it must scare the living hell out of you knowing you can end someone’s life with just a thought. What I’m saying is that we all have to live with certain portions, certain aspects of who we are. Those images you saw are mine to deal with- mine alone! Some things are best left unseen, my sisters.” I glanced up at the sun. “Would you look at the time? Let’s get back to the house; I’m ready for some lunch!”

Stepping out of the pool I retrieved my flip-flops and wrap from the lounge chair flicking my twisted wrap at Cassie as I passed by.”

“Hey that stung! What’d you do that for?”

“That’s for the foul language, young lady!” I saw Samantha smile.

“Young! You do realize Sam and I are technically older than you, Empress?”

“Relatively, Honey. I’m still your mother and that is a constant!” I giggled as I walked through the gate and down the street to Emily’s.

The street outside of Emily’s Condo was certainly getting crowded these days, I noted as I turned onto the concrete driveway. Opening the door, I was assaulted by loud groans, shouts and heavy weapons fire. Only the gunfire and some of the groans were coming from the loudspeakers around the room.

“Damn! How do you do that, woman?” Greg’s voice shouted loudest among the other noises.

“What’s wrong, Greggie? Got a problem with a girl beatin’ your ass?” A familiar voice shouted back with a slight giggle.

“Randi Van Pelt?” I shouted- hopefully to be heard above the noisy destruction playing out on the screen.

A menu of some sort quickly appeared on the screen.

“Hey! What the hell?”

“Quit yer bitchin’, Greggie! You were just about to get fragged again anyway!” The lithe brunette rose from the couch and turned her attention to me.

“Skipper! Glad you could make it! I’ve missed you so much!” We hugged and she kissed me on the cheek.

“Glad to see you in the flesh, Chief!”

“Speaking of flesh, looking good, Allie!” She said as she eyed me up. “Alex said she was going to get you into something more up-to-date! How are things back at the Base?” She winked at me with a large smile.

“I’m afraid things just aren’t the same without you, Randi.” My expression grew dark as I glanced down at the floor for a brief second.

“Oh, I see.” Randi leaned into me harder and whispered in my ear. “The damn pervert thinks he has a clue what we’re talking about, Allie, let’s do something to make him forget! Follow my lead.” She moved away slightly. “Maybe this will help get things back on track!”

Without warning, Randi reached up, cupped my left breast in her hand and began gently massaging it while pressing her lips to mine in a very passionate kiss.

Wow! Go with it she said! How could I not? Certain parts of my body jumped into overdrive! I suddenly felt faint- dizzy at the very least. Randi broke the kiss and I looked into those ice blue eyes of hers.

“That…” I swallowed hard and blinked slowly a few times. Taking a deep breath I continued. “That…that’s what I call a real course correction!”

“Damn lesbo’s get all the good ones!” A disgruntled Greg mumbled to himself. It was just loud enough for us to hear.

“Let’s go upstairs, Allie, I’m tired of torturing this loser! It’s so hard to find a man that can hold up his end of things for the duration these days.” She giggled as we headed for the stairs.

Alex, Brandon, Emily, Spencer, and Ricky Lynn were in the kitchen talking as we topped the stairs.

“Skipper, glad to see ya!” A smiling Ricky Lynn greeted.

“You to, Chief!” We hugged. “Good job yesterday, by the way. Very impressive!”

“Aw, hell, that was nothin’ compared to the beauty we sent to Mars, Skip!” She bubbled.

“How’s that one going?” I asked just to blend in. I tried to look unimpressed.

“So far she’s got more mileage on her than the Sand Dollar and still goin’ strong. How’s things on Base?”

“I was just telling Randi that we miss her a lot and wish she would come back to us. Maybe Lynn can get you to reconsider?” I sweetened my voice and looked toward Randi.

“Skipper, I’m out of the service now. Maybe I can come for a visit one of these days? I have other priorities these days, you know.”

“You should all come back to the Base! I’m in a position now to provide transportation!” I winked at Randi, then to Spencer.

Our conversation was interrupted by the loud voice downstairs.

“Ya, the bitch is upstairs with her sisters! When ya go up, ask one of ‘em when lunch is- I’m getting hungry! Hey, why’d the damn TV shut off? Damn remote!” Greg’s voice could easily be heard now.

The Cummins twins entered the kitchen first, huge evil grins on their faces. Lynn came around the corner next, upon seeing Randi she broke into tears and just about knocked her over.

“Randi!” She squealed. “ I’m so glad to see you, Randi! Oh God, did I missed you!” She hugged the woman for all she was worth.

“Geez, Louise, sis! We haven’t seen each other in the same amount of time and all I got was a cheap peck on the cheek! How does she rate?”

Gregory and Cassie appeared with Samantha following close behind.

“You’re just my sister!” Lynn stated matter-of-factly.

“Shit! Not another one! Damn dike’s are takin’ over the world!” Greg muttered under his breath.

“Shutup, asshole!” Cassie growled as both my girls slapped the back of his head.

Alex and I smiled as did everyone else in the room- except for, of course, Greg- and Cassie.

“Hey Greg, I’ll take you on! I think I can still kick your butt at that decade old shoot ‘em up! Or err ya yeller, pilgrim?” Brandon said as he tried to imitate someone- I wasn’t certain whom though.

“Ya sure, why not. I have this deep desire to kill something lately!” He looked toward me with an ice-cold stare.

I stared back into his eyes with the intensity and determination of someone with nothing to lose- and a slight smirk.

He immediately broke eye contact.

I thought as much.

“Hey!” Spencer broke the tension, “Want to go into town and catch a flic? The new remake of ‘Gone with the Wind’ just came out. It’s playing in ‘Holo 3D’. Would you girls like to go see it? My treat!”

“Oh, Spence, that movie is going to be full price! You sure we can afford twenty-five a person?”

“This is a special occasion, Emily, and special occasions demand special entertainment, right?”

I just about fell over when I heard the price of a movie ticket! What really struck me hard was the price of gasoline when we passed a station that still sold it- $17.50 and 9/gallon! I was glad I would be going back to twenty-five cent movies and seventeen-cent gas! How could anyone afford to live these days?

The movie wasn’t bad. It followed the original faithfully with only minor changes and a few exaggerated, questionable scenes. I didn’t think I cried in some parts the last time I saw it, though. It was amazing how the audience was surrounded by the picture and actually felt like a part of it, though I thought it was a little too over the top, when the Union army came riding in over our heads. I ducked my head thinking the hooves would hit me! Being raised on a farm, I knew all too well what that would feel like!

When we returned to the house, yet another vehicle had arrived. I also noticed that the other cars had been shifted around.

“What do you know, she did make it!” Emily sounded surprised yet happy as we pulled into the garage. Alex’s truck was gone from the other garage stall.

“Brandon must have taken Greg down to the bar in town. We should be able to talk freely for the rest of the night.” Alex explained looking back from shotgun. Alex then looked at Emily.

“I thought her doctor told her to stay home?”

“Pffft! What do they know?” Emily waved Alex off with her right hand.

“You think she’ll be okay, sis? Tell the truth, I honestly can’t remember my reaction.” I heard her ask.

“I’m not sure how she’ll take it, Alex. I know she’s never seen it before. It may hit all three pretty hard. You know, remind them of something they’ve tried hard not to think about until now? ” Emily responded.

As soon as we reached the living room, Emily greeted her newest guest.

“Hey, stranger, how’s our newest momma doing?”

“Oh, about as well as I can, Emily.”

The brunette slowly stood from the couch, her back still to us. I recognized the voice immediately.

“Carroll! Long time no see!’ I greeted her cheerfully. I felt my smile widen- until she turned sideways and waddled around the side of the couch! My mouth just about hit the floor when I saw her basketball-sized belly! I was speechless!

“Thanks for the compliment, guys! You really know how to make a pregnant woman comfortable! Care to pick your jaws up off the floor, you three?”

“No she didn’t eat too many watermelon seeds, Ricky Lynn! She’s seven months along on her very first pregnancy. You of all people should know what that looks like, Chief.” We all giggled at Jacki’s remark.

Alex stepped up to her and gave her a gentle hug.

“I think she looks spectacular!” Alex gushed.

Carroll looked back to me.

“Sorry I broke protocol, Alex. I just figured it was time to finally try it.” She looked sad.

“You waited all these years, Carroll? Why? Those protocols haven’t been in affect since the eighties!” I responded, revealing that I had traveled to more places, more times than I let on.

“I didn’t feel ready until now, Skip. When Carson and I met…I…it just felt like the right time!” We wrapped our arms around each other. Her extra baggage felt strange against my flat, trim stomach.

“We both welcome you to 2026, Empress!” She whispered in my ear. I felt a foot or hand kick me. Now that was strange!

Carroll moved back slightly and looked down at her swollen belly.

“Now, is that any way to treat our Empress, Sweetheart?” She said as she gently rubbed her stomach through the extra large blouse.

“I don’t mind, Carroll. It was amazing! I’ve never felt anything like that before. How does it feel?”

“Like I swallowed a beachball full of lead! My back hurts; I feel bloated all the time; my legs ache: I walk funny; I get these crazy mood swings and cravings at all hours of the day oh, and Greenpeace wants to push my huge ass carcass off the beach and back into the ocean- aside from that it feels marvelous! Now, can I sit back down, please?”

I never realized Carroll could be so sarcastic! She returned to her spot on the couch after exchanging hugs with Lynn and Joss.

After we all found seats, Lynn got right down to business.

“So, Randi, how do we get you back?”

“I forgot how hard that was on you Chief! As I said in the trailer, isn’t it enough you know I’m alive and well? The whole purpose of the Empress’ bringing you here was to get you to relax, Ricky Lynn! You would’ve worried yourself to death if Alex and Emily hadn’t planned this trip for you.”

“I just want to get you back, Randi! It’s not the same with you in the infirmary!”

“Sis, that was almost ninety years ago! Let it go while yer here! She’s perfectly fine.” Ricky Lynn admonished her twin.

“I wanna know how to help you, dammit!” Lynn shouted abruptly.

“Lieutenant, stand down! That’s an order!” Alex beat me to the command.

“I just want to help her get better.” Lynn broke into tears. Ricky Lynn leaned over and gathered her ‘sister’ in her arms.

“We know, Ricky Lynn. We know. We drive ourselves too hard sometimes, sis!” She consoled her twin.

“I just want her back.” Lynn cried quietly into her sister’s shoulder.

“Lynn, it’s an easy fix! You just have to reboot me…that’s all.” Randi told her as she touched the distraught woman’s forearm.

Lynn slowly looked around at her. “How do I do that? What’s a reboot?”

I don’t know how you did it, Chief. Only you know how you did it.” Randi glanced over to Ricky Lynn.

Lynn immediately glared at her twin.

“You knew the whole time I’ve been here? You knew and didn’t tell me? Why would you do something so cruel? Was this all some kind of sick joke on little Ricky Lynn? I hate this place! I hate time travel! I hate you!” Lynn screamed to her sister as she jumped up, ran out of the room and up the stairs. We heard a door slam. Ricky Lynn excused her self and ran after her twin.

“That went well! The next time I have an idea like that just smack me, Emily!” I said with disappointment. Emily just smiled.

“She’ll be fine, sis. As I recall, it’s just PMS. The first one took us by surprise too, remember?” Alex admitted.

“Better than you do, sis!”

“Yes, well, we won’t talk about that right now.” Alex said in embarrassment.

“Allie told us the real story about Aunt Brie, mom!” Cassie chirped with excitement as she spilled the beans.

Alex’s expression changed dramatically!

“I don’t remember us telling them that, Empress! Something has changed and I’m not sure I’m me any more!” She began to cry.

“Then hold my hand and be reassured, Alex!” I held my hand out to her. She promptly took hold and we both felt the slight tingle that indicated we were one in the same. “Believe me now, Alex?”

“How can we be sure, Empress?”

“Because I’m sure! Just because three strange women suddenly suck Cassie and I into another possible dimension doesn’t mean this reality has changed! It simply means they are affecting time as it pertains exclusively to the Empress. Since we are the Empress, we both have the experience fresh in our minds! That is why you can’t remember it, Alex, it only just happened!”

“Wow, mom that is really deep! When did you learn so much about Chaos Theory?” Sam asked surprised by what I had said.

“I read a lot of comic books as a boy! They were just a nickel back then. So, have you picked out a name for your daughter yet, Carroll?” Alex and I turned our attention back to our very pregnant guest.

“You know I have, Skip!”

“Allie, Carroll is the reason you decided to fully embrace your womanhood. You decided tonight not to fight your urges.”

“It wasn’t tonight, Alex. It was the very instant little Alexis kicked her godmother in the stomach a little while ago!”

“Well, that much hasn’t changed!”

“Nor has anything else in our life, Alex! Learn to trust yourself!”

“Doc, Jim and Alex are back. Should I let them in?” Jacki suddenly changed the subject.

“Of course, I didn’t know you had the place under lockdown!”

“Just a precaution in case Greg and Brandon decided to crash the party, Doc.”

My nephew and son soon joined us. Apparently, the two had gone to the Community’s Recreation Center to play something called a ‘Virtual RPG’.

Jimmy immediately approached and hugged me tight.

“Hi, Empre…Aunt Allie.” He slipped as he kissed me.

“Hi, Mom. Wow, Aunt Carroll, you got big!” Young Alex exclaimed as he caught a glimpse of her belly.

“You know you have your mother’s talent for subtlety, don’t you?” There was that rare Sheldon sarcasm again.

“I’m sorry, Aunt Carroll, it’s just that it’s been a long time since I saw you.” The teen gently hugged his Aunt.

“How come you never learned to apologize like that?” Carroll glared at Alex and I then laughed.

“Because y’all weren’t preggers before, girl!” Alex shot back.

The room erupted in laughter.

“Emily, how much do you remember about that morning?” I asked as I sat across from her at the table the next morning.

“Which morning, sis?” She said looking at me curiously.

“That December morning. What do you remember about that morning at the hospital?”

“What are you getting at, Alex? What could possibly interest you about the hospital that…? Oh, I see where this is leading! No, Alex! You can’t do anything without disrupting the flow of this reality! I won’t let you, sis! Tell me you’ll forget about this…this…this ludicrous idea to save Lt. Riggby!” Emily pleaded with me.

“She helped me, Emily! She had plans for a husband and family! How could I just let that all disappear?”

“How many others died that day? In the days, even years that followed, sis? You can’t save them all! You can’t play favorites!”

“Haven’t I been playing favorites by protecting y’all?”

“You haven’t just protected us, Alex. You’ve done this world a great many services over the years! Services it will never realize happened.”

“If you say so, sis. I’ve just had this nagging feeling I need to do something… to save Cindy! I can’t explain why, it just feels right!”

“Oh, Alex, I had no idea you felt so strongly about her. You’ve never mentioned anything all these years, why now?” Emily gave me another curious look.

“It’s been eating at me since we arrived at the base. I picture her in my mind and feel I forgot something! I just can’t shake the feeling I forgot her- like she should be here! See? It’s bringing tears to my eyes!” I complained as I wiped the wet beginnings from the corners of my eyes. I could see the same happening to Emily.

“If you feel so strongly about it, sis, I’ll try my best to recall that morning.”

“I appreciate it, sis! As much detail as you feel you can relate. Stop if it gets too painful though, okay?” I reached across the table to hold her hand.

“I reported for duty at 0600hrs. I was making my rounds up until we heard the planes overhead around 0800.” She stopped as tears began streaming down her cheeks. “Oh, Alex, it was so terrible!”

“Take it slowly, sis. We don’t have to do it all right now.”

“No, Alex, let me get it out. I’ve kept it locked away inside for way too long!”

We were interrupted by Jack entering the kitchen. Both had a somber look as they nodded at us and proceeded to fix themselves coffee.

“If you’d like,” Jacki spoke quietly, “I could pass the memories to you, Empress. That way you could have all the details to replay at your discretion- with your permission of course, Emily.” She nodded.

“We can do that?” Joss sounded surprised.

“Ya, sis, we can do that. You find out from me…today…right now.”

“Oh, this is one of those time paradoxes, Mina talks about, right?”

“Sort of, Jack. With Emily’s permission you can help.” Again Emily gave a nod.

“We just need to hold hands for this to work. Ladies?” Jacki took one hand and Joss took the other. Each took one of Emily’s hands. “Close your eyes, please.”

I found myself walking down a sterile looking hallway. Most of the doorways I looked in revealed an empty room. On the whole, the hospital seemed empty. Servicemen with minor scrapes, bruises, or a broken limb occupied just a few of the rooms. I attended to them and continued on. Reaching the end of the hall, I descended the stairs and entered another almost identical hallway.

This hallway contained fewer doors but more people- mostly doctors and nurses. The sound of airplanes quietly started to fill the passage and slowly grew louder. No one seemed concerned or even worried. A clock on the wall indicated 0758. Walking about one quarter of the way down the hall, I stopped and turned a doorknob to my right. The door opened to reveal a smallish office with a single desk. Seated at that desk, a uniformed woman typed away on a typewriter- the key taps and platen bell echoing through the room.

“Morning Lieutenant! How are you this morning?” I heard Emily’s voice say.

“Morning, Emily. I told you not to call me that, or should I make that an order, Ensign?”

“I just thought your boss was in, Cindy. I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

“I don’t think Capt. Billings even came in today- it being Sunday and all. Somehow I don’t see him as being too religious! Anyway, you finish your rounds early?”

”Yes, all four patients are coming along nicely- not that I had anything to do with it, mind you!”

“You’ll get your chance, Emily!”

“One could only hope, Cindy! One day woman doctors will be more prevalent than men, I just know it.”

“If that’s what you think, I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to start that trend than you, Emily- except maybe Cmdr. Steinert.”

“Cmdr. Steinert?” I felt my self physically gasp.

“Yes, Cmdr. Alexandra Steinert. She just arrived last evening. Poor dear lost her gear and orders on the way over from the airfield. She said they went right over the side along with her purse! I felt so sorry for her, I offered to put her up for the night. Luckily Christine had shipped out early last week- I doubt I would’ve gotten away with sheltering another wayward soul! The Captain would have had me up on charges for sure this time!”

“Why do you push your luck, Cindy?”

“Who else would do it, Emily? You know as well as I do that some of them end up over in the red-light district! Sometimes I think the Navy intentionally ‘loses’ their gear for just that reason!”

“Oh come on, Cindy! Do you really think the Navy would do something like that?”

“Think about it, Emily, how better to satisfy all those men on shore leave?”

“I have it on good authority that is not the case, Cindy!”

“And what authority would that be?”

“My Unc…dad told me that is only a nasty rumor!”

Lt. Riggby looked up from her typewriter and stared at me for a moment then returned her attention back to the documents she had been typing up.

“Whatever you say, honey. I’m just saying it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

Cindy’s phone rang just then.

“Hello? Yes? Yes she is, I’ll tell her, sir. Good-bye.” She hung up the phone. The sound of airplane engines was louder now, yet Cindy paid it no mind. “Emily, Cmdr. Fields would like you to take these reports to his office- he said STAT.”

“We can’t keep his Excellency waiting now can we?” We both giggled. Cindy handed me the reports and I walked out of the office and down the hall about four doors.

“Commander, here are the reports you asked for.”

“What…oh…just put them in my basket, Ensign.” He never looked away from the report already opened on his desk.

I heard the now infamous explosions in the distance as another wave of planes passed overhead.

Cmdr. Fields turned immediately to the window and pulled open the blinds. We watched in horror as explosion after explosion laid waste to the anchored fleet.

I turned immediately and headed for the chaotic hallway.

Hurrying down the passage, an explosion went off somewhere close. The floor shook and the walls rattled, the left wall exploding forth into the hallway directly ahead. A large object collided with the opposite wall and fell in a heap. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw that the heap was wearing a Navy uniform. Carefully, I approached the gaping hole were the office wall had once been to determine if the building would hold. Plaster, wood, wiring, and unrecognizable debris dangled from the ceiling and cluttered the floor. Nothing existed to prove this had once been an office at all.

I knelt down to check the uniformed heap for life. My vision became blurry as I discovered Cindy’s lacerated, motionless face below the mess of hair, plaster, and wood splinters.

“No!” I cried over and over until I felt hands grab and pull me from the seeming lifeless body, away from the destruction and carnage.

I opened my eyes to see three women crying profusely. Spencer and Alex were standing nearby, deep concern on their faces.

“Thank you, Emily. Thank you for enduring it once more and I hope this helps you as well.”

Emily said nothing; instead she stood, hurried around the table, and crouched beside me wrapping her arms around me in this process.

“Thank you, Alex.” She finally whispered between sobs. “I haven’t shared that with anyone!”

“Rest assured that what you have shared with me today will be well guarded.” I looked to Jack- both nodded. “Emily, I promise I will find some way to save our mutual friend from her terrible fate. I’ll run simulations until I find an acceptable solution. I won’t give up on her, sis!”

“Why can’t you leave her rest, Alex? Must you save everyone you meet?”

“You really have to ask that, sis? Whether you realize it or not, Cindy is part of all this! Did you even realize she mentioned me to you in the office before all hell broke loose?”

Emily looked puzzled.

“She told you she provided lodging the night before for one Cmdr. Alexandra Steinert, remember?”

“I…I never paid it any mind until today.” She looked up at me finally understanding. “That was you?”

I nodded. “The very same, sis.”

“Allie, we have company!” Alex interrupted as she pointed to the stairwell.

I immediately looked to Jack. Both shook their heads and I relaxed slightly.

“We were too focused on Emily, Allie, we didn’t see him coming.

“Show yourself, Brandon. We know you’re there, honey.” Alex called out softly.

“Cassie, Sam, and Alex, you can phase in now too- cat’s out of the bag, kids.” I added.

As Brandon approached the table, my three kids appeared standing behind me. He stopped suddenly and his eyes grew wide. Alex approached his side in case he started to faint, but he immediately waved her off.

“Stay…away, just…you…stay away…a minute!” He ordered in a calm, but strict vibrato.

He pointed to the seven of us around the table. “You really are…you’re really…um…witches!” He gulped.

“Far from it, Brandon, hon…” He raised his hand to stop Alex from saying anything else. Her expression turned sad.

“You three just appeared…magic?” He motioned to Cassie, Sam, and Alex.

“Not that we know of, Brandon.” Sam answered meekly.

He pointed between Alex and I. “You two aren’t…sisters…are you.” It was a statement and not a question.

“No.” Alex said sadly, slowly shaking her head. She glanced at me, her pain evident.

“Then what?” He cocked his head to the side as he continued looking between us.

“We’re Alexandra Steinert.” Alex and I spoke out in unison.

“Stop that! What are you…really?” He looked directly to me.

Spencer answered on our behalf.

“They are the Empress, Brandon; who else would she be?”

“I don’t understand. What Empress?”

Alex answered this time. “Brandon, I know this sounds crazy, but Allie and I are known as the Empress of Time and Space. I’m Alex of the present, 2026, and Allie is Alex from 1944. That’s the best definition I can give you, honey!”

“That’s theoretically impossible! Hawking claimed that you two should cancel out! Neither one of you should exist!”

“Hawking was wrong, honey, just like he was wrong about wormholes at first.” Alex tried to explain.

Again Brandon raised his hand to halt her. This time he rubbed his forehead with the other.

“You really ARE their children?” He gestured between Cassie, young Alex, and Sam then to Alex and I again.

“We are HER children, yes, Brandon.” Cassie answered- pride most evident in her voice.

Brandon nodded once. Several moments passed before he continued his inquiries. He held his forehead the whole time.

He pointed to Emily. “You…you are her sister.” His statement was direct.

“Yes I am! Just as much as I am your sister-in-law, Brandon!” She stated proudly.

“And you knew about this the whole time?” He pointed and directed the question at Spencer.

“Emily confided in me only when she was sure I could accept the truth, Brandon. To answer, yes, I’ve known for almost fifteen years now. Our love for each other makes all this acceptable to me. Do you feel the same way about Alex?”

“I’m not sure yet. At this point I’m not sure of anything! I’m not even sure this is really happening!”

“Join the club, honey!” Alex, Emily, Joss, Jacki, and I said together.

“Stop that…this instant!” Brandon raised his voice slightly.

“Fine then! Alex, you talk to your husband. This IS your second and I haven’t had one yet, so you answer his questions!” I said in anger and looked away.

“Two husbands? I thought you said you were only twenty-eight?”

“I was twenty-eight…before this all happened.”

“Before we were married?”

Alex bowed and shook her head. “No, before we all became women back in 1944.” She said shyly turning her head away from him slightly. I noticed her cringe- in fact, I felt myself cringe.

Brandon gulped loudly. “Before you became women- in 1944? No freakin’ way, Alex! There is no way you have ever been a guy! I…I saw you give birth to Alex! That technology hadn’t been developed yet!” Alex said nothing, but met his gaze with a sad pleading look.

“You two aren’t twenty and twenty-one either then, are you?”

“Seventy-six and seventy-four respectively, but I’ll never admit to it!” Cassie answered putting her hands to her hips.

Brandon gave a short, amused, snort.

“You are still sixteen though, right?” He looked at young Alex.

“Until next April, dad. Geez, give me some credit!”

“How?” His question was generalized to everyone in the room.

“I’ve been curious about that as well, Brandon.” Spencer said moving to his side. “Jacquelyn, care to do the honors?” He looked to the twins.

“If Brandon would permit us, Spencer.”

Brandon looked at Spencer in confusion.

“She needs to make contact with you to relay the memories.”

“She? They’re from separate times as well?”

“Joss is my Jacquelyn, Brandon.” I replied turning my attention back to him. “Lynn is mine also.”

“Curiouser and curiouser.” He whispered.

“I have read Alice in Wonderland you know!” I replied.

“Brandon.” Spencer motioned to Jack. “Only if you want to, my dear brother-in-law. I guarantee she will not harm you.”

“I take it you’ve done this before?”

“More times then I will admit to.”

Brandon swallowed hard again. “Sure…why not. If anything I get to hold hands with two very lovely women and my wife before I go brain-dead.”

“Not this time, stud. Allie’s memories are far fresher than mine. By her perspective this all happened just under a month ago. Sis, you want to do the honors?” Alex looked to me.

“I don’t see what the difference would be…but okay.”

I took Joss’ offered hand and closed my eyes concentrating on recalling the days around our transformation.

Thirty minutes later Spencer and Brandon were rubbing their eyes and foreheads.

“That…that was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced! Way better than virtual reality! It was like I was there- like I was going through it as you, Allie!” Both men felt around themselves just to make sure everything was still in place.

“Gentlemen, we were only passing along her memories, not her mammaries!” Joss joked.

Jacki gently punched her twin in the shoulder. “You are so bad, Jacquelyn Cummins!”

“So are you, Jacquelyn Cummins!”

“So you really can travel through time?” Brandon looked at the both of us. Alex and I looked at each other before I alone answered.

“Yes, Brandon, I really can travel through time- only not now.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t travel while I’m on my period. I have no idea why, that’s just the way it works.” I noticed Brandon, young Alex, and Spencer shudder. I could relate to that. “If you could wait four more days I’m sure either of us can demonstrate.”

Brandon thought a minute. “How far back can you go; how far forward?”

“I’m not sure, honey.” Alex answered. ‘I was planning on introducing Greg to some dinosaurs...meat-eaters, of course- hungry, meat-eaters…”

“Mother!” Cassie shouted. I took up answering his question even though that was my plan also.

“So far, this is the farthest I’ve come into the future, Brandon. I’ve traveled back as far as December 6th, 1941. I haven’t gone back past that yet.”

“1895.” Alex interrupted. “I’ve been back to 1895.”

“Grampa?” I asked her.

“Yes.” I noticed her glance to the floor a second.

“Oh.”

“Let’s not forget about your’s and Cassie’s little excursion the night before last, Allie. We still haven’t figured out if you went forward or backward, or by how much!”

“I have a feeling that was inter-dimensional only, Spence. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?”

“As you wish, Empress.”

“Inter-dimensional? You travel between dimensions too?”

“Is it any harder to accept than traveling through time, dear? Hawking believed in them, why shouldn’t you?” Alex insisted.

“Alex, company!” Jacki spoke out.

“Not right now, Jack, stop him!” She ordered.

We heard the door at the top of the stairs slam, then a quiet voice.

“Oh, God, I think I broke my nose!”

“Jacki!” Cassie growled.

“It was the only thing I could think of on such short notice!” She smiled deviously. Joss looked at her twin and smiled also.

“You just slammed the door in his face? From down here?” They nodded, still smiling. “Incredible! What else can you do?” Brandon asked with a mix of curiosity and excitement.

My future husband rose off the floor with a start and gradually turned horizontal about three feet off the floor. Several frying pans gently rose from their hooks and started to dance around, under and over him. This continued for several minutes before Jacki returned everything to its original place.

“Unbelievable! Boy, am I glad you like me!”

“Think if we didn’t!” Joss pointed up as she placed her coffee cup to her lips and quickly moved her hand down and to the left, pointer still extended.

A loud thump echoed across the kitchen ceiling.

“OUCH!” A muffled man’s voice cried, then all was silent.

“Point taken, Ladies.” Brandon laughed as he cautiously looked to the kitchen ceiling. “Beauty, brains, and skills!”

“Jacki, I’m warning you, leave my Greg along!” Cassie warned again. “He won’t be around much longer and I want to enjoy him til then!”

“He’s just a plaything to you? Is that all I am to you, Alex?” Brandon asked in surprised anger, looking to Cassie then to his wife.

“NO! No, honey, when I said those vows I meant them! To have and to hold, better or worse…” Alex swallowed hard as tears started to spill from her eyes. “Til death…do us…do us part,” She stuttered as she moved closer to her mate and collapsed into his shoulder sobbing.

We all cried knowing what that last phrase meant to each of us.

“It does not have to come to that, Alex!” Spencer said wiping his cheek dry.

“What’s he mean, Alex?”

“I mean there is a very difficult, very celibate so-to-speak alternative.”

“Spencer, I really don’t think he’s ready for any more, do you? Besides, that method worked real well for Pa, didn’t it! From what we’ve seen Brandon enjoys a cold one every so often.”

“No! I’m not ready to join your sorority yet, thank you!” He pulled back from Alex slightly as his left hand bee-lined south in defense.

“What Spence is saying Brandon, is that if you drink from Kili Island or Sand Dollar’s water supply you would share the longevity we possess- the down side is that you could never again drink anything with alcohol in it- no beer; whiskey, bourbon, scotch, rum, gin, spiked punch, and especially no tequila!” I informed him.

“That goes for any medications that contain it too, dear.” Alex added.

“What about the new synthetic stuff?”

“Brandon, according to Corrine Masterson, even synthe will trigger the genetic process.” Jacki answered.

“Corrine? She isn’t old enough to…to know…she’s the…one of your crew?” He looked at me suddenly understanding.

“Yep, had one helluva time getting her out from under that torpedo that morning!” I recalled with a wry smile.

“I could see why.” Brandon blushed recalling from earlier that specific memory.

“That’s only when she lets her guard down, Cap. These days she pulls them back to a nice ‘C’ cup- easier to walk around like that. Keeps her hair light brown, too.” Jacki informed me.

I closed my eyes and asked some detailed questions.

“Shapeshifter.” I nodded my head.

“She’ll find out in about twelve weeks, your time, Cap- when she’s finally had enough teasing.” She acknowledged.

“This is incredible! Skills and abilities that border on magic, yet you accept it all as normal- as commonplace! What’s next, predicting the future?” Brandon exclaimed rubbing his forehead again. If he kept that up it would be raw soon.

“Excuse me, but didn’t I just state that a minute ago!” Cassie chimed out.

Alex glared at her a moment. “I’m afraid we have that base covered in spades, honey. All members of the royal family have the gift of foresight in one form or another.”

“Royal family? Oh, this just keeps getting better! Of course, I should have known, you being this Empress and all!” He made some strange rolling arm flourish to me. Whatever it meant, you couldn’t miss the sarcasm.

“It’s not because of me…” Everyone except Brandon glared at me. “Well, ya, it is because of me.” I lowered my eyes. “You see, because I was so impressed by Mina when we first met, I guess the Mahanilui combined her pattern with that of Emily’s and we became sisters. Because I am now part Kilian I, as well as my sister, Emily, and all our offspring carry the royal bloodline of Kili Island- Mina’s four daughters and their children as well. So, as for seeing the future, we’ve really got that one aced!”

“You mean…all of you…” He let the question drop.

“Although honored, sir, we are but humble servants to the royal family.” Jacki proclaimed for them both. The Cummins twins high-fived each other.

“Believe me, if I could I’d separate you two!” I laughed shaking my head.

“But we’re just starting to have fun, Empress!” They said as one.

Jacki’s expression abruptly changed.

“Jimmy’s here, Emily. Should we let him in?”

She nodded.

Seconds later footfalls could be heard coming up the basement steps.

“So, he finally knows the truth, eh Aunt Alexandra?” James said as he turned the corner.

“You…you knew about this?”

“Hellooooo! Royal family? I saw this day as soon as you two said ‘I do”, Uncle Brandon. It is still Uncle, right?”

“You tell me! You’re the blueblood!”

James closed his eyes for a minute. “I guess you’ll do for the next nineteen years or so.” He grinned.

“Nineteen years, twenty days, cuz!” Samantha corrected.

“You mean in nineteen years I…” He held his hands to his chest in a cupping gesture.

“You know what they say, Brandon. No one should know too much about their future less they should change it! You’ll just have to figure it out on your own.” Sam warned with a devious smile.

“Mom, I’m going up to the pool. Last night I talked Aunt Carroll into wading around the shallow end this morning. I thought it would help remove some of the weight and pressure. She agreed to meet me there by 8:00AM” Sam said changing the subject. She untied her robe to reveal her black bikini and wrap. “See y’all later!”

Samantha simply disappeared leaving her robe draped on my chair back.

“Show-off!” Cassie sniped.

“Does she do that all the time?” Brandon asked in wide-eyed amazement.

“No, but she’s been looking forward to this a long time, dad.” Young Alex admitted. “All of us saw this coming about four years ago.”

“You knew about this?” He looked at Alex and I.

“Alex didn’t know, Brandon. I just saw it yesterday afternoon. Sometimes I have a problem seeing my own future- don’t know why.” I looked over to Alex. “See I told you I would be here for you, sis.”

“Why do you keep calling her ‘sister’ if you are one in the same?”

“Would you have really understood if we called each other Alex? We agreed, just the other day, that whoever was traveling would be ‘Allie’. People can accept identical twins easier than temporal multiples of the same person, Brandon.”

“I guess I see your point. What about Jocelynn and Lynn- same thing?”

“He is a bright one, sis! Yes, same thing goes for whoever travels with me.”

“So, if Alex were to visit you back in…um, 1944, then…”

“She would be Allie. If you travelled with her you would…” I let the sentence hang a moment. “You would have to watch yourself with all the horny women on base!” Everyone in the kitchen laughed.

“Sam, I thought you were going to the pool?” I tilted my head back.

“I’m going, mom! Geez, how do you do that?” Sam said as she reappeared behind me.

“When you become a mom, you’ll know how I do it! Run along now.”

“Wait, Cuz, I’d like to come along if it’s all right, but we have to stop at my room so I can change.” James caught her.

“Sure, no prob, anyone else like to come along?”

Jacki nodded to Brandon.

“Honey, would it be okay, just this once?”

Alex nodded. “Just this once and no excessive touching my daughter, you’re mine, understand?”

Brandon got a huge smile as he walked around the table and took Sam’s pro-offered hand. Three people disappeared from the room. We all waited until Alex and I nodded.

“That went better than expected!”

“You could have told me it would happen today, sis!”

“Empress’ priveledge!”

Pounding from above interupted our conversation.

“Help! The door is stuck! I can’t get out! Help! Can anyone hear me? Get me out!” The muffled voice cried.

“Looks like ‘Greeggggie’ woke up. Should I trip him again, Cap?” Jack inquired.

“You will do no such thing, Jacki Cummins! Leave him to me.” Cassie growled before disappearing.

“He was out for quite a while, Jack. I hope you didn’t…”

“Greg received a mild concussion, sis. He’s got a hard head, so don’t worry about it.” Emily interrupted with her diagnosis and a giggle.

“Got or is, sis?”

“There’s a difference in his case?”

We all laughed. I loved these family get-togethers!

0700hrs, Flagstaff, Arizona, August 15th, 2026

“Good morning, Empress. How do we feel today?” Spencer greeted me as I took my position at the kitchen table and he presented me with this morning’s coffee.

“It feels like I might finish early this time, Spence.”

“Shame. I was hoping you’d stay a while longer, Allie, our visits are always too short.”

“You’re too kind, sir. I thought you and Emily would be sick of me by now. Why are you so good to me anyway?”

“Because, Empress, you’ve been good to me over the years. Good friends are hard to come by these days, are they not?”

“Understanding ones, yes.” A random thought and a nagging feeling crossed paths in my mind so I cocked my head slightly and posed the beckoning question. “Tell me, Spence, how many are we, and are we really the plague I feel we have become?”

“Plague, Allie? I’m not sure I know what you mean?” Spencer looked at me in confusion.

“I get the feeling that half of the U.S. population will live for several hundred years. Have the women of the Mahanilui spread that much?”

“Why would you ask such a question, Empress? As I recall, the population of Kili numbered a paltry twenty-one before you provided rescue. At last count we numbered twelve hundred. I don’t think that constitutes a plague, do you?”

“It’s just that I’ve noticed…observed…I’ve felt more gifted people now than anytime before.”

“Felt, Allie? I didn’t know you could feel your people?”

“Back on base, in 1944, the feeling was small- miniscule- confined to our small area. Here in 2026, the feeling is overwhelming. I can’t mentally count all our people here! Fortunately, I can still sense my children individually, though I don’t think that will ever change.”

“You’ve never told me of these feelings before, Empress. Why now?”

“She’s still worrying about those three scary bitches from last week, Spence.”

“Good morning, Alex. Sleep well?” Emily’s husband poured another cup of coffee and sat it next to me. Alex pulled out her chair and sat down.

“It’s getting back to normal. Thanks Spence, you’re a darling.” She thanked him for the beverage.

Everyone was quite for several minutes until Spencer broke the silence.

“You know, you two really are amazing!”

“Thanks, but why?” Alex asked first.

“I know you two are the same person, yet there are just enough differences.”

“Ya, like she’s eighty-two years older than I am!” I laughed.

“You should look this good at one-hundred-ten!” Alex rebuked me.

“I think I look beautiful at one-ten, sis!” I smiled at her.

“See, that’s what I mean, you two! You are exactly the same person, but you trade barbs and squabble like twin sisters- even your personalities vary slightly. It’s just so…so amazing to me.”

“I wonder what it would be like to be triplets or quads, sis” Alex placed her hand on mine. I felt that tingle pass between us. Alex’s smile brightened considerably.

“I knew it!” I exclaimed.

“Knew what?” She tried to conceal her expression.

“You’ve been worrying about those three too!”

“Was I that obvious?”

I just looked into my twin’s eyes and raised an eyebrow. No words were required.

Spencer nibbled away at his buttered toast and smiled. Things were quiet for a couple more minutes.

“What’s it feel like?” I suddenly inquired.

“What does what feel like, Allie?” Alex tilted her head.

“You know! All the moaning, groaning, and squeaking of springs!”

“Hey…wow, ya know, I think I’ll be in the office. You two yell if you need something!” Spencer hurried out of the kitchen. We heard the office door close with a slight click.

Alex waited a minute. “You know that second night…in our rack?”

“I’m still embarrassed about that, but yes, I remember.” I looked at her in suspense. She purposely paused too long.

Alex moved her smiling face to within a few inches of my own. “A hundred time better!” Her smile was so infectious, we both giggled like children.

“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you two really were sisters! Sharing performance stats with Allie, honey?” Brandon asked with a coy smile as he entered the room.

Walking around the table, he withdrew a cup from the wall cabinet. After fixing his coffee, he sat down beside Alex, pulled her close and kissed her. I found myself slightly jealous.

“I tried not to wake you, honey, sorry.”

“It wasn’t you, dear. I was having this dream where you and Allie…” He looked sheepishly over to me and thought better. “Anyway, I’m having this dream… and the lamp falls off the nightstand. It woke me with a start. What a great dream too! Say, you don’t suppose…”

“Could have been, dear. I’ve tried to break her of the habit, but those two are incorrigible and capricious when together! She never used to be like this before the Mahanilui!”

I just shook my head and chuckled. “None of us were like this before the Mahanilui, sis!”

“Well, I for one am glad you are, Empress! I wouldn’t have found you had it not happened!”

“Aren’t you the sweetheart? Hey, are you still up for some traveling, honey?”

“Why, I thought you two were stuck here for another day?”

“Sometimes it happens.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“So, where would you like to go, hon?” Alex inquired.

My future self’s spouse thought a minute.

“With all due respect, Alex, I’d like to see this Base of yours- if the captain here, will permit it, of course. World War II history has always intrigued me.” Brandon looked my way with promise.

Alex gave me a nod of consent.

“Okay, but I warn you, the welcome there may not be as cordial as yours. Only Ricky Lynn and Jack have experienced their ‘twins’. Also, we will be in a real war zone, although a ‘rear’ area it is still dangerous, Brandon. Still interested?” I tried to cover all the problem spots.

Alex was smiling ear to ear when I looked back to her.

“Why the look, sis?”

“Thank you, Empress!” A single tear ran down her cheek.

“Um…huh?” I tilted my head at her.

“I remember all this! This very conversation! I even remember what I was thinking…what you are thinking this very second!”

“That I think you’re being silly?” I laughed.

Alex turned in her chair and drew me in with her arms, squeezing tight. The tingle was there again.

“Or, that I can’t breathe?” I fought my constrictor.

“Yes!” She answered quietly and started to cry and laugh all at the same time.

I looked to Brandon with concern. “Are you sure you’re taking good care of me?”

Brandon, for his part, just looked confused. Alex laughed a few more times then moved back to wipe her face.

“Okay, so tell me when and who we leave with, sis.”

“Both of us, Brandon, Emily, Spencer, both Cummins’, both Samuels’, and the girls. Young Alex and Jimmy will want to stay here.”

“What about…’Greggie’?” I asked with as much contempt and poison my voice could muster this early in the morning.

Alex just winked at me and smiled. I knew that look! I also knew we were being watched. Alex must have felt it too.

“Gremlins?” she called out, “I know you’re here! Show yourselves!”

“How does she do that?” Sam said from behind me. The three of us turned around.

“She had to have heard you, Cassie. I didn’t make a sound!”

“Oh, bull! I saw you walk through the table to beat me around it!”

“Fight nice girls! I can feel you not hear you!” I informed them.

“You both need to eat a good breakfast this morning and then you need to pack for a four day trip. We’re going to visit Atlantis-Minor.”

“See, I told you I saw that coming!”

“Give it a rest, Cassie, I knew we were going and I didn’t even have to use my powers!”

“Girls! Don’t make the Empress change her mind! We leave at 1400hrs. You will wear your uniforms, Ensigns!”

“Aye, aye, Admiral!” They said in unison jumping to attention.

“Admiral, Alex?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Actually, I retired a Rear Admiral in 1998. I got tired of using all that makeup to make myself look old- my pores got clogged and I started to get acne.”

“We can’t have that now, can we?” I teased. “Has anyone heard from the Samuels twins recently?”

“Greg and I stopped by there the night before last, ‘Aunt Allie’. I think they have things patched up- at least they were behaving like they did.” Cassandra answered. “In fact, we had to leave early because Ricky Lynn said they were going to some club on the south side of Flagstaff. They looked really cute in their matching rave outfits- cute little red numbers that ended about here.” She motioned to…well, to a scandalously short distance below her bottom. I saw Samantha roll her eyes.

“They probably did that to get you and ‘Greggie’ out of their time-share!” Sam growled in exasperation.

“Don’t you two ever stop?” I sighed.

“Not since I’ve known them, Allie!” Brandon interjected causing both girls to stop and frown at him.

A door closing in the front of the house indicated Spencer came out of the office. He entered the kitchen in Navy working blues. The insignia on his sleeve was that of a radio operator, but looked strange.

“Well, what do you think? I’m surprised it still fits!” He asked with pride.

“I love a man in uniform, Spence, but Electronic Data Encryption Specialists didn’t appear until the computer age, say the early seventies?”

“We can always say he’s classified, sis. His insignia isn’t that different.”

“That’s okay, sisters, he will be my personal assistant regardless!” Emily turned the corner of the stairway already in her dress whites. I immediately took stock of her rank.

“Commander. How nice of you to join us this morning. Care for some coffee?” I welcomed her.

“Yes, thank you. Mister Rosen, my coffee, if you please.”

“Aye, sir. One coffee comin’ right up!”

“Was that too over the top, Allie? It’s been so long I’m not so sure.” Emily smiled at us.

“You sound just like Uncle, sis.”

“I wasn’t trying for that, but it will be nice to see him again!” Emily toned down her smile just a bit.

“What about me, don’t I get a uniform too?” Brandon cried out in a little boy’s voice- like he was somehow being overlooked.

“Why yes, my widdle Bwandon gets to dress up in his own spiffy uniform!” Alex grabbed his cheek and jiggled it. “Emily is that old thing still in your closet?”

“Do I ever throw anything like that out, Alex?” She said right before Alex disappeared.

Well, I guess that answered the question of when.

I tried to phase out. Alex reappeared in her seat.

“I didn’t think you could resist, sis.”

“All moorings are cleared, Admiral. Ready to get underway!” I chirped in happiness.

“As you were, Empress! Proper attire of the designated period is first required! Although you do look darling in that pink chemise!”

“You like it? I had thought about taking this and several others along.”

“You’ll find an extra duffle in your closet, Empress, packed and waiting. Also I took the liberty of having your regulation items cleaned. Greg put up a fuss, but in the end…I won!”

“Thank you, Admiral!”

I stood from the chair, phased, and headed upstairs to change.

Upstairs, I noticed the bathroom door was slightly ajar. Greg was humming some unknown tune while shaving. I got right behind him so I could be seen in the mirror and rephased.

“BOO!”

Quickly phasing out again I observed the result.

“Ouch! Shit!” He jumped a few inches cutting his chin in the process.

My work being done, I continued to the bedroom I shared with Jack. Rephasing, I began my preparations. They had obviously been reading our minds again as they were on their way to being dressed in their whites.

“Eavesdropping again, Jack?” I asked as I pulled the pink nighty off over my head.

“Ya, well it’s nice to be prepared. By the way…nice move in there!” Jacki nodded to the hallway.

“It was the least I could do!” I said as I fastened then adjusted my regulation brassiere to fit. How different they felt after wearing modern lingerie! Even though they had been washed here.

“Feels strange after wearing this new stuff, huh, Cap?”

“Sure does, Jack! How could we wear these?” I replied as I slid up my regulation britches.

“Wait til you see what the designers have us wearing in the fifties!” Jacki spouted. “Talk about torpedoes!”

“I can hardly wait.” I said sarcastically. Jacki shook her head and gave a little snort.

“Hey, if everyone is getting into uniform, isn’t ‘Greggie’ going to suspect something?” I looked at Jacki and Joss.

“No, I already know what I’m going to do, Allie.” Alex said as she appeared behind me.

“Something devious I hope?”

“Just wait and see, sis.”

“Won’t Cassie be mad?”

“Who do you think conceived it?”

The four of us smiled. I realized there was still hope for our girl.

“So, Cassandra has a limited time for this one?”

“Over the years she’s had numerous boyfriends, sis, none of which interested her for very long. Greg has been her longest pursuit. A few years ago, if you asked me, I’d have told you they were planning to make it official. I don’t know what happened, but after that he turned into a first class pig! It took your arrival here to convince her of what a mistake he really was.”

“I didn’t want to be the harbinger of death, Alex! I just don’t like the guy! I’ve always stuck to my guns when it comes to first impressions and my feelings!”

“I know that, remember? I think your first impression of him when you two met is what opened her eyes. I am her mom. She’s grown up seeing me all the time and you as her reclusive Aunt. Maybe because she knows you’ve been isolated from mainstream time- unbiased, someone to put a new light on things- I don’t know!”

“But when I showed the same attitude towards him that you had…”

“Exactly!”

“So, I am the harbinger of death.”

“In this case, the giver of life, Empress! You’ve managed to save yet another life! I’ll have to add that to the chronicles when I get back.”

“He stays himself, you know.”

“Who, Empress?”

“Brandon. He’s as good as his word, sis. In nineteen years and twenty days, he’ll drink the water and never imbibe again. I see a few hundred years of happiness for you both. I’m so happy for you!” I hugged her tight as I felt tears of joy for her.

“You’ll get there too…in time, Alex.” She rubbed the back of my head and patted my back gently. “We better get downstairs or miss the fun, sis.”

There we were: one man and seven women all in regulation naval dress, talking quietly amongst ourselves in the living room. I had to admit I looked very good in gold stars! We were waiting for the Samuels girls to arrive- oh yes, one other person also.

“Ricky Lynn is here.” Jack announced.

Ricky Lynn and Lynn joined us shortly. Both were conversing happily as they entered the room and took their seats after greeting us all.

“You two work out your differences, Lieutenant?”

“Aye, ma’am. We’re good to go, Skip!”

“Good to hear, Chief.”

“So when do we leave?” Lynn asked with uncontained excitement.

“Patience, Lieutenant. We’re awaiting one more recruit.

“They’re coming, Admiral!” Jacki announced to Alex.

A male voice could be heard descending the stairs.

“You mean to tell me she talked you into this horse…?”

“Alex can be very convincing when she puts her mind to it, Greg!” We heard Brandon interrupt; he continued to explain as we heard them enter the kitchen.

“Don’t get me wrong, it does look good on you, but why an old World War II era uniform? I mean…modern issue is so much more comfortable!”

“That’s not the point, Greg! This is a re-enactment and ceremony!”

“Just the same, I’d rather be comfortable than…wow!” Greg stopped dead in his tracks as soon as he saw us.

“Major! You’re out of uniform, marine!” Alex growled.

The ingrained responses of the Corp revealed themselves as Greg snapped to attention.

“I only found out about this, Comm…oh shit…Admiral!”

“So you do still recognize rank, major!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Alex approached with a steady glare on her face.

“How’s that again, marine?”

Greg gulped. “Sir, yes sir!”

I had never seen anyone break into a sweat so fast before!

“Ensign, Fleming C., front and center!” Alex growled.

Cassandra hurried over to her and stood to attention. From the peripheral of my vision, I noticed Greg yawn and thought it strange. Jacki must have been reading me.

‘Another one of my gifts, Empress. Don’t worry, he’ll be fine- won’t remember a thing!’ She said in my mind.

“Ensign Fleming, do you have something to tell this disgraceful excuse for a marine?” Alex backhanded his beer gut. Gregory’s eyes snapped wide open.

“Yes, ma’am! Greg, I’m afraid it just isn’t working between us! At first I thought you were the one- really the one! Through the many years we’ve been together I kept up hope that you would change just enough to love me for who I was and not for what I looked like or did sexually!”

Cassie took a deep breath and continued. “Despite my hopes and dreams you’ve disappointed me at every turn! Now we’ve been recalled and my desire for you to join me has waned. Greg, I’m afraid you cannot follow us nor can you ever remember my family or me. I have no other choice but to release you, Gregory. The Admiral will relocate you to another city where you will start your life anew- without me! I thank you for all the good times we had, sir! Goodbye.” Cassandra had real tears running down her cheeks as she finished. Her plan or not, it had hurt her immensely!

“As you were, Ensign!” Alex sounded choked as well. Cassie returned to her previous position.

“You’re breaking up with me, Cassie?” Greg yawned again and blinked a few times.

“Are you hard of hearing as well, Major? She said we were being recalled!”

“Recalled where?” He asked as his eyes closed farther and he yawned yet again.

“We have been recalled to a place and time you cannot understand nor reach, Gregory.” Alex said humoring him with partial truth.

His eyes closed and head tilted to the side slowly. The man was literally asleep standing up.

‘The Admiral and I will be right back, Empress’ Jacki said in my mind again. She walked over and took Alex’s outstretched hand. Alex grabbed Greg’s limp hand and all three vanished. Brandon’s expression was priceless as he looked around the walls and ceiling.

“She didn’t hurt him did she, Allie?”

“Not in the least, Brandon. From what Jacki told me, Greg will wake up on a bench in his old hometown. He won’t remember any of this.” I explained.

“We essentially reset his memory back to before he and Cassie met. Anything that remains will seem like a wild dream.”

“Are you sure this is what you wanted, Cassandra?” I asked as gently as I could.

“He was using me, Mom! It took Allie to make me see that.”

“But you were using him too sweetheart, couldn’t you see that?”

“Just for companionship and sex, mostly companionship though, Mom! He was using me as his maid, sex slave, and trophy wife. No, I’m sure. I’ll find the right guy some day, you’ll see!” She tried to dab her eyes dry. “I’m ready to leave now, Empress.” She approached and wrapped her arms around me as she quietly started to cry on my neck.

“We have to wait for Jacki and the Empress to return first, sweetheart, then we can go.”

“Thank you, Empress.” She whispered. “You’ve shown me the way, yet again.”

Samantha joined in by gently rubbing her sister’s shoulder.

“Now that’s a different view! I’ve never seen mother and daughters making up from this perspective before. Care to share some of that with me, sweetheart?” Alex said as she and Jacki reappeared.

“Everything okay, Empress?” I asked.

“Sleeping like a baby on a park bench, sis.”

“What if he remembers- even a little of it? As I recall, the last time we did this Homeland Security almost got us!” Emily stated with concern.

“Then it will make a wonderful fantasy story, sis, just like last time. That’s about all. Now, if everyone will grab their gear, we can go.” Alex proclaimed.

Jimmy and young Alex came up from the basement.

“You sure I can’t come, mom?” Alex asked.

“Sorry, hun, not this time. I’m afraid you don’t look old enough to be in the service. You’ll have more fun here with Jimmy, anyway.”

“I thought you said he declined the trip, sis?”

“I know how persuasive he can be, Empress, remember that girl from Tennessee- what Pa never found out?”

“Oh, ya. Got it, sis.”

“Allie, you, Lynn, and Joss go back to that night in the infirmary. About ten minutes later should do. The rest of us will arrive that afternoon, about one-ish at the entrance to the Yellow Brick Road. That should give you time to prepare everyone- especially Emily!”

“Understood, Admiral.” I answered, standing to attention for a moment.

“Oh, thanks for reminding me! I’ll need your extra gold clusters when we arrive. Women never made it past Captain back then and surely never made Admiral. Amelia will want to borrow her sister’s extra bars, also.”

“Amelia?”

Emily raised her hand slightly. “I’m Amelia, Alex, when I travel with you.”

“Oh. Why reduce your rank, sis?”

“Because you’re the base Commander, remember? I’d outrank you!”

“Oh ya-right. Ready, you two?” I looked at Joss and Lynn.

“One sec, Cap.” My Jack gave Jacki a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. “See ya soon, Sis!”

“Aw, get outta here, sis!” Ricky Lynn groaned as my Chief tried to repeat Jack’s maneuver. “See you this afternoon, sis!” Lynn said anyway.

“Oh, sis, you have…it?”

“Ya, I got it in here.” Lynn patted her regulation pocketbook.

“I’ll need that back before I leave. Don’t forget!”

“I won’t!” Lynn growled.

Alex and I watched the short conversation with interest until Lynn noticed.

“Sorry, but if I lose this, I’ll never live it down, Skipper!”

I shrugged and turned to Alex.

“Until another time then, Alex.” she and I hugged again.

“Until another time, Empress.” She winked.

Joss, Lynn, and I picked up our gear and took each other’s hands.

The dimly lit infirmary replaced the crowded living room.

“Welcome back, Alex. Chief. Commander.” Emily greeted us- relief evident on her tired face. “Did you find what you were looking for, Ricky Lynn?”

Chief Samuels smiled brightly and fumbled with her purse.

“Um…I’m going to need you three to stand outside for a few minutes. I promised Ricky Lynn I’d keep this strictly ‘for my eyes-only’.

Jack turned and calmly walked out of the building without looking back, but Emily looked at me in confusion.

“Future Tech, sis. It hasn’t been invented yet. Let’s just let the Chief work her miracle.” The two of us started for the infirmary door. “We’ll be outside, chief!”

Ricky Lynn’s back was to us already so all we saw was her left hand raise and wave a few times.

Want to see some really amazing equipment, sis?” I asked Emily after I shut the door.

“Thought you weren’t going to ask, Alex.” Her devious smile could be seen in the faint moonlight.

I offered my hand and we passed straight through the door we had just physically exited.

“It’s so small, Alex! She’s just touching the screen and it changes. What’s she doing?”

I looked closer and saw small, multicolored boxes popping up on the screen.

“It’s called a portable computer.” I told her. “These things can do almost anything! Seems like everyone has ‘em in 2026.”

“How does she know what to do, Alex? I didn’t think Ricky Lynn was that receptive to learning new things? I would’ve at least expected some notes or something.”

“The chief looks so familiar with that instrument because she invented it, Emily!”

“When? In the week she spent in the future?” Emily looked confused.

“No, sis, in the eighty-four years between now and then! That there is Prof. Samuels not Chief Samuels!”

“You knew?”

“Since before we left Flagstaff, sis.”

“How did you figure that out, they’re identical?”

“It was something your husband Spencer said when we talked this morning. He said…”

“My husband…Spencer? I’m married?”

“Yes, your second husband, Spencer. You’ll meet him this afternoon, sis. What a sweetheart! Anyway, he complimented Alex and I for acting so much like twins. Spencer observed how we played to each other- exchanging jabs and compliments and such, just like real identical twins would do. He also noted that our personalities were different in certain aspects.”

“I can see how you two would be different. She has eighty-four more years experience under her belt than you.”

“It was more than just that, Emily. When I was there, I felt…um…shy- that I was less informed about that time period and constrained myself so as not to reveal any hint of when I was from. Instead of my usual outgoing self, I became the submissive one- sort of.” I winked.

“I’d pay money to see that, Alex! So how does this explain how you knew this isn’t our Ricky Lynn?”

“It was the look on future Ricky Lynn’s face before we left the house. She asked if Lynn had ‘it’. Benign in and of itself, but she paused as if unsure of what to call that.” I pointed to the handheld device. “Our Ricky Lynn seemed angry at being reminded- completely opposite of what you would expect. Also, when I asked Lt. Samuels if she was ready to leave, I didn’t see that impish grin she always flashes every time she gets called lieutenant.”

“What are you going to do? Wait, why is she pulling down the sheet?”

We watched as Ricky Lynn drew down Randi’s cover sheet and proceeded to loosen her trousers.

“Please forgive me Randi, but I need to reset you. I hope you know I’ve never been comfortable with this!” she quietly told the unconscious woman.

“Alex, she’s reaching down the front of her panties!” An alarmed Emily exclaimed as we saw Ricky Lynn reach down Randi’s drawers at an odd angle. Her face twisted in revulsion. Emily’s grip tightened exponentially on my arm.

“You know I always hated doing this! It always makes me feel so…so gay!” Prof. Samuels said to her patient. “There it is, yuck, now to…got it! That should bring ya back to us, Chief!”

Prof. Samuels turned around and looked directly at us. “Don’t worry, Skipper, Dr. Scott, your Ricky Lynn asked me to do this. She couldn’t bring herself to touch Randi’s reset button- as you can see it isn’t in the most convenient location. It should only take about a minute for her to run her POST or pre-operating system tests.”

“How did you know we were here?” I hissed- my eyes narrowed as I rephased the two of us.

“Because you both told me you were here, Empress.” She said simply.

I nodded my head in acceptance. “Oh, right.”

We kept quiet the stated minute and watched in awe as Randi’s body twitched and trembled, her closed eyes darting around in their orbits; fingers, toes, neck, head, torso, arms, and legs twitching and bending to their limits.

“She reminds me of that movie I saw two nights ago back at Emily’s house. What was it called again, Ricky Lynn?”

“’The Terminator’, Alex.” Prof. Samuels answered as she shook her head. “I’m afraid Randi won’t try to kill you though, she a good comptroller.”

“A what?” Emily choked out as Randi’s body suddenly went still.

“A comptroller, Doc, a computer that controls things. Randi’s gift allows her to control electronic devices and computerized equipment. I know that doesn’t mean much here, but wait til the sixties and beyond!”

Randi’s eyes opened and closed very mechanically a few times then slowly opened.

“Chief? Skipper? Dr. Scott? Where am I?” She lifted her head enough to look down at herself. “Why are my pants…Ricky Lynn, what the hell is going on?” She screamed.

“You were stuck in an endless loop, Randi! I had to reboot you!” She sat down on the edge of the cot and leaned closer to her patient.

“I was in a what? You had to…to reboot me? Why would you have to change my shoes?”

“Think ‘locate reset switch’, chief. You should see documentation on that feature come up in your head.”

Randi closed her eyes for a few seconds, they flew open and her right hand flew up and met Ricky Lynn’s face with a loud crack.

“Pervert!” Randi shrieked.

“Ouch! Okay, you two neglected ta tell me ‘bout that little detail!” Ricky Lynn said as she rubbed her burning cheek.

“From what I saw, Professor, you deserved that! Randi how do you feel?”

“Per…fesser? Samuels what have you been doing since I went into this so-called endless loop? Skipper, what year is this?”

“Chief Van Pelt, this is May 1st, 1944. You’ve been unconscious for the better part of two days now.” I informed her.

“Input accepted, please specify present time and time zone.” Her voice sounded mechanical- creepy. Her eyes looked glazed.

“Um, 0015hrs, Hawaiian time. Why, chief?” I asked after I answered her strange request.

“Input accepted, setup is complete, returning to Operating System.”

“Ricky Lynn? What just happened?” Emily beat me to the question.

“Secondary setup protocol, Doc. She should be good as new.”

“Who should be good as new, Ricky Lynn?”

“You, Randi. You’ve completed your reboot. Were there any startup errors? Just ask the question in your mind.” Samuels suggested.

“I didn’t see anything, should I have?”

“Not for a first time reboot, chief.” Ricky Lynn looked up at Emily and I. “She’s good to go, Skip. I’ll be off to the head now. I need to clean up.” She held her hand up wiggling her fingers with a sour face.

“Thank you, Professor Samuels, dismissed.” She nodded, sniffed the air, looked at her hand in disgust, and then headed for the door at a fast pace.

“What was that all about?” I asked Emily.

“Did you pay any attention to me at all when I told you about female responses to certain stimuli?” Emily asked annoyed.

“Oh, right.”

Emily turned her attention to her patient. “Randi, I’m afraid I have to check you for infection. Please remove your trousers then I need you to…”

1230 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 1st, 1944

“Skipper, I’m really sorry I lied about who I was! I remember what the penalty is for impersonating an officer, ma’am. See, Ricky Lynn almost spewed when I told her how to reboot Randi! After she went ballistic on me the other night, I felt I needed to make it up to her, so instead of writing everything down, I just told her I’d take her place.” Ricky Lynn explained as we made our way to the yellow brick road.

“I just wish you had enough faith to tell me, Professor. Don’t automatically assume I’m going to disapprove!”

“Sorry, Skipper, I really am! I should have asked more questions when you and Emily first told me.” She gently touched her cheek. “Good thing we heal fast, huh?”

“Ya, good thing!” I laughed.

“So how is Randi doing today, Doc?” She asked Emily.

“I’m not sure how she is, Chief! I asked that very question to her and got that strange voice telling me she was…um, ‘operating within nominal parameters’! What in the world is that all about, Ricky Lynn?” Emily asked in a perplexed tone.

“Just unmasked operating system messages, doc. She’s still new to this, over time she’ll learn to control her ‘automaton response’.”

“I’m not even going to figure that one out! Do all you people from the future talk so strange?”

“Worse, I’m afraid. Wait til you hear Cassie!” Ricky Lynn laughed as she saw me roll my eyes.

“Cassie? You mean Cassandra- Alex’s Daughter? We’ve only heard her name mentioned twice, but never met her. What’s she like? Will I like her, Ricky Lynn?”

“Cassie’s a bit like the Skipper’s ma, doc- just a little outspoken…”

“She’s a lot like Ma, Emily! A real handful- you’ll like her!”

Hey, Captain, wait up! I thought I was a member of this Base too!” Randi shouted as she caught up to us. Even at a full run she appeared free of sweat, which was amazing given the eighty-seven degrees and sixty percent humidity today.

“Didn’t Lt. Scott confine you to bed rest, chief?”

“I heal fast, ma’am! Plus, I wouldn’t miss this for the world! I’ve never seen you ‘pop in’ before!”

“It’s nothing special Chief, it usually happens just like that.” I snapped my fingers.

I noticed Randi’s eyes immediately widen as I snapped.

“Isn’t it amazing how that works, Chief Van Pelt?” My voice said from behind me.

“Randi!” I heard Chief Samuels scream and promptly watched Randi get tackled to the ground in a blur.

“Gee, ya think she missed her much, sis?” I asked turning to Allie. I noted how impressive the group looked in their dress whites. We really did look like angels- only without the wings.

I knelt on one knee before her, right fist to my chest, head and eyes looking down. “Greetings, Empress! Today is May 1st, 1944, 1245hrs. You’re early!”

“God, I’m as bad as the rest of you! Get up, you silly woman!” She hissed in mock anger. I looked up to see her holding back a smile similar to those already on her companions.

“Samuels! Could you get off me or do you want to put me back into the infirmary?”

“Chief, let her up! People will start to talk!” I giggled.

“Allie, it’s nice to see you again, sister!” I said as I embraced her. I felt the tingle as we touched. Her smile finally broke through.

“You’re an Admiral, Alex?” I didn’t think that was possible!” Emily gawked at Allie then turned her attention to Em…Amelia. “I’m only a Commander? Hey, what gives, Alex?” She frowned.

“I didn’t stay in as long as Allie, sis.” Amelia told her. With that Amelia came over and embraced Emily.

“Ouch! I just got a shock from you! Is this the sign you were talking about, Alex? The sign that we’re the same?”

“Yep, you get used to it, sis! Emily, I’d like to introduce you to your twin sister, Amelia. Amy, Emmy!”

“Ma is the only one that can get away with that, Alex! I will not have my sister doing that- understand?” Amelia growled.

“Amelia…that was…”

“That was Grandmother Scott’s name, yes.”

“I always loved that name!”

“Yes I do!”

“Ahem.” Cassie cleared her throat and looked down at the ground trying not to look too impatient.

“Yes, sweetheart, I know you’re there.” I acknowledged.

“Emily, this is Cassandra and this is Samantha, my daughters. Allie and I said the last part together. Emily looked at the two of us in alarm.

“Aunt Emily!” Cassie swooned right into a bear hug.

‘You’ll have to excuse my older sister, Aunt Emily; she just broke up with her boyfriend and is a little ‘emotional’. I’m Samantha by the way.” Sam said, making quote gestures with both her hands and mouthed the word ‘emotional’ with a funny face. A quiet giggle was heard throughout the group. She then waited patiently for Cassie to back off before greeting Emily in a similar manner.

“Wow, dear, you haven’t changed in eighty-four years! How did it take so long to find you and make you a part of my life?”

“Always the romatic, Spencer.” Amelia held her husband’s arm. “You are lucky you found me when you did, dear!”

“I can see why I will marry you, sailor!” Emily eyed up the only enlisted man in the newly arrived group. “And you, Lieutenant, how do you fit in here?” The man had been busy looking all around him.

“He’s mine, sis!” Allie made it clear in no uncertain terms.

“Brandon, how was your trip?” I asked as we embraced. “I trust you approve of our little island paradise?”

“This is really 1944?” He quietly asked.

“Sure is, lieutenant. Feel free to look around, but I must warn you…no touching!”

“What? Why?” The confused man asked.

“Because you’re in the forties, Lieutenant. We have a more uniform set of morals here than the next century seems to have! As Base commander, I expect you to behave yourself!” I giggled. Allie rolled her eyes at me.

“I’m sorry to have missed your arrival, Empress, I had things to attend to.” Mina said as she appeared behind us on the path.

“Mina!”

“Aunt Mina!”

Allie, Amelia, Cassie, and Sam ran to her and swamped her with attention.

“Mina, we are so glad to see you!” Allie broke into tears, as did our daughters.

“I assure you, Empress, I too am enthusiastic about seeing you! Though, I’m not entirely sure I deserve such a tearful reception!”

Allie pulled away slightly. “It’s just that it’s been a while since we all saw you last, your highness!”

“Why Empress, am I missing…or dead?” Mina’s eyes narrowed.

“You’re traveling, Mina! Why would you think otherwise?” Amelia asked going on the defensive.

Mina looked unsure as to accept the explanation, but smiled just the same. “Then welcome friends! I’m sure you will have your fill of me soon enough!” She laughed.

“Spencer, how good of you to come!” She kissed his cheek. “Ah, Brandon! I trust your learning of our existence has been enlightening and not entirely frightening?”

“It’s been enlightening, yes, your highness!”

“Mina, dear boy! You are family!” Mina cocked her head slightly. “You are still married to the Empress, are you not?”

“Ma’am, if you had asked me that a few days ago, I wouldn’t have known what to tell you, but yes, I am still married to this unbelievable woman!” Brandon grabbed Allie’s waist and pulled her close. Allie blushed profusely as he then pulled her into a kiss.

“Good! As it should be!” Mina closed on the lieutenant. “You know…I have heard tell of our Empress being uncertain of a great many things these days! I would advise remaining close to her at all times during this visit!” I saw Mina wink at him, yet no smile revealed itself.

Brandon looked back at her in confusion not entirely understanding her cryptic advice. “I’ll do that, ma’am…” Mina gave him her ‘evil eye’. “Um, I’ll do that…Mina!”

“That’s better! Now if you all would excuse me, I have duties to perform before dinner. Again, welcome to Atlantis-Minor!” Mina excused herself and disappeared into the yellow brick road.

“Here, sis, I’ll take your gear.” Jack said as Joss’ duffle lifted on its own and moved toward Jack. “In fact…” Everyone else’s gear rose into the air and moved single file back the path to base.

“Do you think that surprises me, Jacki Cummins? You’re just trying to show off!” Joss said sounding a bit catty.

“At least I didn’t carry us, sis!”

“Yo, Lt. Samuels, do I get a hello or hi?” Ricky Lynn asked her twin.

“Thanks, sis, I owe ya!” My Ricky Lynn kissed Lynn on the cheek and hugged her. “Did you get the information you needed?”

“I got everything, kid! Hopefully Randi won’t need to subject herself to upload quite so often now.”

“Upload, Chief?”

“Back in our time, you had to upload your self into our robotic cars, Randi. With the code I just copied during your initial reboot last night you won’t need to do that anymore. You can finally go and be that family you’ve been talking about for so long- isn’t that great?” Lynn asked with a huge smile.

“Um, ya…sounds, um…great.” Randi didn’t sound like it was a happy thing at all.

“Well, shall we head back to your hotel, ladies and gentlemen?” I asked as I turned and lead the way.

Emily caught up to me. “Something bad happens to Mina, doesn’t it Alex?”

“I’m not sure, Emily. Allie won’t say anything about it other than she took her back to see Grampa.”

“Grampa? Didn’t he pass away back in the mid thirties?”

“I think the Empress took her back to 1895, sis.”

“Well that certainly clears things up, Alex!”

“Clear as mud, sis, I’m sorry.”

“Why be sorry, it hasn’t happened to you yet!”

“Nor am I looking forward to it, Emily! I just have this strange feeling…”

“Hey, girls, what are you talking about?” Allie inquired as she and Brandon came up beside Emily and I.

“You! You kind of went over the top back there with Mina. Now she has one more thing to search the future for, Empress. Was it that much of a defining moment, Alex? I’ll understand if you decline comment.”

Allie thought a minute. “It wasn’t the end I had been expecting, sisters. Our trip back to 1895 took an unexpected turn- let’s leave it at that please.” There was that solemn look I had seen yesterday in Flagstaff.

“Sure, sis.” I set my attention on Brandon. “So, what did you think of time travel, Brandon?”

“To tell you the truth, Alex, it was a bit disappointing. Snap! You’re there! I expected some sort of fade out, fade in effect or some kind of pain.”

“He cringed and cowered like Uncle Rick did that first time, Alex!”

“I think they all expect the worst that first time. As you remember I was no different- in fact, I thought I had died!” I admitted.

“Yes, but I ended up in that void!” Allie reminded me.

“I was there, remember? Brandon, if I found us a safe location, would you be up for a side trip to Pearl?” I asked out of the blue.

“Pearl Harbor? When, 1941?”

“Only if you were interested, and only if I found a safe spot to rephase! You did say you were fascinated by WWII history?”

“Alex, what are you planning- as if I didn’t know already?” Allie scolded.

“What is she going on about, Alex?” Emily asked with concern.

“Oh, something we were tossing around back in Arizona, that’s all, sis. So…what time did you figure on getting back to Flagstaff?”

“I thought about real time, Alex- four days from now, why?”

“Oh, ah…just so I won’t show up there and scare the stuffing out of Jimmy and Alex. if…um…I would have to return there…in the future…that is.”

“I know you, Alex! What aren’t you telling me?” Emily growled.

“I can’t tell you, sis. That way if something shouldn’t work out…” I let it drop.

“I take it you’ve come up with a viable plan, Alex?” Brandon asked.

“Only if you choose to be a part of it. I could use your help on this one, Lieutenant.” I looked at Allie for a second. “With the Admiral’s permission, of course.”

It took a minute, but Allie smiled then nodded.

“Good.”

We finally caught up with the gear as we neared the Mess Hall. The ten free-floating duffles had drawn the attention of most of the base personnel. As we got closer, we overheard several women ask the same question.

“Oh God, there’s two of ‘em! Wonder if she’ll be twice as bad as before?”

“Looks like you have fans, Jack!” I giggled.

“They’re talking about Ricky Lynn, Cap. I’ll take care of it though.” She assured me.

“If you are talking about Chief Samuels and I, ladies, no we won’t be twice as bad as before- we’ll be in twice as many places as before! You all have your duties, let’s get back to them!” Jack announced to the crowd, who disbursed quickly.

“That was very well done, Commander. Now, could you please release my bag? That just creeps me out!” Brandon asked of Jack.

“Sure, sorry, Brandon.” His and Allie’s bags lowered somewhat and moved right over to Brandon’s waiting hands. Once he had hold of them, Jack let go. Brandon noticeably jerked as he assumed their full weight.

“I take it you use the Empress’ quarters when visiting, Allie?” I asked out of courtesy.

“Why yes, Alex, how ever did you know?” She shot back with a smile.

“Lucky guess. Amelia and Spencer, you two can take the Admiral’s quarters and Cassie and Sam you take…”

“We’ll take the extra officer’s quarters- got it, Skipper.” Sam and Cassie saluted, grabbed their duffle’s and headed off across the compound.

“Joss, you and Lynn can bunk with your respective sisters. Randi, go with the chief. I think you and Lynn have an awful lot to talk about.”

“Alex, aren’t you forgetting that Uncle Rick will be here in three days?” Amelia reminded me.

“That’s right…okay, you two take my quarters and I’ll stay with Cassie and Sam. Give me a few minutes to grab some of my stuff.”

“Hey, skip, I need your Jane Hancock on these req. forms. Oh, hi Emily, who’s the cutie?” Carroll had handed me her clipboard. “Oh, God, did I just say that? Emily, I am sooo sorry! Please forgive me Lieutenant, I don’t normally say things like that to strangers!” Carroll turned bright red as she waited for me to sign the forms.

“Relax, Carroll, I’ve heard something similar about fifty million times- no harm, no foul!”

“Have we met before, Lieutenant? I don’t recall seeing you before!”

“No, we haven’t met before Lt. Sheldon. I’m Brandon, Allie’s husband.”

“Allie’s…husband.” As Carroll was deep in thought, Brandon again drew Allie close and kissed her. “Oh! Empress, I didn’t know you traveled under an assumed name. I am deeply sorry, Empress! Welcome to Atlantis-Minor! It is May 1st, 1944, ma’am.” Carroll dropped to one knee.

“Oh, for the love of…! Get up, Carroll Sheldon!”

“Yes, Empress.”

“You can knock that off too, Lieutenant!”

Standing up, Carroll finally noticed something else.

“Oh God, Skip, she’s an Admiral!” Her eyes dropped to the ground. “I’ll just walk myself over to the brig now and save you the trouble, ma’am.” Carroll took her forms back and started for the brig.

“So sensitive and she’s not even expecting.” Allie giggled as she leaned into Brandon’s shoulder. “Carroll, you’re heading in the wrong direction. The storeroom is that way.” She said as she pointed in the opposite direction.

“Expecting…what, Admiral?”

“You have a job to finish, Lt. Sheldon?”

“Right…yes, ma’am. Thank you, Admiral!”

We watched as Carroll scampered off toward the storeroom.

“So, she’s been like this for eight-four years?”

“Some things never change, honey.” Allie told her husband.

The Empress’ quarter’s was in a spare building that I ordered to be locked at all times. That way, if future me was traveling and decided to stop in and rest, she would have a safe place to appear. All I had to do was phase out, enter the building, rephase, and come out the door.

“Let’s get you two situated in your quarters. I’m afraid they aren’t as opulent as the…um…condo, but it’s the best the Navy can do.” I reopened the door and we entered.

“Wow! This place is sick!”

“Excuse me? You don’t like it?”

“No, Alex, It’s absolutely amazing!” Allie nudged Brandon in the ribs.

“Then what is so sick about it?”

“Sorry, Commander, I forgot where I was.” Brandon cleared his throat. “I believe these quarters are suitable for the Admiral, thank you!”

“You big teddy bear, I’m not an Admiral here! Alex do you have your extra rank with you as I asked?”

“Right here, sis. Do you want one of my regular dress blouses too?”

“No, I brought some of my own, thanks.” She proceeded to strip and redress in her regular uniform, which she pulled from her duffle. I helped her pin her rank. “Oh, you forgot these back at the house.” Allie reached back into her duffle and removed four small pieces of cloth, which she then handed to me.

“Now where am I going to wear these?” I stared at the two bikinis she had bought for me in Flagstaff.

“As I remember there’s a wonderful sand beach with warm water here- relax, I brought mine along too, sis! You won’t be alone, I guarantee that!”

“Cassie and Sam?”

“Plus, the Cummins and Samuels! I think Amelia even packed several others in her extra bag.”

“What about Emily’s request for some future clothes?”

“Amelia took care of all that too.”

“I’m sure she’ll like that. I’m going to go back to my quarters and get my stuff. Ricki Peterson promised to have dinner ready at 1700hrs. Tish is helping her plan the menu tonight.”

“Ah yes! Sweet and Sour Pepper Steak with rice! We’re having real Japanese tonight, honey!”

“Great! I haven’t had any good Asian food since that place in Chinatown closed up!”

“You got Japanese food in Chinatown?”

“Asian food has sort of run together back home, Alex. Some Asian joints even sell Cajun- who would’ve guessed?” Brandon shrugged.

“That’s strange, Brandon, even by my standards!” Allie and I giggled. “I’ll see you in a little bit. Bye.” I walked out the door.

“Mom, I want the top bunk!” Cassie cried out as I entered the building with four sets of bunkbeds in two different rooms.

“You have got to be kidding me! Girls do you ever stop competing? Cassie do you ever stop complaining?” I asked the two siblings.

“But I like this room, Mom!” Cassie continued.

“You!” I pointed to Samantha. ‘You take the top bunk on that wall! You!” I pointed to Cassandra. “You take that top bunk! Those are my orders, Ensigns Fleming! I warn you, I will be right across the hall…on my own top bunk!” I looked at both in anger then turned to leave the room. “I want you two in regular uniform in ten minutes, understood?”

“Aye, sir!” Both said. I heard giggling as I shut the door. I vowed then and there that Chief Peterson was going to have help in the galley tomorrow- maybe even the day after…and the day after that!

“Finding everything to your liking, Empress?” I asked with a pleasant smile as Allie and Brandon walked into my office.

“It’s not the first class accommodations I’m use to, but they’ll do, Captain!” She laughed as she smiled.

“May I remind you this is the Navy, not the Waldorf, Empress! You’ll just have to rough it!”

“Alex, I find everything remarkable! Did Mariah actually do all this in four days?”

“So I’m told. She is quite the carpenter!”

“Carpenter! I haven’t seen craftsmanship like this since I visited the San Francisco Maritime Museum! She’s faithfully reproduced the 18th century style!”

“Maybe that’s because Mariah grew up in the early 1700’s, Brandon.” I said with little emotion.

“You’re pullin’ my leg, Alex!”

“I wouldn’t do that to you, Lieutenant. I like you too much! Mariah was an 18th century shipwright. She built then served on a British Ship-of-the-line.”

“No way!”

“Does it really surprise you, Brandon? After what you’ve learned and witnessed of us?”

“Captain’s right, dear. Mina is sixty-nine or seventy.”

“And don’t forget how old your wife actually is!” I interjected with an evil grin. Allie stuck her tongue out at me. And to think she became an Admiral!

I looked at my watch and saw that it was near dinnertime. I remembered that I had forgotten about Sam and Cassie- oh, well! I’d see them in a minute or two.

“Shall we walk over to the Mess Hall, or do you need help finding it, sis?”

“I know where it is, Alex!”

“Good because I know how easy it is for you old people to get lost.” I hurried out the building’s door at a trot.

“And I thought my daughters were bad! You do realize I knew you were going to say that?” I heard Allie shout from behind me.

I sat among my friends and relations enjoying the wonderful meal Tish had prepared by herself. I invited her to join us, but she declined claiming her work was not completed in the kitchen.

“What could you possibly need to finish back there, Tish?”

“I thought that since it is a special occasion, I would prepare something appropriate, Captain,”

“You mean our visitors, Tish?”

“No more questions, Alexandra-sensei! Wait to find out!”

Takashi once again disappeared through the galley doors.

A minute later all lights were extinguished in the Mess Hall and small twinkling lights emerged from the kitchen area. A chorus of voices started to sing ‘Happy Birthday’.

In the subdued light I could make out Tish holding what looked like a birthday cake with lit candles. She led a parade of five other people toward us and stopped opposite Chief Van Pelt. Nearing the end of the song, Tish placed the cake on the table before Randi.

“I hear it is a custom to make a wish prior to blowing out the candles, chief! Please…make a wish!”

“Tish, it’s not my birthday!”

“Have you not come back to us today? Are you the same person you were three days ago, Chief? Please, blow out the candles, Randi Van Pelt!” Takashi prodded.

“Chief Van Pelt, you have undergone the most significant change that any of us has ever experienced! You are, by way of that change, a new person- in essence reborn! Happy birthday, Miss Van Pelt!” Mina raised her glass in a toast.

“Happy Birthday!” We all cheered.

Allie reached for my arm and gently pushed to lower it in order to catch my attention. I had noticed her nervously watching her wristwatch for the past twenty minutes.

“Alex, you might want to answer this!” She said cryptically.

“Answer what, sis? We don’t have a single phone on the…

“Alex! Brie calling Alex! Empress HQ calling Empress!” Rang through my head.

I gave Allie the conspiratorial ‘you knew’ look. She nodded.

“Empress HQ to Empress! Are you there, sis?”

“I’m here Brie! What is it?” I thought to her. I noticed that Jacki and Joss immediately stopped what they were doing and turned their full attention to me.

“Alex, we have a situation! Your presence is needed in the Oval Office of the White House!” Brie practically screamed to me.

“Okay…how about a date and time?” I asked out loud forgetting my mental link to her.

“What’s she talking about…who is she talking to?” Brandon asked.

“Alex is talking to our sister Brianna, hon.” Allie replied as she watched knowingly.

“You can do that?”

“Sure can, hon! From any time, place, or dimension!” Allie informed her husband with excitement.

“I take it our Empress will be leaving momentarily?” Chief Samuels asked with a sad expression.

“Why, Ricky Lynn? You want to go with her?” Lynn asked her twin, knowing her attitude toward it this morning.

“I’m afraid this is going to be no joy-ride, Ladies!” Allie answered with concern. “This is, I’m afraid, the worst situation the Empress has found herself in to date! She must help sway the president to committing more troops to the Pacific Theater. It is a decision he will think long and hard on and it will prove to be the right one despite the brutality.” Allie’s eyes teared up as she continued.

“You see, the Empress will be put into a very difficult position, one she has vowed to prevent…one of a very personal nature.”

“Could you be any more dramatic, Admiral Steinert?” Mina asked from across the table. “You’re positively starting to sound like me!”

Allie wiped her eyes. “Thank you, Mina, I appreciate that.”

“Okay, how could talking to FDR put her in a difficult position? I’ve heard he’s a very pleasant man to talk with.” Emily exclaimed.

“Trust me, sis, she isn’t going to talk to President Roosevelt. I’m going toe to toe with my countryman!” Allie informed the group.

“I’d like to see that exchange!” Emily guffawed.

“I’m going to lose.” Allie said quietly as more tears slid down her cheeks.

All eyes at the table were focused on her except mine. They were still closed as I tried to concentrate on Brie’s voice.

I opened my eyes to see that all attention was on Allie, who was trying diligently to wipe tears from her eyes. What had happened while I was conversing with Brie?

“Did I miss something here?” I asked with concern.

“What? No…no, I was just relating to everyone how it feels to…to…to become a mother, Alex. I…I guess I got carried away with my emotions. Now, what seems to be the problem, sis?”

“I should think you already know, sister!” I reached out and touched Allie’s hand, receiving the expected tingle. I smiled at her.

“I’m afraid I can’t give you any pointers on this one, Empress. You’re on your own.” Allie forced a smile.

“I’m not going to like this am I?” My eyes narrowed.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that, Captain!” Allie choked out, her eyes producing more tears. “It has to be done though, Empress! Good luck.” Allie quickly stood from the table and rushed out of the Mess Hall to our amazement.

Mina drew everyone’s attention back to the table. “Empress, do be careful this time!”

“Alex, I think I should go with you!” Jacki strongly suggested.

“No, Jack, I have a feeling I should handle this by my self. Thanks for the offer though.”

“Can I inquire as to your destination, Empress?” Spencer politely asked.

“16, July, 1945; Oval Office; D.C.”

Spencer thought for a moment. “Dear God, you had something to do with that?” His volume suddenly rose.

“Apparently, I’m not too successful, dear brother-in-law! Now, if everyone will forgive me, I have to change. Tish the meal was fantastic, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on the cake. It looks delicious though. Once again, excuse me. I’ll try to hurry back.” I excused myself from the table and exited the building setting course for my temporary quarters.

1400 hours, The Oval Office, White House, Washington D.C., July 16th, 1945

The Oval Office was smaller than I expected. I had arrived several minutes ago, remaining out of phase until it was safe to appear. Several men, cabinet members I assumed, surrounded the president’s desk and blocked my view.

“I need more time to consider this, gentlemen!” The man’s voice was not that of President Roosevelt.

“Mr. President, you have to reconsider, sir! We don’t even know if these things will work! I say we stick to the plan already laid out by the previous administration!”

“Sir, I disagree! We could end this whole thing without hundreds of thousands of additional American casualties!”

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Y’all see that plaque on the desk? It says…’the buck stops here!’ Y’all know what that means? It means that I got thrown into this manure pile and the American people expect me to see fit to clean it up! What you gentlemen are proposin’ needs more than just a few minutes thought- hell congress could spend years debating the issue to debate this issue! I’m afraid I have to think on my decision a while longer!”

There was a short pause before he continued.

“Gentlemen, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask y’all to leave. I’m expectin’ one of my special consultants to arrive within the quarter hour; we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. Now if y’all will excuse me, Gentlemen, Colonel?”

The room cleared and a lone occupant sat behind the large wooden desk. He was a small, grey-haired man with silver, wire-framed glasses. A single, thick manila folder sat before him as he held his head in both hands.

“Now what the hell do I do? Franklin, you never told me about any of this bullshit! Why couldn’t you be here to make this decision instead? When I agreed to be your running mate I had no idea I’d get saddled with such a difficult choice!” He rubbed his head in frustration.

“Sometimes it’s easier to talk it out with someone unbiased, Mr. President.”

“Shit, woman, you just scared the piss outta me!”

“I’m sorry, sir. I was told you wanted to see me? I’m Commander Alexandra Steinert, sir.” I shyly introduced myself.

“I don’t know no Commander Steinert! If I had, I’da remembered you, honey! How’d y’all get in here anyway, nobody can sneak past my people?” The man started to reach for his phone.

“Sir, I have my ways.” I appeared next to him behind the desk. He jumped slightly, spun his chair around then pointed his finger up at me.

“You’re that Empress, ain’t ya? I‘ve read just about everything I could since April, but I can’t believe what I read about you!”

I forced a smile. “Sir?”

“As I recall you helped my predecessor out last year- can’t recall the date though.”

“Sir, if I may? I don’t see time as you normally would. It is quite possible I haven’t been there yet.”

“Ya haven’t been there yet? Missy, who hasn’t been through last year, or this year for that matter?” The president adjusted his glasses.

“Sir, if you’ve read up on me, I can only assume it mentioned that I travel through time?”

“Sweetheart, we all travel through time- although I admit some of us travel through it a helluva lot slower at times!”

“No, sir. I…I can travel…through…time! Not just move through it like the average person, sir. I’ve been to the future, several decades in fact, and I’ve been to the not so distant past also.” I squirmed slightly at his unblinking, disbelieving stare. “Um, I can even see the future through many different permutations, sir.”

“What…like some kinda gypsy? I think about askin’ help from this ‘Empress’ I read about and somehow someone sends me a damn gypsy to help me make a life and death decision? Dammit ta hell, I can’t do this! Franklin you sonovabitch! Why’d you hafta go and die!”

“President Roosevelt is dead, sir? When?” I felt my eyes widen at the news.

“Passed back in April, Commander- April 12th I think- place has been nothin’ but chaos since! How could you not know that, woman?”

“Because it was only May 1st, 1944 when I left my base thirty minutes ago, Mr. President! Like I said…I travel through time…and space.” I added meekly. The man held his finger up to me again.

“Listen little lady, you think I believe everythin’ I read on this desk? Hell no! Ain’t no way y’all can do that…it ain’t possible!” He scowled at me.

“Care to bet on that, Mr. President?” I looked back at him with a defiant glare and a raised eyebrow.

“Do yer worst missy, but…”

I put my hand on his shoulder. The quiet of the oval office was replaced by the sound of…nothing!

“What! Where the hell am I!” He shouted as he looked around the dim nothingness whose only light emanated from a stationery sun.

“Welcome to my special place, Mr. President. I come here to think…about many things. You are perfectly safe, I assure you.”

“Where is this place, Commander?”

“I’m not really sure…probably another dimension, but it’s calm and quiet and allows me to think things through without interruption, sir.”

Why bring me here, then?”

“Well, sir, it sounded like you needed time to think, you also required proof as to my abilities- this fit both criteria. Now, how can I help you, Mr. President?”

“How are you fixed for Armageddon? An’ quit callin’ me Mr. President! The name’s Harry- Harry S. Truman.” Mr. Truman reached out his hand, which I took.

“Call me Alex, sir. Empress is too high folutin’!”

“Yer from the ‘Show-me’!”

“Born an bred, sir- Oak Ridge.”

“Nice country.”

“I like it. Now, what decision is it you’ve got to make?”

“Can anyone hear us in here, Alex honey?”

“Mr. Truman, as far as I know we’re the only living souls in this universe…unless I call another to it, that is.”

He eyed me very carefully. I spoke before he asked the now familiar question.

“The Empress…I…have the ability to…um…um…well to sort of call upon dead people, sir.” I explained, my eyes looking anywhere but at him.

I saw the next question coming. “I’ve called my dead brother, my Grampa, and a few others to this place. They try to help me figure things…”

“Ya mean if I needed to talk with…say, ol’ Abe Lincoln you could make him appear?”

I thought of his request and pictured our former president.

“That’s exactly the case, Mr. President.” A male voice said from behind us.

The tall bearded man in a black suit walked closer out of the shadows and offered his hand. “Mr. Truman, Abraham Lincoln.”

“I don’t believe it! I gotta be dreamin’ this! Bess! Bessy wake me up, darlin’!”

“I’m afraid, in this reality, I’m quite real, Harry. The Empress is very powerful here.” The tall gentleman turned his attention to me. “Madam, you look ravishing! You quite literally look like an angel, my dear.” Lincoln reached out, took my hand and kissed the back of it.

“Why thank you, Mr. President.” I blushed as I curtsied.

“So now, Harry, what seems to be the problem?”

“Do either of you know a doctor by the name of Oppenheimer?”

Getting no response he dropped another name.

“How ‘bout Einstien?”

“I know of Albert Einstien, sir, Mathematician and Physicist.” I answered.

“That’s him! Him and the other guy got a government project goin’…Atomic fusion they call it- tested it out in the Nevada desert by puttin’ it in a bomb. Made a real big fireball! They claim they can end the war quicker if I allow them to drop it on our enemy, Japan.”

“No!” I shouted. “No! Killing more innocent people is not the answer! No!”

“I must agree with the Empress, Harry! Killing innocents is not the way we Americans operate.” Lincoln stopped to think a minute.” Just how many people are we talking, Harry? One thousand? Two?”

“The estimates I’ve been given indicate a city of one hundred or two hundred thousand people could be destroyed.”

“My Lord, man! Devastation on such a scale is unthinkable- even in my day! That much from a single bomb?”

“The blast is reported to be equal to several hundred thousand pounds of high explosive, Mr. President.” Mr. Truman acknowledged.

“And I thought losing several hundred thousand men over four years was apprehensible! Now you can do it with just one bomb? What are you doing to the country I fought so hard to pull back together, Harry?” Lincoln gasped.

“Believe me, sir, it’s not something I do lightly! My advisors claim this war could go on for another couple years and cost America at least triple the lives of this other plan should the Russians… Soviets now, choose to retake Manchuria! I’ve been debating the two choices since they brought this hellish project to my attention! That’s why I called for Alex here!”

“So you expect the Empress to help you decide how many are to die!” Mr. Lincoln closed his eyes and shook his head slowly in disgust.

“Harry, do you understand what you ask of this beautiful creature?”

“Hey! I still think of myself as human, Mr. Lincoln!” I interrupted.

“My apologies, Alexandra. I meant it only as a show of affection, my dear!”

“Oh.”

“Mr. Truman, Alex has taken an oath to help save us from ourselves, not help destroy each other! What you ask of her I consider rude and appalling! Sir, it counters everything she stands for and I never expected this sordid abuse of her talent when I entered her existence into the confidential Presidential Diary!” Lincoln growled.

“I’ve met you already, Mr. President?” I gasped in surprise.

“Apparently not yet, my dear, not yet.” He chuckled. “Maybe in a few of your years.”

“She lied to me!” I said to myself quietly as I looked away.

“You lied to yourself, Alex.” He chuckled again, this time winking at me.

“Could y’all just knock that off, I’m gettin’ a headache here! Ya ain’t met, but ya have met later…back then?” Truman began rubbing his head in frustration again.

“Harry, your path is clear. As president of this great Republic, you alone must make the decision. I’m afraid Alex can be of no use as she has promised to protect all life on this planet…along with many others.” He winked at me again. “Although she thinks she is unbiased, she leans toward saving life…”

“But that’s what I’m tryin’ to do here, Abe! Save lives! Cain’t anybody here see that?”

“Mind who you’re talking to, Harry! I have had to make similar decisions in my tenure as well! The task is daunting at best and hardly ever popular!” The former President reminded.

“President Truman, I also know a little about life and death decisions!” I defended. “I originally lost my brother at Pearl Harbor, sir. When I found I could time travel, I designed a plan to rescue him. I succeeded in rescuing him and nine others from the same compartment of the Battleship Arizona. I alone made the decision to rematerialize on a beach adjacent to the ship. In the end it proved to be the wrong decision, sir. Those nine men couldn’t beat death the way I planned. Only my brother and I made it back alive. That decision…it…it will haunt me for the rest of my life.” I shook my head to avoid tears.

“So you see, Mr. Truman, why I must argue for saving all lives. It is my penance for giving those men false hope- of only delaying the inevitable!” Abraham Lincoln proved to be a very sturdy, nurturing man as I sought out his chest for comfort.

“Alexandra, you did what you thought was right, my dear! It’s what we all try to do. Perhaps you may do it differently than the rest of us, but it proves you are still human- just like the rest of us. And we must all answer to a higher power, Alex- one who has a different plan and does not like to share! Now dry those beautiful eyes, my precious angel. Harry needs our help.” He produced a linen hanky from his pocket and handed it to me.

“I’ll try sir, but I hinted to myself this wouldn’t turn out well!”

“It does not matter what the outcome, Alexandra, Harry is the one in the difficult position of weighing the options given him. It is our place to provide valid reasoning for choosing one option over the other. Shall we start with the facts you have been given, Mr. President?”

“I don’t have the exact figures on me, Abe. Perhaps if the little lady could take us back to the White House?” Truman looked at me as he adjusted his glasses.

“I’m afraid I’m only bound to this realm, Harry. I cannot travel about with Alexandra- as much as I would enjoy that.” The much taller gentleman smiled down at me- it was such a sad smile though. “If you could remember the estimates, we could better understand and develop our arguments for and against?”

“Sounds like a start!” Truman squinted at us a moment. “How do y’all know each other, anyway?”

I looked at the former President hoping to learn that answer also.

“Harry, Alexandra came to warn me of my impending assassination at Ford’s Theater three weeks hence my attendance!”

“So, you didn’t believe her?”

“Quite the contrary, Harry! As unbelievable as she is, the Empress provided me undeniable evidence of my demise! She took me ahead in time slightly and we found ourselves standing in a room containing a gentleman lying in state. That gentleman, upon further regard turned out to be me, Harry!”

“And you didn’t take steps to prevent it?”

“Once again, Harry, as Commander in Chief, it was my decision! You see…Alexandra can see the results that variations present to our future. After many trials, I decided that the only viable course I could follow would be that of my assassination. Once again, Harry, I had to make the unpopular choice. Given the alternatives though, it was the only reasonable option available to me that saved the country as a whole. Now it is your turn, Harry! You must face your choice as bravely as I. So, Mr. President, provide estimates so we may debate and provide intelligent consul!”

“President Lincoln, I know that you must be tired from moving so much, if you are weary, I can do this myself. I also know how hard staying here for any length of time can be.” I reminded him.

“Nonsense, Alexandra, it’s been almost ninety years since I participated in a good, honest debate! I embrace the chance to interact with one of my paramours!” Lincoln looked to Truman. “I must remind and warn you sir that I am also from the Midwest, therein, I can be quite headstrong in my beliefs!”

“Ma’am, sir, lets get to it!”

1930 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 1st, 1944

“Alex has been gone for quite a while this time, sis. I expected her to reappear just after she left. This must really be big.”

“Emily, you have no idea the strain placed on me! I was asked to run numerous variations on an exit strategy that would end this war within months rather than years.”

“How could that be such a strain?”

“The death tolls in every scenario were…are staggering, Emily!” Allie swallowed hard.

“As if there hasn’t been enough death already, sis?” Emily countered.

“Emily…they…we…we…destroy…oh, God, I still can’t believe he did it!” Allie broke down and cried.

“What she means, sisters, is that the United States uses a new weapon and forces the end to this war!” I said as I rephased next to them. I must have looked a wreck, as I had done nothing but cry for the last three weeks.

“Alex! You look terrible! What happened?” Emily exclaimed as she looked at me with concern.

“I have to find Tish…and apologize to her!”

“That wouldn’t be wise, Empress, not now.” Allie warned me with a tear-streaked face.

“That out of you!” I pointed to my twin. “You lied to me, Alex! Oh, I only went back as far as 1895! More like 1865! You lied to me! How could you do that? I’m you…you’re me- you know how I felt! Why?” I continued looking at Allie through tearful, stinging eyes.

“I promised him I wouldn’t, Alex. He can be a very persuasive guy. I remember you just found that out.”

“Who? Who can be very persuasive? Who did you meet, Alex?” Emily begged of me.

“The president, Emily, I met the president!”

“FDR? You met Mr. Roosevelt? What’s he really like, Alex?”

“Abraham Lincoln is a very caring and persuasive individual, Emily! President Truman on the other hand is a bonified hardhead! Abraham and I discussed and debated with him for what seemed like forever! It proved fruitless! He did it anyhow- damn him!”

“For those of us who only see medical futures or no futures at all, try to make some sense, Alex!” Emily growled in consternation.

“President Harry S. Truman! He takes over as Commander in Chief next April. He inherits the dubious honor of deciding to drop the bomb on Japan!” Allie informed everyone present.

“The bastard had his mind made up before we went to my private realm!” My sorrow changed to extreme rage instantly just thinking about it.

Did our lights just blink?

“Alex, I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you, but this was something I had to do. I remember how much it hurts. Come here.” Allie’s arms reached out to me and wrapped around me as I approached. There was that tingle again as we touched.

“I know how hard this must be, sis. I get through it though. Now is not the time to tell Takashi of her country’s impending doom, trust me, you will sway that outcome to benefit her as the time grows nearer, dear Empress. That is the truth, Alex!”

I noticed Jack and Joss jump as I began to relive what I had seen in the not-so-far-future.

“Holy shit, Alex! That was just one bomb? No wonder you look the way you do! How could anyone do that to another? It’s…it’s…so horrible! Excuse me!” Jacki hurried out of the building. The muffled sound of someone losing her stomach could be heard outside.

“I can honestly say that water chestnuts scratch something fierce when they come back up. I wouldn’t recommend it.” Joss lampooned.

“How can you joke about that, Jack?” Amelia chastised.

“Tell me how this sits any better than what they find in Poland next spring, Emily! I believe you lose your dinner then as well!”

“That was a different thing entirely, Joss!”

“How is genocide any different in different parts of the world, Em!”

Allie continued to hold me tightly as Amelia and Joss argued. I thought it ironic that our small group was the only capable of lending solace to ourselves- physically. I felt a slight twinge in my abdomen.

Allie pulled back from me slightly and raised an eyebrow as she stared into my face.

“How long have you been traveling, Empress?” She asked me with serious intent.

“I lost count, why?”

“Think, Empress, how long have you been gone?” Allie stared at me with one eyebrow still raised.

I thought about how long I had been away and added the days together. “About three weeks, I guess…oh.”

“Yes, oh! Thank you for reminding me why I shouldn’t have come back here, Alex!”

“I’m sorry, sis, I didn’t know we would sync up again.”

“You what, Alex?” Emily sounded shocked.

“I knew this was going to happen, Allie. Was I the only one to pack extra clothes?” Lynn asked innocently.

“I did, Lynn.” Joss smiled.

“You probably read my mind to find out.” Lynn deadpanned.

“I resemble that remark, Ricky Lynn!” Joss smiled.

“I’m surprised you forgot, Al…Allie!” Amelia taunted. “You must be getting old!”

“This is exactly the reason I don’t like to be in the same place twice!” Allie grumped. “Brandon, honey, looks like we’re here for the next week, I’m sorry!”

“Wonderful! Oh…um…sorry…sorry to hear that, dear.” He changed his tune quickly realizing his mistake.

“Don’t worry, bro, think of it as a camping trip in paradise- an Amazonian paradise!” Spencer advised with a wink and sly smile.

“Yes, Brandon, honey. Think of it as an Amazonian paradise! Jack monitor his thoughts, if he even thinks about…you know…with anyone but me…” Allie slammed her palm into her other hand instead of finishing her sentence.

I had almost forgotten about what I had seen next August, the genial banter of friends and family provided a pleasant distraction- though short.

“Alex, you’ve got to stop doing that! It’s very disconcerting to have your thoughts interrupted by a three-mile high, developing mushroom cloud!”

“Then don’t listen, Jack! Remember what I said about leaving a person’s innermost thoughts to themselves?”

“That was not an innermost thought, Alex that was blatantly posting it to the Internet!”

“What?”

“Like selling it to the press or broadcasting it across the country, okay? Geez, I keep forgetting how primitive this time period actually was!” Joss rolled her eyes.

“Jack, broadcast this to the ‘primitives’ in this room and this room only.” Once again the ghastly mushroom cloud replayed in my mind. “This is our President’s decision to end the war! 0815hrs, 6 August 1945: Three B29’s fly over the Japanese city of Hiroshima unobstructed. From one plane, the ‘Enola Gay’, a single bomb is released. Moments later an explosion equal to one hundred and fifty thousand pounds of high explosives detonates at five hundred feet above the city. The city’s center is instantly vaporized - buildings, people, automobiles, animals…everything, all gone! A thriving city decimated in the blink of an eye!” I paused.

“It gets better! 9, August 1945: a second, slightly more powerful bomb is dropped on Nagasaki with similar results! 14, August 1945: Truman gets his way- Japan agrees to an unconditional surrender ending what comes to be called World War Two!”

“Alex, we did our best! You know that! In the long run, the world is better off because of that decision. Think back to all those scenarios you ran for him. This one was the most prudent. And he will never change his mind you know! Even on his deathbed in 1972, he still maintains he made the right decision!” Allie said calmly.

Emily had burst into tears and clung to Amelia. For her part, Amelia was doing her best to consul herself.

“Those poor people!”

“I know.” Amelia agreed.

“Those that died in the blasts were the lucky ones!”

“I know.”

“The thousands that died because of the radiation! The slow horrible, painful, death!”

“I know.”

“Takashi’s family!”

“No. They survived unharmed.”

“How?” Emily looked at Amelia with watery, red eyes.

Amelia just looked over to Allie and I, her eyes also watering profusely, and nodded.

“It wasn’t easy, Emily. Tish’s father is old and ornery- just like Pa!” Allie confided.

“How will Tish handle it- her home town becoming a radioactive ghost town?”

“We won’t talk for a few years after, I’m afraid, but she stands by her word not to reveal us!” Allie went on. “She understands I did the best I could, Alex. Her loyalty to us will never come into question. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you now, sisters. The rest you must do on your own.” Allie’s eyes shifted slightly.

“Why? Why tell us so much then require us to figure the rest out alone?” Emily asked- her voice rose.

“Because I ask it of you, Emily Scott!” Mina stated frankly as she sauntered into my office. “Allie, Amelia, Jocelynn, and Lynn, were all sequestered in this time as well. There is no need to continue these confusing temporal loops any longer, Alexandra. The world can only stand so many time paradoxes, I’m afraid! You must go it alone from this point forward, Empress.”

“But what about Truman? I lost the debate, Mina. I caused the world to enter a new era- a nuclear cold war!”

“You caused that?” Mina chuckled. “By losing one argument? Really, Alexandra, you actually believe the fate of the world rests solely on your shoulders? Leave that to Atlas, sister! Shouldering the world is his curse, not yours!”

“But all those people, Mina!”

“His decision, not yours, Alexandra! The American people charged him with that burden, Empress! You did all you could- all that could be expected of you!” Mina said with a sad tone to her voice. “Would it be more disheartening to know that if you hadn’t tried, Mr. Truman would have done it three days earlier instead?”

“He had his mind made up! I knew he did- I just felt he had made the decision before Abraham and I had even begun debating with him!”

“You and Abe Lincoln debated against the president…and lost?” Jack exclaimed as she entered the office grimacing and wiping her lips repeatedly. She still looked piqued. Her expression changed to one of actual pain suddenly.

“Alright! I know I missed it the first time, Jack! You don’t have to shout at me! And if I’m such an air-headed blonde, what does that make you?” She turned and growled at Joss.

“Captain Steinert? Ma’am, we just got a radio message from Pearl informing us that Admiral Demmit will be here in the morning.” Josie Two-Eagle announced after knocking on the office doorframe and entering. “Wow, looks like a full house! Just so you know, Captain, I think someone may have thrown up beside the building out there,” She pointed back to the door, “Sure smells like it, anyway!”

“Josie, these are our twins…future twins. Amelia, Allie, Joss, and Lynn. They’ll be staying the week. These two…” I pointed to Spencer and Brandon, “Are off limits, understood?” I noticed Allie and Amelia mockingly grab their respective husbands.

“Got it! Future twins- strange, but approachable! Handsome guys- no touch!” She outwardly sighed. “Anyway, just wanted to let you know about the Admiral’s visit and that we may be called into action. A merchant marine vessel is late checking in and we might be called out on a search and rescue tomorrow. Of course, you already knew that. Good night everyone!”

“She never ceases to amaze me.” Allie shook her head after Josie walked out into the compound. Everyone looked at her.

“How she seems to take all this in stride! After all we’ve been through- all we’ve done, she still seems so indifferent about everything!”

I didn’t hear what else Allie said as I had already started my questions about the merchant ship.

I looked up to see everyone smiling at me.

“What? I was just trying to ascertain the ship’s status! It helps to know if we’re needed, right?”

“Yes, you get to blow something up, sis!” Allie giggled as she winked at me despite Mina’s nasty glare.

“After that dramatic tirade about using the atomic bomb, you’ll conveniently ignore that to justify some childish desire for destructive explosions?” Mina glared at me.

“The old saying, ‘hell hath no fury as a women scorned’, Mina.”

“You truly are complete then, Alexandra.” Mina said as she looked at me curiously.

“And…that’s supposed to mean…what again?” I eyed her cautiously as I tilted my head slightly.

“You’re finally thinking of yourself in the feminine, Alexandra!” Mina smiled. “You have accepted that you are a woman.”

“Thank you for reminding me, your highness. Excuse me, I really need to take care of something.”

“So should I, Mina!” Allie added as she headed for the door while I headed for the office’s water closet.

0900 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 4th, 1944

“Welcome to Atlantis-Minor, Admiral! I trust your flight was smooth?”

“The trip has been uneventful so far, Captain!” he growled. This was his typical inspection persona.

“Then I trust you’ll find everything in order here, sir. May I inform the Admiral that we have some important visitors staying with us this week, sir?”

“Important visitors, Alex? What important visitors? Who could be more important than me?” A slight smile appeared on Admiral Demmit’s face.

“I’m sure Captain Steinert is over exaggerating, Admiral.” Allie confided as she stepped out of rank from the back of our formation and marched forward. Joss, Amelia, Lynn, Cassie, and Samantha also broke ranks and fell in behind her.

The old man’s expression was priceless!

“What the hell is this, Captain?”

“I am under your strict orders not to say at this time, Admiral!” I glanced at the crew of the PBY as I saluted.

Admiral Demmit took the hint and dismissed the plane’s crew after ordering them to deposit his gear on the dock. We waited until the plane had taxied away from the dock.

“I’ll have someone take that for you, sir. Chief Samuels, would you take the Admiral’s gear to his quarters, please.”

“Aye, Skipper! Fleming, Fleming, and Hardt, lets go!” Lynn Samuels shouted.

Demmit’s eyes widened as he noticed that two of the women looked an awful lot like Allie and I. He pointed at the two of them then to Allie, then back to me. His mouth opened like he was going to say something, nothing came out for a minute.

“I’m…I’m not even going to ask, Alex. I’m sure I wouldn’t want or understand your explanation. My inspection will commence at 1000hrs.”

“At least allow me to escort you to your quarters, sir!” I smiled to him, winking to Allie.

“Allow me, Alex.” He offered his arm. He grew confused as Allie took his other arm. Emily and Amelia fell in behind us as well.

“Commander Cummins, dismiss the crew, please. We’ll be in the Admiral’s quarters.”

“Aye, Captain.”

As we walked, Admiral Demmit began to question us.

“I take it you are future Alex?”

“Very perceptive, Uncle Rick! Allie Steinert-Covington at your service.” Allie smiled.

“And you’re Emily?”

“Amelia Scott-Rosen while I’m here, Uncle. Nice to see you again, sir!”

“You’re both married? Wonderful! Do I have any great nieces or nephews?” Admiral Demmit asked as we entered his private quarters.

“Uncle Rick!” Cassie and Sam shouted at the same time. They approached him cautiously before wrapping their arms around him. The old man instinctively kissed each on their foreheads then looked to Allie.

“Yes, Uncle Rick, those two are mine.” Allie admitted.

He looked at their nameplates.

“Fleming?”

“My first marriage, sir. I have another, but I told young Alex to stay home with his cousin James. I felt a sixteen year old boy would cause too much disruption here.”

“James is your son, Em…Amelia?” He asked catching himself with her travel name. Amelia just nodded with a smile.

“And home is…?” His expression suddenly changed and he answered his own question. “Is in the future. Well, now that we have that question answered…” Demmit left it hang.

A loud knock sounded at the door, and Cassie admitted Spencer and Brandon. Both men came to attention before the Admiral.

“Sir. Marine Lt. Brandon Covington, sir!”

“Sir. Electrician’s Mate-First Class, Spencer Rosen, sir!”

“Funny…I don’t recall receiving paperwork on any men transferring to this unit?” Admiral Demmit carefully eyed up the two.

“That’s because they aren’t in the military yet, Uncle Rick.” Allie calmly informed him. “Neither husband has even been born yet, sir.”

“Sir, I served in Iraq from ’07 to ’09 then in Afghanistan for eighteen months until my retirement in October 2010!”

“2010?” Demmit reached for his forehead. “Captain, do you have any aspirin?” He asked turning toward me.

“Sir, I believe these will help.” Brandon said as he pulled a couple paper squares from his pocket. Tearing them open he handed the old man the contents- four small, white tablets. Samantha produced a bottle of water from somewhere and offered it to Uncle Rick.

Taking the bottle, it crinkled a little in his grip. Demmit immediately released the bottle, thinking it was breaking, and watched it fall to the floor. His reaction to the pliable container not shattering was comical. “What kind of material is this?”

“Plastic, sir. More specifically, polypropylene.” Spenser answered.

“Poly-what?”

“A material similar to what is currently used for cockpit canopies in aircraft, only much thinner, sir. Allow me to get that for you, sir.” Spencer said as he bent down to retrieve the bottle.

“Thank you, Mr. Rosen.” Demmit paused a second while taking the proffered bottle carefully. Unscrewing the cap he took a swig and downed the tablets in one gulp.

“Will somebody get this man the proper uniform? None of my nieces are to be married to no less than a lieutenant, is that clear?” The old man smiled as he observed the reaction from Amelia’s husband.

“Thank you, sir!” Spencer snapped to attention again.

“At ease, lieutenant.” Uncle Rick smiled. “It’s not like field commissions are a rarity around here these days! Isn’t that right, Admiral Steinert- Fleming-Covington?”

“How did you know, Uncle?” Allie asked in total surprise.

“Have you forgotten that I’m a good judge of character, my dear?” Demmit turned to face Allie directly. “What good would an Admiral be, if he couldn’t recognize a fellow constellation?”

“Have you been drinking our water, Uncle, because that was way out there- even for you?!” Allie turned slightly and winked at me.

“My dear niece, it’s the way you carry yourself- the way you acted toward me on the dock. Captain Steinert reacted normally. You, on the other hand, Allie, treated me as an equal. Only another Admiral would risk that!”

“I see. So you have no problem with my assuming a lower rank while here?”

“Not at all, Allie. I would have suggested it had you not already. Alex is the ranking officer here- it’s her base. Another admiral would only confuse the command structure and your voluntary reduction of rank is admirable…and in character with Alex Steinert’s personality.” Demmit wrapped his arms around my twin. “I’m so proud of you, Alex!” He told her quietly. “Was I there to see it?”

Allie gently pushed away from him, her eyes lowering to the floor. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“I see.” Demmit paused a moment then turned to Amelia. “I didn’t forget you, Em…Amelia, come here, Commander.”

“You knew? How, Uncle Rick?” It was Amelia’s turn to be surprised.

“That is a lot simpler to answer, honey.”

There was another knock at the door.

“Mina told me.” Demmit pointed to the door as Mina entered.

“I’m sorry, am I interrupting, Admiral?”

“Not at all your highness. We were just talking about you.”

It was Mina’s turn to look surprised now as she raised a curious brow.

“This is the day you told me about, Mina. The day I met my married nieces?”

“I’m sorry, Admiral Demmit, but this is not that day. You must be mistaken, sir.” Mina shook her head slightly. Not missing a beat she looked at me and closed the few feet to stand at attention before me.

“Captain, the brig has been prepared for our guests as you have requested.”

“Lt. Smith, I gave no such order. Why would we need to…?” A picture chronology began playing in my mind of our upcoming mission. “Very good, Lieutenant, thank you. You’re welcome to join us, Mina.”

“Thank you, Captain- with the Admiral’s permission?”

Uncle Rick nodded.

“Expecting more visitors, Alex?”

“Our next mission, sir. You’re sending us to rescue a disabled merchant cargo ship tomorrow morning. We encounter an enemy patrol and have to blow something up, Admiral.” I smiled while Mina, Amelia, and Emily looked annoyed. Cassie, Sam, and Allie all had an excited glint in their eyes.

“Just an observation, Alex, but I can tell who’s related to whom here!” The old man said as he pointed to the three with a shake of his head.

“Yes, sir! I’m so proud of them!” My smile grew wider, as did my daughter’s. “Although they won’t be going along this time- we’ll need the compartment space.”

Two smiles immediately turned to frowns.

“Mother? Why can’t we come? You said we could go the next time you had a mission!” Cassie whined like an adolescent.

“Yes, mom! I distinctly heard you say that at the DARPA meet!” Samantha added with her own childish whine.

Allie looked at me and nodded. I nodded back. We both smiled.

Uncle Rick just kept looking between the four of us, evidently wondering what was going on.

“Ladies, are you qualified for the silent service?” Uncle Rick cut in sounding very concerned.

“Does two years aboard the Attack Class Trenton qualify us, Uncle Rick?” Sam asked with a sarcastic look.

“Depends on what an ‘Attack Class Trenton’ is, sweetheart!” Demmit answered back, returning her sarcasm.

“The Trenton is…” Samantha rolled her eyes. “Or will be…a nuclear submarine capable of extended submersion for up to six months; surface to air missiles each equipped with multiple nuclear warheads; cruise missiles, and the latest digital surveillance and ranging equipment, Admiral Demmit. We didn’t just put on these uniforms you know!”

“Actually, I don’t know, Ensign Fleming- if that is really your rank? You girls strike me more as commanders than ensigns.”

“He’s good, mom!” Cassie admitted as she pointed to him.

“It was probably your attitude, sis!” Sam snapped.

“My attitude? What about your snippy tone when you answered him? You can’t talk to an Admiral that way - even if he’s family!”

“Like you’ve never talked to a CO that way before, Cassie Fleming!”

“Oh, don’t get me started, Samantha Fleming!”

“I have no more doubts, Alex!” Uncle Rick chuckled.

“Sir?”

“They definitely have your drive, Captain! Get them both checked out at a station and prepare the Sand Dollar for departure at…?” He stopped abruptly and waited for me to state the departure time.

“0730hrs.”

“0730hrs, Captain.”

“Aye, sir!”

Both girls sported huge smiles.

“So, how much sugar HAVE you two had today?” Allie asked them.

“Mother!” They cried in unison.

“Captain? How well stocked is your OC? I can’t take much more of this!”

“I believe your quarters are fully stocked, Admiral.” I reminded him.

“Ah yes. Gentlemen, would you care to join me?” Admiral Demmit looked to Spencer and Brandon for acknowledgement.

“Just tea or coffee for me, sir.” Spencer advised. “I don’t do alcohol.”

Uncle Rick eyed him up once more.

“No, sir. I haven’t partaken of the Sand Dollar- not yet.” He looked to Amelia with a smile and winked.

“Ladies, I’d like to chat with my nephews-in-law for a while if you please. Dismissed!” He said turning to the large, hand carved, mahogany cabinet against the wall.

“Gentlemen, I think we have just found the newest secret weapon against our enemy! Now if we could only get them to speak Japanese!” I heard the old man chuckle as I shut the door behind me.

“Mom, why did you two nod at each other in there?” Sam queried as we walked across the compound.

Allie giggled first, I started a second later.

“Just as I remembered it, Alex!”

“Ya, just as I saw it too, sis.” I replied.

“Saw what? What are you two talking about?” Cassie looked confused.

“You two…back there…moanin’ like a couple’a spoiled children! It’s exactly as I remembered it!” Allie admitted.

“Exactly the way I saw it unfold, sis. Now are you satisfied we’re us? I followed the script to the letter.”

Allie stopped me and hugged me.

“Yes, Alex, we’re definitely in the right timeline. Thank you.”

“Since we are now all certain we are where we should be in this existence, shall we get you two to the grotto and refresh your memories on present day submarine controls and theory?” Mina sounded extremely annoyed.

“What’s with your tone, your highness?” I asked, concerned by her out of character attitude.

“Nothing. This is just one of those days when the four of you really grate on my nerves!”

“Bad cramps today, eh?” Cassie blurted out.

Mina forced a slight smile.

Allie’s hand grazed the back of Cassie’s head.

“Owww! Why’d you do that for?”

0900 hours, 10 miles West of Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 5th, 1944

“Course is set, Alex. We should be at their last reported position in four hours.”

“Thanks Carrol, nice job. Sonar, where’s the bottom?”

“One-zero-two-four, mom…I mean Skipper.” Cassie…Ensign Fleming replied.

“Firing control, status?”

“Forward and aft torpedo rooms report all tubes loaded and ready, Skipper!”

“Thank you, Miss Fleming.”

“I don’t remember it being so cramped in here, Captain.” Samantha stated before turning back to her station.

“You were only sixteen the last time you were here, Sam.” I noticed Carroll glance up from the chart table.

“How can you know that, mom?”

“Your past is my future, honey. I can see the future, remember?”

“Oh ya.”

Carroll looked at me. “You three are amazing- yet somewhat disturbing! Has anyone ever told you that you give those in your company a headache?”

“It’s a running theme, Carroll, try to ignore it as best you can. It can and will get worse!”

“Golly, I can hardly wait!”

“Captain, why didn’t mom want to come along? I would have thought she’d jump at the chance?”

“Sam, she didn’t come along for precisely that reason! Remember this is 1944 and ‘Captain’ Steinert is commander of the Sand Dollar. How would my crew react to two captains? How would I react to another captain? Besides, someone has to keep an eye on your stepfather and step-uncle!”

“FRELLING PIECE OF…!”

“Having a problem over there, Sonar?” I responded to Cassie’s outburst.

“How can you stand this antiquated equipment? This thing won’t stay in calibration!” Cassie appeared ready to punch the panel full of dials, knobs, and gauges before her. My regular crew in the compartment looked back at her as if she were crazy.

I looked back at Samantha to see her stifling a giggle.

She pointed back at her sister and, with a wide smile, quietly announced, “iAssist withdrawal. ADHD will start in about another hour or so.”

“Oh.” Was all I said back, not knowing what an iAssist was, though I guessed it was the small portable computer everyone seemed to carry in the future- as for ADHD, I had no idea.

“Ensign, may I remind you that is the most advanced Sonar equipment to date! Now stop complaining and tend to your station! If Seaman Hilf can keep that thing in tune you should have no trouble, Miss Fleming!”

I noticed Samantha giggling again.

I glared at her. “Mind the firing panel, Ensign Fleming!”

“Aye, Skipper.”

“How can you stand it, Alex?”

“What’s that, Carroll?”

“Motherhood! How can you stand being a mother?”

“I’m not there yet, Carroll, remember?”

My navigator visibly shivered.

“What’s wrong, Carroll?”

“Remember that feeling you told me you got when you first saw Emily on Mare Island?”

“Ya, why?”

“I’m getting that same feeling from you now, Skip!”

1300 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 5th, 1944

“Sonar, where’s the bottom?”

“Eight-seventy-five, Skipper.”

“Thank you, Miss Hilf.”

“No, not like that! Here, like this! Ma’am, you just have to have a little more patience. See? A little on the knob goes a long way on the dial. Now, you shouldn’t have to touch it again until we change depth. When you start getting reflections that are way too close just touch the fine adjust knob, don’t manhandle it, okay.”

“Thanks for the help, Jamie! Who would have thought this thing could be that sensitive!”

It just requires a little finesse, that’s all, Ensign Fleming. You’ll get use to it.”

“Please call me Cassie, Jamie. We both know who I am-what I am.”

“What you are, Ma’am?”

“I’m the captain’s daughter, what else would I be?”

“How about in the brig if y’all don’t man your station, Ensign!” I gruffly reminded her.

“Aye, Skipper.” Cassie sighed.

“Don’t worry, Cassie, she don’t mean it- really.”

“Miss Hilf, shouldn’t you be somewhere else right now?” I raised my brow as she turned away from the Sonar station.

“My watch starts in fifteen, Skip. Thought I’d get an early start.” Jamie Hilf winked at me as she pushed a stray brown hair behind her ear.]

I glanced at the chronometer. “Miss Richards, we should almost be at the position. Hear anything, other than the Ensign’s voice, that is?”

“All quiet, Skip. Just a few whales heading Nor-East about five minutes ago…wait! Skip, I have a contact bearing three-ten! Sounds like an escort.”

“All stop! Dive control; take us to three-five feet!”

“Aye, three-five feet.”

“Manuevering, all stop!” Carroll repeated into the squawk.

“All stop.”

“Manuevering reports all stop, Skip.”

“Let’s go to battle stations, Miss Sheldon.”

“Aye, Skip! All hands, battle stations, battle stations!”

Jack appeared at the forward compartment hatch.

“Did I miss anything, Alex?”

“Just in time, Jack. Hydrophone indicates a possible contact at…how far, Tammy?”

“Four thousand and crossing our course, Skip,”

“How could you hear that, girl?” I noticed Cassie try to grab the headset from Richards, who deflected her hand and pointed her to the Sonar panel instead.

“Don’t you have hydrophones in your century, Ensign Fleming?”

“Well ya, but they’re controlled by the computer- it’s more accurate!”

“Can it, Sonar! Where’s the bottom?” I growled.

“Seven-ninety and holding, Ma’am!” Cassie growled back- a response that should’ve put her in the brig!

“Stay on it, Miss Fleming!” I growled again. “I’ll remind you that every member of this crew is responsible for the successful outcome of the mission. It would be wise to think about that before pissing off your CO! This is 1944, not 2009, Cassandra Fleming! We do things the hard way around here! Now mind your station or be removed from it for the duration of this mission!”

My daughter’s mouth dropped open.

“That goes for you, Firing Control! Stay on your toes!” Sam’s smirk immediately disappeared. “Open doors on tubes one and two. We’ll have some fun momentarily, girls!”

“Aye, opening tubes one and two, Skipper.” Sam answered in a more subdued tone.

“Alex, we’re at periscope depth.” Jack announced.

“Carroll, raise the scope, please.” My voice still held some anger as I glared between my two girls before setting my attention to the eyepieces.

There she was, just as I had seen in my mind. We were about four thousand yards off to starboard of a converted enemy freighter. Knowing that the war was wearing down Japan’s resources, I now understood the number of converted cargo ships we had seen lately. Still, I couldn’t let my guard down for an instant even though I had envisioned the whole scenario we were now entering. There could always be a first time, and I didn’t want that to happen with my children onboard!

‘Don’t worry, Alex, I’ll protect the girls with my dying breath!’ Jack interrupted my thoughts.

'I appreciate that, Jack.’ I thought back.

Recalling yesterday’s preview, I aimed the periscope to where I knew our disabled ship had drifted. As expected, it was barely visible on the horizon. Knowing that the enemy ship had also spotted it, I gave the order to plot an intercept course. Carroll had the heading worked out in about two seconds.

“And you call me scary!” I smiled as a grin emerged on her face too.

“Hey, I just do the math, Skip.”

“And I thank you for that, Lieutenant. Helm, bring us around to…zero-zero-two degrees.” I said quoting Carroll’s calculation.

“Aye, zero-zero-two.”

“Ahead…” I looked twice as I noticed the unfamiliar speed in the calculation. I looked at Carroll, confused by what I saw.

“We can get there in plenty of time, Cap. I figure at this rate we won’t create much of a bulge on the surface. Fluid Dynamics, Alex.”

I looked at her once more then gave the order.

“All ahead four knots, Miss Cummins.”

“Aye, four knots, Cap.” Jack gave Carroll a strange look as she relayed the order.

“Tammy, keep an ear open. Dive Control take us to four-zero feet.”

“Four- zero, aye.”

“Fifteen minutes, ten seconds, Skip.” Carroll informed me. I nodded.

“Periscope depth, Skip.”

“Thanks, Jack. Ready on the firing board, Ensign?” I looked to Samantha.

“Aye, firing control ready and waiting, Skipper.” Sam’s tone was dead serious now.

“Sam, open tubes three and four also, please.”

“Three and four open, Skipper. Will we really need four torpedoes, ma’am?” She asked innocently.

“Munitions of today are troublesome at best, Sam. We were only able to score our previous kills because Chief Van Pelt had modified the detonators…” I saw her confusion. “She hasn’t had the chance to fix these fish. Without her modification they may not trigger at…”

“Metal detecting proximity fuses of the day were very unreliable, even benign; so, were removed until a better solution could be found. Contact detonators were left to carry the burden- Sub school 101, Skipper.” Sam spoke as if reading from a book.

I temporarily moved my attention to the young woman at the firing control panel and shook my head, amazed by her knowledge of military history. I gave her a slight smile and nod then returned my gaze to the scope.

“Final heading- three-three-nine degrees, four hundred yards, mark! Fire tubes one and two!”

“One and two away, Skipper. “

“Fish are running straight and hot, Skip.”

“Thank you, Miss Richards.”

The first of two minutes went by slowly as we awaited the explosive announcement that our torpedoes had found their target.

“Up periscope!” I ordered.

“Alex?”

“We need two more fish in the water, Jack!” I explained as I reacquired our target.

“Heading three-four-zero, range, three-two-five. Fire three and four, Miss Fleming!”

“Three and four away!”

“Three and four also running true and hot, Skip!”

“Thank you, Miss Richards.”

Two more minutes passed before a single explosion was heard. Over the next few minutes I watched as the converted freighter slowly sank below the waves. Several lifeboats bobbed with the swells.

I was disappointed. This kill somehow lacked the excitement of any previous kills. Maybe due to the fact that I had foreseen the entire mission, start to finish.

“Carroll, set a course to our cargo ship.” I said quietly with little enthusiasm.

“Aye.”

“Aren’t we going to rescue the survivors, mom?” Samantha sounded concerned.

“I’m sorry, honey, this is a war. Our mission is to protect our ship and that means sinking the enemy should they get near. If our mission allows, we’ll come back and take on prisoners, or the cargo ship can pick them up if we can get them underway.”

“I just thought we picked up everybody, regardless. You didn’t have to pick up Takashi, yet you did.”

“That was meant to be, Sam. Use you’re gift. See how things would unfold.”

Samantha visibly jumped.

“All those guys will die because of one hard-assed pervert! I will never understand men, mom!” An eyebrow rose. “Unless you come up with a plan to somehow…weed him out.” She frowned. I could tell she was running different scenarios. She abruptly spoke up. “On the bright side though, you’ll get to meet Dad.” A smile returned to her face.

Carroll and Jack suddenly stared at me then to Sam. I gave them a slight nod in confirmation.

“And you’re okay with that, Alex?” Jack cried out as Carroll just looked at me in amazement.

“We won’t actually get together for two more years.” I admitted to them in a singsong tone.

“Geez, Aunt Jacki, I’m seventy-four and Cassie’s seventy-six- back in 2026 that is- you do the math!”

“You’re seventy-six?” I heard Jamie Hilf exclaim over to my left. “If you look this good at seventy-six, I wonder how I will look?”

“Let’s just say you’re definitely ‘Bunny’ material, Jamie. Miss December 1968; Miss June 1983; Miss April 2013…”

“Enough Cassie! Shouldn’t you two be watching the sea bottom?”

“Aye, mom.”

“Ahoy, Esmeralda Sanchez! Do you require assistance?” I asked as we pulled along side the cargo ship.

“No, no one’s been hurt, sweetheart! Tell your captain we could use some help with the steering gear, though, it’s locked at full port!” The freighter’s captain shouted back.

“I’ll send a repair party over immediately, Captain!” I stressed the word ‘I’.

“I thought I told you we required no medical assistance, toots!” A gruff looking forty-something year old man growled as I reached the deck. I had insisted on leading our repair party.

“Yes, I heard you the first time, captain! You asked me to send over my mechanics. I’m Commander Alex Steinert, captain of the Sand Dollar.

“But you’re a dame!”

“Wow, really? Gee, I had no idea, but thanks for the clarification, captain!” I eyed him up with a sneer. “Do you want our help or not! We can just leave you out here.” I paused. “I’m sure that your men could get this hulk moving in another two days.” I motioned behind me. “Come on chief, you heard their captain; we’re dames and aren’t welcome here. Let’s get back to the Sand Dollar before that escort we sunk is replaced by a friend!” I turned and headed back to the gangway.

Jack stayed where she was as I started to pass her. I had seen the serious look she now wore once before.

“Not the right time, Jack, give him a minute.” I said quietly to her as I passed.

“You’re the skipper of that sub?”

“I’m also not in the habit of repeating myself, captain! Do you want our assistance or not?”

“You dames know what yer doin’?” He asked, again in a disbelieving tone.

“Listen Cappy, Me an’ my girls can repair this heap with our eyes closed!” Chief Samuels declared. “Just take us to the damned steering gear then stand back!”

“Jack, I want you to keep watch over Chief Samuels’ detachment. Be ready for an attempt on her virtues by a short greasy-headed excuse of a man, black hair and narrow mustache. Here’s an image for you.” I brought the image up in my mind for her.

I heard her in my head. ‘I’ll take care of it, Alex you go with their captain. He’s going to ask you to join him for coffee.’

“I know, Jack, I’ve seen this already, remember?”

‘Just doing my job, Cap!’ Her lips only moved to form a smile. I smiled back.

“Captain Steinert? Wait! Captain, I’ll have someone show your mechanics to the steering compartment.” He pointed and motioned for a short, black-haired sailor to come over.

“Badger, show these ladies to the steering gear.”

The man regarded us with disgust.

“Cap, we don’t need their help! They’ll just get in the way!”

“I gave you an order, Badger! I expect you to follow it!”

Badger just sneered and mumbled, “It’s up here.”

“Really? I thought the damn thing was in the stern!” Ricky Lynn stood fast.

Badger sneered again and mumbled something indistinguishable this time before turning for the stern.

I nodded for Chief Samuels, Jack, and the other three to follow him.

“Stupid broads’ thinks’ they kin do things better then us men!” I heard Badger mumble as they walked aft.

I’d heard such protests before. I thought of Ricky Lynn immediately and giggled.

‘Ya, Cap, ain’t payback a bitch?’ I heard Jack respond in my head.

“Captain Steinert, while your girls are seeing to our problem might I offer some refreshment?”

I put on my best smile. “Thank you, Captain…” I let the response hang waiting for his name.

“Sewell, ma’am. Nathan Sewell.”

“Well, Capt. Sewell. I would be honored! Thank you!”

We made our way down to the ship’s galley; its Spartan furnishings made Sand Dollar’s look like the Ritz! Sewell offered then pulled out a metal chair for me at one of the four metal tables. He remained standing.

“The Esmeralda is very well stocked. What’ll it be, ma’am, coffee, coffee, or coffee?”

“Hummm, such a selection! Let’s see…I think I’ll have the coffee, Capt. Sewell.”

“Black okay? We’re all out of milk and sugar.”

“Just the way I like it, captain, thank you.” I flashed him my smile.

Within minutes we were both seated across from one another at the stark metal table sipping the scalding hot, black liquid.

“So how long you been skipper of the Sand Dollar, Capt. Steinert?” Sewell glanced up from the tabletop to my face.

“About a month. We took her straight from Mare.” I answered nonchalantly.

A moment of silence filled the compartment.

“You mean to tell me the Navy just let you take a brand new sub out of the yard?”

“Why wouldn’t they, captain? I have five years of experience in the Silent Service. Most of my crew has at least three.”

More silence as Sewell assessed what I said.

“I just can’t believe…”

“Believe what, Mr. Sewell, that a bunch of women couldn’t possibly pilot a submarine in the Pacific- couldn’t possibly bring its advanced weaponry to bare on the enemy?” I stared into his eyes the way I had experienced Admiral Demmit do with me.

I saw curiosity…genuine intrigue. I also noticed nervousness. Was I making him nervous? Was this the first time he had met a strong-willed woman?

“No, I can’t believe the Navy would allow someone as beautiful as you to hide herself under the waves, ma’am.”

I was awestruck by his frank forwardness. It was my turn at silence.

“I didn’t always look like this, captain, this war…it…it changes people! It’s changed my entire crew.” I admitted. It was the truth, too!

“Hey Mad-dog!” Sewell shouted as a young man of twenty, light brown crew cut, six-two or three, slim, but well built entered the compartment and stopped dead in his tracks.

“Wow,” was all he said!

Sewell looked at him then to me. “Sandy, this is Capt. Steinert of the USS Sand Dollar, She and her crew were gracious enough to help repair the rudder. Capt. Steinert, this is my navigation officer Lt. Sanford Fleming.”

Lt. Fleming quickly approached and stood to attention. I flashed him my best smile- the one Emily taught me. “Lieutenant, nice to meet you!”

I couldn’t take my eyes off him!

“The Captain was just telling me how she gained command of a naval submarine, Sandy.” Sewell tried to get our attention. I forced myself to look away from the Lieutenant. How long had he been trying? Time seemed to have lost meaning. What was going on here?

“I’m sorry, lieutenant, you wanted the captain for something?”

“Do I!” He shook the cobwebs from his head before looking away from me. I giggled quietly. “Do I?” I noticed how he tried to avoid my eyes. “Oh, ya! Captain, I have a new course plotted taking into consideration the distance we’ve drifted over the past few days. We should reach Midway in two days given the rudder is freed up in the next three hours, sir.” When finished he looked back to me with a large grin.

Was I still smiling? Why? Why would I be smiling at this handsome stranger? Why did I feel so…so strange? How was he doing this…this Lieutenant…Fleming?

The name finally made its way to my befuddled brain. “Fleming?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

I blinked several times, allowing the name to sink in.

“Ma’am? You wanted something?” Lt. Fleming watched me carefully. I just stared at him.

“Capt. Steinert? Ma’am? Are you all right? Can I get you anything, ma’am.”

“Alex.”

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Alex, my name is Alex. Alexandra Steinert.” From below my field of view a hand came up into my line of sight. My hand.

Lt. Fleming took my hand gingerly and gently shook it. “Sanford Fleming. Nice to meet you, Alex!”

We stayed like that for…I don’t know how long we stayed there. Jack’s voice in my head snapped me out of my stupor.

‘Alex, what you said would happen is happening! Get down here now!’

I shook my head trying to clear it.

“I’m…I’m…uh…I’m needed aft. I think one of my girls is in trouble!”

I noticed that Sewell was gone. I stood to leave and felt lightheaded. Somehow I ended up in the Lieutenant’s arms.

“Wooow ma’am! Are you sure you’re okay, Captain? Maybe I better help you to the stern, ma’am!”

His arm felt so wonderfully strong as it wrapped around and held my waist. His hand felt so strong and firm as he took mine and led us out the door to the deck.

“Badger! Wake up! What the hell happened here? Have you been drinkin’ again, sailor?” I heard Sewell shouting as we entered the door. He was standing over a prone figure on the other side of the compartment that held the equipment necessary to move the ship’s large rudder.

The figure started to stir. “What…what the hell? How…how did I get here? Mad Dog? Why…?”

While ‘Badger’ tried to figure out what hit him, I went over to a visibly shaken Ricky Lynn. Sandy remained in the compartment’s doorway.

“Ricky Lynn, are you okay? What happened?”

She just looked at me with confusion.

I pulled my petite mechanic to me and proceeded to comfort her. “I’m sorry Ricky Lynn, I’m really sorry!” I felt a tear run down my cheek.

“I’m fine, Skip! I got one good shot in before the commander took over.” She quietly informed me. “Course you knew that already didn’t ya?” She pushed back slightly and looked up at me.

I nodded as another tear made its way south.

“Well, if you thought that was the only way…” She smiled at me. “He’s gonna have one helluva shiner!”

I couldn’t help smiling back at her.

‘Alex, ask me what happened here.’ I heard Jack say in my mind.

“Commander Cummins, what the hell happened here?” I shouted none too happily.

“Ma’am, Chief Samuels was just finishing her repairs when this man…” She pointed to the figure still sprawled on the deck. “Badger, started making advances. Chief Samuels told him to stop, but he just grabbed her around the waist and tried to squeeze her breast! At that point Miss Samuels throw a punch over her head knocking him away. He hit his head on the bulkhead and fell to the deck unconscious, Captain Steinert!”

“Is that what happened, Badger?” Sewell asked the still semi-conscious man.

I saw Jack start to stare intently at the downed man.

“Yes, sir. That’s what happened, sir.” He answered in a quiet, but audible voice.

“Lieutenant, confine him to quarters! I’ll see to this man’s punishment after our visitors leave!”

“Aye, sir!” Sandy replied as he crossed through the compartment and helped…dragged the man to his feet.

As he escorted the man past us, Sandy again looked into my eyes.

“I take it you work out of Pearl?” His eyes were just so intriguing!

“Ni’ihau.”

“Next time I get leave, can I look you up, Capt. Steinert?”

I didn’t say anything- I couldn’t- I just nodded.

‘So, that’s the future Mr. Steinert? Very attractive, Cap! I don’t suppose he has a twin brother?’ Jack said in my mind as she winked at me.

“I’m very sorry about this Capt. Steinert. I knew Badger was a bit…well, aggressive, but I never imagined he would ever attack a woman like that! He will be severely punished, I assure you! I will not stand for any of my crew assailing women!”

“I could make a side trip to Pearl if you’d like, Capt. Sewell. I’m sure they can find space in their brig for him! We have enough water and rations aboard for one more.” My mischievous smile was misinterpreted by him, but not by my crew.

Jack gave me the ‘you can’t be serious’ look. I just closed my eyes and shook my head twice.

Jack exhaled hard in relief.

“Miss Samuels, you say you have finished your repairs? Captain, would you care to try your rudder please?”

While the Esmeralda’s captain called the bridge, I stepped out onto the deck and looked forward hoping to catch another glimpse of Lt. Fleming. Why did I even do that? What was I doing?

“Yes! Thank you, Miss Samuels! How did you manage to repair it so fast?” I heard behind me over the sound of the tiller operator.

“Yer guys almost had it freed, Cappy. All’s we done was finish the job. Yer guy coulda done it in another…oh…say…twelve hours!” Ricky Lynn said as she and Capt. Sewell stepped out onto the deck followed by Jack and the others.

“Are you sure you can’t stay, Capt. Steinert? Cookie’s got this excellent recipe for two-day-old leftovers!”

“Thank you, Capt. Sewell for the offer, but we still have to validate our kill from earlier.” I stopped to consider something. “Could you do me a favor, Captain?” I smiled at him.

“For fixing the Esmeralda, anything!”

“Could you head over and pick up any survivors for us? Your brig is certainly bigger than ours. We counted six lifeboats.”

“It would be a pleasure, ma’am! Just relay the coordinates to Lt. Fleming and we’ll do the rest.”

“Wonderful, Captain! Thank you.”

1900 hours, 225 Naut. Miles N. W. of Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 5th, 1944

“Cap, why are we still here? Shouldn’t we be making for home?”

“Patience, Carroll, our work here isn’t finished yet.”

“What…is there another ship to sink?” Carroll smiled evilly at me.

“No, nothing so entertaining, Miss Sheldon. Be patient and you’ll find out in…” I looked at the chronometer. “In another four minutes. Take us to periscope depth, Jack.”

“Aye! Take us to periscope depth.”

“Three-five feet, aye!”

A few minutes later I was scanning the surrounding waves.

“Contact bearing two-five-one, twelve hundred yards. Set course and ahead slow. Prepare to surface on my command. Dr. Scott to the Con. Jack, assemble an armed rescue party- not that we’ll need it.”

Samantha and Cassie appeared at the forward hatch.

“You found a way? I knew you would, mom!” Sam was grinning ear to ear and sounded relieved.

“I’ve known the ‘way’ for quite some time, honey.” I gave her a devious smile.

“And you just let me work out all those alternate endings for fun?” Her voice raised an octave.

“No…I had you work them out for practice, honey; I do know your limitations, you know- both of you!”

“Mom, we both know our limits! We’ve used our talents for years now!”

“Have you really, dear? Have you ever been in a position or situation that required you to actually decide who lives or dies?” I looked at both women as somber as I could. “You said it yourself, Sam, that you both served on a nuclear sub, right?”

I observed two heads nod.

“Nautilus was launched in 1958 or 1959, right?”

Again two nods.

“That leaves Vietnam, the Falkland’s, and two Persian Gulf wars if I’m not mistaken. Vietnam and the Gulf wars were both mainly ground wars and we had very little to do with the Falkland’s, so I’m guessing you two have never been in that sort of situation- ever!”

“You forgot the cold war, mom!”

“Big deal! Two super-powers playing extended war games trying to provoke the other into world devastation! There is no honor in that- it’s just plain stupid in my book! They could have played chess, it would have been cheaper!”

Sam and Cassie both lowered their heads.

“Girls, this is as real as it gets! We could surface, crack the hatch and find a shower of lead mixed with the fresh air! The only thing to come close is the Somali pirate uprising in the early twenty-first century! Even then the SEALs did most of the heavy lifting!”

“Alright, mom, we get it!” Cassie finally spoke up sharply. “After World War Two, everything is a cake walk! Now can we just get on with rescuing those survivors, please?”

“That won’t always be the case, my daughters, but you’re right! Jack, all stop and surface the boat! We should be directly under that lifeboat. Emily, Sam, and Cassie please join me upstairs. Jack, call the lookouts and sound general quarters!”

“Aye, Cap!”

We watched the rescue unfold from the bridge. As foreseen, the small wooden lifeboat had settled on our foredeck a yard or so in front of our three-inch deck gun when we surfaced. The six men sat still as statues expecting it to suddenly erupt with fire and projectile. The only things that did move were six mouths when eight women holding guns surrounded them.

“Anyone needing immediate treatment, Lt. Scott?” I glance over to Emily.

“Scrapes and bruises mostly- one minor concussion, Alex. I’ll go below and get started.”

“Mom, I don’t see the man in my premonitions!” Sam informed Cassie and I.

“That’s because the Esmeralda picked up the other survivors, Sam! What we have here is the proverbial ‘one that got away’. This particular boat caught the current and drifted farther to the southwest than the other five.”

“So that’s how they came to us.” Cassie mumbled to herself.

“That’s how, Cassandra. You finally used your gift properly. Can you see now, how taking every conceivable piece of information into consideration can change the outcome of the situation? Did either of you ever ask where they came from or who they were?”

“The Empress wouldn’t tell us anything about them, mom!”

“Why didn’t you use your gifts? That’s one of its main uses. You used them all through school, why not use them for what they were intended for?” I couldn’t believe the two had never thought to question the Empress. I would’ve in an instant- of course I was in the habit of constantly questioning myself anyway!

I noticed Jack looking at the old, wooden excuse for a lifeboat. “Leave it, Jack! It would have continued leaking and eventually sunk in about two hours! Secure the prisoners and get ready to set the deck awash.”

“Aye, Cap! What about this?”

She held up a small, well worn, black book found abandoned in the boat. It looked to be some sort of ledger or logbook.

“Bring it in. It might be a diary or code book of some kind.”

Jack looked surprised I didn’t know what it was.

I did, but what fun would that be? I can’t give them all the answers, right?

“You are so cruel, mom! You know that’s a diary! Why fib?” Sam confronted me as we turned for the hatch.

“For the same reason you two won’t use your gift around Christmas! It’s nice to be surprised every now and again! Let’s get below so we can dive and go home.” We filed down the ladder into the boat.

0200 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 6th, 1944

“Welcome back, sis, I trust you found everything?” Allie met me in the grotto as I reached the edge of the gangway. She looked tired, but covered with a smile.

“Check! Everything is as it should be, Empress.

“I’m sorry our girls gave you so much static, but I know you taught them well.” We turned and headed out of the grotto to the temperate night air.

“It was about time! How else would they find mates if they don’t use their gifts? Finding someone compatible is important, yes, but finding someone compatible and receptive to our…um…lineage…takes more focus. They just needed to realize that for themselves, sis.”

“We did good, Alex!”

“Yes we did, Alex, yes we did!”

“So, did it feel as amazing as I remember?” Allie changed the subject.

“Did what feel amazing?” I stopped and looked at her incredulously.

“Sandy! Duh!”

“Oh, him. He definitely gave me some really strange sensations. I had a hard time trying to sort them all out, sis, why?” Allie mimicked me word for word. If it were daylight, she would have seen my frown.

“If you knew what I was going to say then why ask in the first place! Never mind, don’t answer that!” I looked around in the darkness at the trees, the brush, even the stars overhead along the path to my quarters- anywhere but at me…the Empress…Allie, I mean!

“Tiresome, isn’t it?” She finally said as we started to walk again and neared my quarters.

“Wait, Allie, I forgot Amelia and Spencer are here. I better get over to the officer’s dorm before those two start another pillow fight!”

“Now who’s the forgetful, old woman?” She giggled as we changed direction.

“It…It didn’t feel the same this time, sis.” I commented quietly.

“I know. From here on out it gets to be rather mundane. Yay, let’s go sink another ship, yippee. Try not to get too depressed about it though, sis; think of all the adventures you’ll have in time.”

“Like trying to save Lincoln? Or maybe visiting Grampa on his steamboat?”

“He told you about that did he?”

“Who President Lincoln or Granpa?”

“Ya, about that…sis, I can’t tell you anymore than you know now. I’m afraid you’ll just have to experience them for yourself.” She took my hand, the tingle confirming we were still one in the same. We walked hand in hand across the compound.

“I know…after this we won’t see each other until Sam’s born. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about that.”

“You’ll be okay, sis, things will settle down after we leave. Your time will be filled with more important things- Randi’s new Radar system for instance. She’s years ahead of those geeks back at Raytheon! Then Josie will need yours and Jack’s support as she develops her gift. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen the girl get flustered.”

“Then I have Corrine to contend with…”

“Oh, she won’t be a bother, sis. Corrine will be the least of your worries, I’m afraid.”

“The six!”

“Absolutely! I trust they had enough to drink on the way back to base?”

“I’ve already brought my officers up to speed. In fact, the whole base has been informed as to the ‘changes’ coming.” I giggled despite the severity of what was going to happen later this evening.

“You know it’s for the best, Alex. If this hadn’t happened, the world wouldn’t be the same- I wouldn’t be the same.” Allie stopped and drew me in tight. “I’m going to miss you, sis! Just know that I’ll be right here.” She touched my upper chest. “Never forget that! If all goes well, I’ll see you after Sam’s born.” Despite the darkness, I knew tears were streaming down her cheeks. I could almost hear them hitting the dry sandy ground. “I better get back to my quarters. I have to get everything ready for tomorrow’s trip home.

“Allie, you don’t leave tomorrow, you leave on the eighth, remember?”

“I’m sorry, Alex, I got carried away. You’re absolutely right! We leave on the eighth. I’m afraid I haven’t been sleeping too well without my climate control. I’ll see you in the morning, sis. Good night!” Allie turned and left me at the Officer’s dorm door- not before hugging me and placing a kiss on my cheek one last time. I couldn’t help but feel she wanted to tell me something.

“Alex?” I heard Allie call from a short distance away in the darkness. “Alex, turn to the right! Please, you have to turn to the right!” I heard her sniffle and blow her nose then things got quiet as the distance increased between us.

“No…it’s your turn to make the beds, Sam! I did it for the last three days!”

“You did not! We weren’t even here yesterday, Cassie! How can you say you did it for the last three days if we were only here for two of them?”

“I made our beds onboard the sub yesterday!”

“The hell you did! We both stayed on station the whole mission, you twit!”

“Attention!” I shouted as I entered the room across the hall from my temporary quarters.

My daughters immediately stood to attention and quiet again prevailed in the building.

“You two got along better before you grew up! What seems to be the problem, Ensigns?”

“Mom, Cassie said that she made the beds for the last three days and I told her she was mistaken and she continues to argue with me and I want her to just own up and admit she’s wrong and just do what she’s scheduled for so we can get to breakfast this morning because I’m hungry and you said that we can’t eat until we clean our room so could you just tell her to do it so we can eat?”

I could see this was going to be another day I would empty another bottle of aspirin!

“Leave the bunks…go eat…finish you kitchen cleanup duties…come back here…make your beds! Have I said it slow enough for you two to understand?” I hissed at the two ‘grown’ women. I used the term loosely.

“But, mom!”

“What did I just say? Those are my orders, ladies!”

“Yes, ma’am!” They both said.

“Get a move on, girls!” I hissed as I pointed to the door.



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