South of Bikini 2: E1- Revelations

We rejoin the Empress of Time and Space in Reilly Research Station’s Infirmary where two survivors of the ill-fated invasion force recuperate. A mysterious message received by CINCPAC causes more to be revealed about the Sisters of Kili and Alex must both hold and fold her cards with regards to members of the USS Detroit’s crew. Might the recently neutralized Janelle Hathor still have an ace up her sleeve, though?

The following story is just that- a story- fiction. As such, all characters are fictitious and any similarities to persons living or deceased are purely coincidental. Some research has been done for authenticity and so I didn’t screw it up too bad. Just so I don’t receive nasty-grams from any WWII vets, the Balao class submarine, keel number 353, was never built. No military missions of this sort actually occurred in the areas at the dates specified. Furthermore, I hold the highest admiration for every submariner- every veteran, WWII or other, for what they sacrificed, endured and accomplished.

Copyright 2008-2010 R.G.Beyer
South of Bikini II:

Onward

Episode 1

“Revelations”

2030hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 12th, 2028

For over an hour we watched them work- Emily and Corrine from Earth; Alexis, Melanie, Isabeau, Cassie, Reilly, Tibius, Nathan, Gailan, and Timus from Terra; and Cindy Riggby, formerly of Earth, now resident of Terra. My temporal twin, Alex Covington; granddaughter, Alexandra; and Alex Reilly stood back wishing we could lend any help at all. The four of us, the Empresses, resigned ourselves to just watching and waiting for the best healers on two worlds to save one woman’s life!

Cmdr. Anna Beth and her crew had crash-landed on Earth several thousand years ago- from where we now stood in 2028AD. They had been accepted among the native Egyptians in exchange for limited technology and some had even started families…

Until Assistant Director, Janelle Hathor, a corrupt, renegade scientist from Reilly Research Station, disappeared into a time slipstream created when I, Alexandra Frances Steinert, Empress of Time and Space, transported Reilly out of volcanic danger and onto Kili Island of 2027BC.

Apparently, she and three others magically appeared in the marketplace of ancient Memphis, Egypt after releasing their grip of the hand directly ahead of them in our daisy chain. The four women were immediately raised to Goddess status- something Janelle coveted more than Alex Reilly’s director position.

Once Janelle discovered the existence of other ‘mystical’ beings, she ordered their immediate arrest. Enslaving the most powerful of them, Anna Beth, and making use of the commander’s gift, she assumed control over the minds of the others. Hathor quickly became known as the mother of the Egyptian Gods, while she and her fully controlled minions reigned supreme over the land of the pyramids!

Still, an old vendetta needled at her. She continued to believe Alexandra Reilly, director of Reilly Research Station, had sent an alien lookalike back in her place to wrench control of the facility away from her! This alien resembled Director Reilly in every way, shape, and form except one. Hathor found she was captivated by the way this doppelganger spoke. Her forcefulness- her charisma- the verbal control she exhibited on everyone at the station- herself included. Within a matter of hours, she had convinced the entire population of Reilly that they were doomed- that the fusion giant they orbited would expand to engulf the facility, thereby killing everyone outright.

Somehow this alien had stolen her entitled power…and her deserved position!

Then a girl-child of no more than eight revolutions magically appeared in the marketplace several years later claiming to be from the future- from a far off planet called Terra. She claimed that her grandmother could travel through time and space better than she could. The child was taken to Anubis- what Hathor now called Anna Beth, but did not seem affected by her power! Hathor decided to take a different tact and asked the girl who her grandmother was and why she, being the mother of all Gods and Goddesses, had never learned her name.

“My grandmother is Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space!” The child replied regally and crossed her arms in a huff.

A plan for revenge quickly formed in Janelle Hathor’s power twisted mind. If she could use this under-developed revision of her nemesis to transport her and a small group of soldiers to Reilly Station, she would seize control and command the alien time traveler to take her to Alex Reilly!

The child, heir to the family legacy- the next and future Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space, thinking the game now over, disappeared mere seconds after depositing Janelle’s mercenary forces on Kili Island in 2028AD. What they found was a preliminary contingent of women, and a few men, preparing Reilly Station for some kind of conference and totally unaware of her lecherous motives. Reilly quickly succumbed to Janelle Hathor’s control, but she had underestimated her main opponent- drastically!

One member of that commando team still survived as well as Hathor herself. With Tibius, Grand High Counsel of Citadel, Terra’s help, I would be successfully depositing a much more docile Janelle Hathor back in ancient Memphis. Together, the two of us would spend a few days informing the families of the deceased. Another day for first finding Anna Beth’s family then reassuring them that she would be returned when fully recovered. They were to be informed of her strong will and impressive resistance. We’d also tell them she was finally free of Hathor’s nightmarish prison suit.

Anna Beth now lay before us severely malnourished and near death- a barely living testament to the harsh, diabolical treatment any two-bit tyrant would employ to secure a successful campaign of conquest, destruction, and domination of an otherwise peaceful society.

Unfortunately, Janelle Hathor chose the one ‘peaceful’ society on Earth more than capable of defending and defeating her pursuit of that type of greed and supremacy.

‘That’s exactly what she did Alex, good thing it didn’t work, huh? Everything has been entered into the archives by Randi as requested, Empress.’ Jacquelyn Cummins said in my mind.

I mentally thanked her and returned my attention to the group surrounding our patient.

“That should give her an outstanding chance for a full recovery. Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your assistance in saving this woman’s life.” Emily praised those around her. All had been engaged in repairing the various wounds and trauma Anna Beth had received from our latest skirmish with Janelle Hathor and, unfortunately, us.

“Doc, I’d like to continue repairing her cosmetically. Looking like she had before that bitch-“ Corrine angrily nodded to the still unconscious woman in the next bed, “Got her paws on her might help in her recovery. At least she wouldn’t feel so self conscious!”

Corrine remained still and looked sadly at the hairless, pot-marked, frail individual. She knew all too well how it felt to look…different.

“Um…does anyone have an idea as to what she looked like?” She looked up at those of us around her.

“Lady Corrine, without her explicit permission, I cannot in good conscience, review her previous appearance in her mind. I would be disregarding Terra’s primary and foremost law- personal privacy.”

“Well I’ll just have to use my imagination then, Sir Tibius. No woman wants to look like a train wreck before her peers. What color hair shall we give her, Ladies?” Corrine asked, angling a finger to her mouth in thought.

As I wiped the residual tears from my eyes, I asked the question posed to us. It had taken a while for me to regain my composure after witnessing this most humbling scene of Reilly, Terran and Earthling working together to save one individual- the likes of such an act, though repeated before, had again proved emotional for both Admiral Demmit and the Empress.

Before I became melancholy over that thought again, I spoke my answer.

“Dark Brown.”

Or not. Young Alexandra- my granddaughter- had beaten Alex Reilly, my temporal sister Alex, and me to the punch.

“Maybe originally, yes, Empress, but wouldn’t spending years in a region of Earth known for its consistent and damaging sun tend to bleach one’s hair lighter?” I asked, noticing other heads nod in agreement.

“My niece and Alex are both right Corrine, maybe start with brown then add in streaks of lighter brown, maybe some red, and blonde.” Emily bartered.

Corrine put her hands to Anna Beth’s bald scalp. We watched as brown to blonde aggregated hair grew from the woman’s skull. As she let the hair grow, Corrine fussed with it, straightening it out until it extended about ten inches. She moved her hands away.

“Now for eyebrows: full, modestly well-kept, or thin and highly arched?” Corrine looked around at us again.

“Since she is of Terran origin, modest and well-kept, Lady Cosmetologist.” My youngest daughter, Alexis, responded immediately with an air of conceit.

“Of course, M’lady.” Corrine Masterson giggled slightly as she smiled. She proceeded to gently place her pre-arched pointer fingers just above Anna Beth’s eyes. After a minute she removed them and the unconscious woman had a pair of well-groomed, feminine eyebrows of aggregate browns. Corrine quickly slid her hand down to the woman’s abdomen beneath the standard hospital issue sheet and held it there another minute. She looked up just as quickly realizing the room had gone quiet.

“I’ll let her make the choice.” She smiled deviously. Returning to the woman’s head, she continued. “I’m going to trigger the production of melanin- she looks simply ghastly like this!

Before our eyes, Anna Beth’s pallid complexion became a beautiful, golden brown tan.

Corrine put her finger to her mouth once more. Thinking things over for a moment, she finally spoke.

“That’s what’s missing! How could I have missed something so obvious?”

She took a hand and held the fingers between her palms for a similar amount of time then took the other hand and repeated the process. She did the same for our patient’s feet. When finished, the woman sported a manicure and pedicure- but no colored lacquer.

“So that’s what ol’ Anakin Skywalker would’ve looked like had you gone to the dark side, eh, Corrine?” Allie joked. “Wonderful job, Miss Masterson.”

“A girl should always look her best, Empress.” She smiled with a giggle. “Whether she’s in the hospital or not!”

Emily’s patient began to stir, letting out a weak moan.

“Anna Beth, my name is Emily Rosen. I am a physician. My colleagues and I have repaired your wounds as well as we can. I’m afraid you must do the rest yourself, ma’am.”

The woman continued to moan lightly and seemed oblivious to what my sister said.

“M’lady, may I try?” Tibius asked quietly. He received a nod from Emily as she stepped back a few feet and looked puzzled by the wall display above her patient’s head.

“M’lady Anna Beth," He pronounced it Ahna-Bith, speaking his native Terran. “I am Tibius, Grand High Counsel of Citadel, Terra. M’lady, we are refreshed to have found you alive. Your recovery shall be displayed on every social monitor across the planet! Welcome back, M’lady Commander!”

To our surprise the recovering woman’s tongue went into high gear! The only trouble was we had no idea what she was saying! Even poor Tibius looked at a loss as the woman deliriously rattled on and on.

“Empress, I have sent for my mother. Maybe she can translate this.” Melanie tried to talk over the commotion.

I nodded my acknowledgement.

Tish appeared at the infirmary’s entrance about three minutes later. Anna Beth’s continuous rant was starting to become a source of irritation all around the room.

Making her way to the woman’s bedside, Tish listened closely, cautiously trying to interject a word or two into the one-sided conversation with no luck. My unusually calm linguist angered after a few nonstop minutes and seemed ready to turn and walk away.

“SHUT IT!” She shouted at the top of her lungs to the unstoppable woman on the bed.

The room went quiet.

“M’lady, she speaks a rather ancient vernacular of Terran. I’m afraid I am of little help to you.” Tibius admitted sadly, looking to Tish, he bowed slightly and moved aside.

“Sir Tibius, what you call an ancient dialect of the Terran language is also the rather specialized tongue used by Janelle Hathor’s Egyptian friends. I was studying this very language earlier today before…”

Tish let her sentence fall short; instead, she nodded to her daughter and closed her eyes in concentration.

“Empress, I have asked Melanie to have Randi transfer the basics of the language as I know it to the facility’s computer. Our uniforms are being downloaded the translation information now. We should be able to nearly comprehend her shortly.”

“You are simply amazing, Lady Takashi!” Tibius commended my petite linguist as he shook his head.

“All I did was listen carefully, sir.” Tish smiled.

“Why can’t I see? This place is filled with strange voices! Am I still confined to that vile prison? Has that horrid woman devised yet another way of torturing me? I must not show weakness! Why can’t I see? I remember a man speaking to me! Who is he? Why can’t I see? Any moment now the intense pain will again start! I must fight it! I must continue to concentrate my skills to disarm this confinement! Why can’t I see? Those women in the field, did they do this to me? Have I been used to hurt more people? WHY CAN’T I SEE?”

“Anna Beth. You are among friends. You are safe. The evil Hathor has been rendered harmless, my commander.” Tibius responded, gently putting a hand on her arm.

“Pharaoh, is that you?” The woman said as she abruptly stopped her rant.

“No, Commander, I am not Pharaoh. I am leader of a planet called Terra- a place over a hundred units from here. I am afraid you are no longer in the land of the pyramids, M’lady. You are, in fact, several leagues and, unbelievably, several thousand years from that location at the moment.” He continued to talk softly.

“Several thousand years? How is that possible? Have I been drawn through another anomaly?” Anna Beth paused a moment. “The child!” our patient’s mouth dropped open. “She claimed the child to have special abilities! That devious jackal, Hathor, she tricked the child!”

Our patient unexpectedly started to cry.

“I could not stop her from using the youngling! The prison made me do her bidding! I am as responsible as Hathor herself! I am not worth your efforts!”

“Commander, it was not you! The suit encasing you was designed to force your compliance. From what we witnessed, your resistance was very apparent, but only briefly.” I tried to calm her. “It must have taken everything you had- and then some- to do that!”

“Commander…Anna Beth, I hold no ill-thoughts for you.” Young Alexandra spoke quietly as she touched the woman’s left shoulder. “You see, M’lady, I was that child- I bare you no resentment. You have been used just as I have been.” My granddaughter comforted the woman.

“What is your name, woman? You do not sound like the child I met personally- in fact you sound quite similar to the voice just talking? What manner of deception is this?”

“Alexandra, M’lady, and there is no deception, I assure you! I am Alexandra, daughter of Alexis and Nathan, First Princess and Financier-Grand of Citadel, Terra; Granddaughter to Tibius, Grand High Consul of Citadel, Terra and Earther, Alexandra Steinert-Fleming, Empress of Time and Space.” She answered proudly. “Ten years ago I was the little girl that visited the land of pyramids and subsequently coerced into transporting Janelle Hathor and her assault team to Kili Island- the place where you now recuperate.”

Tibius’ smile couldn’t get any wider as young Alexandra followed Terran protocol to the letter. Alexis and Nathan smiled to one another.

“You are the granddaughter of THE Empress?” The woman suddenly looked shocked as she tried desperately to focus on the voice.

“Yes, M’lady, I am- though some now call me ‘Empress’ as well.” My granddaughter acknowledged and glanced up to the other three of us for support.

“That is impossible! The Empress is but myth- a story told by the very old to the very young!”

“I assure you, M’lady, the Empress is very real! In fact, there are three of us standing here before you.” Young Alex sounded slightly insulted.

“Thr…three of you? I know no mention of multiples in the old stories!”

“In all actuality, Commander, there are four of us attending your bedside at present. I am the past-present Empress; I came from eighty years ago. I am also presently here as my temporal twin and past twin will attest.”

“Allie, that didn’t make any sense to me and I AM the you of this time period!”

“Then you explain it, Alex!”

“Alex, I couldn’t begin to explain the convoluted logic around that statement, even though I’m the Past Empress!” Alex Reilly replied, unsure if she was making sense herself.

“Well then I’m doin’ the best I kin given y’all can’t come up with anythin’ better!” I growled in annoyance.

“Physician? I fear I am becoming delusional! I hear the same voice from four different locations! I require your attendance!” Anna Beth cried out.

“You four!” Emily pointed to young Alexandra, Alex Covington, Alex Reilly and I. “Out! Now!”

As we turned to leave, I noticed Tibius and Uncle Rick shaking their heads and chuckling. Mina was also stifling a bit of laughter.

“The Empress- all four of us- will be in the third floor observation lounge until needed! Come along ladies!” I said regally for all of us before leaving the room entirely.

~o~O~o~

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Cap, but you can get a little confusing these days.” Joss…my Jack admitted.

“You too, Jack?” I rubbed my face with both hands.

“Hey…I couldn’t follow that explanation and I knew what you were talking about! Anna Beth has been away for a long time. I doubt she understands time travel at all.”

“Jack, that’s how she and her crew got to Egypt in the first place- don’t you see?”

“Ummmmm….no?” Jacki- the present day Jack- frowned slightly as she and her twin looked at each other and slowly shook their heads. “I’m sorry, but Inter-dimensional, and Space-Time physics aren’t among my seven degrees, Allie.”

“Tibius stated that Anna Beth’s spacecraft left Terra before their sun entered its second phase, right?”

“Ya, we got that part, Alex.” Jacki said for them both.

“That was over four hundred Terran years ago. How do you account for them arriving on Earth eight to ten thousand years ago?” I asked as I raised my right eyebrow, staring at her while waiting for her theory.

“Maybe you go back in time when we travel to Terra, Alex.” Joss quickly replied, raising an eyebrow to punctuate the statement.

“I’m quite sure that isn’t the case, Jack.” I admitted mysteriously.

“How far ahead in time do we go to get to Terra then, Alex?” Jacki raised an eyebrow of her own and folded her arms in front of her. She glared at me.

Alexandra, Alex Covington, and Alex Reilly looked to me from across the table, also anticipating my answer. Jack looked at each of them in disbelief.

“You mean to tell me that none of you know either?” Jacki exclaimed as her and her sister’s mouths dropped open.

“Look Jack, I can’t get there on my own- I’ve tried, so why should I even ask?” Alex Reilly casually admitted to my Ex-O.

“I received the coordinates from grandmother, Aunt Jackie. I’ve never once questioned them. I just think of home and poof, I’m there!” Young Alexandra lifted her hands into the air for emphasis.

“Well I never said anything, sis- just like we agreed all those years ago.” Present Alex admitted looking around at the others. She smiled deviously.

“Unbelievable!”

“Aren’t we?” I smiled. Jack- both of them- looked so cute when they were confounded!

2030hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 13th, 2028

I blinked as I felt the draw on my mind easing. The memories slowed and finally stopped appearing in my mind.

“Thank you for catching me up on what happened, Commander Steinert. I hope it was not too uncomfortable.”

“No, it wasn’t, Anna Beth, but you are the first Terran I’ve permitted that far in. Only Jack and Cami have gone that deep…and survived.” I winked at her as I giggled.

“I am honored, Commander. After learning of my uncontrollable exploitation, I still wonder though, why you so freely gave your permission.”

“I have seen the future, Anna Beth- I do that occasionally, you know.” I paused for a smile from her.

Nothing.

Obviously, she either didn’t find my small quip humorous, or…she just didn’t get it. I continued. “In it, you did not use your gift to take control of me or anyone else. That future- the one I had witnessed- has now passed us by to become history. You have lived up to your side of things as far as this timeline and vision is concerned, Commander.”

The woman in bed before me remained quiet for a few minutes, apparently evaluating what was given her both verbally and mentally.

“So you really are the ‘Empress’?” She said quietly as she looked at me.

As a demonstration I phased, walked through the bed, and rephased.

“Does that answer your question, M’lady?” I giggled as the woman’s head suddenly snapped to my new location.

“How did you walk to the other side of my bed so fast and so silently, Alexandra Steinert?” She asked.

I had forgotten about her blindness and now felt completely embarrassed by my grandstanding.

“I’m sorry, Commander, I forgot that you couldn’t see.” I paused. “I apologize again for having to disable your eyesight. At the time I deemed it necessary to save my friends, family, and to liberate this Island.”

“I would have assumed the same course of action if in a similar situation, Captain. I am sorry to have put you in such a difficult position in the first place.” Anna Beth said sadly as she turned her head toward the ceiling. I noticed tears forming at the corners of her useless eyes.

We remained silent for a while.

Corrine Masterson had done her best to rebuild the woman’s ruptured eyes yesterday, but was unable to go deep enough to repair her patient’s shattered retinas. As a result, Anna Beth had a beautiful pair of nonfunctioning, silvery-blue eyes.

I decided to pitch the option to her once more.

“If you would allow us to introduce Alex Reilly’s nanos into you, Commander, they might activate to repair your vision. Why won’t you let us try?” I asked.

“I risk losing my own talents if I acquiesce, Captain Steinert.”

“But you might get your sight back- and maybe a new gift or two, Anna Beth.”

“Thank you for the kind offer, Alexandra, but I prefer things this way. You see, it shall forever remind me of how foolish it was to ignore my instincts and avoid that devious offspring of Apep!”

Anna Beth turned away from me and started crying in earnest.

I noticed Emily at the doorway watching silently. The sad look on her face told me that she had heard our conversation. We both felt for the woman lying here weeping.

Looking to the next bed, just recently emptied, I again questioned my decision to release Hathor back into the wilds of Ancient Egypt. Part of me wanted to find some cruel, barbaric dimension or at least an obscure, prehistoric planet to leave her in or on. The other, more rational part of me simply wanted to get her out of this time period and trust that Tibius’ mental limiters would work. Still another part wanted to see her in the jaws of some hulking prehistoric creature!

After a moment, Anna Beth’s tears subsided and her Terran talent reappeared.

“I feel your despise for that woman yet you question your decision, Captain- why?” Anna Beth asked after fully composing herself.

“Sorry. What?” I asked, missing some of what she asked as I pictured some huge reptile with a tasty Janelle appetizer. ‘Impossible!’ I thought. Something so arrogant and evil just had to be gamey!

“There was no love shared between you and Hathor, yet you remain undecided about your choice for her fate. My knowledge of your training and powers would preclude any leniency and yet, despite all your military experience, that is what you chose. How could you risk a possible repeat of this dreadful situation?”

“I’ve seen my share of death…I’ve done my share of killing, Commander. We both know very well how violence, death, and destruction can humble a person. When I became the Empress, I vowed to use my gifts to help, not seek vengeance.”

“As wise as the stories foretold…” She mumbled.

“I have yet to see any of these so called stories about me, and I’m beginning to think it all some elaborate fantasy, Commander. According to them, I alone am considered the savior in two universes. A simple farm girl from Missoura could grow one huge ego from all this hype, ma’am.” I giggled.

“People of this age have such strange ways of conversing. If not for this amazing clothing I would have no idea of what you just said. I would very much like to see this ‘ma-zur-a’ you talk so frequently about.”

“I’m honored, Commander, but I’d have thought you would be eager to return to Terra. Though visiting foreign worlds many times, I cannot resist the urge to return home for very long. I thought you might feel the same way.”

“I do wish to go home, Empress, but from what you have shown me, home is not the way I remember it. Many things have…changed. For instance, when I left Terra, it was bathed in yellow sunlight similar to your world. That world now lighted by white sunlight seems so alien! I’m afraid my home has long since disappeared, Alex.”

“You forget who you talk with, Commander.”

“I have not, Empress. I appreciate the offer, but I have grown accustom to this world and I do not wish to leave it!”

“Surely life back in Egypt can’t be comfortable? Why would you want to stay?”

“Because, like you, Empress, I miss my husband.”

“Yes…I’d forgotten about that, Ma’am.”

“You are not the only one to choose a mate on alien worlds, Empress!”

“I didn’t think I was...I just didn’t...”

“That a Terran would mate with an Earther? This planet does have its fill of discrimination- it also has its...nuances.” Anna Beth smiled as she apparently recalled some happy memory.

“I take it he’s waiting for you back there?” For whatever reason, I reached over and laid a hand on hers even though I knew he claimed to be holding his breath until her return.

Though I knew she couldn’t see, Anna Beth looked down at my hand as I held hers.

“You are very intuitive…and devious, Alexandra Steinert- for a novice female that is.” She giggled at her sly attempt at Terran humor.

“I’m not a novice by a long shot, Commander. Remember, I may have been this way for just over two months of normal, linear time, but as I see and experience things, it’s been more like six or eight years!” I said flatly.

“How do you keep it all straight...time, I mean?”

“I guess you could say it’s part of my gift, and I’m still learning what I can and can’t do. Sometimes I think my imagination is the only limit I have.” I told her as I looked up to the ceiling and began to ponder the possible validity of such a statement.

“Isn’t that everyone’s limitation, Empress?” Anna Beth asked seriously before covering a wide yawn with her hand.

“I think it’s time someone got some rest, Commander.” Emily said as she only now approached her patient. “Our Empress can come back tomorrow after you’ve had a good night’s rest. Would you like anything to help you sleep?” She asked in her professional voice.

“No thank you, Dr. Rosen. I fear the strongest pharmaceuticals would be no match for the unspeakable horrors I have seen and committed.” Anna Beth sighed heavily.

“Well, if you change your mind, just let our A.I. know. RVP looks after us very well during our rest periods, and what did I say about that Dr. Rosen stuff?”

“It’s an old habit, Emily. Sorry.”

“Anna Beth, I’ll drop by in the morning if you’d like.” I said before I started for the doorway.

“I’d like that very much, Captain.”

~o~O~o~

“I feel really bad that we couldn’t do anything for her sight, sis.” I said as Emily and I walked back to the recreation room. I had spent most of the day sitting with Anna Beth and now I needed to get my blood moving again.

Entering the Rec room, I immediately picked up on the ruckus from the opposite corner of the large room.

“Honestly, Brandon, I fail to see the entertainment value in this!” I heard Uncle Rick’s voice complain.

“It’s not that hard, Admiral Demmit. Here, watch!” My future second husband laughed as Uncle Rick surrendered the strange looking controller. He began twisting and turning in his seat as he applied ‘English’ to his character.

The screen went red.

“Wait! What happened there?” Brandon cried in confusion.

The four men were engaged in playing some...um...first person shooter game I think Spencer called it. Apparently, Uncle Rick was more at home with the stock of a real rifle or machine gun than a game controller.

I noticed that the Van Pelt twins, as well as Random and Isabeau were laughing uncontrollably as they watched the men from a nearby Davenport. Apparently something was afoot in virtual reality!

Everyone here seemed to be releasing the stress of the last few days in his or her own unique way.

Tish and Melanie sat at one table conversing with Mina, Billie, and the Reynolds twins. Occasionally Billie would look annoyed, as a tiny mist would form directly over the table. The two linguists laughed uncontrollably while Mina just sat quietly stirring her tea with a straw until the phenomena disappeared.

Others of my crew either sat conversing with their own temporal twins or chose some of the other entertainment Reilly had to offer.

Jacki, Joss, Cami, and Cassi seemed to be engrossed in their own, specialized, version of something Jacki- present day Jack- called Jenga. This variation of the game pitted the player’s concentration on stacking the various sized blocks against her opponent’s strategies to combat that. As described, it sounded simple, until you realized that the initial block and its ever increasing, upward stack floated several feet above the table the four were seated around, and that the hairs on my arm nearest them stood to attention and began tingling the closer I got.

“She’s smarter than she lets on, Alex.” One of the Jacks said to me without either turning her attention from the hovering stack of blocks. I assumed that one or both was on offense.

“Who’s smarter than she lets on, Jack?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Anna Beth, Cap. She is a remarkably strong willed woman.” Joss- my Jack- said.

“Of course, Jack, she’s a Terran. They all have strong minds.” I reminded her.

“She’s different.” She said, her concentration remaining on the game before her.

“I know she’s different, Jack.” I replied matter-of-factly.

My Ex-O’s head turned slightly away from the game she was so diligently concentrating on before suddenly letting out a shrill yelp and jumping off her seat an inch or two.

“Hey! That’s not fair, Cassi! Jacki and I stated before we started that goosing your opponent was off limits! I win by way of technical infraction!”

“I did nothing of the sort, Aunt Jacki!” Cassi said with a hurt look.

I saw Cami’s lips twitch slightly.

“You! You sneaky...” Joss figuratively shot daggers at her sister Mind Warrior.

“Ladies! We will not bring about Armageddon while in Reilly! I’m sure Alex might take offense to her facility being laid waste!” I laughed. “Now what’s this about Anna Beth being different, Jack?” I smiled at them. I wanted to see how much they had learned from ‘listening’.

“She’s starting to see light, Alex.”

“Okay...and?”

“We estimate that she will regain her sight sometime in the next four days, Cap.”

“That’s wonderful, Jack. Have you told Emily yet?” I asked, my smile widening at the news and that Jack had been so preoccupied by their game that neither had noticed Emily behind me.

“Not yet, Alex. I have a bad feeling about her though.”

“Oh?”

“Ya. Something’s just not right, like maybe we shouldn’t trust her so much yet. I don’t know, Cap, it just feels...off.” Jack looked back at me, squinted one eye and raised only one corner of her mouth.

She looked so cute when she did that!

“Well, I can relieve you of one worry, you four.” I looked around the table. “Present day Corrine is receiving her third tat tonight.” I fought hard not to show my enthusiasm. “She’s been going in after Anna Beth is asleep hoping to reach deep enough to mend her retinas. She’s with her right now.” I informed them.

“You four don’t have the market cornered on developing your gifts, Jack.” Emily interrupted as she stepped out beside me. “And I encouraged her to try.”

“I didn’t know, Em.” Jacki looked apologetic.

“That’s surprising! I thought the ‘tabloids’ would have jumped all over that one!” Emily giggled and pointed to the four women around the table before she left us and made her way over to Spencer.

All four were still frowning as I decided to revisit Jack’s ‘feeling’.

“So...given what you now know about our patient, do you still have that feeling, Jack?” I looked at both of them.

“Yes.” My Jack...Joss said quietly with a concerned look on her face.

“Care to elaborate?”

“She’s going to test your trust in her, Cap.” She squinted up at me as she questioned her own feelings.

“Yes, Jack, she will. She will do what you or I would do...what we, as well trained officers, would do when unsure of our...’benefactors’.”

“Cap?”

“When I first arrived at Reilly, I had no idea where I was- I had no idea who you were, Cami.” I gestured to her as an example. “Everyone spoke strangely. I could barely understand the tech-talk y’all used. I figured I had been captured somehow and interrogations would begin at any moment- maybe followed close behind by torture.”

“You first thought us enemies, Alex?” Cami gasped as things now made sense to her.

“Yes, Sweetheart, I did. That’s why I invoked the Geneva Accords- name, rank, and serial number. It wasn’t until y’all started that dumb Navy, Naval, Naval Orange comparison talk that I finally realized that no interrogator would be that inept!” I giggled as I recalled the incident.

Cami was blushing as I looked up from the floor and my memory.

“So she’s going to test us, Cap? How bad will it be? Like when we arrived on Terra?” Joss inquired.

“No, Jack, she’s nowhere near that powerful. In fact, I’d like you four to go easy on her. She’s still healing and I wouldn’t want her limbs flying off in all directions.” I again giggled.

“So what’s going to happen then?” Cassi asked innocently.

“Billie gets her second tat!” I smiled deviously as I nodded to the table across the room.

“Alex, the girl is so guarded I have no idea what her first gift is!” Jacki griped in frustration.

“Really, Jack? She’s a member of Kili’s royal bloodline. She sees the future, of course.” I laughed.

“Does she know that, Cap?” Both Jacks raised the same eyebrow.

“Maybe? In a roundabout way.” My devious smile grew bigger.

“You really have become a first class tease, Alexandra Steinert.” Joss giggled.

“Guilty as charged, Commander.” I said as I noticed Alex Covington enter the room. We made eye contact and she started over to me. For whatever reason, I glanced at my wristwatch- 1911hrs. As yet I hadn’t seen my Sam or Cassie today, I realized. I also realized I felt something else...something not so welcome.

I winced slightly and my hand automatically went for my gut.

Jack noticed immediately.

“Alex, are you alright?”

“Ya, Jack, I think I just started.” I said, noticing that Alex had stopped in her tracks. “Hey, sis.” I shyly greeted her.

“You!” She pointed to me directly as her face immediately grew angry. “You stay away from me! Don’t y’all dare touch me- ya hear?” She exclaimed as she began backing away. That is until she flinched a bit and looked down as her hand moved to rub her own abdomen.

“Damn, not again! Alex, when are you going to learn how to count? This makes the fifteenth time!” She exclaimed as she angrily stomped over to where her Brandon sat- still perplexed at the decidedly mysterious self-modifying video game.

I could do nothing but blush.

Young Alexandra had been across the room talking with Melanie, Alexis, and Reilly when my present self had started to scold me. As she approached, she looked concerned- especially when she saw how red my cheeks were.

“Grandmother, Are you okay? Is there a prob...?” Her expression immediately changed as she too looked at her belly. “Never mind, I figured it out! Thanks a bunch, Grandma!” She shook her head with a slight frown, turned around and retreated back to her girlfriends. A short, animated conversation took place between them and Reilly turned to meet my eyes with a smirk. My niece rolled her eyes in amusement.

“Mom nature surprised you again, Cap?” Joss snickered. Good thing she’s not Japanese!”

I just forced a smile and walked away silently with as much dignity as I had left.

Since I wouldn’t be ‘driving’ for the next seven days, I decided to let loose and sample some of Kili’s homebrew.

2230hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 14th, 2028

“Alexandra, I think it’s time you stopped refilling that glass and turn in!” Spencer suggested as he placed a hand on my shoulder from behind.

“Why? It’s not like I kin go en’where!” I groused.

“Emily, I think I should escort your sister back to her room.” He said as he gently took my arm.

“Spence, I’m not that drunk! I kin get ta mah room on mah own!” I complained, as he seemed to go slightly out of focus for a second, but only a few times.

“Ya, and I’m not that irresponsible to let you do that, Alex! Let’s go, time for the Empress to go nightie-night!”

“Nightie-night, ever’one!” I heard myself giggle. I remember thinking that a pale pink nightie would really be comfortable tonight.

“Wow! Alex, why did you do that? Emily would go ballistic if she saw me with you in that thing!” I think he said. “I better get you home before Tibius sees you!”

We were standing before my door.

“Open up!” I think I said.

“Are you sure that’s your pass code, Alex?” Spencer asked.

“Ith voice operated, silly! Why won’t ya open, ya ‘tupid door?”

“Alexandra, you have locked your door.” RVP informed me.

“How could ah lock the door if ah’m out here? Just let me in RVPee!”

“Access granted, ‘Empress’.”

I remembered placing a kiss on Spencer’s cheek…or was it his lips…anyway; I entered my room and passed out on the near side of my bed.

1000hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 15th, 2028

The thick fog engulfing my mind cleared slowly as I felt a hand gently massaging my left breast. Whoever it was knew exactly how it was done. ‘Tibius’ I thought, but how had he gotten in my room.

My fog-shrouded mind refused my feeble attempts to focus as the massage continued. I began to feel the warmth of another body against my back- it made sense- of course someone was in bed with me.

Someone was in bed with me!

My eyes flew wide open and I immediately felt the sting of the reflected morning sunshine as it filled the room!

The fear of who was behind me kept me frozen in place on my right side. Still the soft hand gently caressed me.

“Mmmmm, Gailan, you feel so soft.” My voice purred from behind me as the soft hand slowly moved down to my hip and proceeded to take a slight right.

Still I was frozen in place as the hand began gently searching for something no longer there.

“What?” I heard Alex Reilly spit as I felt her abruptly sit up behind me. “How’d you get in my room?”

I stayed still and didn’t answer her. I was still trying to figure out that very same question as best my throbbing head could. A familiar face and tussled, dark blonde tresses appeared over me as my hangover suddenly abated.

“Alex! What in the Goddess’s name are you doing here?” She asked in a hushed, but angry tone!

I said the first thing that came to mind. “Trying to sleep.” I said sheepishly.

“How did you get in here? I thought I disabled door access after I came in!”

Rubbing my head in vain, I tried to focus on the answer. “ I…I think I overrode you. I can’t really remember.”

She pulled me onto my back and stared at me, eye to eye. I noticed her eyes drift down to my shoulders. Slowly she pulled back the cover from me.

“Where on Reilly did you get that?” She exclaimed as her eyes focused lower.

“Get what?” I honestly had no idea what she was talking about.

“The semi-transparent, boudoir covering you barely have on, that’s what!” Her face showed a mixture of shock, surprise, and curiosity.

I raised my head slightly to look. “I…I…I don’t know. How…how did I get into this?”

“You don’t know?”

“Honestly…no.”

Alex Reilly sniffed the air over me. “You were consuming large amounts of spirits, weren’t you?”

“I maybe had a few drinks.” My head was now clear. Thank goodness for our fast healing!

Alex just stared at me in disbelief.

“You had more than ‘a few’, honey! If my recall of your memory can be trusted, a dozen glasses of Kili’s trademark distillation will never qualify as ‘a few’!” Alex looked distracted for a second. “Oh, and you even brought me a present. Really Alex, you shouldn’t have.” Her sarcasm was overwhelming.

“I’m sorry.” I whispered as last night’s activities flooded back.

“Well…“ Alex paused a moment as she noticed the tears forming in my eyes. “I guess we’re all safe from the Terrans.” She forced a tight smile as she turned over and exited her side of the bed.

Standing before the mirror, her modest blue silk pajamas changed into a sheer pink nightie identical to mine.

“I’m archiving this for when Gailan calls.” She said over her shoulder. “Wherever did you dream this covering up from, Alex?”

“It just popped into my head last night…I think.” I looked around the room searching for the answer.

“I love it!” She said as it changed color to a pale blue. “This works well also!” Alex continued as she evaluated her reflection. “What do you think about this in blue, Alex?”

“I think exactly as you do, Alex. I was the one that thought it up, remember?”

“Actually, I do.” She winked as I took my place beside her at the mirror. I brought up the heads up display and thought about the pale blue. Alex Reilly and I now wore matching lingerie.

“Alex, I thought you ought to know that Anna…Beth…is…um…” Cindy barged into the room and stopped dead in her tracks, her mouth falling wide open.

Alex Reilly looked at me. “I’d guess you forgot to re-disable the door too?” She asked in a voice that didn’t sound entirely happy.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt anything, Empress! I’ll stop by later.”

She turned to leave.

I could feel my face burning with embarrassment.

“You didn’t interrupt anything, Cindy. Alex and I were just trying to decide on the proper shade. What do you think…blue or pink?”

Alex Reilly’s nightie became pink again.

“My money’s on the pink, Empress. Definitely the pink.”

“Thank you, Miss Riggby. Alex Steinert, you always have a better sense of fashion. Why?”

“Maybe because she saw us from the other perspective?” Cindy giggled as her hand covered her Cheshire smile.

“I hadn’t included that into my initial set of calculations, Cindy, thank you.”

I concentrated on my choice of clothes for the day and decided on a blue tank and a pair of short blue demin shorts. The closet in the wall to my right opened to reveal a pair of blue and white trimmed ‘cross-trainers’ as my present-day twin called them- a pair of white anklets were folded nicely atop them.

Retrieving the shoes and socks, I sat on the side of the bed and began putting them on.

“So, you were saying something about Anna Beth, Cindy?” I asked as I tied my shoes.

Alex Reilly had decided to follow my lead except her tank top and shoes were pink.

“The patient is acting funny, Captain. I haven’t been able to get a read on her. She must have put up a defensive barrier to my gift. My natural talent tells me she’s going to do something stupid though!”

“Of course she is, lieutenant. She’s first and foremost a soldier- just like you or I- one that is still not sure whether to trust us, and so she must try to escape. Anna Beth has just gotten a usable portion of her sight back and feels this is her chance to escape.”

“Why would she want to escape from Reilly? We saved her life!”

“Wouldn’t you fare better under interrogation if you weren’t dying, Cindy?”

“Oh. So, what should we do, Empress?”

“Nothing. I started this whole thing, so I’ll take care of it, Cindy. Just let Emily know that Anna Beth has fully recovered.” I told her as I stood up and headed for the door. Alex Reilly was right behind me followed by a confused Cynthia Riggby.

“Alex, are you sure you don’t need help on this?” Jack thought to me as Alex Reilly and I met Alex Covington and young Alexandra at the end of the infirmary hallway.

“Just stay back and do as I suggested last night, Jack. That goes for you too, Cami and Cassi.”

I motioned for my sisters to hold just outside the door to Anna Beth’s room before I went in. Anna Beth lay on her bed quietly. Knowing better, she appeared to still be asleep.

Her eyes snapped open and she stared into my eyes.

“You will transport me back to the land of the pyramids! Back to the day the evil Hathor imprisoned me!”

I felt sleepy, but not much more than to yawn. I decided to play along.

“I require more concise coordinates, M’lady. Earth day, date, and year; time of day would also be beneficial.” I droned.

Anna Beth stared at me in amazement for a moment.

“I wish to go back to midday, the one hundred sixth day of the three thousandth and twenty-first year before the birth of the Hebrew prophet!” She said slowly, making sure she did the math right.

“A preferred location in Egypt is also needed, M’lady” I monotoned. My eyes were starting to feel dry. I needed to blink- badly.

“Memphis.”

“You will need to stand next to me and take my hand, M’lady.” I said, standing upright again and staring directly ahead.

I felt her grasp my right hand.

“The trip will be short and uneventful, M’lady. This way, please.” I turned and walked stiffly through the doorway, still staring forward.

“We have arrived, M’lady.” I droned as I stopped in the middle of the hallway. RVP had photos of Egypt- specifically the Giza Plateau- displayed on the hallway walls.

“What? I said I wanted you to take me back to the pyramids! We are still in the same building!” She said in an angry voice as she turned me roughly to face her. As she again looked deep into my eyes, I saw the other three Alex’s emerge from a doorway behind us and across the hall.

“And why would you want to go back? To act on your plan to dispatch Janelle Hathor before she can capture you?” I asked as I blinked finally. My sisters joined me in surrounding her.

“You tricked me! You knew I would do this, didn’t you?” Anna Beth accused in anger as she pointed to me and stomped her foot hard on the floor.

I glanced around her and winked.

“We are the Empress! Of course we saw this attempt at revenge!” The four of us said in unison.

Anna Beth dropped to her knees and immediately broke into tears before us.

“Why didn’t it work? It should have worked!” She sobbed.

“I’m afraid your gift still does not work on me, Commander, but if your gift had even the slightest effect, you would still be here, I’m afraid. You see…my gift does not work while menstruating. That is my biggest flaw, Anna Beth.” I leaned over to offer her my hand.

“Why would you tell me your weakness? I have just tried to escape!” She seemed reluctant to take my hand.

“It would have been an escape only if you succeeded…and only if you were actually a prisoner- which you definitely aren’t, honey! Y’all are no more a prisoner of Reilly than we are, Commander!” I smiled as she looked into my eyes before taking my hand. I helped Anna Beth to her feet.

“But…you don’t know me…what I am capable of!” She blinked as she sniveled.

“Doesn’t matter, sweetheart!” Alex Reilly cut in. “We…” She pointed to the other three of us. “We have seen your future among us and will do everything in our power to see that you remain our sister! Be it here in Reilly, on Terra, or back in ancient Egypt, you are now one of the good guys, M’lady Commander- like it or not!” Alex Reilly punctuated her statement by crossing her arms in front of her and raising an eyebrow.

“Lady Anna Beth.” My granddaughter started, “M’lady, we wish you no harm, only that you trust us as you would any other friend or acquaintance. You have been given no basis for distrust- only the love of people who truly care for you.”

“But I tried to escape by taking one of you hostage!” She sniffed again.

“And just where would you have gone once outside these walls?” I motioned about us. “Have you forgotten that we are on an island in the Pacific Ocean? The nearest land is another group of islands about two hundred miles to the east- over a day’s journey by boat.”

“Right.” Alex Covington added. “By doing so you demonstrated your military training. Allie and I expected nothing less, Commander. After all, isn’t a soldier’s first duty after being captured, to escape?”

“There you four are!” Emily sounded excited as she approached from her office at the end of the hall. “I wanted to let you know that I…” Her voice trailed off as she noticed her patient surrounded by ‘the Empress’.

Anna Beth turned around in response to Emily’s voice.

“You are they’re sister?” She squinted at the still unclear, approaching figure, apparently taken off guard by our resemblance.

“Of course, Alex and I are sisters- now.” Emily smiled. She then looked around at the four of us.

“I guess you already know that her eyesight has started to return.”

We all nodded in unison.

“Stop that! Just stop that this instant! It’s hard enough to take when there are just two of you! Four is major overkill, Alex- especially when you look like a rainbow grouped together like this!”

Emily was right- as usual. All four of us had chosen the same style outfit; my blue top and matching cross-trainers; Alex Reilly’s pink top with matching shoes; Alex Covington’s bright yellow top and coordinated trainers; and rounding out the spectrum was Young Alexandra’s red top with matching cross-trainers. Together we did indeed look like a set of quadruplets dressed in different shades to tell us apart!

I quickly nudged Alex Reilly’s arm. “And y’all claim we don’t think the same, sis?” I giggled.

She turned to me, her mouth agape in disbelief. “I claimed we…you told me that, hun!”

I simply smiled and turned my attention back to Emily- both of them. My Emily…Amelia, had joined her twin.

Anna Beth looked shocked and near collapse, seeing two of Emily. Under their lab coats you could see that they also thought alike, wearing identical outfits.

“Emily, I think your patient needs some air. Is her vision recovered enough for sunlight?” I asked, noticing the woman’s color fade.

“Only if she wears these sunglasses, Allie.” She answered as she reached into her right coat pocket and produced a pair of spectacles with very dark lenses.

Anna Beth cautiously accepted them and carefully put them on.

“Stylin’, girl!” Alex Covington chimed out.

“I could have used these when we first arrived on Earth!” Anna Beth replied as she looked around through them.

“Now then, would you care to experience the beauty that we call Kili Island through free eyes, M’lady?” I inquired as I offered my hand.

1400hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 15th, 2028

Once clear of Reilly, Anna Beth and I walked the mile or so then made our way through Mina’s present day village and finally out to the dock.

“And right here is where we moor the Sand Dollar, Commander. Would you care for a tour?” I asked with a wide smile.

“That is the strangest boat I have ever seen! What do you call it?”

“That’s my submarine…the Sand Dollar!” I pointed to it.

“No, that vessel out there!” She pointed farther out- past the two identical boats tied up on either side to the extended dock.

I turned to look where she was pointing.

“Detroit! What’s she doing in this close?” I gasped aloud.

‘Alex, Detroit is hailing us. They need you and Alex Covington aboard right away.’ Jack’s voice thundered through my head.

‘I’d like to oblige, but my Empress powers are disabled right now, Jack!’ I thought back- hopefully with as much volume or more.

‘Ya, I know. That’s why they’re coming in…to get you two.’

There was no way possible for the huge, modern boat to tie up, so after a few minutes, we noticed a large inflatable craft speeding toward our position. Alex Covington joined Anna Beth and I. We commanded our clothing to change back to our uniforms just as the rubber powerboat slowed at the end of the dock. Anna Beth seemed amazed by the sudden change in clothing as she stared down at her very own dress whites. I was thinking Randi had something to do with that!

“Admiral? Captain? CINCPAC has informed us that we are to remove you to a safe location!” Julia Masterson shouted as two of her men immediately jumped from the craft- each with a rope- temporarily securing the boat to the dock.

“Jules, what’s going on?” Alex Covington shouted over the engine.

“We can’t talk right now, Admiral, our orders are very specific though! Commander, if you would please step back?” Julia motioned to Anna Beth to step away from us.

“And why would she do that, Commander?” A gravelly voice shouted from behind us.

“Admiral Demmit, Sir!” Julia instantly stood to attention and saluted.

“Commander Masterson, we are all going. Is that understood?” Uncle Rick growled.

“But Admiral, my men…they won’t understand, sir!” She said perplexed.

“Commander, do the words ‘top secret’ still hold the same meaning today as they did back in ’44?”

“If not more, sir!” She answered.

“Good to hear!”

I noticed that the two men holding the mooring lines also heard our conversation. The two stared at Uncle Rick as if seeing a ghost. He quietly regarded them a moment.

“Do you men have a problem with me being here?” He growled.

Both men silently, slowly shook their heads.

“Good! Let’s go, Commander!” Admiral Demmit ordered as he quickly helped Anna Beth, Alex and I into the ‘Zodiac’, Alex called it, and we shoved off.

“What’s so all important about getting Alex and her sister off the island in such haste, Cmdr. Masterson?” Uncle Rick shouted over the engine.

“CINCPAK has received intelligence that an unknown foreign government has embedded agents into your crew, Admiral Covington! HQ feels you would be safer onboard Detroit, Ma’am! I can say more once we’re submerged.” Julia Masterson explained as she kept staring at Anna Beth.

Our Terran friend was desperately trying to act natural. I saw her eyes widen slightly when Jules mentioned that we would be submerging

1430hrs, USS Detroit- Wardroom, off Kili Island, May 15th, 2028

Our arrival on Detroit was somewhat less spectacular than I had anticipated. Alex, Anna Beth, and I were treated as your average everyday officers, but Uncle Rick…Admiral Demmit faced stares, gasps, collisions, and downright confusion as we were escorted into Detroit’s wardroom. I noticed that the familiar faces we passed had actual smiles as the old man walked by. Still, everyone stood to attention for the Admirals- alive or …presumed dead.

“Admiral Demmit, it’s nice to see you again, sir! I’ve missed your engaging stories these last forty or so years! In case we haven’t been officially introduced yet, I’m Commander Vernon Reynolds, Captain of the Detroit, sir.” Vernon offered his hand.

“Captain.” Admiral Demmit acknowledged him, shook his hand, and both waited until we women sat down. “So captain, what’s so damned urgent that CINCPAC deemed it necessary to interrupt our conference?”

Uncle Rick’s tone left no question that he was now in charge, and that this was an inconvenience to us.

“We have been informed that the Empress’ conference may have been infiltrated by spies of some unknown government, sir. CINCPAC, having some knowledge of the Empress, has ordered us to protect her at all cost. Julia and I understand that this is not necessary or even prudent, but we are still required to follow orders, sir.”

“I wouldn’t want it any other way, Captain.” Demmit smiled. “Do we know anything more about this foreign government? How was the information obtained and is it valid?”

“All we know is that the Pentagon intercepted an encrypted communication. Their specialists were able to decode some of the message, but not all of it. The brass thought it menacing enough to order your retrieval.”

‘Jack, are you getting this?’ I thought to her.

‘Aye, Cap. I’m having the Randi’s run it as we speak.’

‘Keep me informed, Jack.’

‘Aye.’

Any clues as to its transmission point, Vernon?” I asked on a hunch.

“None, Allie, but Jones has a few thoughts on that…plus I expect Jacquelyn Cummins to relay information from Reilly’s instruments any time now.” He smiled.

“Ah, I suspect Mr. Jones has a few thoughts on us as well, Vernon.” I giggled as Alex’s eyes met mine. “Jack’s already on it as you expected.”

I noticed Anna Beth start to fidget. She looked slightly out of sorts- in fact she looked pale.

“Anna Beth, is everything okay?” I asked.

“I’ve forgotten how confining military compartments can be, Empr…captain.”

“It’s okay, Commander, we’re all family here.” I confided.

“Of course, Empress, I should have considered that.”

“Commander, are you a past sister or future sister? I don’t seem to recall you from any of our reunions.”

“Both! Anna Beth is an astronaut, Julia.”

“So you met at NASA? I’m Julia Masterson. My mom served with the Empress in World War Two. This is Vernon Reynolds. His mom also served with Captain Steinert.”

“Pleasure to meet both of you.” Anna Beth replied, seeming to relax a little. I could see that she was still not comfortable sitting here.

“So, you were an astronaut? What program? Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle, Aries?” Vernon went down the list in child-like fascination.

“Meridian. Meridian twelve, Captain Reynolds.” She answered proudly and then her expression changed to worry.

“Meridian?” Vernon looked confused for a moment. “Oh, I get it! Welcome to the twenty-first century, Commander!”

Anna Beth looked more relieved. “You are not surprised I am not from this time period?”

“Not at all! The Empress is always bringing home ‘strays’- if you know what I mean.” He gave her a warm smile and a wink.

“So where do you call home, Commander?” He quickly continued.

“Memphis, but I’m originally from Citadel, Captain.” Anna Beth again toggled her expression from proud to worry.

“I guess the military life never really leaves the system, huh? Funny, but you don’t sound like a volunteer?”

I noticed a slight twitch of Vernon’s eye brow- just like his mom, I thought.

“Do ah sound like um from the ‘Show-Me’, Vern?” Alex quickly countered. Uncle Rick winked back at her.

“Admiral, I didn’t mean to imply! I just…okay, they must talk differently in your time, Commander. Forgive me for any accusations, ma’am.” Vernon said, backing down from his unintentional interrogation.

“Vern, let’s agree that Anna Beth is from a very long way away and leave it at that. We will vouch for her character, Captain Reynolds.” Alex stated and we both nodded, as did Uncle Rick.

“Understood, Admiral Covington.”

‘Alex?’ Jack’s voice asked in my head. It caught me by surprise.

“Aunt Jacki’s talking to them.” I heard Julia say while asking Jack to continue.

‘Alex, Reilly’s high-gain antenna array picked up a message about an hour ago. Randi put it through decryption and you’re not going to believe who it’s from!’ She sounded surprised.

‘Enlighten us, Jack.’ I heard a slight echo in the background. Alex and I looked at each other and grinned.

‘Janelle Hathor! She apparently transmitted a very high power burst of information from Ancient Egypt that just got back here today! Are we ever going to be rid of that…?’

‘Never mind that Jack, what did the message say?’ I asked, again with the slight echo.

‘It warned that there are several aliens in attendance at the conference- aliens that intend on killing the Empress of Time and Space so as to overtake the world governments without her retaliation! Alex, that’s low…even for Hathor!’

‘We’ll take care of it on our end, Jack. Thanks.’ I smiled as I opened my eyes.

Until I noticed two marines enter the compartment.

“Gentlemen, please escort the Commander here to our brig! I want Lieutenant Hilf’s people watching her twenty-four, seven, understood?” Julia Masterson ordered as Captain Reynolds sadly looked at Anna Beth.

“Commanders, I will not resist. I will proceed to your brig peacefully.” She said dejectedly.

“Jules, you’re making a big mistake!” Alex growled out. Uncle Rick looked a little taken aback by her tone.

“I’m sure I am Empress, but your safety is of utmost concern!” She replied in a similar tone.

An almost familiar tingling followed by the hairs standing to attention all over my body could mean only one thing.

Detroit seemed to lurch in the upward direction.

“Jacquelyn Cummins, you better put my boat down this instant! We are only following orders!” Vernon Reynolds shouted into the ceiling.

A slight rumble told me that we were at or just above the surface- probably heading for the shallows around Kili.

‘Jack, what are you doing?’ I thought to her in a whisper.

‘Not us, Alex! Cami and Cassi are behind this!’ She replied, also at a whisper.

‘Make them stop or we all do time in Leavenworth!’

‘No can do, Alex! They’re serious about this! If we try to interfere they may just crush her back into a billet with all hands on-board!’

“Captain, I know this sound impossible but…but the equipment…it says we’re at plus thirty feet, sir!” Detroit’s RADAR operator burst through the door.

His face paled significantly at seeing Uncle Rick seated before him. He said the only thing he could, given the situation.

“Buaaah.”

“Get in here and shut the damn door, Chief!” Captain Reynolds shouted.

The stunned man imperceptibly nodded and slowly closed the door behind him- carefully making sure it was secure.

“Yes, that’s him, sailor! Alive and well here in 2028! Admiral Demmit, meet our RADAR and Surveillance Officer, Demetrius Jones. Jonesy, Admiral Richard Demmit. Have a seat, chief.” Vernon introduced the two men.

“Captain, I believe someone has a problem with your orders. I suggest…” The old man rubbed his forehead. “I suggest that we hear them out.” Uncle Rick recommended in his trademark gravelly voice.

Captain Reynolds touched the device on his ear. “Helm, all stop and assume surface configuration!” He paused as if listening.

“Those are my orders, Lieutenant!” He groused.

“Skipper?”

“Jonesy, if I miss my guess, we ARE about thirty feet off the water…and heading for shore. I don’t think the screws are of much good, do you?” The frightened chief shook his head. “All I can say for sure is please, do not…repeat…do not…piss these people off, sailor!” Vernon looked serious and defeated all at once.

“How’s that possible, sir?” He then looked at his first officer. “Ma’am?”

“Captain Reynolds, I implore you, I will not attempt any escape or violence. May I be seated until this vessel has become stationary? I am none too fond of water or any sudden, related, bone shattering stops!” Anna Beth pleaded. She now looked ready to vomit.

“Gentlemen, let her sit down. You two might want a seat also until we stop.” He motioned for the two perplexed Marines to each take a seat as he sighed.

“Admiral, would you like to handle this?” Vernon motioned with his hand to Alex Covington.

Admiral Demmit looked shocked as I nodded to Alex in support.

“Captain, everything will be okay and I assure you that we have not been infiltrated by an ‘unknown’ government! The Terrans have been our friends and allies since I first met them on their home world in 1944. They are hardly aggressive unless provoked and follow stricter moral protocols than anything we have here on Earth!” Alex explained.

All eyes were now on my temporal twin.

“Since 1944, Empress?” Julia gasped in surprise. “Why did you not mention any of this to us?”

“Because we all decided that the world…and the majority of our children…were not ready- especially the world in general, Jules! Earth has enough on its plate without knowing that people like us exist in many other solar systems!”

“You…you…you did not just say people exist in other solar systems…now…now…now I heard you right, didn’t I Admiral?” Chief Jones fought with his words as he tried to hold it together.

“Alex, do you really want to do this now?” Uncle Rick questioned.

“It’ll work out, Uncle Rick. I’ve seen a positive outcome from what happens here this evening.” I assured him.

“Wait! Y’all are tellin’ me you’re his nieces?” The astonished Chief asked, allowing both his pitch and accent to rise.

“Yes I am.” Alex and I said simultaneously.

Chief Jones’ eyes grew very big.

“Naw, hell no, ain’t no way! I’m dreamin’ this whole thing! I knew I shoulda' told ol’ Peterson to hold the anchovies an’ mushrooms on my pizza!”

I looked to Alex a minute. She nodded her agreement that this was how it was to transpire.

“Demetrius, I know it sounds like science-fiction, but Admiral Covington and I are one in the same. I am her past self from 1944. I am Commander Alexandra Steinert, the original and only captain of the USS Sand Dollar- SS353.” I told the three confused men calmly. Two of them nodded understanding.

“I’m not buyin’ it Admiral…or Commander…or whoever! Y’all would have to be over a hundred! What I see can’t be over twenty!” He paused a second. “Why does the Ex-O keep callin’ y’all ‘Empress’?”

“First off, hun, I’ll be a hundred an’ twelve in August, and shame on y’all fer forcin’ a lady ta admit ta tellin’ her age! Secondly, ah am called the Empress on accounta’ that’s who ah am- the Empress a’ Time an’ Space!” I looked him dead in the eyes. “Only not right now…I’m kinda at mah monthly dis’vantage, so any demonstration’ll have ta wait a few more days, hun.”

“We figured that when Aunt Jacki told us to come and get you, Alex.” Julia admitted as Vernon nodded in agreement.

The new arrival to the room began looking back and forth between Alex and I and hisCommanding Officers.

“Dude! Give it a rest, they aren’t going to bite!” Vernon Reynolds laughed. “I’ve known the Empress for most of my seventy-five years! She has yet to do anything evil!” He paused. “But then again, there was that one time when you…”

“Can it, Vern that was a teaching aid!” Alex interrupted with a hiss.

“You…you all knew…about this?” The chief just managed to squeak out. “You’re ssssseventy-fffffffive?”

“Both our mothers served with Alex on the Sand Dollar, Jonesy- as well as several other’s of our crew.” Vern replied, quickly glancing to the two marines in the room.

Detroit let out a moaning thud, shook moderately, and several distressing metallic creaks escaped her pressure hull. We had arrived on Kili- literally!

“Our flight crew has given permission to debark the submarine. Please be sure that your seats and tray tables have been returned to their fully upright positions and enjoy your stay on beautiful Kili Island. The weather today is a tropical eighty-seven degrees with light to moderate breezes out of the east-southeast, plenty of sunshine, and sixty percent humidity. As always, we thank you for choosing to fly Darough Air!” Randi Van Pelt’s pleasant, perky voice announced from the speakers throughout the grounded submarine.

“Is that who I think it is, Alex?”

“Of course, Vernon, Chief Van Pelt IS my communications officer, after all.” I giggled.

“So help me, Alex, if Jacki put even one scratch on my boat…”

“Or what, Captain? I’m sure Commander Cummins went easy on the American Taxpayer’s investment!” Admiral Demmit scolded.

“Um…not Jack, Admiral. Camille and Cassi Darough, sir.” I corrected him.

“Oh, well I’m sure the Daroughs treated Detroit with kid gloves too, Captain.”

“We will now start debarkation with the first class passengers. Those seated in the Wardroom please move topside via the nearest exit.” Randi’s voice came over the speakers again. She sounded like she was having way too much fun!

Vernon tapped his ear set twice. “All hands, this is Captain Reynolds. Starting now, I have authorized a two…” He looked over to Alex and me. Together we held up a total of six fingers. “I mean a six day shore leave! I want everyone on his or her best behavior for Admirals Covington and Demmit. Also, I am required to warn you that we have entered a highly classified, top-secret, Black-Ops area and must hold what we see and hear in the utmost confidence! Enjoy this unexpected shore leave. Captain Reynolds ou…oh, and don’t piss off the natives! Reynolds out!” He begrudgingly tapped the ear set twice again.

As we made our way topside, equipment could be heard shutting down behind us. A frantic sailor weaved and twisted to catch up to our group.

“Captain!” He shouted, almost out of breath. Vernon Reynolds stopped and we all turned to face the voice.

“Captain, the control rods in the Reactor just lowered themselves into the reaction chamber, sir! It effectively caused a shutdown! We’re dead in the water, sir!” The sailor looked over at Alex and I.

“Empress, what did we do wrong? Why are we aground at Kili?”

“Relax, Tim. There’s been a message received from our sisters in Memphis that has been decoded out of context. An old adversary has apparently gotten her hands on the Giza transmitter and means to scuttle our conference any way she can.

“Wait!” A beleaguered Chief Jones interrupted. “Y’all aren’t talkin’ about Memphis, Tennessee, are you? You’re talkin’ Memphis, as in Egypt, huh?” He regarded the smiles on Alex and my face. “Oh Lordy, it’s got to be food poisonin’- please let it just be food poisonin’!”

I don’t think the man’s eyes could open any farther without dropping out! As it was, there wasn’t too much lid keeping them in they’re sockets.

“I thought that was one of those old UFO conspiracy theories, Empress?” Julia asked from ahead of us. I saw a devious grin form on her. “Hey, Jonesy!” She shouted as her features began to change.

“Commander?” Chief Jones asked as he turned back to her.

“BOO!” A woman of African descent said as their eyes made contact.

That was about all Chief Demetrius Jones could take. His bulging eyes simply rolled up into his forehead and he dropped to the floor in a heap.

“Martin, Reagan, assist the chief topside, please.” Julia ordered as her appearance returned to normal.

“Aye, Commander.” The two replied, unaffected by what they had just witnessed.

“Why on Earth did you do that, Jules?” Captain Reynolds asked in surprise.

“Aunt Jacki said that Aunt Emily foresaw a critical spike in his pressure. She suggested I find a way to render him unconscious. A sudden drop in blood pressure is better than popping an artery, right?” She smiled as she raised her hands, palms splayed outward.

“Who was the woman, Jules?” Alex Covington asked calmly as she rolled her eyes.

“Demetrius has a photo of his mom in his quarters…”

“I’m going to have vivid nightmares of this for the rest of my life, or for however long it takes to make me clinically insane, Alex!” Uncle Rick scoffed as he rubbed his forehead again.

“It may get a tad crazier, Admiral Demmit.” I warned, as we again headed topside.

“Wonderful…just wonderful!”

~o~O~o~

Once we all made it onto Detroit’s aft deck, the true power of the Daroughs became evident. Both Sand Dollars had been moved shoreward several yards to ensure Detroit’s hull could fit perpendicular to the end of the dock. I estimated that another three feet of water would float her again- maybe at the next high tide.

We watched the gangplanks from both Sand Dollars remove themselves and hover over to their sister submarine. Once lined up properly Captain Reynolds, Julia Masterson, Admiral Demmit, Anna Beth, Alex, and I casually walked down them to the dock. Our two marine brothers cautiously hauled their unconscious chief safely down the modified gangplank as well.

The two very flushed, but smiling faces of Cami and Cassi Darough greeted us.

“You know, you two could be court-marshaled for this!” Admiral Covington scolded the two women.

“What fun would that be, Alex?” Cami wrinkled her nose.

“Sister, have they harmed you in any way?” Cassi asked Anna Beth directly.

“Except for reminding me of my arrival to this planet…no. I will be fine once the recalled memories ebb.” She admitted as color slowly returned to her face.

“Julia Masterson, I thought you were on our side!” Cassi turned abruptly to the Commander.

“I am, Cassi! We’re still in the Navy and are expected to follow orders, you know!”

“But Jules, she’s one of us!”

More residents of Reilly approached. Alex Reilly, Emily, Amelia, Mina, Reilly- but just for an instant, the Cummins twins, the Reynolds twins, and, unexpectedly, both Corrine’s!

“She’s a Terran, Cassiopeia Darough! She isn’t even from this planet!

“No, Julia Masterson, she’s from our planet!” Reilly appeared just behind the startled Ex-O.

“What?” Julia turned around then searched for Reilly, finding her back beside Cassi.

“You heard me, Jules, she’s from our planet! Cassi and I were born on Terra- Citadel to be exact!”

While Julia Masterson and Vernon Reynolds pondered this new information, I noticed that Alexis, my Cassie, Samantha, and young Alexandra had appeared off to our left.

“Grandma, y’all okay?” Alexandra asked with concern.

Two heads shot to the voice asking the question.

“She’s your granddaughter?” Julia managed to ask first followed by a gulp. Vernon’s mouth just dropped open.

“I’m also Terran by birth, Commander. As is my mother Alexis.” She motioned to her mother with a proud smile.

“Well, you certainly look like your grandmother!”

“Thank you, Lady Julia.”

“Lady Julia?”

“It’s a long, convoluted Terran tradition, Jules…don’t ask.” Alex giggled. “Let’s clear the dock so Detroit’s crew has more room.”

Alex took one arm and I took Anna Beth’s other arm as we guided her to shore.

“Where do you want the chief, Alex?” one of the marines asked.

“Take him to the Infirmary and have Emily or Cindy look at him. Mr. Jones is in for a rude awakening.”

“Isn’t that the truth, sis!” I laughed.

Looking on from the shoreline, I noticed about one sixth of the crew smiling while the rest simply looked confused. Several men gave Corrine…my Corrine a very lecherous stare.

Then it happened!

Corrine’s hair and chest began to change as her cheeks became flushed.

The Mastersons became twins.

“Bravo, Corrine!” Mina clapped as the now twins hugged each other tightly. Several others of my crew, past and present also applauded another realized gift.

“Oh, Momma!” Julia Masterson cried as she rushed to the two and wrapped her arms around them.

The lecherous stares become frightened disbelief at the sight. I felt a tear form in each eye. Corrine could now start to live a normal life and not be ogled as a freak! No longer would she be teased mercilessly because of her proportions.

I thought for a moment. Was this the right time for Corrine’s gift to reveal itself or had I again changed the future? Why had I initially seen her realize her gift back on Atlantis-Minor and a month from now?

One thing I knew for sure…Mina wasn’t going to like this!

A gentle tap on my forearm brought me back from my worrying.

“Outstanding job, Alexandra! I couldn’t have done it any better, Empress.” Mina congratulated me. She was holding back tears of her own, but smiled all the same.

Alex had dropped back a few steps. She was shaking her head and quietly talking to herself. “Why can’t I remember this? Am I still the real Empress? Did I cause some other tangent to occur?”

“No, sis, you’re still me!” I wrapped my arms around her.

We both felt the familiar tingle pass between us.

“Now you should remember doing this, Alex!” I smiled deviously.

“Ya know, sis, we never could follow the rules very well!”

“To quote one of our sisters- ‘what fun would that be’?”

We both giggled like a couple of schoolgirls!

1600hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 15th, 2028

“Ma? Where am I? Mom!”

“I’m afraid your mother isn’t here, Mr. Jones.” I informed him as Cindy checked his vitals on the display above his head.

“Admiral Covington? Where am I? How did I get here?” Chief Jones started to look around the room frantically. “Is something wrong with me, Admiral?”

“Captain, Mr. Jones! Capt. Alexandra Steinert. I won’t make Admiral until 1975, chief.” I smiled.

“You’re that Empress, aren’t you? This isn’t no food poisonin’, is it?”

“I’m afraid not, Demetrius, I’m real, not some botulistic delirium. By the way, welcome to Reilly Research Facility. You’re in our Infirmary.” I said softly.

“What’s wrong with me, ma’am?”

“You just passed out, that’s all.”

“Master Chief Jones, you had a small aneurism on the left side of your lower cerebral cortex! If Commander Masterson had done nothing to lower your blood pressure, I would be prepping you for autopsy right about now! You are very lucky that we caught this in time!” Cindy told him with a serious, almost scolding tone.

“You mean she really did that? She made herself look like my momma?”

“I’m telling you right now, sailor, calm down!” Cindy wagged a finger at her patient.

“Demetrius, everyone in Kili society has gifts! Julia Masterson inherited her mother’s gift of shapeshifting and Captain Reynolds shares his mother’s gift of localized weather control.

“Are you all aliens, ma’am?”

“No one here is an alien, hun. We’re just…um…just…just a little different- we’re still human though!” I reassured him.

“Cindy, my latest scans of the chief indicate that the aneurism has been repaired, no other defects have been located.” Random’s voice sounded overhead.

“Thanks Randi, I’m recommending Mr. Jones limit his activities for a few more days, though.”

“I concur and shall continue to monitor his vitals while in this facility.”

“Random Peltierre why are you back in Reilly’s A.I.?” I asked in surprise.

“Mother and I are modifying the external interface module, Alex. We located several weak elements in the overall system software. Our goal is to alleviate the bottleneck when two or more external processors are added. Redesign is progressing and stands at forty-five percent complete. We shouldn’t be too much longer, Empress.” Isabeau’s voice replied.

“That doesn’t sound like something any normal human can do, ma’am!” Chief Jones whispered conspiratorially as he looked around the room for the owners of the voices.

“Cindy, I’m going to take the chief for a walk. You’re more than welcome to join us.”

I’d love to, Alex! RVP, I’m finished with the diagnostic equipment. You can put the Infirmary into standby.”

“Power save mode will initiate as you leave the room, Cindy. Oh, the test you ran on Demetrius confirmed Alex’s information and it does indicate type K-1 hibernation. Consultation is advised at the earliest possible opportunity!” Isabeau’s voice answered once more.

Cindy and I looked at each other, silently agreeing with the other.

“Thanks, hun. That’s why I’m here. You two don’t be long now, I have it on good authority that Chief Peterson and Tish are in the kitchen tonight.”

“We’ll be there, Empress!” Isabeau’s excitement made me laugh. Terrans seemed to love Ricki Peterson’s fresh apple pie!

“Shall we walk, Mr. Jones?” I offered him my arm as Cindy Riggby fell in behind us.

~o~O~o~

I waited until we had visited several areas of the facility before steering us back to the reason for our walk.

“Chief, you look like you could use a good, stiff drink.” I suggested, seeing the total amazement frozen on his face.

“What? No…no, I never touch the stuff, ma’am.” His face turned serious.

“Never, Chief?” My eyebrow raised in doubt.

“No, ma’am- not since I was six or seven. Why?”

Cindy smiled, but put her hand up to cover it as he admitted to consuming alcohol at such an early age, but instantly lost it as Chief Jones quickly turned his head to her.

“Alright, I’ll take the bait! Why would you ask me if I drink in such a cryptic way, ma’am? Am I being tested or something?” He looked at both Cindy and I with a combination of confusion and anger.

We were now coming around the corner to the Rec Room.

“Demetrius, have you ever been to this facility before?” I stopped walking to ask the important question. My serious tone and face made him think hard. He searched the floor, the walls, and the ceiling for the answer.

“Ma’am, as overloaded with all this as I am, I couldn’t say I haven’t been here before!” He said flabbergasted.

“Maybe this next part of our tour will jog your memory then. This is our Recreation Room.”

We entered the large room. Unlike the previous day, it was nearly filled to capacity!

“Demetrius! Good to see you up and around, Chief!” Vernon Reynolds welcomed him from the video gaming area off to our left.

Those in earshot turned from what they were doing to cheer and applaud him.

“Hun, y’all better wire that jaw of yours shut before it really falls off!” I laughed. “So, is any of this familiar at all?”

We started walking into the room and passed several of his fellow crew who congratulated him on his recovery.

He stopped and gawked at the strange competition between the Daroughs and the Cummins twins.

Chief Jones needed a slight nudge to keep him moving.

The introductory music to a game caught his attention and seemed to trigger some memory or feeling.

“Man, I haven’t played this one in years!” Brandon Covington said loudly to his fellow players. He noticed us as Demetrius gently steered us in that direction. “Chief Jones, I’m glad you’re feeling better! I’m Brandon Covington, Alex’s husband.” Brandon offered his hand.

Demetrius’ eyes grew wide again as he silently shook hands. His eyes kept glancing between Brandon and the large screen that displayed the start menu for the supposedly old game. I had no idea how old it actually was, but I knew what was going through Jones’s head.

“Ya, I can’t believe we still have it either! Want to give it a try, Chief?” Brandon laughed at his expression as he offered the controller.

“Is this the man you were telling me of, Empress Alexandra?” Tibius quietly caught my attention as he approached.

I nodded and began the introductions.

“Demetrius Richard Jones Jr, may I introduce Tibius, Grand High Counsel of Citadel, Terra.” I waited for the comment from Tibius for shortening protocol. To my surprise, Tibius simply extended his hand to the stunned man.

“Demetrius, it is customary to shake the man’s hand- both here on Earth AND on Terra- not to is considered rude and arrogant on Terra, chief!” I raised a brow and kept staring at the Chief then to Tibius’ hand.

“What?” The stunned chief looked at me a moment. “Oh! S…s…sorry. Sir, it’s an honor to make your acquaintance.” Chief Jones said cautiously as he took Tibius’ waiting hand.

“Yes, Mr. Jones, I am indeed what you call an ‘E.T.’, and I do look like everyone else on this beautiful planet you call home.” Tibius smiled as he paused when the man still shaking his hand widened his eyes even more!

“Yes…yes, I can read your thoughts, sir, but after our initial introduction, only if you allow it. Terran law prohibits…unsolicited intrusions.” Tibius purposely looked toward the heated Jenga game going on a short distance away between the Daroughs and Cummins.

“Chief, with your permission, I’d like Tibius to look for something in your mind, hun- only with your permission though.” I asked sweetly. “He’s done it to me many times. I guarantee it is completely painless.

“You get right down to business, don’t you ma’am?” Demetrius stared at me with misgivings.

“I’m only asking to clear some things up, chief- some things that you may have been asking yourself for years.” I said with a warm smile.

“You mean like why I seem to remember playing this exact game in this exact room? Ma’am, if that’s the way to get some answers and sanity…what the hell! Do it!” Chief Jones shrugged his shoulders. “How you gonna do this mind meld, man?” He asked making different gestures with his right hand.

Tibius and I exchanged confused looks- neither of us had any idea what he meant.

“Sir Demetrius, I need only lay but a finger to your head.”

Chief, before we start, I want to ask what you remember about your Grandmother?”

“My Grandmamma? What does she have to do with anything…oh…you mean she was…” He let a finger dither around the room.

“No, chief, she wasn’t one of us.” I cut him off before any assumptions were made.

“You could have fooled me! The woman had eyes everywhere…everywhere! You sure she wasn’t Terran? Or wherever those four over there are from?” He motioned with his thumb to my fully engaged Mind Warriors.

Tibius and I laughed and I rolled my eyes.

“The sharp wit is certainly familiar.” I acknowledged off-handedly.

“Sir Demetrius, I would like you to think about your grandmother. Try to recall any strange events during those years that you stayed with her, please.”

“Go for it, Sir Tibius!”

A smile formed on the Terran’s face as he reached to touch Chief Jones’s forehead.

The two stood motionless for a few minutes before Tibius lowered his hand.

“Th…that…that was freakin’ awesome! How’d y’all do that?” Demetrius exclaimed with an astonished look.

“Empress, once again you are correct and I am likewise astounded by your abilities! I ask again if you are part Terran, my love?” He asked as I blushed.

“What?” Jones looked at each of us a few times. “What’d you find in there, counselor? Am I hiding the cure for the common cold or something? What is it?”

I waved for Alex to come over as she and Emily walked in. I nodded as she made her way to us.

“Your turn, sis.” I said as I gave her some room by the chief and Tibius.

“So, you don’t remember me, chief- or should I call you Demetrius Ricardo De Johnes?” Her clothing started to change as she asked the question.

Alex was now dressed in a frayed, worn out pair of tight denim shorts. A heavily, sweat-stained, green t-shirt with cut-off sleeves and a worn pair of high top boots with some dingy white socks just showing above them finished off the unflattering fashion. She then produced a rubber band and fixed her hair into a ponytail. I didn’t know I could look so mousy- so librarian-ish!

Predictably, the man’s eyes just about launched from their sockets.

“Standard issue uniform, chief! Didn’t you get yours yet?” She smiled.

“Huh ah. Um, I think you’re lookin’ a little more familiar.”

“Let me help, Alex.” Our present day Corrine offered, appearing behind Emily. She came over to my twin and placed her hands over Alex’s scalp after gathering up all her hair. As she moved her hands down the back of her head, my temporal twin’s hair color darkened several shades. Reaching the end of her ponytail, Corrine smiled and stepped back to admire her work. Our activities had drawn a small crowd of mystified faces.

“I still prefer my natural color, hun!” I giggled as Alex retrieved a pair of non-descript, gold-framed eyeglasses from her pants pocket and placed them on her face. I was amazed that, given the derelict look, I still looked cute- though in an academic way!

“Aren’t you the cute little man- can’t find your mother, hun?” Alex asked Demetrius, pinching his left cheek. Her voice dripped with sweetness.

“Miss Allison?” He blurted out, totally dumbfounded by what he saw- by the long forgotten memories now flooding his brain! He paused a few seconds.

“But…but that was nineteen years ago! How…?”

“How did I know to find you beneath the rubble your house had become after the Earthquake? I have the gift of foresight, Demetrius! Do you know what that means?”

Jones nodded his head gently.

“Good, so I don’t have to answer questions you already know the answers too! I saw you struggling to stay alive, hun. I also foresaw myself extricate you and personally take you to the hospital so that my sister Emily, could treat you.” My twin nodded over to our sister. Emily’s clothes had changed also, becoming khaki shorts and a ‘T’ similar to our sister, but covered by a white linen doctor’s smock. “Together we treated your wounds and set your broken right arm. Your internal bleeding from the three fractured ribs required…well…” She sighed. “More sophisticated equipment. We used the chaos that Haiti was experiencing at the time to whisk you back here, where Emily could do you the most good.”

She paused to let what she said sink in. Neither of us wanted Cindy’s work destroyed so soon.

“I understand now, ma’am, but how…?”

“How did I know to concentrate on you?” Alex stared at him intensely a minute. “What makes you think you were the only one we rescued during that three month mission, hun? Demetrius, my crew and I recovered and treated over one hundred and ten men, women, and children on our mission to Haiti in 2010!” Alex suddenly paused. “We also saw our share of tragedy.”

Alex, Emily and I looked to the floor at the memories just conjured up.

“Ma’am?”

“We lost a good friend in that disaster, chief- someone that had promise even if he wasn’t one of us!” I struggled to hold my composure, but as I heard Emily sniff, a few tears escaped my own eyes.

“My father, Ma’am?”

“No. No, he wasn’t related to you, chief.”

“Then why search and confirm whatever information in my brain?” Jones looked thoroughly confused.

I took a long minute to regard the man and his valid question. His curiosity of what my response would be gave him a truly psychotic look! It was time…time to test Cindy’s work. If her repairs held, they would last his lifetime- or longer.

“Chief, did your Grandmother talk much about your great-grandfather? What he did- who he was- maybe his name?”

“I was told he was a sailor…before and during World War Two…that’s all I can remember, ma’am.”

A commotion from the Jenga table drew our attention momentarily. Joss’s face was bright red as the other three laughed.

‘Wow, I didn’t see that one coming, Cap!’ She said in my mind.

Apparently.

‘Should I make contact, Alex?’

‘No, Jack, he needs to be properly informed- they both need prepared!’

‘When you’re ready then, Cap. Just let me know.’

‘Thanks, Jack. Sorry you threw the game because of me- not!’

Instead of thinking anything back, Joss turned around and gave me an angry look while her cohorts continued laughing.

“Ma’am? Ma’am!” Demetrius finally caught my attention.

“Ma’am, how’s my great-grandfather figure into all this?”

“Your great-grandfather was a member of my crew, chief!” To any one that knew our story it would have sounded out like a battleship salvo. Chief Jones simply looked at me in bewilderment.

The man looked around the room. “Okaaaay. I don’t quite follow, ma’am. Did he die on one of your missions or something?”

This was going to be harder than I anticipated. “Or something, chief.” I decided to venture further. “In a way, we all died that morning, Mr. Jones.” I felt sadness overcast my face.

“Ma’am, if you got somethin’ to tell me about my great-granddad, just get to the point! Was he some kind of freako serial killer; A secret CIA operative; Allied traitor?” Jones was getting angrier because of what he probably considered my subtle hinting.

“Demetrius Jones, before March 27th, 1944, we were exactly like you!” I growled, as I looked him directly in the eyes. “We were all men before we visited Kili Island for the first time! Everyone that is, except Emily.”

A quick hush fell over the large Recreation Hall. I had no idea how many people had actually been listening. Now it appeared that a partial complement, maybe seventy, of Detroit’s crew knew our secret! I hadn’t realized I’d been speaking so loud- in fact, I hadn’t been talking that loud at all!

I shot lightning bolts at the Jenga table as I saw Joss nervously tapping her long, painted fingernails on the tabletop. Her face fixed to the far wall to avoid my glare!

“That’s right, everyone!” I shouted out. “RVP, video and audio for the whole Facility, also include all personal comm. devices on the island, please!”

“Empress, is this warranted?” Random’s voice answered.

“The time is now at hand, Randi, so yes, it is warranted!” I replied firmly in my still loud voice.

“Ready, Empress, but I can still cancel at your signal.” She advised.

“Let’s do this, Randi!”

“Please stand by for an important message from the Empress!” Randi’s voice rang forth throughout Reilly.

“That was just a little over the top, don’t you think, Miss Peltierre?” My voice echoed through the building as my face appeared on every monitor in the place. I silently rolled my eyes, annoyed by being caught that off guard.

“Hello everyone. Most of you know me as Admiral Alexandra Steinert-Covington. Whether you refer to me as Captain, Admiral, sister, mother, grandmother, or just plain friend, I have some startling information for our guests from USS Detroit. To all those that haven’t by now heard the rumor that spies from an unknown government have somehow embedded themselves within my crew, in all truth, the rumor is fact- only the unknown government is nothing of the sort. The government in question has, in fact, been known and allied with my crew and I for eighty-four years and is located approximately one hundred, eight and a half light-years from earth.” I paused as quiet murmuring filled the halls as well as the large room we were in.

“The spies to whom the recently received and decoded message refers are my daughter, Alexis, my granddaughter, Alexandra, and nine others- two of which are Alexis’ husband and father! These people were born and live on a planet called Terra. In every respect save one they are identical to you or I and offer you no harm in any way. In fact, I trust Alexis’ father with my very life. If not for his long-term consideration for my wellbeing, I would not exist at all! Therefore, our Terran friends are not to be feared and should be treated with the full respect that any visiting dignitary deserves.” I paused again as I noticed several people looking around frantically.

“As for me, you have already heard that I am known by another title, that of ‘Empress’. This title has been bestowed upon me in a very peculiar chain of events and I…we, did not start our lives as we are today. To fully understand, I will relate the events that brought about the supposedly magical things you have witnessed to date at this facility.” I cleared my throat.

“Originally, the crew of the USS Sand Dollar was your typical submarine crew. We left Mare Island Naval Yard in our newly commissioned boat as men eager to do our part in protecting the United States and the world from the evil Axis. Our first mission was to relocate…” I stopped as the murmurs grew exponentially in volume.

“That is what I said. We left Mare Island as men honorably serving our country in early 1944.” I said a little louder to quell the noise, which it did after a few seconds.

“Our first mission brought us to this island, Kili- to relocate its inhabitants to Hawaii before the Japanese Empire could invade and seize control- to possibly torture and/or kill them. Twenty-one women greeted us at the dock that afternoon and threw a bon voyage party complete with a locally brewed ‘punch’, the leftovers we brought onboard for another meal. Earlier that day, while surveying the island for invading forces, we stopped to take on fresh water due to a malfunctioning desalination plant. On our first night out from Kili, we found that the water we had taken on produced an incredible reaction when mixed with any strong alcohol such as the island punch. In a little over six hours, we became the people you see before you today. My entire crew transformed overnight!”

I paused again to look around the room- at all the unfamiliar, stunned faces. I noticed that those of my crew, present and past had bowed their heads as they recalled that fateful morning. Demetrius Jones looked stunned. I saw his eyes slowly moving up and down my body.

“But our transformation was not simply confined to our bodies; our minds as well as other characteristics began changing as well. We developed what those native to Kili Island called gifts. Each individual received certain enhancements- talents some would call them. Others would say…certain powers. My first officer, Jack Cummins, for example, is telekinetic and telepathic; my dive officer, Carroll Sheldon, is a mathematical genius; my radio operator, Randall Van Pelt, can control any electronic device. I…I found I received the gift of the royal bloodline of Kili- foresight. I share this gift with my children as well as my sister, Emily Scott-Rosen, Mina Smith- Queen of Kili Island, her children, and Billie Sangiere, Queen of Kili Island in 2027BC! We also received ‘common’ gifts that increased our lifespan and accelerated our ability to heal.”

I felt my feet leave the floor and I floated up and over to stand on a nearby table. The monitors indicated a camera followed me.

“Jack! Is this really necessary?” I asked in annoyance.

People in the room started applauding and I felt myself blush!

I waited patiently for the clapping to fade.

“The gifts given to us didn’t appear instantly after our change, instead they gradually manifested themselves. As my gift of foresight developed during our return trip to Pearl, I also started to develop a secondary gift. First, I found myself in the body of my future self.” I motioned to Alex a short distance away. She held up her arms and waved to everyone.

“Somehow I was able to take over her body and found myself in 2027. Next I found I could take people with me through time as Mina and I traveled back to the Kili Island of 1932- though I never physically left 1944. Amazing as that would seem, my gift developed further! In an angry tantrum- of which I am certainly not proud of- I found myself in a dark, empty…’place’, dimly lit by a distant yellow sun. Much to their surprise, I had totally disappeared from my friends and crew in 1944!” I paused again as a glass of ice water hovered off to my right. I took a sip. The cool wetness felt good as it dispelled the dryness from my mouth. Before continuing, I placed the glass back on its invisible shelf with no concern for it falling. A mixture of laughter, applause and gasps filled the room.

“In the place I dubbed my personal dimension; I came face to face with my brother- something benign enough until I tell you that my brother had died aboard the USS Arizona three years prior! As we talked and I convinced him I was really his brother, he reaffirmed the very fact that I had become so irate about- the fact that had brought me there in the first place! His patient reasoning however, and the fact that he was dead, convinced me that my newly developed gift of time travel automatically made me the Empress…the Empress of Time and Space.”

The murmuring grew louder again.

“In addition to time travel, I am able to slightly shift time around me to become invisible and actually pass through solid objects of this plane- a trait passed to my children. As expected, Cassandra, Samantha, Alexis, and Reilly appeared on the table at my sides. I quickly glanced to Reilly in confusion as a few people laughed.

“This one is not mine!” I pointed to her with a stunned smile. “She belongs to my past self, Alexandra Reilly!” I motioned to the third person that looked like me.

More people clapped as Alex Reilly raised her hands high and waved to everyone with a smile.

“Thanks, Alex! I knew I could count on you!” I said sarcastically before continuing.

“Alex is technically me…if I came from a different universe. What I mean by that, is she and those she shares this facility with back in 2027BC are originally from another universe. As a matter of fact, if RVP can bring up the Protoverse Chamber observation port camera, you will see the very universe they called home before their planet, made sun, expanded and consumed the large asteroid this very facility occupied.”

As I narrarated, views of Reilly appeared on the monitors like a slideshow. Most images were from the windows of the observation areas. The last image was the familiar tactical representation of Reilly’s ‘fusion giant’ expanding.

The screens then went black. I wondered what was wrong, not having foreseen this.

The faces of Random and Isabeau faded in on alternate monitors suddenly.

“Empress, you lied to me…to us!” Randi accused, their eyes seemed to burn at me from every screen.

I realized that I had just been caught, but glared back at her with the same intensity.

“And just how did I do that, Random Valerian Peltierre?” I questioned allowing a slight growl into my voice!

Isabeau’s face looked to her mother’s for a brief second.

“Empress, how could you risk your life…your very existence so carelessly?” Isabeau seemed to tilt her head slightly and both faces suddenly took on a sad cast.

“I had to take the chance, ladies. We have a standing motto here: No one left behind!”

Applause filled the room and the halls throughout Reilly. Glancing down to my left, Uncle Rick stopped clapping long enough to give me thumbs up and a big smile. Did he have a tear in his eye? Tibius, who had, to my surprise, tried to hide himself, looked slightly choked up.

“But how could you move a whole universe through a singularity the size of a doorway, Empress? My calculations indicated our own survival rate at only sixty percent!”

“Randi dear, every life is precious! I wasn’t just saving Reilly’s population. Hundreds of other civilizations in that universe were spared similar fates because of my efforts. Survey the Protoverse, Randi; examine Reilly’s original system closely- tell me what you see.”

I looked out over the growing crowd in the Rec Room. “Sorry folks, this’ll only take a few seconds. Reilly’s equipment is highly advanced and Randi Peltierre has been running it for well over nine hundred years- I think she knows her way around.”

Again the murmurs grew in volume.

“Captain, how can you do these things?” Demetrius Jones asked from the floor in front of me. Reilly and my daughters climbed off the table as I thought about my answer.

“Have you not been listening, Mr. Jones? The Empress has been very clear, I think, in her narrative of the events incurred during the development of her gifts. Let’s continue to listen, shall we?” Mina scolded. Her eyes were red and had been wet recently, but she held a wide, satisfied smile.

“Alex, our analysis has completed. Reilly’s Fusion Giant has ceased reaction and a thin crust has formed over its surface. Gravitational repulsion between it and the primary system star has returned to original planetary normals- the pre-experiment orbit has been resumed. We can find no sign or existence of Reilly on the planetoid. The catastrophe started nine hundred-eighty revolutions ago has now ceased.” Both women glared at me through the screens again as if still angry at me.

“As have similar failed experiments in other populated solar systems, Randi. Trillions of lives were saved when our universes exchanged in the wormhole phenomena you call a portal. I foresaw over three hundred ‘manmade fusion giants’ resetting themselves in the reversal, maybe more. Again, ladies, no one left behind!”

Another round of applause ensued.

“Why didn’t you inform me after our arrival on Earth, Empress? Despite all the simulations we ran prior to entering the portal- all the negative results- you still decided to do the impossible! Why?” Randi’s voice started to break as she finished.

“It was something Alex Reilly said in the recordings she left me, Randi. She suggested I use my intuition and imagination. Without those two fundamental human qualities, we would never have gotten out of our caves. Where would science be, Randi, without imagination?”

“Where would anything, or anyone be without imagination, Alexandra?” Mina added.

“Here, here, Mina!” I smiled and continued.

“I cannot, in good faith, say that my gifts…that any of our gifts have stopped developing. I’ve been to the past, and obviously here, the future…” I spread my hands out to encompass my audience. “I’ve also been to other planets, other dimensions, and another whole universe! I’ve even helped presidents make vital life and…” Mr. Lincoln’s face flashed into my mind followed by Mr. Truman’s. I automatically wiped a tear from each cheek with my finger.

“To make life and death decisions that affected our country’s future- you’re present and future!”

I took another sip from my still hovering glass.

Having continued for another twenty minutes or so, our curious story had finally been told. My water glass still hovered beside me yet had mysteriously filled itself twice more before I reached the end of our mind-boggling tale.

“So that is the story of the crews of USS Sand Dollar and Reilly Research Station ladies and gentlemen of USS Detroit, and Citadel, Terra. Surrounding you today are aliens from all different races, religions, creeds, places, galaxies, and worlds.” Looking out across the crowd, I noticed several unconvinced, concerned faces.

”Perhaps this one piece of philosophy will help redefine the preconceived notions of what an alien truly is for those of you still undecided.” I paused a moment until those few faces set their attention squarely on me.

“We are told that each one of us is an individual- true enough! We are born into this world as single entities- although some are lucky enough to share such an event with a twin, triplets, or quadruplets. We all inevitably leave this life separately. As such individuals, we are masters of our own individual little universes- our own little worlds. Therefore, anyone not belonging to our world- everyone else- is, by loose definition, an alien to our world. Yet we interact, care, and inevitably love some of these aliens every minute of every day. Employing this definition, everyone around us is fundamentally an alien. So logically, we all must be aliens! Think about that before allowing prejudice to impair judgment of those unfamiliar to you.” I paused a moment to look down at a few more contemptuous faces. “I thank you all for listening.”

Applause once again filled Reilly.

Mina had turned and buried her face into Uncle Rick’s shoulder. Uncle Rick, for his part, barely held his composure. I observed my three daughters applauding loudest; proud tears filled their eyes- I also noticed a glint of light twinkle from Demetrius’ shoulder.

Crouching down closer to him, I smiled. Glancing quickly at the nearest screen, I noticed that the camera had followed me and zoomed in tight on us, yet the audio’s volume automatically ceased.

“Chief Jones, has any of this had an adverse effect on your surgery?”

“Not really, ma’am. The surprise of being surprised and mentally set off balance has gotten old. I think I understand that my great-grandpa, as a member of your crew, was physically changed, right?”

I nodded with a smile. “And?” I asked.

“And that she is here somewhere?” He winced slightly fearing my confirmation.

“Yes. Master Chief Richard Samuels received the same changes and gifts we all did, but she is unawhere of your existence. I will have to consult with Ricky Lynn before I reveal you, Demetrius.” I informed him quietly. Professor and Lt. Samuels were on the far side of the crowded Rec Room and hopefully couldn’t hear me.

“But for now I have one more surprise for you, chief.” I looked to each side conspiratorially before I continued. “The pixie on your left shoulder has taken a liking to you.” I winked. “Once they do that, I’m afraid its terminal, Mr. Jones. Pixie infatuation is harder to rid one’s self of than head lice!” My smile grew wider as I saw a small tongue dart out at me. “Say hi to Demetrius, Peonie.”

“Man down!” I announced between laughs.

2000hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 15th, 2028

I stood and greeted Lynn and Ricky Lynn Samuels into Alex Reilly’s director’s office. After making sure Demetrius was awake in the Infirmary, I left him and a grown up Peonie, and asked Alex if I could use her office. It was in the quiet Administrative wing away from everyone.

“Thanks for coming, Chief. I hope I haven’t caught you two at a bad time?”

“Naw, we was just doin’ some maintenance downstairs- nothin’ important, Skipper.” Lynn- my Ricky Lynn- began.

“So why call us into the Dean’s office, Alex?” Ricky Lynn concluded with a tense smile.

“Ladies, some new information just came to light earlier today. Does the last name, De Johnes, ring any bells?”

Both women remained quiet while they searched through years of memories.

Lynn was first to reply.

“I knew this cute, heavily tanned…um, Caribbean number- think her name was De Johnes, why, Skipper?”

“Do you remember using the ol’ Rick Samuels charm on the lady, Chief?” I winked.

Both girls blushed.

“I take that as a yes, then?” I giggled despite myself.

“Without sounding too hypocritical, we had fun, Skipper.”

“Apparently, Rick Lynn!” Another giggle escaped my lips.

“Ricky Lynn, I just remembered, did you close the coolant feed line by-pass valve on reactor two, and could you please run down to check it, sis? We can’t leave it open for too long.” Ricky Lynn asked her twin, Lynn.

“I thought you said you checked that before we left, sis?”

“I’m thinking it slipped my mind when Alex called for us.”

“Fine, I’ll be back in about ten minutes.” Lynn stood and rushed out of the room.

I waited patiently for Ricky Lynn to speak again.

‘You got it Alex, that valve will take about fifteen minutes to close. Will that be enough time?’ Jack thought back to me. I thanked her as Ricky Lynn caught my attention.

“I don’t want her to know about this…not yet, Alex.” Professor Samuels blushed. “I was a father, right?”

I nodded. Ricky Lynn looked down to her lap.

“I guess I never gave it much thought before, Alex.”

“Chief, your great-grandson is in the Infirmary recovering from a bad case of pixiosis.” I giggled.

“Huh?”

“Peonie has taken a liking to Chief Jones, Ricky Lynn. She’s watching over him as we speak.”

“She’s not…” She gestured with her finger and thumb about the pixie’s size.

“No, not now. I thought it best if she stayed grown-up. Demetrius is still far from accepting the family he is related to.”

“He isn’t carrying any nanos?”

I nodded grimly.

“Hibernating, but they’ve been in there long enough that he carries your markers, Chief! That isn’t how we locate him in 2010, but I told you I could feel family light-years away, didn’t I?” I smiled at her.

“I thought you was just joking, Skipper.”

“I never joke about family, Ricky Lynn. I may joke with them, but never about them.”

“Alex, how come I don’t remember meeting him?”

“As I recall, you were studying in Europe that summer- Switzerland, I think.”

“Oh, that’s right, the collider! Ya, that was the most fun I’ve had in years! Reilly still makes that thing look like Stonehenge!” She giggled.

‘Alex, she pulled her shrinking trick on me and closed the valve before I could compensate! Lynn’s on her way back already! Sorry.’

‘That’s okay, Jack, good try though.’ I thought back.

“So, does he know who I am, Skipper?” Ricky Lynn again caught my attention with a knowing smile. She knew I was talking with Jack.

“I told Demetrius that I’d have to talk to you before I arrange any meetings. I wasn’t able to see how you’d take the news.”

“It’s strange. To find out, after all these years, that I’m a pappy…kind of awkward now, ya think?”

“Not as awkward as meeting three fully grown daughters for the first time, I’m afraid.” It was my turn for the nervous smile.

“So how we gonna handle this, Alex? I really don’t want Lynn to screw up the time continuum.”

“Don’t worry, Ricky Lynn, Jack has your back. Let’s go meet Chief Jones. Sam, Cassie, and Alexis, you ready to cloak us to the Infirmary?” I never lost eye contact with Ricky Lynn.

“…what do you mean she heard me talking? I don’t know how, she just does it! Don’t ever accuse me in that way, Cassandra Fleming, you have yet to see the full strength of my Terran side!” Alexis growled as my three daughters appeared together in the corner of the room to my left.

“I thought by now you three would have stopped arguing like that!” Ricky Lynn shook her head as she laughed at my daughters.

“Chief, this is the first time they’ve met one another.” I said softly. “We work on my time standards, remember?”

“Got it. It still gives me headaches though.” She giggled.

Within two minutes of my Sam doing her thing, we arrived in Reilly’s Infirmary. Peonie was still next to Demetrius chatting away unhindered.

Cassie disappeared from our little cloaked group and reappeared in the doorway to the hall.

“Announcing her eminence, Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space!” She proclaimed.

To my annoyance, a trumpet fanfare played from the large room’s loudspeakers.

“If she wasn’t mine, I’d drop her off in the Stone Age for a stunt…” I threatened before I noticed Demetrius and Peonie staring at me. “You would think my daughters should have more respect for me!” I turned to Samantha, “Thank you sooo much, Samantha!” I closed my eyes in disgust for a second.

“We still love you mom.” She planted a kiss on my cheek, grabbed Alexis and Cassie’s hands and vanished.

“This place is seriously crazy! I thought things like this only happened in movies, Capt. Steinert. Um…you are Captain…Steinert, right?” Chief Jones asked cautiously.

“You have no idea how really bizarre this place can be at times, chief.” I laughed and moved aside to reveal Ricky Lynn standing behind me. “Chief Demetrius Jones, Master Chief- now Professor of Robotics, Ricky Lynn Samuels, PHD. Ricky Lynn, Demetrius Jones- your great-grandson.” I chirped happily as I watched the expressions on both faces.

“You’re a first class fox!” His eyes bulged as they focused on her.

This drew a punch on the shoulder and a well-aimed glare from Peonie.

“He’s definitely related, chief!” I laughed and winked to Ricky Lynn.

“Well, let’s have a look at ya, boy.” She approached as Peonie graciously yielded ground.

Ricky Lynn gently grabbed Demetrius’ chin and moved his whole head side to side.

“Ya- got her eyes alright! I ain’t seen none of me yet though.” She continued to move his head around. I could see Demetrius had had just about enough.

“Woman, would ya stop that, please? Why’s women always gotta do the head movin’ thing?” He said in an angry voice. “Y’all wonder why I don’t hang around longer on leave!” He added.

“Demetrius that is no way to talk to Ricky Lynn- even if she is your great-grandfather!” Peonie reprimanded as she raised a finger and started wagging it at him. “Don’t make me go pixie on your ass!”

Chief Jones did a double take of the young woman that had recently taken a liking to him.

“Use your imagination, chief!” I giggled, answering his unspoken question to his obvious discomfort.

“Honey, can I have a little time alone with my Great-grandson?” Ricky Lynn asked Peonie quietly with a soft smile.

“Sure! I’ll be down by the village with my sisters, Demetri! See you later!” She informed him, as her giggles grew quieter and quieter.

Peonie hovered in close to Chief Jones and placed a pixie-sized kiss on his cheek. She then zoomed off out the doorway.

“Peonie’s a good kid, Jonesy! That’s all um gonna say!” Ricky Lynn said sternly.

“Aye, ma’am!” He turned his attention from the doorway back to Prof. Samuels. “Um…did she really just…” He made his finger and thumb close on one another. “And, you know, fly away?” His voice stepped up an octave.

“That’s what pixies do, chief! Haven’t you ever read anything about mythical creatures?”

“So she’s really not a…a…a…hum…human?”

“She is every bit a woman as you are a man, Mr. Jones! Being a pixie is her gift, which she shares with her three sisters, her mother, and Yuuka, one of Alex Reilly’s crew! Did you hear what I said about prejudice earlier, Mr. Jones?” I scolded.

“Y…y…ya. It’s just…just…wow!” He shook his head while holding his forehead. “It’s just hard to fathom…you know?”

“Do you feel up to walking, Jonesy?”

“Aye, ma’am!”

Ricky Lynn offered her hand to help Demetrius up.

Both noticeably flinched.

“Awww now see, what the hell was that? Why did I get a shock from just touching you, ma’am? This some kind of Sand Dollar crew hazing or maybe some ritual thing?” Demetrius complained.

Ricky Lynn looked to me with some concern and a little sadness.

“Only if he wants it, chief, but I’m afraid there has been a migration.”

Demetrius looked between Ricky Lynn and I. “M…m…m…migration? W…w…what migration?”

“Alex, how much of this did you see happening?” Prof. Samuels looked at me curiously.

“Ya, Capt. Steinert, how much of this did you see coming? How far will it…whatever ‘it’ is…go?”

“Let’s just say…” Alex Covington started to say as she walked through the doorway, “That I wouldn’t put money down on any future vasectomy just yet, Demi De Johnes!” A wicked smile was apparent on her face as she stopped beside me.

“No…no you don’t! No! I’m gonna…” He pointed to Ricky Lynn then Alex and I. “No! Hell, no! No way! I am so out of here!”

“Don’t worry, hun, you’ll still have time to sow some wild oats!” It was my turn to display an evil grin as I stopped him from leaving. I made my eyes glaze over as if in a trance- just like Mina taught me!

“Demetrius Jones, four years hence will see you contract a mysterious and severe flu. Doctors will exhaust all avenues of treatment on your behalf- none will prove fruitful. One doctor will appear as if by magic and offer up a cure. Being the strong willed individual you are, the doctor’s offer will be declined. On your deathbed, a woman will arrive claiming to be your aunt. She will ask you to have a drink with her and begin talking about your Great-grandfather in great detail. A full bottle of single malt scotch is consumed. Demi De Johnes wakes up in this bed the very next morning surrounded by her family and close friends. This is to be your future, Mr. Demetrius Jones, unless you take action to change what will be!” I blinked several times for effect, but mostly to wet my dry eyes.

A very gray looking Demetrius Jones looked back at me in awe.

“Again with the eye popping, chief? I thought surprises were getting old- making you callus?” Alex questioned.

“Skipper, is this course set in stone?” Ricky Lynn asked as if scripted.

“No! No one’s future is predetermined. We all have the means at our disposal to make changes that inevitably lead us down a favored path, chief, but Demetrius must choose his own way- he must choose to believe and act on the clues and nudges given him today. Only he can take the right trail, Ricky Lynn.”

“Like you gave me back at Atlantis-Minor during the war.” She said as her head lowered remembering what I had said back then.

Abruptly, she turned to Jones and pointed a slightly abused, painted finger at him. “Listen to her and pay attention, boy! Alex and Mina told me about my future back in ’44! She enticed me to follow her suggested path by getting me promoted to lieutenant!”

“There was also that small talk we had about anger management and courtesy, Miss Samuels!” Alex winked as we both giggled.

“Ya, well that helped, but seeing things from the other side of the fence run things home for me- ‘specially what’s his name on that P.T. boat an’ that ugly, greasy lug on the Esmeralda!” Ricky Lynn blushed as she remembered the incidents.

“The consequences would have been far more devastating had I not intervened, chief!” I added. Alex nodded her agreement.

“Captain, could you tell me one thing?”

“That depends Demetrius- what?”

“You said that you run many different scenarios to decide which course of action results in the best outcome. Have you done that with me yet, ma’am?”

I winked.

“Wh…what is that, some kind of…of patented female response…sim…similar to…to asking a woman her age? Come on, Empress, all I asked was if you’d seen the right path for me! I didn’t ask about winnin’ the damn lottery!”

“Now do you see it, Ricky Lynn?”

“Aye, skipper. Fact proven.”

“Wh…wh…wh…what fact was just proven? Why won’t y’all answer my question, Empress? What was she s’posed to see?”

“Mr. Jones, have you ever heard the phrase ‘Genetics is a hard thing to beat’?”

“Something like that I guess, why?”

“Because you sound like him, Demetrius- Richard Samuels!” Ricky Lynn jumped in.

“Say what?”

“You sound like me before…this.” Her hands motioned down her body.

I hadn’t seen one coming, but another collapse wasn’t entirely out of the question at this point.

Jones stared at Prof. Samuels for a good two minutes. I decided to stop my teasing and answer the man’s question.

“The best course to follow, Mr. Jones, is to get to know you’re ‘long lost cousin’ Ricky Lynn Samuels. I’m sure your Grandmother will agree she is a fascinating person. I would also suggest that you follow your gut instinct to retire from the Navy in three years and for God’s sake navigate clear of Manila! The preferred timeline will see Professor Ricky Lynn Samuels and her kid half-sister, Intelligent Systems Design Engineer, Demi De Johnes, PHD attending more DARPA competitions as staff members of Team CMU.”

“Are you sure about that Alex?”

“Absolutely, Ricky Lynn! Someone has to replace Randi Van Pelt while she’s out working on that family she’s always wanted.” I smiled…Alex and I smiled. A tear immediately fell from Prof Samuels’ cheek as she smiled weakly.

‘Alex, Lynn is approaching!’ Jack’s warning echoed through my mind like a diving klaxon.

“Is that the answer you were looking for, Chief Jones?” I asked, ignoring the ringing in my head.

“If that’s the way you see safe, ma’am.”

“Wrong answer, chief! If that’s the way YOU choose, hun! I can’t make you take any certain path. Like I said earlier, you have to decide your own future. Girls, Lynn is on her way here now. We should get moving.”

“Everyone, take our hands!” Sam said as she, Cassie, and Alexis appeared behind us.

“What will happen when I do that?” Chief Jones asked naively.

“Wonderful things!” Sam said with an excited, but mysterious giggle and a wink.

Lynn appeared at the door to the infirmary and walked over and around the bed Demetrius had occupied just seconds before. An angry scowl filled her face as she felt the mattress and walked back out into the hallway.

“Emily, has you seen mah sister an’ Alex…er, I mean Allie? The A.I. said they was in the Infirmary just now.”

“They were just in with Chief Jones a minute ago, Lynn. I didn’t see them leave, I’m sorry. Did you need them for something, chief?”

“Naw. I just got this feelin’ that they’re hidin’ something from me- ain’t important though. Soon as I touch my twin, them nanos will sync up and I’ll know what that somethin’ is! Thanks, Emily.”

“Um…you’re welcome, Lynn. See you at dinner.” Emily waited a minute or two for the coast to clear then entered the Infirmary.

“Samantha and Cassie Fleming, Alexis, you materialize here this instant!”

“How did you know, Aunt Emily?” Sam pouted as we reappeared in the room.

“You girls aren’t the only ones with foresight! Demetrius, are you okay with what just happened?” Emily asked the chief with concern.

“I don’t understand it yet…helllll I don’t even believe it yet, but ya, I’m okay, doc. That was the craziest thing I ever felt! Never in a million years would I expect another person to walk right through me! You say it happens all the time, Empress?”

“Not all the time, chief- just sometimes.” Alex and I giggled.

“Mother Empress, would it please you if I took Professor Samuels and her Great-grandson for a walk? I know that you have other appointments pending.”

“Alexis, these two put you up to this, didn’t they?”

“No, Empress, they did not. I have seen your attendance in other sections of this facility in the coming hours. Father will be your last appointment, for example.”

“That appointment ain’t gonna happen, darlin’! I’ll tell you that right now!”

I turned abruptly, marched out of the Infirmary, and strode down the hallway to my next ‘appointment’.

0800hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 18th, 2028

“So sis, I guess you’re anxious to get back to base?” My Emily…Amelia inquired as she sat down next to me at the table. Breakfast this morning was simply toast with elderberry jam, a bowl of fresh-diced pineapple, and a cup of fresh, hot coffee.

“I think Uncle Rick is in more of a hurry. He keeps forgetting that we’re going to return just a few hours after we left.” I answered, trying to keep the melancholy out of my voice.

“It’s hard for some people to grasp the concept of time travel, sis. As I recall you had problems at first.”

“Emily, I still have problems with it- especially the ‘friends now, but met them for the first time in the future’ scenario.”

“What fun would that be, Alex?” She giggled.

“None at all, sis. But it would be nice to meet someone now and see them in the future sometimes.”

“You love it and you know it, Alex!” She accused with a wink and a smile.

“Guilty as charged.” I said, surrendering.

“So how are you and Cindy getting along? I know you two had a lot of catching up to do.”

“Alex, that was one of the sneakiest things you could have done- taking her to Terra, I mean!”

“But that’s where she fit, Emily. She has everything she ever wanted there. A loving husband, two adorable girls, and the opportunity to learn a new way of healing! And, with my Granddaughter, she has everything she listed for Jack and I back at Pearl- Adventure; Danger; Intrigue, and Romance!”

“Pleasant awakenings to you both. May I share this table with you, Empress?” Tibius asked before setting his plate, saucer, and teacup down beside me.

“I believe that Terran protocol requires a positive acknowledgement from the present occupants of the table, Sir Tibius?” I reminded him as I casually took another sip of my coffee.

“Indeed it does, my love! Since we are on your home world…and…since you are so fond of abbreviating Terran protocols, I decided to reciprocate.” Tibius let a smirk leak onto his face.

That only meant one thing…

“What did I do now, Tibius?” I asked, already knowing what his reply would be.

“You did nothing, Empress Alexandra, nothing at all!” He said innocently.

“Bull! You do know that I already know the real reason for this innocent act, right?”

“Alas…foresight has such a dampening effect. Do you ever disable it, Alexandra?”

“Not while you’re around, sir.” I giggled. “I’m sorry I missed our appointment again last night, Tibius, a more important issue required my attention.”

“More important than I, M’lady?”

“Yes. My virginity is a thousand times more important, sir! A submarine captain with child is only useful for one thing- shore duty!” I said in a serious voice.

“But you still have a few days before…” Amelia stated before I cut her off.

“Doesn’t matter, sis! Them little critters refuse to die. They keep going ‘til their mission’s complete! Alexis proved that little fact didn’t she, Tibius?”

“As I recall, you wouldn’t let me forget. For three-quarters of your Earth year you complained about that and the fact you could not travel while in such delicate a condition!”

“More reason for canceling our meetings. I’m looking forward to getting back to base- without having to ask Alex Reilly for a ride.”

“To whom am I ‘giving a ride’, my revision?” My voice asked behind me.

Alex Reilly joined us at our table. She wore a telltale smile as she carefully placed her breakfast on the table, seated herself next to Amelia and started eating.

“Hopefully no one, sis. Tibius, here, was just asking why I cancelled our appointment again last night. I trust you kept yours with Gailan?” I asked trying to hold back my smile.

“Ack!” Alex choked on a piece of her vegetable and cheese omelet. “What makes you think I had an ‘appointment’ with Gailan last night?” She went on the defensive after taking a minute to wipe her mouth.

“Really, Alex?” I stared in disbelief. “There are only some things that we can hide from each other- the topic at hand is usually one of them, however that satisfied grin on your face this morning conveys much more information than our nanos ever could when syncing! Own up, girl! Alex Reilly had a gooood time last night!”

“Don’t be such a prude, Allie!” Alex winked and giggled as she and Brandon passed by our table and sat down at the one next to us.

My future self and her husband sported the same expressions as Alex Reilly.

“Apparently, the Auxiliary High Counsel of Terra has better luck at love than his superior!” Tibius mumbled as he placed a fork of steaming hotcake into his mouth.

Emily tried to hide her laughter, but almost succeeded in shooting orange juice from her nose.

“Oh, not you too!” I protested in amazement, planting my face into my hand.

“No, but it was worth the expression on your face, sis!” She blushed as she laughed…as everyone at the table laughed!

“Ah, the company of friends!” I sighed.

Our laughter was cut short by a four-place assortment of filled plates, glasses, cups, and silverware floating past us just to our right.

“My word Jacquelyn! Do the words subtle or modest mean anything to you?” Mina said loudly as she and Uncle Rick ducked and dodged the flying dishes.

“Anything at all?” She added as a coffee carafe quickly flew by to catch up to the rest. Admiral Demmit just shook his head a few times.

“Alex, have you seen Demetri this morning?”

I jumped at the small voice and the tugging at my right ear. At this point I was tempted to take my breakfast and retreat to my private dimension!

“No Peonie, I haven’t seen the Chief since early yesterday- why?”

“My love, why are you talking to…oh, forgive me Lady Pixie, your arrival went unnoticed.” Tibius apologized, finally noticing our small, winged guest as she looked out past my face using several strands of my hair as a safety rope.

I felt the slight breeze as she used her wings to rebalance herself on my shoulder.

“I think…” I thought I heard her sniff. “I think he is trying to avoid me, Empress.” Her tone was sad.

“Honey, the chief is very confused right now. Don’t forget that he has just experienced things that we have taken for granted for over eighty years. Give him a little time, Peonie. I’m sure he’ll show soon. Although, you know you could remain grown up while you’re with him. That might go a long way to winning him over.” I suggested. “In fact, you might want to do that now, hun, here he comes in four, three, two, one.” I pointed back to the doorway.

Peonie now stood beside me at her full height of five foot-four inches and excitedly waved to Chief Jones.

“Hun, I would also suggest knocking it back a notch or two. You might be scaring him away with all the enthusiasm. He’s not your first relationship you know.”

“Don’t remind me, Empress! My last boyfriend had no acceptance for who I really am!”

“Funny…the last time I visited Chicago, Christopher practically had a shrine set up in your honor at his apartment. That counts as acceptance in my book, hun.”

“They call that obsessive-psychotic behavior or stalking at the very least these days, sis.” Alex commented from the next table.

“Oh.”

“Hi Demetri! I haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been?” Peonie beamed.

“Hi, Peonie.”

“Did I just hear the collision alarm sound?” I said quietly, putting a hand to my ear. I hoped she got the hint.

“I mean…I guess you’ve been getting acquainted with Ricky Lynn. I understand. I’m sorry for…um…intruding.”

“That’s okay, I still feel weird talking to a woman that was my great-grandfather…”

The clanking of plates nearby drew our attention to the empty dishes floating back to the kitchen.

“Among other things! Ma’am…does this go on all the time here?” Demetrius asked in awe of the sight.

“I’ll be the first to admit that it is annoying.” I said, just a little louder so certain people could hear.

“Oh, I don’t mind it all that much, ma’am. I’ve decided to just think of this place as a mad magician’s convention- something like those old Looney Tunes!”

“Careful, Mister Jones, those ‘old’ cartoons are first runs in my time and have only been around for nine or ten years!”

“Yes, ma’am, it might take some time, but I’ll try to remember that. Peonie, would you like to get something to eat? I haven’t had a chance to grab anything yet.”

Peonie giggled. A huge smile appeared. “I’d like that very much, Demetri! I was hoping we haven’t run out of pancakes…pancakes…with plenty of honey! Yum!”

I noticed the giddy girl was starting to shrink. I cleared my throat and shook my head slightly.

After a slight frown, Peonie regained the few inches she had started to lose and the couple left arm in arm for the buffet.

“You know he’s just another detent in that one’s lower extremity covering’s simplex suspension system, Alex.” Alex Reilly said with a smile.

Emily…Amelia and Tibius dropped their forks at the same time and stared at my past self.

“Empress, forgive me, but could you translate please?” Tibius asked while he continued to stare at Alex Reilly.

“Yes, Alex. What did she say?” Amelia seconded the motion.

I rolled my eyes. “She said that Demetrius is just another notch in Peonie’s belt!”

“That is exactly what I said, Sir Tibius- Emily! Why is it that everyone picks on my speech patterns and not Camille Darough’s?”

“Because Cami rarely mixes ‘Reilliese’ with ‘Earther’ and ‘Terran’ anymore, Alex! What is your aversion to Earth’s version of English, sis?”

“Oh leave the girl alone, Allie! As I recall you had similar problems with modern English and modern fashion when you first arrived in Arizona last year!” Alex Covington scolded from her table.

“’Scuse me skipper, but has you seen my sister around lately? She’s been givin’ me the slip these last few days!” Lynn Samuels interrupted. She looked at wit’s end.

“I’ve got this, Allie.” Alex volunteered from her table. “Ricky Lynn has been showing Chief Jones around my Sand Dollar, chief. He seemed very interested in her conversion to fusion power generation. I have yet to see her this morning though.”

“Jonesy? Thought he was RADAR and easedroppin’ er somethin’?”

“Ricky Lynn, Chief Jones is like you- he enjoys working with his hands and new technology. Now, do you know more about the fusion reactor than the woman who built it?”

“I am the one that builds it! I mean, I’m the one that’s gonna build it…um…when do I do that again, Skip?” Lynn was starting to confuse herself. I almost broke into giggles as she desperately tried to reason it out rationally.

“2017, Lynn. You’ve got a long time to study up, but I’m sure Ricky Lynn isn’t hiding from you, chief. You know how busy you can get, right?” Alex Covington gave her a pleasant smile.

“Ya, I guess yer right.” Lynn admitted before walking away mumbling to herself- something about ‘the Ex-O having something to do with it’.

“I do not believe I have ever witnessed the Empress giving false details before!” Tibius turned and looked at Alex Covington in amazement.

“Ricky Lynn asked that we not inform ‘Chief’ Samuels of her great-grandson’s existence, Tibius. If she found out now, this timeline would be changed because ‘Lynn’ would insist on joining us in Haiti instead of taking her place at the Super Collider project in Switzerland. That trip to Europe has to happen for more reasons than I wish to count!”

“I see. Would you wish me to hide…certain facts…so the syncing process will not pass them along?”

“I might take you up on that offer, Tibius, but only as a last resort. Our physiology has some resistance to your magic, you know.”

“This time I would…how do you say…make it ‘stick’, my love.”

“I don’t doubt that at all. I’ve seen how you make things stick, Tibius.” I giggled as I rubbed my flat, trim abdomen.

0830hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, May 19th, 2028

“Ah, I thought I’d find you here, Allie.” Vernon Reynolds said as he found me sitting in the large Dining Room enjoying the last vestiges of my morning coffee.

“Oh, morning Vernon. We missed you at dinner last night. I trust Ricki and Melissa Peterson’s cooking wasn’t to blame?”

“No. That’s some of the best eatin’ in the world, Alex. I had to check in with CINCPAC. It took me over two hours to explain to the brass that the intercepted message was a hoax! Then SecNav herself joined the conference. Boy, what a fun time that was! If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was still angry at you for that little stunt off North Korea in ’12! She also informed me that she holds you personally responsible for any damage incurred to Detroit.”

“I guess she would’ve preferred drowning over my brilliant maneuver to rescue her high and mighty ass?” I exclaimed recalling my future self’s memories of the incident.

“I think you scare her, Alex. I know at least half the other Joint Chiefs get a cold chill up their spine when you enter the room!”

“They should, Vernon! Half those old geezers still don’t believe in me OR that a woman can skipper a submarine; the other half- they want to undress me! One of these days I may just do the later for them!”

“Try that little pink nothing you modeled for Alex Reilly and Spencer a few nights ago, sis! That’ll give em all heart attacks!” Alex Covington giggled as she and Brandon arrived late for breakfast. “I’ll have Darough Marine refloat Detroit this afternoon, Vern. Randi will reinitialize the reactor once they’re done. You should be ready for departure by first light.”

“I appreciate that Admiral, thank you.” Capt. Reynolds turned to walk away.

“Capt. Reynolds! You should see the setup on the Admiral’s boat, sir! The Sand Dollar has the ability to generate a hundred times more power than Detroit! How come the Navy doesn’t have that technology yet?” Demetrius Jones confronted his superior with excitement.

“Because we don’t, chief! And you never saw that equipment, understood?”

“But with all that power…”

“Zip it, Jonesy! That tech doesn’t exist anywhere on Earth yet, got it?”

“May I be of assistance, Captain Reynolds?” Gailan asked as he and Alex Reilly entered the Dining Room.

“That won’t be necessary, dear.” Alex wrapped her arm around her Terran mate’s forearm. “Chief Jones is family and will certainly die before revealing any of Reilly’s secrets!” A devious smile appeared on her face.

“Demetrius, come with me!” I ordered as I stood up.

My empty plate, cup, and utensils rose from the table, hovered a moment then moved toward the kitchen. All the while Chief Jones watched and shook his head in amazement.

“Let me guess. It’s Aunt Jackie’s turn to do dishes?” Vernon asked with a chuckle.

“Cami’s turn.” I corrected. “Mr. Jones, I want to show you something that will absolutely knock your socks off. Take my hand, please.” I asked. Once done, we walked out of the room together.

“Captain, this whole place knocks my socks off! What could be more spectacular?” Demetrius asked as we walked down the empty hallway.

“You’ll find out in a moment, chief! RVP?”

“Yes, Alex?” The facility’s voice replied. I was relieved Randi and Isabeau were disconnected.

“RVP, Demetrius and I will be back in a moment. I don’t want any alert when we return.”

“Acknowledged, Empress. Detection alert has been disabled. Enjoy your trip, Demetrius.”

“Enjoy my trip? What’s she mean by that, Captain Steinert?”

“Yo, Jonesy!”

The hallway around us seemed to ripple for a second.

“What the hell just happened, ma’am?” Chief Jones groaned as he stumbled slightly.

“The dizziness will pass quickly, chief. As for what happened, we just jumped into another dimension, and a few months farther into the year.” I told him nonchalantly.

Demetrius remained silent as he stared at me in disbelief.

“I must ask you to retain my hand, chief. We are out of phase at the moment and may need to remain that way for the duration of our visit.” I informed him.

“Out of phase? Like when your daughters hid us from my great-grandpappy?”

“The very same, chief. I have learned that it is prudent when visiting other dimensions until determined safe to rephase.

As I told him that one of my crew, Seaman Linda Jarret, walked right through me.

“Now that…that is just…wow!” He exclaimed. “Why are we here, Empress? Where are we?”

“In this dimension, chief, you took what you learned from Ricky Lynn back to Pearl. Copies of her design are being installed in every new Navy vessel being built.” I answered before I turned us and passed through the passage wall. We found ourselves in the larger second floor meeting room- what I termed a small auditorium.

“So, that makes ten more countries that have withdrawn from NATO for a new total of thirty-five. They have chosen to diplomatically boycott the United States’ stolen implementation of Reilly’s fusion reactor design. Ladies and Gentlemen, with that much power in the control of one government, how can we safely render assistance to this world?” The Alex Covington of this dimension told everyone gathered.

“What is she…are you talking about, ma’am?” Demetrius asked in confusion.

“The member countries of NATO are afraid of the new power of the US Navy vessels, chief. Here, the design of Reilly’s reactors has been incorporated to make vastly more powerful weapons. The United States is now the most powerful country on Earth. No one is willing to challenge that. The Earth must listen to their orders or face the consequences. In short, chief, we’ve become our worst nightmare!” I concluded.

“Can’t we do something to stop this, Alex?” Jack, of this dimension, asked from the front row.

“Not since they’ve perfected that neutralizing field. I can’t risk losing anyone else in further attempts to disable them.” Alex Covington replied, shaking her head sadly.

“Had I known the little thief would do something so stupid, I woulda never shown him around the boat!” We heard Ricky Lynn mumble close by.

We continued to listen.

“If the Mind Warriors of all three worlds could combine forces, we may be able to overload at least one of those shields so Randi can work her magic, Cap.”

“Wouldn’t work, Jack. The AI’s all have triple redundant security measures. If you would breach one shield it would trigger every other one to go local. We would have to overload each shield individually after that.” Ricky Lynn stood from her seat to add her expertise to the forum.

“It’s still worth a try! What if Randi cuts in just as the shield falls, Ricky Lynn?”

“No can do. The check-in time between AI’s is too fast! Alex, can’t you just go back a few months and tell me not to show that little shit the equipment?” Ricky Lynn growled in frustration.

“Madam Empress, I trust this forum is still open and unbiased so that anyone is safe to speak?” I shouted as I rephased us.

A gasp sounded throughout the room as all eyes focused on me. I squeezed Demetrius’ hand tighter.

“You!” Ricky Lynn sneered at Chief Jones.

“Ricky Lynn, let’s hear Alex out.” Alex Covington suggested from the podium. “Yes, Empress, it continues to be an open forum. My I ask your origination?”

“I am Empress of the original dimension, Admiral- from six months prior- the week before this all began.” I told everyone as I scanned the large room.

“And the traitor…why have you brought…him!” The distain in my future self’s voice was unmistakable!

“At first I thought to make an example of him, Admiral, but neither of us wishes that. Instead, I brought Chief Jones along to demonstrate how the best of intentions sometime lead to catastrophic ends. My I inquire as to the casualties so far, Admiral?”

I felt an extreme heaviness come over the room.

“Alex,” she said as she lowered her head, “We lost Nina, Kayla, Michelle, Romney, Erica, Corrine, Jules...”

“Corrine AND Julia Masterson? What happened, Admiral?” I gasped.

“They tried to infiltrate the Pentagon’s main security control room to upload a virus designed to disable all the reactors in service.” Alex Covington looked down momentarily then looked directly at the two of us.

“Alex, we lost Cassie!”

At that moment I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and hit with a baseball bat over the head- all at the same time!

She broke into tears and rested her head on the podium for a moment. Abruptly Alex raised her head and forcefully struck the podium’s top with her right fist.

“Dammit, Chief, why wouldn’t you just do as we asked and forgotten what you had seem here!”

Alex Covington lowered her head once more as crying wracked her body.

“I…I didn’t know.” Demetrius said softly, but still loud enough to be heard. “I…I just thought…I just thought we could…um…reduce the amount of…of nuclear waste the…um…Navy generates.” He rubbed his forehead with his free hand. “I…I just didn’t realized they would turn it…turn it into a…a weapon!”

“Well they did, Mr. Jones, and I lost one of my daughters because of it!” It came out of Alex as an angry, wounded growl. I tried to tell myself Cassie wasn’t gone yet in our dimension.

Two people stood from among the audience and made their way across to us- a man and woman.

“Momma, please…please help us get my sister back. Alex and I are willing to do anything for that!” Samantha looked to her present mother still crying up front. Admiral Covington slowly looked up and tried to wipe away her tears. She nodded once. Samantha and her brother nodded back.

“Even…even if it means destroying this dimension and everyone in it!” Samantha said forcefully as she wiped away her own tears. “We’ve all decided to make that sacrifice to avoid this from ever becoming reality.” Sam fell into my arms sobbing uncontrollably.

“Please, mom, if you can make this right, we need your help!” Alexander pleaded as he joined his sister on my other shoulder.

“Kids, it ain’t up to your mother! This one here gotta make up his mind!” Ricky Lynn told the two crying on my shoulder. She stood and pointed at my shell-shocked companion. “You’re the one that caused the dimensional split! You’re the one that has to right it, Jonesy! Ain’t that right, Empress?”

I kissed my children’s heads and gently moved them away.

“Admiral, you know Ricky Lynn is right.” I released Demetrius’ hand- to his alarm- and walked the short distance to where Alex Covington stood. I gently touched her forearm to guide her to a chair Jack had levitated from somewhere.

There was no familiar tingle whatsoever. My twin broke into more tears as she looked into my eyes and shook her head in defeat.

“Oh God, I never thought I would have to make this choice! I know it has to be done, but I’m scared Alex!”

“It’ll be fine, sis. Remember how it felt with the other Alex.”

“But now I’m the ‘other’ Alex, Empress!” Tears ran freely from her eyes as they continued to plead into mine.

I glanced back to where I had left Chief Jones. “Do you see now how one small, seemingly benign choice can do immeasurable harm, Demetrius? By making the decision to share our technology with the world, you caused the balance of power that holds Earth’s governments in precarious check to dissolve! The United States has become no better than Rome or…or Nazi Germany!” I took my position at the podium.

“My sisters and brothers, I’m truly sorry that this divergence from the original timeline has taken place! Demetrius Jones is lucky in that he has witnessed, first hand, the result of an ill thought out decision. He now finds himself in a unique position- return prior to the dimensional tangent and not heed what he has seen here, or return prior to the tangent and disintegrate this reality by keeping the secrets of Reilly from the outside world.” I paused as I looked at Chief Jones.

Every eye in the audience had now centered to him, awaiting his answer.

“My sisters and brothers, in keeping with my gift, I already know what Mr. Jones has decided, but in order to avoid dimensional backlash…” I glanced sadly over to Alex Covington. “I need everyone here to understand and agree to what will happen once Demetrius and I return to our Reilly. The last time a dimensional split happened, I almost killed myself!”

I waited for the murmurs from the crowd to subside. “Let me rephase my last statement. My dimensional twin almost killed me! Once the timeline was corrected, she watched in horror as everyone around her- everyone she loved…cared about- vanished as the two timelines realigned and merged together. Her fear of dying and the unknown drove her to exert massive amounts of energy to hold the last vestiges of her reality together. The strain drove her mad! She blamed the Empress for destroying everything she knew and held dear. Her madness driven plan for revenge almost destroyed two universes! I wish not to repeat that! So, with everyone in agreement, this realm will merge painlessly back into the original timeline. I must stress that everyone…everyone here must agree not to resist what must happen! Regretfully, that is the only way to change this future and bring back our lost loved ones. I’m…I’m sorry.” I looked down at the desktop in sorrow.

Alex Covington gently tapped my shoulder and I yielded the stand to her.

“My friends, it is with a heavy heart that I choose not to resist and merge back into the Empress’s time stream. Can I see a show of solidarity for by standing, or against by remaining seated?”

Not only did everyone stand, but also applause filled the small auditorium!

It was very humbling to look out at all those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice…to give their lives in order to set things straight once more…to cease to exist!

I gave my twin a tight embrace, looked at her for one last time, and placed a kiss on her forehead before turning to walk back to Chief Jones.

“It’s time to go, Demetrius.” I said sadly.

As I said that, the process began. A gentle low vibration filled the room. This dimension had started to destabilize and dissolve.

“What the hell is that, Captain?”

“That…that is the sound of over nine billion souls being erased- never given the chance of making the selfless choice like those around us have, Chief. It is the sound of an entire dimension dying- devouring itself! A dimension that you created single-handedly is coming to its end. By simply deciding to change a choice you made six month ago in this reality, you have succeeded in negating it! Once the choice was made, there was no longer any place for it in the flow of the original time stream; therefore it will cease to exist very shortly. We must leave before that happens. Take my hand, Mr. Jones.”

I turned to the subtly panicking crowd.

“Y’all will forever be in my heart!” I placed my free hand over my heart and looked at this Alex Covington one last time. “Alex, we will return to being one shortly, my dear Empress!”

I phased us out and a familiar hallway surrounded us.

Directly ahead of us, Demetrius and I had just joined hands.

“Yo, Jonesy!” Demetrius exclaimed before the earlier ‘we’ disappeared.

“What just happened, ma’am?”

“I brought us back a few seconds before we left, chief.”

“Why would you do that? Doesn’t that cause some kind of crazy paradox thing? Are we going to explode or something?”

“I brought us back a few seconds earlier to prove to you that our trip actually happened, Demetrius- and no, we aren’t going to explode. There have been as many as four separate instances of me- not Alex Reilly; not my granddaughter Alexandra- just me- in the same place at the same exact time and the world is still here.”

“What happened to everyone there, ma’am? Did they really just disappear when we left?”

“As far as I know, they have been reabsorbed into this timeline, chief. Since what we witnessed hasn’t happened yet, I can only assume that those souls are still intact here.”

“Mom!” Cassie cried from the other end of the hall as she saw us. She broke into a run and quickly wrapped her arms around me when she reached us.

“Mom, I just had a very disturbing premonition! In it, I saw myself die!” She glanced back at Chief Jones a second. “Demetrius, you were in it too! Mom, Corrine, Jules, and three of my stepsisters were in some control room somewhere. It looked to be military. We came under friendly fire! I…I felt the bullets hit me. The burning…it was so intense!” She described the vision as she squeezed me tighter and her crying doubled.

“It’s okay, honey.” I whispered as I gently rubbed her back. “Demetrius and I have taken care of it. Those events won’t happen now…” I glanced back to Chief Jones. “Will they, chief?”

“No, ma’am! As a matter of fact, I was seriously thinking about that bottle of single malt scotch now!”

Cassie raised her head from my shoulder and looked at him. “Demi, we’re not ready for your arrival yet. Several more things must come to pass before you experience your Mahanilui, I’m afraid.” Cassie quietly told him through her tears.

“But, I thought…”

“The Mahanilui is not meant as a form of escape, chief! You must be willing to make the transition and all the changes that come with it- physically, mentally, and socially! I’m afraid you have a few more years before all the conditions are met.” My daughter continued.

“Oh, Cassie…” It was my turn to squeeze her tighter. “I’m so proud of you, honey! Finally, after all the hints I’ve given- the years I’ve waited patiently- you have fully realized your gift!”

“But I didn’t do anything special, mom. What are you talking about?”

“You used your gift to help someone else improve their life instead of your own! By giving Chief Jones here more clues to his future and especially by talking him out of another ill contemplated decision, you have not only given up your ‘BFF’ shopping buddy, but you’ve given the man a chance to experience more of ‘his’ life and not become a depressed, self-loathing Demi De Johnes. One, I might add, who would make several unsuccessful attempts to dispatch herself!”

“I did that, mom?”

“You did, Cassandra. Look for yourself.”

Cassie closed her eyes for a moment. “Ya…wow. So…could you, like, tell me how I did that without, like, thinking about it?”

“That’s the secret, honey! It’s second nature! Get it?”

“Um…maybe?”

I released Cassie and looked to the ceiling. “Are all my kids this oblivious?”

“No mom, just your oldest!” Samantha giggled as she and Alexis walked toward us.

“You know she just acts that way when you’re around, Empress- for the attention!” Both girls laughed.

“Demetrius, don’t you have something to give back to the Empress?” Samantha glared into his eyes as she extended her hand- palm up.

Chief Jones produced a small, paper-thin, black square from his pocket and placed it in Sam’s waiting hand.

I felt a shiver run through my body and noticed my three girls shudder slightly themselves.

His last act- that of returning the reactor plans- finished repairing the original dimensional split.

“Welcome home Empress.” I thought to myself.

“Was that what I thought it was, mom?” Cassie asked- her sisters nodded in consensus.

“What… like a recent tangential dimension returning to where it was originally spawned? Yes, everything is back the way it should be. Thank you, Mr. Jones.”

“But I…”

“Exactly, chief! By returning the memory card with the plans stored on it, you- a mere mortal,” I laughed, “Sealed a dimensional rupture with a single gesture! What millions of people: politicians, generals, khans, Czars, even common folk wouldn’t give to be able to do that!”

“It seemed so easy though! Once I knew where I made my mistake…once you showed me my mistake, I just made my decision to return what wasn’t mine to give.”

“And now you see the true power of the Empress, Mr. Jones!” Alexis replied. “She uses her gift to allow the rest of us to right our mistakes! I take it you saw the results of your mistake first hand? May I ask your impression of the altered future, Mr. Jones?”

“I…I didn’t know one small decision would mushroom into such a large debacle! Everyone here made such a huge decision to sacrifice his or her entire existence! To just decide to disappear into the unknown like that. I could never be that selfless!”

Demetrius Jones looked to the floor.

“I…I…I’m…I’m truly sorry for having put you through the distress of knowing your future self would…” He wiped some wetness from around his eyes.

“I haven’t lost her, Demetrius! Admiral Covington will always be here.” I pointed first to my head then to my heart. “But foremost she is always here- as are all my children- born or unborn! Chief, we all must endure pain if we are to learn the important lessons- those necessary for keeping friends and family together! As long as you put to memory the lessons learned today, the grief we experienced served a greater purpose. All I ask is that you reflect on all those who made the ultimate sacrifice before making, what you consider a small decision.”

“How can I do that, ma’am? I don’t have any special gifts like you do…um…not yet anyway.”

“You have three of the most precious gifts in the known universes, Demetrius- reason, a conscience, and the option to use them! Always remember that, hun! Now, let’s go see something really amazing! Everybody take my hands, please!”

The pleasantly lit hallway became the brightly sundrenched beach near Kili’s dock.

Once sure that we wouldn’t rephase into anyone, I phased us back in and told everyone it was safe to release our hands.

“Chief, if you insist on making a point of popping your eyeballs out every time I transport us, I may have you committed to the Infirmary for a few months! That condition is not normal!”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m still having a hard time believing what I’m seeing here!”

“Then turn around, Mr. Jones and watch a true marvel!” I pointed to the dock.

The Detroit’s entire crew had gathered at the shoreline to witness my mind warriors have some fun.

I motioned for Demetrius and my daughters to move closer. We stopped next to Alex Reilly and Alex Covington.

“You got here just in time, sis!” My future twin greeted.

“I had a few things to attend to, but you knew that, didn’t you, Alex?”

Instead of answering, she took my hand. The familiar tingle said it all.

“Our unintentional saboteur has been set upon the correct path?” She asked quietly a few seconds later. Her eyes glistened in the sun.

“All has been set on course again, Empress!” I replied.

Alex Reilly took my other hand. Again, I welcomed the slight tingle.

My Granddaughter suddenly appeared on the rounded foredeck of Detroit.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of USS Detroit!” She shouted in decree. “On behalf of everyone here on Kili Island we hope you have enjoyed your stay with us. Aside from the mandatory water segregation, any comments on how we could have improved your visit should be addressed to your Captain or Ex-O. Before we commence our final demonstration, I would ask that what you have witnessed here the last few days remain here!” Young Alexandra seemed to stare directly at Chief Jones!

“The good deeds, volunteerism, and humanitarianism that define our society must continue to be withheld from the people of this world for if discovered, would likely be abused! As I speak with y’all, Reilly’s delicate and extremely sensitive equipment is scanning for any misappropriated information.” Young Alexandra paused a minute with a devious smile.

“As sensitive as our equipment is, it is still possible for some information to ‘migrate’. Y’all have been witness to the diverse gifts our society has been blessed with. It is our hope that the hospitality and kinship shown to the crew of Detroit will be rewarded in kind with trustworthiness and honor.” My Granddaughter scanned the crowd a moment.

“And now, without further ado, our final demonstration of the gifts of Kili Island!” Alexandra again smiled devilishly and disappeared from the massive foredeck.

A distinct murmur arose from those gathered.

“How did I do Grandmother Empress?” She asked reappearing before Alex and I.

“Well done, Empress! It’s my turn now!” I congratulated before phasing out.

Making my way to a convenient clearing in the crowd, I rephased.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Detroit! I present to you the Family Darough! Mother and daughter of like gifts that are here to do what was thought impossible only six days ago! I give you Camille and her daughter Cassiopeia!” I announced as I presented the two.

“I always liked the circus. “ I heard Alex Covington say from the crowd.

“Ladies, when y’all are ready.” I said motioning gracefully to them.

Cami and Cassi joined hands and began to concentrate. At the end of the dock, Detroit began to shudder and rolled from its slight list to port.

Applause erupted from the crowd and I waved my hands to quiet them.

As the noise died down, a series of metallic creaks and groans emanated from the huge boat and slowly the massive pressure hull rose from the water!

Not a sound could be heard on shore. Everyone assigned to the modern submarine held their breath as light appeared between the keel and the small waves on the ocean’s surface.

Slowly the behemoth moved away from us, leaving shallow water behind. Several hundred yards off shore the flat black hull of USS Detroit slowly settled back into the ocean waves.

Cami and Cassi released each other’s hand.

“Wasn’t that amazing, folks?” I shouted and started to clap.

Applause and whistles rang out across the beach!

“Captain Reynolds?” I called from where I stood next to Cassi and Cami.

Reilly appeared a few feet away from me with Vernon Reynolds holding one hand and Julia Masterson holding the other.

“Well done, ladies!” He congratulated the Daroughs.

“Cami that was a wonderful demonstration! I’m sure even the most stubborn skeptics were impressed- maybe even a little intimidated too!” Julia embraced the senior mind warrior. “Cassi, you’ve developed your gift splendidly and I look forward to working with you again sometime, sister!” She also gave her a tight hug along with a kiss on the cheek.

“Alex, I don’t know which one of you is the bigger show-off- you or your present self!” Vernon embraced me. “Thanks for putting my boat back in the water, Empress!” He whispered to me.

“Thank those two, Vernon! They did all the heavy lifting!” We both laughed at my little play on words.

“You, um…you think ol’ Jonesy learned his lesson, Alex?” He asked quietly.

“Time will tell, Vern. Time will tell.”

Alex Covington, Alex Reilly, and Alexandra joined us.

“Sis, you ready to proceed?” Alex Covington asked.

“Admiral?” Vern looked confused.

“Vern, we need to get your people back onboard, right? Gather your Con staff and I’ll provide transport.” She smiled.

“While you’re doing that, sis, Alexandra, Alex Reilly, and I will relay the rest of the crew to the aft deck.”

“Empress?”

I turned to see Random, Randi, and Isabeau walking toward us. Brandi Van Pelt hurried to catch up behind them.

“Will you three wait up? I told you I was almost finished!

“Sis, I told you it wasn’t necessary to come along! It’ll be a while til you can sync up to the Westinghouse systems!”

“Exactly the reason I have to be here, sis! After today I won’t have anything to talk to for what, twenty years?”

“Hey! What are we, palm trees?” I glared at my communications chief, hurt that her fellow crew didn’t count as intelligent conversation.

“Sorry, Cap, but I feel lonely when I’m not plugged into a system! Somehow human conversation seems so slow to me.”

I raised an eyebrow to her statement.

“Brandi, I’ll see what I can scrape together to keep you company before you go back to the base, sis!”

“Would you do that?”

“Of course, sis!”

“Ladies, you wanted my attention for something?” I reminded my four comptrollers.

“Empress, I’m sure you already know that we need to be in contact with the reactor control system to start it.” Randi was correct in her assumption that I knew what had to happen.

I nodded in response.

“Alex, can I come along too?” A small voice said into my left ear.

“Mr. Jones, Peonie would like to accompany us to your boat. Would you have a problem with that, hun?”

“Just as long as she doesn’t bring any gremlins onboard, ma’am!”

“I don’t get it, Alex! I don’t know any Gremlins. Are they from one of the planets you’ve recently visited?” Peonie questioned.

I rolled my eyes. “No, hun, Demetrius was just trying to be funny! Go on over to him, honey.”

In a flash the Pixie landed on her beau.

“You realize that still creeps me out a little, right?” Chief Jones said quietly so as not to hurt the pixie’s ears.

“Alex, we’re all here and ready for transport.” Vernon caught my attention.

“Very well, Capt. Reynolds. Everyone, in case you’ve never experienced this before, the trip is painless as well as instantaneous. I’d like y’all to form a single file line and join hands with the person ahead and behind you. Do not release your hands until I tell you it’s okay to do so. Everyone is to move accordingly until standing in an open area away from any equipment or bulkheads. I’ll check with each of you before we rephase back into this reality. Understood?”

“Ma’am, are you sure this won’t hurt?” A small voice asked from behind Julia Masterson.

“Peyton, I’ve done this many times and I can assure you the Empress speaks the truth! You won’t even realize it happened, but if it would make you feel better, take my hand, Ensign.” Julia offered.

“Thank you ma’am!” The young woman looked relieved.

“Ensign, could you step over here, honey?” I asked after my old friend- the original version of my gift- signaled something wasn’t right here. I quickly received my answer just as the ensign arrived in front of me.

“Honey, what’s your name?” I asked gently with a smile.

“Peyton Tribesch, ma’am. Ensign Peyton Tribesch.” The small brunette looked at me quizzically.

“Of course it is, hun.” I continued to smile at her.

“Alex? What’s going on?” Vernon Reynolds asked. “Ensign Tribesch has been with us for two years now.”

“Capt. Reynolds, would you mind terribly if I borrow the Ensign for a second? I mean her no harm.”

“If you deem it necessary, Empress.”

“Peyton, take my hand, hun, I have something to show you…something wonderful!” I let my smile turn slightly devilish.

Ensign Tribesch looked back to her commanding officer with pleading eyes.

“Peyton, you have nothing to fear from the Empress- of that I am very certain! Just take her hand and enjoy.” Vernon Reynolds coaxed with a disarming smile.

I felt a warm, sweat dampened hand take mine.

“Honey, I’m not going to bite, so relax. Now, I’m going to phase us out of this reality just enough to make us disappear to the others, ready?”

She nodded.

“Here we go.”

I phased us out…

The bright, sunny beach of Kili became the dark, quiet, single yellow sun lit realm of my private domain.

“Where are we, ma’am?”

“Why are you here?” I said getting straight to the point.

“Ma’am?” The ensign’s voice became frightened.

“Why…are you…here?” I repeated slowly.

“I don’t understand! Why am I where?”

Before going any farther, I activated the HUD in my uniform and chose the correct language.

“I know who you really are, Peyton! Now, why are you here? I don’t want to hurt you or expose you! I just want to know why you are here in 2028!” I said to her in a very old form of Terran- the same dialect that Anna Beth spoke.

We stared at each other in silence for some time before I thought about calling someone who would loosen her tongue. Before doing that though, I decided to try one last time.

“Peyton…or should I call you by your given name, Persephone? Maybe I should go farther back and call you Proserpina? How’s mom by the way? Is she still hanging out with Janelle?”

Ensign Tribesch dawned an evil sneer. “You are indeed as wise and all knowing as the stories relate, Empress! Can we continue to speak in English? I find it much easier to communicate as opposed to my native language.”

“Fine.” I turned off my translator. “So, back to my original question, Peyton, why are you here?”

“Empress, if you know who I am then you should already know why I am here, right?” Her smile turned pleasant.

“Indeed, but I wanted to hear it from you, so spill it.” I smiled back as I motioned for her to continue.

“What that woman, Hathor, did was wrong, Empress! I took it upon myself to sabotage her plan to destroy you…I mean Alex Reilly, sorry. When your granddaughter arrived in our beleaguered city and I witnessed the shear devious skill with which she played her, I vowed to stop her tyranny and free my people of her! I had no idea as to your friends’ effectiveness in her defeat and capture when I concealed myself during transit.”

“So you stowed away when Alexandra brought Janelle and her attack group here?”

“Yes, ma’am. I was determined to be her undoing, going as far as warning the pixie of the mind mage.”

“Why didn’t Yuuka inform me about you, hun?”

“I have the talent to ‘suggest’, ma’am.” She looked down sheepishly.

I brought her chin back up with a gentle hand. “Never be ashamed of your gift, hun. Just use it for good, not evil.”

“There is a fine line between either, ma’am. What I have done was bad, but it was for the good of our people. I do feel just as responsible for what has happened here- especially for having to write myself into everyone’s memories, Empress. I am truly sorry and will assume any punishment deserved.” Her head lowered as she apologized.

“How old are you, Peyton- twenty-three; twenty-four; twenty-five?” I inquired using my most sincere smile.

“I have seen ninety-eight full seasons, Empress, but again, why ask?”

“Of those ninety or so years, how many have you endured under Janelle’s hand?” I continued without answering her question.

“The evil witch arrived shortly after my fortieth season, Empress…”

“So I should be the one responsible for all this, Peyton! I was the reason she became part of your life in the first place. I was negligent in my foresight for not seeing the disruption she caused to your time period. I…Peyton…am deeply sorry for dropping her into your home. I ask for your forgiveness, m’lady.” I bowed to her.

“Empress, you should bow to no one! A deity such as you should never apologize for anything!”

“Stop it! Stop it right now!” I put up my hand.

Did the sun of this domain just blink?

“I am no more a deity than Janelle Hathor and I resent the implication that I should be worshiped!”

“But you alone have the power to change history and the future, Empress! What commoner, what mortal has that kind of power, ma’am?”

“Honey, like I just got done telling someone else, we all have the power to change the future! The past…well, y’all may need my help for that, but you do have the power to change the future as I’ve said. Never forget that fact, hun.”

“How could I have the power to change any of my future?”

“I’m going to let you think that one out for yourself, Peyton. You have changed your future and I had a very small role in that, so honestly, you have done it already.” I gave her another devious smile.

My companion looked at me for a few minutes then looked to my right, at the dim yellow sun, for another few minutes as she contemplated my words.

“I did.” She said quietly a couple of times to herself. “I really did change our destiny!”

“Be careful with that word, hun! Destiny is a spiteful seductress! Many men and women have lost their lives because of a so-called date with destiny! It’s better to consider what you have done as ‘changing things for the better’ and let ‘Miss Destiny’ have the night off!” I giggled.

“I’ll remember that, ma’am.”

“See that you do, hun!”

“Empress, what is to happen to me now? I can only surmise I will not be rejoining the Detroit’s crew.”

“Why say that, Ensign?”

“By now my suggestions have worn away and I will not be remembered as Ensign Tribesch.” She sighed. “Though I do wish I could remain in their company. I felt comfortable around them…to be accepted as part of their family…”

“You do know that at least one member of Detroit knew about you?”

“What? Who?”

I waggled my finger at her. ”No. No. No. Not going to learn that from me, kid. Not today.” I giggled. “It’s time to go back home, Ensign Peyton Tribesch! Take my hand, please.”

Our surroundings changed and filled with familiar people.

“So, that’s all there is to it, Ensign!” I spoke as if continuing some demonstration.

The girl just looked at me in confusion.

“So, what do you think of the Empress’s mode of travel, Ensign?” Vernon asked with no change of expression or question as to who this woman was.

“I…I…I didn’t realize we had gone anywhere until the scenery changed!” Peyton looked at me, totally amazed.

“I told you I wouldn’t harm you in any way, Ensign.” I laughed at her expression- only for a different reason that only the two of us knew.

Alex Covington popped in next to me. “Hey, are Alex and I going to be doing all the work around here, Alex?” She winked at the still confused Peyton.

“Has Randi made the necessary changes, sis?” I asked out of the blue.

“Three years ago. Just like I planned.” Alex smiled at our Miss Tribesch. “When you’ve had enough of the military, just have Vern or Jules contact me. I’m sure your Ma will be happy to see you again, hun! I know for a fact that she and your Pa are very proud of you and all you’ve done for everyone.”

A very broken up woman wrapped her arms around me.

“Thank you so much! I love you, Empress!” She exclaimed through a faucet of tears.

“Thank you, Peyton Tribesch!” I replied.

“Hey, am I going to have to do all the work around here?” Alex Reilly exclaimed from behind us. “Oh, this is that sensitive moment I saw a couple nights ago right?”

Alex felt down her body with both hands as if making sure everything was still in place. “I guess everything is settled then, Alex?”

“It wouldn’t have affected you anyway, Alexandra Reilly!” I laughed.

“Well there was that one scenario.”

“Santorini will still happen! You still have a lot to do there.”

“Don’t remind me!” She rolled her eyes. “Let’s not forget about Yellowstone! I’ve been back four times and still haven’t saved my quota! Are you sure all of them need to be evacuated- I mean, two thousand people?”

“Gotta get ‘em all, Alex!” My twin giggled like it was some kind of reference to a joke.

“You three should really stop the Reilly speak, Alex, you’re scaring the poor girl!” Vern chimed in. I had completely forgotten about Peyton still standing next to me!

“I’m sorry about that, hun. That sometimes happens when we talk shop.” Alex gave her a warm smile as she apologized.

“It’s alright, Empress, I’ve had to deal with my own personal…demons…for some time now. It would be nice if I had sisters that I could share my innermost thoughts and experiences with!”

The three of us started laughing as she spoke the unsolicited wish.

“I’m serious!” Her expression changed abruptly.

“Honey, we don’t mean to laugh because you said something funny, it’s because of how ironic what you said actually is!” I explained for my sisters. When I saw no evidence that she understood what I meant, I quickly covered. “You’ll see what we meant when you go home on leave, hun! Let’s get everyone onboard, shall we?” I looked to my group- the last yet to board the Detroit.

“Capt. Reynolds, I’m sorry to have delayed Detroit’s officer’s from boarding. Everyone please join hands.”

Instantly we were in Detroit’s control room. No one blinked an eye except Peyton, who looked around in amazement. I looked around to see if everyone in the group was clear of any equipment or bulkhead. Satisfied we were all clear, I released the hand on either side of me. Randi and Brandi quickly headed aft along with Timothy Penne- Abigail’s second oldest. I was secretly glad Abby hadn’t come along- she was still skittish about her new ‘condition’. Meeting her second of four children might…well…it would have sent her to the loony bin for sure!

“Alex, I’m sure it was something that couldn’t wait! I, for one, am still mesmerized every time I’m witness to your departures and arrivals! Hopefully in a few years I can retire and we can share in a few adventures before we have to reinvent ourselves again. I’m sure Julia will happily second that.” He looked to his Ex-O who nodded her agreement with a smile.

“Um…I think I could scrape together a few instances where both your gifts would come in handy!” I couldn’t help but giggle. I nodded to Ensign Tribesch. “Take good care of her, Vernon, I promised her parents I’d get her home safe- and that her adopted family on Detroit would look after her in the mean time!”

“Aye, skipper!” Vernon straightened respectfully. Everyone in the control room joined him at attention.

“You do realize I’m Alex from 1944, right?” I raised an eyebrow as I reminded him.

“We’re not honoring Capt. Alexandra Steinert, ma’am, we’re honoring Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space! And there is no higher rank in the known universes, ma’am!”

I felt my eyes start to tear up so I changed the subject quickly.

“Peonie? I’m ready to leave, hun!” I called out in a slightly louder voice.

“Ma’am, is it okay if she stay a while longer?” Demetrius raised his hand as he asked.

“Chief, this isn’t elementary school. You don’t need to raise your hand to get my attention. But this also isn’t the ‘Love Boat’.” I winked with a smile and fought a giggle.

“Sorry, ma’am, I just thought it proper.” Demetrius suddenly looked around us, alarmed that his tiny girlfriend was no longer on his shoulder.

“Peonie, sweetheart, you’re doing it again!” I said in a singsong voice.

“The Empress is right, honey.” Vernon called out likewise. “On my boat, Pixies are to remain full sized! We don’t want to scare the rest of the crew now, do we?”

Having the gift of foresight can be advantageous to keeping one’s sanity around pixies…or any so called ‘mythical beings’ for that matter! My gift told me that she would be directly behind me when she returned to full size.

“Spoofing the Empress would not be the wisest undertaking, young lady! I might just take your hand and ‘poof’…!” I warned as she stopped growing behind me. I saw Vernon’s officers’ eyes widen as I aptly predicted her presence.

“Sometimes you can be such a buzz-kill, Alex!” Peonie’s voice protested behind me. Walking around to join Demetrius, she made another assumption- this one correct. “So…what is to be my rank this time, Empress? Ensign?” her clothing changed to match that rank. “Lieutenant?” Just her rank changed this time. “Or Commander?” Again her rank changed as she smiled.

“Capt. Reynolds, I’ll allow you the pleasure, sir!” I smiled in devilish satisfaction.

“This time, my dear,” He nodded to someone by the aft compartment door, “you are to play the part of the perky embedded journalist!” Vernon laughed as her uniform merged and remade itself into a rather attractive looking gray-pinstriped, women’s business suit with a white low-cut blouse and camisole, a matching, slightly above the knee gray skirt, and gray closed-toe, three inch heels.

Again everyone in the compartment seemed amazed by the transformation.

Demtrius looked at the new reporter, raised an eyebrow and smiled his approval.

Julia Masterson shook her head as she regarded the Pixie-turned-reporter- shaking her head slightly in disapproval. Reaching her hand up to cover Peonie’s face, she held it there for a moment. Julia’s smile blossomed as she removed her hand from the now, much prettier young woman. She had applied some modest makeup.

Demetrius’ face contorted as he looked on. Both eyes squinted slightly and he pursed his lips together as if sucking air through a straw- an expression that blatantly said this girl is the cat’s meow!

“I want you to pick one of the crew and write an expose on working conditions aboard a U.S. Submarine for the twentieth anniversary of the Navy’s decision to allow women to serve aboard them. I’ll want that submitted to me on my next visit to Ni’ihau, Hun! Vernon, I believe you still have six months left on this cruise?”

“Right as usual, Alex!”

“But what will mom say! She’ll want me back home with her, Alex!”

“Mom already knows about it and approves.” Sasha- present day Sasha- said appearing in the forward hatch. “Who do you think came up with the plan, my little pixie-poo?”

Demetrius looked at the cub reporter and mouthed, ‘Pixie-poo’?

“Mom, I wish you would stop that! I’m not a little girl anymore!”

“You’re right, sweetie, you’re a budding correspondent now! Time to go out into the world and experience it for yourself!”

Detroit’s main lighting came to full brightness and all her systems came online systematically.

“Con, Reactor Control!” The intercom erupted.

“Reactor Control, Reynolds, go.” Vernon responded.

“Skipper, the reactor is online and ready to go!”

“What, with no warmup?” Captain Reynolds sounded only somewhat surprised.

“Don’t ask, Skipper, I can only speculate!” The voice responded. It was evident he couldn’t believe what he witnessed himself.

“Very well, start the pre-launch checklist. Reynolds out.”

The Van Pelt twins arrived in the Con. Vernon squinted at the two smiling women.

“Thank you very much ladies! I’d have thought you wouldn’t know that much about heavy water reactors, Brandi!”

“You’re A.I. told me everything I had to know, Captain!” She seemed to blush slightly.

“Our A.I. told you everything, Miss Van Pelt? He looked concerned.

“Welllllll…I did have to show it who was boss!” I watched as my Randi stifled a giggle with her hand.

“You didn’t break Captain Reynolds toy now did you, Brandi?” I giggled myself.

“You might want to padlock that back door better, Vern!” Present day Randi laughed. “It would seem that the old ways are still the most effective at getting results!”

“But how did the reactor heat up so quickly?” Julia questioned them further.

‘That would be my doing!’ Jack answered in my…in our heads. ‘It was like rubbing two sticks together. Josie gave me the idea last year in Arizona.’

“I might have guessed.” Vernon mumbled as he rubbed his head.

‘You’re very welcome, Vern. It was the least I could do. Pleasant journeys to you, Captain! Commander!’

‘Jack, tell everyone we make for home 0800hr sharp.’ I informed her in thought.

‘Aye, Cap, 0800hrs sharp.’ She repeated, confirming my order.

“Well, Vernon, I guess we had better be going. I know you have a lot to do before you shove off.” I tried not to make it sound so sad.

“Before you go, Alex, I want to show you something in my quarters…if you don’t mind, of course.”

I motioned that I would follow him. Reaching his door, he motioned me in and closed the door behind him.

“Alex, how much longer do I have to pretend I know that woman?” He whispered.

“Who, Vernon?” I tried hard not to show my cards.

“Come on, Alex! You know full well of whom I mean!”

I smiled. “She is officially part of your crew, hun- for three years now!”

“Excuse me?”

“Your Alex had Randi enter her dossier into the Navy’s computer system three years ago! Full history and background, complete with a social! Peyton is a member of your crew, Vernon.”

“Why would you do this to me, Empress?”

I thought for a moment. Why would I do this to him?

“Peyton is a very special girl, Vern. She is the product of a union between a Terran and a man from Egypt!”

“Okay, but I thought those from Reilly that appeared in Egypt were bad.”

“Peyton’s ma just ended up on the wrong side, hun, and who said anything about Reilly?”

“I just assumed… Wouldn’t Alexandra have seen that woman’s ruse?”

“Not necessarily! My granddaughter, Alexandra, was too young to realize her limits when she provided temporal transport. I suspect that even now she underutilizes her gift…our gift!”

“You mean to tell me that this Janelle character has a heart? I thought she was the first antichrist!”

“Someone has to be the bad guy, hun! Janelle does have some good points about her though.” I held my finger and thumb close together- almost touching- to indicate how many. “For now, Peyton is to be treated as Ensign Tribesch. When we talked a little while ago, she told me how she stowed away during Alexandra’s transport in order to thwart Janelle’s evil plan. She hoped Hathor’s defeat would remove the hold on her ma and pa.”

“How did she react when you told her?”

“I haven’t told her a thing- not yet! The surprise will wait for her return to Memphis. Alex will meet you at Pearl when you dock and return her the following day. Until then…” I held my finger to my mouth.

“Aye aye, Empress! Mum’s the word!” He smiled.

“The Van Pelt twins are waiting for me so I better get going. It’s been good to see you, hun…um…even though I haven’t met you officially yet.” I shook off the slight confusion that statement conjured.

“Alex?” He asked quietly.

“Ya, Capt. Reynolds?”

Vernon Reynolds wrapped his arms around me and attempted to squeeze the life out of me. “Take care, Alex, It’s always a pleasure to serve with you, ma’am!”

“Hey! I’ll see y’all again. You can count on it, hun!” I said as I squeezed back, hoping he would ease up so I could breathe.

“Tell Admiral Demmit he made quite the impression on the crew! I’ll miss him terribly.”

“You haven’t seen the last of him, hun! The old man will make several special appearances in the coming years- trust me!”

“Explicitely, Empress!”

I smiled as my eyes began to fog.

“I better get going.” I said as I quickly wiped my eyes, squeezed past him, and hurried back to the Con.

“All ashore that’s a’goin’ ashore!” I offered as I held out my hands.



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