South of Bikini 3: Episode 6- Paradoxes, Galas, and Gifts

With Capt. Steinert back in her own universe, a few more paradoxes are satisfied, but now, a difficult secret must be kept. Two more Atlantis-Minor personnel receive their gifts just before Admiral Demmit’s plane arrives. Will the Admiral need to requisition more aspirin or find something stronger?

 

Copyright 2012, R. G. Beyer


 
 


Episode 6

“Paradoxes, Galas, and Gifts”


 
 

Citadel, Terra, 17:00, Median, Venusia 28th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

“So why do I feel so strange again, Alex?”

“You aren’t the same person you were, hun. Corrine and Jules had to make…alterations.”

“And why am I not the same person, Empress?”

“You had a bad experience with Terra’s ambient radiation. You almost died, hun, we had to take extreme measures to rescue you this time.”

“This time? Giving me a new chance at life once was more than anyone should get, Alex. Why do it a second time? What did I ever do to you anyway?”

“Y’all are part of the family, hun. That gets you front-row seats.” I said with a grin.

“How am I family, I’m married to Jacki, not Brie or Emily?”

“Jack’s family too,” I smiled. “Now, what is your name again?”

“How many times must I inform you, M’lady? My name is Jasen.” The man rolled his eyes in annoyance.

Alexis, who had been standing in the doorway, nodded her approval. I nodded back.

“Good, I think we’re ready then. Honey, you want to call our sisters together- it’s time?”

“Doing it as we speak, mother.” She walked over to me and we both observed our pupil. Over the last few weeks we had patiently coached and tutored Jasen on the protocols and nuances of Terran life. “Do you really think this will work?”

“You really have to ask that, sweetheart? You grew up with him in your life every day- you tell me!”

“It would if my daughter ever gets back here with Isabeau!” Alexis quickly complained.

“We’re here right on time, mother! Why are you always so impatient?” Alexandra complained, as she and Random Peltierre’s daughter appeared a few feet away.

“Father will be here presently, Lady Comptroller.” Alexis said as she bowed slightly.

“Wasn’t it your father that once told us that we bow to no one, sister?” Isabeau asked with a frown. “Alexis, we’re sisters and good friends.”

“Kids these day.” She added shaking her head a few times.

“Kids? You are my sister from the future then?”

“Empress,” I paused as I went down on one knee. “Welcome back to Citadel, Terra. It is 1715hrs, Median, Venusia 28th, 422 of the New Era.” I announced with a wry smile.

Alexandra rolled her eyes at me. I knew the feel of that look well!

“Knock it off, Grandma.”

“Grandmother, Nathan and I saw your departure today…Wow, my Grandmother kneeling to my baby sister! Wow!” Alexis’ Samantha said as she and an exact duplicate of my former brother Brian entered the room. “Anyway, I’m glad we arrived before your departure.”

“About time you two showed up.” I giggled. “Every time I visit y’all both seem to be busy.”

“I’m sorry, grandmother, but Nathan and I have been given the task of overseeing the transfer of assets to Terra Nuevo. As you know there is little time left for this world.”

Alexandra nodded to me in acknowledgement of that fact.

“So, is the foundation work finalized?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“All preparations and permits have been completed, Empress.” My eldest granddaughter said bowing slightly to me.

Alexandra cleared her throat.

“Yes, sister, I know that you are the Empress too, but you have requested dozens of times that we simply call you Alex.”

“That is not the issue, sis. I merely wanted to remind Grandma that there is an unscheduled flare building on Solara, and that the move must be completed before it erupts from the coronasphere.”

“I didn’t forget, hun, but thanks for the reminder. As soon as your Grandpa gets here we’ll commence our departure countdown.”

“M’lady…” Tibius huffed as he appeared in the doorway. The room was getting crowded. “I arrived as fast as the service elevator would allow. I even took the steps the last eight floors to keep to schedule.”

“Are Corrine and Jules with you, hun?” I asked as I looked around him into the hallway.

“We’re here, Alex!” Corrine’s voice shouted from down the hall. Both women soon appeared in the passage looking a little winded.

I nodded and moved past everyone in the room.

“Then everyone follow me and we’ll get things underway.” I said with a big smile. I was finally getting to show off a little!

We made our way to my comptrollers’ favorite room- their interface room. Although this small room gave me the willies- a leftover trauma from an earlier mission- it gave easy access to the consulate’s superstructure.

The interface chamber was the smallest room in the Empress’ suite, and the most futuristic. It also reminded me of a science-fiction/ horror movie set! Umbilical hoses and cables hung from the bare ceiling directly over six ‘dentist-style’ lounge chairs. Along the wall in front of each reclining chair, various monitoring equipment hung blank, waiting for one of my comptroller sisters to plug in. The ten by ten meter room reminded me of many of the labs in Reilly Research Station- in fact it was an exact copy, be it slightly scaled down, of the interface chamber there.

A shiver shot up my spine as I entered!

“What is it, mother?” Alexis asked as she obviously noticed my ‘chicken skin’ appear. She suddenly looked to her daughter and raised an eyebrow, noting the similar reaction.

“Memories of a previous mission, mom/hun,“ Alexandra and I said together.

We looked at each other a moment, rolling our eyes at each other.

Isabeau looked at Alexandra and I curiously as she walked past and took up a position in the center of the ominous room. Several umbilical cables started to descend on their own, but she waved them off nonchalantly.

“Building safekeeping and shutdown will be complete in five minutes, Empress.” She said still staring at the two of us.

I nodded my acknowledgement, as did Alexandra.

Tibius looked very nervous and continued to scan the room. This was the first time he had seen it completed. Random Peltierre had outfitted the room shortly after the suite’s completion, during the early stages of her pregnancy.

“You aren’t going to fully engage with the interface system, are you, hun?” I asked with more concern than I meant to.

“No, Empress, since time is of the essence, I am working remotely. Is there some reason you and Alex are showing considerable trepidation?” She inquired.

“I had a bad experience in this room’s sister back at Reilly, sweetheart. Don’t let me stop you from what has to be done because of that.” I answered back with a tense smile.

“My love, I would hate to inquire as to what those cables and support lines connect…” He paused, his face looking a little piqued. “As to what ports they interface with.” He gulped as he undoubtedly began to figure it all out

“It looks like something straight out of ‘The Matrix’ or Star Trek- First Contact!” Jasen gasped. “With a hint of ‘Ghost in the Machine’ added just for good measure!”

Tibius stared at the man in disbelief and…confusion.

“Sorry, that was the best way to describe it. I’ll go back into Terran mode now.” Jasen said as he dropped his head forward. “It…it won’t happen again, Empress.”

“A slip like that will get you killed, or at least exiled, hun, but I agree with you. I almost lost a good friend in one of these chambers.”

“But we didn’t Grandmother.” Alexandra added quickly. “We made things right…” She looked at the floor momentarily. “In more ways than one.” She added sadly.

“Psionic Dampening Field is now offline- stowing emitter arrays.” Isabeau stated in her machine monotone.

“Are you sure you can do this, my love?” Tibius asked after turning his attention from our Comptroller.

“I’ve done it before, my love.” I said casually. Moving one building wouldn’t be near as difficult as exchanging a whole universe.

“I have seen the successful completion of this operation, Grandfather High Counsel.” Alexandra reassured him.

“Global Transport Stations have been powered down and all safeties are engaged.” Isabeau monotoned.

“But what if the building is not in the specified location when we arrive?” Tibius asked in worry.

“Relax, sir, I’ll get us there in one piece. If I’m off a little I’ll just fetch the Darough and Cummins Moving Company. They specialize in finesse moving jobs!” I giggled and was joined by snorts of laughter from my sisters and brother. Even Isabeau laughed and looked at me with a silly smirk on her face.

“Spatial Scaling Emitters have defaulted to standby power source; Empress Suite and I.A. Interface Chamber source transitioning to standby also. Commensing building main power source shutdown.” Our comptroller alerted in an emotionless voice as the lights in the room blinked and dimmed slightly.

“Will there be pain involved, Grandmother?” Young Nathan asked with some concern evident in his voice.

“Nope.” I shook my head. “This is a lateral, hun, no time or universal shift involved.”

“Oh.” He said looking slightly disappointed.

“Building security reports all clear from remote observation location. All secondary systems have been stopped and de-energized.

“Why the disappointed look, hun?” I asked having paused for Isabeau’s checklist report.

“No reason, Grandmother. I had heard rumor that travel with the Empress can sometimes involve some pain and yet another rumor places Terra several millennia removed from Earth.”

“Y’all been talkin’ to your Aunt Jacquelyn, haven’t ya?”

My thirty-year old Grandson blushed, as did his sister.

“I thought as much.” I giggled.

“So it is true, Grandmother Empress?” He asked with excitement in his voice.

“I never said that, hun. Truth is I don’t know what, if any, time difference there is between Terra and my Earth.” I giggled despite trying to hold my poker face. I noticed Corrine and Jules stare at me suddenly.

“In the grand scheme of things what does it really matter?” I asked. “Terra has a chance to grow and become as influential as it once had been. Y’all are here today because some crazy blonde-headed woman and some of her friends arrived here one day and wanted to help. It never mattered where or when we arrived from, or the language or religion that we practiced. The only thing that matters now is that we get you kids reunited with your families.” I smiled at my grandchildren, my daughter, sisters, Jasen, and especially Tibius.

“All nonessential systems have been powered down. The Citadel Consulate Building is secured and ready for transport, Empress.” Isabeau said as she blinked a few times and smiled at me. “We are the only personnel remaining in the building, M’lady.”

“Thank you, sweetheart. At this time I would like everyone to take hold of the superstructure and I ask that you do not release your hold until I say otherwise. Tibius, are the engineers standing by?”

“Aye, my love. They have assumed the specified perimeter and will immediately depart after the building has phased.”

“Inform the captain of Sand Dollar to ramp up her cosmic shields to full power once they are off the ground. That flare will get here surprisingly fast.”

“As you wish, M’lady.”

“Is everybody ready?” I asked with a broad smile and looked around at my friends and family. Everyone nodded.

“Alexandra, could you come here please?” I asked having seen and foreseen her sad expression. She left her place beside one of the building’s support beams. I immediately took her hand in mine.

“Are you ready to transport your first building, sweetheart?” I whispered.

“Empress?” She asked in astonishment.

“It’s time, honey. This is your show. I’ve already done this, now it’s your turn.” I said quietly smiling at her.

I winked.

“How do I start, Empress?” She asked quietly. I noticed Alexis stare at us. Nathan and Samantha also stared in disbelief at their sister and I.

“You already know where the building sits on Terra Nuevo. Imagine that location in your mind and keep it focused then phase the building out and pull the trigger, hun- it’s as easy as that.” I told her confidently.

Her face wasn’t as confident as she looked at me. I nodded though, looked away, and made the announcement.

“Attention!” I started and looked back to my granddaughter, the Empress of Time and Space. “Building phase out in three…two…one.”

Alexandra nodded.

“Now think of the Consulate building’s location on Terra Nuevo. Once you have it boldly in your mind, make the call, sweetheart.”

She nodded to me.

“Commensing transport in three…two…one!”

I felt the shift as we were suddenly engulfed in the blackness of space and looked ahead to see the stars moving and shifting around me. A single point of light centered in my vision and began increasing in size and brilliance. I found it fascinating to experience space travel from a secondary position!

The trip was over quickly and I found myself looking into my Granddaughter’s eyes. We were both smiling.

“Are we here, Grandfather?” She asked in childish excitement.

“Empress,” I said calmly, “we need to phase back in for him to communicate with the engineers.”

“Oh, ya, right. Okay everyone, we’re here!” She chirped through her huge smile.

“It will take a moment for the results, Empress.” Tibius said as his pride in his granddaughter overflowed.

“So that was it?” Jasen asked in amazement. “I thought there would be more stars like in the movie…I’m doing it again aren’t I?”

We all nodded at him this time.

“I’m sorry, I thought there would be more to it.” He grimaced.

“Empress, the Engineers report a zero-point-zero-zero-zero-five millimeter discrepancy in the building’s location.” Tibius informed us as he wiped some wetness from both eyes. “I’m very proud of you Alexandra- very proud!”

Isabeau approached my granddaughter.

“Empress, independent building diagnostics report that all systems are stable and ready for re-activation. Shall I commence startup procedures?” She asked with a bright smile.

Alexandra looked at me. I smiled brightly at her and nodded.

“Make it so, M’lady!” She exclaimed happily with a confident nod.

“Acknowledged. Power source startup is complete. Systems reboot commencing.”

“Shall we go take in the view?” I asked as I pulled Alexandra past Tibius and Jasen and headed out into the hallway.
 
 

The view was just as I had foreseen it! The full height windows of the living room now spectacularly framed the vast, blue western ocean of Terra Nuevo. Although not right on the beach, the consulate building now had a commanding view. It was a quick five-minute walk to the white sandy beaches now bordering New Citadel on the west.

Above us and just starting to sink to the horizon, a bright yellow sun filled this new Terran world with light and hope and, as I looked down to the shore, I could see hundreds of people, both Terran and non-Terran alike taking in the forgotten majesty of what Earthers typically ignored- clean, pristine water!

I knew from my gift, that this world would remain a paradise mostly because of the necessary conservation systems developed on Terra, but also because of the negative experiences of it’s inhabitants eons ago in the ‘Old Age’.

Inexplicably, I suddenly missed the ‘Old Age’.

“Welcome to New Citadel, Terra Nuevo!” Alexandra shouted in glee. I hadn’t seen her so excited since she was eight.

“Empress, all systems have booted cleanly and are online.” Isabeau informed Alexandra and I with a huge grin.

“Well done, M’lady!” My granddaughter exclaimed and I saw Isabeau blush.

Alexandra turned to me. I saw tears running from her eyes as she wrapped her arms around me.

“Thank you, Grandma!” She sniffed.

“Well done, Empress. Well done.” I whispered in her ear as I brushed her long, dark blonde mane with my hand.
 
 

New Citadel, Terra Nuevo, 18:00, Median, Venusia 28th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

“So what now, Empress?” Jasen asked as we continued to gaze out the windows at the new Terran world.

“We leave before you return, of course.” I answered cryptically.

“Tibius, she’s doing it again!” he exclaimed with pain in his voice. “Might we introduce legislation that would limit the amount of cryptic rhetoric disgorged by our Empress?”

Tibius began to laugh heartily!

“Spoken like a true Terran, my friend!” Tibius looked over to me as he patted Jasen’s shoulder a few times.

“He’s ready, M’lady.”

“We leave in the morning, sire.” I informed my mate.

“To what time will we travel, Empress?” Jasen asked innocently.

“Spoilers, M’lord.” I replied with a devious grin.

Jasen began to roll his eyes but quickly caught himself and instead replied, “Empress, what do ‘spoilers’ have to do with my inquiry?”

“You’ll do, hun,” I told him before I walked away to see if the view from my bedroom suite was just as beautiful as I had foreseen. Tibius followed silently.

“If y’all are thinkin’ of exploitin’ the view, hun, I’d remind you of my origin date.” I said to the ceiling as I made the right into my personal suite.

Tibius said nothing as we stopped before the large window. I felt his arm settle itself around my lower back- his hand gently molded to my left hip.

It felt warm and wonderful!

We stood there in silence looking at almost the same view as the living room for several moments.

“Tibius…” I started to say.

“My love, I understand your position and although very enticing, I cannot allow myself to take even the slightest advantage. I shall remain patient and await your approval.” He said as he looked down into my eyes.

Those eyes! Those wonderful eyes- so sad yet so hopeful! Many wonderful memories flooded my mind- memories of Tibius and I- of my future self. This man was so hard to resist!

I kissed him.

I had no idea how long.

“M’lady, as much as I dread saying this, we should stop this before…”

“Shhhh.” I placed my finger to his lips- the burning heat I now felt affecting my judgment. I wanted him.

“My love, this is not the right time, although it is somewhat the right place.” He said quietly as he gently removed my finger from his mouth. “This could severely change the time stream, Empress. I fear I would never forgive myself if that would happen.”

“Who’s to say it would change anything? What if this is destined to be?” I purred as I tried to pull those lips closer to mine again. “I’m very good at breaking the rules you know.”

“We cannot, Alexandra. Your virtue must be preserved- the Empress must remain chaste for the time being, my love! We will consummate this heated desire we both share- that is guaranteed, but not here…not now! Forgive me, M’lady, but I must take my leave.” He told me sadly.

“Tibius, don’t…” I cried as the man I would bear a child for on this world turned slowly and walked out of my room. “I’m sorry, I…”

I felt the warm salty tears begin to roll down my face as I turned to gaze back out the window. What had I done? Why was he affecting me so severely this time- or was it me? Was I that wanton…that desperate?
 
 

Despite what had happened earlier, Tibius sent word through Alexis that we would celebrate the Consulate Building’s safe transfer to New Terra at a formal dinner tonight at 2100hrs. The Empress had saved Tibius valuable months of physical labor by moving the whole building, contents and all. Alexandra had done it in a few sparse seconds. As a result, we still had part of today left. Not as much as on Terra though.

New Terra’s days were closer to Earth’s in that they were only twenty-four and a half hours long instead of twenty-eight.

That still only left me two hours to compose myself and get gussied up.

“Mother, haven’t you decided on what to wear yet?” Alexis entered my room and took in the pile of clothing lying on my lounge chair. She had yet to start the same process herself.

“I was thinking the gold, High Counsel mate’s dress with the matching, silken flats.”

“Mother! You wear that every time you attend a function on Terra, please find something different.”

“Something different,” I thought a minute. “Okay. I’ll need to check something before I decide.” I said as I entered my large walk-in for the umpteenth time in an hour.

I stood looking at my Reilly suit for a long minute before stripping down and donning it. Initializing it, I quickly scanned down the list of possible outfits. Not finding what I wanted, I sighed in disappointment, turned, and exited the room-sized wardrobe. For modesty’s sake I selected my dress whites.

“You’re not going to wear those are you, mom?” Alexis gasped in panic. “This is a formal Terran affair, not some naval luncheon!”

“I’ll be back, honey, I just need to reload my selections library.” I replied as I walked out into the living room.

It was empty.

“Isabeau, are you still here?” I asked loud enough for people in the other bedrooms on the other side of the suite to hear me.

“Yes Empress, I am in the interface chamber making some last minute modifications to the astronomic subroutines.” Her voice said over the suite’s loudspeakers.

“Oh, do you still have the last back-up of my Reilly suite on file?”

“The latest back-up recorded is from three standard Terran years ago, M’lady. Would that be acceptable?”

“Ya, hun, could you download it to my suit please?”

“I’m sorry, remote access to suit functions has been taken offline for maintenance, Empress. It would be necessary to transfer via a hard line interface.”

“Okay, I’ll be right there, hun.” I said as I began the short walk down the hall.

I really, really didn’t like this room! It was creepy. Now that one of my Comptrollers sat in an interface chair, it was even creepier!

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Empress. I know that your recent experience in Reilly’s interface chamber has affected your perspective of this room, but hard interface to your suit is the only protocol available at this time. If you want to come back later this evening…” Isabeau’s voice filled the chamber.

“No, hun, I’m a big girl so I’ll tough it out.” I said to the motionless woman lying on the lounge-type chair with the three umbilical hoses and four thick cables attached to her specialized Reilly suit. Memories of Randi Van Pelt lying in the same location but with the steady tone from the monitoring equipment filled my head. Instantly, I pushed it back and locked it into its small, secure cubby.

“What was that I just sensed about Aunt Randi?” The loudspeakers in the room inquired.

“Nothing, hun, can we do this? I have to get ready for the dinner tonight and I’m running out of time.”

“Your humor is confusing, M’lady. Does not the Empress have all the time in the universe?”

“Not this time, hun. Can you just download the archive please?”

“Of course Empress, please stand next to External Processor Interface Station #2 and stand still.” Her voice paused. “Stand very still.”

I gulped loudly as I cautiously approached the chair next to her motionless body. As I did, a single, thin cable descended from the ceiling. It twisted, turned, and arched itself like a cobra sizing up its prey.

“The data interface cable is intelligent and will seek out the proper connection, M’lady. In this case, the back of your collar just below the crease is its target.” Isabeau’s voice said calmly as the snaking cable seemed to scan me clinically.

Chills ran up my spine as the animated cable slowly moved behind me. The imaginary sound of a rattlesnake ready to strike echoed through my head as I thought about its snake-like motion. I felt my collar lift and heard the click as it attached itself to my suit.

“Commencing handshake. Empress, why is your heart rate twice that of normal and you’re breathing just as elevated? I assure you the up-link is benign.”

“Just download the archive, hun.”

“Acknowledged. Download will complete in twenty seconds.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the clothing list on my HUD start to lengthen.

“Download complete.” Isabeau announced as I felt the cable at the back of my neck detach with another click and slowly retract back up to the ceiling.

I exhaled.

“Thank you, hun. Will you be attending the dinner with us?” I asked, my voice sounding very relieved.

“I am to attend, M’lady, but do not wait for me as I have one hundred and twenty more minutes left in the modification process.”

“Okay, we’ll see you there, hun. Thanks again for the download.” I said as I quickly left the hi-tech…lab.

On my way back to my personal suite, I stopped by Corrine and Julia’s room.

“Corrine, could I bother you to do what you do best?” I asked with a smile.

“Sure, Alex, what kind of look are you going for?”

“Do you remember my mission to Poland?”

Corrine and her daughter exchanged glances as she whistled.

“Boy, do I! Are you sure that’s what you want, Alex?”

“Yes, but I made a few changes to my foundations for this occasion.” I smiled deviously.

“So, do you want your hair the same length or a little shorter?”

“Same length and color would be good.” I stated.

“If that’s what you want, Alex.” Corrine replied uncertainly as she gathered my dark blonde locks into her hands.

“That should do it, Alex.” She said a short time later as she removed her hands and I felt my longer hair fall down my back- its extra weight quite noticeable.

“Mom, that’s a little longer than the last time, but the color is perfect.” Julia critiqued. “So, are you going to model the outfit, Alex?”

“Sure. I hope this isn’t too over the top for a formal Terran shindig.” I answered as I selected my modified ‘Empress Costume’.

“WOW!” Jules gasped, her eyes opening in surprise as she appraised my selection. “Is this what you had in mind when I fixed your hair for that mission, Alex?”

“Almost, but like I said, I toned it down for tonight, hun, this is what the original outfit looked like.” I told her as I substituted the original black lace semi-transparent half-cup bra and matching lace thong for my golden demi-bra and bikini panties.

“And you sent two hundred Nazis to their grave wearing that?” She asked in stunned amazement.

“Two hundred-forty, hun, but yes, those perverts ate it right up.” I grinned pensively.

“I can see why! You do know that it makes you look like some very high-priced call girl, right?” She exclaimed as she kept scanning me from head to toe repeatedly.

“That was the general idea, yes. I had to make them think I was really their ideal ‘Empress’.”

“Alex, that outfit would make any living man think you were they’re ideal…” She said, but stopped short as her eyes flashed to the doorway behind me. “Anything!”

“Mother?” Alexis gasped in surprise from behind me. “By the Lords of Terra, what are you wearing?” She gasped louder as I turned around to face her. She too looked me up and down several times.

I quickly changed my lingerie.

“That’s better, but what was that outfit originally for?”

“Trolling!” Corrine said as she burst out laughing.

I turned back slightly and rolled my eyes at her.

“Nazi occupied Poland, 1944, hun. I had to retrieve a Spacecraft for your father’s long lost Great-great-Aunt.” I blushed.

“You used that to find the Meridian 12?”

“I did what I had to do.” I said stoically as my daughter suddenly glared at me.

“You didn’t?” She gasped as she again appraised me. Her eyes seemed to stop on my panties momentarily.

“No, hun, I didn’t go that far. At no time did these clothes ever leave my body.” I said rolling my eyes again.

Alexis gave me a doubtful look.

“Alex, can I make just one suggestion to really make the outfit pop?” Jules asked, grabbing my attention.

“Whatever you think would look good, Jules.”

She immediately placed her hands over my eyes.

“This will look better…trust me.” She said as she removed her hands. “There, much better.”

“By the Lords! I’ve seen this before!” Alexis exclaimed, blinking several times as she stared at me in slack-jawed astonishment. “In a multimedia presentation on you…on the Empress! There was an ancient portrait of you in the old, archived books.” She said as her hand rose to cover her mouth. “It’s really you…I mean…you’re really her!”

“Did you ever stop to think that it might just be your Aunt, honey? Alex Reilly has the same design stored in her suit too.”

“Does it matter if it is you or Aunt Alex, mother?”

“Well, no…but it would explain why I don’t have a memory of that yet.” I admitted and raised an eyebrow to her.

“So, do you think your father will like it?” I asked with a devious smile.

“Do you really have to ask that, mom? Of course he’ll like it! You’d better watch out for the after dinner party though.”

“The after-party? You didn’t tell me there was going to be an after-party!”

“In that outfit?” She paused, in surprise. “Oh ya, there’ll be a private after-party all right!” She snorted. Corrine and Julia nodded in agreement.

Alexis’ response and expression reminded me soo much of her older sister, Cassandra.

I closed my brand new ice blue eyes for a moment.

“There will be no private after-party with your father, Alexis, of that I’m certain.” I told her in no uncertain terms, though part of me hoped I was wrong.

What was wrong with me lately?

“Father wasn’t the one I was referring to, mom. You’ve undoubtedly seen that the Medrin Ambassador and his entourage will be arriving any time now?” My daughter reminded.

“I have.” I smiled in spite of what her statement implicated. The Medrin were renowned for their passion and…relentlessness.

“And you’re okay with…” Alexis motioned down my provocative outfit with noticeable distain, “This?”

“I wouldn’t have toned it down, or even selected it if I wasn’t, sweetheart.”

“Should I have Cindy or Jasen re-examine you, mother? You have been acting…” She paused looking for the proper term, “out of character…since you rejoined us.”

“Wrong Jasen, hun, remember?” I said, my smile widening a little.

“That’s not the issue here, mother! The facts are clear and disturbingly noticeable. You’ve been acting like a lovesick teenager ever since you returned to this universe- sometimes even bordering on wanton…” Alexis accused, but stopped suddenly.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” My daughter began again as she stared at me in triumph. I felt embarrassed.

“You’re in season.” She said calmly. “You’re in season and you have absolutely no idea how to handle yourself! Honestly, mother, you know you have as much support from your sisters as you require. Just because you are not as experienced in these matters as those currently surrounding you, know that help is as close as conversation.”

I remained quiet for a few minutes as I thought about this revelation. The three women standing before me waited patiently.

“I have been feeling…um…out of control…lately and I have noticed myself flirting.” I admitted.

“Flirting is an understatement, Skipper!” Julia snorted. Corrine nodded her agreement.

“I was?” Was it that noticeable, and why hadn’t I seen it myself? I felt my mouth drop open.

The lack of emotional change on my sister’s faces spoke volumes.

“I’m…I’m sorry.” I apologized and lowered my head in shame. “I should trust that my sisters would be so observant.

Why hadn’t I seen this coming?

“So are you still going to wear the dress or should we change your hair and eye color back?” Julia asked after a few minutes of silence.

“I’m going to stick with this for tonight.” I said bravely. “This is a celebration of new beginnings here on Terra Nuevo. I’m staying with the theme…new beginnings.”

“What will you do if Joaquin starts his patented headlong run for you, Mother?” Alexis asked in a serious tone.

“Fake to the right, of course.” I answered quickly.

“I’m serious, mom! How will you avoid his charms?”

“Like I would any other attack, hun, phase out until the danger passes.”

“Sounds real courageous to me, Alex.”

“Corrine, we’re not guys anymore! If I were, the confrontation wouldn’t even come up!”

“Nor would you be wearing that scandalous outfit, Skipper!” Corrine giggled.

“It is of no use, ladies, my mother is but a shameless harlot, whose sole ambition is to garner attention and desire from all males present tonight!” Alexis pronounced regally.

I glared at her!

“You’ve spent some time talking to Mariah, haven’t you?” I accused, holding my glare.

She giggled. “Have a good time at the gala, mother!” She giggled out. “Nathan and I shall see you there, though we will certainly be less provocative in our dress! I’ll leave you to finish your preparations, my Empress.”

My giggling daughter suddenly disappeared.

“Oh thank you fairy godmother! I shall be home before the bell finishes tolling midnight. I shant be late.” I said sarcastically to where I felt she was still standing.

“I’m onto that trick, mother.” I heard her say at my ear.

“Arrgh, that be only one o’ many more, I assures ye, dearie!” I said in a gravely voice, smiling to a different location in the hallway.

“How do you do that, mother?” Alexis’ voice echoed down the hall back to me.

Julia began to laugh and covered her mouth demurely.

“Shall mom and I continue with your makeup, Empress?” Jules asked as she continued to giggle.

“By all means, ladies, but don’t make me look like the Arian concubine from 1945 Poland. Tibius is the only man at this party I want to impress.”
 
 

The Consulate Ballroom, Terra Nuevo, 20:10, Median, Venusia 28th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

Tibius and I took our places as we held hands at the top of the grand staircase that fronted the Consulate Building’s Grand Ballroom. The view out over the large hall from this position was always very impressive.

“M’lady, how can you be so calm and collected knowing every man now on the planet will be devouring you before we take our first step?” Tibius asked quietly as he scanned me from head to toe for the millionth time since he arrived at my suite!

“Trust me. They can’t see us yet, M’lord.” I replied coyly.

“We are phased?”

I nodded. “I wanted us to make an unforgettable entrance, Grand High Counsel.”

Any further conversation was stopped by the official announcement.

“Lords and Ladies,” The public address system erupted, stopping any and all conversation on the floor below us. “The Lady Alexandra, Sol-Earth, Oak Ridge, M’zurah and her escort, Grand High Counsel Tibius, Solaris-Terra Neuvo, New Citadel.”

I rephased us after a very short delay. The crowd below us gasped, as from their perspective, we suddenly appeared! Immediately, I felt the familiar touch of every male eye on my clothing- revealing as it was, and the hall went silent!

Tibius and I slowly began our graceful decent to the main dining floor with him lifting my hand in the regal fashion of old.

“I can feel the tension around us building with each and every step, my love.” He said quietly through his smile as we progressed ever closer to our guests.

“Jealousy, sir. Pay no attention to them.” I quietly replied with a bright smile. “You are the lucky one, my love.”

“Planetary conflicts have been started for less, Alexandra.”

“Now isn’t the time for such talk. There will be no repercussions from the event this evening.” I told him as our shoes touched the main ballroom floor. “Time to do your thing, sire.” I goaded.

“Lords and Ladies,” Grand High Counsel Tibius started, raising his hands in welcome. “Welcome to Terra Neuvo! Alexandra and I hope that our new home is compatible to your needs. Let us dine and enjoy the evening together in peace and mutual understanding!” Tibius decreed as we stood at the base of the grand staircase.

The large hall filled with applause and we carefully made our way through the assembled crowd greeting our fellow diplomats and their mates, concubines, or escorts.

“A remarkable entrance, Alexandra!” A man’s voice exclaimed, catching my attention.

“Ambassador, it is quite a pleasure to see you again.” I said to the forty-year old man holding hands with a stunning, raven-haired woman in a deep blue, formal gown. He was dressed in a matching business suit typical of those I had seen in my travels to 2014 New York and it’s Wall St. district.

“It was quite the trick, M’lady. I would bequeath one quarter of Medrin’s GPP to you for the plans and procedures necessary for such an illusion.” He continued as his dinner companion continued to size me up.

“It was not a trick, my dear ambas…” Tibius began to say as I cut him off.

“That the Grand High Counsel wanted me to use tonight, but I talked him into it.” I chirped cheerfully. “I wanted to start this gala off with something fresh…something…unexpected.” I winked. “Something…surprising!”

“It certainly was visually stunning, Lady Alexandra, as is this new planet and what you all have done in such a short time.” The woman in blue said, expressing her compliment.

“I am very sorry, Alexandra! May I present my guest for the evening, Rosa La Medrin, our Emperor’s only daughter. Rosa and I go back many years. Rosa, it is my honor to introduce Alexandra of M’surah, Earth and her husband and our host, Tibius of Terra…of late Terra Nuevo.” Joaquin De La Medrin, Ambassador of Medrin graciously made introductions.

“Lady Rosa, I am honored by you presence.” I replied cheerfully as I offered my hand to her.

Now that we had been formally introduced, by Terran protocols my offer of a handshake was acceptable.

“And I likewise, M’lady. Still the scope of development achieved here on Terra Nuevo is simply amazing! Our beloved consulate building appears to have simply been picked up whole from Terra and carefully relocated here. It is all so miraculous!” She complimented with a grateful smile, accepting my greeting with her own dainty hand.

“The key is universal cooperation and strict adherence to protocol, M’lady.” Tibius responded quickly, looking between the two of us women before I could say anything else.

“Yes, my husband and his planning committee have spent innumerable hours refining every aspect of relocation, M’lady.” I added as I looked to my mate. “It is amazing what paying attention to detail can bring about. I especially adore the seaside view. It reminds me so much of Earth.”

“Excuse me. Mother,” Alexis appeared to my left. “Nathan and I were wondering if you knew that Ladies Corrine and Julia Masterson had arrived.”

I did a double take! She was dressed in an outfit similar to mine and just as revealing! Moreover, I noticed Corrine and Jules were wearing variations of my outfit also! Whereas my dress looked like fine-spun gold, Alexis’ dress looked to be made from delicate, translucent, ruby colored thread. Corrine and Jules’ were similar, but azure and turquoise respectively. As with my own dress, you could see through to the provocative underpinnings they wore!

I couldn’t help but let my mouth drop open.

“My my, the Earth contingent has certainly gone all out this evening!” Lady Rosa said with a bit of jealousy. “You ladies had better watch out for Joaquin. His charm with us ladies is legendary.”

I closed my eyes a moment and ran the scenarios.

“The ambassador will try, but ultimately leave with only you as his conquest this night, M’lady.” I informed her as well as my sisters to reassure them.

“So the stories I have heard are true? You are indeed a clairvoyant?”

“I am, M’lady. My daughter Alexis and also my grandchildren share that family trait.”

“I think that is not all the women of your family share, Lady Alexandra! You all are stunning in appearance as well.” She purred.

I wasn’t sure how to accept her last statement, but decided to thank her anyway.

“My thoughts on you as well, M’lady. If you’ll please excuse me, I see the rest of my entourage has finally arrived and I must welcome them. Enjoy the party, Lady Rosa, Ambassador.” I smiled before walking over to the Mastersons. Alexis followed me and we left Tibius and Nathan to fend for themselves.

“What has gotten into the three of you?” I asked as I stopped beside Corrine.

“We decided that we should follow our ambassador’s lead, Skipper.” She replied as she motioned between herself and Julia. “I haven’t any clue why Alexis would want to wear such a thing after all the earlier protest.”

“I decided that mother shouldn’t be alone in her type of dress. If she could pull it off…so could I.” She stated royally. Her head dropped suddenly. “Besides, Nathan seemed intrigued by the description so I contacted Isabeau and had her download the specifications.

“Where is Isabeau anyway?” I asked. “She said she would be coming.”

“The Lady Isabeau, Solaris-Terra Nuevo, New Citadel.” Interrupted me as the public address system announced the new arrival.

Isabeau stood atop the grand staircase in an electric blue variation of my dress. As with my daughter and sisters, you could plainly see her foundations- skimpy as they were, but her dress seemed to be alive with lightning blue streaks of light running quickly at sharp right angles all around it. ‘Circuitry’ immediately came to mind. Her practiced decent to the main floor was slow and graceful. The bright smile never ebbed from her beautiful face once.

I noticed Tibius and Nathan do a double take and then turn to stare at me for the reason we all dressed similarly. I simply leaned my head slightly to one side, shrugged my shoulders, and raised both eyebrows in answer.

“Oh the sisters of Kili are smokin’ tonight!” Jules giggled. We all joined in until Isabeau joined us.

“Empress,” She started, but stopped abruptly and restarted. “Lady Alexandra, I am sorry I was so late in my arrival. Several requests for file access delayed my completion. Have I missed anything important?”

“You look amazing, sweetheart!” I gushed, fascinated by the activity going on all over her dress. “The party’s just getting started and I foresee no unusual deviations in the proceedings.

“Acknowledged. I noticed that Ambassador De La Medrin has arrived with yet another woman ensnared in his web.”

“She’s the Emperor’s daughter, hun, Rosa La Medrin. I’m wondering who has whom ensnared.” I laughed as I glanced back at the couple. Joaquin looked back at me with a confident grin while Rosa looked back to me with a slight sneer.

“As usual, mother, you have quickly made an impression.” Alexis deadpanned, obviously having seen the woman’s reaction.

“And Miss La Medrin will undoubtedly make her own impression on Joaquin later.” I replied evenly as I fought a giggle back.

“Ah, Lady Alex! You and your entourage look simply captivating tonight! May I ask who your designer is and where may I find him?” A male voice caught my attention.

The Gian ambassador, J’tan, approached us from my right. A smallish man of about thirty Earth years in apparent physical age, at five-six, J’tan was considered tall on his planet. He seemed right at home in his pastel green, skirted, business suit and matching low-heeled shoes. As with everyone on Gia, J’tan had no qualms about dressing as he liked. Whether it looked masculine or feminine made no difference.

“This old thing, ambassador? Why, we just had these lying around from some old party. We all thought we’d give it one more try. As for its design, Corrine and a few of my sisters helped me design it back in the day. Do you like?” I gushed.

“Very much, sweetie! Could you possibly sneak me the specifications?”

“I’ll see if I can find them, hun. By the way, have we gotten your suite right…to your satisfaction, I mean?”

“It’s just as I left it on Terra, right down to the security code! How ever was Tibius able to completely reconstruct every last detail and fastener?”

“You know the Terran’s, hun- always fussing over the protocols and minute details.” I told him cheerfully.

“But how did he carry over the access codes, Gian encryption sequences are among the most secure in the galaxy?”

“That would be my doing, Ambassador J’tan.” Isabeau said as she bowed to our guest. “Only I have the expertise to transfer such complicated sequences and reinstall them, sir. The working archive has been deleted and over written several thousand times and therefore is irretrievable to anyone inclined to attempt such malicious actions.”

“My sincerest thanks, Lady Isabeau. Your understanding and sensitivity toward Gian security protocols is recognized throughout the known universe.” J’tan said excitedly. “I simply cannot fathom such attention to detail! It is like Tibius has scooped the existing Consulate building up from Terra and somehow transported it here! I…I even found a stray fingernail clipping that had escaped my scrutiny before last leaving Terra next to my downtime lounge today on my arrival! Even my fauna seems to be the same! One would think magic was involved somehow.” He prattled on.

“I assure you no magic was used, M’lord, it is simply a gift.” I said winking at my sisters. “From the Terran people to their Gian associates in appreciation for your long established friendship.”

“Such wonderfully appropriate sentiments, M’lady.” J’tan said as he seemed to become distracted. “Well, I must bid you my leave, ladies. I have just caught sight of another dignitary and must convey my greetings, may you enjoy the dinner.”

J’tan bowed and headed off across the hall to meet whomever he saw.

“Simply a ‘gift’.” Alexis snorted as the rest of us broke out into laughter. “Mother, could you be any more transparent?”

A devious grin filled my face. “I could recall my original lingerie for this…”

“Mother!”

We all continued to laugh heartily before dividing up and mixing with the assembled dignitaries, spouses, or friends.

“I forgot how painful these heels were!” I declared, wincing as I deftly tried to push my left heel out of its tight confines with my throbbing right foot.

“Oh man up, mother! You should be comfortable in heels by now. Every girl knows the sacrifices we must make to look good.” Alexis growled as she came into my bedroom suite and sat down next to me on my bed.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to these, honey.” I told her as I gently eased down and allowed both my sore Achilles tendons to stretch out.

I needed a good soak in the hot tub!

“Where are you going, mom? Father will be arriving in a few minutes.” Alexis called after me as I slowly moved into the next room.

“I already told you that there will be no after party, honey.” I growled back at her. “It’s already after three in the morning and I need my rest for tomorrow’s mission.”

“What mission?” I heard her ask as I shed my clothing, which had become my favorite pink nightie and matching thong.

“Jasen needs to be reinserted into Terran culture…or did you forget I have to close that paradox?” I answered as I eased myself into the warm, aerated water.

Oh, did this feel wonderful!
 
 

“M’lady, surely you do not intend to spend the entire night in yonder hot bath?” Tibius’ voice startled me. He stood leaning against the doorframe smiling brightly at me.

I shrieked in embarrassment and immediately tried to cover up as best I could.

“My love, need I remind you that we have shared your beauty many times in this very room?” He said smiling and reached to retrieve a towel for me.

Of course he was correct- that we had spent many wonderful…magical hours here together. But that was not me…not yet.

“Not for a few more years, my love.” I responded standing and accepting the offered towel. I quickly wrapped it around my chest and carefully stepped out.

Every nerve in my body cried for his touch as I looked up into his gentle eyes. A grin appeared.

“Although very inviting, I must detain my inner voice and its accompanying chorus of passion, my lovely Alexandra. I have come to make sure all is ready for our journey into history tomorrow.”

“You came all the way over here to ask me if things will work out? Tibius, I have told you repeatedly that the paradox I have initiated will close successfully. What real intentions bring you to my bed chamber at this late hour?”

My mate on this world remained quiet for a few moments.

“I simply wanted to tell you…tell you that…that you looked intoxicating tonight! Had only the Gians been in attendance, I would have taken you at our table, Alex! How dare you dress so enticingly…so…so sexually provocative for such an important affair of state?”

I smiled at him. “So…are you saying that you liked it or that you hated it, hun?”

“No…yes…neither…or both…I am thoroughly flummoxed and haven’t complete control over my thoughts just yet, Alex! Why tonight? Why now?”

“Alexis says I’m in heat, my dear Tibius.”

“Heat?”

“In season is the way she put it.”

“I think I understand. Is this season responsible for our initial coupling those many years ago?”

Was it, I wondered? I dove into my future memories.

“Yes.” I said, nodding. “Or something similar.” I added.

“Love from this perspective…and the way this body interprets it…I’m still confused and somewhat frightened by it. I…I just don’t understand everything that I’m…feeling…right now. One portion of me wants to drop this towel and jump into your arms while another screams for me to keep my distance! Yet another would prefer to just assume a fetal position and wish it were over. Tibius, I’m sorry to be so confusing and…and wishy-washy right now. I think I need to take a vacation to sort this all out. Rest assured that our mission tomorrow will complete without complication.”

I had lowered my gaze to the floor and continued to shake my head back and forth until I felt his warm thumb and finger touch my chin. He gently increased the pressure until I was again looking up into his warm, caring eyes.

“I shall continue to wait, my love. Take all the time you need to reach accord with your conscience. I understand the trepidation you encounter- that you caused me from our very meeting that half lifetime ago.”

Wet hair or not, loose towel or not, I wrapped my arms around that man and sunk my head into his shoulder…

…And cried.
 
 

The Empress Suite, Terra Nuevo, 0915, Prefinal, Venusia 29th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

“Mother.” A quiet, yet familiar voice called to me in my dreams.

“Mother, the day breaks and your mission awaits.” She called gently to me again.

My eyes fluttered open to see Alexis bent over me. I hadn’t noticed her hand shaking my shoulder until now.

“Pleasant awakenings, Empress. I hope your dreams were just as amiable?”

“I dreamed of home, honey. It seems to be becoming less vivid the longer I stay.” I replied sitting up and looking into her saddening eyes.

“Then you will be leaving father and I soon?”

“You tell me, hun. Use your gift as it was given.”

Alexis slowly closed her eyes and tears began forming in them.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I have commitments and it is important for me to honor them- besides, what would your uncle do without his favorite boat captain?”

“That war has gone on far too long, mother. Far too many people have suffered because of it!”

“No matter how easy it would be to simply change the time stream, it simply cannot be done, you know this all too well, honey. We must be strong and fight any and all urges to do otherwise. I’m sorry.”

“But father and I…” She paused a second. “Father, Nathan and I, and all your grand and great-grandchildren wish you to stay here on Terra Nuevo!”

“I have my obligations, Alexis, as does Alexandra. The Empress belongs to no one world specifically. That is the way of things for me now.”

“I still don’t have to like it.”

“Honey,” I gently placed my hands around her waist as I stood from my bed. “I wish with all my heart I could stay here longer…but…”

“But you must continue your life on Earth…” She continued sadly. “I understand.”

“You could come along if you’d like?”

“But what of Nathan?”

“I know this crazy blonde who thinks she can travel time, hun. I’m sure I could arrange for her to return him promptly.” I giggled slightly and saw her face light up with a guarded smile.

I’d take it! “That’s the beautiful smile I love to see.” I smiled in response.

“How do you always know exactly how to make me feel better, mom?” She giggled.

“I wouldn’t be a mother if I didn’t know the difficult things, honey.” I returned her giggle. “Let’s get something to eat. I don’t like to travel on an empty stomach.”

My semi-transparent, pale blue teddy became my Navy dress whites as we walked into the hallway.

Tibius and Jasen sat at the table finishing their own breakfasts. Alexis and I said our greetings and sat down after ordering our own favorite breakfasts. Of course, a steaming stack of four pancakes with plenty of butter and syrup along with a hot cup of coffee satiated my hunger.

Isabeau arrived a few minutes later followed closely by Corrine and Jules.

Jasen, having finished his meal, returned his dishes to the processor and sat back down. He remained very quiet and hardly made eye contact with any of us.

“Penny for your thoughts, hun?” I asked, breaking the silence that had fallen on the room.

“It’s not important, Alex.”

“Hun, everything is important. You having second thoughts?”

“I’m…I’m not sure…that I can do this.” He said looking directly at me for the first time this morning.

I giggled as a devious smile rose on my face.

“Honey, you’ve already done it.” I told him as I continued to smile.

His expression was priceless! Tibius began to rub his forehead as had become his response every time I talked time travel around him.

“Jasen, as the Grand High Counsel will confirm, you’ve been a loyal citizen of Terra for over one hundred years. You’ve successfully raised Connie as you first wished at her birth. You don’t have anything to worry about, hun.”

“How can you possibly guarantee that, Alex?”

“Ask anyone here. I’m sure Isabeau, Alexis…even Alexandra will tell you of your dedication to your daughter’s development.” I said as I finished my plate and picked up my coffee.

“It’s about time to go, hun,” I announced after a few long minutes. “Alexis, I’ll be back in a few days.”

“It will take that long, mother?”

“Tibius and I are going to make a little stop before I bring him home.”

Tibius turned and stared at me as if I had just grown horns.

“If you think that is prudent, mother.”

My mate was still staring intensely at me.

“Will you relax?” I nudged his shoulder in mock anger. “We have to stop off and check on Jack, Connie, and Jasen in 2030.”

He seemed to relax slightly and began to breath again.

“So, everyone going on this mission ready to go?” I asked with a bright smile.

Isabeau, Corrine, Julia, Tibius, and I stood from our seats.

“Jasen?” I asked looking at the still seated man. He slowly began to rise. You would have thought I was leading him to the slaughterhouse!

Taking a deep breath, he sighed heavily. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”

“Daughter?” Tibius looked around to Alexis as she too stood. “I leave you in charge of my affairs while I’m away.”

Our daughter looked at her father, curiously tilting her head slightly to the side.

“Are you feeling well, father? You did not evoke the concession of temporary power in the proper fashion. Has mother ingrained her character to you so completely?”

“Just make sure everything is still here when I get back, honey!” He snapped- quite out of character for my unbending mate!

“I will do my best, Grand High Counsel.” Alexis said as she bowed slightly to her father.

“Well then, now that Terra Neuvo is in good hands, it’s time for this party to move along.” I looked to my companions. “We’ll leave from the living room.” I continued as I walked out the doorway.
 
 

Ten minutes later, we had all said our goodbyes and I motioned for everyone to join hands. Jasen still looked apprehensive about this, but I knew he would be fine. Of course there would be questions and doubt as to his existence on Terra before his mysterious appearance, but his good friend Tibius would vouch for his friendship.

“Transiting in three, two, one.” I announced as Citadel’s Community Park replaced my suite’s living room.

“No matter how many times you do that I shall never get used to it.” Jasen mumbled as I scanned the area for any observers. We had arrived several years prior to our first appearance here and four women suddenly appearing in the city center would cause a definite shift in Terra’s history!

Tibius, you’re up.” I said as I nodded to my mate.

“As you wish, Empress. As we discussed last evening?” He asked, unsure if he should actually perform the procedure.

I nodded and concentrated on staying phased out of this reality.

“What did she mean, Tibius? We didn’t discuss any…” Jasen said before seeming to freeze in place.

“Release his hand when the task is completed. Corrine, you’re up next.” I reminded my mate then looked to the older of my cosmetologists.

“I’ll need to touch the location, Alex.” She responded as she continued to hold Jasen’s other hand.

Tibius released his friend’s hand and looked at me with a sad, determined stare. “It is done, Empress. I have included a ‘key’ to unlock his memories when we first encounter you and Lady’s Jacquelyn, Random, and Takashi- just as you requested.”

“I’m sorry it has to be this way, my love, but you know as well as I that he is not yet strong enough to hold his own against his fellow Terrans.” I answered back. “It hurts me to make so many changes to one man’s life, but…” I shook my head slowly from side to side, “It had to be done.”

Tibius now took Corrine’s wrist and released his hold of Jasen’s hand as soon as Julia re-established touch with Jasen. Corrine placed her hand to the back of our motionless companion’s head and began her task- that of creating an open gash as a result of falling and hitting his head.

“This should just take another minute, Alex.” She said, glancing to the side at me.

I took the opportunity to check on Isabeau’s task.

“Have you accessed the main system yet, Isabeau?”

“Negotiating, Empress. A precise date and time would hasten things, though.”

“Citadel Community Park, Citadel, Terra, 2145hrs, Climax, Apogean 14th, 282 of the New Era.” I announced clearly.

“Input accepted. Accessing archived passwords history for specified date and time.” She said in a familiar monotoned voice. Her expression changed immediately though.

“Interesting!” She exclaimed as she looked at Tibius sternly. “The encryption protocols I would expect to be employed cannot be found on the system, Grand High Counsel!”

Tibius blushed.

“As I recall, if the Empress is correct with the current date, that protocol has not been implemented yet.” He revealed quietly.

“Why not, Grand High Counsel?”

“Your father is still engineering it, Lady Isabeau. It simply has not been written yet.”

“Are you aware that several separate Embassy specialists have circumvented the existing encryption, and are, at this moment preparing to copy proprietary information?” Isabeau growled in anger. “Empress, we must seal the leak or Terra may become a victim of its own charity!”

I winked.

“Forgive me for failing to see your larger plan, M’lady.” She said partially bowing to me.

“There is nothing to forgive, hun.” I consoled her. “I didn’t reveal the ulterior motive behind this mission for a good reason. Namely, Grand High Counsel would’ve tried to stop me. He couldn’t imagine that the off-world diplomats were thieving Terra’s technology without being told by his trusted Comptroller.” I told her as I looked slightly up to my mate with a sad expression- one that begged his forgiveness.

Not saying a word, he closed his eyes and nodded to me.

“I shall upload the necessary encryption protocols after I finish installing Jasen into the system.” Isabeau said with a determined glare.

“Belay that, sister.” I said sternly. “There will be time after we complete this portion of the mission.”

“As you wish, Empress. Historical upload has completed. Encryption protocol patch files are cued and prepared for upload at your request, M’lady.”

“Thank you, sweetheart. Corrine?”

“Finished, Alex. I think this is the first time I’ve had to damage someone instead of fixing them up. I hope this won’t become a habit.” She said as Julia nodded her head in agreement.

“Maybe once or twice more, hun. Oh, don’t forget to give him a good shove as you release him.”

Corrine looked sadly at me before raising her foot up to his hip. Simultaneously, she released her grasp of his hand and kicked him away. The result was a man suddenly appearing out of thin air to fall onto the bricked walkway.

Poor Jasen landed flat on his back and began moaning!

“Part one of our three part mission completed.” I announced as our scenery changed again.

“This is my abode!” Tibius gasped, recognizing his bedchamber. “That is me sleeping!”

“Good observation, hun.” I giggled.

“Why here? What must be done to me?” He asked in a slight panic.

“Relax, sire, you just need to insert Jasen into your own memory so he will have someone to vouch for him when he wakes up in the hospital. Even though it is ten years prior to becoming Grand High Counsel, your word is highly regarded.”

Can I even do that to myself?” He mumbled.

“I must be able to because I can remember Jasen from my childhood!” He quickly answered himself before I could reply.

“Be quick about it, sire, we can only be here for an instant before your fellow Terrans can zero in on us.”

He nodded.

“Rephasing in three…two…one.”

Tibius reached out and touched his sleeping past self’s forehead.

“Done, Empress.” He said quickly.

I had us phased back out as he said my title.

“Phase two complete, onto phase three.” I announced as the scenery once again changed.

It was Isabeau’s turn to gasp.

“This is my home!” She paused a second. “I think. If it is the former occupant has no desire to keep house.”

Just as the words left her mouth a young man walked into the room.

“Terminal, energize.” He ordered in a tired, weak voice.

“Father? Empress, what is wrong with my father? Why does he sound so tired?”

“He never told you of his life before you were born, hun?” I asked somberly.

“He said only that I was his salvation, but I thought he spoke in general terms of Terra.”

“He was the only one capable of designing viable system protection protocols. I recall him losing many hours of sleep.” Tibius told us.

The terminal before Isabeau’s father came to life and he began typing away.

“Isabeau, begin upload.” I said quietly.

“When are we?” She asked quickly.

“Two minutes later than we just were- now send the files.” I answered just as quickly.

“Acknowledged. Sending text mail with attachments.” She replied in her monotone.

A tone sounded from the terminal’s loudspeakers as we all looked on.

“Not another message from High Counsel! Does the man never sleep?” Isabeau’s father groaned as he brushed back his hair and opened the new message.

He began reading out loud.

“Attached are some files I thought would help in your work. I know that you have been working to exhaustion and desire to rest. Live happy and healthy, M’lord. Isabeau.”

I looked at my sister and raised an eyebrow, but was interrupted before I could say anything.

“Isabeau?” The man gasped in alarm! He looked immediately to the ceiling of the room and began scanning it.

I noticed a flash of light glint off his eye as he turned his head toward us.

“Mother, I have been so very lonely since your passing. It makes my heart smile to know you have been watching…and now…and now you have found a way to announce that fact, but…to help me in my assigned task? Lords of Terra, I thank thee a hundred fold!” He cried to the heavens, wiping away his shed tears.

Isabeau again gasped.

“I am named after my grandmother?” she paused and looked at me for a response. I nodded, as did Tibius. “He, nor mother ever told me the significance.”

Tibius closed his eyes as if concentrating on a very old memory.

“Everyone thought him to have been hallucinating from his deprivation. Jasen and I were the only ones that truly believed the claim.”

“This completes phase three.” I said brightly as our surroundings changed once more. We were back in my suite- the good old 209th floor.

“Thank you all for your assistance in closing yet another time paradox.” I said happily as I released my companion’s hands.

“Why didn’t he tell me, Empress? Why didn’t father inform me of my namesake?” Isabeau asked as she stared between Tibius and I.

“I see the future, honey, I’m not so good seeing the past. Perhaps Grand High Counsel Tibius could better answer that query.” I replied, looking to the floor.

I knew what the answer was and who would present it already.

“Because you reminded me so much of her, Lady Isabeau.”

Our Comptroller spun around instantly.

“Father!” She cried. “But how?”

“He cannot stay for very long, M’lady. I owed him this one visit.” My granddaughter Alexandra interrupted. She stood holding hands with the tired looking man- his sad face projecting his understanding of her words.

“Samuel? Alexandra, how dare you desecrate those that have passed on?” Tibius angrily chastised our granddaughter.

“Grand High Counsel, it was at my request that the Empress allow me this chance to see my daughter. I applied sufficient pressure until she conceded. Under the Terran process of last rights, I take full responsibility for this visit.” The weary man declared.

“That clause was never thought to come into play, Samuel, you know that as well as I.” Tibius responded.

“It seems I have found another loophole in protocol, Grand High Counsel. Isn’t that for which you commissioned me?” Isabeau’s father smirked as he held out his hand to Tibius.

My mate’s hand extended in response, but passed through the offered hand. Tibius repealed his hand to stare at it in confusion.

“Empress, y’all wanna give me a hand here?” Alexandra asked as she raised her eyebrows to me. “I could use the extra boost to hold this temp-reality.”

Moving closer to her I felt a shiver run though my body as if passing through some force field or something. Alexandra and I joined hands and I immediately felt the familiar tingle as well as the draw of energy begin.

“Try the greeting again, Grandfather.” She requested.

My mate carefully extended his hand again, this time grasping and shaking the still offered hand. Isabeau jumped forth and embraced her father with tears pouring from her eyes!

“Oh, father! How I have longed to see you these last two years!” She cried from his shoulder. I could feel the load on my body increase slightly.

“Empress, we are familiar with the sharing of energy and would offer our reserves as well.” Julia said as she and Corrine joined hands and offered to take mine.

I gladly accepted and felt the increased load on me decrease substantially.

Alexandra glanced over to our sisters with a grateful, but tense smile.

“Father,” Isabeau began as she raised her head slightly off her father’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for not petitioning the Empress to allow me to visit. We have been very engaged with relocation and then there was the mysterious ailment that ensued with Empress Alexandra Steinert’s last mission with Lady Constance…”

Her father, Samuel, pushed her back so he could look into her eyes and placed a finger to her lips.

“Shhh. I understand the concept, my child. Remember what you have just witnessed with the Empress’ help. We share the same dedication to our craft. I wouldn’t have it any other way, beautiful Isabeau! Apparently diligence runs on both side of the family, just as it did in your grandmother. I regret neglecting to inform you that you look so much like her. She too never relented until her assigned tasks were complete.”

“Samuel, I’m sorry, but I can’t hold us here for much longer. Already Grandmother begins to gray in the hair.” Alexandra interrupted sadly.

“I will see you many more times, Isabeau- the Empress has graciously foreseen that. Release the sadness residing so heavily in your heart and allow that fact to lighten it, for you have befriended the one being solely capable of crossing the universal boundaries that hold us separate.” Samuel assured her before gently placing a kiss to her forehead. “Empress, I am ready when you desire.”

“But,” Isabeau choked out. “But why did you name me after grandmother?”

“Because you are a miracle, my beautiful daughter- my miracle! Your grandmother helped bring about the first miracle and you helped bring about the second. The Lords of Terra have surely smiled on our family because of that.” He paused and looked to his side- at my granddaughter. “You must return me before you deplete yourself, your temporal sister, and your selfless sisters from Earth, Empress. I thank you for this opportunity to visit and educate my daughter in the importance of her given name.”

“Grandma, y’all can let go now. I kin take it from here.” Alexandra nodded to my hand in hers. I released her.

“Tibius. I shall see you many more times also. Be well and unbiased, Grand High Counsel.” Samuel said right before they disappeared.

“He called me his miracle…but…but you are the true miracle, Empress.” Isabeau said quietly as she looked into my eyes.

“Life is the only true miracle, hun, without it there would be no miracles or anything else for that matter.”

“Thank you, M’lady!” She cried as she wrapped her arms around me, squeezed, and settled her head into my bosom. She began to cry openly, her body heaving as a result.

“Thank you for being so wise and charitable. Your humanity is indeed legendary.” She added quietly after a moment.

Why did she have to make me cry?

If she only knew the inhumane things I had done and would still be tasked with…
 
 

The Empress Suite, Terra Nuevo, 0800, Climax, Venusia 30th, 422 of the New Era
 
 

“So you have elected another form of morning entrée?” Tibius stated evenly as he appeared in the kitchen’s doorway.

“It’s been a long time since I had the real thing. The Navy sort of ruined the memory if you know what I mean.

“You do know that these are not the ‘real thing’ either? Sterile avian eggs and preserved porcine tissue have been proven to be detrimental to Terran health, my love.”

“Well back on Earth, eggs an’ bacon are a staple breakfast on the farm, hun. I thought I told you that years ago?”

You did, but I still enjoy the reaction I get each and every time. Did you sleep well, my love?”

“Better than I have in a long time. I guess I was just worried that something might go wrong and that Jasen wouldn’t be there for Connie.”

“But you are the Empress! Who else could navigate her way through the countless twists and turns of time?”

“I wish it were that easy, hun. I can tell you that time is an over-ambitious, conniving tyrant- a thief hell-bent on a mugging- an enemy soldier in a pillbox with a sadistic grudge- a wild beast that is just waiting to attack at the slightest tell of weakness.”

“You talk as if time is an adversary.”

“Isn’t that the case for all of us? Don’t we try to beat time every day of our lives?” I asked seriously as I took another sip of my coffee.

“I hadn’t thought of it in that context before. How, for someone so young, do you understand things so completely?”

“Like I can admit to understanding any of it!” I snorted. “I make it up as I go, Tibius. I don’t think there has ever been a manual or code of conduct written for the ‘Empress’.” I griped as I cautiously searched the ceiling.

“Yet you still know what is right and how to present yourself.”

“Dumb luck.” I mumbled as I picked up my cup again.

“Or a significant level of intelligence combined with exceptional morality.” He added as he pulled out a chair and sat down beside me. “I care to think that it was the patience and understanding given by your parents as you matured, my love. I have seen the same patterns in all four of your children- patience, love, understanding, and intelligence- all exceptional traits. All valued characteristics a loving mother needs to present and pass along to her offspring.

Placing my cup carefully back on its saucer, I inched my chair out and turned slightly toward him.

“How do you always know just what to say to break my mood?” I asked before returning my gaze back to the plate and half empty cup on the table. “Besides, we really can’t say I’ve been here for Alexis now can we?”

“I made it a point to tell our daughter all about you…of the Empress, and her responsibilities throughout the universe and beyond, Alexandra. She knows all too well and understands that you couldn’t spend more time with her and she’s accepting of that. You know she worships the very ground you stand on, M’lady.”

I gasped loudly!

“That is the one thing I’ve tried to avoid at all costs!” I replied in shocked anger. “I do not want…I don’t warrant…” I paused to reign in my emotions and to think of how to phrase things. “I’m not some God or Deity to be prayed to, Tibius! I’m just Alexandra Steinert, Missouri farm girl and submarine captain!” I exclaimed before looking away from him in angry embarrassment.

“I’m nothing special at all! I never wanted to be placed on a high pedestal.”

Glancing back quickly, I noticed Tibius look away from me and gaze down at the tabletop for a few moments.

“My love… I have always worshiped you and placed you on this pedestal you speak of.” He said quietly. “From the moment I first laid eyes on you…I knew you were special, Alexandra Frances Steinert of Earth.”

My vision began to fog.

“And just what did you do to mother this time father?” Alexis’ voice growled from behind us. “I swear, if I have to use my gift to find out, I’ll…I’ll…”

“We were just talking, honey.” I said sadly hoping to squelch her anger. “It seems your father thinks you hold the very ground I walk on ‘sacred’. I never wanted that to happen…not ever.”

“Oh.” My daughter said as she pulled out the other chair beside me and sat down. She looked at Tibius, at me, at the table, out into the hallway then back at me, but otherwise remained silent for several moments.

“You told her, huh? I thought we had an arrangement, father, even after I told you it was her only sore spot?”

“I only meant to cheer her up. Alexandra, that was my only intention, I beg your forgiveness.”

“I must also beg your forgiveness, mother. It was wrong of me to admit such blasphemy. I invoke the protocol of forgiveness for father and myself. It is with great sadness that…”

I started to laugh! Not just a giggle, but heartily laugh!

“What is so amusing, I am just following proper procedure?” Alexis cocked her head slightly as she stared at me curiously.

“Come here you two.” I ordered as I stood from my seat. They both complied slowly as they looked at each other with worried expressions.

I reached out and pulled both Tibius and Alexis to my sides and squeezed them tightly.

“I appreciate the sentiment and the intent, but Terran protocol would only ruin a beautiful family moment! I love both of you for trying though.” I told them both as I curtailed my laughter to just giggling. “But don’t…don’t…” I paused for effect. “Don’t ever refer to me as anything other than mother, or mate!” I glared at both their faces. “Are we clear?”

“Crystal, ma’am.” Alexis giggled as she nuzzled my shoulder gently.

“I believe we have reached an accord, yes, M’lady.” Tibius snickered and began rubbing my back.

Both actions made me feel warm and so very special!

Another familiar voice cleared her throat behind us.

“Is it too late for y’all to take in one more?” Alexandra chimed as she walked around and forced herself between her grandfather and I. She wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed gently.

That made me feel downright wonderful- even better than our shared tingle!
 
 

“Hate to break up the family reunion, but we’d like to get back to our families, Alex.” Corrine Masterson’s voice broke though my bliss.

We slowly split apart.

“I’m ready when you two are.” I said over my shoulder.

“I can’t speak for mom, but I was ready three years ago, Alex. I miss Vernon and everyone on the Detroit.”

“Y’all heard our sisters, they want to go home.” I said looking at my family sadly.

“And I have to get back to Markus.” Alexandra added as she took a step back from me only to rush me again and hug me tightly once more. “Don’t be a stranger, grandma.” She said as she smiled and looked into my eyes.

“And don’t do anything too dangerous either!”

She disappeared.

“Wow, not even a goodbye!” Alexis sniffed.

“She just went across town, hun, you knew that.” I giggled. “Plus you’ll see those three tonight for dinner.” I added.

“But I won’t see my granddaughter for another four days.” Tibius stated sadly.

“So you predict the future now too, my love? Has my influence rubbed off on you that much?”

“No,” he grimaced, “Our daughter told me yesterday.”
 
 

“I’ll return as soon as I’m able. I promise.” I said after everyone exchanged goodbyes.

“Ladies Masterson, it’s high time we get back to Earth.” I announced, extending my hands.

“Travel well, Mother Empress.” Alexis said sadly.

“Assist your father in all that is right and just, Princess Alexis.” I answered back with a sad smile.

Our journey home began and within seconds Reilly Research station surrounded us.

“Welcome Empress, it is 1130hrs, July 12th, 2030. The director requests an audience with you and your companions in the clearing outside Airlock Alpha.”

“So I’m expected? Thank you, RVP.” I responded to the A.I.

“I wonder what you want, Alex?” Julia asked as we turned around and headed for the airlock.

“Why did you return us home two days after we left, Alex?” Corrine was curious.

“I thought it was a good divider between when you left and when we returned.” I answered shrugging my shoulders.

Exiting the outer airlock door we looked out over the completely empty clearing. The three of us were silent as my two companions looked around in confusion.

Suddenly the field was alive with dozens of people holding hands.

“Welcome home, Empress!” Everyone shouted.

I felt myself blush.

My future twin emerged from the noisy crowd and approached as Corrine and Julia quickly disappeared into it.

“Welcome home, Allie. I know we had one hell of an ordeal, but it’s over now.” She said wrapping her arms tightly around me. The familiar tingle shot through me.

“Glad to be home…almost, sis. I’ve missed everyone something awful these last five years- not that it’s been that long for you.”

“I’ve missed you too, hun. You don’t know how hard it was to hide those memories from you. Alex Reilly was just about insane when we synced up! I hope she didn’t do…” My twin’s eyes bulged and she stared at me in amazement as new memories made themselves known. “We can really do that? We can bring someone…a departed one back with us from our domain for a limited amount of time?” She gasped.

“That’s our granddaughter, sis. And, as you already know, Alex Reilly finally figured out our little secret. I was wondering how long it would take before she was confident enough to try it.” I said shaking my head several times.

“And I thought we pushed the limits!” She giggled.

“Ya, I’m sure Ma Scott gave young Alexandra a good talkin to.” I laughed.

“So, come and have a drink on the house, sis!” She changed the subject as she took my hand in hers.

“I’d like to, but I was hoping to set course for Ni’ihau.” I declined. “Besides, I don’t want to wake up next to myself again. You know how we can get pretty toasted these days.”

We both laughed, stopping only after two glasses floated between us and hovered there until we each took one.

I rolled my eyes.

“Thanks, Jack.” I replied, a little annoyed that she wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.

She and Connie appeared out of the crowd. Behind them a familiar man followed at a safe distance.

Jack said nothing but closed her arms around me and squeezed. Tears immediately streamed from her eyes.

“I am forever in your debt, Alexandra Steinert! Thank you!”

“She’s still a tease, mom!” Connie remarked snidely.

“And you’re being rude, so act your age and not your shoe size, young lady!” Jack retorted over her shoulder.

Connie sighed heavily.

“Welcome home, Alex. Mother and I have been waiting to discuss ‘him’ with you!” Connie then said as she thumbed over her shoulder.

“Him? Have I not taught you better than that, young lady? Proper Terran protocol states that those with less seniority shall always show the required honors and privileges to their seniors in a professional manner or be severely reprimanded.”

“Russell Jason Brackenridge, give it a rest! We aren’t on Terra at the moment so knock off the protocols!” Jack growled in response.

“Yes, M’lady.” He demured.

“Good boy.” Jack giggled as she took his hand and pulled him closer.

“Empress, my wife has informed me that should I…um…screw up again, you shall return me even further back in history and throw away the key. I must ask in all seriousness if this indeed be the circumstance.”

“Your moving days are over, hun.” I said, but thought for a moment. “That is,” I continued, “That is unless you do something very, very, VERY stupid.”

His expression immediately softened as he glared at Jack in mock anger.

“I have learned my lesson, M’lady. Never again shall I overlook this lovely creature. Nor shall I ever underestimate my beautiful daughter!”

“So I’m a lovely creature now?” Jack giggled with a forced glare then suddenly grabbed his face and planted a kiss on his lips, the likes of which could bring a burnt-out star back to life!

“Still consider me just a lovely creature?” She asked after a long minute.

How could they hold their breath that long?

“I’m afraid so, M’lady, but only the most dangerous kind!” Jasen replied with his eyes still closed and a very contented grin.

“Get a room you two!” Connie groused. “They’ve been doing that since we got back to Earth two days ago, Alex!”

“And you’re jealous, right?” I grinned.

“Darn right, I am!”

“There’s someone out there for you, hun. Just be patient.” I told her.

“There already is, Alex. Jacob, remember?” Connie deadpanned. “My daughter, Juliet, is already fifteen?”

“I know that, hun, Empress, remember?” I giggled, pointing to myself.
 
 

Reilly Research Station, 0830 July 13th, 2030
 
 

“Aw, not again!” I groaned quietly as my eyes opened and focused on the blonde quietly snoring beside me.

I had to stop letting me talk myself into celebrating so much, I thought as I carefully tried to extract myself from the bed before ‘I’ woke up.

“Don’t go, sis.”

I turned my head to see my contented face smiling back at me. Oh God, what did I do last night?

“Nothing happened, Allie, this was just a sleep over, nothing more.”

“Why the smile then?” I asked with skepticism.

“Because we’re such a tease, hun!” Alex said, as her smile grew bigger. “And I always wondered what that face looked like from this side. Just lay back and relax a little longer, sis, I won’t bite.” She gently urged my shoulder back to the mattress.

“Hard.” She added as she turned away from me and pulled the blanket with her.

“Hey! Don’t hog the sheets!” I said as I pulled them back to cover my bare shoulder.

Bare shoulder?

I quickly lifted the sheets to check my clothing situation and breathed a sigh of relief seeing that my strap had just fallen down.

“What’s the matter, Allie? Don’t trust yourself?” My twin giggled.

Quickly grabbing my pillow, I hit her with it!

“Knew it was coming, hun,” she outright laughed!

I casually rolled in her direction and reached around to tweak her partially exposed left nipple.

“Hey!” She squealed in surprise.

“Didn’t see that coming did you, sis?” I said in triumph.

“Just did! Can we get some more shut eye please?” My twin asked in irritation.

“I’m going to get up.” I said as I pushed my way out of the bed. My pink teddy morphed into my black string bikini after I repositioned my str ap and triggered my HUD. “I think I’ll go for a swim before breakfast.

My quarters became the wonderful sandy beach on the east side of Kili.

The water was perfect and the sun was just breaking the horizon.
 
 

“So how long had you intended to lay out here, sis?”

My voice brought me out of a wonderfully sensuous dream. Tibius and I were…

“What? Why, what time is it?”

“Lunch time. Good thing we tan slowly.” Alex informed me.

“By the way, when exactly did we start sunbathing topless?”

I sat straight up, my arms automatically moving to cover my bared breasts.

“Um…”

“Dreaming of him again, huh?”

“Ya. Alexis said that I was in season.” I told her as I retied the skimpy top’s thin string behind my neck.

“I remember.” My twin reminisced fondly. You’ll experience many of those. Not all work out as planned though. Even for the Empress timing is sometimes a problem.” She giggled.

“I know.” I sighed as I stood up and looked at the sand about ten feet away. “And you didn’t hear any of this conversation, Scotti!”

The almost unnoticeable depression in the sand widened slightly.

“How?” My security officer’s disembodied voice said.

“How do we always know where you are, sweetheart?” Alex shot back as she giggled.

“You know that sunbathing does no good when the sun can’t find your skin, right?” I added as I too giggled.

“You both know it happens automatically when I’m tired and need sleep.”

“Must be very frustrating for Rick, hun.” Alex chuckled. “Not that the guy has any problems finding his way around in the dark. What’s the count anyway?”

“Seven weeks, skipper.” Scotti replied as she materialized. She had a very slight bump showing and her curly red hair had grown out a little.

“Congratulations, sweetheart.” I said sincerely.

“Thank you, Empress. How are you feeling?”

“Much better now. The waves and sun did their job. That reminds me,” I replied but stopped as I thought about the waves again. “I have a war to get back to. I better shove off.”

“Then I guess I’ll see you in a few minutes, skipper.” Scotti sighed as she faded from sight again.

“Take good care of Jenny.”

“Damn it, Alex!” Her voice shouted.

I giggled as Alex and I walked up the beach into the tree line.

“You couldn’t resist, could you?”

“Could you?” I countered.

“No, I guess not.”
 
 

We had just made the clearing- the whole walk in silence, before Alex said anything more.

“You know the Admiral will be there waiting for you, right?”

“Yep. I know.”

“He’s got an assignment for Sand Dollar.” She said as her voice took a serious turn.

“Nothing worse than what I just returned from, sis.”

“No, it’ll be different…with challenges all its own.”

“I’ve seen what happens.”

“You might want to leave Tish at base…but we both know she’ll find a way onboard.”

“Do we ever find out how she did it?”

“I think Sasha had something to do with it, but those two…”

“Ya, I know.” I admitted. “Ricky Lynn, I think, helped with her sea bag.

“With the way that girl packs, she might just have hidden her in her duffle!”

I laughed as I shook my head at the very real possibility. “She could probably fit Sand Dollar in there given the chance. By the way, have you seen her namesake yet?” I asked with excitement.

“The new Citadel class? No, just the preliminary designs. Nice?”

I whistled.

“Wow. They actually gave you time in her center seat?”

“I made one trip to Terra Nuevo and back. Heidi was sweating bullets on approach to New Citadel!” I snorted.

“Just like Jack that first time into the grotto?” Alex smiled deviously.

“Worse! You’d think I had never landed a space craft before.”

“Well…technically we crash landed Meridian 12, sis.”

“We all walked away so it was a good landing.” I said shrugging my shoulders as we arrived at the airlock outer door.

“You going to say goodbye to the girls, Allie?”

“No, not this time.” I told her as I selected my dress whites and triggered my suit to change.

“Forgetting something, Empress?” Alex said as soon as we were through the inner door. She looked down at my feet and laughed.

“Okay, so I forgot my shoes. I’ll pick them up from my room in transit.” I blushed. “You take care now, sis. Stop by sometime.”

“Until another time, Empress.” She said as we embraced. “May the temporal winds favor your next mission,” she offered.

I nodded and found myself in my quarters. Rounding the bed, I quickly sat down, put on my socks, and slipped my feet into then tied the black, low-heeled, regulation leather shoes.

Standing back up, the mess hall appeared in front of me. I looked around before deciding it was safe to rephase. It dawned on me that I had missed breakfast so I made for the open door.

“Good morning, skipper.” Michelle Simonetti greeted as I entered. Her face immediately went pale and she fell to one knee.

“I’m sorry, Empress! Welcome to Atlantis-Minor. It is 1005hrs, July 1st, 1944, ma’am.”

“Get off the ground now!” I growled. “You’ve known me long enough to know better, Shel!”

“Just showing the proper respect, skipper.” She said looking very relieved. “I didn’t see you at muster this morning, did you have any breakfast?”

“No. If Chief Peterson has anything left over, Shel.” I said with a smile.

“It was scrambled eggs and hash browns this morning, skipper. I could mix up some hotcakes if you want.”

I nodded. “That would be good, Shel, maybe some coffee too…if it’s still hot, that is.”

“There’s a quarter urn left. Lt. Smith suggested you might need it when you arrived. I’ll bring it right out. Hotcakes will take about ten minutes.”

“Thanks, Shel, I appreciate it.” I told her as I sat down.

“Here’s your coffee, ma’am, Alice’s working on your hotcakes now.”

“So when did Mina get back?” I asked after taking a sip. The hot liquid was a little strong, but right now that was fine.

“She and Director Reilly arrived last evening, skipper.” She answered, but her face suddenly looked confused. “Say…since when can the director travel this far ahead? I thought you said her barrier was something like the sixteen-hundreds?”

I smiled. “She finally overcame her barriers, Shel. We all can do that if we try hard enough…exceed our limits, I mean.”

“She means break the rules, Michelle. All of us can break the rules…but if so, we must be prepared to suffer the consequences, Ensign.” Mina interrupted as she entered and sat down next to me.

“Yes ma’am, can I get you anything, Lieutenant?”

“Tea, Earl Grey, two sugars, please.”

“It’ll take a few minutes to heat the water, ma’am. I’ll be back in a few.”

As soon as Michelle was through the galley door Mina reached over and hugged me tightly.

“Welcome home, Alexandra!” She cried, sniffing back her tears. “I’m relieved you made it back.”

“Mina, we both knew I’d be back.” I said trying to reassure her.

“There were some scenarios that would have you fail.” She said quietly.

“A wise woman once told me to carefully evaluate each and every scenario completely, Mina.” I smiled.

“There is always that one chance.” Mina said as she looked, contemplatively, into my eyes for a moment. “I felt the disturbance, Alexandra…even in the past! Alex Reilly actually doubled over in pain!”

“I was told my granddaughter exhibited the same symptoms, Mina. I never realized we were that completely connected.”

“The destruction…I felt a whole solar system disappear. It amazed me how powerful Constance…a Mind Warrior can be, Alexandra.”

“You should have been holding her hand, Mina. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain in all my life.”

“But that is behind us now, Empress. We are all glad that you are back among us.”

“And on to the next, I guess, huh?”

“So you’ve already seen…”

“I gave myself a heads up earlier before leaving Kili 2030AD.”

“I see. Then I offer my wisdom and experience to you, my Empress.”

I sighed. “Thanks, Mina, I just might call you on that.”

“One cup of Earl Grey, ma’am.” Michelle announced causing Mina to quickly wipe her eyes and straighten up.

“Thank you, Michelle.”

“You’re welcome, Lieutenant, and I feel the same way about the skipper’s return.”

“I’m sure the whole base feels elated about the Captain’s return, Ensign.”

“No ma’am, I mean I feel exactly the same way you feel. Like it has been an eternity since she left to get Miss Cummins daughter for that special mission…a very dangerous special mission. I was worried just like you, that one or both might not make it back, yet for some reason, it feels like a great deal of time has elapsed since that mission concluded.” Michelle explained, not quite believing herself. “Skipper, how long is a Terran year anyway?”

“A Terran year is approximately sixteen Earth months long, Miss Simonetti.” My voice said from directly behind Mina and I.

“Oh shit!” Michelle gasped as she jumped. “Welcome Empress!” She started as she attempted to fall to one knee.

Her height never changed though!

“What? Hey, Miss Cummin’s what’s going on? Why you holdin’ me up off the floor?”

“Jack and I have come back to prevent a possible rift in time, Shel.” Allie said as she and Jack suddenly appeared on the other side of the table.

Shel visibly started shaking. “You know that still REALLY creeps me out, ma’am.”

“The Empress is here to stop you from making a devastating mistake, Shel.” I said calmly. “Jack could you let her stand again, please?”

She nodded and the frightened girl regained her footing.

“My gift has gotten me in trouble again, right?” She said, her voice wavering.

“No, hun, your gift hasn’t gotten you into trouble yet, but it has given you the feeling of how to get yourself out. Am I right?”

Michelle gulped as she stared alternately between Allie and her Jack then to me. She nodded.

“Yes, Empress.” She replied in defeat. “Will it hurt?”

“Shel,” Jack’s future version said with sadness, “In all the years that we’ve known each other, I have never once hurt you.”

“What about three months ago, ma’am? When you tried to push me through the brig ceiling?”

“Oh,” Jack blushed. “I forgot about that. Okay, except for that one little incident, I’ve never hurt you, Shel.”

“So, I get my mind wiped then?”

“What? No, you don’t get your mind erased! Why would you even think of something like that?” Jack gasped in shock.

“Cause you’ve done it many times before, ma’am.” Michelle answered honestly.

“I…” Jack paused and looked down to me. “I never realized her gift had developed this far before today, Alex.”

“Peoples’ emotions can be very revealing if observed properly and by the properly gifted person, Jack.” I informed her. “Michelle, I think the Empress has a little something she would like you to participate in.” I added with a smile.

“Ma’am?” She asked Allie, her mood brightening a little.

“What my sister has alluded to is a trip into your future, Miss Simonetti.” Allie said with her own smile. “Jack and I would like you to come with us on a mission- nothing too dangerous or complicated. We just need your…expertise.”

“Is that all or is there an ulterior motive, Empress?”

Mina began shaking her head at the Ensign’s skepticism.

There was that Simonetti trust…as usual, I thought. Allie and I raised a brow to each other.

“Of course there’s ulterior motive, Shel! There always is with the Empress of Time and Space.” Allie laughed as she winked to her.

“Just checking, ma’am. You know how I feel about being lied to.” Michelle said with a faint smile. “Do I need to pack anything for the trip, Empress?”

“You’re already wearing your Reilly, so no. Select your electric blue bikini and we’ll be on our way.” Allie giggled.

Jack’s dress whites became her favorite black string bikini and Allie now wore our favorite pink one.

“I’ll have her back tomorrow, sis.” Allie informed me as she offered her hand to Michelle.

“Are you sure this is a mission, Empress?” Simonetti asked skeptically as she nervously adjusted the right cup of her dazzling blue bikini.

“Only a small fraction, Ensign.” She giggled as Jack joined in.

They disappeared.

“Captain, a PBY is on approach! The Admiral is onboard!” Jack cried as she burst into the dining hall.

She stared at me when Mina and I didn’t show the proper amount of concern.

“Um…Alex?” She asked in confusion.

“I knew he would arrive right after I returned, Jack. Why act so surprised by that?”

“What? No…no, I …I thought Michelle was on kitchen duty this morning. Why isn’t she waiting on you?”

“The Empress needed her for a mission, Cmdr. Cummins. She’ll have her home tomorrow around 1100hrs.” Mina said before I could.

“Why wouldn’t she use her own Michelle, Alex?” Jack looked back at me.

“Her Michelle is kind of out of service for five more months plus maternity leave.”

Jack gulped visibly. “As long as you okayed it, cap. Should I submit any paperwork…”

I stared at her in silent disbelief.

“Right. I’ll make do without her or assign Ensign Marsh in her place.”

“Not Rommie, she’s going to be busy with problems of her own starting in five minutes, Jack.”

“Alex?”

“Rommie is going to receive her gift in a big way in just a few minutes, Jack. I’m going to need Emily down at the pier in two. Tell her to bring a large beach towel or two.”

“Aye, cap…why a towel…or two?”

“This one has to be seen to be believed, Jack.”

Jack Cummins gulped hard again as I got up to cancel my pancake order in the kitchen. I took Jack’s hand while Mina finished her tea and stood to head out to the pier.

Atlantis-Minor’s kitchen appeared around us.

“Alice. Admiral Demmit’s plane is on approach so drop what you’re doing and go get ready.” I said as I pointed to the back door.

“Aye, ma’am. She acknowledged with a slight start, but quickly cleared the grill and turned off the stove before hurrying outside with Ricki Peterson. We heard Jack’s excited voice announce that the Admiral’s plane was coming from up front in the main dining hall.

Jack looked at me without saying a word.

“Time is of the essence, commander.” I giggled as our scenery again changed- this time to the base’s pier.

When the coast was clear, I rephased us. Several of my crew jumped in surprise as we did.

“Ah-ten-shun!” Jack shouted as off in the distance I could see the white water splash along the PBY’s fuselage as it touched the waves.

A woman’s shrill scream filled our ears next. Jack and I hurried to the end of the pier to see Ensign Marsh thrashing about in the water.

“Help!” She screamed, “I can’t swim!”

Several of my crew joined us and were about to dive in, but I managed to stop them just in time.

“Get back in formation!” I shouted as I stared down at the distressed sailor.

“Honey, I did’t see how this happened, but it’s up to you to figure a way out of this!” I shouted out to her. The slight rip current was already carrying her away from the dock and land.

“Captain, help!” She shouted after spitting out a mouthful of seawater.

“Rommie, keep your mouth shut, hun!” I yelled.

I quickly turned around to face my worried officer’s and crew.

“She’ll be fine, everyone. She’s receiving her gift.”

That didn’t seem to sit real well with any of them though.

“Dr. Scott, please come here?” I shouted over my flailing crewman’s continued shouts for help.

“I can’t believe you, Alex!” Emily said as she hurried to the edge of the dock next to me. She was carrying the towels I had suggested she bring.

A massive splash from behind Ens. Romney Marsh caught our attention.

“What on earth is in there with her, Alex?” Emily asked in fear. “I didn’t know sharks came this close to land.”

“They don’t, sis.” I paused as we kept watching. Ensign Marsh’s head disappeared under the waves. “Mermaids do, though.” I conceded.

“Alex, she’s going to drow…WHAT?” Emily stopped and turned to look at me in surprise. “What did you just say?”

“Mermaid, sis. Rommie’s gift. She’s a mermaid.” I smiled.

“Mermaid? Really?” My sister’s mouth dropped open. “The person most frightened by cramped places and the only crew member on base that can’t swim…and she’s a mermaid?”

I laughed outright! “Ya, go figure, huh?”

“Are you certain, Alex?” Emily asked with doubt.

I pointed out to where Rommie had been before her head went below the waves.

“Wait for it!” I laughed.

A humanoid with a long, brightly colored, fluted tail burst from the water only to plunge back in and disappear just as quickly.

“Oh…my…God!” Emily exclaimed in amazement.

“He does work in mysterious ways, sis!” I said sarcastically.

A woman’s head popped out of the gentle swells about twenty yards off the dock and started to float closer.

“Rommie?” Emily shouted, as the bobbing head got closer.

“Why didn’t you come in after me, Captain Steinert? Why didn’t you help?” She cried sadly. “You said that you would help your friends and relatives…why not me?”

“You had to do this on your own, sweetheart. And before you go and say anything to the contrary, you are family- so don’t even think you’ve been abandoned!” I told the floating head as she stopped just off the end of the pier. In the clear Pacific water you could clearly see her colorful tail gracefully sway back and forth beneath her keeping her on station.

“This is…this is my gift, Empress?” She asked with more than slight confusion.

I nodded.

“But I can’t swim!”

“Doesn’t look like a problem now, hun.” I pointed out, smiling brightly.

Rommie raised both her hands out of the water and stared at them curiously. I noticed the delicate membranes connecting between each of her fingers.

“No…no I guess not…not now.” She admitted after staring at her hands for a minute more.

The Admiral’s plane was now closing on our dock.

“Sweetheart, you better come out of the water now…before the Admiral thinks he’s hallucinating.”

“How am I going to get up there, captain?” She looked very worried as she glanced out to the arriving seaplane.

“Same way as you got into the water, hun…jump.”

Rommie nodded and her head quickly submerged.

Our fledgling mermaid suddenly burst forth from the water performing a half-twist and a somersault and landed sitting with her long tail slung over the edge of the dock.

There was a collective ‘oh’ out of her assembled shipmates.

“Emily, let’s get those towels over her quickly before the PBY’s crew sees anything more.

Rommie’s Reilly suit had apparently changed and adapted to fit her new form by becoming a short, silky, pink skirt wrapped around where her waist would have been. That and a skimpy string bikini top tried in vain to keep her modesty. Emily and I quickly covered her as best we could as the plane’s cockpit turned our way.

“Stay put, Ensign.” I ordered.

“But Captain, am I stuck like this?”

“Nope. You have to find the key to transforming back, Rommie. I’m going to be busy in another minute with the Admiral.” I told the terrified girl before turning away to assume my position at the front of our formation.

Admiral Demmit could be seen looking out the small porthole as the seaplane pulled alongside our dock and her crew caught the mooring lines thrown to them.

A moment later I was welcoming our commander to the island.

“Welcome to Atlantis-Minor, Admiral. Your visit comes as a complete surprise, sire.” I announced cheerfully as we all stood to attention and saluted.

The old man gave me an angry scowl as he approached.

“Somehow, I find that very hard to believe, Captain Steinert!” He said returning the salute. “At ease, ladies!” He growled loudly.

“Why is…?” He paused, not being sure of her name. “Ensign Marsh is it?”

I nodded.

“Why is Ensign Marsh sitting on the edge of the pier covered in blankets?” He asked. The old man seemed to ready himself for some ridiculous answer.

“The Ensign had a little mishap as your plane touched the waves, sir. She seemed extremely flustered by your arrival and wasn’t paying attention to where she was walking.” I answered.

His glare melted away as he looked at the soaked girl. It came right back though as he looked back to me.

“I don’t buy it for an instant, Commander. I want the truth, Alex!”

I sighed heavily and leaned toward him slightly. “Truth is, sire, Ensign Marsh has just received her gift. She…”

Demmit held up his hand to stop any further explanation. I straightened myself.

“We’ll talk about this later, Commander.” He said turning and walking out to the end of the dock.

“Ensign, are you alright?” He asked as he offered his hand.

“I’ll be fine, Admiral. I just need to sit for another minute.” She answered in a small, shaky voice.

“I insist, Ensign. Please allow me to help you stand!” He ordered.

I nodded with a tense smile.

Taking his hand, she turned around and stood…

…On her own legs.

Her smile said it all! Rommie handed the wet towels to me and hurried to rejoin our formation. There was a definite bounce in her step despite the dripping wet uniform!

Admiral Demmit looked disappointed. Apparently he expected to see something different? Did he witness her tail hanging below the dock? Had he seen her new form jump from the water and land on the deck?

If so he never said anything or hinted about it.

By now the Admiral’s supplies had been unloaded and as usual he urged the flight crew that they had seen nothing unusual here. Within minutes the plane was taxiing back out to sea.

“Captain Steinert!”

“Sire!” I answered snapping to attention.

“There will be a command staff meeting in your office at 1400hrs. There are things that must be discussed.”

“Aye, sire! 1400.”

The old man turned and walked away without another word.

“Wow. He’s really absorbed with this mission, Alex.” Jack said as she stepped up beside me.

“Ya.” I whispered, which was very out of character for me. Normally…lately I would just think to my first officer. Without taking my eyes off my retreating uncle, I continued. “Dismiss the crew, Jack. Officers to my office before 1400.”

Jack hesitated a moment. “Aye, Cap.” She acknowledged with a nod before turning around. “Command staff to the Captain’s office before 1400! Dismissed!”

“Alex, what’s got you so spooked? Is this going to be one of those tough missions- the ones you hate?” She asked as she looked directly at me while we headed off the pier.

“Are we going to lose someone?”

I stopped, looked at her, and dropped my eyes to the deck. “No, Jack, nothing that dramatic.”

“Then what? What’s going to happen?” She pressed.

“We’ll just have to wait a few days to find out, Jack.” I said cryptically.
 
 

1400hrs, Atlantis-Minor Base, July 1st, 1944
 
 

“Captain Steinert, I noticed the ranks were a little thin this morning. I trust Ensign Simonetti is well?” Admiral Demmit asked before starting off our meeting.

“Michelle is on special assignment, Admiral.” I responded.

His eyebrow rose to dare me to go on.

“The Empress arrived shortly before you this morning, sire. She asked specifically for Ensign Simonetti.”

“Any details of the mission, Alex?”

“None given, sire.”

“Capt. Steinert.”

“Yes, Admiral?

“Alex, We’re not on Terra, are we?”

“No, Admiral.”

“Then stop referring to me as ‘sire’!”

“Sorry, sir! It’s been a long week, sir.”

“Should I ask how long you’ve actually been away this time, Alex?”

“That would be awkward for me to answer truthfully at this time, Admiral Demmit.” I answered respectfully.

“I see. Then I should expect to receive a full accounting of the mission basis?”

“No, sir, this one was for my eyes only, sir. Begging your pardon, Admiral.”

The old man let out a heavy sigh before pausing a moment.

“Ladies, your next mission will commence tomorrow morning at 0700hrs. A freighter has taken enemy fire and was heavily damaged before our fighters arrived and sent the attacker to the bottom. She’s currently adrift one hundred and fifty miles due south of Midway. Here are the last reported coordinates, Alex.” Demmit said as he picked up the first folder from the table in front of him.

“The Freemont is reported to be listing gently to port and her rudder has fouled one of her screws. It needs repaired before she can get underway. You are to affect treatment and transfer of the wounded and, if time allows, offer to help in the repairs.”

“Understood, Admiral.”

“Alex, I understand that Ensign Marsh has just received her gift?”

“Yes, sir, just this morning.” I answered nervously and looked around the room at my sisters. Each and every one had the look of horror on their faces.

“Good, maybe she should go along to help. Kind of get her…feet wet, if you will.”

“Aye, sir.” I gulped nervously. “Will that be all, Admiral?”

“No, Captain. I request a full briefing on Ensign Marsh, her depth limits, duration submerged, and her capabilities and defenses. Is that understood, Cmdr. Steinert?”

“Admiral, she just received her gift, sir. The poor girl is still terrified of the water and you’re already asking for her technical limits?”

“Those are my orders, Captain. In fact, I’d like to see the Ensign- invite her to this briefing.”

“Aye, sir.” I said dejectedly and nodded to Jack.

“Ensign Marsh is on her way, Admiral.” She acknowledged.

“Admiral, why on Earth would you suddenly demand so much of Ensign Marsh? Among us she is the most frail and pacifist of the lot.” Mina inquired.

“Because, Lt. Smith, we can use her talents on an upcoming mission if I’m not misinterpreting the myth.” Demmit answered politely.

“Myth, Admiral? Do you mean the mythical sea creatures that sometimes help the occasional unfortunate sailor to safety, or the similarly described creatures that can call mariners to their graves?” Mina asked in a menacing, royal tone.

“I’m not assuming she’s a siren, Mina.”

“Then what are you assuming, Admiral Demmit?”

There was a faint, almost inaudible knock at the door.

Jack twirled her finger once and the door opened to reveal Ens. Marsh. The look on her face, albeit horrified, was priceless!

“Please join us, Ensign, Have a seat and we’ll continue this briefing.” The old man gently urged.

“Why would you want me here, Admiral, I’m not command staff?” Marsh asked timidly as she slowly entered the room, but stopped in her tracks.

“No, you are not, Ensign, but this mission may require your new found talent. Please have a seat.”

Rommie glared at me then at the rest of my officers before she slowly moved around the table and pulled up another folding chair.

Uncle Rick picked up on it immediately.

“No, Miss Marsh, your sisters did not ‘rat’ you out. I just happened to be looking out the porthole after we touched down and witnessed the most marvelous thing! Do you want to know what it was, my dear?”

Marsh nodded cautiously.

“I saw something…someone so miraculous…so amazingly beautiful leap from the waves.”

Rommie gasped.

“At first I thought it was a dolphin, but I realized that dolphins have no hair of any sort, nor do they have human arms or…or bosoms, Ensign. In short, I saw you leap from the waves and then leap up onto the pier. I must say though that you have the most beautifully colored tail and fins, young lady. Very exotic.”

“Thank you Admiral.” She answered timidly while blushing profusely. “But, sir, I haven’t even looked at myself yet. I was just so relieved that I wasn’t drowning anymore…I…I’m still terrified at what I have become.” She added, breaking down into tears.

Ricky Lynn eased the girl’s head over to her shoulder and put her arms around the Ensign to comfort her.

“Welcome to the freakshow, toots. You’re really one of us now.”

“Chief Samuels!” Uncle Rick shouted in anger. “The crew and shoremen of the Sand Dollar and Atlantis-Minor are not ‘freaks’, is that clear?”

“I was only tryin’ ta comfort her, sir.”

“You have a funny way of showing it, Rick! As I recall, you can do some very strange things also.” The Admiral growled.

“I didn’t mean it like that, Rommie. I’m sorry if I hurt you just now.” My chief mechanic relented and apologized. She seemed to squeeze the Ensign even tighter.

“Sir, I think we should get on with the briefing.” I said, hoping the hint would take focus off the Ensign.

“In a minute, Alex.” Uncle Rick growled. His voice and tone then changed drastically.

“Romney, I would like you to go along on this mission because I believe your gift will prove invaluable in the near future and I also believe it will help you defeat your fear of water. Now…I’m not asking you to run right out into the surf and push yourself to the breaking point, but I am asking for your participation on this mission. Could you at least try for me, honey?”

The room was silent for a time as Admiral Demmit looked at Ensign Marsh, awaiting her answer. I could’ve sworn I felt the hair on my neck start to rise. I glanced over to Jack and mentally asked her to stand down. She closed her eyes momentarily in acknowledgement.

“Will I be able to get off the Sand Dollar if I start feeling closed in?” She asked after a few more minutes of thought.

“Ensign, I’ll order the captain to allow you to ride the bow if that’s what it’ll take for you to agree!”

How in the world did he know that’s exactly what she would do? Sometimes I wondered if Uncle Rick was just downplaying his own natural gift!

“Capt. Steinert? Would you agree to that?” Rommie asked, looking over to me with her big, pleading eyes.

“I see no problem with that while running on the surface, Ensign Marsh. I would ask that you try your best to endure the close quarters while we run submerged though. I don’t want you left topside alone. Many a sea dweller might have an appetite for young mermaid and I’m not sure y’all are ready for that yet.”

Rommie thought for a minute more, staring at her lap.

“Alright, I’ll do it, Admiral Demmit.” She said in a strong, true tone as she stood to attention. “It’s high time I conquered my fear of the sea! What good is a mermaid that’s afraid of getting wet, anyway?”

Demmit smiled and quickly restarted our briefing.
 
 

0530, 200 Nuatical Miles South-southeast of Midway Islands, July 4rd, 1944
 
 

“How long has she been up there, Jack?” I asked looking toward the bow of Sand Dollar where a silhouetted figure sat slightly sideways, the hair blowing in the wind with sea-spray breaking around and over.

There was just enough light from the rising sun off our starboard side to highlight the dazzling colors of the figure’s silky dorsal and pectoral fins, and large, slightly coiled tail fluke. The image of Rommie sitting at our bow, one arm holding her erect, the other holding our long-wire antenna mast; her head boldly facing forward, hair blown back by the wind, and chest held up and out proudly in defiance of her fear brought about memories of old photographs I had seen of the massive, hand-carved figureheads on the old time clipper ships.

I thought of the many times Sand Dollar would be blessed to have her own figurehead.

“As soon as she got off duty, Alex- 0400hrs.”

“How’s she handling being so confined?”

“Sometimes I can see the fear in her eyes, Alex, but she’s hanging in there. I think Jamie has had a lot to do with it though. The two have been palling around quite a bit since we left base.”

“However she can overcome her fears, Jack.”

“My thoughts exactly, Cap. That’s why I placed them both on the same watch.”

My Ex-O was quiet for a moment.

“One thing that does bother me, cap?”

“What’s that Jack?”

“When she’s in this form I sometimes can’t read her. It’s like she picks the times that I can see her- not the other way around. It’s disturbing.”

“Now you know how we feel about you, hun!” I laughed.

“Look, she’s doing it again, Alex.” Jack interrupted without a response and pointed.

“Doing what…Raising her hand in the air? What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Watch about a hundred yards ahead, cap.”

A pair of whales breached the waves directly ahead of us, their huge flukes the last thing to disappear under the waves.

“How does she do that?” Jack asked in amazement.

“I would imagine the same way we do the things we do, Commander- the same way you read everyone’s mind.”

Jack nodded once and remained quiet for another few minutes.

“That brings up the question I’ve wanted to ask you since your arrival back on base a couple days ago. Why am I sensing there is something you’re hiding from me, Alex? If you think I’m being paranoid just say so and I’ll back off, but I feel I’m part of something you’ve hidden away up there.” She said, gesturing to my forehead.

I paused a moment before answering.

“Connie and I went on a mission together, Jack.” I paused again.

“Things didn’t go as planned, did they?” She asked, worry suddenly quite evident on her face.

I looked to the deck.

“No, everything went exactly as it should.” I said sadly.

“Can I ask…”

“Jack, secure the lookouts and alert Rommie that we’ll be submerging.” I quickly picked up the squawk.

“All hands, prepare to dive.”

Watching Rommie morph back into human form was almost as strange as watching Sasha change between Pixie and human modes. Within seconds Ens. Marsh was up and hurrying to the forward torpedo hatch.

I noted, citing modesty, that I should mention she reselect her working blues before attempting to run across the windy foredeck.

“She didn’t even think about it, cap.” Jack laughed.

Yes, the boat’s resident ‘china doll’ was finally growing up, I thought as I slid down the ladder, only stopping to secure the bridge hatch before continuing.

“We should arrive at the Freemont’s last know position in six hours, Alex.” Carroll advised as I hit the Con’s deck.

“Correct for her drift, Lieutenant.”

Which way, Cap?”

“Five at one, nine, two, degrees, Carroll.”

“Helm, new course. Heading three, zero, one, degrees! Speed, eight knots” Carroll ordered immediately. It amazed me how fast and accurate her computations were these days.

“Captain, the tree is green. Ready to dive.”

“Take us down to sixty feet, Carroll.”

“Sixty feet, aye.”

“Thank you, lieutenant, you have the Con.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“So has anyone seen Tish yet?” I asked the compartment as a whole. Everyone’s head snapped around toward me- each wearing a look of confusion.

“She was ordered to stay at base, Alex. Why would you ask that?” Carroll inquired.

I picked up the squawk.

“Ensign Moritsu to the Wardroom!” I ordered, but continued. “Tish I know you’re onboard so get your tail up here on the double!”

Hanging the mic back on the bulkhead, I walked the twenty-odd feet forward and waited.
 
 

“You wanted to see me, Capt. Steinert?” Tish’s quiet voice caught my attention as I sat re-reading some of our mission briefs.

“Have a seat, Ensign.”

“I’m sorry, Sensei! You ordered me to stay behind, but I felt I must come. I understand if I am remanded to the brig for the duration.” She apologized, not making eye contact with me.

“It was my lame attempt to slightly modify the time line, Tish.” I admitted.

She looked up and across the table at me in shock.

“Is something to happen to me? Were you trying to protect me from harm of some kind, Sensei?”

“No, I just didn’t want you to be ashamed…” I paused, “of me, Tish. I’m going to do something…something very foolish.”

“Foolish, ma’am?”

“Tish, do they have a name for those times that a female is in heat, in Japan?” I asked flatly.

“You are going to have sex?” Her eyes grew wide. “With a man, Sensei?”

I laughed tensely and shook my head. “Apparently your people don’t have the same strict morals we Americans do.”

“Sex is a natural thing, Sensei, why list it as foul or defiled behavior? By the way, the Japanese people have very strict social beliefs.”

“It’s a western thing, Tish. And for your information, the best animated pornography will come from Japan in the coming decades- Anime, Manga, Hentai, Futa…” I smiled.

“Am I to be detained, Captain?” Tish seemed to ignore that statement and got back to the business at hand.

‘Jack, you can come in now.’ I thought to my Ex-O.

A moment later, Jack was standing in the doorway.

“I understand, Sensei.” Tish said sadly as she began to get up.

“Commander Cummins, you have apparently overlooked one of our crew members on your duty roster.”

“Apparently I have, Captain.”

“Commander, would you be so kind as to add the Ensign to the roster and assign her a rack that doesn’t smell of diesel oil?”

“Aye, cap, anything else?”

“Have Miss Moritsu report to Chief Peterson to help in the galley.”

“Aye, cap. Let’s go, Tish.” Jack motioned for her to follow.

“Tish?” I asked quickly.

“Ma’am?”

“Tish, I’d like you to report to my quarters after your watch. I have to brief you on this mission.

“Aye, captain, and thank you, ma’am.” She said before disappearing back the passageway with Jack.

‘This isn’t going to be a continuing thing, is it, Alex?’ I heard Jack ask in my mind.

‘Continuing thing, Jack?’ I thought back.

‘Allowing a crewman to forego punishment for disobeying orders. The commanding officer must not show favoritism to certain members of the crew, Alex.’

‘Noted, but seeing as they all had something to do with her getting onboard, Jack, including you, should I punish everyone?’

‘Point noted, captain.’

I smiled in triumph as I walked across the passage into my quarters. I never would find out exactly whose idea it was, but I knew…had a feeling…that everyone had a hand in it somehow.

With the mission brief still in my hand, I sat down on my rack and began to scan the same page I had before Tish arrived. Finding the line where I left off, I began reading again.
 
 

“Excuse me, Captain, but could I talk to you?”

“My door is always open Rommie, make yourself comfortable.” I smiled as I reluctantly returned the pages to their folder and placed them on my quarter’s small desk.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“Can I speak with the Empress please, ma’am?”

“Rommie, you talk to one, you talk to all…now what’s the matter?”

“I…” She began, her voice dropping off quickly.

I waited patiently as I knew what was coming.

“I…I’m not sure who I am…um…anymore.”

I waited for her to continue.

“I mean…I know who I am…but now…but now I’m not sure what I’m…what I’m becoming.”

“You’re in the chorus, hun, not one of us could say otherwise.”

“Really, Empress? I always thought you knew exactly what you were becoming.”

“Hardly!” I snorted. “I still can’t say for certain when I’ll stop learning new things about myself, hun.”

“Wow, I would have thought…”

“And you’d be wrong, honey. I learn something new about myself every day, whether I realize it or not.

“I don’t get it, captain.”

“How long have you been having conversations with whales and porpoises?” I asked with a devious smile to change the subject.

“”What? I can’t talk to…”

“Rommie, look at whom y’all are talkin’ to.” I said as I pointed to myself. “I’ve already seen this conversation, so I know what’s going to be said and when, hun, and me spelling it out for y’all wasn’t part or parcel.”

She looked to the deck in defeat.

“I think about a week ago. I was standing on the beach, not far from the pier, when I heard someone calling to me.” She paused quickly and looked at me. “You think I’ve gone crazy, don’t you?”

“Do you really have to ask that question, sweetheart? If I said yes, that would mean we’re all nuts and should be locked up in separate rubber rooms! I don’t think you’re crazy, Rommie- none of us do.”

Ens. Marsh contemplated that for a moment.

“The voice wanted me to come and play, Empress. I didn’t know what to do so I turned and ran for my bed. The other day on the dock…I…I heard the voice again…only it sounded a little different- like a different person maybe? I’m not sure, really. It wanted me to just jump into the water and swim out so we could play. The voice sounded so playful…so…I wasn’t sure what to do until my head went under. I…” Rommie paused and stared at me.

Her eyes opened wide.

“Empress…I…I can breathe underwater! I’m not quite sure how it’s possible, but…I…can…breathe! …Underwater!” She paused a moment and looked to the deck. “The voices…they’re much louder down there…um…under the waves. I had a hard time not following them to see where they would take me, ma’am. I…I feel like I’m losing myself to my gift- that I’m not human anymore!”

I noticed a single tear form and roll down her left cheek.

“I once thought that, hun, and it took me a while to realize it, but…but I’m comfortable with being the Empress now. I’m not saying I’ve completely accepted it…just that I’m comfortable being ‘her’. You have to give your gift a chance to mature, Rommie. Don’t let it control you; you take control of it. You decide whether or not you follow those voices. You decide where and when to go in this vast ocean. You decide, Romney Marsh. You control your future.”

“But the voices, ma’am! What about the voices?”

“Did it ever occur to you what those voices are?” I paused. “What do we see just ahead of the bow every time we leave Atlantis-Minor?”

“Dolphins?” She asked.

“Dolphins. And what do you think they’re doing out there?”

She didn’t answer right away, instead she thought about the question for a while before answering.

I waited patiently.

“Playing? Maybe they like playing with Sand Dollar?”

“Why don’t you ask them the next time you’re riding our bow, Sweetheart?”

“But I don’t know how to speak dolphin.”

“You know how to speak whale.” I stated flatly.

“I guess I do…huh, I…I didn’t realize that my gift would allow me to do that.”

“You’ll be surprised by all the conversations going on down there. That I can absolutely guarantee! Even the sharks will politely ask what you are and what food you like.” I giggled as I recalled my future twin’s memory of a conversation Rommie and I would have about thirty years from now.

“Sharks, Empress? I completely forgot about the sharks!” She said as her voice began to tremble.

“Sharks, hun, but if you don’t bite them they won’t bite you, so relax.” I said with a smile.

She didn’t look amused.

“Rommie, I’d like you to develop your gift further, so I’m going to request that Miss Cummins reassign your duty station. I’d like you to be our scout. Swim ahead of Sand Dollar and do reconnaissance. Communicate back to her with anything you find out of the ordinary.

“But I still can’t swim very well, ma’am, and I sure can’t swim faster than Sand Dollar!”

“You’d be amazed at what you can do, hun. Could you just try? For me?” I smiled. “If not for me, could you try for you?”

“If you have seen that I can do this, Empress…”

“Eeeeeh! Wrong answer, sweetheart!” I giggled. “You have to know that you can do this.” I touched her forehead gently. “Up here. And definitely here.” I added as I touched her chest over her heart.

“I’ll try, Empress.”

“That’s all it takes, hun, but one more thing…” I paused and smiled at her. “Stop calling me ‘Empress’. My name is Alexandra or Alex- Captain while we’re on duty, is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Now go get some rest, Ensign. I’ll be on deck to see you off tonight.”

“Tonight? Can’t I switch to daylight- maybe go on patrol now?”

I smiled deviously in spite of myself.

Ens. Marsh pointed a finger at me. “Hey. You knew I’d ask that! Why do you play these games, Captain Steinert?”

“They aren’t games, Ensign. I want you to think for yourself and not rely on me for security. I’ll see you topside in fifteen minutes.”

“Con, Captain. Take us to the surface, Carroll. Our reconnaissance patrol is going to deploy.” I said into the squawk.

“Reconnaissance patrol, cap?”

“Yes, Miss Sheldon, now take us topside.”

“Aye, all hands, prepare to surface!”
 

“Cap, I didn’t know we had that capability.” Carroll asked as I entered the Con a minute later.

“Are we there yet?” I asked in annoyance.

“Tower is just breaking the surface, Alex.” She informed me as I reached for the ladder.

“You’re with me on the bridge, Jack. Let Ensign Marsh know that we’re ready for her.”

“Aye, cap, she’s on her way.”

Bright sunlight awaited me as I cracked the hatch open. The lookouts, Sasha Trent and Amy Reynolds joined me and took their positions. Rommie appeared on the ladder and slowly made her way to the bridge. I saw the fear in her eyes as she quickly reached for the plating next to me.

She released a heavy sigh as she stared at me.

“Haven’t been on the bridge before, have you?”

“No ma’am, I’m not too fond of heights.”

Was there something this girl wasn’t afraid of, I thought to myself?

“Ready for a swim, hun?” I asked instead.

“As I’ll ever be, Captain Steinert.” She said nervously.

“Okay then, let’s go down to the foredeck.”

“Okay.”

Jack, Mina, and Emily joined us by the deck gun.

“Are you sure about this, Alex?” Emily asked sounding very concerned.

I nodded.

“Rommie, you want to have a seat?” I said motioning to the port side.

She sat down and let her legs hang over. As she did her work blues turned into a blue one-piece swimsuit.

“Whenever you think you’re ready, sweetheart.” I coaxed.

Arching her back, we saw the first vividly colored scales appear at her waist- her swimsuit separated in two and turned a light pink; her bottoms became a matching silky, four-inch, lacy skirt around her waist. A silky dorsal fin quickly grew from her lower back followed by delicate looking pectoral fins from each hip. Within a few seconds we stood looking at an honest to goodness mermaid. Fluke to forehead, she was a good seven feet long now!

“Captain Steinert, are you sure I’m ready?” Rommie asked as she turned her head toward us. I noticed her eyes were now larger and resembled cat eyes.

I nodded. “If you think you’re ready, hun, I can’t tell you how you feel, but just mind the screws aft.”

She began staring down at herself. From our vantage point we saw her delicate tail fluke flip from one side to the other several times as she experimented.

With a splash she was over the side and gone from our view.

Emily grabbed my hand and squeezed.

“She’ll be fine, sis.” I told her before turning us around to starboard.

Thirty yards off, what looked like a dolphin began jumping out of the water keeping perfect pace with us.

“That’s her!” Emily shouted excitedly. “She’s really doing it!”

Rommie disappeared beneath the waves again.

“Where’d she go, Alex?” Emily asked in concern.

Suddenly something broke the surface not ten feet off our starboard bow! Rommie screamed with excitement as she flew up and over the fore deck with ten or so feet of clearance to spare before disappearing into the water on our port side!

“My word, that girl has spunk!” Mina commented.

“Cap, Rommie says she’ll take point now.” Jack informed me as we watched her begin jumping the waves ahead of us. She quickly pulled away and within five minutes was almost out of sight.

“And she thought she wouldn’t be able to keep up.” I laughed. “All stations prepare to dive.” I ordered as we made our way back up to the bridge. “Tell Rommie we’ll meet up with her at the Freemont, but I want her to stay out of sight.”

“Done, Cap.” Jack acknowledged.

“Will she be okay, Alex?” Emily asked as she began to lower herself down the ladder to the Con.

“She’s better than okay, sis.” I giggled. “Ens, Marsh has finally found her niche in our sisterhood.”



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