South of Bikini: E8- Terra

A daring escape by the six Japanese prisoners requires Alex spreading her ‘wings’ even farther as she takes her kidnappers off-world. What surprises await Alex and her sisters on the strange, alien world? Two new members of Alex Reilly’s team witness firsthand why the ‘Sisters of Kili’ should never be underestimated.


Copyright 2006 R.G.Beyer


South of Bikini

Episode 8

“Terra”

0940 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 9th, 1944

“As you can see, Empress, this facility is very crude by comparison. I’m afraid it will be some time before our technology will catch up to Reilly.” I told Alex Reilly as we finished our tour of Atlantis-Minor- Mina’s chosen name for our base on Ni’ihau.

“Captain, though you call it ‘crude’, I find this small settlement of yours wonderfully relaxing! I am reminded of similar places on our Homeworld before my reassignment to Reilly.”

At this point, she stopped and lowered her head. “It…it has been such a long time, Alexandra.”

“I’m sorry, Alex, I didn’t mean to dredge up old memories.”

“No…no, that is not it at all. It is simply the fact that all my memories, as you designate them, are not of my reality! All known patterns, thought protocols, even my response to various stimuli, have all been installed into this revision of me! I have not actually experienced a single one. I am nothing but a preprogrammed replication of the original, Alex- what you would term a swindler or a cheat!”

“Listen, Alexandra Reilly, that may be how you came into being this time around, but I’ve learned from firsthand experience that what we are on the outside doesn’t matter as much as who or what we are on the inside!”

Alex looked at me in confusion.

“Look at it this way. I’m a woman now, true, but I still have all the knowledge, experiences, and memories of my original self- Alexander Steinert. Sure…I behave and am treated differently now, but inside…inside I’m still me, Alex! All of that combined with what I have become only develops me further as a person. It doesn’t make me a fraud or flim-flam man…er, woman! Past and future- they all come together to define me- me- Alexandra Steinert. I’m a far cry from my original, Alexandra Reilly- in essence I’m an improved version…as are you.”

“If I did not know better, I could verify your lineage back to the Homeworld! How is it your technology is so far behind, but your cognitive thought processes are so advanced, Alexandra?”

“I figure it hasta’ do with my upbringin’. Ma an’ Pa continuously impressed upon me an’ Brie the importance of good clean livin’- of treatin’ others with the same respect we expected from them. I’ve never thought twice about doin’ harm to other…”

“Yet there are those times, Empress. We cannot let those unacknowledged thoughts darken our core personality.”

Before I could ask how she knew, she placed her two pointer fingers together at their tips. I nodded my understanding.

“At least you have physically experienced most of your memories, Empress. I fear that everything but the last one hundred and sixty years has been nothing but virtual- a…um…a dream…a fantasy.” She countered.

“In a way, when I think of Cassie and Samantha, I have similar thoughts…”

A serene smile momentarily appeared…on both our faces. I again nodded in acknowledgement.

“I haven’t made those memories yet, Alex Reilly, but that doesn’t make them any less mine! I welcome you to make those and other memories you’ve received from Allie and I, your own. By recalling them and learning from them you can only better yourself. That’s what Allie meant when she said you were ‘rough around the edges’. You haven’t really experienced life yet- life outside a controlled environment, that is. Think of how it was on your planet…before…before its demise.”

Memories of her Homeworld arose in my mind. Though technically advanced, it had been a very beautiful world, not unlike my cherished Missouri. Information leading up to its destruction, though, did not surface in my recollection. Maybe she didn’t know what happened on her world. I decided not to pry.

“There you two are! Hey, sis, I think we’d better head home. I’ve had about enough adventure this visit. What’s wrong, honey?”

“Nothing…” I quickly wiped my eyes as I answered. “Alex and I were just talking about her Homeworld…”

“Oh…ya…beautiful place…wasn’t it?” Moisture began presenting itself from Allie’s eyes now. She took a minute to compose herself.

“Anyhow, I reckon I should get back to good ol’ 2026, young Alex is probably sick with worry! Alex, you’re more than welcome to come to the future with us- I’m sure you would find it fascinating!” Allie turned her attention to Alex Reilly.

I smiled at my future self’s lame excuse.

“Thank you, my sister, but I must return to my own time also. We have plenty to do there at our new domic…home. And what if my abilities should be requested somewhere in that time? If I remain here much longer, it may be too late for diversion.”

Allie and I started laughing at her polite decline of Allie’s offer.

“Why the frivolity; is my logic faulty?”

Allie recovered first. “Empress, ye have all the time in the world, Lass!” Allie’s use of a Scottish accent escaped me, but she sounded sincere nonetheless.

Alex Reilly cocked her head.

“What my future self means Empress, is that you forget you can return to the exact time of your departure…if you wish. We are the only person on this planet- in this dimension…this universe, capable of such a feat- that I know of!” I explained.

“Like I said, sis, rough around the edges.” Allie winked with a slight smile.

“No worse than I was at first! She at least has me for guidance. Who did I have?” I thought back to a few scant weeks ago.

“Alexandra Steinert! You’ve always had me watching your back, or did that never occur to you?”

“You sneaky bitch! You were behind everything?”

Allie raised her hands as if blocking an angry advance. “Not everything, Empress. What happened the last few days went entirely and way off script! This meeting the ancestors’ thing…never happened as I remember! In fact, none of us predicted your trip to and subsequent rescue of Reilly, sis! I figure Mina is still wracking her brains trying to figure out just how she missed that one! It’s as if we did a major rewrite of our dimension; that or we just diverged and created a new one! I’ll leave that up for you to decide though, sis. As far as I know though, my memories of everything up to this point haven’t changed. As worried as I was with all this happening, I’m…I’m comfortable with it.”

“Sweetheart, we’re ready.” Brandon announced in a sad tone from behind us. He, Spencer, Amelia, Cassie, Samantha, Joss, and Lynn stood there with their duffles shouldered.

“One minute, honey. I just want to say goodbye.”

He nodded.

“I’m going to miss you, sis! As far as I remember it, we don’t see each other again until after these two are born.” She thumbed back to our daughters. “Take good care of Sanford. You’re really going to fall hard for him! I’ll tell him about us a week before we get hitched, but you already know that.” Allie’s tears appeared in earnest now as we hugged each other. “Oh, Alex, I’m going to miss you, hon! Y’all take care now! Empress, you take care too!”

She stepped away from me, wiped her eyes, and embraced Alex Reilly.

“Mom, we’ll see each other again! Don’t let mom delude you, there will be many, many happy visits in the future.” Cassie approached and we embraced tightly.

“And I’ll miss you to, sweetheart!” I kissed her forehead. She too moved away from me, hugged Alex, and took a spot next to Allie.

“Cassie’s right, mom. There will be lots more times we all get together! Empress, be well!” She too gave me a bear hug and received a kiss. Sam repeated her goodbye to Alex.

“Captain Steinert, I have enjoyed our time together immensely! Thanks to our little side trip to Pearl, I have a better understanding of the events of that day! Please don’t be a stranger in our time, Alexandra Steinert! I will miss my wife’s twin sister and her friends with all my heart!”

Brandon looked back to Allie as if asking for permission of some kind. Allie just closed her eyes momentarily, which made two more tears cascade down her face.

“Captain!” Brandon saluted, “it has been an honor serving with you, ma’am!”

I returned his salute and offered my hand. “Mine as well, Lieutenant.”

He refused to release my hand instead, he pulled me close, wrapped his arms around me, and planted a wonderful…fantastic…oh, God, what a kiss! I heard Allie clear her throat.

Applause erupted from our small group, Cassie whistling loudly.

“You! Over here! Now!” Allie enunciated slowly- she was having a hard time holding back her mock anger and her smile. Brandon made sure I had my balance before releasing me and returning to Allie’s side.

Amelia was next to say goodbye. “Alex, you’re welcome at the Condo any time, sis! Just contact Brie in our time to give us a heads up. Take care now.”

I nodded and we embraced.

“Alexandra, this has been the most exciting experience ever! I look forward to your next visit and regard our parting with a heavy heart! Until next time, Empress!” Spencer hugged me and kissed my cheek.

At this point, had I been wearing makeup, I would have looked like a first class train wreck!

“Skipper, we had a really nice time! I’d almost forgotten the good times we had here. Don’t forget to look us up sometime, okay?”

“Jack.” Now it was my turn to give a big bear hug. “I’m going to miss you and Ricky Lynn the most I think!”

“But Skip, we’re still here with ya! How can ya miss us if we ain’t left?” Lynn sounded exasperated.

“I thought by now you would have figured this time travel thing out, Ricky Lynn. I know you two are still here, but we’ll,” I motioned between the three of us, “we’ll be eighty-two years apart! That’s a huge distance even with time travel! You two take care and tell Carroll I’m so happy for her! I’ll get something for the baby next time I’m there!”

“Aye, Skipper.”

“Ladies?”

“Right, Admiral.”

Jack and Lynn stepped over next to Allie- the eight then joining hands.

On an impulse, both Alex Reilly and I fell to one knee.

“Until we meet again, Empress, travel well!” We said in unison.

“Knock it off, you two!” Allie growled.

We both smiled.

“Ready everyone?” Allie asked and received seven nods.

“Alex, I’m sorry about Cindy, it was a good try though.”

That was the last thing Allie said before they disappeared.

“You’re not going to tell her!” Alex looked to me in disbelief after a few minutes of waiting.

“Nope! She has to have some surprises, Alex. What would the world be like without surprises?”

“She can see the future as well as you or I, you know.”

“I’m counting on it, in fact, I’m hoping she tries real hard, Alex!”

Alex Reilly cocked her head in confusion.

“All part of the plan…and the surprise.” I giggled. “So, now that we’ve blown your excuse for a quick return to Kili out of the water, you’re welcome to stay as long as you wish, Empress. Could I interest you in a little sunbathing on our wonderful beach? I just happen to have an extra swimsuit.”

“That miniscule covering you call a bikini? Why I haven’t been that exposed in over nine…wait, I’ve never been that exposed in my life! When do we start?”

“Empress, may we, the past and present reigning monarch’s of Kili join you?” Mina’s voice startled me awake.

I found myself lying face down on my blanket, my top untied. When had I done that? I glanced over to Alex Reilly. She looked to be still sound asleep on her back.

“By all means, your highness’. I think there’s enough room for two more.” I replied as I looked up at her and Billie. Both wore colorful, flowered print two-piece bathers that looked identical to what she wore on our initial visit to Kili. “You two look very nice, Mina.”

“Thank you Alexandra, you both look…very…um…very…relaxed.”

“I think they both look extremely captivating, Mina.” Billie complimented.

“Yes, I expect that you would, your majesty!”

“Don’t mind her Billie, Mina was raised in a time where display of one’s physical attributes was frowned upon- floor length dresses; high, starched collars; tight, breath-constricting corsets; and large bustles were all the rage- plus, she’s British!” I giggled.

“I never wore such fittings, I’ll have you know!” She growled as she spread her towel on the warm pristine sand beside me.

“Not the first time around, at least!” I commented.

“Nor do I look forward to it the second or third time, Alexandra!”

“Hey, if I have to, you have to, your highness! If we want to blend in…” I let it drop.

“What are you two talking about?” Billie asked from the other side of Mina.

“Mina and I will be traveling back to the 1800’s in a few weeks. In order to draw as little attention as possible, we must obtain and wear period clothing. As I’ve said, the style of that time period is a bit…um…confining- especially for women.”

“Like this event you call ‘Halloween’, Alexandra? Hearing your descriptions, images of people in costume filled my mind.” Alex Reilly said as she rolled to her side and squinted at us. I don’t think she even noticed that one side of her top stayed on her blanket. Ignoring the display, I set her recollection straight.

“Those are Allie’s memories, Alex. At this point in American society, we don’t make such a big deal of Halloween- that comes about later, but yes you’re right, similar to Halloween in that we dress in costume.”

“I would like to go to these 1800’s of yours, Alexandra.”

“You might be a little busy by then, Miss Reilly.”

“So you have said. As I have told you, I haven’t seen that yet. I was not aware I possessed that ability before we left Reilly…I mean Kili, Empress.”

“Trust me, you’ll find great pleasure in it, Alex!”

“You are the consummate tease, Alexandra!”

“Thank you, Mina!”

“Hi! Would it be socially acceptable that I darken my outermost layer also? Chief Ricky Lynn has allowed me use of her redundant…um…bikini.”

“It is called sunbathing, Camille of Reilly, and the answer is yes. Deploy your auxilliary covering on the temperate, loosely compressed, powdered silica next to me and recline!” Alex Reilly replied.

“Unfortunately, I am without any auxilliary covering, Empress. May I coexist with you?”

Alex sighed. “Affirmative.” She sounded slightly annoyed.

“The ancestor’s really talk funny, don’t they Mina?” I giggled as I re-tied my top and turned over.

“No worse than some of the dialects I’ve heard in my travels, Alexandra.”

“Speaking of which, you should hear how they talk in 2026! Did you know that ‘fat’ and ‘sick’ lose their negative connotation and become positive descriptive there?”

“All the more reason not to travel beyond one’s barrier, Alexandra!” Mina decreed with a little annoyance.

I looked over at her wondering where that had come from. Mina’s attitude had changed since we returned to 1944 yesterday.

“Spill it, your highness! What’s got you so distressed?”

“Did I say I was distressed, Alexandra? I don’t recall saying anything of the kind!”

“Knock it off, Mina! You’ve been acting strange since we got back to base! I thought you might want to talk about it, that’s all. If you don’t, that’s fine too.”

After several minutes of silence, I was beginning to think she actually might not want to discuss things.

“The future Empress has told you everything you need to know, Captain. Discussion of my fate is unnecessary.”

“For the record, your highness, Allie didn’t have to tell me a thing! As soon as we arrived on Kili in 2027BC, I started seeing the future- your future, ma’am. I am deeply saddened by your lack of trust in me, Mina. I would never break a vow I’ve made to a friend or relative. I would just assume die first!”

“You saw that far into my future…over almost four thousand years?”

“Does that surprise you, sister? You, yourself saw our merging futures decades ago!” I paused. “Think about what is time to me now, your highness- an arbitrary point; a variable? For Alex and I time is no longer the ultimate constant; it is more like this beach. Each grain of sand is like a possible stopping point in a vast pool called time. Changing dimensions is no more arduous than walking to the other side of this island…to another beach. Moving between universes, like flying to another island! In short, my sister, no distance is too great- especially where my family is involved.”

Again we were all silent for a while.

“And you’re comfortable with my decision?” She finally asked.

“I never said that, but it is your choice to make! I have no option but to oblige, Mina. I could fight you tooth and nail on this, and I could give you many valid reasons to change your mind, but in the end it would only be selfish of me to keep you here. Remember, I have vowed to take care of my friends and family, not control them!”

“So, you have learned…learned to examine every crevasse and eddy- every little fleck of the future as it pertains to your proposed actions? I thought you too impulsive…too reckless yet, Alexandra.”

“Your highness, being pulled into another universe against your will; shocked back to life on a cold, hard floor- naked; waking to an old, worn out reflection in the mirror; then suddenly becoming responsible for a hundred unknown lives; resuming an indeterminate plan to rescue said number before their sun devours them; oh, and then there is the small matter of completely moving a large complex from one universe to another and moving it a second time within the confines of Earth to Kili; What about all that isn’t impulsive or reckless?”

I just looked at her with a raised eyebrow waiting for some well thought response to the contrary.

“Sometimes we must push reason and logic aside and simply rely on our intuition, Alexandra! In saving Reilly, you made that difficult decision. That is the defining moment between student and instructor. You have exceeded my expectations…as I knew you would.”

“So why the sour grapes about traveling past your ‘boundry’, Mina? I’ve proven again and again that to do so is safe. What is so disturbing about seeing past your own lifespan?”

“I am afraid it may influence my decision, Alexandra.”

“To use one of your expressions, Mina. Poppycock!”

“Excuse me?”

“Poppycock! There is nothing stopping you from visiting our future, your highness…nothing at all! With your added gift of transcommunication, all you have to do is call me…let me know that you want to visit. I’m nothing more than a thought away, my worrisome sister.”

“Empress, are you sure your inception was not on the Homeworld?” Alex Reilly questioned me as she rose and rested upright on her elbows, still not noticing her dangling top. Camille pushed herself up to sitting by one arm behind her.

“Alex is right, Empress. Your reason and compassion are ubiquitous in our stories. If you have never visited the Homeworld, how have they been conceived?”

“Why would you think I traveled between universes, Cami? Your Alex would be better equipped to inspire myths of the Empress. She is more familiar with the Homeworld than me.”

“Because you are the only one I know to accomplish such a feat. You possess the wisdom and compassion, Empress…you, not Alex. She has much to learn from you.”

“Thank you for your confidence, Camille Darough of Reilly! Janelle Hathor would show me more compassion! I am not that much of a tyrant am I?”

“You misunderstand, Alex. You are indeed the Empress, but as the future Empress has declared, you are very irregular around the perimeter.”

“That’s ‘rough around the edges’, Cami!” I rolled my eyes and looked toward Mina for strength.

My attention instead turned to four figures leaving the tree line. To my surprise one of the figures turned out to be Scotti Williams. She, Josie, Tish and Random joined us on the warm sand.

“Miss Williams, this is a pleasant turn of events. How did Josie manage to talk you into such an ‘un-Corp-like soirée,” I asked after they had settled onto their blankets? Scotti frowned at me in silence for a few minutes or so.

“It didn’t take much, Captain.” Josie answered for her. “I simply overheard her complaining about the heat and showed her how to make a bathing suit out of her blouse and a pair of shorts. After that I invited her, Tish, and Randi here.”

“You mean you had Cmdr. Cummins use her powers to dress me in this…this…and force me to come here!” Sandra ‘Scotti’ Williams protested through clinched teeth.

“No, she didn’t, Scotti! I changed your clothes for you, but I didn’t force you to this beach!” Jack spoke as she appeared at the tree line wearing her bikini and prepared to do some sunbathing. “Such a wonderful day for a tan, don’t you think, ladies?”

“This is almost as embarrassing as those things you people call coverings!” Scotti hissed once more.

“Instead of Sandi we should have called you ‘Beachy’!” Jack giggled as she casually turned on her tummy and gracefully reached back to untie her top.

“How can you be so nonchalant? Have you no shame, Commander?” I noticed her suddenly stare at Alex Reilly.

“Scotti, if you had gone to the future with the Empress, you would have been branded a prude! I suggest you stop wallowing in self-righteousness and self-pity and start soaking up this wonderful sunshine! Don’t make me throw you into that surf, Sergeant!”

“I’m not a sergeant any more, remember? The Admiral and Major gave me a field commission to Lieutenant.”

“All the more reason to throw you into the drink, Lieutenant Williams, your mine now, my pretty!” I cackled maniacally.

“How can you…”

“Miss Williams?”

“Skipper?”

“Miss Williams, I suggest you quit while you’re still dry.”

“But Skipper, you can’t…”

“Scotti, can you absolutely say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that laying here does not elicit some form of relaxation?”

“It does…but that’s not the poi…”

“Does it or doesn’t it feel refreshing, Lieutenant?”

“It does, Skipper, but…”

“Stow it, marine! The rest of us prefer to relax here in silence or with at least pleasant conversation! Complaints can be formally expressed when I’m back on duty! Is that clear, Miss Williams?”

“Aye, Skipper.”

“Good! Now can we just lay here and enjoy the sun before you go and scare it away, lieutenant?”

“Aye, Skipper”

“Well done, Alex, I couldn’t have done better myself!”

“I am you, Empress.”

“I must disagree, Empress. Alex Reilly may be genetically identical, but she is deficit your experience.” Camille asserted.

“We’ve already been through that Cami! What is so wrong about just laying here soaking up some rays?”

“Rays, Alexandra?”

“Twenty-first century slang, Mina. If you wouldn’t be so deadset against the trip, we could show you the sights and sounds.”

“Possibly. Can we return to sunbathing, Alexandra?”

Jack tapping me on my shoulder brought me back from a wonderful daydream.

“Sorry, Alex, but take a glance over at Lt. Williams.” She whispered.

Rising to my elbows, I looked over to where Scotti had spread out her blanket. It was empty.

“Where’d she go? You didn’t…”

“No, Cap, she’s still there, you just can’t see her.”

“Her gift?” I whispered back staring more intently at the seemingly unattended blanket.

“I’m surprised you didn’t see this, Cap.”

“I’ve been a little busy lately, Jack! Lt. William’s rebellious attitude has gotten old to the point of being ignored.”

An annoying sand fly that had been bothering each of us in succession hovered then landed in mid-air on some unseen surface. A quiet smack was heard and the fly suddenly flattened, but nothing was seen that was capable of such action. Slowly the form of a woman lying on her side started to appear, translucent at first then becoming solid. Scotti Williams began to move as she woke up from her slumber.

She sat up and looked around.

“Okay, what did I do wrong now?!” She asked as she noticed every eye of our small group fixed on her. “You told me to relax…I did…so what’s so damn fascinating about me doing that?”

“Jack, show her what we just saw.” I suggested.

“Show me what?”

She got no answer.

“Show me wha…you just made that up, Commander! I can’t do tha…” Scotti’s eyes grew big as she lifted her hand to reveal the squashed sand fly in her palm. “Ewww!” She immediately wiped the remains off on her blanket.

“So?” I raised an eyebrow at her.

“So…so…so how’d I do that?”

“You tell us, Miss Williams!”

“I have no idea, I…” She frowned in confusion as she tried to think of any possible solution.

“She was dreaming of meeting her father, Alex. She just kept repeating that she didn’t want to be here…there- hoping that he wouldn’t see her!” Jack informed us.

“You’re not supposed to be peeping into my dreams, Commander! Those are private!”

I laughed at her statement.

“Had she not been looking after you, Lieutenant, we might have been forming a search party for you at this very moment!” I exclaimed. “Try to do it again, Scotti.”

“I don’t know how!”

“Try thinking you don’t want to be here- that you don’t want to be seen, it worked in your dream once.” I suggested.

“I really don’t want to be here though, Skipper! I definitely don’t want to be seen in this!”

Scotti seemed to fade out as she spoke; her last few words seemed to come from thin air.

“Oh, God! I’m desolving! I can’t see myself! Help me! Help me, please!”

“Miss Williams, please settle down and rejoin us, would you?” I said calmly.

“How? How do I do it?” Her frantic voice cried out.

“Maybe try wanting to be here; that would be my guess.”

Slowly she returned to solid, looking at her hands in amazement while doing so.

“My word, the invisible woman!” Mina chimed out. “Yet another fiction classic becomes fact.”

“Let’s hope Vampires stay fiction!” Jack retorted.

“I’m afraid they’ll surface in the following decades, Jack! They’ll call themselves divorce lawyers.” I laughed at my own joke despite the confused looks I received.

Sandra Williams practiced her gift many times before satisfying her curiosity and resuming her sunbathing. Josie watched in fascination the whole time. I noticed the slightest bit of disappointment come over her.

“Josie, you’ll receive your gift. It may take some time, but I promise, you’ll enjoy it immensely!”

She immediately looked conspiratorially over to Jack, who shook her head in denial.

“Not this time Josie!” She pointed to me instead.

“May I ask when, Captain?” She asked with a neutral expression.

“Give it a month or two, Josie.” I smiled.

A huge smile broke out on her face, as she lay back down happy for my confirmation.

“Breaking the rules again, Alexandra?” Mina smiled at me with a raised eyebrow.

“As often as I can, your highness…and wherever I can!” I smiled back and nine out of ten of us giggled.

“By the way, Scotti, don’t use that gift to sneak into the women’s showers! We’ve heard how you marines are!”

Sandra Williams has a very nice laugh and one amazing smile when she chooses to show it- despite the very red face and equally red head of hair!

Several hours later, Jack entered my office. Sunbathing had completed its intended purpose- to make me regret having to resume my job as base commander!

“Alex, we need to pay a visit to the six. They’ve been locked up in the brig almost twenty-four hours now, or is this part of your plan?”

“Didn’t that sun feel marvelous this morning, Jack?” I asked as I stretched in my chair.

“Don’t go all soft on me, Cap! We need to discuss the six! We can’t leave them there indefinitely, you know.”

Jack looked cute when she was being serious.

“I know we can’t, Jack! I just hate to see this happen. I’ve tried to find some way of avoiding the outcome, but I see no clear way around it.” I told her, shaking my head slightly.

“How many, Alex?”

“How many?”

“How many do we lose in the process? You know, how many die?”

“Jack, no one dies. They make it safely to the dock where…I…you and I that is…where we take them…home.”

“What happens to me then, Empress?”

“Nothing…nothing happens to you, Jack.” I knew better than to hide the future from her. The blonde’s eyes widening spoke volumes. She had clearly seen every detail the next day would hold for us.

My Ex-O simply closed her eyes, nodded, and accepted the fact that she would be experiencing probably the worst day in her life.

“Let’s get this over with then.” I said as I stood, walked around my desk, and together Jack and I walked out of my office heading for the brig.

“Remember, Jack, Tish is protected at all cost!”

“Aye, Cap.”

I began to steel myself for our encounter.

“And you’re sure there is no other way, Alex?”

I simply sighed in answer.

1313 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 9th, 1944

As we neared the building housing the brig, Jack and I heard a number of high-pitched voices screaming at each other. Understanding only ‘cursing’ Japanese, I had little idea what was being said- with the exception of certain curses, of course.

We opened the door to an old-fashioned Japanese hen fight! Tish was on our side of the bars trying to get the six women on the other side to stop kicking, scratching, biting, and hair-pulling each other.

If I hadn’t seen this to be a setup, I would have really believed it! Looking at Jack, I asked the one question I had been dreading for three days.

“Are you ready, Jack?”

She took a big breath, looked at me, and nodded once.

Immediately all six squabbling Japanese women separated and flew to different spots on the walls of the cell. Tish quickly turned in our direction.

“Thank you, Commander; they were getting out of hand!”

“What were they fighting for, Tish?” I asked.

“They blame each other for their circumstances, Captain. This has been going on all morning!”

Just then, one of the girls said something I’d rather not repeat and Jack’s head snapped back as if hit with an invisible fist. She fell to the floor unconscious, the six in the cell dropped to the floor instantly. The same girl looked surprised for a second then figured out what had happened. She said something to the others.

“Tish, run! That’s an order!” I shouted despite knowing she didn’t stand a chance.

“How did they do that, Alexandra-sensei?”

That was the last thing she said before the cell door flew open and Tish hit the wall hard. Her unconscious body crumpled to the floor as six confused women walked, unrestricted from the holding cell.

Taking Jack’s sidearm, I was told in Japanese that I was their prisoner. I hate knowing the future sometimes! The ‘Reilly’ suit I had on under my uniform started translating also.

‘Empress! I have been monitoring you. Do you require assistance?’ Cami asked in my mind.

‘No, Cami, this whole situation has been foreseen. Stay where you are and keep everyone clear of the dock. That is my wish, Camille Darough of Reilly!’

‘As you desire, Empress. I have informed Alex and she concurs. We are ‘making a path’ for you and your prisoners.’ Came her reply.

‘I’m their prisoner, Cami, not the other way around!’ I thought back.

‘But you can…’

‘They don’t know that yet. I will not reveal my gift until the time is right.’

‘Acknowledged, Empress.’ Cami ended our conversation.

The business end of Jack’s Colt pushing harder into the nape of my neck indicated I was not moving fast enough for their liking. I now had my hands tied behind me and was being directed across the base to our dock. Tish was being carried by two of the girls while the other four made sure I didn’t do anything heroic.

True to her word, Cami had effectively cleared the way and I saw no sign of any personnel. Still, Cami was going to get a shock.

Thirty yards from the first plank, Jack’s Colt suddenly jerked back, firing one round into the air as it left its abductor’s hand, and flew off into the underbrush. My bindings came loose and fell to the ground.

To her credit, Camille made a good try of it. Looking angrier than a raccoon surrounded by a pack of hound dogs, she appeared in our path. Her concentration was very evident.

“Release her at once!” She growled just before she doubled over in pain a dozen feet to the right of her original position. Gasping for air even in my mind, she apologized for not heeding my wishes.

Tish started to regain consciousness and began squirming. She was allowed to stand and was quickly subdued, her hands being held behind her.

So far, all according to plan, I thought.

“Tish, ask them how they presume to get off the island. We have no boat on reserve.” I had given orders to not reveal our hi-tech clothing.

The six argued back and forth for several minutes before one of them- the leader, I presume, spoke.

“They were unaware of that Captain. They expected Sand Dollar to be tied up here.”

“Tell them the boat is on a mission right now. If they want to wait a few days…”

Again all six squabbled back and forth before their leader spoke once more.

“Captain, they know you have some special powers! I’m not sure how they know that. They say you can take them home, sensei.”

The girl on her left made a gesture that, if acted on, would have snapped Tish’s neck!

I raised my hands in surrender. “Alright! Tell them I’ll take them anywhere they like- just don’t hurt you, Tish. Exact translation please.” I nodded slightly.

Glancing quickly in Cami’s direction, I saw that she was no longer there. A slight tingle at the back of my neck told me that everything was ready.

“Where do they want to go, Tish?”

Again all six squabbled a few seconds before one answered.

“They want safe passage to Hiroshima, sensei! From there they will disperse.”

“Fine. Tell them to join hands and have one of them touch me. Tell them not to let go until told to do so, Tish.”

After looking at each other in confusion, they joined hands and their leader, the shortest of the six, took a firm hold of my left wrist.

“You are not seriously taking them to the homeland, Alex-sensei!”

Again I nodded once. I could not hold back the stray tear that escaped my eye.

“I’m sorry for this, Tish!” I apologized, as the bright tropical vegetation of our island paradise became an arid, wind-blown, post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Remnants of buildings nearly razed to the ground surrounded us. Melted masses of what could have been steel poles, probably streetlights at one time, bent at ground level stood witness to the savage heat this area had endured. Next to us the last vestige of a wall displayed the faint silhouette of some unfortunate soul caught off guard by the terrific blast.

I was the only one of us that understood the desolate landscape. Tish immediately looked at me. I could hold back my tears no longer.

“Sensei, how far in the future are we?”

“Hiroshima, Japan, September, 1945. I’m so sorry Tish…I’m so very sorry!” I said as I bowed my head in sorrow.

“That’s impossible! Such destruction! What kind of attack would do such damage, Captain?” She took a good look around us and then looked back to me with a pleading look.

“One…one bomb. One…atomic…bomb.” I sniffled.

“Can it be stopped from happening?”

“It has already happened here, Tish, so no. If we can get back to the past, then maybe.” It hurt so much to lie to her.

“My home?”

I shook my head.

“My family?”

“Everything…everyone…gone.” Tears freely cascaded from the cheeks of my lowered head.

“You must stop this, sensei!” Tish then screamed something in her native tongue; her voice echoed without resistance from all around us.

Our six captors quieted a moment then began squabbling again.

“They want you to take them somewhere safe, sensei!”

“Have them hold on again, Tish.” It was time to spring my trap- and to go for distance!

I concentrated on the location seen in my premonitions. This would be the farthest jump I had ever attempted. If successful, more than one boundary would be crossed this day! Should we actually arrive on target and not die instantly, I would prove to myself forevermore that I was Mina’s famed Empress.

“Tish, this trip may take a little longer than normal. You may want to close your eyes, my sisters.”

She did as asked and I pulled the trigger figuratively.

As with my unexpected travel to Reilly a few days before, our small group collapsed into me and everything went black for an instant. This time however, the pinpoints of light I called stars stayed somewhat fixed, moving slightly to port as our destination centered in my vision.

Like before, the stars focused and congealed into galaxies, separating into individual stars again a second later. A single star brightened and began growing larger. Within seconds I could tell this star was not our beloved yellow sun, but a smaller one with a bluish-white hue.

Moving closer, I was relieved to see that this sun was not our ultimate destination, but moved slightly to starboard allowing us passage as we made a slight course correction. Presently, a small, mostly beige planet came into view and began growing in size, revealing a strange unfamiliar landmass as we moved closer.

After blacking out once more, my vision slowly focused on a lush jungle landscape. All about us strange vegetation grew tall and thick. Strange sounds filled my ears as I kept us phased out just in case.

“Tish, don’t let go. I haven’t rephased us yet. Just tell our captors that we have arrived ‘someplace safe’. Don’t include any other information, please.”

Doing as told, she looked back to me. “Where are we, Alexandra-sensei, these surroundings are unlike anything I have ever seen?”

“That’s because you’ve never been to another planet before, Takashi-chan!” I answered while fighting an increasingly urgent yawn. I felt drained from the trip, but asked myself how far away from Earth this place was.

‘Randi says one hundred eight of your light-years from Earth, Alex. How did you find such a beautiful place?’

‘Quiet, Cami! You’re not to reveal yourself yet!’ I thought to her as the yawn I had fought to hold finally escaped my mouth.

‘Cap, we have motion eighty clicks at nine o’clock!’

‘Continue radio silence, Commander!’

‘Aye!’

A loud, high-pitched shriek filled the air from the direction Jack had indicated. Goose bumps immediately filled every square inch of my skin; my heart doubled its beat rate instantly- as it had in my vision.

Our six captors stopped their squabbling instantly and began scanning for the frightening sound’s originator.

“Alex, move you’re group off to the right and standby” I said aloud. Tish’s eyes widened immediately.

“You knew, Sensei?”

I nodded slightly in reply. A devious smile crept onto my face.

“Will they be safe here, sensei?”

“Perfectly, Takashi-chan. They will be right at home here- trust me.”

“But that noise! It sounded big and angry!”

“Sounds and size can be deceiving, sisters. Do not assume animosity should we be approached. It is only a display of dominance and territory. We stand our ground and don’t back down.” I instructed everyone in earshot.

Vegetation could be heard thrashing about seventy or so yards from us and another blood-curdling shriek resonated through the heavy, moisture-laden air.

The smallest of our captors, their self-appointed leader, looked deep in concentration as she dug her feet into the ground like a Sumo wrestler facing an opponent.

Whatever was coming grew closer! Any second we would be face to face with the most underestimated adversary I’d ever met!

“Tish, I’m going to rephase us now. This thing can see us either way so stay on your toes, sisters.”

“How can it see us when…” was all she got out as she suddenly doubled over in pain!

That would leave a mark! I awaited the same treatment. Having foreseen the attack did nothing to ready myself for the intense agony I felt next!

If everything worked out as envisioned, I would awaken in a warm bed next to my companions…minus the six.

Trying not to cry out, I allowed the blackness to quickly over take me- a welcome release from the intense searing pain I was experiencing.

“Alex! Alex, wake up! Alex!”

Jack’s voice called out to me as consciousness reasserted itself. My entire midsection felt as if I had been used as a punching bag! The pain I had experienced earlier returned, though somewhat diminished. I assumed a fetal position, pulling my knees into my chest in order to ease the extreme discomfort. A loud moan escaped my lips.

“Cami, can you do to the Captain, what you did to us?”

“I’ll try, Jacki, I’m already compensating for the five of us now!”

My pain ebbed to a manageable throbbing.

“Thank you Cami, that feels much better.”

“You are quite welcome, Empress.”

Five different people ‘shushed’ her at once.

“First rule when captured, Cami, is to not disclose details to the enemy! Name, rank, serial number, that’s all that’s required.”

“Like your repetitive statements shortly after you woke up on Reilly!”

“Ya, exactly! Now pipe down before they hear us!”

“It doesn’t matter, Cap, they’re tuned into our every thought.”

“I know, Jack. You and Cami might want to stop listening for a minute.”

“Alex is right, Camille. Shut her mind out…unless you want to be sick!”

“Acknowledged, Jacquelyn. Ready, Captain.”

I immediately brought to mind that most horrifying image.

Our pain completely vanished!

“Way to go, Cap! Now maybe they’ll listen. Wait, they’re coming.

A door sized panel silently slid open before us, two human-like beings entered and the door closed behind them.

‘Who are you and how dare you threaten us with such barbaric displays of torture!’ I heard in my head.

I looked at the two for a moment. Each was approximately four and a half feet tall with three long fingers on each hand. Their bodies were extremely thin- very lanky with almost no muscle tone at all evident on their long arms. These creatures had small reddish colored eyes and practically no hair to speak of, but instead had blotches of forest color hues forming some sort of camouflage. A mouth was barely defined by thin bluish lines I assumed to be lips. All in all, completely opposite from the sounds they produced outside.

The intense pain returned and coursed through my body.

‘Who are you and why do you threaten us with such images!’

“Turn off your own torture techniques and I’ll answer your questions! I said as well as thought.

The two beings looked at each other and my torture stopped.

‘You will answer us now!’

“We are innocent travelers and have come from another galaxy; a place we call Earth.”

‘Why envision such images?’

“To make you stop hurting us and hear us out. We were unaware this planet contained so advanced a species. We also did not expect such a rude welcome!”

‘You are not innocent travelers! We have seen your plan! You wish to maroon those six uncivilized creatures on our world!’

My pain returned. Jack and Cami issued forth a counter attack, which caught our hosts off guard. Both hit the wall behind them with extreme prejudice!

Our courageous mind warriors quickly doubled over in pain again.

“Stop this!” I screamed, using my pain to maximize my volume. “Stop this at once!”

As I had hoped, both beings’ hands shot to they’re…um…ears…I think.

Jack and Cami immediately relaxed.

‘I can scream a lot louder if you don’t stop hurting us!’ I thought to them as loud as I could.

I was rewarded with two cold stares- you could almost read into it the ‘I dare you’.

“All right!” I admitted, “I lied about our motives. We came here hoping our six captors might find a home among your society. They’re strong powers would endanger everyone on our world! Rather than have them destroyed on Earth, I thought they might prove worthy citizens of this world- among people whose powers rival their own! That is our true intention.”

Again the two strange little beings looked at each other.

‘You speak the truth. We shall take time to debate your petition, but first a question. You claim these six beings have powers superior to anyone on your world, yet we sense two of you have the power to bring them thousands of units across the universe. Why claim your world devoid of such talents- especially with two others capable of thought warfare in your presence?’

“My twin sister and I are the only two capable of such travel. On our world we are referred to as the Empress of Time and Space. We are peaceful travelers, dedicated to helping our civilization continue its development. Together, we right the wrongs of past, present, and future by using our abilities. Our two sisters are what we call Mind Warriors and are the only ones remotely capable of containing those six!”

‘Your crusade is an honorable one. Our world too, has one so gifted, but without the ability to pass through time. That is a valuable asset indeed. We would think it increases your rate of success. Your Mind Warriors will stand down now and rest.’

“They will comply. “ I nodded to Jack and Camille as they slowly readjusted themselves on their makeshift cots. I returned my attention to our two hosts. “Our success is not as impressive as you might think. Despite our advantage, many do not heed our warnings. The horrific images you witnessed illustrate such consequences. I’m afraid more severe catastrophes will befall our world before those in power will listen.”

‘You are not in control of your world?’

“Heavens no; I have no taste for political power! I have vowed to help my world any way I can- with or without governmental approval.”

‘A bold undertaking indeed- one that could possibly result in your untimely demise, Empress of Time and Space. We will cease our torment and debate the request for asylum of your miscreants. Please rest, someone will attend to your needs. Please do not try to leave as we will be monitoring you, Empress of Time and Space.’

“My name is Alexandra Steinert and my sister’s name is Alexandra Reilly; we find our title egotistical and aristocratic! We will not attempt escape if you do not set about torturing us again!”

‘Rare creatures indeed! Noblity that refuses stature! Such power at your command, yet we sense kindness, grace, and extreme self-control- not only from you, but your companions- extremely valuable among higher order beings. We will return.’

“How’d you know they couldn’t stand our high pitched screams, Cap?” Jack asked still rubbing her head.

“Foresight, Jacquelyn, foresight.” Alex Reilly answered.

“Oh ya, right.”

“Sensei, where are the others? Will they be all right?” Tish whispered to me while looking around the room.

“They will be fine, Tish, as I said before, they are a better fit on this world than ours. Here they can develop their abilities without fear of harm or retribution. I have no doubt that they are being ‘shown’ how to behave on this world- being taught what is expected of them.” I smiled as I remembered my visions. “Tish, you don’t have to whisper by the way, they can hear your thoughts.”

As we talked, another ‘person’ walked into the room. Behind it followed two trays, some kind of clear liquid in a translucent container with what looked like small glasses on the first, and some sort of small, rolled, finger-type food neatly arranged on a flat circular dish on the second.

“Please, allow us, “I heard Jack and Cami say mentally to our newest host. Its head nodded with the slightest motion and the two trays moved forward stopping at each of our beds momentarily. Each of us poured a glass of liquid and took a couple of the food items.

‘The clear liquid is what you call water, it has been sterilized of any biologicals for your protection and the other is a selection of nutritional items we believe will appeal to you- at least our preparer thinks they are appealing.’ We all heard in our minds.

I began giggling immediately. It appeared that every world had the same attitude for prepared food in the military.

“How do you know we are militia?” It asked me.

“I have the same rapport with my cooks back on my base. It is sort of a backhanded compliment on my world. That and y’all are in camouflage.” I pointed to our newest host.

‘Apparently our two worlds are not that different, Captain.’

“More alike than you believe, I’m afraid.” I winked back.

“This reminds me of sushi!” Tish blurted out as she took a bite of a sample.

“What is ‘sushi’, Takashi Moritsu?” Camille asked in confusion.

“Sushi is a variety of fish and vegetables cut, prepared, and served raw wrapped in seaweed or lettuce- for example.” She held up the strange looking item with a single bite out of it.

I bit into one of the items I had taken. “This tastes like a hamburger with all the fixin’- how do you do this?”

‘Our ‘food’ as you call it reacts to the nutritional wants or desires of the individual to whom it is served. Whichever piece you chose it would taste like what you imagine.’

“This would be a wonderful addition to the menu back at Reilly; I must get your fabrication data!” Alex bubbled.

‘Your sister talks strange, Captain. Is she requesting the recipe?’

“Yes. I’m afraid she’s been away for a while, but we’re working on that.” I giggled again.

‘It is strange to hear laughter. That noise is what you call laughter, is it not?’

“It is! Does it bother you?”

‘No. It is of a sufficiently decreased volume as to be tolerable.’

If I had to guess, I think our host just smiled.

“Are we allowed to get up and move around a little bit or are we confined to these beds?” I inquired.

‘What beds, Empress? You have not changed position since your arrival.’ I heard in my head.

Our room, the beds, everything around us, melted back into the same jungle we had arrived in many hours before. The small frail looking creatures that were our hosts’ disappeared- in fact everything had vanished completely as new scenery now appeared.

The vegetation around us melted and changed. Trees and manicured shrubs became the landscape. Tall, elegant buildings could be seen reaching for the sky all around us through the new foliage. We were in some sort of park reminiscent of New York City’s Central Park. Before us, and in place of the tiny alien creature stood a handsome man, about six-two, wavy brown hair, tastefully dressed, and in his mid twenties.

Off to our immediate right, our six captors struggled against four invisible walls like caged animals- apparently, they could neither hear, smell, sense, nor see us. Six more very handsome men of around the same age stood around the imaginary enclosure keeping watch over them.

“This has all been just an illusion? Why?” Tish stated as she looked around in disbelief. It was evident she was having problems understanding what was happening.

“We were being tested, Tish.” I informed her. “They had to know if we meant them harm.”

“That’s some kind of test, Alex! I wonder what they do to their enemies.” Jack rubbed her abdomen recalling her earlier torment.

“You and Cami…of all people…you two should understand, Jack. The Terrans are telepathic beings. They’re main protection is to invade the mind of their opponents- make them reveal their weaknesses.”

Our newly revealed host stepped toward me with his hand outstretched. “Empress, I am truly sorry for your mistreatment!” I took his proffered hand. “I can assure you that it was necessary in order to, as you said, protect ourselves. Now that we have confirmed your identities and purpose here, we welcome you and your group to Citadel! Your lodgings are being prepared as we speak. I hope you find them comfortable, Alexandra Steinert-Fleming.”

The man’s smile was intoxicating!

“I’m not married yet, Tibius- not…” He pulled me into a firm embrace and kissed me. What a kiss! After a few minutes we come up for air and I finished my statement. “Not for another three years, I’m afraid.”

“Forgive me…I still have trouble with your form of time travel, Empress! If not for the impending nuptials, I would try to gain your heart myself, as the last time we met.” Tibius released me, took a step back, and looked at me in curiosity. A brightening of his smile, if possible, signaled me he had tentatively solved his conundrum.

“Ah! You are still available! I think I finally understand this dimensional and temporal travel you are so fond of!” The handsome man’s face saddened slightly.

“Alas, if I were to gain your affections now I would…” He rubbed his head lightly. “I would change the circumstances that first brought you here! And to think I was the fool to announce my understanding! I am no closer to comprehension than I was before!” Tibius lowered his head slightly and shook it gently side to side in defeat.

“That is why you need our help, dear friend. You lack the understanding to seduce your women and therefore have lost the ability to…um…love.” A small devilish smile appeared on my face.

“That is not it at all, beautiful Empress!” Tibius frowned, not comprehending my jab at the absence of women on this planet. “As I told you on your last visit; a failed experiment has caused our folly! We would have no problem seducing our counterparts, if…if any yet remained.” Sadness overtook his face again as he thought about it.

“That’s so sad! In that way our two societies share a similar quandary. You see, Reilly has no men and…you’re…oh, I see now.” Cami said blushing as she suddenly grasped our purpose here. She motioned to the six incensed hellcats vigorously seeking escape from their invisible cell. “Do you think they will acquiesce, Alex?”

I just nodded once with a smile. They had no other choice. The Terrans held the upper hand on abilities, so the six stood no chance of escape. I thought of the life awaiting them here: six women on a planet of several hundred million handsome, virulent, needy, men! They would be treated better than royalty! Competition would be fierce just to catch a glimpse of them! In short, they could command anything of these doomed souls! They would be loved and pampered- completely spoiled! I grew jealous just thinking about the life these women would lead!

“Have you had any luck deactivating the nanotechs in your water supply yet, Tibius?” Alex Reilly inquired.

“Alas, Empress, we have not! The micros have formed an affinity to all methods of eradication. Every sterilization process fails to eliminate the synthetic plague.” Tibius informed Alex Reilly.

“That is why I have brought my sisters, my friend! The past Empress, her assistant Camille, and her Comptroller Randi unknowingly created a similar extinction on their world. By combining information and experience, along with teamwork, we may find an answer to your planet’s problem!” I pointed to each individual as I introduced her.

“Wisdom, grace, and kindness all wrapped up in such a beautiful package! It is a shame you can’t stay more than a few days, Alexandra! The things I could show you- the things we could do…again!”

I felt my stomach flutter as I recalled my visions of our future, first encounter. Yes, I thought, the things he would show me; the things we would do!

The guilt I would feel every time Sandy would look at me for almost six months after my return!

Sometimes seeing the future, using Cassie or Sam’s terminology, really sucked!

Yet who was I to change the future? Granted, I was just the person to do such a thing, but did I have the right to modify my own future? Many questions converged on my mind simultaneously, creating a chaotic scene I stood no chance of deciphering! I tried sorting the deluge; should I actually hold Tibius to his word? How would it affect my children if I refused? Would my marriage to Sanford Fleming suffer? Could I possibly cause a tangent to our timeline? Would any tangent affect friends and family? If our timeline changed, would I be here now? If I decided to stay here in Citadel, would I want to return to Earth? How would that affect things?

Where did everyone go?

I scanned the area around me. Only Tibius remained. He had seated himself on a bench just a few feet ahead of me, patiently awaiting my return from my internal struggle.

“Where did everyone go, Tibius?”

“Your six savages have been escorted to a special training facility where they will be educated in our culture, language, and…” he cleared his throat, “edicate. Your entourage, dear Empress, has gone ahead to approve and ready your lodgings. Since you were so consumed by whatever concerns, topics, or multiple debates going on in there…” He gently touched my forehead as he approached; “…I thought it wise to stay behind so you would not return to an empty reality.”

Now Tibius raised his other hand to quell any response from me.

“And before you assume anything, I did not impinge on that raging internal tempest you call your mind. I stand no chance of differentiating any individual thoughts in there, so why try? That is what attracted me to you at our first meeting. You intrigue me, Empress Alexandra!”

“I’m sorry for going off into the netherworld like that Tibius, seeing the future can cause extremely confusing conflicts, the answers to which sometimes require a little more concentration than usual.”

“Standing completely motionless while staring directly ahead for two straight hours is hardly a little more concentration, M’lady. Glancing over my shoulder momentarily would be considered a little more concentration.” His smile filled me with heartfelt warmth.

“It was that long? I’m truly sorry to have kept you here that long, Tibius. You must have other things you could be doing instead of waiting for some flighty Missouri farm girl to come out of her stupor.”

“Nothing could be more important than watching such pure beauty contemplate her impact on life!”

“I thought you couldn’t discern my thoughts, Tibius?”

“I can’t, but there is someone who can. Alexis, you can come out now, my dear.” Tibius looked around us as he called out quietly.

“Father, I’m old enough to know when to appear! I was going to do just that in another second!” A young woman’s voice said from behind me. I jumped slightly as she spoke. Turning, I looked into a familiar face- a face that reminded me of…of Brianna! My mouth dropped in surprise! A young woman of about seventeen smiled as we made eye contact. About my height, she was clad in a full-length, gold colored, form-fitting, sheath-type dress that sparkled in the brilliant, but waning, white sunlight. Her long, light brown hair was pulled up in some sort of tight vertical curl at the back of her head and held there by two sticks jutting from the top. Chopsticks maybe? Standing there, she exhibited a confident gracefulness of someone much older.

“You didn’t tell her, father?” She pouted.

“I was just getting around to it, Alexis. You know how I fluster around beauty- your mother, especially.” Tibius tried to explain apologetically.

“Welcome back, mother Alexandra. I have been waiting this day for some time now.” The young woman approached and embraced me, placing a gentle kiss on my cheek.

“At first I did not understand why you went away, but after receiving my ability, I understood. I was quite shocked to learn you are not of Citadel.”

“No more shocked than I am right now, honey!” I looked back to Tibius for some explanation with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m sorry, Empress Alexandra! We wiped her birth from your memory so that your relationship with your Earth spouse would not become complicated. I will now restore those memories…if you wish.” He started to reach for my temples with both hands. My hands moved quickly to stop him.

“How long did I spend here last time?” I glared at him as I asked.

“Approximately one year; sixteen months, Alexandra my love.” His hand moved against mine slightly. I stopped they’re advance again.

“Empress, you requested I do so. I assure you, I would no sooner intentionally debilitate you than I would purposely plunge a katana into my own abdomen!” He looked at me with such a remorseful, pained expression. “It pained me to remove those memories we shared; the joy and happiness we both felt of our daughter’s birth- the first natural birth on Terra in over two hundred years!” The growing sadness radiating from his face hurt me worse than any mental torture they could inflict.

Still I held my ground. Did I really want those memories back? Could they adversely affect my future?

This time an old friend came to my rescue. The resounding negative helped sway my decision. I yielded to Tibius’ offer. A smile appeared as he gently touched my temples.

Wonderful memories filled my mind! Images of Tibius and I; the whirlwind tour of Citadel; of Terra; our daughter’s birth; all the amazing feelings of holding her for the first time, her first feedings, the way she first looked into my eyes; the not so amazing labor pains. Everything came rushing back- maybe a little too fast.

“Father! You made her cry! You said the restoration would not hurt her!” Alexis cried out in alarm.

Tibius stood in shock as his hands quickly dropped to his sides. His face again saddened. I quickly reassured both of them.

“I’m sorry, honey, I’m afraid the tears are my fault. I wasn’t ready for everything to rush back in. Your father didn’t hurt me.”

“I know that, mother. Father is just so gullible! You know he’s never stopped thinking of you since you left. How long are you thinking of staying with us this time, mother Empress?”

“I’m not sure exactly. Let me consult my gift, honey. With what your father has just given me, I have to recalculate.”

Again the maelstrom in my brain kicked into high gear. Dozens of questions led to dozens of possible outcomes, which led to dozens of tangents to the timeline- all had to be considered!

In the background I heard the young woman’s voice. “She’s doing it again, isn’t she, father?”

I had no idea of his reply, instead I continued researching the future.

“Welcome back, Empress.” Tibius greeted me as I looked around to see that dusk had now fallen- the path we were on gently lit by the soft glow of street lamps.

“How can you just stand there so motionless, mother? Don’t you get tired?”

“I suspect you already know that answer, honey.” I looked at her suspiciously in the soft light.

“I do, but it never lasts so long for me.”

“How long do you think it would last if you had not just one world, but the whole of the universe to balance and satisfy? I usually don’t contemplate things this long either. Back home things are a lot simpler. Out here…well, let’s just say I want to be certain I don’t make things worse!”

“Alexandra, how could things be worse? You have fulfilled what you promised those forty years ago. You have brought us six chances…” Alexis cleared her throat. Tibius eyed up the girl carefully. “You have brought us several chances for which to save our race! How could that selfless act cause disaster?”

“Tibius, if you hadn’t been so squeamish and looked into my mind, you would have seen hundreds of pitfalls!”

“Mother Empress, you know that we consider personal privacy the ultimate law of Citadel!”

“I know nothing of the sort young lady! I haven’t been here before! I will arrive here forty of your years ago- ten of my years and three months from now. After your two step-sisters are born!” I thought about what I had just said- about how crazy it sounded.

“I’m sorry, you must think I’m insane, but I don’t think you two understand how time works for me. As I’ve told your sisters and Aunts many times before, time is a variable for me. It ceased being a constant the moment I received my gift. If you had experienced it firsthand you would understand the concept.”

I looked to the ground wondering if I had made any sense or confused them further.

“Sometimes even I lose track of where and when I am. That’s why our sisters on Earth inform me of the local year, day, date, and time when I appear.” I explained hoping that would help.

Immediately Alexis fell to one knee. “Welcome to Citadel, Empress! It is 24:31, Climax, Saturian 32nd, 332 of the new age.”

“It has to be genetic!” I shook and held my head in defeat. “Will you stand up already?”

The young girl before me smiled and giggled as she stood.

“My daughter, I thought you bowed to no one?” Tibius laughed.

“I never said that.”

“You never needed to.” Tibius said seriously.

“Mother, do you know what it’s like to walk down the street and have every male in sight stare- lusting after you like a piece of well seasoned meat?” Alexis looked to me for support.

“Honey, it’s happened to me a few times!” I rolled my eyes. “You get used to it…eventually.”

“Father…”

“I know, Alexis, I heard. Alexandra, your quarters have been readied and approved by your sister Alexandra. Shall we go?” Tibius offered his arm to both Alexis and I. We set off down the softly lit path out into the city. On this planet, walking with a woman on each arm was a sure sign of wealth- and grounds for murder!

Empress’ Suite, 209th floor, Consulate Building, Citadel Social Center, 25:22, Climax, Saturian 32nd, 332 of the new age.

“Nice place. How many rooms did you say this place has again?”

“The Empress’ Suite has ten bedrooms with adjoining comfort areas, two kitchens, two living rooms, three office units, and a large gathering room. There are also two large theaters and a fully equipped exercise area three floors up on the 212th floor accessible only by private elevator, Miss Cummins. Is it not satisfactory for your Empress?”

“It will be sufficient Mr. Gaillan.” Alex Reilly answered as Cmdr. Cummins looked to the ceiling and mouthed, “Wow”.

“Just Gaillan, Empress. We have not used the old salutations in quite some time now.”

“As I am just Alexandra Reilly, Gaillan! I was not the one who transported us here. Only she that initiated transit shall be called Empress.”

“But are you not capable of this same miracle, M’lady?”

“I am, but it is a courtesy and a differentiator, my handsome man. May I inquire as to your relational status, Gaillan?”

“What? Oh, I am presently without a partner, Co-Empress. Why ask?”

“Oh, no reason. No reason at all. I just thought I’d make the inquiry.”

“Co-Empress, I’m afraid Tibius is only one of a fortunate few to have been with a woman in the past two hundred years. They are even more blessed to claim a progeny from that encounter forty years ago! They are the envy of every inhabitant of Citadel Social Center!”

“One second! Didn’t Tibius call the captain by her first husband’s married name? I remember her telling him she wouldn’t be married for another three years!”

“You’re right, Jackie! I heard the same thing!”

“I too heard that said, Miss Cummins. The captain told Tibius she wouldn’t be Alexandra Steinert-Fleming for another three years! You don’t suppose…”

“Your assumption is absolutely correct, Lady Takashi. Alexis is the product of the Empress and Tibius forty years ago. The birth was celebrated as a worldwide holiday- the first female born on Terra in over two hundred and ninety-two years.”

“Let me wrap my head around this a minute!” Jack said as she waved her hand to stop any further information. “You mean to tell me that our Captain gave birth to another daughter…on an alien planet?” She said perplexed, her voice gaining an octave at the end.

“She did not tell you of this fact?”

“Not a word, Gaillan! Not a word!”

“Then I fear I have said too much. I am in violation of our supreme law!”

“How could you have violated any law by telling us about her daughter?”

“Our supreme law: Personal privacy shall be honored at all cost, is what keeps sanity in our society, Lady Jacquelyn. Without privacy, there would be no individuality, no surprises, no plot twists.”

“I knew about Alexis, Jacquelyn. I saw their meeting as we entered this building several hours ago.”

“I have no doubt about that Alex. That is what you do, after all.”

Gaillan let out a sigh of relief. “If at least one person already knew then I am cleared of the charge. Thank you, Co-Empress!”

“Stop calling me that! You shall call me by my given name of Alexandra Reilly! Is that clear, Gaillan?”

“Understood, ma’am.”

“Thank you! Now, when do we meet the other children of Earth? I have seen them also, Gaillan.” The man blushed profusely, being caught off guard by the question.

“What other children of Earth, Alex?” Jack cried out as her eyes opened wide and mouth fell open.

Lobby, Consulate Building, Citadel Social Center, 25:22, Climax, Saturian 32nd, 332 of the new age

“Alex, how could you”, rang through my head like the pealing of a church bell!

“Looks like someone found out about you, Alexis.” Tibius said with a smirk. “I’m sure Gaillan is sweating projectiles at this very moment!”

“That’s what I like about Jack: her subtle handling of sensitive situations!” I again rolled my eyes. “Come on, we better go up and introduce you, honey.”

Alexis frowned a moment. “I thought the building had Psionic shielding, father?”

“It does, Alexis! Your Aunts Jacquelyn and Camille have no idea how powerful they really are, and even less knowledge about how to control it! Nor do they realize the logarithmic increase in their power when both combine!”

An eyebrow rose on both our faces at that statement! Alexis’ probably for forgetting such a trivial fact; mine for hearing such an incredible fact for the first time!

“Should we not wait for Constance, Melanie, and Isabeau before making introductions?” Alexis suddenly asked with concern.

“Honey, I’m already going to have a hard time explaining you to the girls. Finding out they had children here also is going to…well it might bring on coronaries! Tibius, you might want to go to War Emergency Power on those shields of yours! Trust me on that!” I looked at him with as serious a face as I could muster. I foresaw an equipment room full of sparks and smoke somewhere in the huge three hundred-story building as we entered one of the high-speed elevators.

“Two hundred nine.” Tibius said to the near wall.

The twenty-second trip was very smooth and the doors opened to a beautifully decorated hallway slash reception area. Another very handsome man sat behind a rather futuristic desk playing what looked to be a card game displayed on its glass top. He immediately looked up as we exited the elevator.

He nodded to Tibius. “Alexis, m’lady, how nice to see you again!” His attention immediately snapped to me.

“Empress, I thought you were already inside? I have been informed of your mysterious abilities, but I don’t understand why you would feel the need to use them in such a well protected building!”

“Relax, there are two of us, Nathan. My twin sister and I both share the same gifts. She is the one who arrived earlier.”

“I see. Empress, your quarters have been readied and approved by your sister then.”

“Shall we go inside, Alexandra?” Tibius motioned toward the door.

“You share the same name also,” our receptionist asked in confusion?

I shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly, “Daddy liked the name.”

“Now I know where she gets it!” Tibius accused as he closed the entrance door behind us. I stopped to look around. Wow!

To use Ricky Lynn’s slang, “This joint’s palatial!”

“Excuse me, Alexandra?” Tibius inquired.

“Sorry, it’s just something my Chief Engineer would say if she had seen this place. Tibius, it’s huge!” I saw a smirk flash across his face then disappear. I feigned innocence and clarified. “How do I rate such opulent accommodations?”

“All visiting dignitaries have similar lodgings, Alexandra! Why should you be any different? What we do for one species, we must do for all.”

I noticed Jack walking from one of the side rooms.

“Get a load of this place, Cap! You ever see anything like this before?” Her brow rose at her trick question.

“As a matter of fact, I have Miss Cummins! I’m afraid you will too!” I said with a wicked grin. “Jack, you’ve already met Tibius; this is my daughter, Alexis- Alexis, Jacquelyn Cummins.”

She hugged Jack and kissed her cheek. “Nice to meet you, Aunt Jackie, Constance looks so much like you!”

“Constance? Just like me?” Jack looked directly at Tibius. “Sir, do you have anything like aspirin around here? I just got one massive headache!”

“We do not manufacture such primitive pharmaceuticals here, I’m afraid. We have more effective solutions, Lady Jacquelyn. Allow me.” He began reaching for her temples. As he did his hands suddenly stopped and the lights flickered a few times.

“I don’t think so, sir! Lessening my pain is only a secondary motive! Maybe I don’t wish to remember my past…future visit here!” My first officer hissed. The angry concentration was very evident on her face.

“Forgive me, Lady Jacquelyn, I should have consulted you beforehand. I will abide to your wishes. I beg you not to bring your full power to these walls as they will not survive very long if you do, M’lady.”

“What are you talking about, Tibius?” She looked at his humbled face in total surprise.

“He means go easy on your gift, Jack. They have some sort of shield up around this building that suppresses it. They seem to think you’re more powerful though for some reason.”

“Ya, right! I’m more powerful than these guys? That’s a hoot!”

“Aunt Jackie, don’t underestimate your gift! You and Aunt Camille are more powerful than anyone on Terra tenfold! Please allow father to restore your previous memories. I assure you they are most pleasant.” Alexis pleaded.

Jack looked over to me then at Tibius and Alexis a few times as she debated. I nodded my agreement to her.

“Will it hurt?”

“Only in a happy way, Jack.” I assured her.

“Okay, but if it hurts one iota, we see how really powerful I am- got it?”

“Completely, M’lady.”

Jack nodded her acceptance.

“Empress, I need to access you thoughts?” He asked.

“You had them the whole time? Why couldn’t I see them, Alex?”

“Lady Jacquelyn, you only had to look in the right place to find the cache.” Tibius smiled nervously.

Touching my right temple, he proceeded to touch Jack’s left temple. Within seconds tears sprung from her closed eyes.

Quickly, Tibius went on the defensive. “She is only remembering past events, Empress, as you did earlier!”

“Give me some credit, Tibius! I know the difference between tears of joy and those of sorrow!”

“Lady Jacquelyn, I hope I have not harmed you. I inserted the memories as gently as I could.” He said as he dropped his hands from our heads.

Jack sniffed a few times before she answered.

“I actually did that? I actually had a baby?” She asked as she looked down and rubbed her belly with both hands. It was nothing like I had expected!”

“Not yet you haven’t, Jack- not for another eleven years and one month.” I winked at her as I smiled.

“Can I see her? Can I see my Constance?” Jack looked ecstatic.

“She will be along in a few moments, Aunt Jackie, along with Isabeau and Melanie.”

Tish and Randi came into the large room from the right.

Tish bowed slightly to Tibius in greeting, her eyes widening as she noticed Alexis.

“Alex-sensei, the woman next to you…the resemblance is remarkable!”

“That’s nice to know, Tish, since she’s my daughter! Ladies this is my daughter Alexis. Alexis, Takashi Moritsu and Random Valarian Peltierre, Randi for short.”

“How wonderful to meet you both! Melanie and Isabeau will be here shortly.”

The twins looked at each other in confusion.

“Look,” I said, “it’s a long story. Tibius will need to touch you both in order for you to understand. Will you give him permission?

Again the twins looked at each other in confusion.

I rolled my eyes, “Just…just let him touch yer foreheads!” I said impatiently.

Within a minute both were crying.

Tish suddenly glared at me.

“You let them do it!” She screamed. Venom flew from her lips as she continued. “How could you? You said it could be stopped! You did nothing- nothing to stop the destruction of my home! I hate you, Alexandra Steinert! You murderer! Murderer!”

Tibius quickly reached for Takashi’s temple. She immediately became motionless.

“It seems I have restored a little too much of her memory, my love! I have again masked that portion to spare you further grief. I can delete it permanently if you so desire, Empress.”

“That’ll only waste your wonderful talent, Tibius. Just bury it, but don’t erase it.”

“As you wish.” He removed his hand from Tish who began moving immediately.

“I…I have a daughter, Sensei?”

“Yes Tish, you do. As do you, Randi! Both strongly resemble you, in fact!”

Randi cocked her head to the side for a second. “Empress, the elevator is arriving at this floor. Vehicle load cells indicate three individuals, two approximately one hundred and five pounds each and one a hundred and twenty pounds.”

“Thank you, Randi. I can stall the introductions if you wish, ladies.”

Again the twins looked to each other, this time nodding to one another.

“That won’t be necessary, Sensei, we are ready.”

Tish used her stiffest British accent when answering- something she only did when nervous. I couldn’t blame her, so I nodded back to Alexis, who turned and made for the main door.

Melanie and Isabeau were very pretty copies of the originals, yet stood three inches taller than their petite mothers. Somehow mother and daughter correctly found each other without problem. The four immediately set out across the large room chatting as if old school chums.

Jack, on the other hand, stared at Constance with a discriminating eye, inspecting every detail of the girl like she was a new addition to our crew. Whether it was the shock of looking eye to eye with a daughter she never knew she had or looking into a face so close to her own it could be her sister, Jack never took her eyes off the young woman as she started to circle her. Constance, for her part, stood perfectly still and looked nervously at her estranged mother. The young woman was tastefully dressed in a peach dress similar to Alexis, her hair, a darker blonde than Jack’s, was in a style that matched my daughter’s.

As Jack continued the appraisal by completing her trip around the girl, I noticed a tear roll down the young woman’s cheek.

“Empress, I fear she does not approve of me.” Constance said sadly, just above a whisper. A tear rolled down her other cheek. “I feel she is about to reject me, M’lady.”

“Jack?” I was starting to feel embarrassed by her actions. “What is the problem, Commander?”

Jack was once again in front of her daughter. She hadn’t said a word since the girl entered the room. A few very long, very tense moments passed as she continued to stare at the mortified woman.

“Mother, what about me do you not approve of? I cannot read you.” Constance sniffled out as her tears ran freely. Her voice trembled with fear.

“You…are…amazing! I…can’t…believe…how…beautiful…you are! To think you are my daughter!” Jack wrapped her arms around Constance and both erupted in sobbing tears.

I looked over at Alexis through tears of my own. She was blotting her own with a small hanky. Tibius rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand.

“Her worst fear…” Alexis dabbed at her eyes again, “was to be rejected…by a mother she…” she dabbed an eye again, “not to be remembered, Mother Empress!”

“You didn’t see this, Alexis?”

“I was afraid to look. Constance and I are very close and I had no wish to see if it were true or not. I didn’t want to give her false hope, Empress.”

“Never be afraid to look into the future when friends or relatives are involved, honey! You are the one person capable of making the difference- though, I admire your compassion!”

Jack gently tapped on my shoulder.

“Alex, I’d like you to meet my daughter, Constance! Isn’t she amazing?” Jack’s smile and enthusiasm overflowed the room.

“Yes, Jack, she is! They are all miracles, in fact!”

“M’lady, it is an honor to finally make your acquaintance! Alexis has told me so much about you; how you came to this world to help save our race- to give our fathers hope!”

“I wouldn’t say we will give them hope, Constance,” I winked with a devious grin, but we just may save this world!”

“Will give them hope, M’lady? You speak as if it hasn’t happened yet.”

The girl looked so cute when confused- just like her mother!

“From our perspective, it hasn’t. As I have tried to explain previously, I won’t arrive here for the first time- forty years ago by your recollection, for ten more years. Isn’t time travel wonderfully refreshing?” My devious smile got bigger.

Constance looked to my left, at Alexis. “Is this why you recommended that one of our fathers be here- to administer psionic migraine relief?”

“That was one reason, yes.” Alexis giggled back.

“Oh, Goddess, yes!” Cami’s scream echoed through my head…and everyone else’s judging from the groans and covering of ears by everyone in the room. The lights blinked off momentarily then faded back up. Randi staggered a few steps, but recovered her balance.

“That was the other reason!” Alexis laughed as she rubbed her head from the pain.

“Tibius, your psionic shield generators have malfunctioned. Power demands went off the scale prior to the failure.” Randi informed him as she staggered a few steps more. Isabeau took her mother’s arm to steady her; she too, looked slightly off balance.

“Lady Controller, have you been harmed in any way?” Tibius asked in concern as he went to her.

“It was just the shock of the equipment failure that caught me off guard. It will pass, but I must remember to loosen my monitoring of your systems.”

“You can do that too, mother? I thought I was the only one able to talk to our computers?”

“It is logical that every sequential revision carry on the core ability, Isabeau.”

The confused girl looked to me for clarification.

“She said that you inherited her gift, Isabeau.” I translated.

“Why do you talk so funny, Mother Controller?” Her daughter asked with a tilt of her head.

“Oh, goodness! Can it be true, Empress?” Constance blurted out interrupting the conversation.

“Can what be true, Connie?” Isabeau asked.

I just looked at the girl until I realized the dampening field was now disabled.

“Empress, is it true that you travel dimensionally as well as place to place and temporally?”

“Connie, everyone knows that the Empress can move through time and space! And it’s been proven that space is made up of an infinite number of dimensions!”

“Isabeau, Constance was asking if your mother is originally from another dimension- the answer to that would be, no. She, Camille, and my sister, Alexandra Reilly came from an entirely different universe, a universe in which this universe was created- by them. In all truth, your mother helped create the universe we now reside in.”

“Such an achievement cannot be possible, Empress! If true, that would mean the Lady Controller is one of the Goddess’ of legend! M’lady, tell me that is not the case.” Tibius began to drop to one knee.

“My sisters and I are nothing of the sort, sir! We are people just like you! There is nothing remotely divine about us!” Randi laughed.

“You are wrong about that, m’lady! To behold the beauty contained in this room is heavenly!”

“Oh, father.”

“Tibius, I have seen the proof. It resides in the research facility I transported back to Earth four thousand years ago- that still resides on my planet to this day.”

“You never spoke of this on your last visit, my lovely Alexandra!”

“It hadn’t happened then, Tibius. The timeline changed when I was forcibly transported to Reilly, a planetoid circling a failed, unstable planetary fusion experiment!”

“We must get together and talk about this journey of yours, Empress- maybe over some fine cuisine and a charmingly aged wine?” His smile was intent on disarming me. I fought to resist, after all, that was how it started the last time.

So what caused the spike in power, Randi?” I asked wanting to change the subject.

“Wasn’t it obvious, Alex?” Jack snorted.

I glared at her for not following my lead. “Unfortunately it was, Jack!” I shifted my attention to Tibius. “We may be staying for a while, Tibius. I hope we don’t become too much of a burden.”

“Never, Empress! How long do you foresee your stay extending?”

“Oh, about a year, I would guess- like last time.” I rolled my eyes in exasperation.

“Oh mother, did you hear that? Isn’t it wonderful? We can really get to know each other- like a real mother and daughter should.” Constance beamed at Jack.

“Ya, that’s great kid! Just keep your father at arm’s length from me at all times! I don’t want to wear out our welcome!” Jack stated firmly.

Constance just looked sadly at her.

“Jack, be good now!” I teased.

“My thoughts exactly, Alex!”

Empress’ Suite, 209th floor, Consulate Building, Citadel Social Center, 08:22, Leisure, Saturian 33rd, 332 of the new age

I had just sat down to a wonderful cup of coffee in the smaller kitchen area of our palatial suite. The view of the city from this height was spectacular, as was the bluish-white sunrise now taking place. The sound of giggling out in the hallway caught my attention, so I listened closer.

“You were wonderful, M’lady! Thank you for your consent. I had a wonderful time and would enjoy many more interludes with you, if permitted”.

“You were absolutely fantastic, Timus. Never have I realized such joy! I look forward to our next meeting, you wonderful man!”

There was more giggling then a few minutes of silence. The quiet click of the door latching shut indicated that someone had left the suite. Camille padded back into the kitchen wearing just her uniform blouse and a smile- the long tails of the blouse providing not near enough modesty.

“Someone had a good time last night.” I said to myself just loud enough for her to hear.

“That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done, Alex, you should try it!” She chimed out in a dreamy voice.

“I have, Cami. I just don’t go blowing up shield generators when I go off.” I said matter-of-factly.

“How could I incapacitate equipment meant to dampen the most powerful telepaths on this world? I would have to be at least that powerful!” She replied in disbelief- her dreamy smile never changed.

I touched the end of my nose as a response and took another sip from my cup.

“I can’t be…”

“You can read my mind, right?” She nodded. “Then it must be true, Cami. You’ve made a week’s worth of work for someone, congratulations.”

“But I had no idea the strength of those feelings! I’ve never experienced such a thing before.”

“Yes, you have- by alternate means.” I laughed slightly then turned my gaze back out the window.

“That is true, Alex, but that finale always lacked…spirit.”

I could feel her smile widen without even looking.

“So when do we leave for Earth, Alex?”

I looked directly at her to answer this anticipated question. “After you and Alex Reilly wean your daughters- one Citadel year- sixteen months. That would be almost three Earth years.”

Cami reacted exactly as expected. I was glad I had put the cold, damp cloth in the icebox! A thump indicated that Camille took the news better than expected- she hit the floor gently after she passed out.

“Gaillan, you were wonderful!” Echoed down the hall.

“Thank you Co-Empress. May I visit with you again?”

“Of course, dear man! I would wish for nothing els…By the Goddess! What happened to Cami, Alex?” Alex Reilly screeched in surprise as she and Gaillan passed the kitchen doorway.

I looked up from where I held the cool cloth to her head. Looking totally nonplused, I replied, “Natural reaction to being told the two of you are expecting.”

“Expecting? Expecting what?”

“I’m surprised at you, Alex Reilly! Surely the Empress of Time and Space has foreseen that she is to be a mother in nine Earth months.” I raised my eyebrow in emphasis.

“I didn’t think to…” she paused. I knew she was now consulting her gift. A little late, but she was still learning. “By the Goddess, I am! I had no idea it happened so easily!”

“Ya, I’ve heard that from way too many sailors. Usually following the first mail call after shore leave! Congratulations, Gaillan, it’s a girl.” I said calmly with little emotion as I tended to Cami.

“What am I to do? Tibius will be furious with me! He alone laid claim to the Empress all those years ago, now I have taken what was his!”

“Stop right there, Gaillan! For your information, I was the Empress that honored Tibius and this world with a child, not her!” I pointed to Alex Reilly. “Furthermore, Tibius didn’t lay claim to me, I was a willing, consenting partner, not property! Alexandra Steinert, Alexandra Reilly, Empress of Time and Space, belongs to no one! I am a free sentient being able to go where and when she wants, when she wants! I will and never be, anyone’s property, is that clear, Mr. Gaillan?”

“My apologies, Empress! I didn’t anticipate your strong reaction to my obviously poorly worded statement. Please understand that most of us have been without female companionship our entire lives, and that I meant no disrespect to you or any other woman on Citadel! I am but an amateur before a woman.”

“He’s no amateur, sis, I’ll tell you that!” Alex’ smile grew wider.

I groaned at her remark. It was then that I noticed where Gaillan’s eyes were aimed. I quickly moved between them and Camille. “Well, Mr. Amateur, the first rule to keeping a girlfriend on Citadel is to not look around! “ I yanked Cami’s shirttail down as best I could. “Stay true to the one that bears your child, Gaillan! You do not want to be the target of the Empress’ wrath!”

The young man’s eyes widened and his dreamy smile disappeared as he thought out the possible consequences. “No, M’lady! I will take my leave now! Good day, Co-Empress.”

“Don’t be a stranger, Gaillan!” Alex Reilly purred.

Gaillan’s smile reappeared as he turned and hurriedly walked down the hall to the exit.

“What has gotten into you, Alex?”

“Nothing this time, and I would like it to stay that way for the rest of our visit, Miss Reilly!”

“He will make many tries in that time, you know.”

“Yes, I know, but for Cassie and Sam’s sake I will resist!”

With a slight moan, Cami started to come around.

“Tibius will need to greatly improve the efficiency of his dampening shield.” Alex Reilly nodded to Camille as her eyes fluttered open finally.

“Ya, it’s going to be some birth! They’ll be talking about it around here for years to come, sis!”

“Empress,” Camille Darough quietly spoke, “I had the strangest dream! In it you told me that Alex and I were with child!”

“It was no dream, sweetheart, we’re both going to be mommies- Goddess be praised!”

At least Cami passed out with a smile on her face this time.

“Help me get her back in bed and I’ll get the new mom a hot cup of coffee.”

“That would be wonderful, Miss Steinert, thank you!”

Empress’ Suite, 209th floor, Consulate Building, Citadel Social Center, 14:22, Initial, Saturian 12th, 333 of the new age.

“Empress, it has been an honor having you and your companions stay with us here in Citadel. We cannot thank you enough for your dedication leading to the research and development of the cure to our plight. Because of you, your sister, and friends, we will once again be able to rebuild our race. Your kindness and generosity is humbling and you are welcome here any time. Please feel free to visit again, Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space!”

“It has been our honor to help you as much as we could, Tibius! I hope to take you up on your offer to visit Citadel again. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place!”

“I fear we will be losing much of that beauty when you leave, Empress! My daughter and I will miss you all very much!”

“And we will miss you both too, Tibius. I’m sure your mother would be proud of you, Alexis! Thank you for all of your help as intermediary to your customs and laws. Please tell your girlfriends goodbye for us, will you?”

“Mo…ma’am, I’ll do that.” The woman sniffed as I embraced her. It was amazing how, over several hundred light-years, a woman on another planet could look so much like me- right down to her mannerisms! So much so, I felt she could’ve been my daughter. Alexis seemed reluctant to release me, but begrudgingly did so with the touch of her father’s hand to her shoulder.

“Alexis, you know the Empress must take her leave. She has spent far too much time in Citadel. I’m sure those on her home world miss her and her friends, much like we miss your mother, my dear. I know it is hard, but she must go now.”

Tibius gently pulled her away from us, leaving the six of us standing on the meandering pathway we had arrived on one Citadel year ago. Alex Reilly, Camille, and Randi had finally devised a way for Citadel’s remaining women to once again conceive and carry to term, healthy female children. It had taken most of three Earth years, but Citadel’s gender distribution could once again start on its way into balance.

As we prepared for our departure, two wonderful two-year old girls played in the Consulate Building’s nursery; unexpected results from a very early trial overseen by Alex Reilly and Camille Darough. Thinking of the two, I was struck by the resemblance of one of them to my little niece, Dee back home in Missouri…strange how things like that happen.

“Empress Alexandra, I have enjoyed our time together, please come back soon?”

“We will, Tibius, my friend! Ladies? I’m afraid it is time. If y’all would please hold hands.” I winked at Tibius as a tear transited my cheek- past the forced smile on my otherwise sad face.

Our trip back home mirrored our initial transit to Citadel only this time with us arriving at the beachhead of the base’s dock just ten minutes after we had left.

It was good to be home, but I felt depressed at having to leave Citadel. No doubt I would lose sleep knowing I would have to mask the real memories of our visit and of my daughter whom I had grown so fond of during our stay. Tibius had taught me how to successfully hide them from Jack and Cami until I choose the proper time to reveal the truth.

I found it difficult to feign knowledge of her relationship at our departure, but for the emotional well being of the others, I deemed it necessary.

As promised, I would return to Citadel- in ten years. My travel companions and I would again go through the brutal mental torture on our arrival, though it would last twice as long! I didn’t look forward to that aspect.

1343 hours, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, May 9th, 1944

“Empress, we must go to present day Reilly to archive all files relevant to Citadel. Information vital to our own restoration as a species is contained therein. You yourself have asked me to remind you.” Randi Peltierre quietly informed me.

“I remember, Randi, thank you. We’ll leave shortly.” I replied as a stray tear rolled down my face.

“Alex, what’s the matter? I thought you would be happy to return home? I know I am ecstatic to be back- well almost back home.” The petite woman looked up at my face with concern.

“It’s okay, Random, I just feel a little sad that we even had to leave. Sometimes I get like this after a long trip. I’ll be fine in a couple days. Let’s get your things from the Admiral’s quarters and we’ll be on our way.” I tried to collect myself as we headed for our past contingent’s guest quarters.

“So do you think the facility will remember me, Alex?” Randi asked as we met Alex Reilly and Camille just outside the Mess Hall twenty minutes later.

“Well, four thousand years is a long time, but Reilly should still recognize you Randi- if her systems are still running.”

“Reilly’s water processing system is an integral system vital to sustaining life in the facility. If you are here- in this form- then it is a good indication that the facility is fully operational, Captain.”

“Well,” I nodded to Alex Reilly, Camille, and Randi, “all we need is for Lt. Williams to join us and we can start our next adventure!” I had noticed the shoe prints off to my right as I casually glanced around during our conversation. “Care to pop in now, Scotti?”

“How did you know I was here, Skipper?” She said as she began to fade in- filling the empty shoe prints in the sandy soil.

I decided to use one of my daughter’s replies. “Duh! Sees the future?” I gestured to my head as I sarcastically answered her.

I was rewarded with several strange looks- the least of which was confusion!

“Now that we’re all here, “I gestured to Jack as she looked on from a few feet away, “You have the Con, Commander. Expect me back when the bells toll three.”

“Cap?” She tilted her head slightly.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll be back later tonight, Jack.”

“That’s what I thought you meant, Alex, but I wasn’t quite sure. You’ve taken to quoting the classics lately for some reason. Is there something significant about that, Cap?”

“No not really. I’ve just taken a liking to them, that’s all…no particular reason. Y’all hold down the fort for me, Jack. Scotti and I’ll see you later.” I then phased us out after we all took hands. I was careful to put Cami between Alex Reilly and I just in case.

The bright sunshine of our base became muted sunshine through tropical vegetation. To our left rose Kili’s prominent geologic formation- it’s sharp, rocky abutments hiding the man-made walls of the Reilly Research Facility. I now knew the reason this island had become known as Kili. On the rocky looking wall nearest us- barely recognizable- were the worn letters ‘K’, ‘I’, ‘L’, ‘I’. Looking closer I could see that the ‘K’ was really a badly worn ‘R’ and the second ‘I’ was really a worn off ‘L’.

I phased us in momentarily before remembering the Island might still be compromised. Yes, it was a bad move on my part, but I felt the local air needed sampled. The familiar sweet scent wafted around my nose- Kili Island.

Something else in the air wafted to my sensitive nose also.

Cordite.

“Everyone continue to hold hands. I don’t think we’re alone here!” I stated calmly as I scanned the brush and tree fronds for the source of the gunpowder after phasing back out.

“Cami, can you sense any Japanese in proximity to us?”

Alex, I hear about twenty-five different people within fifty units. I think they are your Japanese. They think just like the six!”

“Wonderful, and I can’t get us into Reilly’s airlock without rephasing.”

“That may not be a problem, Alex. If I can initiate my interface to the facility, I could disable the alarm. With your permission, ma’am?”

“Can’t you just port us into one of the gathering rooms, Alex?” My twin asked innocently.

“I haven’t been here in four thousand years. What if we do and encounter solid rock? I’m not sure I can get us out of there before we suffocate.”

“Good point, sister. Randi, we’ll try your idea first.” Alex Reilly acknowledged needlessly.

“Scotti, can you go transparent like this?”

“I’m not sure, Skipper, what’s your foresight say?”

“It says for you to try to use your gift while still out of phase, Lieutenant!”

“Aye, sir…ma’am!”

Scotti slowly disappeared before our eyes, although a lot slower than normal.

“Good work. Randi, it’s your turn. Try to disable the airlock alarm. Alex, move your hand to the back of her neck so she can raise her arms.”

“That will not be necessary, Captain. My gesture in the Sand Dollar’s grotto was only for show- an illusion!”

“Alex, our friends are moving!” Cami interupted. “Two Japanese men, heading thirty degrees- forty-five units!”

“Try it, Randi, before we run out of time.” I prompted her.

“Oh, that is embarrassing, Alex! The Empress of Time and Space says we are running out of time!”

“Stow it, sis! In case you haven’t been listening, the Japanese will take every advantage of us! Randi even looks a little Oriental! I’m sure they would just love to rape a lowly American half-blood!”

“Initializing interface…finding…connecting to Reilly facility control…”

Randi’s dialog was interrupted by a blue flash and a severe burning in my back. Stars immediately filled my vision as I cried out in pain and fell to my knees.

“Everyone, make for the airlock, that’s an order!” I gasped.

It was the last thing I said before blacking out.

I awoke with a severe headache and restraints on my wrists and legs. As my vision cleared, I recognized the inside of one of Kili’s hand-built cabins. Several feet from me, at the doorway, stood a man wearing the uniform of the enemy.

A moan from my left side alerted me that I was not the only prisoner. Slowly I craned my neck to see who hadn’t made it into the facility. The dirty blonde hair was a dead giveaway- Alex Reilly. I thanked God we had both worn our redesigned ‘coverings’.

While in Citadel, Alex, Camille, and Randi had integrated some Terran technology with Reilly technology. The new clothing was lighter, more comfortable, and more advanced than our previous issue. The new design would operate longer without access to any central systems. Our new ‘traveling clothes’ were also patterned after U.S. Navy uniform codes. Personal protection was foremost to the new design- radiation, energy dissipation, and combat protection such as knives, projectiles, and shrapnel were all taken into account and incorporated. Still, my request for formal underclothes- lingerie- remained fantasy. All in all though, our new clothes were fashionable, functional, and extremely flexible. They had probably saved our lives when the airlock defenses had triggered. I hoped our new covering’s translators were still on line.

Alex was beginning to come around and started moving her head in circles, trying desperately to clear her head.

Unfortunately, our guard also noticed and quickly approached us with his bayoneted rifle aimed and ready.

“What manner of space debris hit me?” Alex croaked out.

“Sister, I recommend silence. This is not the time to be using such futuristic terms.” I whispered to her- hopefully in the language of Reilly.

“What language do you speak?” The guard asked in anger.

I guess the translator still worked. We remained quite.

“What language do you speak?” The guard demanded louder than before.

“Is your translator still functional, sister?” I whispered again, but looked at the guard acting like I was questioning his unknown language.

“Yes, the translator is functioning, sister.” Alex followed suite with her reply. Hopefully our guard wouldn’t realize we weren’t actually talking to him.

The burning pain of his bare hand contacting the side of my face hard was a very sobering answer. My reaction was to scream out loudly. This caused another man, an officer, to quickly appear in the doorway.

“You ass! I gave explicit orders not to harm these women! Why do you dishonor me with your ignorance?” The officer reprimanded his subordinate.

“The whores were talking to each other in some unknown language, sir- maybe plotting their escape!”

“Idiot! If you do not know their tongue, how do you know they were planning escape? They are obviously twins. Perhaps they were trying to ascertain each other’s health?”

“Forgive me, sir. To me it sounded sinister.” The guard bowed to his superior.

“Return to your station. I will talk with these pathetic women.”

Again the guard bowed before returning to his post just outside the doorway.

“I am sorry. Some of my men can be over zealous. I will see he is properly disciplined.” The new man said not knowing if we could understand.

Alex angled her head towards me. “Are you alright, sister?”

“I’ll be okay, sister. It should be healed in the morning.”

“You wear the uniforms of the Americans. Speak the language of those pitiful dogs you fight for!” He ordered in broken English then raised his hand, apparently trying to scare us into cooperating.

“Alexandra Steinert, Commander, United States Navy, four-one-one-six-three-two-seven-three-two-two.” I said in plain English.

Alex followed suit. “Alexandra Reilly, Lieutenant, United States Navy, four-one-one-six-three-two-seven-three-two-three.”

“Do not insult my intelligence! Two identical women cannot have the same first name!”

“Pa says he liked the name.” I said defiantly.

I was rewarded with another sharp smack across my left cheek. “You insolent…you will address a superior in the proper manner!”

“Darlin’ from where I’m sittin’ ain’t nothing superior ‘bout y’all.” It was the truth.

I received another stinging backhand across my face. This one drew blood inside my mouth, which I promptly spit out. So that’s how he wanted to play this.

“You stupid whore! You will pay the proper respect! Now tell me your real names!”

“Bite me!” Alex Reilly quickly countered- for which she received a hard slap, but only after ‘Mr. Superior’ realized it was a derogatory phrase instead of a command. Alex screamed loudly.

So that’s how I sounded- wow, shrill! I looked as best I could toward Alex. She shrugged as she met my glance with a slight, devious smile.

“I do not wish to torture you, but will if I must!”

“Y’all can bring it on, hon. I’ve got to warn you though; we ain’t as d’fenseless as we appear.”

“Such a pathetic attempt to frighten me. Two weak American whores. How could you possibly harm a strong, well trained, officer of the Empire like me?” His sarcasm was all too evident.

“You’d be surprised, sweetheart.” Alex said proudly.

Looking past our interrogator, I noticed the guard had disappeared- his lonely rifle leaning against the door’s framing was all that remained. That could only mean one thing- Scotti or Cami! My money was on Scotti though. The silent, mysterious disappearance was a Marine specialty. The explosions that followed shortly thereafter were definitely Cami’s doing though!

“What is happening out there? Where is the guard?”

“Looks to me like you’re under attack, Colonel. I’d surrender quietly right now if I were you, hon.” I provoked him as he looked back to the doorway.

“Alex, phase out now.” I said in Reilly.

She disappeared instantly.

“Where did your sister go? How did she escape?” Our surprised captor exclaimed upon turning back to us.

“Oh, she had an appointment at the salon, she had to leave.” I smiled. “I should be hurrying along now too. I’m late for a very important date.”

I phased out. As I did, my restraints fell away.

Our captor’s face went white- his eyes widened in fear and he began searching the room with his sidearm drawn. Alex Reilly appeared to his side and with one smooth downward motion knocked his pistol out of his hand. She then disappeared as fast as she had appeared. It was my turn now and I had just the solution for this abusive little man.

Allowing myself to rephase enough to pick up the gun, I positioned myself directly in front of him. Raising the pistol, I rephased. “Well hello there! Did you miss me?” My new prisoner jerked, slightly startled by my reappearance, but quickly recovered. He looked ready to attack. Phasing out again, I repositioned myself to his side and raised the barrel high enough to target his left temple.

“Do you really want to do that?” I asked as I rephased and pressed the gun into his head slightly. My captive became a statue.

“What are you? A Demon?”

“Somethin’ like that, darlin’” I smiled.

“What do you want of me?” His eyes strained to look at the gun held to the side of his head.

“What do I want from you? Honey, I want you and your men to get off my island! Plain and simple- before it’s too late that is.”

“Too late?”

“Use your imagination, honey. As a demon I’m obliged to use whatever y’all think about against you.”

“But we did not know you resided here, demoness.”

“Honey, I don’t live here. I just protect this, and several other islands.”

“Which ones?”

“Nice try, hun, but you ask too many questions. It’s time to go.” I put my hand on the colonel’s shoulder and squeezed hard.

“Go? Go wh…”

The quiet rural building suddenly became the noisy, chaotic beachfront of Ford Island. The sound of airplanes buzzing overhead indicated my aim was dead-on. Behind us, one of the seaplane hangars exploded.

“Where are we?” The terrified man asked. He was obviously sweating hard because the front of his trousers became soaked.

“Where it all started, of course.” I answered calmly.

At his lack of recognition, I filled in the blanks. “Pearl Harbor, 1941. December 7th, I believe.”

“We will be killed!” He exclaimed.

“Possibly. But, darlin’ I’m in the right uniform- you on the other hand…” I let it drop as another plane came in low and strafed the runway again.

“Take me back!”

“Not a chance, hun. You brought this on yourself. Take it like a man.” My smile widened.

Yet another wave of planes streaked overhead. Several more explosions resulted.

“Take me away from here!”

“No can do, hun. I’m just a weak American whore, remember?”

“Demoness, I beg you, take me from this place!”

“Why?”

“I had nothing to do with this!”

“Are you a Japanese officer?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Guilt by association, hun.”

“What?”

One of the two American planes lucky enough to get off the ground buzzed overhead chased by three zeeks.

“The people on this base did nothing to aggravate your superiors or cause this war, yet…that did not seem to matter, did it?” I slowly turned us around.

“Demoness, I plead with you for mercy! I wish to go back!”

“And I wish my brother hadn’t died on that ship!” I turned us to face the Arizona, her hulk burning furiously.

“I beg you- before we are killed!”

“WE?” I looked into his face, “I’m a demoness, remember? Ain’t no ‘WE’ here, hun!”

From behind us some sort of ordinance exploded. A large chunk of shrapnel passed directly through us. It felt strange to say the least.

“This is some sort of illusion, trickster demoness!”

“Huh uh! I’m the only thing keeping you alive right now! As long as I remain in contact with you no harm can come to you, but as soon as I let go…” I eased up on his shoulder slightly.

“No! I beg you, do not let go, I believe you, demoness!”

“Good, I guess I won’t need this anymore!” I said as I tossed the pistol to the sand in front of us and onto the still burning debris. The intense heat caused one or more cartridges to ignite making the pistol explode. Once again, shrapnel passed right through us.

“Maybe we should go back to the island; this place is getting a little dangerous.” I quipped, as the mayhem of Ford Island became Kili once again.

Alex Reilly appeared in front of us after I rephased us. “Went for a quiet stroll, my sister?”

My prisoner collapsed to his knees.

“Relatively quiet, yes, my sister. I took him to see the flora and fauna of Ford Island in the winter.” My nose detected the slight odor of urine and…

“I see…an educational trip. And did your companion gain enlightenment, Alex?”

“I believe I did shed some light on a subject or two. We will only know if this mortal,” I winked, “would extricate himself from the floor, Alex.”

Our prisoner didn’t move.

Alex knelt down beside the cowering man. “She’s talkin’ to you, hun, stand up.” An evil smile was on her face when they both stood back up.

To make matters worse, Alex placed a hand on the terrified soldier’s shoulder as I had done. “I forgot to mention…she’s the good sister, hun.”

I fought to hold back my laughter and a smile.

A quiet knocking at the doorway caught our attention. The doorway appeared completely empty though. I nodded to the unseen entity.

Scotti materialized to my right. Our prisoner’s eyes just about popped out of his head before rolling backwards as he passed out.

“And they call themselves ‘superior’!” She grunted.

“Report, Lieutenant.”

“All twenty-eight enemy soldiers have been…neutralized, Captain.” She reported snapping to attention.

“Neutralized or detained, Lieutenant?” I asked, noticing the blood spatters on her uniform.

“I’d rather not differentiate, Captain.” Scotti’s face saddened slightly.

“Understood, Lt. Williams, thank you.”

“What are we going to do with him?” She nodded to the unconscious Japanese officer at my feet.

“I know what we should do with him, Scotti, but the future holds something more interesting for Miss Sukiro.” I emphasized the new title with a smile.

“Aw sis, do I really have to take her back with me?” Alex Reilly whined.

“You already know the answer to that, sis. Stop whining about it! She’ll come around in a month or so- don’t worry.”

“It’s what she does in the mean time that concerns me.”

“Skipper, can you see if I got them all?”

“One got away Lt. Williams, but she will be revealed by the end of our stay.”

“She, Skipper?”

“She, Miss Williams. A forgotten canteen found by the right person, combined with some ill-gotten island punch…”

“Got it, Skipper. Will she get away?”

“She will come to us searching for answers, Lt. Williams. Shall we head back to Reilly now? Cami if you could provide some support for our soon-to-be sister?”

The unconscious man levitated off the ground some three feet and began floating out the door.

“She certainly has become quite the show-off since meeting you, captain.” Alex Reilly acknowledged nodding to the man on the invisible litter as the three of us followed.

“Alex, we were worried about you, are you both alright?” Randi confronted us as we emerged from Reilly’s inner airlock door. The place looked to have survived the last four millenniums unscathed. Everything was clean and polished- as if continuously inhabited.

“We were never in any real danger, Random. Lt. Williams and Camille did all the hard work. We just added to their fun.” Alex Reilly rationalized our predicament.

“Ma’am, where can I change my clothes, these…um…stains are starting to smell?” Scotti asked innocently. She hadn’t been informed about all the facets of our new ‘uniforms’ before we left base. She had just been given the spare we brought from Terra and Jack had helped her set it up.

Turning around, I pointed to her and asked, “What’s wrong with your clothes, Lt. Williams?”

She looked down as the ‘stains’ inexplicably began to fade. Within a minute her uniform looked fresh and newly pressed again.

“How?”

“Didn’t you pay attention when we first visited this facility, Lieutenant? I had one made for you before we left Citadel.” I pointed to my forehead to head off her next question.

“Thank you for the foresight, Skipper.”

“Hey, it’s what I do, Scotti.” We all laughed.

“So where did Cami take our Mr. Sukiro, Skipper?”

A green bar lit up on both sides of the passage in response. Scotti seemed stunned at first, but shook her head and smiled in understanding. “Almost forgot about that.” She mumbled as we headed for the infirmary.

“Cami?” I asked as I entered Reilly’s main conference room, “did you lose that canteen where I indicated?”

“Exactly where you specified, Alex. In fact, the cap has just been removed.”

“Great, if all goes to plan, Reilly should be receiving the last of her primary residents by tomorrow, 1630hrs.”

“Skipper, why did you have Camille bury all those Japanese on the Island? Why couldn’t we just put them in the boat and let the tide take them?”

“Because Cami blew up all the boats, Scotti!” I looked over to where Cami sat to see her blush.

“Okay, so I got a little excited, deprive me of funds, why don’t you!”

“That’s ‘sue me’, Camille.” I laughed.

“Whatever the idiom! I got carried away!” She huffed.

Alex Reilly suddenly appeared with our guest, Col. Shinji Sukiro. He appeared slightly unsteady on his feet as she helped him to a chair.

“What is this place? Where am I?” He sounded quite unsure of himself now- a significant turnaround from an hour ago.

“Your home if you want it to be, Mr. Sukiro.”

“How do you know my name?”

“Without your consent we cannot reveal too much; suffice it to say, we have our methods, Colonel.” I tried to sound cryptic.

“Am I in that place where all demons reside?”

“Is anyone else thirsty? I could use a glass of water. Would you like some, Mr. Sukiro?” I didn’t answer his last question instead I reached for the clear pitcher of water and a glass from the center of the table. Pouring five glasses, I handed one to everyone seated. Sukiro noticeably sank back into his seat putting as much distance between him and the ‘evil’ glass as he could.

We each took a sip from our respective containers- except Sukiro- he tried to gain more distance.

“This is a trick! The liquid will corrupt me in some way!”

“No trick, Shinji, but the water will change you, of that I guarantee. It will not corrupt you though- that has already been done to you before our meeting.” I smiled at him.

“How have I been corrupted? You are the first demons I have ever encountered.”

“In this case, Shinji, we are not the evil demons on this world. Those who seek to control this world through oppression and domination are the evil ones. We are here to combat that evil.”

“Sensei,” Cami waited for my attention before continuing. “Perhaps Shinji-san would like a tour of this facility before we ask for any sanctions? The more information available to her…him, the better to understand what we propose.”

“An excellent suggestion, Miss Darough, but I would like to try something more subtle first. Alex, could you please relay Mr. Sukiro’s information back to him? I think we first must know the man before us.” I winked to Cami, who, in turn winked her acknowledgement.

“Shinji Sukiro, age thirty-nine, grew-up on the outskirts of Tokyo and entered the Imperial Army Military Academy in 1919. First command assignment as a Lieutenant in Manchuria, 1922. Promoted to Colonel, 1939. Mother and father both deceased, 1939- no living family and no descendants. You are not a staunch supporter of the Emperor’s policies, but prefer not to make waves. Right now you are wondering how I am able to report such details, especially your waning belief in the sanctity of the Japanese monarchy. You are curious as to what we are, but terrified to actually find out.” Alex smiled deviously as she finished her relayed recitation from Cami.

“Thanks, sis. Mr. Sukiro, I’m sure by now it’s obvious to you that we know much about you- even some things you do not yet know about yourself. We will not harm you or torture you even though you have done that to us already. We,” I pointed around the table, “do not believe in violence, but will use it if necessary. I apologize for the loss of your men today, but it proved unavoidable. I can tell you that one of your lieutenants is still alive and will join us here tomorrow. He will not be the same person you knew however.”

“The water, it is magical?”

“In terms of you’re understanding, yes. It possesses properties that affect the human body. Everyone here has been changed by it already, but we still retain who we were- including our memories.”

”It changed you physically? How?”

“A bold risk after learning of your fear of us, Shinji!” I warned with a wry smile. “Yet a first step to understanding.”

“You were human like me then?”

One step forward and two steps back. Alex Reilly leaned in closer to our guest. “We still are human, Shinji-san- that never changed.”

“But your mystical powers!” He replied looking at her cautiously.

“So what about them? Through the ages have you not heard of mystics…clairvoyants? Trust me when I say that people- in general- are capable of many things some would consider magic!” I paused for a moment to think of an example.

“That pistol that I tossed into the fire back at Pearl Harbor earlier today…what would your earliest ancestors think if they saw you discharge it? Maybe a stick that produced fire- a stick that magically kills the thing it is pointed at- a magic wand perhaps? Nothing that they could describe short of miraculous I would assume. In essence you would appear the god…or demon- all because they did not understand. Are you starting to understand, Mr. Sukiro?”

“You are humans that have special powers.” He answered quietly.

I pointed at him and nodded.

With a little trepidation, he made another assumption.

“You were not as pretty before the change?”

“Sort of, Shinji, but I would say it goes much farther than that. Cami could you show our guest what I looked like before my change?” She nodded and with much effort, I pictured Alexander at my graduation from Annapolis.

“Why show me your brother, I don’t understand?”

“Not my brother, Mr. Sukiro, me!”

The epiphany made his eyes widen and jaw drop, sweat became visible on his brow!

“You…all of you…were?”

Apparently our guest was so distracted that he forgot about the stigma of the water glass as he downed the contents in one gulp. Realizing what he had just done, his face drained of all blood instantly. Sukiro visibly tensed as he awaited the assumed inevitable change. Humoring him, we all sat back and waited a few minutes all the while smiling at him.

“It was a trick!” He finally exclaimed, nervously looking around the table.

“Merely the first of two parts, Shinji-san.” Alex Reilly again leaned closer. “Merely the first step to a broader understanding of the world and it’s many mysteries.”

“You have poisoned me, is that it?”

“Honey, if we wanted you dead, you’d be dead right now! There is no fun or honor in poisons, besides we all drank the same thing.”

“You are immune to it!”

“Listen, we may live a few hundred years longer than normal, but we still die- we’re still human, Mr. Sukiro.”

Our guest suddenly slumped forward- his head hitting the tabletop with a loud thump.

“Well that went well, don’t you think?” Alex looked to me with an evil smile.

“It went exactly as planned, sis. That sedative you gave her in the infirmary took affect at exactly the right time. Yuuka Sukiro will let her curiosity get the better of her later tonight. Both women will be ready for travel the day after tomorrow, if not reluctantly.”

“Do you really think she will consume the flask of spirit we placed in her room, Alex?”

“With all that we have told her? In a heartbeat, Cami! What she saw today makes her most disturbing nightmare a pleasant daydream by comparison.”

“I wonder what she will look like…” Camille suddenly stopped and looked up toward the ceiling for a moment. “Captain, our thief has taken the bait. How long do you think it will take…wow that is some strong stuff! What did you call it again?”

“Kili Island Ceremonial Punch, Cami. Mina told me where they stored the extra from Sand Dollar’s initial visit. The stuff has been aging for almost two months now.”

“Alex, she’s unconscious and has already begun her change. It’s only been thirty minutes since her first sip. I want Mina’s formula, Empress!”

“I’ll see that you get it, Cami. Now, can we get Miss Sukiro to her quarters to begin her change?”

Having changed Shinji Sukiro into her very own newly updated, facility designed ‘covering’, Alex and I made sure everything was ready in the room before voice-encrypting the door’s lock. Shinji was just starting to wake up when Randi enabled the sound suppression system so we wouldn’t hear all the commotion when ‘Miss’ Sukiro woke up in the morning.

Our preparations done, we met Randi, Camille, and Scotti in the recreational area for some needed relaxation. Alex and I retired to our quarters shortly after 0000hrs.

0010 hours, Kili Island, May 10th, 1944

A pleasant chime alerted me to someone at my door. Ignoring the tiny blinking light on my left collar, I rose from my recliner and waved my hand along the right doorframe. Scotti stood in the opening doorway.

“Skipper, can I talk to you for a few minutes?” She asked…more like pleaded with me. By the sad look on her face, I could tell something was bothering her.

“Sure, Scotti, have a seat…can I get you anything?” She shook her head slightly.

“I…I…think something is…I think…something’s wrong with me, ma’am. I feel different…I mean…I felt…different…today.” She sat with her hands together and clamped between her knees- her head down and eyes searching the floor.

“What felt different today, hun?” I asked with compassion.

“I…I feel guilty.” She glanced up at me and immediately looked back to the floor. “About killing…them.

A sniffle escaped as I noticed a few tears fall to her skirt and evaporate instantly.

“Scotti, you’ve done it hundreds of times- it was necessary.”

“I know that, skipper, it just felt wrong today. I mean…while I was doing it…it was…um…okay, but now…now I feel like a murderer.” Several more tears fell to her uniform. “What…what’s wrong…with me?”

“My guess would be that the real you has finally emerged, sweetheart. Scott has controlled your emotions for so long now that maybe Scotti has finally said enough…enough of the stone-cold marine- enough of the emotionless assassin persona. Seeing, then revisiting the bloodshed of the day in your mind has probably forced tender, gentle, Scotti to take control- to say enough and demote Scott in rank.”

“I don’t want to kill anymore, skipper!”

“Of course you don’t, honey. There shouldn’t even be a debate.”

“What I did to those men…I never gave it a thought until after…after it was over. Skipper, there was blood all over me! Innocent blood…that I spilled…because they were my enemy! What you said before- I’m just a cold-blooded killer! The Corp. hammered it into my head every day…and I let them. I don’t want to be a killer, Alex…ma’am!”

“You don’t have to be, Scotti. You aren’t the same person you were before, so you can start anew. Be Sandra ‘Scotti’ Williams- that’s who you are now anyway! You have a choice now.

“Then I chose not to be the killer I was, ma’am. I want nothing more to do with taking another person’s life!”

“A noble and responsible decision, honey! Just remember this- sometime in the future- several times, in fact- you won’t be given a choice or the time to decide. Nothing you can do will change the inevitable in those instances, I’m afraid!”

Scotti looked up and nodded her understanding.

“I’ll try to remember that, ma’am! Thank you.” She stood and we embraced.

We talked for a while longer before I escorted Lt. Williams to the door.

0045 hours, Kili Island, May 10th, 1944

A pleasant chime again alerted me to someone at my door. Still ignoring the tiny blinking light on my left collar, I rose from the recliner and waved my hand along the right doorframe. Maybe I should take my door out of ‘manual’, I thought.

“Alex, we need to talk!” Alex Reilly rushed past me and planted herself on my recliner.

“Have a seat, Alex.” I sat down in the chair previously occupied by Lt. Williams. “What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m not keeping you from anything am I? I mean if you were trying to get some sleep, I can come back later.”

“No, it’s okay, I always stay up late…expecting company. Now what’s got you all worked up?” I admitted sarcastically and rolling my eyes.

“Would you intentionally lie to me…can you intentionally lie to me…us being the same person and all?” Alex stared into my eyes, looking deep into my soul- just like Admiral…Uncle Rick.

I had an idea where this was going.

“I’m not sure what you mean, sis.”

“You can! We can lie to each other! I knew it!”

“What do you think I lied about, Alex?”

“I want a straight yes or no, Alex, before I continue!”

“Um…yes?” I squeaked out as I looked about the room trying to avoid eye contact.

“I thought so! So, what I thought happened really did then?” Her eyes bore into me deeper.

“Did what really happen, sis?”

“Do not treat me like some single-celled biological, Alexandra Steinert! I want the truth!”

“We touched back in the hut, didn’t we?”

“Unknown, just answer my inquiry!”

My temporal sister was starting to revert back to her Reilly-speak, which meant she was getting angry with me- that, or tired.

“Yes, Alex, it all happened!”

“How was it kept from me?”

“Tibius erased everything from your memories before we left Citadel. I asked him to help me hide them from the rest of you. I needed the reference for when I return there in the future for the first time.”

“Alexis!”

“My daughter, Alex. When I return, it will be forty years before. I will be the one that succumbs to the romance of Citadel- to Tibius.”

“But why keep this from me, sister?”

“To protect Camille! She too has a daughter on Citadel now. I didn’t want Jack, Tish, or your Randi fretting about what has yet to happen.” I stood up, walked over to her, and gently touched her hand. The tingle confirmed we now shared our memories.

“Constance, Isabeau, and Melanie.” Her eyes went wide in realization.

“Correct, and now you also know how to bury those memories deep so Cami will not find them until you wish it.” I winked. “Because if Cami were to find out in this time period, Jack would surely know and Tibius would have wasted his time.”

“That will not happen as you know, Alex. You also know that I will reveal all to her when we return to our time.”

“Known the whole time, sis, sorry! I just had to act out the scene, you know- go through the motions?”

“I’m sorry I was angry with you, Alex. I too was ‘going through the motions’.”

“Cassie and Sam are right you know…knowing the future ‘really sucks’!”

“We are a strange bunch are we not, sister?” Alex got up and gave me a sisterly hug. “It’s getting late and I can’t stand seeing your physical depletion indicator continually flashing any longer. Good fantasies, sister.”

“Yours is equally annoying, Alex. Good night.”

0930 hours, Kili Island, May 11th, 1944

“Alex, Miss Sukiro is awake.”

“Thanks, Cami!” Alex Reilly and I answered in unison.

“Why can’t I command her door to open?”

“Because, Camille Darough, we thought it best to limit her escape options.” I answered for us.

“But her voice pattern and data files already exist in facility archives! What harm could she cause?”

“Have you read her files, Cami? Do you know what gift she receives?” I asked her as I thought about the enraged tirade going on in that room right now.

“So she looks like Amy Reynolds and has…will have the gift of…oh! That would present a problem, wouldn’t it?”

“We could be here searching for her for a week. That’s why Alex and I restricted the door and its seals to voice recognition only, sweetheart.”

“But won’t she try the ventilation system?”

“As we speak, Cami! Unfortunately you can’t sense her. Randi, do you have her?” I asked as I saw Randi’s fingers dithering around on the breakfast tray she had on her lap.

“This reminds me of those intelligence mazes you tested the rodents in, Alex.” Randi giggled. “She received her gift unusually fast don’t you think, Empress?”

“The need to escape to freedom has a way of bringing about change quicker, Randi. It will also cause her to acclimate to her new ‘condition’ quicker. I suspect the nanotechs in Reilly’s water system have been multiplying and haven’t been diluted as in the Sand Dollar. Run her around her floor a few more times, and then grant access to this floor and ‘direct’ her to the recreation area. Scotti, wait about ten minutes then cloak. Your gift will be required shortly thereafter. Cami, I want you to be gentle with her. She is in quite the state of confusion right now- not only because of her change but also of what she unbelievingly can do. At this point, Yuuka Sukiro is one confused, terrified individual!”

“If I cannot sense her, what am I to gently do, Empress?”

“Once she returns to normal you will be able to affect and read her, Cami. Putting a holding field around her will suppress her gift. We can talk to her and explain the change to her then. With her fatigued, chances are she’ll be more accepting.”

“Empress, I’m about to open the inter-level damper, she should arrive here in four minutes.”

“Thanks, Randi. Scotti, you should disappear now.”

“Aye, Skipper. Any place in particular I should stand?”

“You could straddle the ventilation grate over there.” I pointed to a silver colored grating across the room. “You’ll know the time to act, Lieutenant.”

“So that’s what she looks like in that form! She’s a cute little thing isn’t she?”

“Cute as a pixie, Cami- wings and all!”

“My question is how did she learn to fly so quickly? Most of us had to learn and practice- develop our gift first.” Alex Reilly queried.

“Did you have to practice the ability to transform and resurrect Billie,” I asked with a raised eyebrow?

“Well…no. I didn’t know I did it until you and Alex became insectivores- standing there with your mouths open!”

“Answer your question then, sis?”

“She’s here.” Randi interrupted.

Each of us indirectly spied the ventilator grate in question. A minute later a small figure emerged from between the louvers. About five inches tall, the small, brown haired, female figure dressed in her pastel green and brown outfit clumsily dropped the few remaining inches to the floor, her double set of gossamer, dragonfly-like wings flitting nervously as she looked around the huge room. Spying the open doorway out of the recreation area, she began running for it. With every step the small figure doubled in size, her gossamer wings growing smaller in the process. About ten feet from her initial position, Yuuka Sukiro was back to her normal five foot-five inch stature.

“Unhand me!” she screamed as invisible arms suddenly wrapped around her to stop any further advance toward freedom.

“Shield is up as requested, Empress” Cami announced.

Scotti slowly appeared as our newest sister fought for release.

“You can release Miss Sukiro, Miss Williams. She will not be able to use her gift while in Miss Darough’s containment shield.”

As we had scripted earlier, Scotti acknowledged my command.

“As you wish, Empress. I believe her to be sufficiently fatigued to answer your questions.”

“Very well. Miss Darough, could you bring our new sister closer so that we may better observe her?”

“Yes, my Empress.”

What a sight we must have been- the five of us all dressed in our Reilly coverings, sitting on three Davenports arranged into a widened ‘U’ shape. Sukiro slowly approached us in starts and stops as the ever-progressing shield nudged her from behind.

“Miss Sukiro, things would go faster if you did not resist. I assure you that we will not bite…not at your current size.” Alex Reilly said with a devious smile.

“Why have you done this to me?” The frightened girl cried out.

“Miss Sukiro, do you believe in destiny?” I asked calmly. I remembered my first day in my new form and Mina’s description of other individual’s reactions to the Mahanilui. Sukiro did not answer.

“You will answer the Empress’ question, pixie!” Randi commanded, getting into the act.

The reaction was immediate and predicted.

“Empress?”

“Yes, Miss Sukiro.”

“You wore the uniform of an American Commander. Why disguise your lineage?”

“I am first and foremost a woman, Miss Sukiro. We do not bother with nobility or class in this society. Here, we are all equal, Yuuka.”

“But they address you as Empress?”

“Merely a job title, I assure you.”

“Empress is a job title?”

“Yes, but it mostly describes our gift. We,” I motioned between Alex and I, “Are known as the Empress of Time and Space. You have been witness to one portion of that. We have also been to other planets, other dimensions.”

Sukiro suddenly leapt into the air in an attempt to free herself and escape what she rightfully perceived as a madhouse. Cami responded by reducing the size of her shield, thereby making the new girl drop to her knees.

“You will stay where you are, pixie, and show the proper respect to our Empress!”

Sukiro was now almost lying prone on the floor.

“Cami, I said be gentle with her. She has a right to know the roll she will play in our society before she makes her final decision.”

Camille backed off her field and I gestured for Yuuka to rise.

“You say I have a choice in all this? I can be returned to my previous form?”

“We have the means, yes, Yuuka.” Alex responded.

“Why do you call me Yuuka? That was my mother’s name.” She questioned before a yawn escaped her mouth.

“That is the name you will wish to be known by. You see, Yuuka, Alex and I have the gift of foresight and we have seen your development into a valued and trusted member of our sisterhood- our society. With your agreement, we will help you understand and use your gift. If you decide not to stay with us, you are welcome to leave. We do have a counteragent to the nanotechs flowing through your body, but have never used it on this world.”

“But you said I could change back!” She started to cry. The floodgates opened and tears flowed from her eyes like waterfalls.

I nodded to Cami, who removed her holding field. I got up and approached the sobbing figure.

Wrapping my arms around her, I began to comfort her. “There, there, my beautiful pixie- let it all go. Let out all the confusion; the frustration; the fear held within. We will not harm you- not one of our own.”

“Why have you done this to me, Empress? I beg you to explain.” She choked into my shoulder.

“You can do great good to a great many people in this form, Yuuka-chan. You are to become legend in many cultures. As a seer, I have witnessed many instances in your future where you and your daughters will save whole civilizations! In your present form you will be idolized in story and song- something that would not happen if you chose to resign it.” I gently rubbed her back as I talked.

“Tell me, is your present form so disagreeable, Miss Sukiro? Aside from the locked door, have we tortured you in any way- harmed you in any way? Is this really so bad?”

“But I am female!”

“And so is over half the population of Earth, honey! It ain’t so bad- I know! I’ve been right where you are now- and not so long ago either! I survived…we survived and so can you. Won’t you at least give it a try?”

The girl in my arms remained silent for a minute contemplating what I had said then nodded her head slightly. I released her and took a step back. Telepathically, I told Cami to let her go- to not reconstruct her shield.

Sukiro looked around finally noticing that I had stepped back from her. She looked at me quizzically.

“Yuuka Sukiro, You are free to leave and explore this facility, but I must warn you that your gifted size makes you a tasty snack for some of the birds and other ‘uncivilized’ inhabitants of this island. Please consider that if you decide to exit the safety of Reilly’s walls. If, at any time you become lost inside the building, simply ask the facility for direction- your voice pattern is already on file with Reilly’s Artificial Intelligence.” I maintained eye contact with her hoping I was making myself clear.

“All I ask is that you please consider all that you have learned and all I have said and then weigh the options carefully, Miss Sukiro.”

“You are just letting me go…just like that?”

I smiled.

“Yes. We are here to help the people of Earth, not imprison them- something I hope you wish to do also, sister pixie.” I smiled at her once more.

“So, if I grew smaller again, I would be free to move around the entire building?”

“At your whim, whether or not you change size.”

“And no one would try to detain me?”

“What are you waiting for, Yuuka-chan?”

The girl was quiet for a moment apparently considering her course of action. Her face then developed a frown and grew sad.

“Is there a problem, Yuuka-chan? Why the sad face?” Alex took over while I finished the drink I had been nursing.

“I…I don’t…I don’t know how.” She said shyly, her voice barely above a whisper.

“How did you do it before, honey?” Alex looked unconcerned.

“I am not sure, Em…Empress.”

“Are you sure you want to refer to us by that title again, Yuuka-chan? It would imply that you believe what you have been told and accept it as truth.” She warned.

“I have not made up my mind yet, Empress. This may still be some fever-induced delusion. Still, if you claim I have been freely given this gift, I would be a fool to refuse its use. If you could give me a hint as to how I do it, Sensei?” Yuuka Sukiro winced at her timid sounding, but proper request.

“Never be afraid to ask for direction, Miss Sukiro. How else would you expect to learn about your gift?” I scolded. “Camille, could you remind Yuuka how she called upon her gift the first time?”

“As you wish Empress. As I recall, pixie, you were wishing you were small enough to slide under the disabled exit from your room; you then knelt down to look and found the door’s isolation seal to be engaged. Realizing you were trapped, you grew angrier until you noticed the ventilation port positioned high on the wall above your bed. Again you wished you were small enough to fit through, but then realized that at that size you would have to fly up to it. That is when I could no longer read your mind, pixie. What you did or thought after that I can only theorize.” Cami shrugged as she finished.

“You can read my mind?” Sukiro looked amazed.

“Like an open book, I think is the phrase.”

“You can turn invisible.” She turned and pointed to Scotti, who nodded.

“And you two can travel back in time?” Turning back, she pointed to Alex and I.

“Backwards, forwards, sideways, all ways, not to mention travel to distant planets, solar systems, alternate dimensions, universes, things like that, yes!”

“And what of your gift, miss?” She turned to Randi.

“Why I run this facility! I control everything around us- environment, sanitation, water supply, general housekeeping, if it is computerized I can control it! Didn’t you notice that you were flying around in circles in the ventilation system? That was my doing!”

“But I thought you could not see me when I’m small?”

“She can’t.” Randi motioned to Cami. “But this facility’s sensors never lost track of you for a second!” Randi’s smile widened with pride.

“Not to be a nag, darlin’, but could y’all try to call on your gift again so we can move down the agenda list?” I prompted. “We do have other things to do.”

“I wish I were small and could fly.” She restated her new mantra about a dozen times more before she started to decrease in size. Within a minute, Yuuka Sukiro was again five inches tall with large, dragonfly-like, gossamer wings flitting nervously from between her shoulder blades.

“I did it!” she shouted, but to us it sounded quiet- just above a whisper.

We watched in awe as she darted straight up almost hitting the ceiling then streaked around the large room a few times before stopping in front of Alex and I.

“This is amazing! Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I would be flying with my own wings! Thank you, Empress, for this fantasy and gift!”

“It is not a fantasy, Yuuka-chan. You are actually a pixie; fae; faerie; sprite; wood nymph- every culture has a special name for you. Now go and have some fun, Miss Sukiro, but don’t forget to think about the options you have been told of. Weigh all of the pluses and minuses before you decide. That is all we ask of you, young pixie. Now off with you.” I waved my hand in a flourish toward to passageway.

“She isn’t going to stay inside the facility is she, Alex?” Randi asked after she was sure Yuuka was out of earshot.

“Not a snowball’s chance in hell!” I said to looks of confusion. Scotti was the only one to giggle, for which she got the same confused looks. “Never mind. Miss Sukiro is the reason Hiro Takara seeks our help this afternoon.”

“I knew that, sis.” Alex Reilly moaned.

“Then why did you look so confused?”

“I didn’t want to feel left out.”

“Hey, Alex?”

“Ya?”

“Pillow fight!”

1340 hours, Kili Island, May 11th, 1944

“So has our pixie left the building yet, Randi?” I asked as my character returned to our game- respawned, Randi called it. On my initial visit to Reilly I hadn’t had the time to indulge in game play. My second visit however, introduced me to the realm of ‘holographic game play’. I had seen something similar, but vastly inferior to it at Emily’s condo in Arizona.

“Just heading out the airlock now, Empress. She returned to normal about fifteen minutes after leaving the Rec Area then returned to her room where she took a two-hour nap. After that she inquired about the nutritional center and requested a liter of honey. Of course ‘honey’ isn’t archived in the database so she wanted ‘something sweet’.

“I venture to say that being that small and flying around so fast would deplete her energy levels quickly, Randi.”

“Agreed. Reilly’s sensors recorded her heartbeat to be around twelve hundred times a minute while in flight.”

“Wow! That’s really movin’!”

“Indeed! Can she fatigue to failure, Empress?”

“English, Random, English- and you can knock off the Empress stuff until Miss Takara arrives.”

“Can she hurt herself, Alex, Theoretically the human body cannot maintain such an accelerated heart rate for long- failure is most imminent.”

“From what I’ve seen, Yuuka Sukiro lives just as long as you or I, Randi. Alex and Cami’s nanotechs are amazing inventions!”

“But not as amazing as the human machine, Alex!”

“Here, here, Rand…awe! Why did you have to frag me again, Randi?”

“You got in the way again, Alex! I told you not to be so competitive- leave some bad guys for me.”

“But playing with you is like playing the computer, Randi! I stand no chance of shooting anything with you as my partner!”

“You know there are more efficient weapons to use than the grenade launcher, Alex.”

“Haven’t you learned by now that I love to blow things up?”

“You two are so alike.”

“Alex, I believe Hiro has discovered Yuuka!” Cami ran into the recreation room unannounced thereby getting me fragged once again by Randi.

“Didn’t you ever hear of knocking, sweetheart?”

“Forgive me Empress…” I glared at the girl. “Forgive me…Alex. I forgot how competitive you both are.”

“It’s okay, Cami, but I thought you couldn’t sense Yuuka while in her pixie form?”

“I was monitoring Hiro when her heart rate and emotional state suddenly heightened. When I tuned into her optics I saw she had found Yuuka. As we speak, Hiro is chasing her across the island toward Reilly.”

“Chasing or being lured to Reilly, Cami?” I raised an eyebrow and smiled.

“That is unkno…wait…the pixie just stuck her tongue out, Alex!”

“Randi, it’s time to open the outer airlock door. As soon as both of them are inside close the outer door and give them a once over with the decontamination field. Alert me when you’re ready to open the inner door. Cami, please ask Scotti to meet me at the airlock.”

“Already done, Alex.”

“Oh, Randi? Cami is going to relay the properties of honey to you. Go through the food database to find a Reilly equivalent. I have a feeling our pixie will need a substantial amount to regain her energy.”

“Searching now, Alex.”

“Where are they now, Cami?”

“Almost to the airlock. Hiro is ready to kill her! The pixie keeps taunting her, Alex!”

“The very definition of a pixie, sweetheart.”

“Alex, a sufficient compound has been located in the nutritional database and I have requested several liters of it to be formulated. It should be completed in five minutes. Sensors have detected one female human and our pixie in the airlock…outer door is secure and chamber is sealed. Initiating decontamination- decom to complete in two minutes.”

“Thanks, Randi, and thank you for the game. Next time I may even score a kill!” I added as I reached the doorway.

“I will continue monitoring Hiro, Alex.”

“Won’t be necessary, but thanks, Cami.”

“Amazing, isn’t she, Skipper?” Scotti’s unseen voice said as I arrived at the airlock’s inner door. A live video feed was displaying what was going on in the chamber on the right wall near the bulkhead. On the screen you could barely see Yuuka streaking back and forth trying to avoid her full-sized assailant. Did they even realize they were being decontaminated or even where they were?

“Completion in thirty seconds, Alex.” Randi announced over the passageway speaker. A small, thirty-second countdown appeared in red in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

Reaching zero, the counter turned green and ‘Decom Complete” appeared on the screen in Reilly.

“Ready, Lieutenant? Remember, just the full sized girl, not the pixie!”

“Aye, Skipper.”

“Open the airlock, please.”

A hiss escaped the opening door followed quickly by Yuuka Sukiro as the gap widened enough for her to escape. She settled on my right shoulder and took hold of my stud earring.

“What took you so long, Empress? I thought she was going to kill me in there!”

“I warned you about going outside the facility in your gifted form, Yuuka-chan!”

“But you said you saw me and my daughters helping people, so I must survive long enough to have…to have…children.” Her voice grew quieter as the realization of what she was saying slowly made sense. Her expression changed from confusion to fear.

“That is what we have seen, Yuuka-chan, but the future remains just as fragile in this life as it was in your previous life. As you have learned from this war, the future can change in an instant and it is wise not to tempt the fates, pixie.”

Yuuka yawned loudly. “Forgive me Empress, the energy this body has…it entices me to act irrationally…irresponsibly…impulsively!”

“Where have you gone insect? I have not finished with you yet! You will still be my evening meal!” Hiro Takara called out in Japanese as she emerged from the airlock. She jumped slightly as she saw me, but quickly refocused on Yuuka. “There you are, my dinner! This woman shall not keep you from your destiny! What? Who? Who holds me?” Hiro jerked wildly trying to turn far enough to see her captor.

“You will not harm our sister, Hiro Takara! She is not on the menu!” I glanced at the miniature woman standing on my shoulder.

“Yuuka-chan, you will find a container of Reilly’s version of honey waiting in your quarters. The rapidly blinking light on your coverings recommend you rest. Have your meal and sleep soundly, pixie. We will talk about your decision when you wake.

“Thank you, Empress! For whatever reason, I feel honey is the best thing for me now…that and sleep.” She said through another yawn and flew off. A second later she appeared hovering about a foot from my face. “Wait…you called this woman Hiro Takara? This is Hiro?”

She turned and flew closer to Hiro swatting her nose- for which Hiro jerked back from the attack.

“You dishonor yourself by trying to kill your superior?” The tiny winged woman shouted in anger.

“No flying doll could be my superior! You are not even a full sized woman!”

Yuuka’s face grew red with anger as she began to grow larger. Her change was noticeably faster this time. Hiro’s delicate jaw dropped to the floor.

“Demon!” Hiro gasped.

“I see you have been practicing, Yuuka Sukiro. I’m happy you have gained better control of your gift. You should still retire to your quarters for rest. Miss Williams and I can attend to Miss Takara. I believe she is sorry for causing you any distress, my sister. Now go and rest!”

“Thank you again, Empress. I will give you my decision after a short nap.”

Yuuka turned and began walking down the passageway to her room. I watched as she staggered a few times, touching the wall for support.

“Is that Shinji Sukiro’s possessed sister?”

“No, Miss Takara, that is what Col. Shinji Sukiro has become- just as you have changed!”

“I haven’t changed!”

“Oh, so you’ve been a girl all your life then?” Scotti’s disembodied voice asked.

“Who said that? How are you holding me without touching me? Are you also some sort of demon?”

“You will speak only when spoken to by our Empress, Hiro Takara!”

“Empress? Empress of wha…?”

“You have been told! You will remain silent until asked to respond, impertinent girl!” Scotti’s voice growled, as Hiro’s back-turned arm and shoulder seemed to rise with a jerk.

“Awwww!” She called out in obvious pain.

“Are you ready to behave, girl?”

Hiro simply nodded her head as a few tears rolled down her cheek.

“Good.” I said as I looked over the new girl. “She has voluntarily joined our fold. Now what should we do with her, Miss Williams?”

“She claims not to be a woman, Empress- Maybe she needs proof?”

“Good idea, Miss Williams! Miss Takara, you will come with us! Miss Williams, could you solidify please?”

“As you wish, my Empress!”

I watched as Scotti became solid again. The look on Takara’s surprised face said it all, but she remained quiet.

“You see, Miss Takara, we are not demons at all! “

Cami came into view as we neared the Recreation Area. “Empress, I came as soon as you called! How can I serve you?”

Takara looked at me trying to figure out when I had called this other woman. I pointed to my head, winked, and smiled.

“We require your assistance with this…man’s clothing, Miss Darough.”

Cami looked at Takara intently. “This is not a man, Empress, but a slightly developed woman! Why would she claim to be a man?” Cami over-emphasized the word ‘man’.

“That is what we would like to know, Miss Darough, so we are escorting…him…to his quarters where we will find out for certain.”

“As you wish, Empress.”

“But I was a man…yesterday!”

Scotti tightened up on Hiro’s arm once more. “You have not been asked a question, insolent girl!”

“Miss Williams, I would like to hear her explanation. You are free to speak, Hiro Takara. Tell me why you think you were male yesterday.” I raised my hand as we reached Hiro’s door.

“Because I was part of the Imperial Army Occupational squad sent here to secure this Island for his Excellency, Emperor Hirohito! The Imperial Army does not use women!”

“What makes you think you were in this Army, Miss Takara?” I raised a brow.

“Because I wear the uniform of the Japanese Imperial Army!” She said proudly.

Hiro’s clothes instantly ripped to shreds and dropped to the floor in a pile, which immediately started to dissolve and disappear as soon as they touched it. Takara’s eyes bulged from her head seeing both events.

“I see no man here, Hiro Takara, so tell me again how you think you are anything but woman!”

The Mahanilui had made enough changes for the five-foot-three, brown-haired girl to immediately cover her private parts and blush. She began to cry from the humiliation.

“If you are not woman- one of us- then this door will not open when asked, Hiro Takara. Command the door to open!

Carefully the girl looked around us then at the door in question as she tried thinking everything out. In a small, quiet voice she spoke, “please open.”

As expected, the door slid open and the room’s lighting came on full to illuminate a fairly feminine looking residence. We all entered and the door closed behind us.

“This is not my room! I have never been here before!”

“The doors of this facility do not open for just any one, Miss Takara.” I informed her. “Only a trusted, upstanding member of our society shall be granted entrance. Look at this and tell me you do not belong.”

I took Reilly’s version of a picture frame from a small table by her recliner chair and triggered it to display. A holographic image of a large group of women settled and focused as I sat it back down. Yuuka could be heard talking at first- her voice quickly fading.

“…I told you I had to use two feet to trigger this thing! I can’t see why…”

Yuuka could then be seen flying back to the group, stopping and landing on Hiro Takara’s shoulder.

“Yuuka, could you maybe grow up to be in this image?” My voice…Alex Reilly’s voice said.

The small, winged woman again took flight arching up over the group and disappearing behind them. A much larger Yuuka walked around the left side and returned to her place at Hiro’s side in the space newly made for her.

“Smile, everyone!” Alex said as the group collectively smiled to the recorder. “Okay, Randi, you can disengage the recorder now.”

“Hey, if she could do it how come you told me to start the thing?” Yuuka began to complain.

The image froze there with everyone smiling- except Yuuka who displayed a frown on her slightly turned face.

Hiro looked at the still image for a few minutes.”

I don’t remember that happening- I met the pixie just today. How can this be real?”

“Scotti, you can release her now. I think she got the point.” I looked into Hiro’s eyes- her confusion was very evident.

“You don’t remember that recording because it hasn’t been made yet, Miss Takara.”

“Then why show it to me, Empress?”

“I’m afraid we haven’t been quite truthful with you, Hiro. You were a man yesterday- that is true. Quite by accident you found one of our canteens, right?”

“I found a container of water yesterday, yes. What has that to do with this?” She pointed to her nude body- not for a minute concerned that she was still naked.

I continued. “Our water has some very mystical properties. When ingested, tiny organisms multiply and distribute themselves throughout the body. Then when strong alcohol is introduced thereafter, a reaction takes place and transforms the host, making him female. I take it you found the island’s supply of celebratory spirits?”

Hiro only gave a slight nod. I continued.

“The transformation is not without it’s benefits though, Hiro Takara! You have been given a wondrous gift in return! One that you shall realize in the near future.”

“But I do not feel any different.” She looked at her small hands – only now trying to cover her chest and pubic area.

“What did you expect to feel different, Hiro?”

“When was that motion picture taken?” She abruptly changed the subject.

“Just under four thousand years ago.” My answer was calm and to the point.

Hiro blinked.

The door slid open again. Alex Reilly and Randi walked in.

“Welcome to Reilly Research Facility, Hiro- or should I say Hoshi Takara. We have been expecting you for some time now.”

The confused girl looked on the brink of unconsciousness, but instead of passing out her eyes toggled between Alex and I. Her finger began to rise as it slowly came to point at us both.

“There are two of you?” She blinked twice in disbelief. “How can I possibly have lived four thousand years ago when I am here now?”

Alex came over and stood next to me. “Good question, honey. Do you not know who we are, Hoshi Takara?” We both smiled as she asked the question.

“You are the Empress?”

“Partially, but the Empress of what, Miss Takara?” I asked.

“I do not recall asking, Empress.” She answered in a tiny voice as she glanced to the floor momentarily.

Alex and I looked at each other then replied in unison. “I am the Empress of Time and Space.”

A gasp escaped her mouth and her eyes became large as saucers before crumbling to the floor unconscious.

“You two just love to do that way too much!” Cami laughed.

“Just get her up on the bed and change her cloths, Cami. Hoshi won’t stay this way for long. She is a very strong-willed woman- very intelligent.”

We watched as Cami levitated then began to dress our newest sister. Hoshi had just started to regain consciousness as her back settled onto the bed. Her eyes flickered back open.

“Welcome back, Miss Takara. Did you enjoy your little interlude?” Alex asked sweetly.

“This wasn’t a nightmare?”

“I’ve been called that and many other things, Hoshi, but I’m afraid this is no nightmare- this is real- you are real.” She motioned to Hoshi’s body. The girl pulled her elbows back behind her to raise herself up a little- Hoshi’s eyes widened as she noticed her coverings.

“What year is this, Empress?” Hoshi asked as she examined her new clothing.

Immediately Cami looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“No I didn’t, Miss Darough!” I returned my attention to Hoshi. “This is May 11th, 1944, Miss Takara.”

“I thought you said that picture was taken four…”

“Four thousand years ago. I did, Hoshi. You live here, in Reilly, four thousand years ago.” Alex answered that one.

Her confused look didn’t surprise me, so I tried to explain.

“Hoshi Takara, did we not state that we are the Empress of Time and Space?”

She nodded.

“So wouldn’t it follow that the Empress of Time and Space could travel though said mediums?” I asked.

Her mouth dropped open as she again nodded.

“So I live here…with you…in the past?” She slowly pointed to everyone in the room.

“Y’all won the blue ribbon, honey.” I blurted out only to receive confused looks.

“Don’t let my future self confuse you Hoshi, we will be leaving for our proper time tomorrow morning. If you decide to travel with us, that is.” Alex tried to console her.

“If I want to come? You give me the choice after confusing me so thoroughly?”

“It will get even more confusing, my new sister. Just wait.”

“And if I don’t agree?” She pushed a lock of brown hair behind her ear. “What becomes of me then?”

“Then I take you to a time and place where you cannot reveal our secrets, Hoshi Takara.” I answered quietly.

“Why do you call me Hoshi, my name is Hiro?”

“Gaze into the reflective surface and tell me if you see a Hiro or Hoshi, Miss Takara. Which would fit the face returned there?” Alex instructed as she pointed to the full-length mirror beside the entrance door.

Hoshi stared at her reflection for some time before sighing and answering.

“I see Hoshi Takara looking back at me, Empress.” She said with resignation.

“As I thought, Hoshi. Now Miss Darough will instruct you on the use of your new coverings. Camille?”

Hoshi began looking around as no one said a word. Her gaze centered on Cami as she figured things out. A few minutes later she spoke. “Yes, I understand. Thank you, Camille.”

She thought for a moment. “Empress, it is obvious what Camile’s gift is. I am still trying to understand what your gift is…” She gestured to Alex and I. “But you claim I have been given a gift?”

“Yes you have, Hoshi. You have been given the gift of speed.”

Her silence meant I would have to explain.

“The pixie…she moved fast?”

She nodded.

“So how could you keep up with her, Hoshi? Would you not have to move equally fast to catch her?”

Hoshi began to look around the floor as if searching for some other answer. I continued.

“She taunted you. You heard her egging you on, yet did you see her once move her mouth to speak? Camille was monitoring you and only saw the pixie’s tongue stick out- you heard her here!” I pointed to her head. “Just as Camille wishes you to hear her!”

Her attention returned to me as I gently touched her forehead- her mouth opened to say something, but nothing came out.

“Yes, Miss Takara, you are the only one capable of hearing the pixie. You and Yuuka are a team. In essence you are the pixie’s wingman- her handler. You alone are responsible for keeping her safe and out of trouble.

“But, according to you, she has yet to make a decision on whether to stay. How are you so certain she will decide to join you?”

“Alex and I also have the gift of foresight, Miss Takara. We have seen this entire scenario played out many different ways and have carefully guided the actions leading up to its successful conclusion.” I informed her.

“But if one of us had said no?”

“Then I would have failed in my promised duties to help this world, Miss Takara! One miscalculation on my part and the world could change drastically. It has happened once before with tragic results. I vow it will never happen again! I pray it will never happen again.” Memories of the alternate base visit surfaced.

“You actually fractured the timeline, Alex? Ricky Lynn went AWOL and Randi died! That is such a terrible thing to allow to happen!” Cami burst out.

“It wasn’t my intention, Cami! It is a reminder of what can happen if I misread the future!” I admitted sadly.

“So you are not infallible as a god would be? You are still human. We are still human, Empress?”

“Yes, Hoshi, we are still quite human…and very, very imperfect- even me!”

Our newest sister was quiet for a minute. I could tell this was the question I had seen coming for three Earth years…one Terran year- sixteen long months now.

“Before you ask this next question, Hoshi, I think we had better go to the Recreation Area and get comfortable. I also think Yuuka might want to hear your answer too…for her to make her choice.”

Hoshi walked back over to the door, which opened automatically.

“You claim that I have the gift of speed, Empress?”

Both Alex and I nodded.

“I wish to try this gift out. I will not try to escape Empress, but I do not know where this Recreation Area is. Could you give me directions?”

“Ask the wall for directions, Hoshi. Follow the green line.”

The petite, very European looking woman stepped out into the passageway. “I wish to go to the Recreation Area.” She stated. Immediately the familiar green line appeared.

“I will see you there, Empress,” was all she said before a blur replaced her stationary figure.

“Now that is fast! I bet Reilly’s sensors had a hard time keeping pace with her!” Cami exclaimed in astonishment.

“Hardly!” Randi hurrumphed. I calculated her velocity at five-point-three-feet per second- hardly the speed of light!”

Cami stuck her tongue out at Randi.

“Let’s get going, girls!” I laughed as I walked out past the two.

“You two! Out! Now!” Alex scolded behind them as I started down the hallway.

“Hello, Empress!” Yuuka greeted Alex and I as she flew around our heads several times. Taking our previous seats on the Davenports, Yuuka landed on the furniture’s arm next to me.

“Does she still intend to eat me, Empress?”

“No Yuuka-chan, but we need you to sit with the big girls so, could you grow-up now, Peter?”

“You said my name was Yuuka, Empress!”

“I was referring to the children’s classic…Peter Pan, Tinkerbell.”

“Oh.”

Yuuka took flight again and grew to her full size before us. As had happened before, the miraculous fabric of Reilly design stretched and reshaped to her increasing size.

“Good, have a seat Yuuka-chan.” I patted the empty space next to me.

“Before you both make your decisions, I would like to tell you both a little about our sisterhood… our society.

1600 hours, Kili Island, May 11th, 1944

“You have only been the Empress for two months? You said you were on an alien world for three years; stayed three weeks in 1945; three weeks in 2027BC? How is that not confusing?”

“I told you that temporal relativity gets crazy! Sometimes Alex and I still have a hard time making sense out of it! Can we answer any more questions you two have?” I asked, having finished my history lesson.

“Why does my clothing turn green when I’m small, Empress?”

“First off I told you my name is Alexandra- Alex for short! I have no idea why that happens, Yuuka-chan. I believe it might have something to do with camouflage. If you hide in the trees or brush, being green makes you blend in and a whole lot harder to find. It makes sense don’t you think? Randi?”

“Alex is correct in her theory, Yuuka Sukiro. Having parsed the archives, it appears we have taken your gift into consideration and designed your coverings to compliment them. This newest covering has been redesigned. Terran technology has now been incorporated to enhance personal security, comfort, and linguistic translation.”

“You mean I’m wearing something made on another planet?”

“No, everything was made here at this facility. We reached an agreement with our counterparts in Citadel to exchange technology in an effort to better both worlds. A long prosperous friendship has been achieved between Earth and Terra- one that will come into play many decades from now.” Alex Reilly concluded with a smile.

“Now…as in from this moment on, or from 2026BC?” Hoshi inquired.

“Very good, Miss Takara! The answer to that is a confusing…both!”

Hoshi looked a bit downtrodden as she puzzled this unexpected answer.

“It doesn’t get any better, Hoshi-chan, just go with it.” Cami advised with a giggle as she put her hand on Hoshi’s thigh.

“So, do you two need more time for your decisions? I suggest you think this new information over before making a truly honest choice. Alex Reilly won’t be leaving for her time period until 1000hrs tomorrow. Unfortunately, we must insist on an answer by then.”

“Empress? With all due respect, I can give you my answer now.” Yuuka responded in a very confident voice. I noticed Hoshi tense up and Cami quickly shifted her eye contact to Miss Takara.

“Are you sure, Yuuka-chan? What I have just given you is a lot to consider in such a short time. I asked that you make a wise, well thought out decision.”

“And I have, Empress…” I glared at her. “I have, Alexandra.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cami start to concentrate a little harder and wondered what she was preparing for. “I would like to stay here.” The girl beside me started to shrink- her outfit changing color, becoming a pretty pastel green.

From the couch across from me, I heard a loud exhalation of air as Hoshi released the breath she had been holding. Cami’s look of concentration also disappeared.

“Was there a problem Hoshi-chan?”

“I am just relieved Empr…Alexandra. I thought her decision would sway the other way.”

“And you were bracing yourself for the temporal shift?” I asked raising my eyebrow to emphasize the question.

“I didn’t…I don’t…” Hoshi stared down at the floor shaking her head slowly. “I didn’t want you to fail, Empress. You have offered the two of us truth, enlightenment, and choice- even though we are on opposite sides of the war outside these walls. Aside from our initial meeting you have been kind and considerate.”

“Hey! Don’t forget she took me into that apocalyptic hellhole called Pearl Harbor! She threatened to leave me there if I didn’t behave!” Yuuka interrupted by flying within inches of my face.

“You have traveled with the Empress- through time?” Hoshi choked out.

Yuuka Sukiro immediately flew over to Hoshi and exchanged some unheard heated words. We only heard Hoshi’s side.

“You have always been the impetuous one Shinji…I mean Yuuka Sukiro! I am sure you deserved everything the Empress did! No, I will not stop talking so loud! You had better lower that voice in my head or I will invent a new main dish…what? Oh you think I can’t catch you. No, not right now! Your hair should be red you hot-headed… I am not! You’re still alive aren’t you? I am too…I don’t have to try, I can do it, Yuuka!”

Suddenly Yuuka was in Hoshi’s grip. We hadn’t seen her hand or arm even move.

“There! Are you happy now? No I won’t let go of you until you stop acting like an impertinent child!”

Yuuka started thrashing and hitting Hoshi’s thumb with both fists.

“Throwing a tantrum isn’t the way to convince them you’re not acting like a spoiled child, Yuuka-chan! Why not, the Empress calls you that- why can’t I? Oh, is that so! Yuuka-chan I have been the closest thing you’ve had to a friend since we left Manchuria! Okay, since your parents died then! You’re still my friend no matter how adolescent you act!”

The small figure stopped her tantrum.

“Yes, I mean that Yuuka-chan! Now I think you should grow up and apologize to our sisters. Yes, I do. Thanking her for setting this all in motion would be a start!”

Hoshi opened her hand to allow Yuuka to fly back over and take her seat. She quickly returned to full size.

Looking between Alex Reilly and I, her eyes filled with tears as she began. “Empress, I am truly sorry for my behavior! Hoshi is right in her request that I thank you for my gift and I am deeply embarrassed by my actions yesterday! Hoshi is also correct in accusing me of being impetuous while small, but…the feeling of being so free…so…alive! Empress, can you ever forgive me?”

Alex and I took turns hugging the truly distraught girl between us. After Yuuka had calmed down, I asked Hoshi if she needed more time to make her choice.

“I would think the answer to that question and to where my allegiance falls has already been given, Alexandra. I wish to stay here…with Yuuka-chan.”

“As you wish. Be prepared to transit tomorrow at 10 o’clock.” Alex Reilly informed them as she stood up. She walked over to Hoshi and gave her a hug also. “Thank you, Hoshi, for making an informed, intelligent, decision. I promise that our adventures together will be exciting- provided you keep an eye on the pixie! I see her getting into her fare share of situations.”

“Scotti, you can come out now. The flash and the pixie are friends again.”

“Boy, it’s about time, Skipper! I was getting tired of holding up the doorway.”

“She was here…in the doorway…the whole time? Why, Alexandra?” Yuuka’s eyes got big.

“Because, pixie, you are not only impetuous, but unpredictable as well. I don’t think you would want the fate of this timeline on your conscious, do you?”

Yuuka frowned in confusion.

“Miss Takara, could you explain to your sister, the deviation of timelines and dimensional tangents- I would like to watch the sunset tonight. It is so beautiful from the westward facing upper observation deck.”

1000 hours, Kili Island, May 12th, 1944

“Sister, I will miss you! Feel free to drop in at any time!” Alex giggled slightly at the pun. “It is a shame that I cannot transit to this time period once I return.”

“I can always come and get you, Alex! Just holler and I’ll come a’callin’!” I gave her my best smile. We both knew that she could travel no closer than the fourteen hundreds on Earth- at least that is what we had seen while in her time period. “Take care of Yuuka and Hoshi- I know they’re gonna’ be a handful, but those two will get you out of some pretty terrific jams.”

“Like those pompous lunatics of the Spanish Inquisition? Yes, I’ve seen how power hungry and blind they can be. I’ve already decided to take Jemma on that little excursion!”

“I personally would ask to borrow her for my trip to Salem, Massachusetts next fall. A water elemental could really stir things up! You think she would be interested, sis?”

“She would be happy to get that crowd fired up, Alexandra.” We both giggled at the image.

“You know…maybe Tabby would be a better choice for Madrid. The girl is so limber she might want you to take one of those racks back to Reilly to relax on.” Again we giggled like teenagers.

“Tabby’s going to be out of commission during that trip, you knew that!” Alex Reilly reminded me.

“Oh, that’s right! You make sure she gets enough to eat! People like us are rare, but twin boys born to us are truly a miracle, sis!”

“I will give her your best, Alexandra.”

“Empress, we are ready to leave.” Hoshi announced as she and Yuuka approached.

“You two behave. Yuuka-chan, you especially!” I pointed directly at her.

“Yes, Empress, I will try.”

“Don’t worry, Alexandra, she’ll behave- that or ‘Yuuka-Sushi’!”

Yuuka gave the girl a dirty looking scowl. Then both winked at the other and began giggling.

“That’s what I was afraid of!” I smiled and shook my head.

“All set, Alex!” Cami chirped as she exited the airlock door. I embraced her and kissed her on her cheek.

“I’ll miss you, Camille Darough of Reilly!” A few tears trickled down my face.

“And I you, Alexandra Steinert!” She looked down for a second then looked back at me. “I would like it if, when you travel back to Citadel, that you think to visit us first. Alex would really like to see her daughter again- as would I, Empress!” She forced a slight smile as she said it.

“How long have you known, Cami?” I said with a little skepticism.

“Well…Tibius gave it his best effort…” She shrugged. “But I guess it just wasn’t good enough.” Again she forced a cute little smile.

“And you said to watch the pixie!” Alex nudged my shoulder with hers. I just rolled my eyes.

“So where is Scotti? We are ready to leave and I have not thanked her for saving us the other day.”

“I haven’t seen Lt. Williams all morning, sis.” I admitted.

“Oh, Scotti’s down on the south end of the island. She is kneeling and talking softly to herself, Alex. She’s crying! Is she that sad at our leaving?” Cami informed us.

“No Cami, it’s called praying. Sandra Williams is praying for atonement from her sins.”

“What sins, Alex?”

“Miss Williams has recently found her conscience, Cami. You see the Marine Corp. trains people to be good soldiers. Good soldiers learn to bury their feelings deep so as not to distract them from their duty. Scotti’s change- along with her actions over the last few days has caused certain feelings to reemerge. Feelings that now make her doubt her effectiveness as it pertains to our society. In short, she regrets the taking of life, Camille Darough. She questions how she ever did it before- if she can ever do it again. She is praying for forgiveness from every single soul that she took on this island in hopes that her conscience will stop hurting her- that they will stop haunting her!”

“So how can we help, Alex?”

“You can help by going home and allowing me to talk with her, Sweetheart. The kind of hurt that she is experiencing never really goes away, you just grow more tolerant of it. You have been there, Cami- before we escaped your fusion giant.”

She stood silent for a minute. “I understand, Empress. Are you sure you never return to the Homeworld? I would swear they wrote about you, Alexandra Steinert.” Alex Reilly nodded her agreement.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Then we shall leave you to talk with Miss Williams, Alexandra. I hope one day to be as wise and understanding as my future self.”

“Travel well, Empress.”

“You as well, Empress. Everyone please take hands and do not let go. Hoshi, I can assure you it does not hurt. Now, let’s see if I can do this.” Alex Reilly said with a mischievous smile as her newest sisters’ eyes widened to saucers in sudden fear.

They were gone.

I took my time walking to the south end of Kili. The sun was high overhead when I emerged from the tree line and found Lt. Sandra ‘Scotti’ Williams kneeling in the kelp littered sand near the graves of the twenty-eight Japanese soldiers who died here. Elbows resting on her thighs, hands covering her face, her sobbing…wailing masked my arrival.

“You have to let it go, Scotti, it had to be done.” I said softly as I gently put a hand to her curly red head of hair.

“It didn’t have to happen…you could have taken them someplace else- someplace where they couldn’t harm anyone.” She said through sniffles.

“But that would have changed things for the worse, honey! The two that we saved were the gentlest of the bunch.”

“I didn’t have to kill them!” Spasms wracked her body as she began crying harder.

“Yes you did, honey! In every scenario except one they would have tortured or raped us! One even had us being taken to the Japanese mainland and put on exhibit and shot afterward!”

“They never had a chance though!” She sobbed.

“What chance would they have given us? Even Shinji Sukiro, despite his doubts in his military and government, would have abused us had we not done what was necessary. No. This had to happen, Scotti. This was the only course to follow if we expected to stay firmly in this timeline.”

“But why me? Why did it all come down to me killing twenty-eight enemy soldiers? What difference could such a small confrontation make?”

“Honey, even the misplaced flight of a fallen leaf can sometimes be enough to change the entire course of our future. Many times it is the large-scale battles that barely sway things. It has become my responsibility to read, rationalize and influence every action or nuance in order to keep our heading straight.”

“There is always a choice.”

“Not always, honey. I’m sorry.”

“If I could talk to them- explain to them…” She took her head out of her hands and looked up at me. “Could you…?”

“Are you really sure you want to do that, Miss Williams? The reactions you get will not be to your liking! From my experience, it is best left alone, Sandra. The dead can be overly cruel, for they have nothing left to lose. I suggest we just move on. Let’s leave this war-torn graveyard and go home to our friends…our family, honey.”

It took a few minutes more, but Scotti finally nodded her agreement and stood up. I immediately took her into my arms as she began to cry in earnest again.

The sunshine and fresh tropical air became the dim, varnish scented, confines of my office. Once rephased, I turned on my desk lamp and made sure Scotti was seated before fetching a cool, damp washrag from my lavatory.

“Here put this over your eyes, honey, it’ll reduce those bags. We can’t have you going out in public looking like a wreck, can we?”

We sat there in silence for a while.

“Alex?” I was shocked to hear her utter my name. “How did I do it before?”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, still in shock.

“How did I manage to keep it all bottled up inside? It seemed so easy then, but now…now I wonder how I did it at all.”

“Well…maybe because you aren’t in the Corp anymore…”

“The Corp will always be in me, Alex- it’s in my blood- same as it is in my father.”

“I guess that’s true, Scotti. Maybe we’re just more sensitive to life because of our change? We’re better designed to give life now then take it? Truth is, I don’t have the answer, honey. I don’t think anyone does.”

“Welcome back, Cap.”Jack greeted as she quietly knocked then slowly opened the office door. “I heard you come back, but I thought you two could use the privacy. Is everything alright?”

“Scotti was just letting out some built up tension. She’ll be fine after she gets some sleep.”

“Okay, Alex. I’ll try to give her some space for the next few days. We can talk about your trip in the morning.”

“Thanks, Jack, that would be good.” I smiled at her.

“Welcome back home, Scotti, everything will work out, you’ll see.” Jack said as she came over to Lt. Williams and gently kissed the top of her head. “Maybe we can talk in a few days…if you want to, that is. I have a pretty good idea of what you’re going through. I’m here when you need me. Good night.”

Jack looked back at me and nodded once with a gentle smile and quietly left the way she came in.

“I better get back to my quarters, Alex. I bet Josie missed me.”

“Scotti, we’ve returned to the night we left. From her perspective you’ve only been gone eight hours.”

“Still I better get back and settle in. Thank you, Alex, for everything. You are a good CO and an even better friend.” She stood to attention. Instead of formally dismissing her, I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight.

“You are welcome, my sister. Now go and get some sleep. Morning comes too quick around here.” I released her and pointed her to the door, which she exited through slowly.



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