South of Bikini 3: Episode 5- Trial of the Century? Broken Rules?

Alexander Steinert and the new sisters travel to ‘her’ private domain and instead find themselves in a ‘Wonderland’ of sorts were Cmdr. Steinert is on trial for her recent actions. Can the new Empress understand the twisted charges and defend her sister before the four most revered figures she’s ever known? What rules have been broken in order to save a life?

 

Copyright 2012 R.G. Beyer

 
 


Episode 5

“Trial of the Century? Broken Rules?”


 
 
 

“Alex, we’ve been worried about you! Where have you been for the last day and a half? Randi had to extend our reservation another week.” Emily’s voice asked as I opened my eyes.

“What happened? Where‘s Alex Steinert? Did she leave?” I asked as I shaded my eyes from the bright sunlight streaming through the French doors of our presidential suite’s living area.

“Alex Steinert? Honey, you are Alex Steinert. What are you talking about?” Emily asked looking perplexed.

I went to my private domain and called out Alexandra Steinert, but she wouldn’t show until Ruth Scott arrived and made her appear.” I told her. I noticed Alex Reilly smile. What was that about, I wondered?

“You saw my mother, Alex? You actually talked to my mother?” Emily cried in alarm.

“Empress, There’s something wrong with Alex! My mother has been dead for fourteen years.” She cried looking to my twin for help.

“There is nothing wrong with the Empress, Emily Steinert. She tells the truth. She does have the authority to contact those that have deleted.”

“Deleted?”

“Sorry, I meant departed. There is a place that the Empress goes for peace and solitude. In our ‘private domain’, as my sister dubbed it, we have the power to call upon our paramours and ancestors.”

“Alex, is mother okay? How does she look?”

I instinctively gulped.

“Um…she looks a lot…um…like me, dear.” I replied in a shy voice before cupping my new endowments. “Only, I have more up here.”

I felt myself blush.

“Oh my God, you’re right! I never noticed until you said that!” Emily paused and looked to the floor a minute.

“I guess we really are sisters now.” She said quietly looking back up to me.

“Your mother called me ‘daughter’, so I guess…” I replied letting it drop. It was my turn to drop my head.

“So were you successful?” Alex Reilly asked impatiently.

“I think we both know the answer to that, Alex, but I’ll share the conversation with you.” I answered and reached out my hand to her.

As before, the tingle startled me.

“Sister, why do you continue to haunt our sister?” Alex mumbled to herself.

“What happened, ma’am? I mean, I asked to see what happened…back in your universe and Momma Scott placed our hands together. This…this place…so bare…so forbidding…Connie and I were there. She wanted to know why, but I was afraid to tell her…to tell her the reason! She pushed and pushed…I thought my mind would explode as my heart broke! I finally told her. She seemed to understand until…until I told her I…” I stopped to wipe the tears that suddenly appeared on my face. “Until I told her I killed…that I killed her father.”

Emily gasped loudly.

“Alex, you didn’t kill Jack Cummins. She’s down on the beach right now.”

“She refers to my Jacquelyn’s husband, Russell Brackenridge, Emily. Remember that in my universe Jacquelyn hasn’t been male since 1944. She and Russell, whom Alex rescued from 1918, were married in August of 1985. It took thirty years for Jack to finally gain the courage to want a child.”

“So Connie is Jack’s daughter? Just like here?” Emily looked confused.

“Only in my universe, Jack is Connie’s mother. Russell Brackenridge died from severe radiation exposure on Terra shortly after holding his newborn daughter.”

“How sad! Oh Empress is there anything that can be done to change such a horrible situation?” Emily asked solemnly.

“Nothing that wouldn’t anger upper management, I’m afraid. Believe me; the Empress would not want to face their discipline!”

“You sound like you have experience, Alex?”

I felt my legs go weak suddenly and found myself on the couch.

“What happened? I thought Alex and I had reached an agreement.” I said rubbing my sore knees.

“What did she say, Alex?” I asked.

“Apparently my Alex has seen management’s response to her solution, Alex.”

“Huh?” I grunted in confusion.

“We must go to your domain, Empress. It is time for Alexandra Steinert to go home.”

“I just tried that remember? All I got was another free trip back to this reality without my knowledge!” I complained.

“This time the power of the three will be invoked, my sister!” Alex glared at me and raised one of her eyebrows.

“The power of three?” I asked as I mentally counted the number of ‘Empresses’ now present.

“I know you talk funny sometimes, Alex, but I only count two.” I argued, pointing between the two of us.

“Patience, my sisters.” Alex winked.

“So…when do we leave?” I asked still confused as to her cryptic statements.

“When the other members of our party arrive, Alex. Only then can we conclude this mission and move onto the next.

“Could you be more mysterious, Alex? I’m the newbie here, remember- I wasn’t aware there was going to be another…’mission’?” I protested.

“There will always be ‘another’ mission, Alexandra…or haven’t you used your gift to see that already?” She smiled.

I hadn’t- mostly because I was still new to the whole looking before I leaped into the future or history thing! Quickly, I scanned my near future and was reassured that my initial ordeal had almost run its course. Somewhere inside I felt a great sadness arise. Yes, I thought to the visitor within, you will soon be returned to those that love and respect you…despite your self-assumed shortcomings.
 
 

“Why do we have to go to that place, Aunt Alex? I hate that place!”

“I side with Cassie, Aunt Alex. Couldn’t we just wait here?”

“I would have thought that Alexandra’s own daughters would jump at the chance to rescue her. Sam, Cassie, you disappoint me.” Alex Reilly scolded her nieces.

Were they my nieces now also?

“So where is this place again?” Jack Cummins asked as she and Mina looked at each other in confusion.

“Alex’ domain’s location has never been specified nor has it ever been defined. It is the personal realm of the Empress and as such is private.” Connie told her parents. “It is her own blank slate- her sandbox to develop anything she wants.” She added seriously.

“I ask that everyone hold hands and that the Mind Warriors severely limit their gift’s output.” Alex Reilly asked as we all joined hands.

Emily looked at me with an unsure expression. This would be her first time to ‘my’ domain.

“Empress,” Alex said as she looked to me, “We are ready for transit to your private domain.”

This was it. I began to concentrate on the dark nothingness lit only by a small, motionless, single yellow sun.

“Transiting in three…two…one.”

Darkness filled our vicinity. To my right the small yellow sun provided just enough light to see that everyone was here.

“My word! When you said the place was empty and undefined, I had no idea how that description lacked!” Mina Cummins declared as she looked around.

“Oh, Empress, it’s just as I remember it!” Connie bubbled. “Alex? Alex Steinert, won’t you come out? We have a great many things to discuss, Empress.” She said turning to look into my eyes.

“Constance, the Empress may not be so ready to appear. She still lacks confidence and is embarrassed to show her face to the one person she failed to protect.” A familiar voice said out of the darkness.

“Mother?” Emily called out as her eyes widened considerably. We all turned to the voice as a figure began to come into view.

“Momma Scott!” Alex Reilly cheered in relief as she hurried over to the woman and embraced her.

“It is good to see you again, Alexandra. Emily, don’t be afraid, child, I won’t bite.” Ruth Scott told her daughter as she released Alex Reilly and held out her arms in invitation.

“Mother, is it really you? Is this some crazy dream I’ve been drawn into?”

“I’m as real as the Empress wants me to be, Emily. I’ve missed you so much!” She said pulling my wife into a tight hug. Their reunion was very touching and I noticed a tear or two forming in my eyes.

Ruth Scott released Emily and set her gaze on me.

“Alexandra, the time has come, child.” She said evenly as she stared into my eyes. There was little doubt as to whom she was talking to.

Fear suddenly filled my body! Resistance and fear, two feelings I had felt so often in the last four weeks.

‘Alex,’ I thought to my guest, ‘this needs to be resolved. I need to live my life- to be the Empress of this universe…by myself. Please come out and participate with those that have traveled such great distance to bring you home.’

“I don’t deserve this,” Another figure said as she came into view.

“Let us be the judge of that, child.” Mother Scott looked over her shoulder at my twin.

“Mother!” Cassie and Samantha screamed and rushed to their mother.

“We’ve been so worried about you, momma!” Sam cried as both girls wrapped their arms tightly around the woman dressed in old Navy Regulars.

“Why are you doing this, momma?” Her Cassie asked.

Their twins stood next to us and quietly watched the tearful reunion. I noticed that Dr. Reilly joined her arm with Alex Reilly’s and leaned her head into her shoulder. Alex looked over to the woman and sighed. Camille and Cassi Darough wrapped an arm around each other’s back.

Randi Peltierre, Cindy Riggby, Jack, Mina, and Connie Cummins stayed quiet while Alusia wept openly.

Emily and I took each other’s hand as we watched. I felt Emily tighten her grip as the scene continued.

“I’ve missed y’all so much!” My twin cried as her daughters refused to let go.

“Momma, stop this self imposed exile and return to us!” Samantha pleaded through her tears. “Please forgive yourself so we can be a family again.”

“I can’t, honey. I brought this on myself and I have to pay for what I’ve done.”

“But you only did what you thought was the right thing, momma! Connie forgives you!” Cassandra continued for her sister.

“Well I don’t think she should be forgiven so easily! In fact, she should be held accountable for everything she has caused here, in this universe!” Dr. Reilly Reilly declared in an angry tone.

We all turned to the woman- amazed to hear anything remotely vengeful!

“I’m serious! If not for her, I would still have my credentials and practice! She should make restitution to us for ruining our lives!” She continued, unshaken by our glare.

“Reilly, this is not the time! We are here to help separate the Empresses, not strengthen their union!” Alex Reilly scolded. “This isn’t the time fer y’all to be a bitch!” She added.

“Reilly’s right, Empress! I feel she should be held accountable for the trouble caused in our universe.” Our Cassandra Fleming agreed.

“Knock it off, sis!” Our Samantha Fleming glared at her sister. “I happen to like my gifts! Never in a million years could I have hoped for such things to happen to me! Empress,” She looked at Alexandra Steinert, still enveloped in her daughters, “I forgive you and want to thank you for the miraculous gifts you’ve bestowed on us. I will make you proud by continuing your work here on this world!”

Sam is right, ma’am. I want to thank you for my gift- I’m still unsure of the new anatomy though…but I’ll get used to it in time, ma’am.” Randi Peltierre added as she took a step closer to my twin.

“I didn’t mean to hurt any of you- I don’t even know how I got here or why.” My twin said just above a whisper, her eyes glued to the floor. I felt she was really telling the truth- that she really didn’t know how she got here. I decided to find out.

“So, if you don’t know how you got here, who could have done it if not the Empress of Time and Space, Alex? We are the only beings capable of such a feat, are we not?” I asked glancing around to those in attendance. Alex Reilly, Alexandra Steinert and I looked to each other for the answer to that. It suddenly hit me that one person here seemed to remain silent and expressionless.

“Ruth Scott, you’ve remained calm and quiet while we debated the subject. Could it be that you know more than you are willing to divulge?” I asked- more like accused.

“Alex!” Emily cried as she looked at me in disbelief. “Mother couldn’t have anything to do with this! Tell him mother! Tell him…her that you know nothing about the Empress being here!”

“Did you notice that one very important member of your group is still missing, Alexander?” Ruth Scott said sidestepping the question entirely.

“Mother? Is Alex correct in her assumption? Are you somehow involved with the Empress’ arrival here, and with the new Empress’s arrival also?” Emily stared at her mother…I guess our mother now.

I took the only answer possible and prepared myself for the consequences.

“Of course she’s involved! Who else could possibly know so much about ‘upper management’ unless they were part of it? Let’s look at all the facts. From my combined memories, I noticed that you’ve helped the Empress numerous times by giving advice and suggestions; you’ve acted as liaison for ‘management’ and even chanced praising your daughters for jobs well done, even while reminding others that such actions border on prosecution! Mother, according to these memories you’ve appeared here even when uninvited, you’ve even risked ‘management’s’ wrath by coming to Earth and even Terra occasionally- once you even kissed my…Alexandra’s cheek!” I paused to see her reaction.

She was surprisingly stone-faced.

“Why wouldn’t the mother of the Empress be among the ranks of ‘Upper Management’? I thought pride was one of the seven deadly sins, mother, yet you show it constantly when we meet!” I concluded.

“Constance, please come out, child?” Ruth Scott called as if not hearing anything I’d said!

“I’m right here, Mrs. Scott” Connie replied in confusion as the older woman seemed to ignore her totally.

“Mother? Alex has made some dangerous allegations! Please tell him…her she is wrong.” Emily pleaded.

All seventeen of us were now looking at Emily’s mom waiting for her to acknowledge my accusation.

“Constance…we’re waiting, child.”

“I’m right here, ma’am.” Connie said once more, but received the same lack of reaction.

“Mother! We’re all waiting for at least a rebuttal!” Emily shouted!

“Constance, everyone is waiting child. Show yourself this instant!”

“I said I’m right here, Mrs. Scott! Why won’t you acknowledge me?” Connie cried, becoming very upset!

Ruth Scott slowly looked to the youngest of us. “I know you are here, Constance. I am calling on your twin to show herself, now hush child!”

“Mother, you are not even close to making sense! Connie is here with us, yet you say she is hiding somewhere?” Emily asked in frustration.

“The Constance of this world is here, child, yet the Constance whose anger-driven incursion nearly doomed both her and her friend Alexandra refuses to appear before us.” Ruth Scott answered cryptically.

“How can someone be here, but not be here, yet be refusing to appear, ma’am?” I asked in total confusion. I felt a massive headache coming on!

“That is the question we all are asking, Alexander!” My mother-in-law approached and looked deep into my eyes.

To say I was very uncomfortable was an understatement!

“I know you’re in there, Constance. Alexandra can no longer hold you in this body, child. You only have to think about appearing here with us, my dear.” She said, never releasing eye contact with me.

My headache increased until I thought my skull would explode! I screamed out in pain!

I found myself on my knees as I looked up to see a slightly older version of Connie standing next to Alexandra Steinert. She was wearing a silver sheath dress that memory told me she was wearing when we…Alex and company first arrived on Terra. She looked stunning!

“You’re me!” Connie cried.

“We are temporal twins, Lady Constance.” The older Connie confirmed with a nod and sad smile.

“So, we are not Terran then?” My Connie asked sadly as she gazed at her twin.

“As I have only recently found out, sister.” Constance turned and looked at Alexandra Steinert, who looked on the verge of tears.

“It…” Alexandra sniffed, “It is a mistake I must live with, Connie.” She replied.

“Welcome to the inquest, Constance Alexandra Cummins-Brackenridge. We shall start the proceedings following the arrival of the rest of the tribunal.” Ruth Scott announced.

“What inquest, mother?” I asked in amazement. Emily and I looked at her dumbstruck.

“Ah zere you are! I am sorry I am late leibschen, I vas checking in on mien granddaughter Brianna…Alexandra, vhut are you und your zisters doing here, leibschen?” An older looking gentleman asked as he came into the light.

“Grampa?” Alexandra and I gasped as he did so. I hadn’t seen my Grandfather since his funeral thirty years ago!

“So nice of you to join us Fredrick! How is Brianna Steinert doing?” Ruth Scott asked.

“Zee same. Zee kids, zey are zee full-time job, yes?”

“I know all too well, Fritz.” Momma Scott said as she looked sternly at the three of us Alex’s with a raised eyebrow.

“Shall vee begin zen?”

“We’re waiting on the other two, Fritz.”

“Vut has you done now, mien Liebschen?” Grampa looked between the three of us with concern.

“Apparently she has committed some reprehensible sin and angered the management.” Another male voice said as a tall, thin, bearded man in his late fifties appeared in the light. His tall hat was a dead give-away as to his identity.

“Abraham Lincoln?” I gasped.

“In the flesh, Alexandra- so to speak.” He said as a rich inviting smile appeared on his face.

Alexandra Steinert gulped noticeably before bursting immediately into tears. What was up with that?

Oh.

Lincoln immediately approached my twin.

“The tribunal will desist from contact with the accused!” Ruth Scott decried.

The former president stopped suddenly and looked sadly at Alexandra Steinert then at Alex Reilly and I. I wondered what I had done!

“Madam President, I wish to formally address the members of this tribunal as to a grave injustice being made…”

“Hold the speech, Abraham, we still await one more.” Ruth Scott warned.

“I came as soon as I heard, Lady Ruth.” Another man said as his figure entered the light. “I have been intensely observing the relocation of my people to their new home, M’lady. Apparently, word does not move as fast as the Empress of Time and Space.”

“Maximillian!” My twin gasped as she fell to her knees in anguish! She now knelt before the four members of the tribunal with her hands covering her face- tears flowing freely around them. My heart went out for this woman- my twin sister. What had she done that caused her this much pain? I searched the memories for the name ‘Maximillian’ and glanced over to Alex Reilly for confirmation.

She nodded.

He was a Terran!

“This tribunal into the alleged misappropriation of powers, questionable life-threatening decisions, self-loathing, and habitual and flagrant disregard for the rules as they pertain to Alexandra Steinert, aka, Alexandra Steinert-Fleming, aka, Alexandra Steinert-Covington, aka, The Empress of Time and Space has convened and opening arguments will now commence.” Ruth Scott announced officially.

What the hell was going on here? I had never heard of such outrageous charges- I mean, self-loathing and flagrant disregard for the rules? Really? Those were prosecutable infractions in my new life as Empress?

“This is bullshit!” I said out loud.

“I concur completely, young Empress!” Abraham Lincoln said as he shook his head several times in disbelief.

“The defendant’s council will hold comment until asked to proceed!” Ruth Scott scolded me. I looked at Alex Reilly to see her expression.

She nodded.

I swallowed hard. How was I going to defend my twin? I had no idea how to be a lawyer let alone defend someone I hardly knew!

“The prosecution will now state its case against the defendant. Constance Alexandra Cummins-Brackenridge, you have the floor.”

The surprised expression on the silver clad woman showed she was as unprepared as I was! Alex Steinert likewise uncovered her tear-stained face to look at her in shock!

“Ma’am?” She asked caught totally off guard.

“Constance, state the nature of the aforementioned charges and how Alexandra’s actions resulted in our intervention and your subsequent arrival in this universe.”

“I’m not sure I understand, M’lady. I was unaware of the charges or of this hearing. Am I to have no preparation time?”

“Constance, given the Terran protocols involved and its lengthy judicial system, there will be no preparation! You are human after all, so we will default to the human form of justice. Please continue and state your case.”

Maximillian quickly stared at Ruth Scott in surprise.

Constance looked down to where Alex Steinert still knelt with sorrow-filled eyes. She did not look like she wanted to pursue this at all.

“Counselor?” Ruth Scott pushed.

Connie took a breath and exhaled quickly.

“M’lady President, Alexandra is only guilty of withholding my true birthright, that being Earth instead of Citadel, Terra. Even on Terra, M’lady, that is not a punishable offence.”

“Granted, Lady Prosecutor, move onto the other charges.”

“With all due respect, M’lady, Alexandra indeed respected all life and sought out the most desolate, uninhabited, and isolated galaxy to breach the news of my true lineage. There was no abuse of power on her part. It was I that let loose my demons and abused my full range of power in rage, M’lady President! It is I and I alone who should be prosecuted for that which was done.”

I noticed Maximillian smile at her presentation and confession. What was happening here? Wasn’t this a trial?

“Well said, Lady Prosecutor! The charge shall be rescinded and resubmitted under the name of the new defendant, Constance Alexandra Cummins-Brackenridge! Address the next charge, counselor.”

An eyebrow rose on the elder Constance’s face as she paused a moment.

“As to the charge of Alexandra’s alleged self-loathing, I submit that anyone having to make such decisions when faced with the sensitivity involved in the righting of the time stream would consider any error, no matter how small and/or insignificant a failure to one’s confidence. I further submit that the charge of ‘self-loathing’ be reduced to extreme ‘second guessing’ or ‘personal guilt’, M’lady.”

“I would concur if not for the fact that a second set of persons was involved, Counselor. In this case, the charge defaults to ‘personal unintentional imprisonment’. Continue, Lady Prosecutor.”

Constance looked at Alexandra Steinert, Alex Reilly, and then to me. Her eyes pleaded for forgiveness from us. She took another large breath.

“Esteemed members of this tribunal, Alexandra Steinert has indeed been holding me hostage in this universe…”

“I object, Madam President!” I protested. “The alleged term ‘hostage’ cannot be substantiated at such an early stage in this tribunal. I motion that it be struck from the record and the rest of the proceedings!”

Where the hell did that come from?

“Well played, Alexandra. The term hostage should be struck from this tribunal, Madam President.” Mr. Lincoln advised with a satisfied grin directed to me.

Grandpa Steinert nodded his agreement and gently elbowed Lincoln. “Zat’s mine Granddaughter, Abe!” He said with a proud grin. Lincoln outright smiled at me as well.

Abraham Lincoln actually smiled…at me!

“The objection carries! Henceforth, the term hostage shall not be considered in this inquiry. Apparently there is more to you than meets the eye, Alexander!” Ruth Scott praised and actually winked at me!

Visions of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ came to mind immediately.

“Understood, M’lady.” Constance Brackenridge said before continuing. “Members of this tribunal, Alexandra Steinert is indeed guilty of harboring me from harm since our arrival in this universe. I believe it was only to prevent encroachment on the existing Constance Cummins.”

“Objection, Madam President, speculation!” I said quickly.

“So noted, Alexander. Continue, Ms. Brackenridge.” Ruth Scott conceded, raising an eyebrow at me.

“Even though she provided me with safe harbor, I succeeded in contacting my twin on this world following the experimental procedure conducted by Dr. Reilly Reilly, PHD. Without the activation of my nanos in young Ms. Cummins, contact with her would have been impossible. It is therefore Alexandra’s personal imprisonment that has impeded me from rendering consultation and subsequent reinstatement of both of us into our home universe.”

“M’lady President, I submit that it is only because of my gift that Alexandra felt inclined to withhold valued information from me!”

“The prosecution will refrain from redirecting any more charges, Ms. Brackenridge. The tribunal is well aware of the intensity of a Mind Warrior’s gift. Proceed, Ms. Brackenridge.”

“Aye, M’lady. As to the charge of disregarding the rules, ma’am, I must remind this tribunal that rules were only made known when or after they were required. No useful reference was ever obtained from management prior to engagement of the Empress.”

“Constance, would you like to assume defense for the accused?” Ruth Scott asked in annoyance.

“No, M’lady President. I merely wish to keep these proceedings on track and factual. My resignation as prosecutor is not being considered nor tendered.”

“Very well, Lady Prosecutor, please remember which side of this hearing you stand on! Continue.”

“As you wish, M’lady. After careful redefinition, the defendant is accused of extending unsanctioned protection to those under her care and extreme improvisation in regard to the rules of conduct as they apply to the entity known heretofore as the Empress of Time and Space. As such, the prosecution desperately seeks to understand the extended, self-imposed detention of Alexandra Francis Steinert, Empress of Time and Space, in this universe. And we therefore seek reimbursement and other possible compensation for damages gotten by the attending plaintiffs: the resident Alexander Steinert, Empress of Time and Space, and her preliminary sisterhood.”

“Thank you, Ms. Cummins. The defense shall now address the tribunal.”

Was I hearing this right? Connie Cummins more or less asked that we all be told of the sequence of events that resulted in my, as well as the others’ conversion into ‘Timeline Peacekeepers’! How could I possibly defend against something I desperately wanted to learn myself?

“Alexander, we’re waiting.”

What could I do to provide my client a proper defense? How could I possibly reword what Connie just said to Alex’ benefit? Was there really a benefit though? Alex herself expressed her guilt- misplaced as it was now that I could recall her past memories! I could now understand the complexity of decisions involving the whole of the universe. A single, unaccounted bit could skew a mission terribly and guarantee failure or near failure, as was the case most times so far. I needed those suspected missing memories of the specific incident that was core to this tribunal. How could I get access to them? Should I just ask?

“Alexander, the defense will state its case to the tribunal. Further delays will be seen as contempt of these proceedings.” Momma Scott warned.

“Madam President, in defense of my own new identity, I must request I be referred to by my new, official, and legally binding name in this universe, Alexandra Frances Steinert, ma’am. Alexander is a name given to those of the male persuasion and clearly…” I motioned down my body, “I neither look nor function as such.”

“Very well, Alexandra,” Momma Scott smiled brightly, “I must insist you represent the accused.”

“I would like to, Madam President, but first I request approval for uncompromised release of details concerning the key incident as it pertains to this tribunal. Certain facts remain unclear as to their relevance to the case and therefore must be revisited and deliberated thoroughly. If justice is to be first and foremost to this tribunal, I ask for the court’s approval in this matter.” I plead as formally as I could remember from Terran protocols. Alex Steinert’s court martial memories also helped with my phrasing. I never thought I could sound so…so official!

“Although unusual, this tribunal hereby orders Cmdr. Alexandra Steinert’s full release of sequential details relating to the Constance Cummins-Brackenridge incident to her counsel, Alexandra Frances Steinert, reigning Empress of Time and Space. This Tribunal shall reconvene when the defense has fully accessed the requested records. This Tribunal stands adjourned until that time.” Ruth Scott declared with a satisfied smile.

Mr. Lincoln approached me.

“Alexandra, are you sure you wish to relive that incident? I know of the trauma you faced on my behalf and wish not to hurt you further.”

“Mr. President, I understand the dangers and am willing to undergo the pain and trauma it contains if it can possibly allow me to understand what Alex is going through. As Empress, I must protect my sisters and loved ones, sir. She would do as much for me- as would any of my sisters.”

“But you are so new to this life, Alexandra! Not for one moment do I believe you fully comprehend everything that is at stake for your sister!”

“I understand that, without my help, sir, my sister will have a sentence for which she is undeserving imposed upon her. Mr. President, you of all people should understand the implications.” I argued.

“Alexandra, you are indeed deserving of your title. Had I such dedicated people in my circle many more wrongs would have been righted during my term in office! I will allow you to meet with your client, Counselor.”

“Alexandra?” Maximillian called to me as Mr. Lincoln walked over to speak to Alex Reilly. “Empress, although the novice you handle yourself before this tribunal very professionally. You represent Terra proudly, Alexandra!” He told me before wrapping his arms around me and squeezing me tight. “Alexandra is counting on you, M’lady…whether she wishes to recognize it or not.”

After being released, I looked at this man…a Terran- an honest to gosh alien! He hugged me…and…even complimented me! He said I represented Terra proudly? Did that mean that I was Terran too?

I swallowed hard.

“See, Fritz, I told you she was up to the challenge! Well done, Alexandra, dear!” Momma Scott commended me as she and Grandpa approached.

“Thank you, ma’am, but should you be speaking to me right now?” I asked respectfully.

“Why not, child, this is just an informal hearing. Why wouldn’t I be allowed to talk with my daughter?”

“Be...because I’m the defense counselor, I guess?” I answered, unsure of myself.

“The barrister is quiet right, Madam. Counsel and court officials should refrain from contact and communication unless the case requires sidebar or chambers.” Mina Cummins said from beside me. I hadn’t even seen her approach.

“Thank you, Mina…by the way it’s nice to see you again. How are your girls doing?”

“My only daughter is right here, mum. As you can see she is doing well.” Mina replied in a stricter British tone than usual- it sounded downright regal!

“My mistake, wrong universe. Alexandra, you had better meet with your client.” Momma Scott recommended with a wink. “Time’s a wastin’!”

My client…Alexandra Steinert- now my twin sister- had been ignored by everyone here…even me! I now approached her and offered my hand to help her up. She was still sitting while kneeling.

“I can get up on mah own, thank you!” She scowled.

“Alex, I have no idea what I’m going to do to defend you.” I said to her in anguish. “I’ve never done this before!”

“I know, and I’m sorry y’all got involved, Alex. Never dreamed I’d wake up to find myself riding shotgun in my old body. Are you sure you want to do this? I mean…there are things in here that would humble the most despicable tyrant in the universes!” She said as she motioned to her head.

“If we stand any chance of clearing you, I need to know,” I paused to think a second, “We need to know what exactly happened to make you want to just give up and hide in my head! Alex, I have no idea what the consequences will be if this tribunal finds you responsible!”

“I had my reasons, Alex! That is all y’all should need, though my defense is not as important as making restitution to you and your new sisters for what ah done.”

“But I’m as guilty as you, Alex, we’re temporal twins! I am you…only in this universe! I can’t quite figure that out yet, but if I am to defend myself, I better give it my best shot and that necessitates seeing what happened out there. Now, can we just sync up or do I call mother back over here?”

“You wouldn’t do that!”

“Try me, hun! I may be new to this Empress stuff, but I sure know how to piss someone off to get my way!” I paused to let that threat sink in, “what’s it gonna’ be, hun, the easy way or the hard way?” I threatened.

“Fine, but you need to understand the whole story…from the beginning. Don’t claim that I didn’t warn you!” Alex cautioned as she extended her hand.

Did I really want to do this? Did I really want to pry into this woman’s mind as it were? Would I end up knowing more about her than myself after this?

With much trepidation, I took my twin’s hand.
 
 

Empress’ Suite, Citadel, Terra, 22:07, Climax, Apogean 5th, 292 of the New Era
 
 

“Just a minute, Alexis, mommy has to relieve herself before you get fed!” I said to the crib containing my new screaming bundle of joy. They called her the miracle that saved Terra. Somehow that didn’t matter to her at the moment; Terra’s new miracle demanded my breast!

Looking at the clock, I noticed the time- 2207hrs. Jack should be getting her first labor pains just about…”

“Shit!” I heard her scream from down the hall. The lights in the suite blinked quickly.

“Alex!” Jack screamed from her room.

‘I’ll be right there as soon as I use the lavatory, Jack.’ I thought to her then decided to add, “it’s only the first pain, Jack, and they only get worse.’

“You’re all heart, Alex.” Echoed back through the hallway.

I quickly did what I had to do and scooped Alexis out of her crib. From experience, I daftly unbuttoned my pajama top and brought my starving daughter close.

“Ouch! Hey, don’t be so greedy, hun, y’all have sole claim to these teats.”

“Ouuuw, SHIT!” Jack’s voice echoed down the hall as the lights dimmed longer this time. I looked at my desk clock again- 2211hrs. Four minutes apart, I thought.

“No kidding, Alex, I have a clock in my room too!” Jack shouted.

“Hey, Alex, looks like I got here just in the nick of time, huh?” My voice said, startling me.

“About time, sis. Jack needs to get over to the infirmary before her labor gets too strong.” I said to my temporal sister and her male guest. “Keep to the innermost hallways, Russell. Solara’s radiation is too intense for normal humans.” I advised. I was glad he had decided to come. After our initial travels together, I half expected him to refuse altogether.

“You think she’ll be glad to see me, Empress?”

“Russell Brackenridge, get yer ass in here!” The scream from down the hallway left little doubt to that question!

“I guess we should go, sis, see ya in twenty.”

I nodded as Alex and Russell walked out of my room and Alexis decided to clamp down harder!

“Slow down, honey, there’s still some left in that one.” I said, scolding my day-old daughter. Getting off the bed, I walked over to my dresser and picked up my tiara. I was going to need it in about twenty minutes.

“Tibius, Jack’s about twenty-five minutes from delivery, you’d better alert Maximillian and get down to her special delivery room, but keep everyone on the other side of the building.” I said to the walls as well as thinking it loudly.

“Confirmed, my love. Tibius and Maximillian are enroute- ETA ten minutes.” My mate’s voice said in my mind. Ma Bell had nothin’ on the Terran communication system!

“Alex, did I hear Ms. Cummins complaining again?” Tish asked as she appeared in my doorway. There was a murmured exchange out in the hallway before Randi’s head popped into view.

“Jack’s just gone into labor, ladies. The Empress has taken her and Russell to the infirmary. I need you two to stay here for your own protection, understand?”

“But she may need us, sensei!”

“Trust me, Tish, this is one delivery you would be better off not seeing!”

“Will there be some unforeseen complications, Alex-sensei?”

“No, there’s gonna be an unforeseen roof raisin’, hun! Literally! Randi, what’s the status on Jack’s birthing room’s suppression shields?”

“Energizing now, Director. Charging to thirty-seven-trillion Joules- one hundred percent of maximum capacity, Director.”

“It won’t be enough, but it’ll cushion the rest of the city anyway. Thanks, hun.”

“But if you knew the effort would fail, why build the shields at all, Alex?”

“Let’s just say I envisioned a crater where Citadel once was and leave it at that, hun.”

Randi whistled.

“Randi, have the fire retention crews on alert. Have them implement protocol: Constance-Arrival.

“Acknowledged, Director. Emergency services are on standby.”

“T-minus twenty-five minutes, Randi. Tish, I need you and Randi to watch little Alexis for me in a few minutes. She’ll wake and start crying when Connie is born so be ready for that. Oh…and the building may shake a little too.” I paused as I carefully moved Alexis to the other side. “Just be ready for the worst.” I added with a wince.
 
 

Alexis having had her fill and properly burped went right to sleep. I carefully placed my pinky finger to the corner of her tiny mouth and gently pushed to break the perfect vacuum on my stinging nipple. I carefully laid my daughter back into her crib and pulled the blanket up to her neck. Leaning in, I placed a kiss on her smooth, delicate cheek. I looked at the clock- 2220hrs.

“I’m going to go help your best friend arrive now, honey, but I’ll be back in a few hours.” I told my content, sleeping babe and turned to face her expecting aunts.

“Right after they dig us out of the rubble.” I added with a raised eyebrow as I walked past them, observing their eyes popping from their heads.

“Sensei, you cannot be serious!” Tish exclaimed as I turned the corner keying up my Reilly suit to my dress whites. I also brought my tiara online as that would be the only protection I would have. Its HUD menu indicated a full charge.
 
 

“Hi, Jasen, am I too late?” I asked sarcastically as I entered the specially prepared birthing room with Tibius and Maximillian. The building, its single floor design and location on the outskirts of Citadel, would keep damage to a minimum.

Hopefully.

“I’m still here so I would conclude you are right on time, M’lady.” He replied with equal sarcasm. I noted the time on my HUD- 2230hrs. “Grand High Counsel, all preparations have been completed?”

Tibius nodded his acknowledgement.

“Time for you, Maximillian, Tibius, and Russell to take cover, Jasen.” I said sternly. “Empress, Randi and Tish are back in the suite, you should go back there too! Alexis will need consoling in a few moments.”

“I remember, sis. Come on Russell, You really need to get to shelter!”

Jasen, Tibius, and former High Counsel Maximillian had wasted no time in vacating the building.

“But I want to stay with my wife and child!” Russell complained.

“Believe me, hun; you don’t want to be within, twenty city blocks of this place when Connie pops out!” My twin advised.

“Sis, have Randi go to War Emergency Power on the suppression shields- one hundred ten percent.”

“We both know that won’t do any good, sis, Jack’s way too powerful.”

“Jack’s laying right here, Alex, and she can still hear you! Rusty, get yer ass out of here before all hell breaks!” Jack managed to growl before she again screamed in pain.

The lights dimmed for a whole fifteen seconds this time!

“Get out of here now, sis. Take Russell with you!” I shouted angrily as I took Jack’s hand and squeezed tightly.

Alex nodded, forcibly took Russell’s hand, and disappeared. I accessed my tiara menu and selected the protective environmental shield. The status bar indicated that my tiara still had a full charge and the selected shield was operating at full power.

The blood-cuddling scream that emanated from Jack momentarily deafened me and my hand felt like it was clamped in an ever-tightening vise! The room went dark for a whole minute! My tiara’s power indication dropped to eighty percent.

Four more to go, I thought.

“Thanks for the play-by-play, Alex!” Jack commented sarcastically through tightly clinched teeth. “I don’t think I can do this, Cap!”

“Come on, woman, you’re Navy and we can do anything!” I coached my sister as the muffled sound of an air raid siren could be heard outside the building- Protocol: Constance-Arrival had initiated.

“Alex?”

“Ya, Jack.”

“Shut the hell up!”

I gently patted our joined hands.

“It’ll be fine, Jack.” I told her softly

The next scream did deafen me and I could feel my nanos go to high alert. My tiara’s power dropped to sixty-five percent. Dust started falling from the ceiling- shaken loose by her last contraction. We would later find out that five blocks around us went dark for three minutes!

Three more to go, I said to the pitch-black room.

“Dammit, Alex!”

“I know, hun, it’ll all be over soon. I said trying to soothe her.

“One thing, Alex?”

“Ya, Jack?”

“How…how do you know how to deliver a baby? Have you ever had to do it before?”

“I’ve done it just once, Jack.”

“When, Alex?”

“Right now, hun, now push!”

“I thought you said I had three contractions left?”

“I lost count! PUSH!” I shouted as the lights came back on and moved to the end of the bed to wait.

The scream, dust, flash of light, concussive force, and explosive thunder seemed numbing as Connie made her appearance on the planet. As the dust cloud dissipated, the foreign star constellations that the ancient Terran mariners had used for eons began to slowly appear overhead in the waning evening light.

“Hello Constance, welcome to Terra.” I said quietly as I handed her to Jack- cord and all. “She’s beautiful, Jack!”

I tried to ignore the flashing menus on my suit’s HUD that told me, one: that my tiara’s power reserve had been completely drained, and two: that my suit was now indicating some critical error condition! Every square inch of my body felt like it was on fire- which, judging from the faint red glow in the room, some of me probably was!

I never had the chance to use the inhalator that Jasen had taught me how to use in the last few weeks. Connie coughed and began crying as soon as mother and daughter made contact.

Tears poured from my friend’s eyes. “I can’t believe I just did that, Alex! I can’t believe something so marvelous…so miraculous, came out of me!”

I smiled at her and nodded.

“Jack, I need to cut the cord, hun,” I told her softly.

“I’ll get it, Alex.” She said just before the umbilical collapsed about two inches from the newborn’s tummy and split apart. The smell of burning flesh wafted over to me. There was no blood loss whatsoever.

Alex, Jasen, Russell, Tibius, and Maximillian reappeared after several minutes, lanterns in hand, just as I was cleaning up the afterbirth. Despite the loss of the building’s ceiling, roof, overhead environmental machinery, and the upper third of all its walls, my tiara’s shield had kept a fifteen foot ‘clean spot’ around me, momma, and baby.

“Jacquelyn, she’s beautiful!” Maximillian exclaimed, his voice cracking with emotion. “Congratulations, Russell Brackenridge of Earth!” He added turning to shake Jack’s husband’s hand.

“Two miracles in as many days, Empress. How can we ever thank you, M’lady?” Tibius asked as he wrapped his strong arms around me and squeezed.

“Well, first you could try loosening the hold y’all have on me, hun, my chest’s still achin’ somethin’ awful!”

“My apologies, Empress. I forgot that ours was the first miracle for Terra.”

“The first of many, hun.”

“Can I hold her, Jacki?” Russell asked. He had just asked the one question I would come to dread!

“Constance, meet your daddy.” Jack said quietly, but happily as she held her new daughter out to her husband.

Alex and I burst into tears! It was still going to happen!

Russell stood quietly holding his new daughter for a few minutes before he began coughing- lightly at first, but as the minutes passed the cough got worse.

“Jasen, Russell needs to get to cover immediately.” I said trying not to sound too alarming.

“What is it, Alex? did I catch something?” Russell asked as he continued to cough into his hand. “Oh God, I’m coughing up blood!”

“What’s wrong? Alex, what’s wrong with Russ?” Jack exclaimed in concern.

“Get him out of here, Alex!” I shouted, but only loud enough to get my point across. Connie had fallen asleep and been handed back to Jack before Russell’s latest coughing spell.

My future twin closed her eyes for a moment. An impish grin formed on her face. “Take my hand Rusty; we have to get you out of here.” She said sternly and forcibly grabbed his hand. The two disappeared.

“Alex?” Jack pressed for me to explain.

“It’s Solara, Jack.” I began sadly.

“What about it, Alex?”

“Solara’s radiation is a lot stronger than our sun.” I paused and gently laid my hand on her arm.

“Alex, tell me what’s wrong with Russ!”

“Radiation, Jack! Solara’s radiation is killing him!” I told her as tears ran down my face.

“But we’re all human! If anything he should just get badly sunburned.”

“You forget that our nanos protect against extreme radiation, Jack. That’s why Alex and I wanted him kept shielded- to stay to the internal halls of Citadel’s buildings.”

The air suddenly sweetened.

“Why didn’t you protect him, Alex? You knew this would happen, right?” She accused more than asked.

“We had hoped that he had been kept isolated enough, Jack! We tried…we really tried.”

I began crying outright now. My hands came up to my face as I turned away from her in shame.

Tibius wrapped his arms around me and tried his best to comfort. He held me for a long time.

“How much and how long?” I heard Jack ask.

I remained quiet- still held tightly by my mate.

“Alex…How much and how long?” She demanded!

“Alex?”

“Two days at best.” I answered through my tears. He took the equivalent of standing on the outskirts of Nagasaki.”

“Do something, Alex!” She pleaded, as the air grew sweeter still. “Do…something!” She hissed!

“I…we…we tried, Jack! We really tried! Nothing…no sequence…no scenario, nothing will let us save Russell.” I choked out in despair. “I can’t do anything else without facing ‘The Management’, Jack.”

“It’s not fair!” She shouted as the air around us cracked and sparked wildly. Connie woke up and started crying.

Jack began to cry also.

The air began to clear. “It’s just not fair.” She sniffed as she pulled her baby closer.

“I want to see him, Alex. I want to go home to see my husband before…”

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t be advisable.” My sad voice said from what was left of the doorway. My temporal twin stood there with a sullen expression.”He wouldn’t let me take him…we …we didn’t…” She managed to get out before dropping her head in sorrow.

Everyone remained quiet for several long minutes.

“She’ll never know…” Jack began, but I interrupted.

“Constance will meet and know her father, Jack. We owe both of you that much.”

“But not when she needs him…not when it counts!”

“Constance Cummins will know her father, Jacquelyn Cummins! I personally guarantee it!” My twin declared with more authority than I thought I could ever muster given the situation. Why did she look so nervous though- like she expected lightning to strike her dead?

I started to walk over to her, but she took a step back.

“Alex, I have to leave now. Randi and Tish will have no need of the Empress for their deliveries. I bid everyone good morrow.”

She was gone an instant later.

“Alex? Alex, what did you mean that you would personally guarantee Connie gets to know her father?”

“I’m not sure, Jack. I didn’t get a chance to sync with her- not that it would have been a good idea.” I pointed to my swollen chest. “Did you get anything from her?” I asked in confusion.

“Nothing, Alex. Whatever you did you weren’t transmitting anything!”

“M’lady Jacquelyn, I will act as the child’s father if you so wish it.” Jasen and Maximillian chorused admirably.

“Aye, M’lady! It would be my honor to also act as the child’s guardian.” Tibius volunteered. “Constance shall know a father one way or another. She shall know parental affection even after you return home- that is my guarantee, M’lady.”

“I’m taking her home to Earth, Grand High Council.” Jack declared resolutely.

“Do you really want to do that Jack? Connie isn’t your average run-of-the-mill kid, you know!” I asked as I reminded her of the obvious. “Have you thought about how she will react to say…?” I thought about everything that could possibly go wrong as she grew toward adulthood. “What happens when she wants a puppy and you say ‘no’? What would happen when some boy dumps her the first time? How will you cope with puberty?” I asked, glaring at my friend.

She remained steadfast- and silent.

“Jack, she’s not you.” I reminded her. “She’s a product of you and Russell. We know that he has a temper. Why else did you come with me on this trip if not to refrain from being angered by his temper?”

I paused again.

“Jack, it would be best if Connie remained here, on Terra, so that she can have the benefit of properly training her gift. Back home she would most likely become a thousand times worse than ‘Carrie’! Think of how you sometimes feel back on Earth. I know you’ve wanted to ‘express’ yourself- to impress upon certain…people, your…your…opinion. You’ve already been there…to experience growing up, but before your gift. You know the value of responsibility. Connie won’t have that luxury, Jack. Her gift is already developing.” I said as I motioned to the newborn in her arms. Jack’s blouse slowly began to move off to the side to reveal her right breast. When clear, Connie took immediate advantage of the exposed meal.

Jack swallowed hard after staring in stone-cold amazement and gasped sharply as her daughter initiated first contact.

Again there was silence in the room.

“Being born on Terra makes her a citizen?” Jack asked as she turned her head to Tibius and Maximillian.

“Aye, M’lady. Constance Cummins is a natural born citizen of Citadel. As such she is entitled to any and all benefits available,” Maximillian answered.

“She’ll be taught to control her gift, Grand High Counsel?”

“The very best education available on the planet, Lady Jacquelyn!”

“She is to never find out about her Earth roots!” Jack commanded after a full minute.

“Jack, she will find out! Wouldn’t it be better to tell her up front?” I asked.

“Alex, Connie is Terran, plain and simple! When we leave here, I’ll allow my memory of her conception to be erased. I ask that you, Tish, and Randi submit your selves also.”

“Jack, I’ve already seen that she finds out.” I revealed quietly.

“That’s the deal, Alex. Take it or leave it!”
 

 
 

I rubbed my eyes of the tears as the darkness of ‘my’ domain came back into focus.

“I’m sorry, Alex. I didn’t know all the facts.”

“There is more to see in order to be fully briefed on the circumstances of our case, Alex. I only paused because of the emotional stress placed upon us. Allow me a moment to compose myself before we continue.

I nodded. “You won’t go and hide again, will you?”

“I’m here by your grace, Alex. This is your domain and I’m just another spirit called here- I don’t exist outside of this place.” She replied sadly.

I never thought about that! Without me as a ‘host’, Alexandra Steinert…the one from another universe…couldn’t exist! She was trapped here for as long as I choose!

I was now her warden. That thought sickened me.

I stopped to think a minute. Was she really here by my invitation or by the tribunal’s?

“It would be wise not to dwell on such small, inconsequential issues, Alexandra.” Momma Scott advised as she moved in beside me.

“But won’t I be just as guilty if I fail her and she is left here, momma?” I dared ask.

“Alexandra, this is not a tribunal to assign guilt.” She said with a smile before walking over to Alex’s daughters, Sam and Cassie.

What did she mean ‘no guilt would be assigned’?

“Alex, are you okay?” Emily asked as she approached and took my hand.

“I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, dear.” I admitted. “I’ve been informed that this is a tribunal, but it’s not really a tribunal. All I need now is a guy in a top hat!” I complained before looking to my left- at Abe Lincoln.

“Off with my head.” I exclaimed quietly as I mimed slitting my throat.

“You’ll do fine, honey. Everyone here has faith in your ability,” Emily consoled me.

“Faith in my abilities?” My voice got louder as it went up an octave. “Dammit Emily, I’m an engineer, not a lawyer!”

“Emily, dear, come over here for a moment?” Ruth Scott asked from a short distance away.

Alexandra Steinert had walked over to Grandpa and Mr. Lincoln. She headed back over when she saw that I was again alone.

“Would you like to continue, Alex? I’ve got to warn y’all this is the meat and potatoes and may not be pleasant.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t remember most of what happened, Alex?”

“That’s why I am to assist you, Counselor.” Camille Darough said touching my arm gently. I noticed her daughter Cassi do the same with the older Connie. I instantly felt a weird crawling sensation running in the direction of her contact.

“The feeling you perceive is me drawing some power from you, Empress. I will need the reserve to retrieve the requested information.”

“Draw from us too, Cami.” Cassandra said as she took Camille’s free hand. Samantha offered her hand to Cassi as well. Their counterparts of my universe followed suit.

The four member ‘Tribunal’ stepped back and stood close together. All were smiling for some reason.

“Ladies, because of the likelihood this procedure will destabilize this domain, I suggest we join hands with our sisters. I’ll do my best to buffer our current location.” Alex Reilly said, and waited until all our sisters stood hand in hand.

“You may proceed, Camille and Cassiopeia Darough of Reilly.” She announced after just a moment.

“Acknowledged, director. Initiating memory retrieval and relay.”

“Wait! What relay?” I shouted before everything went dark!
 
 

Citadel Community Park, Citadel, Terra, 27:00, Median, Venusia 15th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

“Mother! What are you doing here?”

“It’s that day, Alexis.” I said sadly.

“You don’t need to do this, mom! I’m sure Connie will understand if we just break it to her easy.”

“That’s not the way it will happen, honey.” I said as I approached and hugged her tightly. “It has to be this way. Your existence hinges on this one mission, Alexis. It’s not entirely about Connie.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, mother. Connie needs to be told, I agree, but how can my existence be involved?”

“It’ll all make sense in a few years, honey.” I reassured her. “Where is Connie anyway?” I asked as I expected her to walk down the park path any moment.

“Alexandra took her off world for a small mission, mom. I would imagine to keep her from hearing this conversation.”

“So you’ve looked into your friend’s future, Alexis.”

“As much as I cared to do, Mother Empress. What is to come is very discouraging and grotesque. Why would you willingly do this to yourself?”

“It is something I always knew I would have to do, honey. I am to start this and I am now here to finish what I started. I have to be held accountable for all that I have caused.”

“Must you always confuse your tense, mother? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you caused another paradox. You know how they give me headaches.”

My daughter stared into my eyes for a moment.

“Empress, could you please state your current temporal launch point?”

“Cmdr. Alexandra Steinert, USN, Earth, June 30th, 1944.” I told her as I offered my hand.

“How can you be held accountable for any of this, mother? You haven’t had anything to do with this yet. Why must you be the one?”

“No matter which instance of me is responsible, I am still responsible, Alexis. Ultimately, the ‘Empress’ is responsible.”

“There you are, Empress. Grand High Counsel informed me of your impending arrival today. Welcome to Citadel, M’lady.” A man’s voice greeted as he walked up the path to us.

“Welcome to you also, Jasen. Why is my personal physician so anxious to see me?” I asked as I shook his hand.

“I have been asked by Tibius to conduct a preliminary work up on you prior to this mission, M’lady. I am to collect hair and tissue samples for archive.”

“I understand. I’ll be over to the infirmary right after I spend some time with my daughter. How long did my granddaughter say she would be gone, Alexis?”

“Two days, Empress.”

“See you tomorrow, doc. Until then I will be spending valuable time with my daughter.” I smiled at the man and continued smiling as I turned to Alexis. She returned a nervous smile to me.

“That I could spend time with my own daughter, Empress, even though adopted.” Jasen said sadly.

“The Empress assures me Connie will be safe on their mission, M’lord. I have never known mother to lie about such things.”

“May I request one day with her, Empress?”

“Take however long you like, Jasen. I happen to know this crazy blonde that thinks she can travel through time.” I forced a smile trying to comfort him.

“As you wish, Empress. I take my leave of you and Lady Alexis then.” He bowed slightly, turned, and walked back the way he had arrived.

“Mother!” Alexis looked at me in surprise. “You just lied to him!”

“As did you, honey.”

“That is because I have seen that things work out eventually.”

“I wish I could be so sure, hun.” I snorted in doubt. I knew I would survive this ordeal simply because Alex Steinert-Covington existed. How things would play out was still as mysterious as the prize at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks!
 
 

Citadel Community Park, Citadel, Terra, 27:00, Median, Venusia 17th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

“Will you be gone for long, mother?” Alexis asked mechanically. I could see she was having a hard time holding back her tears.

“We shouldn’t be too long, hun- a day at best. This is just a reconnaissance mission for intel on another upcoming mission. It should be a piece of cake.”

“Then why do you need me, Empress? Wouldn’t mother be the better choice?”

“Do you see Jack here, Connie?” I asked the obvious question.

“No, M’lady. For what reason, I have yet to figure.”

“Jack and I just came off almost six weeks of tedious escort duty back home and three taxing missions for the Empress. I told her to take a break, Constance.” I smiled at the woman, keeping it as natural as possible.

“Still, why engage me, Empress?”

“I’d still like to have a Mind Warrior by my side just in case, Connie, and before you ask, Jack is otherwise occupied for the near future. If y’all don’t want the adventure, hun, I’ll just leave now- solo.”

“Empress, it would be an honor to accompany you on your latest adventure.” She said sincerely.

“Grandmother Empress, I wish you good luck and favorable time streams.” Alexandra said as she hugged me. There was tenseness to her embrace as the familiar tingle passed between us. As we parted, I nodded and gave her a reassuring wink.

“Connie and I will be back in one day.” I told everyone as I nodded to Jasen.

“Until then, Empress.” Alexandra said brightly.

“Until then, Empress.” I repeated. “Constance, we should be on our way, hun.” I said as I offered my hands.
 

The scene around us collapsed and blacked out. We traveled the stars for some time before our surroundings changed to that of a strange, alien looking wasteland.

“Alex, where are we?” She asked.

“Can you hear anybody or thing in the vicinity, hun?” I asked.

“No, Alex, it is strangely quiet…too quiet!”

“That’s good.”

“Why is that good, Alex? I thought we were here on a scouting mission.”

Connie suddenly looked down at the ground. I followed her stare. There in the loose dusty soil was a shoe print. It looked exactly like the low-heeled Navy issue pumps I had on right now! Apparently my aim was slightly off.

“Someone has been here before, Alex.” She said quietly, but then looked to my feet then up at my face.

And so it starts, I thought.

“What starts now, Alex? Why have you brought me to a place you’ve obviously been to already? What is going on, Empress?”

“We need to talk, Connie.” I replied.

“Talk? Talk about what? I thought we were going on a mission, Empress?”

I looked around at the vast expanse of nothingness that surrounded us. I had just set the next chapter of our lives on its destructive, Earth-shattering…unseen course.

My mouth went dry.

“Alex, what is wrong? Why do you look so conflicted?”

I fought hard to hold my composure.

“I’m not sure I can do this.” I mumbled as I thought about the hours of preparation I’d made- not only finding this place, but also readying myself for the outcome. Things had already passed the point of no return. I had to do this- like it or not, I was now committed.

“What was that, Empress? What can’t you do?” Her tone showed fear and uncertainty.

“This was a mistake. I can’t go through with this.” I mumbled to myself and started shaking my head. I wondered how cruel management’s punishment would be when I had to answer for this.

“What can’t you go through with, Empress? You’re starting to scare me, my lady.”

“We shouldn’t be here. This isn’t the place or the time.” I mumbled again.

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

“It can’t happen like this- there has to be some other way- some way that I missed.” I said aloud as my vision blurred.

“Alex, why are you crying? What are we doing here?” Connie looked at me in concern. I felt my emotions skyrocket!

“Empress, your mind is even more chaotic than usual. What is the matter? Why are you so upset? Empress, if we are not to be here then why stay? Shouldn’t we return home?”

My heart felt as if it were going to explode as I frantically searched my gift for alternatives! When that wouldn’t answer me, I asked the question: Should we just go home?

I squeezed my eyes tight and caused more tears to run down my wet cheeks when a resounding negative answered the question.

“Empress, what is wrong? Why is your heart pounding loud enough that I can hear it standing next to you? Empress, I implore you, why are we here?”

Why were we here? An image of some smoking mass- burnt beyond recognition- flashed into my mind.

My hands began to shake uncontrollably. My knees grew weak under me and my stomach became nauseated. I could hear my pulse in my ears.

“Empress, your silence is very disturbing; please answer my question- why…are…we…here?”

I didn’t answer her. I couldn’t answer her!

“Empress, I demand to know why you have brought me here…to this forgotten landscape. Answer me, Alex!”

I drew in a large breath of the local, untainted air. It had no fragrance at all- virgin air.

“We’re here for you, Connie.” I said sadly. More tears escaped my eyes.

“Empress, I don’t understand?”

“I know you don’t, honey, and I’m very sorry about that. I wish this were easier.” I sniffed and wiped my eyes with the palm of my free hand.

“Your cryptic answers and strange temperament worry me! What have I done that warrants my exile?”

Oh God, she thought that… My heart shattered into tiny pieces hearing her ill-assumed conviction.

“It isn’t anything you’ve done, honey. It’s what I have done- what was decided so long ago.”

“More mysterious answers, Empress? Why bring me to such an unforgiving place if I have not done something terribly wrong? What could you possibly have done that requires us to be in such a barren part of the universe?”

I remained silent again. Answering any more questions would only hasten things. I swallowed hard and prepared myself for what was to come.

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

This was the moment I feared! I closed my eyes tightly and felt tears really begin to pour down my face.

It was no use. Connie was now thoroughly angered by my stonewalling. Now she would employ her substantial gift.

“You have been withholding information from me? Why?” She asked as I saw her begin to concentrate on me. She was trying to break through the various walls, obstructions, detours, and blockades I had erected with Tibius’ help and guidance.

“To protect you, Constance.” I paused as I felt her lightly touch my mind. “Your development required certain details of your life be kept from you, I’m afraid.” I rationalized.

“What details, Empress? What specifics?” She asked as now I felt the pressure of her mind in mine. I wondered how long I could retain my privacy.

“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.

I just had to…

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

The air around us suddenly smelled sweeter.

I gulped as the pain in my skull increased in magnitude. God help me!

“You ARE lying to me! Empress? What could require such uncharacteristic defensive actions?” She asked glaring harder at me.

Oh God did it hurt!

“I said it isn’t that important.” I paused to rub my forehead in a vain effort to relieve the pain. “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 in a last ditch effort to calm her. My eyes began to twitch as more tears fell from my cheek.

Memories began to sort and sift themselves as Constance Cummins-Brackenridge breached the first of my defensive barriers. It wouldn’t be long now, I thought.

The image of an older Russell Brackenridge appeared to me. Jack crying on her Davenport wearing only her skimpy peignoir replaced it.

The air only grew sweeter!

“Empress, your ability to block my gift is faltering. Why have you allowed me to get this far without transporting away from me? Why won’t you fight against my invasion?” She looked at me with a mixture of anger and confusion.”There are several important things you have withheld- the first being my conception date!” Connie hissed as the confusion disappeared and her anger grew.

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

That was good. Good physical contact would assure our survival. This I had been able to see clearly.

“You will tell me what I must know or I will find it myself, Alexandra Steinert.” Connie’s expression grew dark- almost evil! An image of Jack on Meridian 12 suddenly burst into my mind.

“Mother almost killed someone? Is that why you left her behind?”

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 please remain calm.” I pleaded with her, my voice now shaking with fear. I felt an emotional barrier crumble under her increasing pressure.

“You are afraid of me, Alexandra Steinert? Why would the Empress of Time and Space be afraid of one of her own sisters?”

I tried but failed to take a breath. I began to draw on my own reserve of courage and managed to partially slow the breach.

“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 hard to tell if I had succeeded, though.

Images of a man named Maximillian, an older Terran gentleman, were suddenly replaced by images of Russell Brackenridge at various ages, starting at twenty-one.

An image of Jack dressed in a beautiful white wedding gown with a delicate Chantilly lace veil standing alongside Russell in his white tuxedo, posing before a church’s alter, popped in.

Another obstruction disintegrated. I cringed.

“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?”

What was left of my heart was now crushed to fine powder!

“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. I have never lied about that.”

Russell’s face again came to mind.

WHO…IS…MY…FATHER, EMPRESS?” Again her voice thundered across the desolate, open plain where we stood.

I physically jumped as another well-placed misdirection vanished.

The air crackled with such energy I thought it would suddenly start jumping between us!

“Russell Brackenridge. Russell Brackenridge is your father, Constance. He is the reason I have hidden your true lineage from you. Your father had a problem with his temper.”

“So what does that matter? Why the conspiracy?” She calmed slightly.

I knew this was only temporary, but paused to take a much-needed breath.

“Russell wanted so much to please your mother, Connie.” I began. “He waited as long as he could for your mother to decide she wanted a family.”

“So? She wasn’t ready and he waited. How does that equate to having a temper, Alex?”

“He couldn’t wait any longer, honey. He was into his fifties by that time and the desire to provide your mother with a child was escaping him. It angered him that he soon wouldn’t be able to give her what she truly wanted, but kept deferring because of her lack of confidence.”

The energy around us subsided only slightly as Connie waited for me to continue.

“The strain of your mother’s indecision and his desire to make her happy proved too much, but not before he made one last attempt. Jack would later confide to me that they were the greatest two days outside of their honeymoon she ever experienced.”

“That still doesn’t explain your initial statement, Empress! What has any of this to do with Russell Brackenridge’s temper?”

I thought it was now evident as I quickly glanced up to her face.

The following morning Russell and Jacquelyn Brackenridge started arguing after your mother misinterpreted his thoughts. She thought he was trying to rush her- for her sake. She read uncertainty in his mind where there was none. Jack claimed that if he were truthful then that shouldn’t have been there.”

“But that’s not always the case, Alex! We all know that!”

“Your father left in a rage after striking your mother in the face, Connie. Several times in fact, though Jack will never admit that. She loved him dearly and was willing to forgive him.”

“Then he should be the one made to pay, Empress! Why has this all fallen to you, if my birth father attacked mother?”

“She accused him of lying to her, Constance. The implications of that must have thrown him over the edge.

“Jack became so outraged that she…she almost…” I told her, watching her eyes widen considerably.

“By the lords, she didn’t…”

“No, instead, she contacted Brianna, who contacted me. In order to cheer your mother up, I decided she needed time away from Russell. To make a long story short, we ended up on Terra ninety years prior to my intended target date. By the time we arrived, Jack was displaying the typical signs of pregnancy. Just days after my initial arrival she developed morning sickness.”

“She must have been scared out of her mind!”

I nodded cautiously, but still made no eye contact.

“When he came home that night- after we had returned from Terra- he apologized nine ways to heaven, but the damage had already been done. Jack felt she couldn’t, in good conscious, tell him of your birth. Your parents never shared a bed after that.”

“So they were both at fault then. Where is this going, Alex? Why all the conspiracy?”

“In an attempt to repair the fracture between them I arranged for Russell to accompany us on a benign mission to 2035 to help my future twin. He met you there and recognized certain…’family’ characteristics. Jack ended up explaining about you and your birth on Terra. She left out the fact that Russell was your father.”

“Empress, I must remind you that most of your defenses have been defeated, that I can see farther into your mind than ever before! Get to the point of all this!” She warned, as her softened expression again grew dark.

It was time to bring this mission to its devastating finale. I made sure our hands were still tightly clasped together.

“Russell wanted to come to Terra for you, Connie. He wanted to be there for your birth- he was so proud.” Again tears filled my eyes.

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 on which we stood shook violently!

“Because of me your father was exposed to the severe radiation of Solara. We tried to keep him indoors- to shield him from the intense radiation. Alex even transported him back to the residence while I stayed with your mother. I hadn’t counted on the radiation still being high after Solara began to set. When the building disintegrated as you were born, the roof and all shielding disappeared. After the dust cleared, we could see the stars, Connie. Alex brought him back and he held you for the first time. He was so proud of you and your mother! When he began to cough uncontrollably, Alex took him home. She quickly returned with the bad news.” I paused to take a large breath. Here it was.

“He lasted long enough to see you born. Alex said that right after they got back to Earth in 2020, he screamed out in agony and died. Because of me, he never got to hold his pride and joy again.”

“YOU KILLED MY FATHER!” The ground shook viciously this time! It groaned and crackled as it fractured deep below us. Things started to get worse!

I prayed that my end would come quickly and at the same time be mercifully painless!

I HATE YOU, ALEX STEINERT!”

“I hate myself, Constance. I hate ever being thrown into this whole disheartening existence called the Empress. I never wanted any of this- nothing! I despise having to affect, guide, and more or less control peoples’ lives! I hate knowing when someone is to die…to be born…to falter. I hate everything about the Empress!”

“I hate the things that I’ve done or will do!” I concluded.

“Things you will do, Empress? What else have you been hiding from us? What other dark secrets do you keep?”

I felt the already unbearable assault on my mind increase.

“Connie…please don’t…please! STOP!” I screamed!

A barrier fractured, cracked through, and began to split open. It contained…well, I wasn’t sure what it contained as I had never dared venture near enough to even peek inside this maximum security facility buried deep within my mind! Its ultra high walls, imposing fortifications, and ominous appearance had been enough to warn me to stay away.

Why would I have such a structure here in my mind, I wondered. What secrets did it hold from my conscience? Was this the highly speculated ‘id’ maybe?
 

The image of a simple, but inviting home filled my mind. The pain I had just been experiencing, gone completely. I sat facing a warm inviting fire and everything felt wonderfully calm- pleasant.

“My dear, you look relieved- as if you haven’t a worry in the world. What have you done, my daughter?”

“Why do you ask, mother? Am I not to be happy?” I found myself answering.

“Of course you are, but it is a marked change from just a few moments ago when you looked as if the weight of the world was heaped on your shoulders.”

“I’m fine now, mother. Everything will be fine from now on. I’ve taken steps to ensure our happiness forever.”

“What have you done, child? Something I trust, that will not come back to haunt you?”

I looked down to see a small wooden jewel box I held with both hands in my lap. A sudden surge of dread filled me.

I thought I had been thorough, but apparently I had missed a tiny bit.

I felt myself frown.

“What is it, child? What makes you frown if all is as well as you say?”

Looking up from the box, I stared at the woman, my mother, as I thought out the answer.

Had I successfully locked everything away? Was it even possible to do such a thing- to lock away all the worries, the dark thoughts, painful emotions, doom, and foreboding? Was it possible to lock away the past, the present…the future?

As I looked back down to the beautifully stained, bright-brass-hinged container, I turned, then removed the key from its unique lock and threw it into the hot fire. I watched joyfully as the intense flames heated it until glowing. The precious key began to warp and bend, finally losing its shape altogether and became molten.

It would never again open that which contained all the heartbreak, the anguish, and the menace in the world. Never again would my past, present, and destiny be open for all to see! Those were now private.

“Need I remind you, Andora, that one can never simply lock away all the unwanted thoughts and nightmares of an entire world? If that is done hope, confidence, and courage may also become prisoner! What you have done here is similar to a judge imprisoning an innocent man. You cannot expect to simply lock up your humanity and throw away the key!”
 

I suddenly felt my heart beating again.
 

Images poured into my mind suddenly.

The Homeworld! I watched as it slowly became molten then began to glow, and then shine! All those people down there! They never had a chance…never had any future!
 

My heartbeat slowed a little.
 

I was now in the desert. I, as well as others of my people stood in awe as we watched the fireball grow ever larger in the heavens. As it approached, our fear increased, but we stood fast. The explosion was deafening- the heat intense yet we still held hands as our flesh melted away. We remained defiant of the firebird warrior to the end!
 

My heartbeat slowed more, almost becoming normal.
 

Walking down the sidewalk, I heard the air raid sirens start. How much more could they do to us? How many more lives would be lost from this infernal bombing? I was blinded, deafened, and knocked to the ground by the explosion! I awoke to the sound of moaning, crying, and screaming all around me. My body hurt worse than I could ever remember! My face, it felt itchy so I brought my hand up and scratched an alien surface, bumpy, wet, and pliable. Drawing back my hand, I noticed blood and sick looking skin. It just…just came off my face! A woman appeared above me. She just shook her head and began to pray for me!
 

My heart rate slowed even more.

“Empress, how have you been holding this all in? The horror stored within you!” I heard Connie…beautiful Constance, say from somewhere close.

She had mistakenly forged a new key and now the lock was sprung!
 

A huge mushroom cloud filled my vision! Buildings crumbled in its concussive wake. From far above more bombs rained down. There was no place to hide.
 

Legions of men with spears and bronze armor rushed into the village- killing everyone in sight. No one was left to record the brutal assault.
 

Barbarians fought all around me as I tried to protect what I had worked so hard to keep. I only hoped that my wife and children had sought refuge in the small, hollowed-out, earthen nook hidden under our simple home. The sword impaling itself into my gut brought all my hopes and dreams crashing down.
 

My heartbeat slowed further.

“Empress, the horrors revealed! I’m having a difficult time sorting them and limiting them!” A familiar voice cried.
 

I was wet suddenly!

“Do you reject Satan, foul witch? Will you recant and reject the evil one’s influence?”

“You make a mistake, sirs! I have never sided with Satan…nor any of his followers!”

“We have statement to the contrary from these innocent children! Will you recant?”

“For what should I recant? I am innocent of all accusations.”

The water is over my head again and I am fighting to stay alive. I feel sleepy. Very sleepy...
 

I find myself in a control room. Jack and my close family are here too. I nod to Jack and the room shakes mildly. On the view screen before me the dust begins to settle. I have just given the order to murder over one hundred people. It doesn’t matter that they are the enemy, dead set on stopping me from taking a possible weapon from them. They are dead- killed fighting for what they honestly believed in.
 

I’m holding tightly to a man’s hand. “You are pure evil sir, and you must be stopped to assure the timeline!”

“There is no prison on this world that can hold me, ‘Empress’!” He laughs evilly.

“There is and only I am able to place you there.” I counter.

“Do your worst, whore who calls herself Empress of Time and Space! I shall easily escape any and all confinement!”

“So you shall, but not before you have a long time to think about what you have caused!”

A field appears. Soldiers, dressed in blue and gray rush toward each other, muskets drawn and bayonet’s fixed. We stand between these two converging forces. I release his hand just as a soldier runs through him. My nemesis is now imprisoned in the oblivious Union soldier and has just been crippled by an opponent’s musket ball. He now lies in intense pain on the blood stained field alongside his dead comrades. He will never harm anyone in this life again.

Another soul has been condemned by my hand!
 

More soldiers! They are relentless in their onslaught. The fire sticks they carry reduce our numbers magically. How could the Gods have given these barbarians such weaponry? A hole suddenly opens in my chest. Fire burns from the wound as I look toward my beloved temple of the Moon. It is the last thing I see before all goes dark.
 

“You will renounce the devil, senior! Almighty God will triumph and you will see the light! Tighten his bindings another notch! That will loosen the demon’s hold!” Excruciating pain rips through my limbs as dim light turns to pitch!
 

I’m sorry, my dear, but I have met someone that can provide me with the heir I so desperately require to continue Britain. You will face the executioner in the morrow. I suggest you pray for your sins!
 

I felt a thump in my chest, was it a heartbeat?
 

I’m scared and I’m in a bare walled room with twenty or so others. We all wear the simplest of clothing- rough wool by the feel. I instinctively rub my forearm. The number inscribed there will not fade or disappear no matter what I do. My belly growls loudly as it has for a long time now. I wish they would feed us. Just the tiniest scrap is all I ask. The door opens and we are motioned to exit. They march us all out across the snow covered, frozen ground between buildings and put us into another room- this one made of brick. We are more cramped than before. People start coughing then fall to the floor. I watch in confusion as the grownups fall to the floor around me. My body becomes numb. I no longer feel famished. Instead, I see my departed family members happily waving me on.
 

I am running, but stop abruptly to face a huge man in full body armor. A strange futuristic weapon is pointed directly at me. I hear the click of the trigger and nothing more.
 

I’m pleading for food- any food at all! Dirt would suffice if I could stop crying…if water would stay down my throat. My belly hurts from being empty for so long. The sun is so hot, but seems to be fading- getting darker and darker…
 

The plaza is full of people here to see me- to pray to me. I am their leader- their savior! I feel confident that my negotiations have been fruitful and will result in peace and fair trade between our neighboring planets for the foreseeable future. Joining me is their ambassador- a small, nervous looking fellow. Someone shouts ‘incoming’ before the bombs start impacting. How could I have been so naive?
 

My heart gave another beat.

“Empress, the images, they will not stop and keep coming faster. Please stop your playback!” Some unknown voice cries from afar.
 

Again a nuclear mushroom cloud flashes before my eyes! I hear the screams of millions of souls. I couldn’t save any of them.
 

The night air is freezing. The decks are mostly devoid of people as a distant voice shouts ‘ICEBERG’! A violent shudder makes me stumble a few steps.

I find myself sitting in a crowded boat watching the lights of the mighty liner flicker and finally fail as the stern rises high out of the water and slips silently below the waves. Hundreds of screams echo across the water.

I couldn’t save them either!
 

I’m stopped by a man in a military uniform and told my name is not on the list of those to be saved. My wife and children look to me as if I can do something…say something…anything to change our fate. If only I could somehow influence our future…influence everyone’s future.

I wish I could save everyone!
 

Men and women are milling around me. We stare morbidly at the countdown on the displays throughout the facility. At ‘T’-minus two hours, we raise our personal containers and begin to consume large quantities of strong spirits. I feel vindicated that we all have now unknowingly, but successfully activated my creations and that everyone here on Reilly will survive to repopulate another Homeworld.

I have forced our survival, but I have saved my race.
 

A rope is put over my head and roughly fitted around my neck. I have done nothing but try to improve our life. I was the first of my line to hold property in this place they call the land of opportunity- this ‘America’. That apparently means nothing for me or my people as the stool I stand on is kicked out from under me.
 

There is no noise- no gentle pounding- no motion whatsoever- from within my chest.

“Empress, I am overloading! I cannot contain the power…”
 

I am somewhere warm and secure. There is nothing on my mind and I feel safe floating weightless in the warm fluid surrounding me. The pressure begins to increase as the space around me contracts. I have no idea what is happening as I suddenly feel myself squeezed through some small opening- through a vortex of swirling liquid. The pain in my eyes is so intense. Why can’t I close them?

I hear a booming voice.

“This one was defective anyway and would never amount to anything. She made the right choice to abort- even at such a late date.”

Why would someone do this?

Though the light and new environment cause extreme pain, I begin to think about my life thus far.

I’ve lost my rights…my freedom…my ability to protect myself. I don’t want it to end this way. I’ve had no chance to atone for my mistakes though, in reflection, I am nothing more than a common criminal- no better than any other convict! I should be imprisoned just like them. I should be thrown into jail- the key discarded for all eternity!

I loathe the Empress! I loathe everything she stands for- everything she was forced to do and endure for the sake of the precious timeline!

I loathe myself!
 

Another booming voice startles me. “Wait! I can’t do this anymore! Someone bring me an incubator while I bandage over her eyes!”
 
 

“This is not your time, my beloved daughter. There is still much good you shall do.”
 
 

“Alexandra.”

“Alexandra?”

“Alexandra!”

“Alex, its time to return to us, child. You now have all the details you’ve requested.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes as I looked around to see my sisters, still holding hands. All appeared to have been weeping, only just now dropping they’re grasps and wiping they’re eyes dry. Momma Scott, Grampa, Maximillian, and Mr. Lincoln also looked affected by what I had just witnessed.

Had it really happened or was it some vivid hallucination? Was the Empress…was I…were we really the protector of THAT infamous box? Had Connie inadvertently pried it open or caused it to spill in some way?

“Counselors, you now have all the details needed to defend or prosecute the accused, shall we continue?” Ruth Scott asked as she called the Tribunal back to order, still sounding choked up.

Connie and I locked eyes. What I saw in hers was indecision- uncertainty- sorrow.

I suppose she saw the same things in mine.

“Counselors! Our time grows short, ladies. We must continue so the tribunal can pass judgment.” Momma Scott said to catch our attention. “Alexandra, do not delay these proceedings any further, child.”

Connie and I looked to each other again. She nodded to me and I nodded back with a fragile smile.

“Madam President, the defense wishes to forego any opening statement and step right into the testimonial stage of this hearing, ma’am.” I announced to Alexandra Steinert’s- and everyone else’s, surprise.

“Alexandra, you do realize that by doing this you jeopardize your own case?”

“I do, ma’am, but since the charges have all been laid out by the prosecution, why waste the tribunal’s time and patience by rehashing?”

Momma Scott looked dumbfounded for a moment.

“Alex, I’m not even sure that is acceptable, dear. I shall consult with my peers. One moment, please.”

“Alex, what are y’all doin’?” Alexandra Steinert whispered. “These here people are dead-serious and now y’all decide to play lawyer? This is my life on trial here, Alex!”

“Is it, Alex?” I asked my ‘client’. “Are you actually the only one on trial here? The charges are against the Empress of Time and Space…am I not also implicated in all this? How about Alex Reilly, or any of our sisters present here today? We are all guilty in some way or another because we all work together…we all help the Empress’ cause.”

“Mr. Lincoln, as the residing official on this tribunal, is Ms. Steinert’s request to forfeit an opening defensive statement legal?”

“I believe it is Madam President, though rarely used it is still acceptable.” He nodded.

Ruth Scott eyed me very carefully for a minute.

“Very well, Alexandra, Constance, we shall proceed to witness testimonies.”

Connie stared at me for a few seconds before blinking and turning toward the tribunal panel.

The prosecution calls Constance Cummins, Madam President.”

“Ms. Cummins, you can’t call yourself to give testimony.”

“In this case I beg to differ, Madam President. Connie could you approach, please?”

“Ruthie, she does have that right if the said person exists outside of counsel.”

“Yes, I know that, Max! Our children are just very surprising. Constance Cummins, you should know that this is an informal tribunal into the alleged misconduct of the Empress of Time and Space. Despite the outcome this hearing has you still have to tell the truth, child. Do you understand?”

“I do, M’lady.” Young Connie said as she quickly covered her mouth in surprise.

“Relax, Lady Constance, I’d like you to answer truthfully and honestly. Your testimony alone cannot completely influence this panel one way or the other.” The older Connie informed her.

“I understand, M’lady Counselor.”

“Such a well behaved young lady. I wish my daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters would show such respect!” Ruth Scott sniped.

“Should have heard her a few weeks ago!” I mumbled.

“That was then, Alexandra! Ms. Brackenridge, please continue.”

“Connie, how did you and Alex Steinert meet?”

Connie looked at her older twin for a moment as she blushed profusely.

“I…I’d rather not say, ma’am.” She replied timidly, dropping her head in shame.

“Connie, it’s not like we don’t know what happened. Please answer the question.”

“I…we met when Mr. Steinert tried to keep me from jumping off a highway overpass.”

“And did he try anything that would directly influence you into this course of action?”

“What? No…no he tried to stop me! Why would he try to make me do it?”

“I’ll ask the questions, Ms. Cummins. Why indeed, would he have any reason to make you commit suicide?”

“Objection, Madam President. The witness’s alleged actions or state of mind at the time are not on trial here!” I protested.

“Sustained. Ms. Brackenridge we will refer to Ms. Cummins’s indiscretion as ‘action’. Please continue.

“Would he have any reason to make you choose one action over another, Constance?”

“He tried to stop me, ma’am! He had only my best interest and survival in mind.”

Objection! Witness is assuming that she could read my mind at the time of her alleged action.”

“Hold that thought, Alexandra.” Ruth Scott recommended, eyeing me carefully. “Constance, can you absolutely confirm that you could read Mr. Steinert’s mind at the time of your selection of actions?”

“Um…no ma’am. I’m not certain…no.”

“Then we will discontinue assumptions, Ms. Brackenridge!”

“Of course, M’lady President. Connie, why would Mr. Steinert try to stop you from committing…stop you from acting?”

“It was wrong. I should’ve thought things out and considered all the possibilities, ma’am.”

“So this action was ill thought-out? Spontaneous?”

“No ma’am, I had thought about it since finding out I was adopted.”

“And how long before the action was taken had you received that information?”

“A month before.” The younger Connie said sheepishly.

“So…the initial catalyst for your failed atte…action occurred well before the arrival of Alexandra Steinert to this universe?”

“Objection, Madam President, assumptions.”

“All right, Alexandra!” Momma Scott glared at me in contempt. “Can we move along without you constantly objecting to the wording or phrasing?”

“I’m just trying to provide my client with the best possible defense, ma’am.” I replied.

“These precedings ARE in the best interest of the defendant, Counselor! Continue, Ms. Brackenridge.”

“Ms. Cummins?” Constance prompted her younger twin to answer.

“Ma’am, I didn’t start developing my gift until just after the procedure that ultimately healed my spine. That was well after my decision to kill myself.”

I started to open my mouth to respond, but Momma Scott glared at me again and pointed to me to stop.

“Thank you.” Constance paused as she thought for a moment. “Ms. Cummins, do you recall the incident with your parents just after they realized their gifts?”

“You mean when my dad single-handedly held the cops in a standoff before Alex and I arrived?”

“Yes, Connie that very one. Can you tell us the actions taken by the new Empress, Alexandra Steinert during that incident?” Constance asked, pointing to me.

“When…when we got there, the cops were trying not to get hit by all the flying, swirling furniture and stuff! Alex devised a plan to rescue my parents from the cops and get them to safety.”

“So, the Empress was acting on her own behalf then?”

“No! Alex saved my parents from going to jail- possibly from being experimented on! The Empress of Time and Space used her gift to save my family, ma’am!”

“Are you sure there was no secret motive or unsavory agenda?”

“Not that I’m aware, ma’am. Alex assessed the situation and made the best possible decision! Nobody was injured, killed, or harmed in any way.”

“Thank you, that’s all, Ms. Cummins.”

“Ms. Steinert?” Ruth Scott nodded to me to cross-examine- her eyes remained locked on me as a warning.

“Ms. Cummins, before, when called to the stand, you addressed this tribunal’s president as ‘M’lady President’. Would it be factual to say that you have received some of Ms. Brackenridge’s memories and experiences? Some of those experiences certainly not being of this universe?”

“Objection, M’lady President, relevancy?”

Ma’am, it has direct relevance to my client’s defense.” I argued.

“Overruled, but simplify the question, Ms. Steinert.”

“Connie, do you have Constance Brackenridge’s memories and or experiences?”

“I remember things that happened on strange, faraway lands…yes, I think I do…some.”

I nodded. “And in those shared memories, can you recall any incident or experience where the Empress didn’t make a critical decision correctly, say where she would possibly lie to direct the time stream?”

“Objection! Leading the witness, M’lady President.”

“Sustained.”

I took a minute to rephrase my question.

“Ms. Cummins, to your shared knowledge can you recall any mission where the Empress didn’t act on behalf of the timeline, a loved one, or affected individual?”

Connie closed her eyes and thought a few seconds.

“No, ma’am, she never acted on her own behalf as far as I can remember. She’s always acted in the best interests of others.”

“Ms. Cummins, you are assuming again.” Mr. Lincoln interrupted. “As a famous Britain once said, ‘when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.’ Please stick to only the provable details, madam.”

“Zhat’z a goot von, Abe!” Grandpa snickered with a smile, adding his two cents finally.

“I don’t get it, sir. What has that to do with the word ‘assume’?” Maximillian questioned.

“Gentlemen, can we get on with this tribunal?” Ruth Scott asked her fellow panel members as she pursed her lips and rolled her eyes in annoyance.

I paused, trying to hold back my own giggle. I caught Mr. Lincoln’s witty response.

“So, you are confident of the decisions the Empress makes on her many missions?” I finally asked.

“Of the ones I can remember being on, yes.”

“And your parents, Connie, are they safe and unharmed?”

Alex, they’re standing ten feet from you! Of course they’re alright!”

“Thank you, Ms.Cummins. No further questions, Madam President.” I concluded.

I was certainly glad I had watched all those courtroom-type shows while convalescing in the hospital! It was coming in very handy. Hopefully I wasn’t too inexperienced looking.

“Next witness, Ms. Brackenridge.”

“The prosecution would like to call Alexandra Reilly, M’lady President.”

Alex looked very surprised as she stepped forward. Hadn’t she seen this coming?

“Empress, what was the physical state of Alexandra Steinert and I when you arrived on Terra?”

“Both you and Commander Alexandra Francis Steinert were functioning well within normal parameters physically, but remained unresponsive to all outside stimuli.”

“So we are there now- only in something like a coma?”

“I believe soulless would be a more concise descriptive, Counselor.”

I swallowed hard as that statement hit me.

“If not there on Terra, just where could the supposed ‘souls’ of these two individuals be at the moment, Empress?”

“Y’all gotta ask that question, honey? I’m standin’ here lookin’ at em!” Alex exclaimed as she dramatically motioned to Constance and Cmdr. Steinert.

“Ms Reilly you will desist from grandstanding!” Ruth Scott warned.

Alex Reilly looked at her in confusion. She looked hurt that Momma Scott would accuse her in such a way.

“Empress, since your arrival here in this universe, how long has it been since you last had a restful sleep?”

“I grabbed a little cat nap a few times since arrivin’ here- why?”

“How long have you been awake, M’lady?”

“Almost fifty hours.” Alex said as her head slumped in defeat.

“Sounds like you would stop at nothing to rescue your sister, is that correct?”

“I’d move the whole damn universe to get her back if ah had to!” Alex Reilly declared without hesitation- her expression was deadly serious!

“Haven’t you done that already, Empress?” Constance asked as she smiled and looked to Cmdr. Steinert.

“Tha’ was mah sister, Alex Steinert that done that!” Alex looked up momentarily. “Ah jus’ brought Billy Sangiere back from th’ dead.” She added quietly as she shyly looked over to Momma Scott then quickly lowered her gaze again.

“So, by your own admission, you have also broken the rules of upper management- apparently many times, in fact?” Constance smiled quickly to Alex Reilly then glanced at my client a second. “Tell me, Empress…please, for the members of this tribunal and all our sisters in attendance, how did you come to arrive on Terra? We were all under the impression that each Empress had an individual and specific range of operation?”

“It was brought to my attention by theoretical observation and hypothesis that Cmdr. Steinert used an extraordinary, ‘hidden’ segment of her gift to journey to Terra and also to transpose Reilly’s universe with her own home universe.”

“And just what was this ‘special’ part of her gift, Empress?”

“There are many technical terms and definitions associated with the theory, but ‘imagination’ would fall closest, I postulate.”

“So the accused simply used her imagination to swap universes and to travel hundreds- even thousands- of years into the past or future to rescue or save multitudes of people- people she never met or even thought existed?”

“Affirmative.”

“By definition and all known laws of quantum physics, and given your expertise on such matters, should any one person be capable of doing such miraculous feats, Director Reilly?”

“When stated in that context, and employing those criteria, it would appear all laws of science, actual or theoretical, become null and void, but in fact, the Empress is the only entity given the gift to accomplish such phenomenon.”

Connie paused a moment.

“So, would you say that the ‘entity’ known as the ‘Empress of Time and Space’ breaks all the known rules of the universes, Ms. Reilly? By her very existence?”

“It could be logically interpreted that way, I hypothesize.”

“So, we can say- by your own admission and expert testimony- that Alexandra Steinert has broken the rules numerous times in order to save lives?”

“Y’all tell me, hun.” Alex Reilly glared back at Constance.

“But haven’t you too, broken the ‘rules’ on several occasions, Director Reilly?”

“If that’s what it takes, hun! Yes!”

“If that’s what it takes? You mean to tell this tribunal that if necessary you would break every rule ever conceived in order to save someone’s life, someone’s planet, or even someone’s universe?”

“As many times as it would take me, hun!” Again Alex Reilly answered with deadly seriousness.

“No further questions, M’lady President.” Connie said loudly and turned away from the tribunal panel. She had a huge grin on her face!

That threw me off for a minute and I took a few more seconds to prepare.

Looking directly at Alex Reilly, I asked my first question.

“Empress…do…do you enjoy what you do?” I asked, staring deeply into her eyes. It was a question more for myself than this tribunal

“What specifically designed inquiry could tentatively have any singular defining relevance to the logical sequence of the initialized proceedings?” Alex Reilly questioned emotionlessly as she stared at me.

“Speak English, Ms. Reilly.” Ruth Scott requested.

Alex Reilly wiped her face with both hands. It was evident she was extremely tired.

“She asked what kind of question is that and what does it have to do with this trial, Madam President.” I translated then continued.

“Alex, a simple yes or no would do. Do you enjoy being the Empress?”

“Ya…most of the time.”

“Oh? Most of the time, Empress? Can you please elaborate?” I asked somewhat surprised by her answer.

“Bein’ the Empress is the most challengin’, rewardin’ undertakin’ I ev’r experienced. In all’a mah nine hundred an’ sixty years, ah wouldn’t trade it. ‘Though, they’s been, an’ll yet be times an’ missions that’ll make me question that statement.” She stopped abruptly.

“Please continue, Empress.” I prodded.

“They’s been missions that taxed mah patience- challenged mah nerves, and brung inta question mah morales, an’ responsibility. Decisions like who to save and who ah should’a let die.” Alex Reilly paused and looked down to the blackness this domain used as a floor.

“Ah wish not ta leave en’one bee-hind!” She cried loudly and sniffed as tears began running down her face. “Ah…the hardest part of this here job IS lettin’ some get ‘way! Ah should be able ta save ‘em all! Ah should be able ta protect ever’one! Hurts too much ta pick an’ choose! Ah n’ver wanted er asked fer that sp’cific re-sponsibility!”

“None of us do, Empress. None of us do.” I replied as tears of my own fell from my face. I noticed Alex Steinert was also silently crying- as were our sisters. I realized we really were all the same and sniffed some of my tears back before I pressed on.

“Still it is part of our job, is it not, Empress?” I asked despondently as I looked to my client.

Alex Reilly nodded silently as she wiped her face with one hand.

“An unwelcome part o’ the job, but part’a it nonetheless.” She admitted.

M’lady President, I believe the defense has sufficiently proven the fact that there are certain,” Constance sniffed back her own tears and wiped her eyes quickly, “undesirable aspects to the Empress of Time and Space. Can we possibly move on?” Connie objected despondently.

“Counselor, new question please.”

“No more questions, ma’am.” I replied.

“Alex, you can step back. Any other witnesses, prosecutor?”

“I have none, M’lady President.”

“Very well. Defense? Alexandra, call your first witness, please.”

“I have only one witness, ma’am. I call Commander Alexandra Frances Steinert.”

Alex stared at me in disbelief as a murmur rose up from behind me.

“Alex, is it wise to call the defendant at this early stage?” Abraham Lincoln asked in complete surprise.

“I believe my client holds the key to everything that has happened to date, Mr. President.”

“Alex, do you really want to do this? Putting Alex Steinert on the stand is risky at best! She can only help the prosecution’s case- not that I’ve figured out what that case is yet!” Emily asked, tapping me on my shoulder.

“It’ll work, sis.”

My wife stared at me in confusion and hesitantly took a step back.

I took a minute to think as I stared at my temporal sister- my client- me in almost every way possible.

“Cmdr. Steinert,” I started and paused for a few seconds, “Why are you here?” I paused again, but continued to speak before she could answer or protest. “Why are you hiding inside my head, and why have you brought about the changes and given me…excuse me…given us these gifts?” I asked, motioning to my new sisters.

“But…IIII…I…I didn’t come here! I…I…I don’t know how I got here! I told you that, Alex!”

“Come now, Commander, you‘ve called yourself a common criminal on more than one occasion during our conversations. What rules did you have to break in order to cheat death- certain death for not only you, but for Ms. Cummins-Brackenridge, as well? I would imagine the most important rule in existence…life?” Again I didn’t wait for an answer.

“Certainly you have the ‘rules’ memorized or a reference copy stored somewhere?”

“I’ve never seen any rule book or manual, so how could I have memorized any of them?” She exclaimed.

“So you claim to have no reference or declaration of said ‘rules’?”

“None. Nothing. Zip!” She answered.

I looked around at my sisters then at the tribunal members in absolute amazement.

“So…” I paused, picturing William Shatner as James T. Kirk in my mind. “So…you really have no idea what the rules are?” I paused dramatically for a second. “Tell me, Commander, how…” I paused again and smiled slightly at our tribunal members. “How can you be accused of breaking the ‘rules’ if you don’t know what the rules are?” I repeated my previous action of looking around at those in my domain, astonished.

“I was informed that I was breaking them only after meeting with Momma Scott here in my domain. She informed me of my mistakes.” Alex Steinert said in shame.

“May I remind you, Cmdr. Steinert, that this is MY personal domain and not yours?” I smiled at my client. “Madam President,” I asked while still looking at Alex, “May I ask what ARE the rules regarding the actual use of this ‘private’ domain for the purpose of trial, tribunal, or inquisition?” I asked as I then looked past Alex to Ruth Scott.

“We haven’t made any up yet, Alexandra; is that what you wanted to hear?” She hissed in annoyance. I noticed Mr. Lincoln, Maximillian, and Grandpa each suck in a large breath of air. Their eyes shifted nervously to their fellow inquisitor.

“Out of all my daughters, you certainly are the ‘ballsiest’, Alexandra! At least that’s what your Uncle Rick would say! Continue your questioning, young lady!” She advised with a wry, yet guarded, smile. “But I suggest extreme caution when directly questioning the members of this tribunal!”

I took a moment to carefully word my next question, but then decided to just ‘shoot from the hip’ instead.

“Cmdr. Steinert, if there are apparently no rules pertaining to your supposed incarceration in my universe or domain…why are you still here? Why have you not gone home as requested by multiple people on multiple occasions?”

“I can’t leave, Alex. I just can’t! You don’t understand!” She answered in panic.

“Do I not have all your shared memories including those specific to your last mission, Cmdr. Steinert?”

“Y’all know you do, Alex!”

“Then I submit to both you and this tribunal that I understand all too well what you have gone through! I’ll restate my original question, Cmdr. Steinert.” I moved closer to her- so close that I could see the flakes of color in her irises. “Why…are you…still…here?”

“I don’t know how to leave!” She cried out in frustration. “I might break the rules.” She added just above a whisper. Her eyes shot to the four-member panel and back.

“If the tribunal president herself has officially stated, for the record I might add, that there are no rules pertaining to our domain on such matters, why should you be so concerned with breaking rules that are nonexistent?”

“Y’all think you got it all fig’ered out, Alexandra Steinert? Then y’all can tell ME how exactly I kin get me an’ Connie home!”

I grinned at her for a minute. The answer now seemed so simple- obvious even- though quite contradictory! Looking past her, I noticed our four judges watching me very carefully.

I felt the grin start to become a smile.

“Ah suggest y’all use yer imagination, Alexandra!” I said as a full-fledged smile broke out on my face. “Just do what y’all do best- what WE…the Empress seem ta do the best, Alex! Break the damn rules!”

“Y’all think it’s that simple, just break the damn rules? I do that an’ Momma, Grandpa, Abe, an’ Maximillian’ll bring down the brass! Ain’t you they’d be agunnin’ fer, honey! They’d be lookin ta hang yours truly from a high tree!” She cried, pointing a thumb to herself.

“You’re afraid.” I stated the obvious, as I saw it, bluntly.

“What? I am not!”

“Yes you are; you’re afraid to go back!” I declared calmly.

“No, I just don’t know how!” She argued back quickly.

“My sisters…” I turned to the women behind me, “The Empress of Time and Space is afraid…to go…home!”

“No…That’s not…”

“Then why are you so afraid to go, Alexandra? Why?” I turned quickly and countered angrily.

“It’s not that…”

“WHY, Alex?” I shouted! “Why are you so dead-set against going home?”

“I…”

“Are you afraid of this tribunal, Commander Steinert?” I pointed to the four entities behind her. “Are you afraid of me, or Alex Reilly?” I asked and paused a second.

“Or,” I looked to my left sadly, “are you afraid of Constance Cummins?”

“No!” She shouted adamantly.

“Then what are you afraid of, Alexandra?” I demanded!

Cmdr. Steinert remained mute.

“I’ll ask again, Commander; what…are you…afraid of?” I asked, glaring at her.

“Me.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, somewhat surprised by her answer.

“I’m afraid of me, Alex! I’m afraid of what I’ll do…what I’ll have to do…next! I’m afraid to be the Empress anymore!” Alex finally admitted as she slumped against me and began bawling.

Wow!

I glared toward the tribunal members…toward Momma Scott specifically.

She nodded sadly to me- acknowledging my correct assumption that this woman’s fears and lack of confidence were the only things holding her here. I felt the woman I was holding firmly in my arms…me in all respects, spasm repeatedly in sorrow.

“Nothing further, Madam President.” I told her sternly as I continued to hold my sister’s head and rub her back.

“Ms. Brackenridge, care to cross-examine?” Momma Scott asked without emotion.

“I have only one question for the defendant Empress, M’lady President.”

“Proceed.”

“Time to hold it together, Commander. This isn’t over yet.” I advised my client…my sister…me- for it really was the Empress on trial here- in a whisper.

Connie, the older Connie, approached us and gently touched my client’s shoulder. It took a minute for Alex to compose herself enough to release me, stand straight, and take a step back.

Connie took both of Alex’s hands in hers and the two stared at each other for some time. Looking back at me for a moment, Connie seemed to make up her mind and decide on the proper question to ask.

She gave me a weak smile- one that quietly, humbly said ‘thank you’ and looked back to my sister.

“Empress,” She began, but paused for a moment to look at our tribunal panel and momentarily to the floor before looking back at Alex. “Empress, can we go home? I miss Terra and our sisters and…and I miss mom and dad so very much! Can we please go home and leave Alex to her new role as Empress of this universe?”

Connie looked momentarily at the three Empresses present.

“I promise I will never again look so far into your mind! I will never again forcefully unlock that which is so deeply hidden within you! I know now that the Empress’ innermost thoughts could be lethal and corrupting, and that they belong exclusively to her.”

“Constance, may I remind you not to promise that which you cannot truthfully guarantee.” Maximillian advised as he approached and wrapped his arms around her and Alex. “You are wise beyond your years, but you still have much to learn, child. No one except the Empress could possibly know for sure what might manifest in the midst of a heated argument- sometimes even she has trouble in that respect.”

“I agree vit Maxie, young frauline. Emotion iz very much like chaos…or games of chance. Zee sure sing iz not to bet on zem at all, Liebschen.” Grandpa advised.

“Constance, my dear child, placing the head of one so beautiful and talented into a knotted rope of her own making is counter-productive. Wouldn’t you agree, Alexandra?” Mr. Lincoln asked as he looked directly at my ‘client’.

Alex dropped her eyes to the floor and nodded a few times finally understanding.

Lincoln turned and approached me with a confident smile.

“Alexandra, I am awed by your legal tactics and successful deduction of the situation. Had the times been different, I would have made you a partner in law. Well done, my dear!” Mr. Lincoln congratulated as he first took my hand then embraced me. My heart almost stopped as the former president of the United States – the man I admired most- my hero, actually hugged me! I actually felt my legs start to go weak!

“Zat vuz very exziting und dramatic, Libschen! Vhere did you learn such singz?” Grandpa asked in his patented accent as he too approached. Of all four, his smile filled my soul the most.

“I learned it from watching court television while in the hospital and a little of it came from Lt. Commander Steinert’s own court martial memories.” I admitted.

“Gentlemen, aren’t we a bit premature in our congratulations?” Ruth Scott interrupted as she walked over to my Emily.

“This tribunal has yet to rule.” She said as she took Emily’s hand in hers. “My Emily, I am so proud of you both! I am so proud of all my daughters- No matter what universe they reside in.”

My wife blushed as she wrapped her arms around her mother- our mother.

“Alex?” I felt bad interrupting such happy moments.

“Alex, you still haven’t answered the prosecutor’s question.” I reminded my sister with sad resignation.

“Counsel is quite right, Alexandra. You have not completed cross examination.” Momma Scott insisted as she looked back at the two of us.

Everyone around us became silent and stared at my client.

“Please answer counsel’s last question, Alexandra. It is critical to this tribunal’s decision.” Momma insisted.

‘Alice had a better trial in Wonderland’, I thought. ‘At least that one made better sense.’

“Alexandra, you should know that I abhor the color red!” Momma Scott said, interrupting my thoughts.

So much for privacy in my own domain.

“So what’s it gonna be, sis? Are you gonna answer Connie’s question or will I wake up in some strange bed again wondering where I am and what happened?” I asked as I approached the two.

“Empress, I really do miss home and I think Alex wants us to vacate her mind so she may fill the relinquished space with adventures of her own. Please Empress, I miss momma.” Connie pleaded as she quickly glanced over to Jack Cummins. “No offence, momma.” She added looking between Jack and younger Connie.

“M’lady Counselor, before you go I’d like to sync-up…if it isn’t exclusive to the Empress?” My Connie asked of her older twin.

Was I always going to speak or think in such obtuse fashion now? Older ’twin’…really?

But strangely, it did describe things perfectly and accurately in my new life!

I saw many emptied bottles of aspirin in my future! But that wasn’t right either! I foresaw myself growing accustom to the strange tense of terms and references I would use from now on.

“I’m still not sure I can get us home, Connie. I’m so afraid I’ll mess things up again, hun,” She told her friend as they stood, still holding hands.

“We won’t know until we try, Alex.” She smiled.

“Alex, what would you do? How would you suggest I get us home? You seem to understand this whole tribunal better than I ever could have.”

I shook my head and, to my annoyance, started to giggle as a line from an old movie came to mind. I felt a hand take mine and looked to see Emily smiling next to me. Our new sisters began to gather around us. I looked to Ruth Scott who nodded with a wry grin. Grandpa and Mr. Lincoln likewise nodded in agreement while Maximillian looked strangely confused.

“Why Alexandra, you aways had the power to go home, child! The power has always been within you.” I pointed to her chest as I cringed at how much I now sounded like the character I imitated.

“I did?” She replied in confusion.

“Of course, Alexandra, you always have. Just click your heels together and repeat ‘there’s no place like home’ three times and your gift will take you straight home, child!”

Okay, so I changed things up a bit to fit the situation.

I thought about that. In a way, I had just broken the rules!

“Lady Constance? Can we…”

“Of course, sister.” Both women approached the other and jumped visibly when they made contact.

“Thank you, M’lady. I will try to protect my Empress as well as you have. Until we meet again, sister?”

“It is I that should be thanking you, M’lady. With your help we have rescued my Empress- and for that I am forever indebted.”

The two hugged each other tightly.

“I thank you, Alex, for bestowing my gift and for bringing together our sisters in this universe.” I told Alex Steinert as I wrapped my arms around her. The tingle was slight this time.

“Why would you thank me, Alex? I’ve done nothing but turn your life upside-down and made you outlaws on your own world! I’m the one honored by your courage and resolve. I have no way to make up for the pain I’ve caused here.” She said as she looked into my eyes. I saw tears forming again.

“Thank you for saving me, Alexander Steinert!” She whispered then looked over my shoulder.

“Thank you Alex Reilly, for never giving up on me- for putting yourself through all this…for…for believing in me.”

“Cmdr. Alexandra Frances Steinert,” Ruth Scott said, grabbing our attention. She had been conversing with Grandpa, Maximillian, and Mr. Lincoln.

We all stopped what we were doing to listen.

“It is the opinion of this tribunal that you are guilty…”

“Guilty, Madam President? I thought you said this hearing was not about guilt?” I challenged heatedly.

“May I finish, Alexandra?” She asked, condescendingly.

I motioned to her with a hand flourish. Her eyes narrowed for a moment.

“It is the opinion of this tribunal that you are guilty of showing unconditional love and unprecedented concern for your fellow man and we do hereby advise that you continue that most noble of pursuits! We also do hereby sentence you to that which you show such aptitude for. Motherhood! It is the opinion of this tribunal that you bare no less than four children whom you can nurture and instill with your unwavering love. Teach them well, Alexandra, as you have in your future and by way of the two examples present here and now! Girls, take care and heed your mother or you shall be the ones facing me! Is that clear, Cassandra and Samantha?”

“Yes, Grandmother!” All four chorused with worried smiles.

“Alexandra Reilly, come closer please?” Ruth Scott glared at our sister. She took Alex’s hand, as she got close.

“Alex, you demonstrated an amazing amount of fortitude and dedication to the recovery of your sister. I thank you, daughter, for your steadfast devotion to her! You can now return to Terra knowing that your sisters will not be too far behind. May the temporal winds blow favorably, my Empress.”

“Thank you, momma!” Alex cried as she wrapped her arms around the woman and squeezed. The two stayed together for a minute or two.

“Alusia, approach me.” Momma Scott commanded as she and Alex parted.

“Yes, ma’am, r-r-right away.” The startled woman stuttered. She started to genuflect.

“Stop that this instant, child!” Momma demanded with a laugh. “You have been silent through these whole proceedings. I trust you have been taking notes?”

“Notes, ma’am?”

“Yes, child…notes. Have you learned anything of life in your time here with the Empress?”

“I have, ma’am. Love is the most precious commodity in existence followed by family and friendship, ma’am. If not for those, life wouldn’t be worth living…life wouldn’t exist at all. Love for those we hold dear enables us to move mountains, ply the seas, and even travel the vastness of the universes to safeguard them. I have learned so much since being befriended by the Empress, ma’am!”

“Very good, Alusia. Take what you have learned and pass it to your children and their children! Make the world a better place for them and all those that follow.”

Alusia nodded and stepped to the side as Ruth Scott continued.

“Mind Warriors, heed the action of your sister, Constance, and allow the Empress…and others… the privacy they rightly deserve. Remember also, that looking too deeply into any mind has unknown consequences! Protect your Empress to your full potential, but respect those around you- friend or foe. Never forget that yours is the ultimate power, only bested by the universe itself. Know also that the responsibility and restraint can at times, be monumental! Always rethink your actions BEFORE you act. Ladies, we bid you safe travel and we WILL see all of you again.”

Alex Reilly moved toward me and hugged me tightly.

“Alex, I’m truly sorry that you have lost your tranquil, nominal life. I know that you take what has happened and turn it into something that can benefit this universe- I have already seen that. If you need anything…anything at all, Empress, Alex and I are only three universes away. Just think of that and either present day Earth or Earth BC…and remember Kili Island. That should bring you directly to one of us.”

“And Terra. You can’t forget Terra, sis!” Constance Cummins-Brackenridge quickly added.

“I don’t think any of us can ever forget Terra, hun!” Alex Reilly replied with a gleam in her eye. She held out her hands and her sisters took them without delay. “On behalf of our sisterhood, welcome Alexandra Steinert of this universe. Welcome to all who call you sister here also, Empress!” She said as she began to sniff and wipe her tears.

“Until another time and universe, Empress. May the wind be at your back and the tides be in your favor, Alexandra Reilly!” I said through tears of my own.

“Until another time and universe, Empress. See y’all back on Terra, Empress!” She winked to Cmdr. Steinert and Constance Cummins-Brackenridge.

Six women disappeared instantly from ‘my’ domain.

“Alex, I think it’s time we head home too.” Constance said to my sister before she turned to her younger twin and the two touched foreheads. “Mother, please take good care of her and make sure she is taught control and prudence. Mina, teach both of them your wisdom and patience.” She said looking at Jack and Mina then turned to me.

“Thank you for being so accepting of all this, Alex, and come visit us. You will always be welcomed in any universe where the Empress in known and loved.” She paused and turned back to my sister. “I’m ready, Alex.”

“As Connie said, y’all are always welcome in our universe, Alex. I’m sure our sisters’ twins can share many experiences and enjoy each other’s company. I can never thank you enough for your patience with me…with my…insecurities. I will miss you, my sister. Emily, take care of our sister and I am very sorry for upsetting your happy marriage. The consolation is that you both will have many more years together with your associated spouses, and with the children you both wanted so much. I wish you all good luck and Godspeed. Randi, watch out for those Internet viruses! Oh, and give my best to Brianna, Alex.”

“I don’t have a sister, Brianna, here, Alex.” I reminded.

My sister winked at me and smiled.

“Alexandra, if we are no longer required to be here the gentlemen and I will take our leave also.” Ruth Scott interrupted.

“Will we ever see you again, momma?” I asked, suddenly feeling very sad that they were leaving.

“Without a doubt, Empress.” she smiled deviously. “But, we are always watching you, child. Never forget that.”

Four more people vacated my domain. Somehow it didn’t seem right that they just vanished, and I thought momentarily about that. Didn’t they always fade when I…the Empress let them go?

It now felt very lonely in spite of the thirteen people still here.

“Thank you all again and I’m very sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused, sisters.” Alex repeated.

My Constance approached Cmdr. Steinert.

“Thank you for our gifts, Empress. I promise we will make you proud.” She said as she wrapped her arms around my universal twin.

“Connie?” Alex said as she offered her hand and my Connie moved away and rejoined her parents. “Let’s go home.”

Travel well, Empress.’ I said sadly as Emily and I took a step back from them- hand in hand.

Alex suddenly got a devious grin on her face.

“There’s no place like Terra.” She clicked her heels together. “There’s no place like Terra.” She clicked them again. “There’s no place like Terra!” She exclaimed clicking them a third time.

“There’s no place like Terra. There’s no place like Terra. There’s no place like Terra!” I found myself saying as I opened my eyes and saw Emily looking over me- tears pouring from her eyes in a rapid stream!

“Alex!” She cried loudly as she dove at me!

“Alex, you came back to me! Where were you? We were all worried you would never come home!” She continued to cry.

I noticed motion off to my right and saw Alex Reilly standing there. Beside her were my two daughters, Cami, Cassi, and Alusia.

“Thank you!’ I mouthed to them as my emotions overwhelmed me.

Cassandra, Samantha, and Alexis- who had just suddenly appeared- rushed to me and proceeded to put a three-way strangle hold on me as Emily quickly moved out of the way! It felt real! I was home!

Or was I? Where was here? Thinking about it I didn’t know where I was at the moment. Could I be sure that I really was on Terra as Alex Reilly had informed me? Was this real or was it all just another crazy dream?

Only the relieved, but exhausted look on Alex Reilly’s face told me that it had been real. That and the squeezing and crying of three grown women around my shoulders!

“Welcome back, sis.” Alex Reilly said loud enough to be heard over the overjoyed sobbing of my daughters.

I managed to raise my hand up and give her a ‘thumbs up’ as there was no way possible to talk at the moment.

“Connie is back safe and sound, Alex. I’m afraid we can’t stay any longer.” She informed me.

“Girls, could you ease up a minute?” I asked as I tried to move.

They reluctantly complied.

“Thank you again Alex, Cami, Cassi, and you too, Alusia. Thanks for comin’ to chase me home.”

“It was our pleasure, Alex.” Cami smiled brightly at me. Cassi followed suit. “You came to our rescue, so we just returned the favor.”

“Empress, it is good to have you back, ma’am. I shall request a statue be erected in your honor when I get back to Memphis. Pharaoh would happily grant that commission.” Alusia said expressing her relief.

“Please don’t do that, hun. The Empress must remain unknown in regard to the history of Ancient Egypt.” I told her.

“But why, the adventures of the Empress are known to this day by my people? How else would they know of your,” Alusia looked between me laying in bed and Alex Reilly standing not far away, “courage, stamina, and dedication?”

“The same way that other cultures kept myths and legends alive, hun- word of mouth.” I said with a bright smile. “As Ruth Scott said, ‘Pass on what has happened to your children, relatives, and friends, but above all tell them of your involvement’, Alusia. A monument or temple will only encourage the archeologists to investigate and seek us out. That would spotlight the Empress and make her the most valuable commodity in the world.”

The woman nodded her understanding.

“You know they won’t listen, sis. They will inevitably uncover the ‘Temple of the Sun’- even after Cami and I did our best to raze it.”

“You said to leave the foundation, Alex!” Cami quickly argued. “I was okay with leaving a crater of super-heated, fractured granite, but no, you insisted on cutting my fun short!” She looked at my sister through a slight smile though. “This one’s on you, Empress!”

“Sweetheart, it’s okay that they’ll find trace evidence of us. A little mystery and intrigue are good for the soul.” I told them all with a laugh.

Alex Reilly let out a huge yawn and she was barely quick enough to cover it with her hand.

“Alex, you’re welcome to lay over here for a few days. Y’all are welcome to enjoy some ‘R’ and ‘R’.” I told her.

“The offer is tantalizing, sis, but we have to get back. I’m sure Alusia misses her kids and husband. Besides, if I stay any longer I might have to lay over for another three years- just like last time.”

I nodded. “But y’all can’t go yet, sis!” I tried to convince her to stay.

“You’re right, Alex, I can’t go yet…” My twin paused as she looked around the room. “Now where is that greatniece of mine any way? She should have popped in about…”

“Grandma! You finally made it back!” Alexandra screamed in my ear as she pounced on me from out of thin air!

The tingle I felt was so much stronger than I had expected! It reminded me that she had kept her distance at our last meeting. I had wondered why at the time, but now I knew.

“Oh Grandma, I’ve missed you so much! It hurt me to hold back everything I knew until today! Welcome home Grandmother Empress!”

I noticed Alexis’ expression shift slightly as she watched her daughter strangle me. It was only there for a second.

Alexandra turned to Alex Reilly.

“Aunt Alex, thank you for rescuing her.” She hugged my twin then paused as she stared at her. “I have another aunt!” She exclaimed excitedly as she released Alex and ran for the door.

“Lady Constance!” She screamed in joy as I looked past my daughters and sisters to see Connie and Jack appear in my doorway. The two women exchanged embraces and kissed each other’s cheeks.

Their actions were totally against Terran ‘Re-affirmation of friendship’ protocols!

“Welcome back, Cap.” Jack greeted as she squeezed past everyone gathered around me. Cindy Riggby and Jasen followed behind her.

“Captain Steinert, nice to have you back. We all missed you, ma’am.” Cindy’s big, bright smile had the desired effect.

“Thanks, Cind, but Alex will do just fine, hun, we’re all sisters remember?” I said with a grateful smile of my own.

She nodded and moved aside.

“Alex! Welcome back, Empress!” Jasen greeted. His smile seemed brightest of all as he took my hand and squeezed it tightly. “I’m glad you’re back with us.”

I squeezed back and gave him a nod.

“With the telepathic talent just in this room alone you would think that I would be informed of my mate’s awakening! Why am I always the last to know?” A familiar voice complained.

Tibius, along with Corrine and Julia Masterson, entered my already crowded room.

“Tibius!” I purred. It had been such a long time.

“Welcome back, my love. I have missed you greatly these past three years.”

I felt my mouth drop open. “Was it that long this time?” I asked just above a whisper.

He nodded as he sat down on the edge of my bed and took my hands into his. They felt warm and strong and… I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

“That’s almost a year longer than last time.”

“You knew of your actual recovery period from the poisoning?” He asked in astonishment.

It was my turn to nod. “Yep. I saw it on a television program in another universe.” I giggled.

His brow raised in confusion.

“Then our friendly game of chess has not reached fruition?” He asked.

“Nope.” I answered with a laugh.

Tibius got up from my side after kissing me on the forehead and walked away with a perplexed look.

Corrine and Jules took the opportunity to come closer as I slid my legs over the side and prepared to stand for the first time in three Terran years.

“Welcome back, Alex.” Corrine cried as she wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.

“Yes, welcome home, Empress.” Julia added as she stepped in and took her turn.

“I take it, Connie and I looked a bit out of sorts on our arrival?”

“We’d rather not talk about it, Alex, its old news.” Julia replied sheepishly.

“Alex, we really must be going now.” Alex Reilly interrupted.

I motioned for Corrine to help me stand. I was surprised my legs worked half as well after such a long convalescence.

Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath as Corrine let me stand on my own.

Carefully, I took the three steps over to my temporal twin and hugged her. As expected, there wasn’t much of a tingle.

“Thank you again for finding me and bringing us home, Empress. Travel well and visit often.”

Cami, Cassi, and Alusia took their turns hugging me and I thanking them before they all joined hands.

I took a careful step back.

“Until we meet again, Empress.” Alex Reilly said as she nodded to me. “See y’all later!” She said to everyone.

“Until we meet again, sister.” I answered, as everyone else remained quiet.

The compliment of the room decreased by four.

“Alexandra,” Alexis began, “A word if you don’t mind?”

“Not now mother, I think Aunt Jacki and Connie would like to go home now, but I’ll be right back.” Alexandra said, quickly offering her hands to the two specified women.

“Empress, if it would be deemed allowable by Grand High Counsel, I would like to join Ladys’ Jacquelyn and Constance back to Earth. Jacquelyn and I have become acquainted over the length of her stay here and, being Constance’s caregiver these many years, she is family. I would like to follow my…family…home.” Jasen requested, following a very abbreviated form of that ‘Intent’ protocol.

“I have no issue pending your denial, my friend- if it is allowable by Ladies’ Jacquelyn and Constance, of course.” Tibius replied. “I shall submit the proper documents and sign off on them when I get back to my office.”

Jasen looked at Jack for a moment, then to Connie. He had taken care of the young girl after Maximillian had passed away just before her fourth birthday.

“Would you mind if I joined you on Earth, M’ladies?”

Jack looked at Jasen apparently contemplating the question. She smiled.

“I would be honored, Sir. You can join me on whatever planet we should find ourselves on!” She giggled and blushed.

“EEEWWWW! Get a room!” Connie groaned, rolling her eyes dramatically.

“Just ignore her. She still carries residual memories and characteristics of her younger twin in the other universe.” I laughed.

My granddaughter offered her hands. “Next stop, Earth, 2030AD! All ashore that’s goin’ ashore!” She announced brightly and giggled.

“Empress, don’t forget us. Sam giggled as she and Cassie joined her ‘shore party’. “Aunt Emily, Corrine, and Jules, you coming?”

“You two go on ahead, honey. Your mother and I need to talk.” Emily told the girls.

“Sam, you and Cassie head home. Mom and I thought we’d stay and…relax…for a while longer.” Julia said with a wink and a wide grin.

“Oh…OH! Well, you two have fun! Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do!” Sam giggled.

“I don’t get it- why do they want to stay, sis?” Cassandra questioned.

“Really, Cassie? You of all people should have put that one together! How dense could you be not to…”

My room’s occupancy dropped by another five.

“Mother, would you care to tell me what is going on?” Alexis demanded.

“Wait for iiiiit.” I said stretching the last word.

“Hi, I’m back.” Alexandra announced as she popped back in.

“It’s about time you got here!” Alexis growled.

“Mother, I was only gone for a few seconds.” My granddaughter complained.

“Your Grandmother was here just a few seconds ago, Alexandra! How long did you remain phased, watching for your cue?”

“Are you accusing me of lying, mother?” She asked in a hurt tone.

“No, I’m accusing the Empress of conspiracy, Alexandra! Now what is the Empress up to?” My daughter retorted as she looked between the two of us.

“Tibius and Cindy, is everything ready to go? Once they get here you’ll be strapped for time for delivery.” I asked the two, ignoring my daughter’s slander.

“Everything is prepared, Alex. As soon as they appear, I zip him!” Cindy said with a devious smile as she produced a Terran dispensing syringe and held it up like a pistol.

“Zip…Him? What in the world is going to happen here?” Emily balked as Alexis’s mouth dropped open.

“I’m going to do what I do best, sis-” I smiled, “break the rules! Now if y’all would move three feet to yer left, hun, and sis, if you would move to your right a few feet…” I said and waited until the space cleared. “Good. Emergency transport commencing in three…two…one!”

“Quick, get those nanos into him before we lose him!” Alex Covington shouted as she suddenly appeared in the recently vacated space with a man slumped over her shoulder. Cindy jumped into action as Tibius reached to steady the motionless figure.

“Oh my God! That’s Russell…” Emily sputtered in surprise.

“I thought Connie’s father died just after her birth, mother?” Alexis asked as she glared at me.

“Not quite, hun. He just got a third chance at life is all.” My twin replied.

“Which nanos did you give him…or should I say her?”

“Him, sis. Cindy just gave Mr. Brackenridge a good healthy dose of the old Terran nanos.” I answered. “He would have died otherwise. Get him onto the bed. Tibius, you know what to do.”

“Empress, what name do you wish him to use in his new life?” My mate asked looking back at me as he reached for Brackenridge’s forehead.

“His grandfather’s name was Jason.” I informed him.

“Is that with an ‘o’ or an ‘e’, my love?”

“However you spell it here on Terra, hun.”

“As you wish, M’lady.” Tibius smiled.

“Cind, I need you to download as much information on human medicine as you can to him. You won’t get much time for that before the nanos firewall you!”

“Aye, skipper!” She acknowledged as she too placed her hand on the man’s temple. “Alex, he’s burning up!”

“He’ll be fine! If you don’t believe me ask Emily. I’m sure she’s got a read on him.”

“There’s a whole lot of damage, Alex, but he will make it. The nanos have already begun repairing his organs.

“Is it me or are they way more aggressive than ours?” Corrine asked.

“Terran physiology is a little more…um…stubborn than you humans.” Tibius gloated.

I snorted in response. “Right…like I believe that!”

“He’ll be out for eight hours, Cind.” Emily told her friend.

“Ha! It only took us six!” Jules exclaimed in triumph.

I rolled my eyes at her.

“You were born this way, hun! Yer ma, Emily, an’ I only took six hours to cook!”

“OUCH! That wasn’t very nice! He just kicked me out, Alex.” Cindy exclaimed, interrupting, as her hand jumped back from her patient. “I was only able to get the basics through.”

“That should be enough, hun.”

“So what are you going to do with him, Skipper?”

“After he recovers enough I’ll put him back where he belongs.” I replied.

“And you aren’t going to tell us where or when that is, right?”

“Why should I tell you something you already know?” I said with a devious smile.

“So as to your earlier question, mother…” Alexandra began to say before Alexis cut her off by raising her hand.

“I’m not that dense, sweetheart!” She said as she leaned over and kissed her daughter’s forehead. “You’ve done a wonderful thing, young one!”

“We all done a wonderful thing, ma!”



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