South of Bikini 3: Episode 1- A Different Universe Entirely

Welcome back. Season 3 of South of Bikini begins now…


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.

Copyright 2013 R.G. Beyer


 
 

South of Bikini

Journeys

Episode 1

“A Different Universe Entirely”

 
 

Empress’ Suite, 209th Floor, Consulate Building, Citadel, Terra, 27:00, Median, Venusia 12th, 425 of the New Era
 
 

“How is our patient this evening, Lady Cynthia?”

“No change on her vitals from yesterday, I’m afraid. Everything indicates she should be awake and talking to us, sire, but I just don’t understand what’s holding her back. Was she this obstinate last time this happened?”

“Not as I recall, Lady Physician. If memory serves, she awoke on schedule and proceeded to work tirelessly to divine her attacker’s identity and location.”

“Any change in Lady Constance? I’ve noted she hasn’t regained consciousness as well?”

“You are correct, Sir Tibius. Our resident Mind Warrior seems to be as like-minded as our Empress. I have not been able to gain access to either one’s thoughts since they arrived. It is as if there is something preventing any and all communication with them.”

“What of Jacquelyn Cummins, Lady Cynthia?”

“She remains at her daughter’s bedside keeping a hopeful vigil as has been the case since her arrival, Sire. Getting her to take even the slightest break is still almost impossible.”

“How does she do it? Three Terran years and she still refuses to leave her child. I’ve never seen such dedication.”

“Ah, but you would if she were your child, Sir Tibius!”

“Excuse the interruption, Sir Tibius, Lady Cynthia, it is once again time to try and persuade Lady Jacquelyn to eat. I pray you have better luck than I.”

“Thank you, M’lady Counselor. Even after three years, I look forward to the challenge. Lady Cynthia, I take my leave of you and our Empress.”

“Good luck, Sir Tibius.”

“Neigh, an act from the Lords of Terra would be more fitting!”

“Sire, also, the relocation commission weekly meeting is tomorrow at 14 o’clock. I have sent a copy of last week’s meeting to your comm tab.”

“Thank you, Lady Heidi. Your efficiency is revitalizing! I bid you good day, ladies.”

“Cindy, has Alex made any improvements today?”

“Not one, Heidi. I’m beginning to think that she doesn’t want to wake up!”

“But why? Why would she refuse to return to this reality- after all the speeches and all the trips here and there for us?”

“To understand that I think we must first find out what went on…out there.”

“Not even her mother, Ruth Scott, can shed any light on that, frauline! The Empress and I have called on her several times over the last three years with no further facts emerging. It is as though the incident happened in a completely isolated section of our universe.”

“Has Alexandra tried to synchronize with the Empress, Heidi?”

“Nein. Alexandra refuses to make physical contact with her grandmother. She is quite adamant about that, Cynthia!”

“And I shall keep refusing, ladies!”

“Welcome, Empress and Lady Emily. The time and date…”

“The time and date are irrelevant at this point, Heidi. Please, I am in no mood for formalities. Aunt Emily wishes to visit and consult with you, doctor.”

“Welcome back, Emily. I wish I had better news for you, but she refuses to respond to our treatments.”

“How are her charts, Cindy?”

“All biological indicators are good. Electrolytes are all normal and nano fabrication has normalized. Vital signs are all stable and perfect for a girl in her early twenties. By all accounts she should be talking to us now!”

“Where are you Alex?”

“What was that, Emily?”

“I asked Alex where she is, Cindy. Reading this chart, the only thing I see unusual is her brain activity. See in this file for example? The patterns are very repetitive, not random like we should see.”

“But, let me bring this file up…this indicates excessive brain activity. This would usually indicate some sort of exercise or physical exertion…maybe a nightmare or full on R.E.M. dream?”

“When was this record made, Cind?”

“Mid-morning according to the time stamp, why?”

“I’m not sure, Cind, I have a feeling that my initial question still holds true.”

“You think she’s somewhere else, Emily? Mentally?”

“Something similar happened after we went through the Mahanilui, Cindy- when Alex was just starting to realized her gift. There was an episode where Mina and Alex said they visited Kili Island back in the 1930’s yet they never physically left 1944. Another incident happened when Janelle Hathor designed a biochemical weapon as a plan ‘C’ in case her campaign to capture Reilly Research Station failed. She used Peyton to deliver it. Both Alex and Peyton were comatose for three days straight. During that incident Alex claimed Carrol, Uncle Rick, and I traveled with her back to when Alexander and I first met- that I actually found myself in my own body in the restaurant just outside Pearl’s main gates. She claimed Alex and Carrol found themselves in the bodies of Jenson and Fletcher respectively.”

“Fletcher and Jenson? I remember them. Whatever happened to them?”

“They didn’t make it out of the war, Cindy.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Emily. I guess I should read up on things next time I get to Reilly. Alex would never go into specifics about our friends during the war.”

“Knowing my sister, both may be out there somewhere having been given a second chance by the Empress, Cindy. Only Alex knows for sure.”

“Look, Emily! The monitor has picked up more unusual activity!”

Hmmmm, I think I recognize that pattern! Years ago, I studied sports medicine in an effort to increase my understanding of human physiology. This pattern is similar to what I saw while someone was jogging.”

“Are you sure, Emily? Jogging? Alex is jogging in her mind?”

“Looks like it, Cind. If I were to guess, we should see the pattern change for a few minutes then continue.”

“Like she’s taking a rest?”

“Exactly. Where are you Alexandra Steinert?”

“Emily, what you were saying before- about You, Alex, and Carrol inhabiting bodies? Tell me more.”

“Alex claimed that I had induced the whole thing to help her cope with the severe fever she had. She claimed I’d done it to isolate her soul from her body’s extreme countermeasures.”

“How high was the fever, Emily?”

“One hundred and seven…give or take a few points.”

“I didn’t think anyone could survive that much heat!”

“By all rights she shouldn’t have, Cindy. She shouldn’t have…but you know our Empress- stubborn to the core and twice as ornery!”

“I miss her though.”

“I do too, Cind. Alex, please come back to us?”

“She will eventually come back, Aunt Emily. Her presence in your time proves that.”

“And your reluctance to physical contact with her only brings more questions, Empress! Why won’t you establish your ‘sync-link’…even in 2030?”

“I have my reasons, Aunt Emily. If there was any other way to help Grandma, I’d be doing it.”

“Alexandra, please don’t cry. We all miss Alex and want her back in our lives just as much as you do, sweetheart. We’ll find a way to bring her back, I promise you!”

“Grandma, please come home!”

“Honey, it’s going to be alright…”
 
 

“Hey there! Nice to see you awake. What’cha watchin’, Alex?” A familiar voice brought me back to reality.

“Not sure, but I think it’s one of those low budget Sci-Fantasy’s. I hate to say it but…its sorta interesting, Emily.” I replied.

“How are you feeling today? Any news as to when I get you back?” Emily asked sweetly.

“Doctor hasn’t been in yet today, honey. I do miss you though! I can’t wait to get out of this bed and back into ours!” I admitted.

“Oh get a room you two! Yuck! News flash- old people in heat! What’s the world coming to?” The young woman in the next bed lamented. Connie was her name and why they put us in the same hospital room, I had no clue!

“Excuse me, but our conversation is none of your business, miss.” Emily warned politely.

“It is when that’s the only thing I can hear! ‘Dawling, I miss you! I miss you more! No dawling, I miss you most!’ Can’t a girl just watch TV and be miserable around here?”

“You should have thought about that before you decided to jump off that bridge, sweetie. Had you thought twice about things, my husband wouldn’t have tried to save you and he and I wouldn’t be bothering you right now.” Emily responded.

“So…let me get this straight…if I hadn’t decided to kill myself, your husband wouldn’t have decided to save me? That’s fucked up lady! Now, can I watch the damn TV?” A vulgar Connie replied.

“Constance! There is no call for that language, young lady!” A British-accented woman exclaimed as a couple about our age entered the shared room.

“Go to hell, Mina!”

“Nice to see you too, dear!” ‘Mina’ replied calmly. “How are we today?”

“Stick it, old woman! You’ll never be my mother!”

“Connie, that’s no way to talk to your mother- adaptive or otherwise!”

“Bite me, Jack!”

“Alex, I apologize for my daughter’s foul mouth. She’s going through one of her rebellious phases.” Jack Cummins said with a sad expression.

“Rebel on this, asshole!”

“Yaaah, makes my saving her rude little ass really worth it, don’t it?” I said with as much sarcasm as I felt necessary.

“Well, Mina and I thank you for saving our daughter, Alex!” Jack expressed his gratitude again as he and his wife Mina had every day since I woke up here in the hospital.

“How long ago did you adopt her again?” I asked, though already knowing since Jack Cummins worked in the department next to mine.

“About fourteen years ago. When she was three.”

“And you just got around to telling her a week ago? Why did you wait so long?” Emily asked, shaking her head.

“Like you really give a shit, bitch!”

Emily’s eyes burned with rage at the teen’s outburst.

Jack Cummins and his wife looked at both of us with sad, apologizing eyes.

“Mrs. Steinert, please don’t think the girl a total loss. Until last week she was an honor student and an ideal role model! In time she will realize what she is doing to be wrong.”

“Great! Mina’s turning on the ol’ Oxford education again! Are all Brits as lame as you?”

“That is enough, child! Shall I have the nurse administer a sedative to quench your foul tongue?”

“Bring it on, old woman! While yer at it have her pump in four times the dosage and shut me up permanently! You know you’d like to! I know you’ve thought about it many times in the last week!”

“Shut up, Constance!” Jack raised his voice having heard enough.

“Up yers!” She said as her middle finger went up at him.

“Alex, I’ll see if I can get Connie transferred to a private room. No one should have to put up with this!”

“Don’t do that, Jack. I think Connie and I will start to get along better if she spends more time with me.”

The look on the teen’s face was priceless!

“Alex, honey, what are you thinking?” Emily gasped quietly.

“Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion after all.”

The seventeen year old in the next bed remained silent as she glared back at me.

I smiled deviously; turning my attention back to the television I’d just turned back on.
 
“Sir Tibius, what if the Empress doesn’t wake up? What if she remains in whatever place she is in?”

“Lady Cynthia, we will use whatever means necessary to retrieve the Empress safely- of that you can be assured.”

“Alex, let’s see what else is on this thing.” Emily said as she reached for my bed’s control and started stepping through the channels.
 
Click
 
“Fascinating! Captain, apparently this device is a temporal portal! I believe the occupants of this planet built it in order to escape into their planet’s history- thereby safe from the planet’s destruction.”

“Spock, is it possible?”
 
Click
 
“Al, what does Ziggy say I have to do in order to jump this time?”

“Weeeell, Sam, Um…Ziggy is eighty-nine percent positive that you have to rescue the Goth chick from herself and then discover the key to leaving…”

“Key?”
 
Click
 
“This San Francisco is much different than the one we left, so everyone remember where we parked! We rendezvous back here at 2300hr. Spock, you’re with me.”
 
Click
 
“So, why do you call it Smith’s wall?”

“In honor of the Smith twins. They were two of the best Time Cops we had.”

“Oh. So what happens if this thing malfunctions?”

“Then they change the name of the wall.”
 
Click
 
“So how long before the wormhole opens back up?”

“Let’s see if I…What? Hey that can’t be right! What’s wrong with this thing?”

“How long until we can slide?”

“This thing says forty years, but that can’t be right, professor! It’s never been more than a few weeks- tops! This thing must have taken too much of a…”
 
Click

 
“Oh forget it! Mind if I turn this off, Alex?” Emily exclaimed in disgust.

“Way to go, Emmie...damn buzz kill!”

“You would fare better if you talked politely, Ms. Cummins, but please don’t get up on my account. I’m just here to check your charts.”

The young woman’s middle finger once again extended, this time at the doctor.

“Doctor, how long until Alex can go home?” Emily asked.

“I want to watch him for another few days, Mrs. Steinert- make sure the patch job I did on his insides hold.”

“Oh, I was hoping it could be sooner. Things at home just aren’t the same without him, Dr. Reilly.”

“Repeating today’s top story! EEEEW, old folks in heat!”

“Doc, how long til Connie is released?” Emily asked with a slight sneer to my roommate.

“Not soon enough I’m afraid. Mr. and Mrs. Cummins, I’m afraid she’s been ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation for three months before I’ll be allowed to sign her release papers.”

“Even though she may never walk again? Why so long?”

“Three months is standard in these types of cases, I’m afraid.”

“So how long until I can get back on my feet, Doc?” I asked.

“I’m afraid you have several months of physical therapy to undergo after those casts come off, before you can return to work, Alex.” Dr. Reilly paused briefly with her thumb and finger holding her chin.

“Though, I may have a way to speed things up if you would allow me to test out a device my graduate students and I have been developing here at the hospital.” She said, pausing again.

“You do know this hospital is aligned with the university, right?” She continued.

“We knew that. What kind of device, doctor?” Emily answered quickly before I could. Both our interests were now piqued.

“The machine I refer to is a prototype we’ve been designing to stimulate growth in the body- specifically bone tissue in your case, Mr. Steinert. I’m hoping it could be used to stimulate the knitting of both your tibia and fibulas.”

“Is it safe, doctor?” Emily asked in concern.

“Hell no, lady! Why ya think she wants to try it on yer hubby?” Connie screamed from the other side of the room. “Dumb bitch!” She snorted.

“It could also help heal your spine, Ms. Cummins.” The doctor said over her shoulder.

“Fat chance of that, ya quack!”

Our doctor turned and looked at the spiteful teen for a few long seconds. I noticed a slight glimmer of hope on Mina and Jack’s faces.

“As far as our latest tests indicate, some hair loss, mood changes, slight delusions, and some nausea have been observed, Mrs. Steinert. The results though, have mostly been positive.”

“Phhhhht! Mostly positive? Rrrrrright! And you might get a bigger dick out of it too, asshole!”

“Ms. Cummins, you either hold your tongue or I have Nurse Riggby administer something that will!”

“Up yers, quack!”

Dr. Reilly made a move to reach for her earpiece- a recent advance in doctor/nurse communication.

“You win, Doctor Frankenstein! I’ll stay quiet while you con these antiques into being guinea pigs!” Constance conceded.

“With your consent, I can schedule you for tomorrow morning. The procedure should only take half an hour at most. What do you think, Alex?”

“Will he be sedated, Doctor? You said there would be some discomfort involved.”

“Yes, Mrs. Steinert, he’ll be given a mild sedative, he won’t be completely out though. I’ll be asking him to describe what he’s feeling during the procedure.”

“When do you need to know by?” I asked, pretty much knowing my decision already. The sooner I could get back to work, the less debt we would incur.

“The sooner the better, Alex. I must clear it with the hospital first, reserve an operating room, and alert my student assistants and design team.

“Alex, we need to talk about this a little before you make any decision.” Emily suggested.

“Doctor, do you really think it could help Connie as you inferred?” Mina asked as Jack nodded his head.

“Shut the hell up, you Limey bitch! I don’t wanna be Doc Frankenstein’s next experiment!”

Dr. Reilly stopped and turned slowly toward the rude teen and glared at her a moment before answering.

“Your daughter is also a prime candidate for the procedure, Mrs. Cummins. Her fracture, although in the spine, in many ways would be easier to repair. Of course, she would have to be securely restrained and sedated- heavily- during the procedure.”

“She wouldn’t do it, doc. She’s too insecure to go through with it.” I said drawing all three Cummins’ attention, Emily’s, and our good doctor’s also.

“What’d you say, old man? You think I can’t do it? You think I’m some kinda wuss?” Connie hissed at me.

“There’s an ‘old’ saying, darlin’- actions speak louder than words.” I answered frankly. “All I’ve heard for the past six days is ‘boo-hoo, oh pity me. I’m just so distraught that I’m adopted. I’m just going to wimp out and kill myself because I’m too scared to come to terms with it. Oh boo-hoo.” I paused and gave my roomate an evil smile. “Time to put up or shut up, little girl.”

“Alex!” Emily gasped!

“Bring it on, Gramps! I’ll see yer bet and raise the stakes that you won’t be able to handle the pain and that you wuss out before bein’ wheeled in!” The rude girl challenged.

“Alex, don’t let her provoke you. We need to talk this over first.” Emily reminded.

“How early can you get us in, Doc?”

“Alex!”

“Dear, if it works we don’t fall so far behind on the bills and the doctor here can get her approvals and help more people. If it doesn’t I haven’t lost anything.”

“What happens if something should go wrong, Alex? What would I do without you? Did you even think about that?” Emily cried in exasperation.

“Mrs. Steinert, I guarantee you that, in all the tests, we’ve never lost a single patient. You see, we are being bombarded by all sorts of radiation every second of our lives- Gamma and Cosmic rays being just a small portion of that daily dose. It is no worse than a sunburn, I assure you.”

“Chickening out already, Granma? Put up or shut up- ha!” My roommate laughed hysterically. “Wusses!” She added with disgust as she turned her head away from us.

“What do you need from my husband, doctor?” Emily asked in a serious tone as she glared at the teen.

“I just need a preliminary blood sample before the procedure to compare with a sample we take afterwards. In a few tests the subject became temporarily anemic for a day or two thereafter. At this point I have made it standard practice.”

I rolled up my pajama sleeve and offered my arm.

Connie gasped in surprise!
 
  

“Mrs. Steinert, you can have a seat in this waiting room. Mr. Steinert will be just through those doors for the procedure. Because of the dangers from the gamma radiation we’ve blocked and shielded all windows, doors…even the walls, ceiling, and floor. You should be perfectly fine out here.” A nurse said to Emily as she wheeled me into the waiting room.

Jack and Mina Cummins were already seated- Mina reading a book and Jack catching up on some work with his tablet. Emily greeted them before sitting down. Both seemed in better spirits this morning- hopeful their daughter could perhaps walk again.

“Is Connie already in there?” She asked.

“For about ten minutes now, Emily.”

“I take it she put up a fight?”

“Surprisingly no. If you ask me, Alex struck a cord last evening. Have you ever thought about psychology as a career, Alex?” Mina replied.

“No, I never have, Mina. I just thought this procedure might help your daughter get better so she could resume her normal life. I kinda hope it will open her eyes to the fact that all life is precious and shouldn’t be wasted.

“Amen to that, Mr. Steinert!”

Looking around the room, I noticed that the television was on, but neither Emily nor the Cummins’ seemed to notice. The same Sci-Fantasy was playing, so I turned my attention to it.
 

“Director, may I interrupt your rest period to establish a dialog with you whereby we could debate a matter I have theorized, but just fully comprehended?”

“Enter, Cami. I will defer my rest period for several minutes. RVP? Lights to fifty percent, please.”

“Of course, director.” A voice answered from off screen.

“Thanks, hun. What y’all got, Cami?”

“Alex, I believe I have discovered the process by which she facilitated total transposition.”

“Y’all wonna say that again, Sweetheart?”

“I think I found out how the Empress did it, Alex.”

“Cami, you do know I’m the Empress also, right?”

“Of course, Empress. I’m sorry to have insinuated…”

“What is this unrevealed process Alex Steinert is to have used, sweetheart?”

“When Alex first devised her plan to move this station, she said that she would have to use the illogical- use her intuition.”

“Okay, I understand that part, in fact, I suggested it to her in my archives. What does that have to do with transposition, Camille Darough?”

“It has everything to do with the process, director! Remember how you said you felt Alex Steinert’s pain several weeks ago?”

“I’d rather not access that singular archive at this time, sweetheart, but yes.”

“You and Alex are linked together…somehow. If you felt her damage, you should be able to go to her rescue.”

“Have you been experimenting in the biological compounds lab again, Cami? What did I tell y’all ‘bout messin’ with the hallucinogens?”

“No, director, I have not! What I am submitting for deliberation are theses based on observations of the future Empress’ enigmatic actions!”

“So state the underlying base thesis, Camille Darough!”

“Empress, if you desire to help the future Empress, Alexandra Steinert, you must disengage logic and engage your intuition- in short, think…illogically.”

“So, you think I should break the rules?”

“Established parameters seem to confirm that procedure, Alex.”

Had I heard right that one of the lead characters in this strange show had almost the same name as me?

“We’re ready for you now, Mr. Steinert.” The nurse pulled my attention back from the TV.

“Mr. And Mrs. Cummins, Connie is sedated and sleeping comfortably. We have her repositioned and prepped for the procedure. The doctor will be ready when his last two assistants arrive. Apparently they are having car trouble.

Both parents nodded and joined hands.

“Mr. Steinert, everyone in the operating theater is required to wear these protective goggles, sir.” The nurse said as she handed what looked like welding goggles to me. After I had them secured and positioned properly she produced a syringe.

“This is a mild sedative and should last for a few hours, sir. It will keep you comfortable through the procedure. Ready?”

I nodded and she gently pushed the needle into the remaining IV port in my forearm.

Emily stood, walked over to me and gave me a kiss. Her eyes conveyed her deep concern for me. We need exchange no words.

The TV show continued to play on as I closed the lenses of my goggles and gave thumbs up. The nurse wheeled me into the procedure room.
 
 

The ‘operating room’ appeared to be nothing more than a moderate-sized lab. Several computers were haphazardly placed on a couple of tables along two walls. Folding wooden chairs at the tables provided seating for these makeshift workstations. Several people were already in position checking various screens on each computer- running preliminary diagnostics I’d imagine.

In the middle of the room, a large, wheeled device similar to a portable hospital X-ray machine sat waiting. An unconscious Connie lay on her stomach under its focal point on a gurney. Her hands, upper thighs and shoulders were bound tightly. In the full torso body cast, there was no way she could move. I noticed another portable X-ray machine standing off in the far corner.

“Now all we need are my assistants! Nurse Riggby, where are Sam and Cassie?”

“Oh, they called just after I took Mr. Steinert out of his room, doctor. They said they were having car trouble.”

“Undoubtedly, one or both of them slept in again.” Dr Reilly admitted to me with a roll of her eyes. “As cousins go they’re first-rate, as employees…they…well, they aren’t very reliable.” She winked. “Mr. Peltierre, are your data monitors ready?”

“Online and waiting, doctor.”
 
 

“Aunt Emily, has there been any change since yesterday?”

“Sorry Alexandra, but still no change, I’m afraid. I still haven’t been able to see where Alex has gone either.”

“Maybe I can help with that, Emily Scott.”
 

“What did she call her?” Emily asked the TV as she stared up at the screen in the corner of the small waiting room. The Cummins’ seemed to be oblivious to the program. Both continued to read or work. Emily decided to watch the show, her interest suddenly piqued.
 

“Alex? But how?”

“It is a theoretical proposal submitted by Miss Darough. I would be lying if I told you I fully understand the concept. Perhaps Camille could explain after I try to make contact with the Empress.”

“It is good to see you again, Emily. Cassi and I have indeed missed you and Terra. I trust my mate, her father, is in good health?”

“Timus was here just a few minutes ago, Cami. I have no doubt he will return when he senses your presence.”

“Empress, what do you mean, ‘after you make contact with Alex’ and why have you brought Janelle Hathor to this planet!”

“I feel I must try to make contact with my temporal twin to facilitate her retrieval to this universe. I have seen that this is what I must do. To update your archives, Alusia is not my former assistant director, Emily Scott-Rosen, but one of her distant relatives returned to Egypt by Alexandra Steinert. She too has experienced the Mahanilui and now serves Pharaoh as neice-in-law and my liaison.”

“Oh. Welcome to Terra, Alusia. Alex, how could you have possibly seen a solution when both Alexandra and I have had no luck seeing a way through this?”

“Our young niece, Alexandra, has indeed seen the way, sister, though she cannot affect its completion. The responsibility lays solely with me, doctor. I must be the one to carefully navigate the tides and eddies of Alexandra Steinert’s mind. We, the past and present Empress, alone share the common trait which can release my sister from her queue.”

“Common trait, Alex? I’m not sure I understand.”

“We both have undergone the Mahanilui, sister. The young, Empress Alexandra, has been female all of her life whereas Alex and I have spent time as the opposite gender.”
 

“Does she mean…that they were men? How crazy is this thing going to get?” Emily gasped, but continued to watch the strange show.
 

“Aunt Emily? Cassie said she saw Aunt Alex appearing here on Terra. That isn’t possible is it? Oh…my…God, you did it! You really did it! Empress, how?”

“Aunt Alex, you are here! How? When I saw your arrival I thought I was imagining it, but you’re really here! I told you, Samantha Fleming, that I saw her arrive!”
 

Two women rushing into the waiting room broke Emily’s attention on the show.

“Dr. Reilly is going to kill us, Cassie! She wanted us here to prep the equipment half an hour ago!”

“I said I was sorry for sleeping in already, Sam! Let’s just get in there and worry about the consequences later!”

“Excuse me, ladies, they’ve already taken my husband and Miss Cummins back, so I think they’ve started without you.” Emily said to the two before they could open the doors and risk possible radiation exposure.

“Dr. Reilly can’t start without us, ma’am. Sam and I are the only ones who know how to start her Gamma exciter.”

“You must be Mrs. Steinert. Thank you so much for agreeing to help test our equipment, ma’am. Oh, I’m Samantha Fleming and this is my sister, Cassandra. If you will excuse us, we have to get in there.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to hold you up, ladies. Nice to meet you though.” Emily said politely as she looked between the two girls and their matching characters on the TV a number of times.

Could it be possible that two people could look identical- same names and everything? Now that she thought about it, she bore a striking resemblance except for age, to the doctor character on the show as well! The character even used HER maiden name! Was it all one big coincidence?

“You mean they haven’t even started yet?” Jack Cummins asked looking up from his tablet in amazement.

“Apparently not.” Emily shook her head noticing the two had already entered the next room.

“Unbelievable!” He replied before returning to his work.

Mina just looked up from her book and shook her head a few times before returning to it.

Emily continued to watch the mysterious program paying it even more attention than before.
 

“With Cami, Cassi, and Alusia’s help I will endeavor to initialize contact with Alexandra’s mind…wherever it has gone- whenever it has gone, doctor.”

“Sam and I would like to help too, Aunt Alex!”

“Join hands then and let’s get goin’, girls.”

“Wait! M’lady Empress, do you think this a wise endeavor? What if all should become ensnared and denied egress? What should be done?”

“That’s not going to happen, Tibius. I have seen the proper solution and run the scenarios many hundred times changing only the slightest of items with each pass. It will take some time, but we shall liberate the Empress from her prison.”

“Why is she being held hostage, Empress? What criminal could possibly hold the Empress of Time and Space?”

“She is not being detained in that form of establishment, but a self-imposed prison- one of her own making, Sir Tibius. Our sister is prisoner, jailer, and warden combined. She and Constance will remain stationery until Alex achieves forgiveness from all parties involved, namely herself and Connie.”

“Like mom would ever forgive herself!”

“Precisely, Cassandra. That is why I must be the one to travel there and convince her of that. I am the only one that remotely understands the turmoil she has experienced.”

“Alex, I want to come along.”

“Emily, you need to be here. You will better assist our sister in your capacity as her doctor.”

“But Cindy is also a doctor, Alex. I need to be with my sister!”

“Without going into details, you must remain here, Emily Scott-Rosen. Alex will need you both beside her in just a few minutes now. Please do not make this more difficult, I beg you.”

“Lady Empress, is your plan so sensitive?”

“It is beyond critical, Sir Tibius! My companions please join hands and we shall be off. I must warn you of the likelihood of intense pain as we cross the border between universes at least twice. Be vigilant, my dear sister, Emily.”

“Alusia, before we phase out I want you to establish your connection to the Empress. Once established, concentrating on her is your only concern. Do not slip the connection despite the aforementioned pain at all costs!”

“I shall not drop my concentration, Empress. By far, nothing could compare to childbirth!”

“Don’t be naive, my young sister. In my travels I have felt far worse.”

“My connection with Alex Steinert has been established, Empress. I am ready to proceed.”
 

“Really? They just disappeared?” Emily said in a disappointed voice. She found the lack of any special effects unimaginable in this day and age!

The lights in the waiting room dimmed noticeably and blinked once before coming back up to full brilliance.

Somewhere out in the rest of the hospital several women could be heard screaming in pain.

Coincidentally, the scene changed on the television to a vacant hospital hallway. The six travelers suddenly appeared, screaming in pain as they wrapped their arms around their bellies and bent over.
 

“Sisters. We have…arrived. As…as painful…as it is, I must ask…that we again join hands to remain out of phase…um…with this reality…until the…the proper time.”

“Empress, I have never felt such intense pain in this revision’s existence! Is this the reaction Alexandra Steinert experienced on her retrieval to Reilly?”

“My personal archive of that arrival confirms the hypoth’sis, Camille.”

“Alex, your hair! It has become streaked with argent and blanc! Has this transit taken such excessive toll?

“As y’all recall ah looked far worse the first time, sweetheart.”

“Come, Empress, we must seek safe lodgings so that you may recline for several minutes. When you start speaking like Alex Steinert, you require a rest period!”

“The importance of this here mission val’dates procrastination ah any pos’ble reclinin’, Miss Darough.”

“Aunt Alex, you’re bleeding from your ears and nose. Please sit down and let your nanos do their job.”

“The mission mus’ continue, Sami! Ain’t no time fer relaxin’.”

“Horshit, Alex! We find a room so that you can lay down a few minutes! Don’t make me get Cassi and Cami involved!”

“Fine! Y’all find a vacant room an ah’ll take a breather.”

“Cami, you, Cassi, and Alusia, is it? You all stay here with Alex. Sam and I will go scouting. Oh, we might want to change our Reilly’s to match the uniforms or scrubs we’ve seen so far.”
 

“Now that’s my kind of clothing. If only you could do that in real life. Think of the time I could save finding the perfect outfit.” Emily said as she watched the outfits of all six women change instantly. Two of the women suddenly disappeared just before an orderly pushing a gurney walked straight through the remaining four characters.

“This is starting to get absurd. What else is on this thing?” Emily growled reaching for the remote.
 
Click
 
“Don’t make me angry, Mr. McGee! You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”
 
Click
 
“Igor! Throw the last switch!”

“Yes, doctor!”
 
Click

 

“Oh forget it! I was better off watching the first show.” Emily admitted to herself.

“What’s it say when the best thing on television is some outrageous Sci-Fi fantasy series!” She added as she stepped back two channels.
 

“Emily, come quick! Connie is starting to glow!”

“What, Jack?”

“Connie. She just started to glow! I don’t understand how or why, but she is definitely giving off a dim white light!”

“I’ll be right over, Jack! Cind, can you watch Alex for a minute while I see what’s going on?”

“Sure thing, Lieutenant.”

“Cind, I haven’t been a Lieutenant for seventy years.”

“Sorry. Old habit.”
 

“She hasn’t been a lieutenant in seventy years? How long do you people live?” Emily questioned aloud as she continued to watch.

The scene changed back to the very familiar-looking hospital set.
 

“Empress, Cassie and I have found an empty room. We believe it’s for interns and doctors on call to rest while on duty. It would be normal for a doctor to relax there. Follow us.”
 

“Now who are they talking to? Oh, I get it. This Empress can make herself invisible. That could be useful.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Cummins?”

Jack and Mina looked up at the doctor from what they were doing.

“Connie’s procedure went well and I think she stands a very good chance for a full recovery.”

As she told them the news, Connie, still sedated, was being wheeled out of the operating room.

“Because we had a little delay, she’s already starting to come out of the anesthetic so Nurse Riggby will stay with her a while, if you want to follow her to recovery?”

“Nnnnno. Wan…say…ere…wiff…Alecth.” The barely coherent teen mumbled.

“What did she say?” Connie’s father asked.

“Miss Cummins, Alex will be just fine, hun. I need to get you into recovery so I can take out your IV.” The nurse told her.

“Empress, HELP!” Constance Cummins shouted out plain as day!

Emily immediately turned her attention to the teen and looked back at the television a few times in amazement!
 

“Mother! I’ve detected Connie somewhere in this large infirmary!”

“Confirmed, Cassiopeia! I am receiving telemetry from Miss Cummins also! Triangulate her location so that we can affect rescue.”

“B’lay that, Ms. Darough! The signal may be sub-cognizant and unrealized- possibly errant! We wait until the Empress can be located and then proceed with extreme caution!”

“Why such precautions, Alex?”

“Alex Steinert may not be herself, Cassi. If that is the case, she may not recognize her sisters…or her daughters.”

“What do you mean she isn’t herself, Aunt Alex? What could possibly affect her personality?”

“My nieces, this is not only a different Earth, but a different universe altogether. As with other dimensions, the events leading to the emergence of the Empress may not have occurred yet or at all. There may be some similarities or none at all to our Earth.”

“You mean she might be bad in this universe, Aunt Alex?”

“Possibly, but she may not be a she at all in this reality.”

“You mean she hasn’t experienced her Mahanilui here?”

“That’s what I’ve seen, hun.”

“So we’re looking for Alexander Fredrick Steinert instead of Alexandra Frances Steinert. Wow, Cassie and I have only met him once- back before World War II started.”

“Right after ah take five, Sam.”

“ESTN will return with more of the ‘Empress of Bikini’ after this short break.”
 

“What?” Emily gasped as she watched the strange program intently. “That’s impossible! My husband is this Empress? I must be imagining this whole program! I’m probably asleep with Sesame Street on or something!”

Emily instinctively pinched herself.

“Ouch!”

“This show can’t be real! There is no such thing as an alternate universe, is there?”

Emily was starting to have her doubts. She tried other channels again.
 
Click
 
“And now back to the ‘Price is Right’ sponsored by ‘Chevrolet. We help build America.”
 
Click
 
“This is CNN’s Morning Report.”

“This morning NASA released another briefing concerning last week’s massive Galactic explosion that crippled several communications satellites and disabled the aging Magellan Space Observatory. In this newest release, NASA warns that some Direct TV and Dish customers may still experience intermittent outages as they realign other satellites into compensational orbits. Satellite phone and Internet services may also suffer intermittent dropouts or lost calls during this realignment process.”

“In addition, NOAH has joined the Pentagon and NGS in advising that all ships at sea use caution with GPS and magnetic compasses as the excessive wave of Gamma and Cosmic rays expelled by the event has intensified and slightly altered Earth’s magnetic field and auroras. The Northern lights have been observed as far south as Nicaragua and Panama. Now on to the Middle East…”
 
Click
 
“Captain, if the Borg were to successfully colonize Earth a paradox would result that could possibly negate the Federation.”

“Understood, Mr. Data! Take us into the temporal particle cloud and follow the Borg Sphere.”
 
Click
 
“Em, What happened to her? Why was Connie glowing like a light bulb?”

“I’m not sure I know, Jack. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“I have, Aunt Emily.”

“Alexandra! I didn’t hear you come in. Where have you seen this before?”

“Grandmother’s memories of a trip to 1945 Poland contained images that are fundamentally similar to what you and Aunt Jacki observed. While trying to recover the Meridian 12 Spacecraft, electricity was forced into that ship’s hull in order to gain access to its outer airlock hatch. In defense, Meridian engaged her protective shield.”

“Grandmother’s memories show that, while out of phase she began to also emit wide spectrum light. Too late, she found that somehow the shield caused her to rephase and also nullify that portion of her gift temporarily, thus revealing herself to the scientists and several National Socialist Party members.”

“Ya, I remember that mission! That’s where we picked up Alusia. I was only in communication with Alex and Peyton at the time and couldn’t see what happened. You think that is what happened here, Empress?”

“The characteristics are very similar, Aunt Jacki.”

“Aunt Emily, you should return to Grandma’s room. A similar event is about to happen to her also.”

“How do you know that, Alex, honey?”

“I am not at liberty to explain at this time, Aunt Emily. Just know that as you must return to Alex Steinert’s bedside, so must I prepare for the pain accompanying the event. I must leave to prepare. Goodbye for now, sisters.”

“Em, you better get back to Alex. I’ll stay here with Connie and let you know if something else happens.”
 

“Cind, any change?”

“Nothing but some moderate brain activity.”
 
 

“Well, Mr. Steinert, we’re ready to proceed. Any questions before we start?” Dr. Reilly asked in a pleasant voice.

“Will I dream?” I asked and smiled.

“Well…yes…if we were to put you fully under sedation, why?”

I just shook my head figuring she hadn’t made the reference to Arthur C. Clark’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey sequel ‘2010’.

Her two assistants got it though, judging by the slight smile and eye roll both displayed.
 
 

The sudden and loud screams of pain from a male voice emanating from the room beyond tore Emily’s attention from the program! A bright flash instantly washed over the waiting room and a loud commotion soon followed along with the continued screaming.

“Alex!” She gasped!

Worry now consumed her as the screaming lightened to loud groaning from inside the room.
 
 

“Shut it down! He’s starting to convulse!”

“Disabling Gamma Emitter, Doctor!”

“Randall, get over here and operate this suction! I don’t want him to choke!”

“Yes, doctor!”

“What happened, Samantha? This never happened before!”

“Not sure, ma’am, give us a minute here!”

“Cassie, the Gamma radiation just pegged the meter! I’m not seeing anything here that could have caused it, though!”

“Nothing internal to the equipment, Sam! Everything was working perfectly before he started glowing!”

“Mr. Steinert? Alex, can you hear me?” Dr. Reilly asked with concern.

The pain was so intense I had involuntarily slammed my eye closed! I had no idea why a strange tube was stuck in my mouth attempting to suck my tongue out of my head! Now that the pain had subsided a bit I opened my eyes and my mouth. I started to cough.

“Randall, who ever taught you how to use suction?”

“No one, doctor.” A man’s voice said from above my head. The strange tube greedily released my tongue.

Behind the befuddled, five foot-seven, dark blonde doctor, I saw another women of similar height, build, and hair color- a relation of her’s, maybe? She was quietly observing me- her face displaying deep concern combined with sadness, and maybe a tear or two.

“Who are you?” I asked with some difficulty.

“A friend, Alexander Steinert.” The woman answered, looking right at me.

“Mr. Steinert, I’m Dr. Reilly.”

“Why are you here, in this room?” I continued.

“I’m here to rescue you.” She replied and looked to wipe a tear away.

“I’m performing this procedure, Mr. Steinert. I have to be in this room!”

“Rescue me from what, ma’am?” I asked. I had no idea what she meant.

“Rescue? Alex, I’m trying to heal your legs!”

“Alex Steinert, you are not meant to be here…in this reality.” The strange woman told me. Her face looked even sadder, if possible.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” I repeated in confusion?

“Yes you are, Mr. Steinert! You and your wife, Emily, gave us permission to carry out this experimental procedure, don’t you remember?” The doctor answered first.

“A catastrophic event occurred while helping a friend and somehow you ended up here, Alex.”

“I saved Connie.” I said, it being the first thing to pop into my mind.

“Yes…yes you did, Empress.”

Of course you saved Constance Cummins, Mr. Steinert! Samantha and Cassie, I want an analysis stat!”

“Empress? Why did you call me that?” I asked, wondering if I had heard her right.

“Girls, what the hell is going on?” Dr. Reilly shouted!

“Because, Alex, you are my temporal twin. We are both the Empress of Time and Space. Both of us in our own times correct the discrepancies and faults of our relative time streams. We…we help it along…fix what needs fixed…and protect our loved ones.” The woman explained as she dropped her gaze to the floor. I’m not sure, but I think she was crying. “I’m here to help you, sister.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes carefully.

“You’re my sister?” I gasped in surprise.

“Hardly, Mr. Steinert! I’m just your doctor! How much sedative did Cindy Riggby give you, Mr. Steinert?”

“Yes, Alex, believe it or not, I’m your sister. My name is Alexandra Reilly.”

“Alexandra Reilly?” I repeated.

“No, Mr. Steinert, my name is Reilly Reilly! Dr. Reilly Reilly! Sam, you got that analysis yet? I want to know exactly what happened!”

“Dr. Reilly, according to the readouts everything is normal with the equipment! Whatever caused the malfunction had to come from outside!”

“That’s impossible; this entire room is lead shielded!”

“Alex, I have to go now, but I’ll return when you’re alone so we can converse openly about what happened and what I propose to do to help you get home, okay?”

“Okay, we’ll talk later then. Goodbye.”

“Mr. Steinert, who were you talking to?”

“Alex.”

“Cassie, get that X-ray taken stat and let’s get him out into recovery! Mrs. Steinert is probably sitting out there terrified out of her mind by all the shouting and screaming going on!”
 
 

Emily sat alone in the room with her hands between her knees. It had been almost fifteen minutes since her husband’s screaming and moaning had stopped. She half-heartedly watched the strange program on the television hoping it might possibly reveal what had occurred in the operating room.
 

“By the Goddess, it’s happening again!”

“Director!”

Aunt Alex, what’s wrong with your stomach? Why did you suddenly double over?”

“Alex! I have locked onto Alex Steinert!”

“Y’all are too late, Alusia honey! I know exactly where she is- be right back, girls!” The tall, dark blonde woman on the TV said as she slowly stood fully upright.

“Not even a good bye! Just ‘hey, I found her, bye’! Why did we even come along, Sam?”

“I felt the pain, Samantha! Alex Steinert was in extreme pain- from what I don’t know. I can only imagine what the Empress felt.”

“We figured as much, Alusia. While we’re waitin’, how’s life in Egypt?”

“As usual the Empress was right about my destiny. I am joined with Pharaoh’s nephew and have three children with him- two girls, five and three, and a boy, two. I must admit that my life has turned around since meeting the Empress.”

“Don’t let mom hear you call it destiny! She despises that word as much as ‘fate’!”

“She and Alex Reilly have told me that on more than one occasion, Lady Cassandra. She asserts that my decisions are far more important in determining my future happiness.”

“As long as you’re happy. That’s all the Empress wants, Alusia.”

“Oh yes, Lady Samantha, I have never been so happy.”

“We have our work cut out for us, ladies.”

“Why, Director?”

“I believe Alex Steinert’s nanos or, at least some form of latent nanos, have been reactivated by the experimental Gamma device they are using to repair his broken legs.”

“Aunt Alex, why such a sad face?”

“He could see me as I watched, Cassandra. He knows I’m here!”

“Is that a bad thing, Alex?”

“Not so much as my daughter is his attending physician, Cami!”

“Reilly is here? How?”

“This universe’s Reilly is here, Cassi. I don’t expect her to know me, though.”

“There’s more isn’t there?”

“Your Aunt Emily is waiting in the room just outside the lab.”

“That’s good, right?”

“This Alex Steinert is joined with Emily Scott.”

“You’re kidding! Mom and Aunt Emily? This must be some liberal world, Aunt Alex!”

“Alexander Steinert and Emily Scott are wed on this world, girls.”
 

“Mrs. Steinert? Alex is okay. I thought I had better come out here and ease your mind. We had a small problem with the equipment, but everything is fine. Alex is awake and responsive, and anxiously wanting to see you. We had to take more X-rays of his fractures for comparison. My assistants are bringing him out now.”

“Did the procedure work, doctor? Are his bones knitting faster?” She asked.

“According to the films we just took, the process has accelerated the healing. I noticed a slight decrease in the total length of the fracture.”

“Hi, Emily. Sorry about all the noise in there. I guess it hurt a little more than I thought.” I said cheerfully as Dr. Reilly’s two assistants wheeled my gurney out into the small waiting room.

“Cassie, you and your sister take Mr. Steinert up to his room. Mrs. Steinert is to go with you. I want him under observation for the next eight hours.”

Emily stared at the two girls even harder this time around. These two were identical to the two characters from the mysterious ‘Empress of Bikini’ program!

“Come to think of it, they even wore the same lab coats as the TV characters”, she thought!

It had to just be coincidence! Although, the show seemed to predict something would and did happen during the procedure. How could it possibly do that, she wondered?
 
 

Two hours later, Connie Cummins was brought back into the hospital room she shared with me. Her parents, Jack and Mina followed the orderlies and waited by Emily while the men lifted and placed Connie back on her bed. She was awake, but remained strangely quiet.

“How is she?” I asked Jack.

“If you don’t count her almost choking on her own vomit, not bad.” My coworker began.

Did he just find humor in that statement?

“Dr. Reilly gave her a good prognosis. She’s also hoping Connie’s vertebrae have healed far enough that she will be able to start therapy in a few weeks- after the body cast comes off. She thinks there’s a good chance she should regain the use of her legs.”

“That’s wonderful, Jack.” I said glad to hear the news. “She’s going to make a full recovery.” I added, though wondered why I sounded so sure of the girl’s prognosis.

“Did the procedure help you at all, Alex?” He asked.

“We’ll be leaving this place in a few days, Commander.” I responded, but immediately wondered why I had called him commander? I couldn’t recall him ever telling me he was in the military.

“I didn’t think you were high up enough or that the company gave out commissions, Alex.” He chuckled.

“Sorry. I don’t know where that came from, Jack.” I apologized as I felt my cheeks blush.

“Alex?” Connie suddenly said from her side of the room.

“Ya, hun?” I answered.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” She said and started crying profusely.

Jack, Mina, Emily, and I all looked at her.

“She must still be under the influence of the sedative they gave her, Mr. Steinert. I’m sure she meant ‘sir’.” Mina apologized.

“Mina, I’m so glad to see you.” Connie said with a yawn after another few minutes of silence. She quickly fell back to sleep.

“Maybe I should have asked for what they gave her.” I joked.

“They just might have, honey.” Emily said with a laugh. “What you just said to Jack Cummins was very out of character…even for you.”

“Maybe I should follow Connie’s lead and try to rest then?” I suggested.

“That might be a good idea, sweetheart. I know I could use some lunch.”

“If you don’t mind us tagging along, I’ll buy.” Jack said to my wife.

“Would you mind, Alex?” Emily asked.

“Go ahead.” I told her. “I just love the food they serve around here anyway!” I added sarcastically.

“Do you want me to sneak something back?” Emily asked conspiratorially as she leaned over and gave me a kiss.

Did I want her to bring something back for me? I thought about it.

“No, I had thought for a second about a burger, but they’re all out of tomatoes anyway.” I told my wife.

She just looked at me funny as she grabbed her purse and the three of them walked out into the hallway.

Wondering what the look was for, I decided to turn on the TV.
 

“Expect the first spirit as the clock tolls one, Ebenezer.”
 

“What is that doing on this time of year?” I asked aloud as I turned the TV back off. I opened my bedside tray’s drawer and retrieved my watch. It read 12:59:59.

“Am I interrupting anything, Alexander?” A woman’s voice asked from the foot of my bed.

“You!” I said in surprise, looking up and seeing the tall, five-seven, dark blonde haired women that could have easily been Emily’s sister!

“Hello again, Alex Steinert.”

“I saw you in the operating room!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, but I’m still uncertain as to how you were able to achieve that, Alex.”

“Excuse me?” I asked not understanding what she meant. “Why wouldn’t I be able to see you?”

“I thought that I was out of phase with this reality, Alex. Apparently, you could see me though.” She said, not believing it herself.

“Who…are…you?” I asked slowly.

“We’ve gone through that already, Alex. I’m Alexandra Reilly and my sisters and I have come here to bring you back home.”

“But I live here. This is my home.”

“Really, Alex? I wouldn’t call this overly large infirmary a home or any other synonym!” She laughed.

“No. I mean I live in this city. This is my home.”

“Maybe in this universe, hun, but y’all hail from Oak Ridge, Missoura in mine. I think deep down in that head of yours y’all know that to be true.”

“I was born in Oak Ridge, but what other universe is there other than this one?” I asked in curiosity.

“Hun, you’d be surprised by how many different universes and individual dimensions there are! You just happen to be three universes away from where you and Connie started.”

“Connie and I? She’s from this other universe too?” I questioned. “That would explain a lot.”

“Yes, but I’m not going to go into the specific explanation of how or why just yet. First you have to acknowledge the fact that the information I’m relating to you is valid.”

“Lady, I’m having a hard time believing anything I’m seeing or hearing right about now.” I told her honestly.

Suddenly she was next to me!

“No, Alexander Steinert, I’m not a witch. Although a few hundred years ago your Puritans thought otherwise. In our universe I…we are referred to as the ‘Empress of Time and Space’. As I told you earlier, we…you and I, randomly transit the sequential temporal flow modifying any errors and filtering small differentiations.”

“Are you a witc…?” She just read my mind!

“Did anyone ever tell you that you talk strangely, ma’am?” I asked as I reached out and gently poked her in the stomach. She seemed quite real despite suddenly changing locations instantaneously. Despite the obvious danger I could be in, I found myself intrigued by this woman.

“I assure you, Alex Steinert, I am quite tangible at the moment. And you have informed me of my differing speech patterns on many occasions, in fact.”

“How could that be? I just met you?”

“As I said, Alexander, in this universe, but ONLY in this universe. We, in fact, have known each other for a very, very long time.”

“How long is long?” I asked, curious about her answer.

I wished I hadn’t!

“Roughly five thousand years, Alexander.” She answered all too calmly for my liking.

“What kind of a being am I in your universe? What do I look like? Am I some kind of monster?” I asked, daring to push further.

“You look exactly like me, of course! As I stated, you and I are the Empress of Time and Space, Alex.”

“Listen, darlin’, there is no possible way I could ever look like you! Who are you really and why are you really here?”

“Alexander Steinert! My intentions are logically thought out and completely transparent! I assure you I have no underlying motives! My travel companions and I simply wish to return you to your proper domicile!”

I noticed she mentioned her travel companions again yet I had seen no one but her.

“These companions you talk about…where…”

“Excuse me one moment, Alex and I’ll show you.”

The mysterious blonde disappeared- just vanished from right beside me! Had I been more mobile, I would have searched around or under my bed.

“Alexander Steinert.” The woman’s voice said suddenly, scaring the daylights out of me! “These are my travel companions.”

There were now six women in my room at the foot of my bed! All were wearing hospital attire in one form or another. All looked to be in their early twenties. Two of the newly arrived women looked like close relations to the woman calling herself Alex Reilly- sisters’ maybe. I was fairly certain I had seen these two before, though!

“Alex, to my left is Camille and Cassiopeia Darough, and Alusia- she’s from Egypt. To my right are my nieces, Cassandra and Samantha Fleming. Say hi to Alex Steinert, ladies.”

“Empress, he looks exactly like the image shown to me back on Reilly shortly after her arrival!” One of the shorter blondes, Camille, I think, gasped.

“This is the Empress’s original form, Cami. This was also my original form before the awakening of the fusion giant if your earliest archives have remained intact.”

“Why can’t you just call it a sun?” I asked without even thinking. Why did I do that? How did I even make a connection with that term?

“Mom? Are you in there?” One of the two sisters asked. Her staring into my eyes made me feel very uncomfortable.

“I’m not your mom, hun. I don’t think I have the right equipment.” I chuckled.

“You give us back our mother this instant, Alexander Steinert!” The other sister growled.

“Sam, Cassie. Alex, both male and female, are locked together. Simply ordering her out, like a demon of old, will delete both. Alex must find her own way out of Alexander’s body.”

“You really expect me to believe that there are two of me up here?” I asked pointing to my head.

“You tell me, Alex. Let your mind relax for a minute. Try not to think of anything at all. Let your mind go blank, I think is the expression.” Ms. Reilly suggested.

Mr. Steinert? Sorry we took so long to get here, but…oh, we’re sorry doctor! We didn’t know you were in here. Please finish.” One of the two assistants from this morning’s procedure said as they barged into my room. They looked exactly like the two women with Ms. Reilly! I noticed that the two had immediately turned to look out the window!

“Not a problem ladies! My students and I decided to randomly access one of the infirmary rooms to examine its contents. We were just leaving.”

“Could you stay for just one second, ma’am? We’d like your advice on this blood workup.”

“Of course. Which patient are we scrutinizing?”

“Him, ma’am.” She pointed to me. “Actually, both. There seems to be some discrepancies between their pre-procedure blood work and post workup.”

“Oh? Let’s have a look then, shall we?”

The assistant, Cassandra I think, handed Alex Reilly both reports, which she began to scan over.

“Miss Fleming, these results are very intriguing! I’m curious as to the foreign white cells and their abnormally high count.”

“If you noticed, the count has grown exponentially from the preliminary test, doctor. It would seem that the patient has contracted…something.”

“Miss Fleming, I would take this to their doctors immediately and get their take on this. I have only limited background in Gamma radiation therapy. My forte is in biogenetic engineering, as is my assistant, Camille Darough.”

‘Dr.’ Reilly motioned to the woman directly beside her. Camille smiled brightly.

“Director, I’m afraid we must be moving along in order to make the required rounds you, yourself scheduled.” Camille reminded.

“Yes, of course, Cami. Ladies, if you will excuse us, please? Come along, doctors.”

I noticed that two women were missing from ‘Dr.’ Reilly’s group- Cassandra and Samantha Fleming. Where had they gone? I never saw them leave. Could all of these women possess the ability to disappear?

‘No, only your daughters and immediate sisters, Alexander.’ Echoed through my skull. How?

The one called Camille glanced back over her shoulder and smiled at me.

The twin assistants moved aside and allowed Alex Reilly and her associates to leave.

“Oh, I forgot to ask the doctor’s name, Cassie!” Samantha Fleming ran to the open door. “Excuse me, doctor? I didn’t get your nam…? Where could they have gotten to so fast? Oh well, maybe I’ll see her later. Come on Cassie, let’s go find Dr. Reilly.”

Both assistants left the room, and a still sleeping Constance Cummins and I were alone. I couldn’t help feeling that wasn’t quite the case though! Something…some feeling, told me that there was still someone in here with us.

“I know you’re still here. Show yourself.” I ordered softly.

“Even though she’s a man she can still do that!” One girl complained to the other as they both reappeared at the foot of my bed.

“I’d still like to know how she does it!” The other replied in mock anger.

“If you two are going to argue, do it out in the hall and let my roomie sleep. She’s had a rough couple weeks.” I told them.

“Ya, a rough couple weeks! More like a few years!” The one called Cassandra snorted quietly.

“Why are you still here?” I asked, not sure if I heard the last statement right.

“We miss you, Alex.” Samantha, I think, told me.

“First you call me ‘mom’ now you’re calling me by my first name? What kind of crazy reality are you all from?”

“When on missions with the Empress, it is more beneficial to call you by your first name because we look more like sisters than mother and daughters, Alex.” Cassandra explained.

“Oh, well, if we look like sisters…why not. Do I look like your sister…or mother, girls?” I asked with just a hint of angry sarcasm.

“Well, from what we saw of your chart, Alexander, you may just end up looking like us.” Cassie laughed deviously as she answered.

“I disagree, Cassie. The Nano count is far lower than normal for the Empress, and nowhere near the critical limit needed for the Mahanilui.”

“What’s a Mahanilui- some drink or a rare disease?” I asked with concern.

“The Mahanilui is how you became our Empress, Alex. It is how Alex Reilly became the Empress too.”

“Look, girls, maybe you should leave because I’m getting a terrible headache from all this ‘Empress’ talk. If I close my eyes, you’ll disappear, right?” I asked, hoping it would be true.

“As you wish, mother. We will be back though.” Samantha said sadly.

Both girls joined hands and vanished.

“Alex, who were they?” Connie asked in a sleepy voice. “They looked familiar, but I can’t place them. Do we know them?”

“Who do you think they are, Ms. Cummins?” I asked, curious as to what she thought.

“I feel like I should call them ‘sisters’, but that is just strange, isn’t it?”

“Strange doesn’t begin to explain what just happened, honey!”

“What kind of strange happenings, Alex?” Emily asked, her curiosity piqued, as she and the Cummins’ entered our room.

“Some lady doctor and five of her interns stopped by for a visit, dear. She could have been your long lost sister.”

“Really? What were they wearing, Alex?” Emily suddenly asked in alarm.

“Four of the six were in white lab coats and two were in scrubs, why?” I answered.

Emily’s eyes widened as she gasped!

“Did you see them too, honey?” I asked.

She didn’t answer right away.

“I’ve…I’ve seen them around…around the hospital, Alex.” She finally admitted, though I could tell she was holding something back.

“Oh, hey. I’m glad that everyone is here.” Dr. Reilly said cheerfully as she entered the room.

“Why? What’s the matter, doctor? Didn’t the procedure work for my Alex?”

“As a matter of fact, Mrs. Steinert, it’s working incredibly well! I’d like to take another X-ray of Alex’s legs for comparison to his earlier film.”

“Oh, you had me scared for a minute.” Emily replied as she relaxed slightly.

“I do, however, want to talk with you while the technicians do their thing, Mrs. Steinert- you too, Mr. and Mrs. Cummins. If you will follow me to my office, please?”

“Alex, I’ll be right back, okay?” Emily said as she came over and kissed me before leaving the room.

The X-ray machine was pushed into our room by a lone technician.

“Well, looks like I get a two-fer today.” The cheery technician said as she began preparing me for my X-ray.
 
 

“Mrs. Steinert. Mr. and Mrs. Cummins, a small matter has come up regarding the post procedure blood work drawn from Alex and Connie.” Dr. Reilly paused and waited for the open mouths to close.

“It’s nothing potentially life threatening that we can see, but it is very strange that two different individuals should show identical signs after the same treatment.” She continued.

“What’s wrong with him, Doctor?” Emily asked in a worried voice.

“Nothing is wrong with him, Mrs. Steinert. I’m just saying that they both show elevated white cell counts.”

“Is that bad doctor?”

“Not in the way you would think, Mr. Cummins. Seen through the microscope, these particular white cells appear different from your normal, everyday variety. These appear to be…for lack of a better term…intelligent. They seem to move around on their own and are definitely multiplying. The preliminary blood taken from both patients indicated relatively few of these cells, though I must admit we had to wait a significant amount of time while the specific lab equipment was repaired. They seemed benign on examination. The newest samples indicate an exponential increase right after the procedure. I can’t explain this phenomena or what they actually are!”

“Then how do you know that they’ll remain unharmed, Dr. Reilly?” Mina Cummins asked excitedly.

“Simply because at the rate of multiplication these reports indicate, if dangerous, would have already killed them, Mrs. Cummins. The very fact that they seem unharmed would indicate that these cells are beneficial and not malevolent. I would like to keep monitoring them both by having blood drawn at fixed intervals. If they seem to be causing harm then I might order a transfusion, but only if life-threatening.” Dr. Reilly told the three calmly.

“Could they be helping repair the damage, doctor?” Emily asked out of the blue. “Could they be some kind of mini machines and not cells at all?” She added cautiously.

“You mean could they somehow be nanobots, Mrs. Steinert?” Dr. Reilly paused to think about it. “If they are, they’re smaller and like nothing I have ever seen before. It could explain the activity though.” She admitted with a slight tilt of her head.

Emily blinked several times in amazement. Could it be true- what she saw portrayed on the strange Sci-Fantasy?
 
 

“All finished. Thanks for your patience, you two. I’ll let Dr. Reilly know I’m all done.” The technician smiled as she finished packing up the machine and began to push it out of the room.

“Wow, that didn’t take long, now did it?” Alex Reilly’s voice startled me again from the foot of my bed!

“Can’t you go haunt someone else for a while?” I asked sarcastically. I admit it may have been the wrong thing to say, given her ability to just pop in uninvited!

“Empress! Welcome to our room. It is unknown what day, time, or year this might be, M’lady.” Connie babbled out from her bed.

“So you remember me, Lady Constance?” Alex Reilly asked as she turned to my roommate.

“I’m not sure, M’lady. Everything is so hazy and unclear.”

“Lady…Constance? If you would have heard her yesterday, she weren’t no lady, ma’am!” I griped with a chuckle.

Alex Reilly looked back at me with a smile.

I’m…I’m sorry, Empress…for…my…my emotional outburst, M’lady!”

“It was all foreseen, hun. Why do you think Alex took you to such a far off world in the first place?”

“I didn’t take her to any far off place! She’s underage! I just tried to save her butt from jumping off that bridge,” I exclaimed!

“He doesn’t yet accept that he is the Empress, Constance Cummins. It will take more work on my part before she can return you both home, I’m afraid.” Reilly told the girl in the other bed sadly. “Has your gift reasserted itself, Connie?”

“Gift, Empress?”

“Ya, hun! Your telepathy, has it started to return?”

Constance Cummins stared at the woman blankly for a moment.

“Don’t worry, hun, I’ve seen when it returns. Don’t rush things.” She consoled the girl. “You, on the other hand, should be ashamed of yourself, Alex Steinert! How dare you deny your gift its proper reemergence! Only you can transport yourself and Connie back to Terra and return to your awaiting bodies. Only you can safely transit the universes between.”

“Look, Doc.…Alex Reilly, I’d like to believe you- I really would, but just popping in here and telling me that I’m this Empress person and that I look like you…on another world…another universe? It borders on…”

“The unimaginable, Alex Steinert? Tell me, sir, how did you know that Constance would make a full recovery earlier? Tell me how you seemed to know that the local masticated bovine establishment would be devoid of red, acidic, spherical, vined fruit?”

“Huh?” I asked, unable to understand her last question.

“Local burger joint and out of tomatoes, Alex.” Connie translated.

“How should I know? Do I look like a psychic?”

“Yes!” The seven women chorused. The five traveling with Reilly instantly appeared as I finished asking the question.

“What is it they gave us, Ms. Cummins, and how long before it wears off?” I asked, rubbing my head in frustration!

“Alex any sedation has likely worn off long ago. We are not figments of your imagination, and I do apologize for the migraine.”

“She’s given everyone else one. It’s about time we return the favor!” Cassandra Fleming snorted.

“Cassie Flemin’, y’all knock it off now, hear? I know exactly how he feels! I was him once, remember?” Alex Reilly chided. “I knew I should have brought, Jaime Hilf with us instead.” She said to herself at a lower volume.

“No, Aunt Alex, I don’t remember! That was over nine hundred years ago!”

‘Dr.’ Reilly produced a small oval container from her lab coat’s pocket.

“These are only aspirin, Alex. Two should help with the headache.” She said as she handed me two round pills. She took two more for herself, poured some water in my glass and downed them. Placing the glass back down on my table, she motioned for me to follow her lead.

“I saw that we would need these on this mission, so I brought enough for the both of us.”

“You saw that I would need aspirin? From, what was it, four universes away?”

“Three, Alex. You’re only two borders from home.” She smiled.

“Empress, my parents and Mrs. Steinert are returning.” Connie whispered out.

“Ladies, its time to take a break. Alex, Connie, I bid you well.”

Instantly they were gone, but not before taking hands!

“Yes, she has to be in contact with everyone in order to transport them, Alex.” Connie answered my unasked question.

I looked over to my roommate. “Did you just…”

‘Read your mind? Yes, I think so, Alex.’ I heard.

Her mouth never moved or wavered from the broad smile she wore.

I quickly downed the aspirin offered to me by Alex Reilly.

“Did you miss me, dear?” Emily asked as she, Jack, and Mina walked in.

“Always, honey. So, what did the doctor want to talk about?” I asked.

“She’s concerned that you might have something in your bloodstream, Alex. Something foreign…that normally isn’t there.”

“Nanos.” Connie gasped quietly.

Emily immediately stared at my young roommate.

“Alex, I’m a little thirsty, do you mind?” She asked pointing to my half filled glass.

Picking it up, she abruptly stopped and turned it slightly as if to observe something on it.

“Alex, who was in here while we were talking to Dr. Reilly?”

“Just that doctor lady and her teaching group earlier, why?” I replied.

“Because this lipstick wasn’t on this glass when I left, Alex! Now who was in here?” She asked again and sniffed the air this time. “There was more than one woman in here, wasn’t there?”

How did she know? I decided to risk my marriage and tell her the truth. My next residence would probably be some sanitarium.

“Dr. Alexandra Reilly and her five fellow doctors popped in again to talk, Emily.”

“What did you just say, Alex?” Her voice shot up an octave!

“Dr. Alex Reilly and her fellow doctors…um…Camille and Cassiopeia Darough, Samantha and Cassandra Fleming, and someone called Alusia- I didn’t catch her last name though. They were here talking to me and Connie.” I told her.

A piece of paper suddenly appeared several inches above me and floated to my chest.

Emily’s eyes flew open, as well as her mouth!

Picking it up, I read the message written in a woman’s hand, addressed to me:


They don’t believe you, Alex. Only Emily has made the connection. We’ll be back after Jack and Mina leave.

Alex Reilly.

I handed the note to my wife who was still stunned by its appearance. She said nothing as she handed it back to me. She slowly nodded once. Did that mean she believed me?

“Hi, everyone. I’m here to take some blood from each of you at Dr. Reilly’s request.” A young nurse said in a cheerful voice as she pushed her cart through the doorway.

“Which Dr. Reilly, nurse?” Emily asked.

“Ma’am, we only have one Dr. Reilly associated with this hospital that I’m aware of. Dr. Reilly Reilly, why?”

“Earlier today there was a Dr. Alexandra Reilly and six interns that stopped by to see my husband and Ms. Cummins. I just thought she worked here.

“Oh, we get doctors visiting from the other hospitals around the city all the time. This is a teaching hospital after all.” The nurse explained. “I’m going to need you parents to step out for a minute while I play vampire.” She smiled wickedly.

“Connie, your mother and I have to run some errands. We’ll be back later this afternoon.” Jack Cummins told his daughter.

“See ya.” she said casually as her parents exited. I don’t recall seeing her mouth open.

“I’ll be right outside, honey.” Emily said slowly as she tried to get a good look at the young phlebotomist.

“Okay, hopefully I won’t be a dried up corpse when you come back.’ I laughed.

The nurse just rolled her eyes and began to prepare for the bloodletting.
 
 

“That’ll do it!” The nurse announced as she finished writing Connie’s name and patient number on the last sample. “I’ll be back later tonight when I get thirsty again.” She said with a devious grin.

“Gee, I hope they serve something heavy in garlic for dinner tonight.” I laughed.

“Like I’ve never heard that one before!” The annoyed nurse mumbled as she left the room.

Emily reentered and walked around to the window side of my bed.

“You believe what I said a few minutes ago, right?” I asked.

My wife nodded cautiously and glanced around the room slowly.

“How…why would you believe me so easily?”

Emily motioned for me to hand her my control and promptly turned the TV on. The same strange show was on again! Must be a marathon.
 

“Empress, I know Mom is in there somewhere. I keep seeing bits of her in Alexander’s voice. How are we going to help her?”

“Samantha, Alex will eventually realize her own existence, this I have clearly foreseen. When Alexander chooses to do that is yet unclear. Forcing the issue like you did several moments ago will not help the situation. As it is I now have to convince Emily Steinert that we indeed exist. What possessed you to write that note and forge my name, young lady?”

“We both miss her, Aunt Alex. Our whole universe misses her. Young Alexandra shouldn’t be saddled with the extra burden of fixing her time AND mom’s time. She will run herself ragged!”

That is not your call, girls. The job of repairing the time stream has fallen to young Alexandra and I. It is a necessary obligation while the present Empress is inoperative.”

“Wow! Talk about clinical, Alex!”

“I’m sorry, Cassandra, I sometimes lapse back to ‘Reilly speak’ as you girls call it when frustrated. I miss my sister as much as you do, hun!”

“Director, the Cummins have departed the temporary residence. It is safe to reenter.”

“Thank you, Camille, although my nieces would argue that it is but a simple hospital room.”

“Alex, you’re not the only one that forgets her English colloquialisms at times!”

“But I am the main contributor! Ladies, let’s go see Alex and Emily Steinert.”
 

Emily quickly turned the television off and stayed tight to her husband’s bedside awaiting the group she presumed coming.

“Mrs. Steinert, I assure you that we do not bite, nor do we carry any number of plagues!” The now familiar voice announced as six women were suddenly standing at the foot of the bed.

Emily gasped loudly, the hand at her mouth barely squelching it.

“Yes, Emily Steinert, we are real. How you found out about us is of deep concern to me, though. How is it you know?”

My wife said nothing. Instead, she reached for the control and turned the television back on. The strange show had changed locations- one that looked all too familiar.

“Why turn on the one-way entertainment device in answer to my question, Mrs. Steinert?”

Alex Reilly’s voice echoed from above her. My mouth dropped at what I was seeing!

“Director, the comm screen! You are displayed on the comm screen!” Camille Darough said as her voice echoed too!

“Oh, now this is real ‘Outer Limits-like’,” Cassandra Fleming groaned!

“Where is this broadcast originating from, Alex Steinert?” Alex Reilly demanded.

“No clue, ma’am. It’s been on for a couple days now.” I said as I watched the camera pan and zoom in on my face! “This is creepy.” my voice echoed from the TV.

“Sister, could you turn that thing off for now?” ‘Dr.’ Reilly asked.

Emily complied and the echo disappeared from the room.

“Now that was cool!” Connie said, joining the conversation.

“What are you?” Emily asked of our new guests.

“Apparently exactly what you’ve seen, my sister.”

“You really are this Empress of Time and Space?”

“In the flesh, I think is the correct phrase.”

“And you can…um…phase out and back in?”

“Of course.” Alex Reilly replied from the other side of my bed now.

Emily’s mouth again dropped open!

“So you really are here to take my Alex away from me?”

“Aunt Emily, we’re here to coax our mother out of your husband. Somehow she has taken residence in there and we need to get her out.” Cassandra Fleming explained.

“We’re related? I’m a doctor in your universe?”

My head spun quickly toward my wife!

“How much do you know about these women and where they’re from, Emily?”

“Just what I’ve seen on TV, Alex. In their universe I’m a physician and am attending your unconscious body somewhere on Terra.”

Connie gasped loudly from behind Alex Reilly!

“You are also Alexandra Steinert’s sister, Emily.” Alex Reilly informed my wife. “Your mother is also on Terra and attending your body, Constance Cummins. Jacquelyn hasn’t left your bedside in three Terran years save for nutrient consumption.” Reilly turned around and informed the teen.

“My mom is on Terra waiting for me?”

“Yes, Constance, we all have been doing everything our gifts would allow to bring you both home safely.”

“So, how do we separate them, Ms. Reilly?” Emily asked.

“We cannot separate them, sister. The Empress must find her own way through this. She must find the key so to speak.”

“But I thought you were this Empress, Ms. Reilly?”

“Emily, the…’entity’…the portion of us that transits time and space is the ‘Empress’. Alexandra Steinert and I share the exact same genetic configuration. We are identical twins in every way except experience. That, basically, is the only place we differ. Our gifts, because we are physically identical, are the same. We both can transit time, space, and dimension. We can foresee the future and usually divine history to some extent. And we can slightly alter time around us, along with anyone physically in contact, to seemingly disappear.”

“So, my Alex can do all of those things too?”

“Genetically, we are at present not the same, Emily, therefore, no, I don’t think Alexander carries all the gifts the Empress possesses, yet.”

“He certainly has the foresight portion. Alex, you were right about them being out of tomatoes when I went to lunch today.”

“I was? How on Earth could I have guessed that?” I asked.

“Haven’t you been listening, you hardhead? Part of the Empress’s gift is foresight. Geez, don’t be so dense, Alex!”

“Emily, unless something has drastically changed since this morning, I’m not this ‘Empress of Time and Space’.”

“But something has changed, Alexander. The very composition of the blood coursing through your arteries and veins has changed. The nanos that modified us to become the Empress are multiplying in you as we speak. Given enough time they will reach a level to which drinking strong spirits will trigger their primary function.”

Emily gasped! “You mean he’ll change? Like you did?”

Alex Reilly nodded with a sad face. “Unfortunately, yes.”

“Is there any way to…to stop it…stop them?”

“Not unless they somehow follow Alexandra when she leaves this body.” Alex Reilly pointed to me.

I gulped.

“Come now, Alexander. Being the Empress isn’t that bad!”

“Being the Empress seems pretty awesome- it’s the gender thing I have trouble with!”

“That has its own perks, Alexander.” She added with a devious smile.

“If it’s all the same, I’d like my husband to stay as he is, Ms. Reilly.” Emily confessed.

A chill ran up my spine as I thought about it.

“Oh, God. It’s really going to happen!” I groaned aloud.

Emily quickly stared at me.

“Even now his foresight develops, my sister. The inevitable will come to pass. I am very sorry.” Alex Reilly dropped her eyes to the floor.

“It won’t happen for a while though, Emily.” I tried to ease her worry, though I wasn’t quite sure how I knew any of this. The information was just there when I asked- how crazy was that?

All of a sudden my shins became super itchy! Emily noticed my immediate discomfort.

“Alex? Alex, what’s wrong?” Her expression grew even more worried!

“My legs itch something fierce! The thing is…I can’t scratch them.” I answered as I tried wiggling my hips around.

“Perhaps I can help with that, Alex?” The one called Cassiopeia offered.

I looked to Emily for her opinion. She simply shrugged her shoulders.

I nodded to the girl that looked like Camille’s sister. She promptly held up her hand, extended her pointer finger and began moving it in a scratching motion.

I immediately felt the relief of a finger scratching the itchy skin on both my legs, even though a thick cast covered each!

Emily began looking between my relief filled face and Cassiopeia.

“Well done, my daughter.” Camille praised.

“She’s your daughter?” Emily and I said at roughly the same time!

“Yes. She is my next sequential revision.”

Emily and I looked at each other then back at Camille.

“I mean she is my daughter, sisters.”

“That is just too creepy. I’m not your sister…not yet, anyway.” I warned.

“Sisters,” Alex Reilly interrupted, “The infirmary nurse is approaching. Alexander and Emily, we must take our leave but will be back in the morning. Until tomorrow, sisters.”

Emily and I were alone once more.

“Hey. Did you forget about me over here?” Connie protested.

“I didn’t say anything.” I complained.

“Yah, ya did. You said that Emily and you were alone once more. I heard you, Alex.”

We both looked over at my roommate in amazement.

“We never do get used to that, Alex.” Alex Reilly’s disembodied voice said in my ear.

I felt the blood rush out of my face!

“Alex? What happened?” Emily cried with a start, as her eyes grew large.

“Alex Reilly just whispered in my ear that ‘we never get used to her doing that’, Emily.”

“Alex left, Alex!”

“I know! That’s why I almost passed out!” I replied.

“Oh, she does that when she’s out of phase.” Connie said offhandedly. “Freaky, isn’t it?”

“No more freaky than reading my mind, Ms. Cummins. I’ll ask you to stop doing that while you’re my roommate, thank you. On certain planets it is against protocol to invade one’s private thoughts against his or her wishes, you know.”

“Of course, Empress. How thoughtless of me to disregard the Prime Terran protocol.” She answered as if begging my forgiveness.

I looked up at Emily to see her staring at me.

“What?” I asked innocently.

“Alex, where is Terra and since when do you know so much about their protocols?” Her voice had gone up an octave as she continued to stare at me.

I looked down to the foot of my bed for a minute. “I don’t know.” I answered quietly. I thought about it. How DID I know? I asked myself.

Without warning a flurry of images and movies began filling my mind! Images of a beautiful city…of familiar and unfamiliar people alike…of a woman that looked exactly like Alexandra Reilly! An image of a brilliant, whitish blue sun momentarily flashed into my mind.

“Alex? Alex, can you hear me?” Emily’s voice seemed so far away but quickly grew louder.

“Alex! Alex, honey, can you hear me?”

“Yes, I can hear you, dear. What’s so important that it couldn’t wait one second?”

“Alex, the nurse was here to take your blood already. You’ve been out of it for about twenty minutes! I’m going to get Dr. Reilly! There is something wrong!”

“Emily, I’m fine! I was just getting the answer to my question.” I tried to put her at ease.

“What question? I didn’t hear you ask any question? You just seemed to freeze and your eyes glazed over for twenty minutes! The nurse commented that that’s the quietest you’ve ever been! Alex, I don’t like what is happening to you! That procedure…the sudden appearance of the so-called Empress…what’s happening to us?” Emily exclaimed as she took my hand in hers and began crying.

“I heard her question…if anybody really cares.” Connie offered quietly.

Emily looked over to the teenager.

“Alex asked how she knew about Terra, Emily. Her gift gave her everything she needed to know.” Connie smiled at me. “I think that is the very first time I have ever been witness to the Empress’ internal thought processes. You have one scary mind, you know that don’t you, Alex?”

“Look! Quit calling me ‘Empress’, Connie! And…and stop eave-dropping in my mind!” I warned as my voice took on an angry tone. “Y’all are givin’ me a headache!”

“What did you just say, Alex? Emily gasped! I felt her hand squeeze mine tighter.

“I told her to stop reading my mind, why?”

“No, you said, and I quote, ‘y’all are givin’ me a headache!’” She replied, imitating my little-used, Missouri drawl.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You did, Alex. I wouldn’t lie to you about that.”

“Empress, when can I get out of this body cast?” Connie suddenly interrupted.

“When y’all kin get out of it yourself, hun.” I spit back for some unknown reason.

“You just did it again, Alex!” Emily gasped- louder this time.

“I’ve been trying, Alex, but that part of my gift isn’t working!” Connie shot back.

I suddenly felt really tired!

‘Alex, its time you and Connie got some rest.’ Camille Darough’s voice said in my head.

“I don’t think so, Camille Darough!” Connie said angrily from the next bed.

“Emily, I feel tired. I’m going to go to sleep now. Night-night.”
 
 

“Why are we here, Empress? I do not hear any living things, as if the planet- the whole galaxy is devoid of life! What mission could we possibly have in such a desolate place?”

“We’re here for you, Connie.” I said sadly.

“Empress, I don’t understand?”

“There is something I have been keeping from you, Constance Cummins. Something you now need to know.”

This was the moment I feared!

“You have been withholding information from me? Why?”

“To protect you, Constance! Your development required certain details of your life be kept from you, I’m afraid.”

“What details, Empress? What specifics?”

“It’s nothing real important, Connie, I assure you.” I told the flabbergasted young woman- my best friend’s daughter. I felt I had to delay this from happening for some reason!

“You are lying to me, Empress? Why do you hold the truth?”

The air around us suddenly smelled sweeter.

I gulped.

“You are lying to me! Empress? What could require such uncharacteristic action?”

“I said it isn’t that important. You have turned out the way I had foreseen all those years ago and both your mother and I are very proud of you.” I said trying to calm her. A tear fell from my cheek.

The air only grew sweeter!

“Empress, your ability to block my gift is faltering. There are several important things you have withheld- the first being my true conception date.” Connie hissed in anger.

I looked down to see that I was still holding her hand.

That was good.

“You will tell me what I must know or I will get it myself, Alexandra Steinert!”

The air around us started to spark and sizzle!
 
 

“Good Morning, Mr. Steinert.”

“What? Who? What day is it?” I asked with a start at the soft, pleasant voice beside me.

“It’s Tuesday, Mr. Steinert. I’m Jamie and I’m here to take another blood sample.” The young woman in the white nurse’s uniform said cheerfully.

“Where’s Connie?” I asked in concern, though I wasn’t sure why.

“Over in the next bed, sir. I just finished taking her sample a minute ago.”

I looked over at the teenager.

“Hey old man, how’s it hangin’?” She smiled stoically and waved slightly.

What a crazy dream, I thought. I was surprised as the nurse taped a cotton ball to my arm after removing the needle.

“Good morning, sleepyhead. Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll just wait out in the hall.” Emily said cheerfully before noticing the nurse cleaning up.

“That’s okay, ma’am, I’m just leaving. Come on in.”

“Mornin’ Emmie! Nice to see you could get that tired ass up to this floor!” Connie heckled.

My wife glared at the teen!

“At least I can still walk the stairs, honey!” Emily growled in confused disgust.

“Ewww! Old woman one- Connie, nothin’!” The girl commented sarcastically.

“You all have a nice day now.” The nurse exclaimed as she hurried out of the room.

“Bite me!”

“Gee, you’d think last evening was a dream.” Emily commented as she leaned over and kissed me.

“Last evening?” I asked in confusion. “Why, what happened last evening?”

Emily stared at me.

“You don’t remember? Alex, how could you not remember?” Emily said aghast.

“Because he refuses to remember, Emily Steinert.”

We both jumped at the woman’s voice!

“I wish you would stop doing that! Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

“Alexander, how do your legs feel today, hun?”

“They feel fine, Doctor…” I couldn’t place a name to the angelic face. She could have been Emily’s sister though.

“Alexandra Reilly, Mr. Steinert! Dr. Alexandra Reilly. You can call me Alex though.”

“Dr. Reilly, what did you mean ‘he refuses to remember’?” Emily asked. The look on her face was skeptical at best. Why did she distrust this woman?

“Have you ever heard of the condition ‘selective amnesia’, Mrs. Steinert? Sometimes, someone with deep-rooted regrets chooses to forget instead of facing them. What we need to determine is the cause of those regrets.” Alex explained to the both of us.

“If I had any serious regrets, I think I would remember them, doctor.” I admitted to her.

“And you, Miss Cummins? What of your same diagnosis? What have you regrets about?” Alex asked my teenaged roommate.

“Let’s see.” She paused. “I think I’m going to regret this lame-o conversation! Yup! It’s starting already!”

Dr. Alex Reilly exchanged a tense smile with Connie Cummins.

“My, we are full of ourselves today, Constance! To find out you are not who you thought you were is quite the shock! I wonder how your mother would react if she were here?”

I noticed a devious smile replace her previous tense expression.

“Mother?” Connie exclaimed suddenly as she began to look around the room- scanning the walls, floor, and ceiling.

“Mother! I hear you mother! Where are you!” She cried to the room.

“What’s happening, Alex?” I heard Emily ask the dark blonde doctor.

“Utilizing Constance’s gift to reawaken what Alexander is suppressing, sister!” She nodded over to me then raised an eyebrow to my wife.

“Would you care to listen?”

Immediately I heard a familiar woman’s voice talking! I saw no other woman in the room though!

“Connie, I’m right here next to you, sweetheart! I’ve never left your side in three Terran years. I’ll stay here until the day you come back to us, my beloved daughter. Please come back to me soon. I miss you so much! Please Connie, wake up and tell me all is forgiven and that we can be a family again.”

It was too much! The despair this woman’s voice conveyed brought tears to my eyes! How could someone not be humbled by such desperate pleading?

Connie had started crying uncontrollably.

“And yet you continue to filter that which is before you, Alex.” The doctor growled like it was my fault.

“Who was that distraught woman pleading for the return of her child, doctor?” I asked wiping my eyes dry.

“In another life…another place, she is your friend and confidant, Alex Steinert. Her name is Jacquelyn and she trusted your judgment in order to safeguard her daughter. A trust you could not reveal, but left for your previous self to remedy!” Dr. Alex growled.

What she said didn’t make any sense! I was beginning to think this woman wasn’t really a doctor.

“I assure you, Mr. Steinert, I hold multiple doctorates in microbiology, human physiology, bio-engineering, biogenetic engineering, astrophysics, and string/quantum mechanics! I’m also director of my own research institute. I am more than qualified to be here, sir!” She groused.

Had she been like this yesterday, I thought? That thought came straight out of the blue! Some part of me felt that to be true. I looked down to my cast covered legs. Was she here yesterday, I wondered? I wasn’t sure, but I knew that my head was starting to hurt!

“Work that part of your gift, Alexander. Seek the right questions to receive the needed answers. You alone know the sequence of events that have placed you here…marooned you and your travel companion in this universe.”

“Alex, is this hard line approach really necessary?” Emily asked.

“What?’ I replied.

“Not you, Alex. I’m talking to the Empress.” Emily verbally waved me off.

“Alex is hiding from herself, sister. She must be called out so that we can communicate- so that she can begin the healing process.”

“Healing? He’s got a cast on both legs, Alexandra. I think the healing has already begun.”

“The physical healing yes, but not the conscience, Emily Steinert. Her psychological wounds are vast, deep, and infected with guilt. They also appear to be self-inflicted.”

“Self-inflicted, Empress? I’m not understanding.”

Why…and when, did my wife start calling her Empress?

“Cassandra, dear, you can rephase now.” Dr. Alex said into the air.

“Would someone please tell me how she does that?” One of three younger women, two in white doctor’s coats and one in turquoise scrubs, exclaimed as they instantly appeared in the room!

“A mother always knows where her revisions are, my niece! Cassiopeia, could you relay some archived files between our sister and I?”

“You mean could I relay some memories? Consider it done, Empress.”

“I could relay some memories! Some very…intense…memories to you, mother!” Dr. Reilly Reilly hissed as she entered the crowding room!

“So much for knowing where her revision is!” The one called Cassandra snickered.

“If she was truly my revision I would have known, Cassie Fleming!” Dr. Alex growled.

“Who else would I be, mother, or has it been so long that you have forgotten your only daughter?”

“Cat fight!” Connie Cummins gleefully announced from the next bed.

Both Dr. Reilly’s turned and glared at the annoying teen!

“Reilly, it is hard to explain or believe, but I am not your particular mother. I’m…we, are not from this world at all. Allow me to demonstrate before you enable your emergency signaling device.”

I watched as the women in front of me joined hands…Alex Reilly reached over and took Emily’s! Why would she do that, I wondered?

All five women disappeared!

“What the!” Dr. Reilly’s mouth dropped open.

They suddenly reappeared!

“Like I said, Dr. Reilly, we are not of your world.”

“You too, Mrs. Steinert?” Dr. Reilly asked in confusion.

“I’m…I’m not with them!” Emily protested.

“Then why did you suddenly vanish with them?” The doctor challenged.

“I didn’t go anywhere. We were all just standing here, Dr. Reilly.” She paused and looked at me in confusion.

I slowly shook my head ‘no’.

My wife looked down to see that she still held Dr. Alex Reilly’s hand. She looked up at the woman.

Alex Reilly winked at her with a smile.

Emily folded like a house of cards!

“What did you do to my wife?” I shouted!

“Relax, mom, she just fainted!” The woman that looked like Cassandra’s sister giggled.

Dr. Reilly looked between the girl and me. “Mom?”

“They think that their mother is trapped in my body.” I said all too calmly.

How did I know that, and why would I even admit to knowing something like that?

“Dr. Reilly, it would not be wise to involve the authorities. You will find your comm device inoperative until we leave.” The one in scrubs warned.

Knowing something about those devices, I wondered how she could do that.

‘It should not surprise you what a Mind Warrior can do, Alexander Steinert,’ echoed in my mind.

“What’s a Mind Warrior?” I asked her.

Emily’s eyes fluttered open. Alex Reilly helped her to her feet.

My water pitcher floated past my face! I watched as my teenage roommate took its handle and poured some water into her glass.

“What? I was thirsty and mine was empty! Hey doc, what’s it take to get a little better service around here?” She said as she noticed my stare.

“How did you just do that?” The younger Dr. Reilly asked in total amazement.

“I said I was thirsty. What was so cryptic about that?”

“Pitchers of water don’t just float around a hospital room, Ms Cummins!” Dr. Reilly Reilly replied.

“Fine, I’ll put it back then, geez!”

The container retraced its previous flight path and landed softly on my tray table!

I noticed the woman in scrubs smile and wink at my roommate.

“Very good, Constance! Now if you could just remember your manners!” Dr. Alex Reilly praised.

“Who are you all? What are you?” Dr. Reilly Reilly demanded.

“We can get to that after you reveal the reason for your unscheduled visit, doctor.” Dr. Alex responded.

“I came to let Mr. Steinert and Connie know that the strange white cells in their bodies have multiplied further and according to the sample count now travel through every artery, vein, and capillary in their bodies. I have no idea how these two are still living.” Dr. Reilly replied in a nervous voice.

“To understand that one would have to understand how my nanotechs operate, Dr. Reilly.” Dr. Alex Reilly stated simply.

“Your nanotechs? You made these things? Why?” My doctor looked at the other doctor.

“I designed them to save a dying species, Reilly. My planet…my race had doomed itself to extinction and in order to save some small portion of it, I engineered what I called nanotechs. I am the result of my labor. The women you see with me would never have been conceived without my nanotechs, doctor.”

“Then tell me what they are doing to these two, mot…Dr Reilly. Since yesterday’s procedure, the blood samples have shown a fantastic increase in the number of those things in their system. What happens when they reach some critical level?”

I felt a strange feeling come over me suddenly.

“When the nanos in our bodies reach sufficient quantity- three hundred, thirty-three per cubic milliliter, and have fully repaired the host body, the introduction of any alcohol over forty-two percent will trigger the nanos’ programming to activate the primary function- that being full genetic and physical modification. The female, Alexandra, will replace the male, Alexander Steinert. The Empress of Time and Space will then have arrived in this universe, Reilly.”

I blinked. Had that all just come from my mouth? From the way everyone was staring at me, it would seem so.

“Nice a’ y’all to join us again, Alex.” Alex Reilly welcomed…me? I hadn’t a clue why- I’d been here the whole time.

“Mrs. Steinert, could you please tell us your husband’s occupation, please?” Alex Reilly asked.

“He’s a mechanical engineer.”

“Reilly, how could Mr. Steinert possibly know such specific details of such futuristic devices- the likes of which haven’t been seen on this planet yet?”

“Empress, Alex seems to be getting worse! How long until the changes start to happen in earnest?”

“Dr. Reilly is about to find out for us, Emily. Reilly, I believe you have ordered a follow-up X-ray for this morning? We will leave to allow that procedure to take place, doctor.” Alex Reilly said releasing Emily’s hand.

Four women suddenly weren’t there!

“Dr. Reilly? I didn’t expect you to still be here. Am I too early?”

“No.” My doctor shook her head a few times. “No, not at all. Come right in, Shannon.” she paused a minute. “Mrs. Steinert, could I speak to you outside a moment?”

“Alright. Alex, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Emily looked at me sadly before following Dr. Reilly out.

“Alex?”

“Ya, Connie?”

“Alex I’m sorry for the way I’ve been behaving. You must think the worst of me.”

“I feel it’s my fault somehow, Connie.”

“Am I going to change too, Alex? I mean, when these things multiply enough?”

“Okay Mr. Steinert, I’m going to lift one leg at a time to put the film under them.”

“Okay, ma’am.” I said to the nurse. “I’m not sure, Connie. I can’t be sure I believe what I heard a minute ago. I guess we wait to see what happens.” I admitted to her.

“Will it hurt, Alex?” She asked.

“X-rays don’t hurt, sweetie!”

“Not talking to you, Nurse Nosey!” Connie replied in a singsong voice.

“Humph! Kids these days!”
 
 

“Mrs. Steinert, what was it like?” Dr. Reilly asked Emily once they were in the hallway.

“What was what like, doctor?”

“Turning invisible. You and those women just vanished from the room.”

“Doctor, I told you we didn’t go anywhere! We were just standing there. Alex Reilly and I were holding hands. We never left the room, honest!”

“That was not the case from my vantage point. One second you were all there, the next, nothing. Now how do you know this ‘Empress’ as you called her?”

“I met her last evening when she suddenly appeared in the room, before that, I saw Alex and her companions on some crazy Sci-Fantasy on TV!”

“Sci-Fantasy? Do you remember the name of the drama?”

“Empress of Bikini, do you watch it?”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“Neither had I until I watched it in Alex’s room the other day. I thought it was some satellite station. I don’t understand any of this, Dr. Reilly.”

“Excuse me, Dr. Reilly?”

“Yes, Doctor…I don’t believe I’ve seen you here before.”

“Camille Darough, ma’am. Dr. Camille Darough. Could I talk to you and Mrs. Steinert in the consultation room for a few minutes?”

“Mrs. Steinert and I are in the middle of a discussion at the moment, Dr. Darough. Couldn’t this wait?”

“Dr. Reilly sent me in hopes I could shed more light on the strange happenings at this facility of late.”

“I did no such…oh, that Dr. Reilly!”

“Yes, now if you two would please follow me?”
 
 

Once the X-ray technician had gone I decided to see what was on television after checking with Connie. The same strange show was on. I immediately recognized Dr. Alex Reilly!

How could she be on the TV? I decided to watch and find out.
 

“Empress, I fear her condition is worse than expected. If she forgets the previous day’s conversations, how can we help her?”

“I said I saw her eventual return to our universe, Alusia, I didn’t specify when or how long it would be.”

“Alex, I miss my family back in Memphis. What will Pharaoh do should I not return for several seasons? What will my husband do in the meantime?”

“Alusia, you keep forgetting the nuances of time travel with the Empress! Rest assured I can have you back a fraction of a second after you left, hun.”

“Sorry, I guess I’m just nervous. I worry about the future Empress’s mental state. It seems like she is blocking every attempt to make contact. Why does she do that?”

“Why, after coming to Pharaoh’s home did you cry yourself to sleep every night for months, Alusia? Why did you shy from Pharaoh’s guards when in full parade dress?”

“Crying seemed to be the only way to wash away my past…future…oh, it gets so confusing!”

“Alusia, hun, didn’t my sister tell you that the woman known as Alusia had no interaction with the German, National Socialists? Lusius Wilhelm had the misfortune of meeting them, not you.”

“She told me countless times, Empress. Still, I felt guilty just the same! The uniformed military only reminded me of those horrible beasts!”

“So you cried because of your self-imagined guilt and shied from those that reminded you of darker times?”

“You mean that is what the Empress is doing? I thought her strong enough to conquer such fears? She always presented herself as the confident, all knowing, Empress!”

“It’s been my experience that appearances can be and usually are deceiving. Alexandra Steinert is just as human as any of us. Just as insecure, just as sensitive, and just as fragile as you or I! Only because of our gifts do others think us omnipotent and infallible!”

“I think I’m beginning to understand, Alex. Would it be acceptable if I visited Alex Steinert by myself, Empress?”

“By all means, Alusia. If anyone can establish dialog with my sister, it would be someone who can empathize and understands her situation firsthand. Before you go, it would be beneficial to change into clothes suitable for a Doctor of Psychology, Dr. Wilhelm.”
 

I watched, mesmerized, as the woman’s clothing changed! Once complete she walked out of the room. Three others walked in shortly thereafter.
 

“Was that Alusia we saw going down the hallway toward mom’s room, Aunt Alex?”

“She wants to try accessing Alexandra, girls.”

“I didn’t think she had the confidence, Empress.”

“The resulting interaction will be beneficial for both, Samantha.”
 

So that one was Samantha? I had to remember that.

The scene changed and I was completely shaken as my Dr. Reilly, a woman looking like the ‘Mind Warrior’, Cassiopeia, and…and my wife, Emily appeared on screen!
 

“So, Camille, is it? What is going on around here?”

“Reilly, the Empress only wishes to retrieve her sister. She means no harm to Alexander.”

“Then why is my husband filling up with those micro machines? In the end they will destroy him!”

“Emily, we cannot explain the existence or the transfer of nanos into him. Alex believes that whatever horrible occurrence caused her transport over three universes, may have also caused latent nanos to follow and settle in Alexander. She also believes the Gamma device you used twenty-four hours ago has somehow re-energized them. They are only doing what they were programmed to do.”

“But, Alex said they would modify and…rebuild Alex, Dr. Darough! I married Alexander. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with Alexandra!”

“By design, the nanos record the host genetic code thereby guaranteeing the host’s identity. We believe the nanos in Alexander still carry the Empress’s code. If that is true the nanos will continue to repair Alexandra’s body. Strong Spirits may not be needed at all.”

“You mean Alex has no choice?”

“Little, if any, Emily Scott.”

“Why did this have to happen to us? Why?”
 

“Emily!” I shouted at the TV before turning it off! Why did this have to happen to me? All I did was prevent a young woman from doing something she hadn’t thought-out fully. I thought I had given her another chance at life! Here, I just managed to doom my own!

Connie was being uncharacteristically silent. Why?

“Alexander, my I come in, sir?” The woman that had been on screen moments before was now standing at my hospital room’s doorway!

“Do I have a choice…Alusia, is it?”

She nodded.

“Someone I once knew told me many times that we always have choices, sir.”

“Who was this wise sage, Alusia?” I asked sarcastically.

“You…I mean Alexandra Steinert…when she recued me from my destruction back in 1945 Poland.”

I looked up at the blank television a moment and motioned for her to enter.

“1945? But I thought you were from Memphis, Egypt?”

“You remember?” Her face broke out with a smile.

“No, the program I was just watching is very informative.” I replied as her smile vanished, replaced again by the same dour expression she came in with.

“You are correct, I now live under the rule of Khufu, but I was rescued from Nazi occupied Poland, Alexander. There I was conscripted to develop a weapon…a wonder weapon for the Germans to help take over the world. They imprisoned my adapted family in a concentration camp and threatened to kill them if I didn’t comply.”

“So, this Alexandra…she saved you and your family?”

“Sadly, no. I never saw my family again. The Empress informed me that they had already been disposed of months before.” Several tears rolled down her cheeks as she related her story to me.

“I still have hopes she will again return to that time period and find it in her heart to transport them to safety.”

“What kind of person wouldn’t do that, Alusia? I mean…if she has the power? This Empress seems to pick and choose who she saves.”

“Oh, no, Alexander, you have assumed wrong! The Empress saved over three hundred and fifty people from certain death that day! With her guidance, we saved not only the people but the device of destruction the Germans had me working on.”

“Why would she save a weapon of destruction, Alusia?”

“The device in question was, in reality, an interstellar spacecraft that had crash landed on Earth thousands of years before. If the Nazi had ever discovered its true use many other worlds would now be under they’re fist. In essence, the Empress saved our universe that day.”

“But you said you were helping to make Meridian a weapon? Why would she save you?”

“I asked her that same question, sir. She claimed that everyone deserved a second chance. That is when she injected me with the very same nanos in your body now.”

“She didn’t give you a choice,” I stated in angry amazement!

“She said it would be a waste to leave me to die- that I could be so much more. I had no intention of listening, Alexander! I felt it would be my penance to accept my death! I didn’t want her charity ill spent on some worthless weapons monger. I loathed myself every way one could, sir! I guess I had to be shocked into realizing my own worth- my own importance.”

“Does it hurt, Alusia? Does the change hurt?” I asked, curious as to my own impending event.”

“I simply fell asleep, Alexander. I only remember waking up and feeling very strange. I remember the rage- the cussing- the tantrums, though! I despised her for however she had done this to me! It took some time to acclimate myself and to understand her reasoning. Yes, she forced this change upon me, but now I graciously accept the new life she has so generously given me.”

“But she still gave you no choice! How can you be so forgiving of someone that preaches the importance of choice, but offers none?” I asked, appalled by her seeming nativity.

“Alexander, the Empress may look like an uncaring deity at first to many people…”

“Ah’m no deity!” I shouted unconsciously. Why did I do that? Why did I feel so angered by what she said?

A slight smile appeared on her face.

“Alex, I said ‘at first’! The Empress sometimes has a strange way about her. Because of her gift of foresight, she must be careful not to reveal too much before it happens. As she told me, why skip to the end of a good book?”

“She sounds like a tease, Alusia- someone who enjoys toying with people’s lives.”

“I disagree, sir. Think about the position she is in. If she reveals too much she risks damage to the time line, if too little, the time line may damage itself. The Empress must carefully calculate and consider each and every move- every thought, while on a mission. To those of us that travel with her or are just somehow involved, it does seem like she is playing a cruel, calculated game. That has not been my experience though.”

“Could it be that you have been biased, Alusia?”

“Everyone involved with Alexandra is biased by her noble, caring character, sir. It is hard to hate a person who only has your best interest in mind.”

“So why offer choice, but give none?

‘”Sometimes circumstances prevent us from seeing the obvious, sir. Sometimes we are so preoccupied with ourselves that we need a wakeup call- physical or mental. I admit I required both before I realized what she meant and stopped to consider her intentions. Alex, the Empress has been put into some,” she paused a second, “some situation where she has had to second-guess herself- maybe for the first time in her life. When that happened, she apparently lost confidence in herself. As I have learned from my adventures with Alex Reilly, time is extremely sensitive. It cannot be bent as much as you would think. That being the case, it is also very unforgiving if one’s confidence is suddenly called into question.”

I felt a strange feeling come over me, as if I was entering some heavy fog. My eyes felt heavy and things began to go dark.

Just as quickly, things came back into focus and I observed Alusia crying at my side.

It felt like I had been crying too as my cheeks felt wet. I reached up to wipe my eyes. That confirmed it.

Several sniffs in quick succession told me that Connie Cummins had been crying also, yet she remained strangely quiet.

What was going on here? What had I missed?

“I am sorry, Empress. I had no idea how difficult some of your missions have been. Please forgive me for accusing you of being selfish or complacent. I will leave you for now to consider my offered thoughts. We all miss you, Alex, some of us more than others.”

The young raven-haired woman slowly walked around the bottom of my bed and proceeded to the open doorway.

I noticed that Emily, Dr. Reilly, and Cassiopeia’s sister had entered and watched sadly as Alusia silently passed them.

“Are you the Empress?” Emily asked me cautiously. I had never seen a more frightened look on her face.

“Not that I’m aware of, honey, and certainly not yet.” I answered in confusion. “Why would you ask me something like that anyway?”

“We just stood here for twenty minutes listening to the two of you talk, Alex.” She told me.

“Twenty minutes? I just felt my eyes closing a few seconds ago. What are you talking about?”

“Mr. Steinert, we’ve been here for almost twenty minutes like your wife said. We distinctly heard you telling Alusia of some of the Empress’ exploits. I have to say that I am quite concerned for your mental health at this moment!” Dr. Reilly confessed.

“Camille,” Emily turned to the third woman staring at me, “was that really Alexandra Steinert talking?”

“From what I was hearing up here, “she pointed to her head, “that was indeed our Empress conversing with Alusia Wilhelm. The story of her assignment in 1865 has been related and confirmed by Jacquelyn Cummins herself on our last meeting.”

“She really had to talk Abraham Lincoln into going TO Ford’s Theater? How could she be asked to do such a thing?” Emily said, appalled.

“I do not know how that assignment was given, Emily. I only know that she claimed it was the hardest thing she had ever done.”

“You’re wrong about that, Sweetheart.” I heard myself say, though I didn’t say it. “What I just had to do…that was the hardest, most despicable thing anybody could be asked to do!”

“Empress, enlighten us as to what your last mission encompassed. We are not here to pass judgment or sentence on you. We only wish to understand. Please, relate your latest mission parameters, Alex.”

“What are you talking about? How am I going to know about some stranger’s ‘mission parameters’, lady?” I asked as soon as I found my voice again.

“Dr. Reilly! Oh, there you are! Dr. Reilly, I just got the X-ray films back for Mr. Steinert and Ms. Cummins! You would not believe the results, ma’am! The Gamma Emmiter has surpassed all our expectations!” Samantha Fleming said excitedly as she appeared in the doorway.

“Come in Sam.” My doctor invited. “Now, what results are you getting so excited about?”

“Here, see for yourself, ma’am.” She exclaimed as she handed the films to Dr. Reilly.

“Unbelievable.” My doctor commented as she sequenced through the films, individually holding each to the overhead lights.

“Didn’t it work?” I asked in concern.

“Quite the opposite, Alex. These films show almost total repair of your tibia and near total repair of both fibulas. In fact, I would be hard pressed to locate the fractures at all if I didn’t know they existed yesterday!”

“What about Connie, doctor? Will she be able to walk again?”

“Dr. Reilly opened the other envelope.

“I see no evidence of a fractured vertebrae at all, Mr. Steinert. This is absolutely amazing!”

“So, I don’t need this anymore then, right Dr. Reilly?” Connie asked, breaking her silence for the first time in several hours.

“I wouldn’t go that far, young lady. I’d like to run some tests before I decide whether or not to take you out of that cast.”

“Well, I can’t wait, ma’am! If those X-rays say that I’m all healed, then I’m taking it off!”

The sound of plaster splintering filled the room. We watched in awe as Connie Cummins’ body cast started to pull itself apart!

Within two minutes the young woman sat up and brushed stray plaster dust from her belly and upper legs.

I looked away in embarrassment when I realized she had nothing on under the cast.

“Oh, come on! We’re all girls here, right?” She giggled.

“Not all of us, Ms. Cummins! At least for now.” I said as my cheeks burned.

I heard her bed rail release click as I kept my head turned to the windows.

A warm hand touching my right arm and a couple gasps told me something amazing had just happened.

“Alex?” Connie’s voice called from right beside me. “Alex, I’m sorry for causing so many problems. It was a stupid thing for me to do, but I thank you for being there when I needed you most!”

Turning my head, I first noticed that Connie was standing right next to me. Her hospital gown had fallen into place to cover her. I also noticed that Emily, Dr. Reilly, and Samantha Fleming were frozen in place with their mouths’ open and eyes wide! All three looked ready to faint at any moment.

“Empress, I…I think…I think I’d like to go home now, please.” Connie’s tear stained eyes only emphasized the point as she pleaded.

“I don’t know how to take you back, hun.” I heard myself say. “I wish I could, but I can’t!”

“But you are the Empress, Alex. You and you alone can transit the universes. You are the only one that can take us home.” She told me as her eyes left mine and her head sunk low.

“I’m not this Empress you’re looking for, kid. I’m just some average Joe that was in the right place at the right time- I’m sorry, but I can’t take you anywhere.” I felt tears running down my face.

“But you are! Cami, tell her she’s the Empress! Tell her that she is Alexandra Steinert! Tell her to take me home!” Connie cried out.

“Lady Constance, only the Empress has the ability to transit you both out of this universe. Only the Empress can decide when to leave.” Camille lowered her head. “Only the Empress can convince herself of these facts, and only she can forgive herself.” Her voice lowered in volume until I could barely hear her.

“Then I have no other choice but to stay here and wait.” Connie said sadly. She squeezed my arm gently then walked back over to her bed. Her discarded cast hovered off the bed and gently landed on the floor beside her.

Constance Cummins climbed back into bed and pulled the sheet up to her waist.

“This is so much more comfortable.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. Alex would you like your casts removed?” She asked as an afterthought.

“No, I’ll keep mine on until Dr. Reilly tells me its okay. Thanks for the offer, kid.”

“Mr. Steinert, there is no reason you should keep them on.” Reilly said to me. “With your fractures almost completely healed, I see no purpose for delaying the inevitable. Allow Ms. Cummins to remove them, Alex.”

I suddenly felt sleepy.
 
 

“Why are we here, Empress? I do not hear any living things, as if the planet- the whole galaxy is devoid of life. What mission could we possibly have in such a desolate place?”

“We’re here for you, Connie.” I said sadly.

“Empress, I don’t understand?”

“There is something I have been keeping from you, Constance Cummins. Something you now need to know.”

This was the moment I feared!

“You have been withholding information from me? Why?”

“To protect you, Constance. Your development required certain details of your life be kept from you, I’m afraid.”

“What details, Empress? What specifics?”

“It’s nothing real important, Connie, I assure you.” I told the flabbergasted young woman- my best friend’s daughter. I felt I had to delay this from happening for some reason.

“You are lying to me, Empress? Why do you withhold the truth?”

The air around us suddenly smelled sweeter.

I gulped.

“You ARE lying to me! Empress? What could require such uncharacteristic action?”

“I said it isn’t that important. You have turned out the way I had foreseen all those years ago and both your mother and I are very proud of you.” I said trying to calm her. A tear fell from my cheek.

The air only grew sweeter!

“Empress, your ability to block my gift is faltering. There are several important things you have withheld- the first being my conception date!” Connie hissed in anger.

I looked down to see that I was still holding her hand.

That was good.

“You will tell me what I must know or I will get it myself, Alexandra Steinert.”

The air around us started to spark and sizzle!

Connie, I…I’m…I’m not lying to you, hun. I just need to tell you a few things and I need you to remain calm.” I told her, my voice shaking with fear.

“You are afraid of me, Alexandra Steinert? Why would the Empress of Time and Space be afraid of one of her own sisters?”

“I do not fear you, Constance. I fear what is about to happen. I fear what I must do next!” I cried and tried not to make eye contact!

I mentally wished I could stop time! If I could stop it, maybe- just maybe, I could avert this whole thing!

On a world totally devoid of life, it was had to tell if I had succeeded.

“I am not a daughter of Terra as I was told? Empress, why would you keep this information from me? Am I not fully trusted? Have I been spawned from some villain or criminal?”

“No, Connie, both of your parents love you very much.” I answered shaking my head. I continued not to make eye contact.

“Then why lie to me in the first place? What is wrong with me, Alex? What am I really,” she screamed to me!

“I had to make sure you developed your gift properly, honey.”

“Who are my parents, Empress? Why do you hesitate? TELL ME!” She shouted. Her voice thundered around us like a concussive shock wave!

“You are the daughter of Jacquelyn Cummins, Constance. That has always been true.”

“WHO…IS…MY…FATHER, EMPRESS?” Again her voice thundered across the desolate, open plain where we stood.

The air crackled with such energy, I thought it would suddenly start jumping between us!

I paused to take a quick breath and prepare for what I knew would come.

“I brought him to Terra. Not me particularly, but Alex Covington brought him to Terra for your birth.”

“So what is it you are still holding from me, Alex? TELL ME!” She shouted again. The ground we stood on shook!

“Because of me your father was exposed to Solara’s severe radiation. He lasted long enough to see you born before he screamed out in agony and died. Because of me, he never got to hold his pride and joy.”

“YOU KILLED MY FATHER!” The ground shook viciously this time! It seemed to continue to get worse!

I HATE YOU, ALEX STEINERT!”

Everything erupted in a bright, searing light before going dark!



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