Sand Dollars’ next mission becomes personal for Alex- the result requiring the Empress to reveal herself. Some members of Alex’ crew finally realize their gifts and one in particular proves her metal on a special mission.
1142hr, 200 Nautical Miles SSE of Midway Islands, July 4th, 1944
“Alex, Rommie’s found the Freemont and she says we’re about thirty minutes out through clear water.” Jack said as she knocked lightly on my doorframe.
“Okay, Jack, when we get close, take us to periscope depth. I want to look around before we surface- just to be sure.”
“My orders, Commander.”
“Aye, cap.” Jack acknowledged. She came in and sat on my rack.
“What’s up, Alex? Why have you been so…so distant since you got back from Terra?”
“Terra Nuevo, Jack. I left from New Citadel, Terra Nuevo.”
“Oh…you traveled that far ahead?”
I looked over to my Ex-O, sister, and friend.
“How do you know how far ahead I had to travel, Jack?” I growled.
“I really don’t know, um…captain…um, but if I’d have to guess…”
“Jack, I don’t even know how far ahead we go to get to Terra- if we do at all.”
“Sorry, Empress.” Jack lowered her head in shame. “I…I didn’t mean to question you…I…I just felt like we…I…I feel things shift…when we…”
Then maybe you should be the Empress instead, Jack, since you can ‘FEEL’ when we travel through time?” I snapped and quickly got up and stormed past her out into the passage.
“Alex?” Carroll asked in confusion as I hurried through the Con and its aft hatch.
“Captain Steinert, might I have a word if you…” Mina tried to confront me as I continued on through the galley into the main crew quarters.
“I’d like to be left alone right now, Highness, thank you.”
“Come on girls, let’s get number four back together before the Captain wants us topside!” Chief Samuels barked as I approached engine room one’s aft hatch.
All work stopped abruptly on diesel number four as soon as I entered the second engine compartment.
“Why’d ya stop for? Get yer pretty little ass’s back to work!” Ricky Lynn shouted, verbally cracking the whip. When her repair crew still didn’t move, she tried stronger words.
“Well the damned thing’s not gonna reassemble itself, you candy-asses! The Skipper’s gonna want full power when we surface and I for one don’t wanna hear her say ‘y’all done disappointed me, chief!’”
It was a fair imitation given her higher pitched voice and Brooklyn accent.
Ricky Lynn’s four mates’ eyes’ grew larger.
“Aw shit, she’s right behind me, aint she?” She swore as she slowly turned around.
Samuels gulped loudly.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you come in, Skipper.” My chief engineer said nervously.
“A fair impression, Chief, but right now I’m not amused. Carry on.” I said as I squeezed past them on the catwalk and headed out the aft hatch into the maneuvering compartment.
“Skipper? Is there something I can do for you?” Sasha Trent asked as I almost bumped into her.
“I just decided to go for a walk.” I replied crisply.
“Oh, let me move out of your way then, Skipper. I could have sworn you were hell-bent on escaping something.”
I stopped and looked at the woman.
Escape? Was I trying to escape something?
“Ma’am, I’d leave the compartment to you if I wasn’t on duty. Is there something I can help you with?”
Was there? I had to think about why I had come all the way back here in the first place. Had I really wanted to escape something…or someone?
Jack. She was asking questions…assuming things in an attempt to gain information on… I had to relax and stop worrying about what would happen this afternoon.
‘Why, what’s going to happen today, Alex?’ Jack asked in my head.
“I’d rather not discuss it at this time!”
“Skipper?” Sasha asked looking confused at first. “Oh, you’re talking with Miss Cummins…sorry; I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, ma’am.”
“What?” I asked, returning my attention to the woman before me.
“Alex, what’s on your mind…not that I would ever understand it anyway?”
I felt so embarrassed. “Sorry Sasha, as you assessed, my mind is focusing on upcoming events. I’ll just go back to my quarters until I’m due in the Con.” I apologized as I turned toward the hatch I’d just come through.
“Alex?” She asked just before she wrapped her arms around me and hugged tightly. “Things will work out in a positive way, you’ll see.”
Though it felt really good, I had no idea how to react!
Sasha relaxed her hold and took a step back from me.
“I’m sorry, Captain, I slipped into pixie mode for a second, but things will work out. You always find a way to make things work.”
“Thanks for trying, hun.” I laughed. “And so you know…I know Mina gave you a heads up earlier.”
“She told me you’d say that too, skipper.” She laughed back.
I don’t know why, but I leaned over to her and placed a kiss on her forehead.
“Thank you.” I said before turning and heading forward.
“We’ll be ready when we hit the surface, skipper.” Chief Samuels assured me as I squeezed past her and continued my way forward.
“Keep up the good work, lieutenant.” I replied pleasantly.
“Mina?” I called as I cleared the hatch into the main crew quarters.
“Yes, captain, what do you require?”
“I’m sorry…” I said, but couldn’t finish.
“Alexandra, please settle down. What is to happen was destined to happen and cannot be swayed either way. You, of all people know this to be true. Fretting about it has absolutely no purpose.”
“I realize that now, Highness. Sometimes this backwoods farm girl loses focus.” I said lowering my gaze to the deck.
“Alexandra, you are about to develop another portion of your identity- who you are- or will become. Future memories can only provide so much satisfaction.” Mina tutored.
“So in order to fully understand, I actually have to experience the memory- first hand, I mean?” I asked hoping I was getting the right meaning.
“Just as the rest of us, Empress, but thanks to your arrival that isn’t always the case now.”
For some reason I took her hand in mine. “Mina, I’ve always been here. You make it sound like I just arrived- that I replaced the original Captain Steinert.”
“In a way, you have indeed replaced the original Alexandra Steinert, Empress. Are you not five years older and several universes wiser than you were just days ago?” She said, looking down at our clasped hands with a devious smile.
“Do you want Jack to find out?” I gasped in shock of her question.
“Are we not out of phase with this reality, Empress?” She shot back as she swung her free hand through the bulkhead.
When had I done that? I stared at our hands in amazement.
“I wouldn’t have mentioned any of this had we still been attached to this realm, Alexandra. Surely you realize that?”
“I’m sorry, Mina, I…I didn’t realize I had done it. And before you start acting all high ’n mighty yes, I’m five years older than I was just four days ago…and yes…yes I’ve been to another universe- not…" I paused, "not that I had any control over that.” I admitted.
“Then I trust mother, daughter, and father are reunited…and that you have once more ‘broken the rules’?”
“Y’all know me pretty well, Highness.” I replied, shaking my head side to side.
“Why wouldn’t I, child! Remember that we are related, and as close relations, we behave in similar ways.”
“What?” I asked in astonishment.
“Come now, you have never looked forward when in the past to learn of my manipulative dealings? How I maneuvered the Sand Dollar’s destiny to save millions of lives…those alive or yet waiting for life?”
“I know about you seeding Admiral Demmit. I was there, remember?”
“I was breaking the rules, my precious Empress. Apparently we both love and cannot resist paradoxes, Alexandra!” Mina’s smile became bright and excited.
“We closed that paradox though, Mina.”
“Did we, Empress? Or…or did we open a few more in the process?” She asked as she winked.
“You told yourself indirectly that you had a hand in your emergence, did you not?”
“Admiral Covington alluded to something like that, but…”
“But the memories are not there to corroborate? Why do you think that is, Alexandra?”
“Because I withheld those memories from me.”
“You now know how to do that, Empress. Sir Tibius made sure you were skilled in memory management before leaving Terra Nuevo.”
I stared at my sister for a moment or two. “Why is it that you always claimed you couldn’t see past 2015 when clearly you see much farther?” I asked.
“What sort of mentor would I be if I gave you all the answers, Alexandra?” Mina laughed. “You did the same with Alexandra Reilly and look how she figured it out.”
“But she is me, Mina. Of course she would figure things out.”
“Yes, you two are the same, Empress, but you two are also very different too. Each learns at a different pace…driven by the difficulties each endures.”
“I knew that, Mina.”
“Did you also know that, if not for your granddaughter, you would not be as graceful or accepting of your femininity?”
“I’m not getting that one, Mina.”
“Was your granddaughter not born of your daughter’s relationship with Nathan?”
“Well, ya, your point?”
“Alexandra was born into this universe as she is. You have had interaction with her through Alexandra Covington’s shared memories.”
“Okay, I got that part, Mina, but what does this have to do with my acceptance of who I am?”
“You met your future twin shortly after your Mahanilui. You received her memories when you touched at the time? Didn’t you wonder why you felt so comfortable in a bikini? The dresses? That scandalous Arian prostitute outfit?”
“Hey, I only designed that for the mission to Poland, Highness!”
“Yet you wore it on several other occasions both here and on Terra…and Terra Nuevo?”
She had me there.
“Ya…so?” I asked, though I knew she had a valid point.
She stared at me.
“Okay. I got it…I think.” I admitted. “So…even though I didn’t grow up a girl, I got the experiences and lessons from my granddaughter, Alexandra…through my future twin?”
“Today’s lesson has concluded, Alexandra. Now if you would be so kind as to store our conversations and lesson in the place that Jacquelyn cannot access and return us to the present reality, I will return to my station?”
I nodded having filed everything said in the last minutes to that secure place Tibius had instructed me to find and develop.
Releasing Mina’s hand she smiled and gave me a wink before heading forward ahead of me.
So I really am my own paradox, I thought to myself?
“There you are, Alex!” Jack cried in relief. “I thought we had lost you for a few minutes.”
“Mina and I just needed a minute or two in private, Jack. We were never in any danger.” I consoled her.
“I’m always afraid that you’re going to phase out or miss the boat somehow and drown, Alex.”
“Unless something drastically changes, that will never happen, Jack.” I assured her.
“I’m glad to hear that, cap; I’d hate to break in a new commander.” She smiled devilishly.
“Alex, we’re about fifteen minutes out; request permission to take us to periscope depth.” Carroll asked as I glared at my first officer.
“Aye! Dive Control, take us to three-five-feet.” She ordered, nodding back.
“So why don’t you trust Rommie, Alex? I haven’t sensed any deception or malice from her.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust her, Jack. I fear what I might surface to, should we just assume everything is fine.” I replied cryptically.
“Let’s just say that at least one scenario has Rommie getting caught and neutralized before she can get word out. Can you imagine what would happen to a real-life mermaid if netted by land-sick sailors?” I asked in despair.
“I’m scanning the area around the Freemont, Alex. I’m picking up no unusual activity or thoughts from the ship’s crew.”
“Can you sense Rommie, Jack?”
“No, not yet.”
“Periscope depth, Alex.” Carroll informed me.
“Up periscope, Jack.”
“Coming up, Cap.”
“Now, if my vision holds true she should be…” A huge, bright smiling face filled the viewfinder making me jump- even though I knew she should be there!
“I love my crew.” I said to myself as I turned the scope left and right quickly.
“What is it, Cap?” Jack asked.
I let her have a look.
“I’m going to have a word with her once she’s back onboard! I told her to keep in contact with me the whole time.” Jack growled as she returned custody of the scope back to me.
“Carroll, ‘all stop’ and surface the boat to retrieve our reconnaissance team.” I ordered.
“Team, Captain?” She asked in confusion.
“Rommie brought along some friends.” I told her as I reached for the squawk.
“Ensign Two Eagles and Lt. Williams to the Con.”
“What’s going on, Skipper?” Scotti asked as she and Josie appeared through the forward hatch thirty seconds later.
“I need Josie’s translating skills topside.”
“I thought this was an American freighter, Captain?” Ensign Two Eagles asked.
“You’ll see when we get down onto the foredeck.”
“Decks should be dry, Alex.” Carroll informed me.
“Thanks, Carroll. All stop. Ladies, shall we?” I said motioning to the ladder.
Rommie had assumed her new station as of late- that of playing ‘figurehead’ on Sand Dollar’s bow. Her free hand intermittently would rise above her head and a pod of dolphins would leap into the air just ahead of us on cue. It was truly a spectacular sight to behold.
“I see you made some new friends, Ensign.” I said as Josie, Scotti, Jack and I slowly walked up behind her.
“They befriended me, Captain.” She giggled. Her cat-like eyes sparkled as she turned to look at us. She then raised her hand gracefully over her head again- this time holding her palm parallel with the sea.
A pod of eight dolphins surfaced twenty yards off our port bow and began chattering enthusiastically.
Josie suddenly began to make similar clicks and whistles right back! Scotti and Jack turned to look at our sister with confused stares.
“So what are they saying, Josie?” I asked with a giggle in my voice.
“Huh, what?” She blinked as if coming out of some kind of trance.
“The dolphins.” I pointed over my shoulder. I also looked to see Rommie’s reaction. As expected it was priceless! “What are they saying, hun? You were just talking to them, weren’t you?”
Jack and Scotti now were looking at me as if I had a third eye. Well…maybe…considering that some people considered foresight a ‘second sight’ and represent it with a ‘third eye’.
“I was?” Josie broke my present train of thought.
“Clicks and whistles?” I smiled. “Y’all don’t talk to us that way, hun.”
Rommie’s new friends continued to chatter, click, and whistle animatedly and Josie stared at them with concentration evident on her face.
“They want us to play, Alex.” Josie suddenly said. “They want Sand Dollar to swim with them- to race them, I think.”
“That’s exactly what they want, Josie!” Rommie exclaimed, beaming at her from our bow.
“Her gift, Alex?” Jack asked as Scotti looked between Rommie and Josie in amazement.
I nodded. “Josie’s got a new tat.” I said with a bright smile.
“Tattoo, Jack. Josie just got a new symbol.”
“That just about makes all of us now, right?” she asked.
“There are still going to be some surprises, Jack, but most of the crew has now realized their gifts, yes.” I continued to smile.
“Rommie, we have work to do so tell your friends that you have to go home now, hun.” I turned to our resident mermaid.
“Do I have to, Captain?” She moaned.
“Yes, Ensign, unfortunately. We can’t have the tired sailors’ eyes playing tricks on them, now can we?” I answered as I looked down along her sinuous, semi curved body. I happened to notice a gill or two peek out from behind her shoulder-blade length hair. That said, it was almost dry already and billowed teasingly in the open ocean breeze. Something else caught my eye after I mentioned ‘tattoos’. Rommie’s two tattoos were clearly displayed in her brilliantly colored scales just aft of her dorsal fin. They looked hand-painted on the lusterous, but delicate-looking individual scales.
“Aye, ma’am.” She replied sadly before making a series of clicks and a whistle or two. She waved goodbye to the pod and they disappeared under the waves only to jump into the air in formation another forty-yards farther off.
Rommie’s tail fluke began to shrink and change. Within a few seconds I extended my hand to help her up. She stumbled a few steps before getting her sea legs- or should I say ‘land legs’?
“Wow, I didn’t think I spent that much time in the water!” She said in surprise.
“You were out here for about six hours, hun, not bad for just receiving your gift a few days ago.” I told her with a smile. “You should go below and get some rest before we need to carry you there.” I suggested.
“Aye, ma’am, I am starting to feel a little tired.”
“Ensign?” I asked as she started for the bridge. “Good job, hun.”
“Captain?” Josie asked turning to me. “You knew I could talk to dolphins?”
“Of course. You can also converse with snakes, sharks, horses, sheep, cattle…” I paused as a devious grin came to my lips. “Lions, tigers, and bears…”
“Oh my!” she exclaimed.
I couldn’t help but break out laughing as she unintentionally completed the movie’s line.
1212hr, 183 Nautical Miles SSE of Midway Islands, July 4th, 1944
“So are you really the skipper of the Sand Dollar, Capt. Steinert?” Capt. Reese of the Freemont asked as we began the damage tour of his freighter.
“We’re part of a pilot program…and that’s about all I’m at liberty to divulge, Capt. Reese.” I said politely.
“Well, if they sent anyone, I’m glad they sent the best lookin boat crew in the fleet.”
“You’re too kind, Captain.”
“Jim. It’s Jim, Captain...um…Steinert?”
He stumbled as he said my rank and surname hoping I would fill in the first name I had intentionally left blank.
“Alexandra. Commander Alexandra Steinert.”
“Commander?” He whistled. “That must really be some program, sweetheart!”
“You have no idea, hun.” I purred. “So, I trust you can have your aft deck crane swung over the stern by the time my repair crew is ready to salvage the screw?” I asked changing the subject.
“It’ll be there when you need it, sweetheart.”
“I hope so. My crew is very efficient and all take their jobs very seriously, Captain Jim. I’d give the order now if I were you.” I smiled confidently, ignoring his sexist slight again.
“Capt. Steinert? Lt. Samuels estimates the screw should be ready to hoist in a little over fifteen minutes, ma’am.” Jack informed me as she appeared and saluted.
“Thank you, Lt. Commander that will be all.” I replied, returning the salute.
“Aye, ma’am.” She responded officially while quickly glancing over at Freemont’s captain twice. I winked at her and smiled.
“I told you my crew is very efficient, captain.” I said as I turned and observed his expression.
“How…” He stared at me then Jack as she walked back down the deck. “How…how can they almost have it off? My men have spent over two days with no success so far?”
“Maybe my Lieutenant knows her way around a freighter’s propulsion system a little better?” I giggled.
A man appeared out of the superstructure behind Capt. Reese as he shook his head in astonishment. I recognized him immediately.
“Skipper, yer not gonna believe this, sir, but them Sheila’s almost got the port screw ready fer hoistin’…” Andrew O’Neil stopped dead in his tracks as he noticed me. “It’s you!”
“You know her, Mr. O’Neil?”
“Sure do, Skipper. She’s the one that rescued me and a few o’ the boys a while back. Pleasure to see you again, Captain.” He said as he offered his hand.
His gentle handshake was strong, warm, and welcoming.
“Nice to see you up and around, Mr. O’Neil.” I greeted him with my brightest smile.
Why did I do that?
The three of us remained silent for a moment.
“Mr. O’Neil, would you care to continue Capt. Steinert’s tour of the ship? I forgot I had reports that I need to update.”
“It’d be a pleasure, Skipper.”
“I’ll have my Ex-O check in when they’re ready to lift, Captain. Too bad you had all those reports to go over.” I smiled and shook Reese’s hand.
Capt. Reese quickly disappeared through an open bulkhead door.
“Please lead on, Mr. O’Neil.” I motioned in the direction Reese and I had been heading.
“I never got to properly thank you, captain.” O’Neil said as we started walking.
“For what?” I asked.
“Well, for saving me an’ me mates that day. We thought we was gonna die on that rock…never expected a submersible full of pretty girls to just pop up an find us on the spot.”
“Miracles do happen, Mr. O’Neil.” I said as I looked at the handsome sailor with the slight Irish-Australian accent.
“Or…was it a coincidence at all?” I added raising an eyebrow as a devious grin appeared on my face. I felt a flutter in my gut- almost a tickle.
“Either you’re a big tease or I’ve stumbled onto something I’ll never begin to understand, Captain.” He replied after stopping and staring at my face for a moment.
“Guilty on both counts, Mr. O’Neil.” I said, my devious grin becoming an evil smile.
“You can be right scary when you wanna be, Capt. Steinert.” He stated nervously.
If he only knew!
We remained silent as he led me through a watertight door into the mid-ship hold. It was filled with crate after crate of ordinance and other war supplies for our troops.
“This is one of Freemont’s holds- mid-ship to be exact. I get extremely nervous every time I come down here. Thank the saints the slant eyes aim was bad.” His voice got strangely hushed.
“We better keep moving, ma’am.” He said suddenly. I noticed his eyes shifting sporadically between the stacks and stacks of crates around us…and me.
I suddenly felt sorry for this man. In a moment he would hesitantly share his relatively new fear of ship holds, and how that fear materialized in another ship’s hold just months before.
“I was just closing the forward hold’s hatch when we got torpedoed.” He confided just above a whisper with no hint of a topic change. “The bulkhead breached and threw me down the passage. It’s a good thing the water brought me to. I barely made it out on one leg. I know it sounds cowardly, but I don’t feel so confident down here anymore.”
“Andrew, it’s not cowardly to fear something that almost killed you.” I told him as I placed my hand on his sweat-moistened bicep. “I can honestly say that I have had quite a few terrifying incidents since becoming captain of the Sand Dollar.” I said tentatively.
His hand came up and settled on mine and gently patted it a few times.
“Like when we first met, Alexandra?” He said as he slowly turned around and paused. “Why wouldn’t you announce to the world that you were the first woman captain of a navy submersible? That is an unheard of achievement! You do realize that there has never been a woman sea captain since the 1700’s…” He paused as if checking his facts. “Or so says legend.”
I snorted in disgust. She was no better than her fellow male privateers of that era, maybe worse even, I thought to myself!
Andrew O’Neil was now staring directly down into my eyes. Both of his hands were somehow on my waist.
“What was that about, Alexandra? I take it you have heard the stories and disapprove of them?”
I didn’t reply, instead I continued to gaze into his brown eyes…wonderful…brown…eyes.
“You could say that.” I finally replied, nervously. As much as I tried, I couldn’t avert my eyes from his.
Why did I say that and what power did this man have over me?
“By your reaction,” he scanned me from head to toe, “you act almost like you knew her.”
What was it about his eyes?
“You are such a mysterious woman, Alexandra Steinert. I like mysterious.”
His lips were on mine before I could even react. They were warm, soft, and …
“I’d like to show you my appreciation for any and all assistance you offered, Alexandra.” He told me as our lips parted. Our bodies were suddenly pressed against each other. My stomach was twisting and turning cartwheels! My heart was pumping faster than a late DC to New York train! The heat emanating from both of us at this moment was more intense than I had ever expected.
It was happening.
Despite dreading this moment, it…it was going to happen. I wanted it to happen- God, did I want this to happen!
Andrew’s hands started their northerly migration after a short stop at the back of my britches. I found I was starting to breathe faster, heavier the longer his hands stayed in contact with me. Everything about his touch felt amazing!
He kissed me again…and again…and again. I began sharing that duty with him having never felt anything like this before. I had never felt so…so…alive before!
It was even better than I remembered!
“That was the most intoxicating thing I’ve ever experienced, Darlin’! It was like…” Andrew paused as he handed me my blouse. “It was like…like our surroundings kept changing! You were simply amazing!”
I felt myself blush intensely, yet I said nothing as I fastened my brassiere.
“At one point I could have sworn we were in some kind of hospital!” He paused again to watch for any reaction on my part.
I didn’t make eye contact.
“That’s crazy though, huh?”
He was putting his right shoe on now, but stopped as soon as he put his foot in. A look of confusion appeared on his face as he pulled it back off and dumped a small amount of sand out.
I forced myself not to look up at his face.
“Are you saying you had a good time?” I asked coyly.
“You were out of this world, Alex…quite heavenly!”
I gulped. How many places did we actually go in our passion? How long had we been at…‘it’?
“O’Neil to the bridge!” Capt. Reese’s voice boomed over the ship-wide Public Address.
Andrew picked up his watch from the floor and noted the time.
“Holy God, I’m an hour late for my watch!” He said in alarm as he ran out of the cabin still buttoning his shirt.
He didn’t even say goodbye.
Why did I think that? I made a fellow sailor late for his watch and all I thought about was him not saying goodbye?
I started to recall what had just happened- where I had taken him.
I recalled that we spent some time in my bed at Reilly Research Station…when I didn’t exactly know. That might have been the hospital Andrew had mentioned.
He dumped sand from his shoes. That could only mean that we spent some time on one of Kili’s beaches. Looking closer at the small pile of green sand, we had obviously gone to some other beach, but where on this planet would you find green sand?
His statement about being out of this world… Could it possibly be a metaphor and not my domain, Terra, or Terra Nuevo? I prayed that was the case! There again he did say ‘heavenly’ too!
Hopefully I didn’t reveal too much about my actual identity and cause a divergence in the time line!
My mind went into high gear examining the possibilities.
2012hrs, 183 Nautical Miles SSE of Midway Islands, July 4th, 1940
“Capt. Steinert, the salvage crew has finished and returned to the boat.” Jack reported as my attention began to focus on her and my surroundings.
“Captain? Captain Steinert?” Jack continued, awaiting an answer.
I was suddenly unsure again of what had just happened. Had I just…? With a man? I looked down at my body, it still felt wonderfully sated- it still vibrated with energy!
“Alex…” Jack tried to establish contact again. “Alex, it’s getting late, the sun is almost on the horizon.” She informed me gently.
“The screw…is it finished?” I asked, my voice sounded strangely serene- like I was talking from some puffy, white cloud somewhere.
Jack broke into a wide smile and tried to keep from laughing. “You could say that, cap.”
What was so funny?
“Alex, we really should get underway. I’m sure Capt. Reese would like to get his cargo to port.
“Where’s Andrew?” I asked suddenly looking around the cabin.
“Mr. O’Neil had to report for duty, Alex, although he seems to have been on station well before that…metaphorically, that is.” Jack said and continued to giggle as she offered her hand to help me off the rack I found myself on. “He was an hour late for his watch, captain. That was an hour ago.”
My thighs felt sore and my lower abdomen felt…uncomfortable. It finally hit me that Jack said it was almost dark.
“Jack? What time is it?” I asked as I started to really pay attention to my surroundings.
She looked around, partially stepped out into the passageway, and looked in both directions before stepping back into the cabin. “Empress, it is 2025hrs, July 4th, 1944.” She said quietly, but her smile never abated.
“Six hours?” I gasped.
“About two hours and ten minutes ago you finally reappeared, Alex.”
“I finally…re…reappeared?” I gasped again. It was true! It had all happened!
“Ya, I was really concerned when I couldn’t hear you anymore. When you hadn’t reappeared for four hours, I really started to worry, Alex.” Her expression turned serious. “You had me really scared, ma’am! I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“I phased out?” I asked in disbelief. “For four hours?”
“Four and a half, actually.” She corrected, and winced.
“So, how did it feel, Alex?” She asked as her smile appeared once more.
“You know. How’d it feel?”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking, Commander.”
“Oh, come on, Alex! How’d it feel…you and O’Neil? There was a good reason you had to phase out…wasn’t there?” She pressed.
I started thinking about the last six hours.
“It was that good, huh?”
“I didn’t say a thing, Jack. Don’t assume an answer when I haven’t given one yet.”
“But you did answer the question, Alex. That look on your face shouts volumes. Alexandra Steinert had a goooood time!” She giggled.
“Let’s get to the boat, Commander.” I growled as best I could, given the raw electricity still coursing through me at the moment. “I’ll tell Reese we’re going.”
“Already done, Empress. I would advise a discrete departure.” Jack continued to giggle.
I offered my hand, though I wondered if I had just done something stupid…gone too far…
…Gotten too carried away.
To my extreme relief, my cramped quarters on Sand Dollar appeared around us.
“Release moorings and chart a course for home, Miss Cummins.” I ordered as I released her hand.
“Aye, cap. Carroll already has our return computed.” She informed me before disappearing into the passageway.
“Many of our sisters have inquired as to the interaction and feelings experienced during your liaison with Mr. O’Neil earlier today, Alexandra.” Mina asked, breaking me from my daydreaming. “I informed them that to kiss and tell was not proper etiquette for young women and highly frowned upon.”
“So, how was it?” She giggled deviously in the next breath.
“You obviously don’t practice what you preach.” I responded flatly.
“Royal prerogative, Alexandra.”
“I thought as much, though I suspect you could lecture for hours on the subject, sister.”
“A wise and well thought response, Empress. Still, it is said, there IS no privacy amongst the aristocracy.”
I rolled my eyes. “Let’s just say…for a novice it went extremely well.”
“Yet another well-thought response.” Mina giggled.
“Memory has nothing on the actual experience.” I finally admitted as I blushed.
Mina’s expression suddenly changed.
“You know what happens now, Alexandra.” She said in a serious tone.
“And you know what needs to be done.”
“I must let the accusations, the conspiracies and subsequent in-depth investigations, AND the fictional books all happen. Yes Mina, I’ve outed the ‘Empress’ as the timeline requires. The legends will now begin in earnest.”
“It is the key to you, the paradox, Empress.”
“I thought you hated paradoxes, Mina?”
“Someone wise and knowledgeable once told me that the very definition of ‘woman’ was ‘paradox’.” She giggled.
“Verne?” I asked.
“You and Alex Reilly visited Greece, huh?”
“Several times, in fact. It was civilized and barbaric at the same time- an intriguing combination really.”
“Do I really need any more information than that, Highness?”
“Fill in what you will with your own experiences, Alexandra, but I’ll always have a Spartan!” She giggled.
“And I’ll always have the Freemont, Reilly Research Station, Andromeda Gaia, and my private domain.”
“My word, we WERE busy, weren’t we?”
“Mina, a lady never kisses and tells.”
We both laughed for a long time.
“Alex, what was going on up here? The crew is murmuring about you comparing notes.” Emily asked as she stuck her head into my quarters.
I blushed profusely.
“Why blush, sis, I already knew about it.”
Mina looked at me and winked.
“Don’t tell me that Jack…”
“No, no, no, no! Jack had nothing to do with using my gift, Alex! I was monitoring you like I always do when you join the away team. Did you think I wouldn’t recognize an increase in respiration, an increase in heart rate, and an increase in core temperature- especially in certain regions?” She smiled deviously at me.
I continued to blush.
“You are such a novice, Alexandra Steinert!”
She and Mina began giggling again.
“Okay, so we’re tied now, sis.” I grumbled.
Emily shook her head and broke out into a laugh.
“You said I was your first!” I protested.
She kept laughing!
I decided to think about Andrew a while longer.
“Welcome back to Reilly, Empress. It is 2303hrs. August 1st, 1997.”
“What?” I asked in surprise.
It is 2303hrs, August 1st, 1997, Empress. Is something wrong? Do you require assistance?”
I found myself alone in my quarters at Reilly.
“No. No, RVP I’m fine; I just wasn’t expecting to be here so soon.”
“I’m sorry, Empress, but that does not make sense…even for you. Are you sure you do not require medical attention?”
“I’m fine, hun. Maybe, better than fine.” I finished in a whisper.
“Sensors indicate that you have recently interacted with a male of the species, Empress. Should I alert Emily?”
“No, RVP, I’m just here to…um…um…take a shower.” I stuttered, my face burning with embarrassment. Even the A.I. knew what happened!
“A long soak in the therapeutic bath would be more beneficial in easing the numerous muscles, joints, and nerves associated with the detected activity, Empress.”
Who was I to argue with the A.I.’s logic.
“That would be great, hun!”
“Spa number two is online and ready for your indulgence, Empress.”
“Thanks, hun.” I said as I stood from the edge of my bed and exited.
0112hr, Reilly Research Station, August 2nd, 1997
“Director, it would benefit you to egress the spa before irreparable cellular damage is experienced by your epidermis.”
“Huh? What?” I asked as I came out of a wonderful dream in which Andrew O’Neil figured prominently.
“Y’all need to get outta the hot tub ‘fore y’all get prunified, sis!” My voice said with a definite laugh.
“Alex? When did you get here?” I asked my future twin in surprise.
“Long enough to remember that I threw hot tub etiquette out the window this once! RVP, after the Empress exits please drain, sterilize, and refill Spa number two.”
Alex walked over and retrieved a towel from the storage shelf.
“I think you’ll need this, hun.” She said and handed it to me when I stood up.
“Don’t worry, sis, I did the same thing.”
“No kidding?”I asked- my voice thick with sarcasm. I rolled my eyes as I wrapped the towel around me.
“It gets better.” She said with a wink.
“It was thousands of times better than what I already remembered, sis.” I said as I felt the smile return to my face.
“Actually being there IS the best, Alex.” She admitted.
“So I found out.”
“Sandy was better.”
Her face suddenly turned sad.
“You miss him.” I said as I offered my shoulder and wrapped my arms around her. The familiar tingle felt stronger this time.
“Been a while, sis?” I asked quietly.
She nodded her head slightly.
My future twin began to cry.
“It’ll be okay, Alex.”
“I…I know, but it hurts so bad!”
“I know.” I agreed softly.
I let her cry for a while before we parted.
“Empress, your covering has been recharged and awaits you in your domicile.” RVP interrupted.
“Thanks, hun. Alex and I will be heading there now.”
“Acknowledged. Do you require anything else before I initialize requested maintenance routines?”
“No hun that will be all, good night.”
“And a good morning, Empress.”
“So, are we ready to do this, Allie?” Alex asked a few minutes later as I finished dressing.
I selected my dress whites and keyed the change. Alex did the same and we looked identical with the exception of our rank.
“Yes, Rear Admiral Fleming, I’m as ready as I ever will be.” I said sadly. “It’s a shame we can’t…”
“You know what that could do to the time stream, Allie.”
I bowed my head sadly and took her hand.
Our quarters at Reilly became an unknown bedroom. An elderly man- maybe early nineties sat propped up in bed before us. The room looked like it hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in quite some time. Over all, it felt old, tired…dying.
“I’ll go first, Allie.” My twin said squarely.
I nodded once before she released my hand.
“How…how did you get in here? I gave orders that I not be disturbed!” The older man exclaimed in surprise.
“Hello, Andrew.” Alex greeted calmly.
“Do I know you, miss?”
“A long time ago, Andrew.”
“You shouldn’t be in here, I gave or…”
“Yes, Andrew, you gave orders not to be disturbed, you said that already.” She interrupted him.
“Who are you? How did you get past my caregiver?”
“I just popped in, hun.” Alex said as she reached down and touched his exposed arm. I walked the few steps over to take my twin’s free hand. It was easier than expected to synchronize our phasing.
“Evelyn! Evelyn, how did this woman get in here?” He began shouting.
“She can’t hear you, Andrew.” I said loud enough to counter his shouting.
“Two of you? Twins? Who are you? Why can’t she hear me?” He shouted, demanding answers.
“She can’t see or hear you, Andrew O’Neil, you see, we aren’t really here anymore.” I continued.
It never dawned on him to move his arm from under my twin’s touch.
That’s impossible! I’m still in my bed and you two are still in my room!”
“Are we?” I asked as I passed my free hand through the nightstand and lamp.
The old man’s eyes bulged!
“What are you?” He asked again, this time at a normal, but frightened volume.
“Our name is Alexandra, Mr. O’Neil. We met a very long time ago.” I told him.
“I have been the subject of many of your ‘investigations’ over the past several decades, Andrew.” Alex added in disgust.
“Why…why would I investigate you two? What are you really?”
“Why didn’t you say goodbye to me before you hurried out of that cabin, Andrew?” I asked as a hint, though I didn’t expect him to remember. I really wanted to know the reason, though.
“What cabin? Why would I say goodbye to somebody I don’t know?”
“Does ‘Freemont’ mean anything to you, Andrew?” Alex asked.
“Freemont?” He looked down for a moment. “Freemont. Freemont. Freemont!”
He looked back up at us as the name finally triggered the needed memories.
“I served on the Freemont for eight months back in ’44 and ‘45!” He exclaimed in triumph.
“Do you remember July 4th, 1944, Andrew? I know I saw skyrockets and other fireworks that day!” I said with a genuine smile.
“July 4th? I don’t think I…wasn’t that right around the time our port screw got torpedoed?”
“Yes, Andrew, and I helped you with another screw as the repair crew worked on Freemont’s.” Alex giggled.
O’Neil’s eyes bulged again.
“That’s impossible! You…you two couldn’t possibly be her! What do you want? I don’t have much time or money left so please leave me be!”
“We’re not here to rob you, Andrew.” Alex said as she giggled.
“We’re here to confirm your suspicions.” I added, also with a giggle.
“Suspicions? What suspicions?”
“Your suspicions as to what you experienced that day, of course. Don’t you remember?”
“I…I remember it was the best…the best damn shaggin’ of my life!” He chuckled before coughing a few times.
“Thank you!” Alex and I said in unison.
“That can’t be you! Either of you! You can’t possibly be the same person! The universe would cancel out and we would no longer exist!” He cried in fear.
“A popular misconception, Andrew. As a matter of fact, five of us have interacted successfully as you now see- maybe more, we still don’t know the exact limitation.” Alex informed him with a devious smile.
“No, this is impossible! I must be dreaming or delirious!”
“You’re as healthy as an eighty-four year old with advanced cancer can be, Andrew. We’re here to prove your theory correct, though.” Alex answered sadly.
“For me, Andrew, July 4th, 1944 only just happened several hours ago. For Alex, well, it happened…”
“Eighty-six years ago.” Alex replied, filling in the blank and thereby letting me know her base date.
“That’s impossible! You would have to travel…” His voice trailed off as he stared at us- his eyes doubling in size.
“Were you about to say travel through time, Andrew?” I giggled. “But everyone knows that’s impossible, right?”
The old man continued to stare at the two of us.
“I believe it was Einstein that first postulated the possibility of time travel, Andrew. I remember having a very long and in-depth discussion about that very topic with him back in 1950.”
“You couldn’t possibly have met or even talked to Einstein! He was dead well before you both were born!” O’Neil cried.
“For your information hun, I was born in 1916, never mind the exact date.” Alex said in an annoyed tone.
“You keep sayin’ that, hun, but we’re here, so…” I laughed as I let the statement hang.
“Can you stand, Andrew?” Alex asked.
“Of course I can stand! Her job is to keep me comfortable not locked up, but that wench outside keeps threatening me with the needle if I so much as want to get up and piss on my own!”
“Wow, that’s way more information than I needed.” Alex said as we both scrunched our noses.
“So why would I get out of bed for you? Are you here to trick me into more pain medication? If so, I should tell you now that my doctors have run out of options.”
“No, Andrew, we’re here to prove a theory…validate a conspiracy…” Alex began.
“Demonstrate the unbelievable…and,” I continued, but paused sadly, “To provide some proof as to my existence and allow you to pass from this dimension into the next with some peace of mind.”
“So you’re angels of death?”
I shook my head. “No, WE are Alexandra. WE are one in the same. We are not sisters, but the same person only from different times, Andrew.”
“I am also known in legend on many worlds as the ‘Empress of Time and Space’. Maybe you’ve heard of me?” Alex added.
The old man remained dead still for a long time- so long in fact; I thought he might have had a coronary!
“That is impossible! My investigations concluded that the Empress was strictly myth- stories told around the fire to the young!”
“Your investigations only revealed what I wanted them to reveal, Andrew.” Alex told him. “Think of the stir it would make if I were proven to exist- that it was possible for someone to travel time and space unabated by machinery.”
“You can do that?” He asked as his eyes got even bigger.
“And more, Mr. O’Neil.” I added as Alex and I laughed.
“Then show me! Don’t stand here teasing and giggling like schoolgirls!”
“For that to occur, you must stand and take hold of my hand, Andrew.” I said offering my free hand to help him up.
It took a while, but finally he stood between us.
“So where would you like to go, Mr. O’Neil?”
“Or when, it really doesn’t matter. What’ll it be, hun?” Alex said nonchalantly.
“If you really are Alexandra Steinert, show me the Freemont.”
“The Freemont was scrapped in 1947, Andrew, therefore it no longer exists.” She replied.
“Then this will demonstrate your ability to travel time as well!”
“I’ll take us there. I was just onboard a few hours ago, sis.” I volunteered.
Alex nodded and our surroundings changed from O’Neil’s dingy, depressing bedroom to a not so unoccupied ship’s cabin.
I suddenly felt embarrassed by my previous actions and position.
With a loud, moaning scream, the previous, much younger Andrew and ‘that’ me disappeared.
“This is impossible!”
“Y’all better stop sayin’ that, hun.” Alex warned. “Funny, I don’t remember making that much noise.” She added, looking toward me with a stupid grin.
“Where did they go? How could they just disappear?”
“The same way we just vanished from your bedroom, hun.”
“It’s just impossible!”
“Here’s something that’s impossible, Andrew O’Neil.” Alex growled as we changed locations again. Gone was the embarrassing cabin with its strewn clothing; it was replaced now by a barren, arid, mountain landscape of sand, deep holes in the ground, and death.
“Welcome to the Valley of the Kings, Sept 3rd, 1973.”
I recognized Tish, Scotti, Josie, Mina, Emily, Jack and I walking past us. I was wearing my favorite disguise: long, mousy, light brown hair, khaki cargo shorts, a sweat-stained, tan, cotton T-shirt, military jungle hat, and my ‘secretary’ glasses- in short, we all looked like archeology students.
“That’s me!” O’Neil cried in a weak voice as we saw another group of four- three men and one woman approach on an intersecting course. “This happened over twenty years ago!”
“Twenty-four to be exact, Andrew. Can you tell us what you hoped to accomplish?” Alex asked as we watched the two parties draw closer.
“We just wanted to participate in the opening and ask some questions about the tomb…um…KV70, I think it was, they recently discovered.”
“Are you sure that’s all you wanted answered?” Alex asked raising an eyebrow. “Listen and remember, Andrew.”
“Excuse me, girls, could we bother you to answer some questions?” The younger O’Neil asked, stopping the other group.
“That’s him!” I heard Emily whisper with a giggle.
The younger O’Neil glanced at her for a second, thinking she had recognized him from his investigations. “Are you here for the opening of KV70?” He asked without waiting for the group’s answer.
“That’s where we’re headin’, hun.” That me, Alex Fleming, answered.
“What do you expect to find?”
“Oh, just the usual: jewelry, gold, hieroglyphics, pottery, and maybe a mummy.” Alex Fleming answered again in a mocking tone.
“And do you think it will be an important tomb?”
“Hun, they’re all important. There are actual people buried in them- that has to be important to somebody.” Alex Fleming laughed.
“Yes…well, what I meant was do you expect to find anything significant that might change what we know about the ancients?”
“Look, every excavation we undertake reveals more about that era in history- more about the people that lived it.”
“I see. So, could I ask you ladies a couple more questions?”
“Hun, we’d like to get to the site before they break the seal.” Alex Fleming replied.
“We can walk and talk at the same time. Have any of you ever heard of the legend of the ‘Empress’?”
“Which Empress, hun, in our business they’re all too plentiful.”
“The legends of an Empress that can travel the universe- some say even time?”
My group of sisters started snickering. Even now it sounded humorous as I recalled my future memories of that day.
“You see we’re here to investigate a legend…some would call it myth…to see if there is evidence to corroborate the stories.” He continued.
“Why on Earth would you come all the way out here to find evidence of a myth- of some old wives tale?”
“So you have heard of the legend then?” Younger O’Neil seemed to perk up.
“Hun, my great grandma told me that story when I was just outta diapers. Why spend the cash on something so foolish? Wouldn’t it be better to investigate say, President Nixon instead? I hear that’s gonna be a great story.”
Again our sisters and Alex Fleming giggled knowing the truth about that one!
“What’s this about Nixon?”
“Don’t you listen to the news, hun? They’re thinking about impeachment. He supposedly kept recordings of his deals and scams in the oval office. Some of them…they got lost.” Alex Fleming shook her head and began to laugh.
“Is that so?” O’Neil’s eyes narrowed as he stared into her face.
“That’s what we heard this morning, hun.”
One of Andrew’s associates whispered something into his ear.
“No I hadn’t heard that, but my colleague backs up your information.”
“Hun, I wouldn’t lie to y’all. Why so skeptical?”
“According to the legend, the Empress can circumvent the normal passage of time to travel any place or era that suits her fancy. I am always careful to know my facts and current events…just in case.”
“In case she was to slip up and say something that has yet to happen?” Alex Fleming smiled deviously as our sisters continued giggling.
“If the legend holds true that could prove to be a real possibility, yes.” He said seriously.
Alex and I looked at our aging companion.
“So you believed it possible then, but impossible now, Andrew? What happened to change that belief?” She asked.
“We never found anything…only just the slightest hint that an ‘Empress’ might really have existed. I spent years, all of my funding, and finances in a feeble quest.”
“Yet deep down you still held some hope that I was real.”
“How do I know this isn’t some elaborate ruse?”
“You don’t. You have absolutely no idea if this is dream or reality- just as with the Freemont’s cabin all those years ago, Andrew. Let’s continue listening and follow them though.” Alex replied.
“So do you know of the myth or not?” The younger O’Neil pressed.
“It would be Miss, wouldn’t it?” Alex Fleming laughed at the pun.
O’Neil just stared at her, drawing a complete blank.
“You know? You asked me about this Empress? ‘Empress’ would indicate someone of the female persuasion, I would think?”
We watched as his familiar brown-haired assistant placed her hand over her mouth to cover a giggle
“Look, hun, we really should be getting to the dig site! The professor is going to have our hides if we aren’t there!”
“For my records, miss, what is your name?”
Everybody noticed his eyes bulge.
The surprised expression quickly vanished, replaced with disappointment.
“Thank you, for your time, Miss Fleming. Would it be okay if we accompanied your group to the tomb? We have the authorization of the Egyptian antiquities ministry to participate.”
“Not at all, we’d enjoy the company, Mr….”
“Sorry. Andrew O’Neil, Historical Investigations Magazine. These two men are my photographer and producer, Sam Peters and Frank Polk, and this is my personal assistant, Carolyn Shelton.
“Miss Shelton, you don’t look very comfortable with Egypt.” Alex Fleming observed.
“Someone has to watch the old guy, Miss Fleming, plus…he pays better than scale, so I’ll let it slide.” She replied with a giggle as she glared at her boss.
“In retrospect, Carroll should have never said that. She didn’t know how close she came to placing doubt on herself.” Alex related as she looked at me.
“You knew her?” The old man gasped.
“Of course, she’s my navigation officer.” I chimed. “Let’s jump ahead, shall we? Andrew looks to be tiring.”
The bright, open terrain suddenly became pitch black.
“Where are we?”
“I always wanted to see what it looked like from the other side.” I said in a cheery voice.
“To see what? Where are we?”
“We’re in the tomb, of course!”
“You mean we’re trapped in her…?”
The muffled sound of steel on stone began echoing through the darkness and a pinpoint of dim light sprang forth in front of us as a worker’s pick breached the tomb’s seal.
“How could we be in here if it hadn’t been opened yet?”
“I thought you were a very learned man, Andrew?” Alex asked as more dim light began to pour through the ever-widening hole. Soon came the sound of stone sliding on stone and the flood of more light signaled the official opening of the newly discovered tomb KV70.
Andrew looked down noticing he was standing in the near life-sized statue of a jackal placed next to the sarcophagus and immediately jumped back. In the dim light he looked sick.
“Ahhhh! Unbelievable! Simply unbelievable!” A heavily accented, Egyptian, male voice echoed through the chamber. “You see? Just as I predicted, the tomb has been untouched! What a marvelous find!”
With even more light flooding into the chamber, I noticed that the three of us were standing waist deep in artifacts! With a gentle nudge to O’Neil, we took a few steps to the right into one of the rare places we could see the tomb’s floor.
“Alexandra, please take your photography equipment in quickly! I want everything documented and photographed before we go any farther.”
“Professor, there doesn’t appear to be too much room to move.”
“Just be very careful. It is better for you graceful women to enter than your heavy bull of an instructor! You and Mina go in and begin the process.”
“As you wish, professor.”
“They’re coming in! They’ll see us!” The old man said in alarm as he started to twist and turn seeking to break our grips and find refuge.
“We aren’t really here, Andrew, remember?” I reminded him as I easily passed my foot through the pottery at my feet.
They can’t see us?” He asked as if still unsure.
Any answer was interrupted as Alex Fleming carefully entered the chamber. She stopped before us and winked with an impish smile on her face.
“She knows we are here!” The old man gasped.
“Of course I know I’m here, I’m standing right here, Andrew.” I laughed. “I personally haven’t done this yet- not for another twenty-nine years, anyway.” I paused to control my laughing. “So why wouldn’t I know where I was standing with you today?”
“Welcome Empress’, it is 1134hrs, September 3rd, 1973.” Alex Fleming whispered, as her smile got wider.
“She called you Empress.” O’Neil exclaimed.
“She said Empress’. Plural. As I have already said I know both of ‘us’ are here, Andrew.” Alex corrected as she paused from laughing a moment.
“Welcome Empress’, I know why you both are here and I know who is with you.” Mina whispered, as she looked our way. “I hope this satisfies your curiosity about our wondrous Alexandra, Andrew.”
“Alexandra, I don’t see any photography flashes! We are waiting.” The male, Egyptian accented voice echoed impatiently from the next chamber.
“We’re tryin’ to find a place to stand, professor. This place is packed full!”
Alex Fleming took Mina’s hand and disappeared momentarily, reappearing across the chamber from where they were originally.
“Here it is, Highness, Anna-Beth’s cartouche. We have to obliterate any mention of me before the professor has a chance to see it, and definitely before Andrew O’Neil has his chance!”
“Jackie? Could you bring in the extra film and flash bulbs? There’s a whole lot more here than we first thought.”
Jack entered the tomb chamber and quickly looked back out. Once satisfied there were no onlookers, she began to hover and floated over to Alex Fleming and Mina.
“What are you doing, Jacquelyn? If someone were to see you…”
I’d just erase their minds, Mina, relax.”
“Jack, enable your text translator and deface any mention of the Empress or the sisterhood on these walls. Make it look like the plaster just disintegrated from age.”
“It’ll take a couple minutes, Alex. You go around and snap the pictures, I’ll handle this.” Jack looked back toward the three of us. “Hey, Cap. Hope Mr. O’Neil’s enjoying the trip.”
I glared at Alex as Andrew O’Neill stared at me. “You told her?” I asked her in amazement.
“She’s seeing the memories that are going through my-.” She pointed to Alex Fleming across the room. “-head. I didn’t tell her anything, Allie.”
“She can read minds?”
“Of course, and that’s not all,” Alex told him, “Watch the walls carefully.” She pointed.
Systematically, small segments of hieroglyphics began to disappear with a poof and small cloud of dust- though the flash of the cameras Mina and Alex Fleming were using intermittently disrupted our vision.
“I don’t understand? What’s she doing? These writings shouldn’t be destroyed. They are priceless recordings of the past.”
“What ‘they’ are is a tribute to me, Andrew.” Alex said with disdain. “They tell of the wonderful things I have done for the land of Pharaoh- all against my wishes by the way! Before leaving Memphis, I specifically asked them to never mention me in any and all texts with the sole intention of keeping the Empress out of every culture’s history! Tell me, Andrew, what would you have done had these writings not been expunged?”
“It would have proven that, at least in Ancient Egypt, the Empress had existed.”
“’At least’ wouldn’t cut it, Andrew. Think about it. A being that could travel the universe unfettered wouldn’t be limited to just one specific time period or location now would she?”
The old man lowered his head and shook it slowly a few times.
“We knew Anna-Beth would do this though, sis. You know that once she makes up her mind not even the great Khufu stood a chance of changing it.” I reminded her.
“It still doesn’t change the fact that Andrew had already found several obscure references in other temples around the planet.”
“No it doesn’t change that at all, but this at least deters him from exposing the sisterhood and our humanitarian efforts.” I admitted.
“Yes, Andrew.” Alex glared at him. “Who do you think tries to help the victims of the world’s worst catastrophic disasters? Have you never wondered why more people weren’t killed in some of them?” She paused a second. “An earthquake hits Japan and only a few hundred deaths occur despite whole towns being leveled?”
“A sixty foot tsunami hits Micronesia but most of the residents in the low-lying villages escape unharmed, nobody can understand how they evacuated so quickly?” I continued.
“Did you ever wonder how those people in San Francisco survived on the bridge?” I added.
“Do you think that those were chance occurrences?” Alex asked adamantly before stopping to compose herself.
“Do you even know what my true purpose is, Andrew O’Neil?” She paused again and waited a moment for the answer we both knew wouldn’t come.
“The Empress of Time and Space is here to watch and help protect the current time stream. To simplify, I’m here to make sure that your past, present, and future flow as smoothly as possible.”
“I am also here to make sure people help themselves, but mostly to protect my family, friends, and loved ones, Andrew.” Present Alex said right before she walked straight through us. I could hear her giggle quietly.
“Andrew, if the world ever found out about me, entities past, present, and future would stop at nothing to sway me…involve me…force me into manipulating time…and possibly space to what they imagine it. If this universe is to continue, that can never be allowed to happen.” I told him as I finished our explanation.
“Alex, I found something about Janelle Hathor over here, erase it too?” Jack said, drawing our attention. Apparently her acoustic shield was active.
“Leave it, Jack. Hathor is a crucial part of Egyptian history and mysticism.”
“Got it. All references to the evil bitch stay intact.”
“Hathor? The Goddess mother of all Egyptian Gods had a first name?” The older O’Neil gasped in complete surprise.
“Janelle was not the mother of Egypt’s Gods or Deities! She wasn’t even from this universe, Andrew!” Alex growled in distain as she glared at him again. Did I have that much fire in my eyes when the woman’s name came up, I wondered?
His mouth dropped open!
“She is from the next universe up…or…was from the next one up.” I tried to explain. “Janelle was one of us…a bad one of us, but she came to this universe with the rest of our sisters when I exchanged our universes, Andrew.”
“You…you exchanged universes?” He stuttered unbelievably.
“I did.” I answered soberly.
“That is complete lunacy! Nothing can exchange an entire universe!” The old man argued.
“I know a certain educated T-Rex that would avidly argue the point with you, hun.” Alex said with a giggle. “There again he’d just assume eat you if you disagreed!”
“Alex!” I glared at my future self with contempt.
“The planet our sisters lived on exploded because of a global experiment gone wrong. The planet-turned-sun around which their Research Station orbited became unstable and guaranteed their total annihilation as a species had I not arrived and affected rescue. I had only meant to transport the asteroid on which they lived, but I wasn’t as in control…of my gift…at the time.” I rambled on, but decided to stop while I was ahead. I could see our guest’s eyes starting to glaze over.
“You travel between the universes too?”
“Is that really so hard to believe now, hun?” Alex asked in amazement. “After what y’all have seen so far?”
O’Neil shook his head cautiously a few times.
“Alex!” Jack whispered loudly. “Alex, I found something from the Commander!” She motioned to her location with her hand. “It’s addressed specifically to you!”
“What is it, Jack?” Alex Fleming asked.
“It’s inscribed, ‘Touch the seal, kind Empress, and receive our heart’s deepest thanks.’ What’s it mean, Alex?”
“Let’s find out. If I know Anna-Beth, it’s something sentimental.”
Jack floated my present self across the chamber and we watched as her pointer finger touched a slight depression below Anna-Beth’s cartouche on the left side of the beautifully ornate sarcophagus. A small drawer, maybe six inches wide then extended out from it.
“She shouldn’t have!” Alex Fleming cried in surprise as she looked in.
“What is it, Alexandra? Mina asked quietly.
Alex, Andrew, and I watched as Alex Fleming lifted out a large golden broach. In the middle was a huge red ruby similar to the one on my tiara back at Reilly. It reflected the flashlight beam exquisitely! Reaching back into the drawer she withdrew a small rolled papyrus scroll- unbelievably still in perfect condition.
“Commissioned to honor Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space by Khufu, Supreme Manager of the people of the Upper and Lower Nile. Gratitude and well wishes in your continuing efforts to save humanity from itself. Your friendship and professionalism will be remembered not in writing, but within the hearts and memories of those whom you touched so lovingly.” She read. “It’s written in Ancient Terran.”
“She took a big risk, Alex. What if we didn’t get here in time? What if O’Neil got here first?” Jack said in concern.
“That’s Anna-Beth for you. I’ll be right back, ladies.” Alex Fleming seemed to shimmer for half a second. “There. All safe and sound back at Reilly.”
“What did she mean it was written in Ancient Terran, and where is this Reilly place?” The elder O’Neil asked in confusion.
“Time to leave, Andrew.” Alex nodded to me as our location changed once more.
“Wait! What just happened? What is Terran and what made her shimmer like that?” The old man cried again.
“Terran is the written and spoken language on the planet Terra, Andrew, over one hundred and eight light-years from Earth if you must know.” Alex said matter-of-factly.
“Another planet…out there? But what of the shimmering effect?”
“That’s how it looks when I return a fraction of a second later than I left. Not many people can see the switch.” I answered. “You still have good eyes, old man.”
“Wait, why am I back in my room?” He asked, finally looking around.
“This is where I leave you, Andrew O’Neil. You now know the truth- a concealed truth, which you sought so diligently you’re whole life- about the Empress. I trust you understand enough about the journey we have just undertaken to now realize the consequences should you choose to reveal me.” Alex told the older man.
O’Neil remained quiet and stared at the two of us.
“You know he’ll begin relating everything he’s seen the second we disappear.” I chided.
“How do you know…?” He started to ask in angry surprise.
“That is as it should be. Enjoy your remaining days of this existence, Andrew Michael O’Neil and remember, all this,” Alex motioned around the room, “Is but one stop on the endless journey called life. Fare well, my first.”
My quarters at Reilly replaced the dark foreboding bedroom of a dying man.
Alex said nothing as she took me into her arms and collapsed into my shoulder. She began to cry. I held my ‘sister’ for some time, rubbing her back and supporting her.
Strange that in a universe where everyone thinks themselves isolated, individual, forgotten, and alone, I stood here physically comforting myself. There were very few of us that could lay claim to that particular advantage.
“It has to be, sis.” I whispered as she continued to cry. I did my best to restrain my own tears.
Alex gently nodded her head twice.
“It never does get any easier, does it?”
She shook her head three times slowly.
“So where’s the broach? I’d like to see it up close.”
“In the jewelry box,” she said in between sniffles and with a shaking finger pointed to the blank wall that hid the closet.
I nodded. “I think I need a drink, sis. Let’s go down to the Rec Room and get drunk!”
Alex suddenly stopped sobbing and began to laugh quietly.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“You know we’ll end up tomorrow morning wondering what we did this evening.” She said leaning back to look at my face. It was the first time I saw myself smile since leaving Reilly earlier today.
“What difference is it going to make? We both already know the answer anyway, right?”
Alex rolled her eyes.
“Besides, it’s never happened before, right?” I laughed.
“Let’s get shit-faced then!” She exclaimed as she grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door to our room and down the hallway.
0712hr, Reilly Research Station, August 3rd, 1997
Carefully, I slid myself out from under my future self’s arm and eased out of bed. My head throbbed for a few moments before my nanos cancelled the pain of the hangover.
As was becoming the norm, I found myself in my favorite pink nightie. I then watched as my future self rolled over, moving the sheet far enough to see she wore the exact same article of clothing thus verifying a tradition had truly been set.
I shook my head before padding gingerly over to my wardrobe closet. It slid open making the slightest ‘shushing’ sound.
Opening the top drawer of the cabinet there, I retrieved the broach I had only glimpsed back in Egypt yesterday.
It was absolutely breathtaking! As I had noticed yesterday it seemed made entirely of gold with a large ruby mounted in the center only now- holding it in my hand- it seemed too light. On the front, surrounding the huge red ruby was an inscription in Ancient Terran. At the top, above the huge gem it read, “U.S.S Sand Dollar SS353”, beneath it was written, “Meridian 12 Recovery Mission 04-25--2426”
“This could have been very damaging if found by the wrong people”, I said to myself before turning the piece over.
On the reverse side of the broach I found a meticulously detailed, raised image of the Meridian 12 Spacecraft. Voids in the gold alloy at specific points, namely the thrusters, deflector array, and main engine nozzles shone vibrant red when held to the sunlight now streaming into the room. The image actually looked to be powered up and underway. Around the edge was another inscription:
“Presented to our beloved Alexandra, Empress of Time and Space, this day, September 3rd, 1973AD. Our love and eternal thanks for your unwavering dedication to your fellow sentients- Anna-Beth and Khufu.”
“Mina.” I whispered. She was the only one capable of knowing the exact date the jewelry would be found.
“It’s a mission broach.” Alex said softly from behind me. I felt her hand touch my shoulder. There was only the slightest tingle this time.
“Somehow it’s more than that, I think.” I said as I turned to face her.
“Absolutely correct, Alex” She agreed. “It’s a clear indication that we’re doing the right thing- that there is genuine appreciation for our efforts…” she paused, her face turning serious, “…that it really is all worth it.”
I placed the broach on the bedside table closest us and placed my right index finger on the ruby. “Until another time,” I said in ancient Terran and then looked at my twin. She smiled and nodded to the middle of the room.
There stood Cmdr. Anna-Beth, Captain of the Meridian 12 Deep Space Probe in all her holographic beauty.
“Alexandra, Pharaoh and I have thought long and hard about your request for anonymity from the history of this great civilization you call ‘Ancient Egypt’. It is with great pride and the utmost regard that we hereby deny that request.” Her hologram smiled deviously.
“As such, we have elected to commission this custom scarab broach in your honor. By ‘in your honor’ Khufu and I mean your entire crew, family, and friends. Everyone engaged in the safe retrieval of my beloved Meridian.”
"Alex, before your appearance, I had but the faintest hope of once more reaching to and traveling among the stars.” Anna-Beth’s image paused for a moment to look to the side as if listening to someone off camera.
“As you and I both know, once the commander of a vessel experiences the freedom and magnificence of the medium traveled through, the feeling never abates, but grows stronger the longer we remain removed from it! I thank you in advance for returning that freedom to me.” She continued and smiled brightly.
“Although we now make our home here in Memphis, I know that very soon now we must leave this planet and seek residence elsewhere. The rumblings of trouble from beyond our borders and even from within have started just as you predicted, my Empress. It is by your omnipotent grace and limitless charity that I patiently await your triumphant return to our lands with my beloved Meridian. Only Lady Mina as well as you, the Empress, know the precise date and time of this occasion.”
“Alex, continue your good works and noble journeys, for you and the sister’s of Kili are in the perfect position to make a difference.” Her image paused and appeared to wipe a tear from her eye. “You are always in my heart.”
“Empress, I consider you and Alex Reilly my sisters in every definition of the term and thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your inclusion of me into Kili’s society. Once more, as once was true on Terra, I can again claim ownership of an exceptional, extended family! Be well my sisters- each and every one of you, and I look forward to the day we all reunite…wherever, whenever that chosen place should be.
“In closing, I make one humble request. Please allow my niece to undertake Meridian’s planetary approach vectoring and arrival but not before she gains more simulator time. We lack the materials and equipment here for extensive repairs.”
Anna-Beth’s smile had turned devious again.
“We await your return to us, oh great and wondrous Empress. As always, may the temporal winds favor your journeys! See you soon, Alex.”
The recording stopped and Anna-Beth’s image disappeared.
“She couldn’t help takin’ that dig at me, could she?” Alex laughed.
“I think I did pretty well for a submarine captain.” I added, joining her laughter.
“Some people are just too critical. I mean…I got her ship back, right?
“Right. Them damn Nazi’s defaced Meridian worse than my landing ever could’ve.” I sympathized.
“But, what Anna-Beth doesn’t know is that we’ve captained the U.T.I.S.C. Sand Dollar between Terra and Terra Nuevo.”
“Experience does make all the difference, sis.” I laughed.
“Aye, Skipper, it does. So, I guess you should be getting back to the war then, huh?” She asked as her expression saddened.
I looked around the room and sighed.
“I suppose I should, Alex. Jack and the rest of the crew still need me.”
“I need you to be there, hun,” she said honestly. “For our sake, cause if I’m not there through the years, I wouldn’t be here with you now. Oh…you’ll need these.” Alex said as she took the broach back to the closet and put it back in the drawer. She retrieved a medium-sized paper sack.
Handing it to me, I opened the top and looked in.
“I still have a few of these left.”
“Trust me you’ll thank me in a few days.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks.”
“Until another time then, Empress.” I said as I took her hand in mine. The tingle was very, very slight.
“Until another time, Empress.” She repeated.
The control room of my beloved Sand Dollar appeared around me.
“Welcome back, Cap. Nothing’s changed in the ten minutes you were away.” Jack informed me immediately. “Feeling better?” She added.
“Yes and no.” I answered honestly.
“So…um…what’s in the bag, Alex?” She asked pointing to the bag in my left hand.
“Supplies.” I said as I smiled and casually walked forward to my quarters.
“Welcome back, sis.” Emily greeted me just before I reached my door. “If you need anybody to talk to, Alex, remember I’m here for my sister.”
“Thanks, Em, I might take you up on it this time.” I answered, sounding like I was sulking.
“From what I heard you seemed to have a good time. What’s in the bag?”
“Let me guess…Jack broadcast it ship-wide?”
Emily blushed and her eyes lowered to the deck.
“Maybe a little?” She replied sheepishly.
I rolled my eyes. “Well at least I just visit other worlds and can’t blink them out of existence!”
“So…what’s in the bag?” She asked trying again.
“Alex met me at Reilly. She brought me four boxes of tampons.”
Strange how talking of anything female these days caused no blushing or uncomfortable feelings like they once had.
“Good, you’ll need them tomorrow.” She informed me casually.
“Ya, I finally got around to keeping count.” I admitted.
Emily smiled brightly at me.
“Oh nothing, just that my sister is finally all grown up.” She giggled.
“I have my log to update.” I said weakly, entering my quarters, and closing the door.
“Classic signs of pre-menstrual syndrome, sis.” She sang out from the passageway.
1912hrs, Atlantis-Minor, July 12th, 1944
“Secure all moorings!” Jack’s voice echoed through the grotto as we tied up, thus ending another mission for Sand Dollar-albeit longer than Admiral Demmit’s original mission parameters indicated. It would be good to sleep in a real bed tonight!
“Go ahead, maneuvering.”
“Skipper, we’re just about finished down here and all the Fairbanks’ are in bed for the night.” Ricky Lynn informed me.
“Great job, Chief, come on up.” I answered, wondering why she would even inform me of that in the first place. The only time she would ever do this was when something wasn’t…”
“Skipper, I think you might like to come back and see this.” She said, interrupting my thought.
“On my way, chief,” I said as Jack looked at me with concern. I shrugged my shoulders. That made her even more suspicious.
“What’s the problem, Chief?” I asked as Jack and I met her in engine room two.
“Sasha noticed it this afternoon, Skipper. We’re not sure if it should be there and were kinda hopin’ yous could set our minds at ease?” Ricky Lynn said cryptically as she led us aft to Maneuvering.
“It’s barely noticeable, but Sasha and I thought you ought to know.”
“I found it as I made my cable inspections, Skip.” Sasha added as we cleared the forward hatch to the compartment.
“Since when did we start making propulsion buss inspections?” Jack asked out of curiosity.
“Since we now have someone small enough to fit back there!” Sasha groaned.
“Ricky Lynn! Why make her do unnecessary work?”
“It’s a good thing I did…this time, Skipper.” Sasha answered instead.
“So where is this anomaly, Chief?”
“Just behind and to the left of the port motor buss…it’s attached between the positive and negative buss cables.”
“Let’s have a look, chief.” I said offering my hand.
“I’ll only be a moment, Jack.” I told her before Chief Samuels and I phased out.
“Are we?” Ricky Lynn gulped.
“Yep, now where is this thing?” I asked ducking my head right through the motor control panel.
My chief mechanic tentatively followed my move and pointed to a strange, metallic looking device bridging the two, thick copper cables.
“Any ideas now that you can see it better, chief?” I asked not having any idea what I was looking at. All I did know was that it didn’t look completed.
“Searching through my sister’s memories, I’d say it was some kind of power or voltage monitor, Skip. Without seeing what it’s hiding below, I can’t say for certain. You think them nanos has anything to do with it?”
“It certainly looks like something one would see in Reilly, Chief. If that’s the case, we should just leave it be- unless you start to notice adverse effects, that is.”
“I’ll have Sasha keep an eye on it, Skipper.”
“Good, in the mean time I’ll see if you have anything to tell me in the future.” I said before I realized I couldn’t go anywhere for another few days.
Wait! What was I thinking? I was out of phase and leaning though equipment at this very moment!
“Nothing, chief, I just lost count of certain things.”
“Ya had me worried a minute there!”
“I”ll see what I can find out for you.” I told her, as I stood straight. Once Ricky Lynn was clear of the equipment I rephased us.
“So, what’s the verdict? Is it our nanos or somebody else’s, Alex?” Jack asked as we reappeared. Sasha also looked very concerned.
“We let it ride and Sasha, keep tabs on it for now, but don’t get too close just in case. In the mean time, I’ll see what I can find out from my gift and our future sisters.”
“Let’s go ashore, girls, I’d like to hit the shower.”
“I hear that, Alex! I can’t stand being grimy since my Mahanilui.” Sasha agreed as we took our turns through the aft hatch into the aft torpedo compartment. Ricky Lynn stood by the torpedo loading hatch ladder and motioned for Jack and I to go up.
“So what did Ricky Lynn want to show you, Alex?” Emily asked as we sat on my bed painting each other’s toenails later that evening.
My future twin had included a few bottles of nail polish in her second ‘care package’ when I had jumped forward to find out about the strange devices now monitoring the motor efficiency of our propulsion system.
“Sand Dollar is making some updates to herself.” I said casually.
“Oh?” Emily said as she stopped and looked directly into my eyes.
“Ricky Lynn told me that the nanos in the drinking water system are migrating and building instrumentation and control devices aimed at economizing Sand Dollar’s energy usage, just as they started doing within Reilly about eight hours after the Homeworld went critical. She says that, when finished, we should be able to run submerged almost two hours longer at flank speed.”
“And she’s sure of this, sis?”
“She gave me the tour. I almost didn’t recognize the maneuvering control panels.”
“It’s that different?”
“Digital panel meters, superconducting busses and switchgear, motor feedback monitoring…y’all gotta see it, Emily! I thought I was in Meridian’s engine control room!”
“So, why did Allie send the polish? You know it’s not regulation.” She asked, changing the subject.
“She said my nails looked hideous- that I shouldn’t let myself go just because there’s a war on.”
My sister giggled.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“You’re becoming such a girl, Alexandra!” She said continuing to giggle. “Speaking of which, you never have talked about that afternoon, you know.”
“I feel so embarrassed about it now.” I said lowering my head. “I can’t believe I actually did that.”
“So…how was it?” She asked sincerely with a grin on her face. Her eyes sparkled.
“You know…” I mumbled trying to avoid any awkward description.
“No I don’t know, Alex. It never got that far.”
It was my sister’s turn to lower her gaze.
“Oh…I thought…I thought that…you know…”
“No, Alex, I wanted to save myself for the right…” She looked back up at me for a brief second. I noticed tears forming. “Man.” She said quietly and returned her gaze to the sheets.
“I’m so sorry, Em.” I managed to say before tears rolled down my own cheeks.
There was a long pause in our conversation.
“It wasn’t your fault, Alex.”
“Actually it was…and don’t go telling me it wasn’t, or that it was somehow our destiny. You know I don’t believe in that concept.” I argued.
We were silent for a few more minutes.
“So how much older are you now…if you don’t want to answer, I’ll understand?” Emily inquired. Even without my gift I could’ve predicted this question, as she was overdue to ask it.
“Five years have passed by in the last three weeks, sis.”
“Alex!” She exclaimed in shock. “At this rate I’m going to loss you too soon! You really should take it easy and be a little more discrete about the missions you choose.”
“And just how can I do that? How can I pick and choose without feeling remorse?”
“I don’t want to lose you prematurely, Alexandra Steinert. I just got you back and I don’t want to let you go! Please tell me you’ll be a little more discriminating.”
“No can do, sis. I have to act on the missions as they’re given to me.”
“Given to you, Alex? And just who gives you these missions?”
“I couldn’t answer that even if I knew. I just get them in my dreams…” I admitted, though I wasn’t really sure where the specifics came from.
“Mother?” Emily asked cautiously in surprise.
“Not sure.” I shrugged my shoulders before pulling the crumpled tissue paper from between my own toes. “All I know is when I wake up the next morning I have an unquenchable desire to run scenarios on what I’d seen. I can’t be more specific than that, sis.”
“You mean to tell me that you have no idea who or what gives you these supposed missions?” Emily stared at me in amazement.
“Nope, but they haven’t been off yet.”
“And you just go with that blindly-not even having a sliver of doubt?”
“I’m kind of afraid, Emily.” I answered sheepishly. “I’m not sure if or when I’m being tested.”
My sister was quiet for a few seconds as she thought about it.
“Ya…I guess you’re right.”
Emily remained silent, but reached for my left hand and began filing my nails.
Several minutes went by before she said anything else.
“So…ever thought of asking your gift or trying to find out?” She asked, breaking the silence.
“The way I break the supposed rules, are you kidding?”
“Doesn’t it make sense to know who is giving the orders?” She asked. “Even in the military, we have to know the chain of command. Why should the ‘Empress’ be any different?”
“Somehow I think this goes a little higher than the United States Navy or the War Department, Emily. It may even go all the way to the ‘Top’.”
“Do you really think…?” Emily gulped, as her eyes grew larger. “Oh God, I never…”
“Exactly.” I nodded as I cut her off.
“Do you really think it goes that high?”
“The better question is: Do I really want to find out and risk angering ‘somebody’?”
“I still think it only fair you know your immediate commander, Alex.” Emily recommended.
“Someday, maybe, but right now I’ve just been through a very stressful time in my life.”
“No, I can’t speak or even think about it for another eighty-six years.”
“That’s one important secret!”
“It almost killed two of us, sis, so…ya, it’s that important.”
“Then why hint to it in the first place?” Emily asked with just a touch of a gleam in her eye again.
“Because it came up relevant to the conversation,” I answered flatly.
“Oh.” My sister said looking suddenly disappointed.
“What’s with that look?” I asked.
“I guess you really have been my sister for a while.”
“Why? Because I didn’t fall for that ‘but you said’ thing like I used to?”
Emily nodded dejectedly as she capped the nail polish bottle.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head a few times.
“I guess I really do have a sister now, don’t I?” She asked, somewhat dejected
“For a long time to come, Em.”
“I love you, Alexandra Steinert!” Emily cried as she leaned over and wrapped her arms around me.
I don’t think she had ever hugged me that tight before!
0900hr, Atlantis-Minor, July 13th, 1944
“Alex, Admiral Demmit’s plane is due to arrive in an hour.” Jack informed me after knocking on my doorframe.
“I know, Jack. My report is ready for him.” I reassured her.
“Including your ‘Empress’ report?” She asked insistently.
“That is strictly a verbal report, commander.”
“Oh…ya…right…how could it have slipped my mind?”
“Nice try, Jack.” I smiled. “I thought you heard enough of what happened that day and needed no more details?”
“Well…” she paused, “I did…but…”
I glared at my friend and first officer waiting for her to finish.
“But, I…I sort of wanted to hear your take on it, too.”
“Jack, your time will come.” I said gently.
“You’ve seen it, Alex? You talk about me butting in on people’s situations and you seem to be doing the same?”
“No…because we’ve already met Connie, Jack.”
“Oh…ya, right.” My Ex-O said as she blushed and looked off to the side.
I shook my head in amazement that she hadn’t thought of the simplest explanation.
“Jack, assemble the crew pier-side. Have Josie contact Rommie if you can’t reach her. We all have to be present for this inspection.”
“Aye, Cap.” Jack answered but paused for a moment.
“Rommie will be back to Ni’ihau shortly.”
I nodded and expected Jack to leave, but she just stood by the door, her mind somewhere else.
“Something else, commander?” I asked.
“I can’t help but feeling the old man is going to ask another favor of you, Empress.”
“Oh?” I looked at her innocently.
“Now I know he’s going to ask us for another mission.” She replied, noticing my expression.
I laughed at her facial response.
“Time travel again?”
“Let me guess…even tighter corsets than last time?”
“Not quite, but this time we won’t be the ones wearing them.” I smiled. “Well…maybe briefly.”
“So, Captain Steinert, can I start this briefing or are we waiting for anyone else?” Admiral Demmit asked as Michelle Simonetti quietly snuck in the door and took her seat.
“That should be everyone needed for the mission you’re about to ask us to undertake, sir.” I answered with a smile.
“You really do tend to take all the fun out of these briefings, Alex.” Uncle Rick moaned before he straightened his tie and cleared his throat.
“Empress, I’d like you and Sand Dollar’s crew to go on another rescue mission,” he started. “This one though is not my idea but someone else’s entirely. I still consider it top priority.”
“Admiral, I haven’t seen you revealing our secret to anybody in this time period, so may I ask as to the identity of the person making said request?” I asked in my regal voice.
“I’m not sure I know how to answer that, Alex.”
“I mean I’m not sure if I believe who actually told me of this rescue, Alex.”
“Would you like some help remembering, Admiral? I’m getting pretty good at helping people remember.” Jack asked innocently.
“I don’t think so, Cmdr. Cummins.” He growled and continued.
“Here are the coordinates of the rendezvous point. The target date is 2300hrs, April 14th, 1912.” He said as he produced a folder and placed it on the table in front of me. Carroll opened it after seeing me nod.
I already knew where we were heading.
“These coordinates are in the North Atlantic, Admiral!” Carroll gasped.
“You are absolutely correct, Miss Sheldon, now can I continued?”
Carroll gulped and nodded.
“So you want us to affect rescue of Titanic survivors.” I said calmly.
My entire crew gasped loudly and a murmur filled the mess hall. It died out quickly as Jack asked for quiet in our minds.
Uncle Rick rubbed his forehead for a moment.
“I really wish you would turn down the volume, Miss Cummins.”
“So…where was I?” He paused and sorted through some notes he pulled from his shirt pocket.
“Oh…Okay. Alex, I want this mission to be as discrete as they come. Under no circumstances are you to be seen by the Carpathia or any other rescue ship out there. Is that understood?”
I had already been working the scenarios and only half-paying attention to him.
“Captain Steinert, is what I have said understood? There will be no contact with any other vintage rescue vessels!”
“Understood sir.” I quickly replied. “We will be spotted though, sir.” I added immediately after answering him.
“How is that, Captain?” He asked with an angry look.
“It is quite likely that those on board the dying ship will misinterpret our running lights for an unknown ship on the horizon, Admiral.”
“So keep them off, Commander.”
“I’m afraid that will be impossible, sir.”
“May I ask why, Alex?”
“Temporal waypoint, sir.” I said simply.
“And you know this…how, Alex?”
“I’ve run the scenarios already, sir.”
Uncle Rick ‘hrrmmphed’ in irritation before he paused for a moment.
“Pick up as many survivors as you feel you can, Captain.”
“And what shall be their destination, Admiral?” I asked regally.
“I’ll leave that to you, Empress. If you have truly run the scenarios, then you know this information already.” Uncle Rick looked around the room a minute.
“I’ll leave Captain Steinert to brief everyone on this mission, ladies. I’ll be in my quarters getting drunk if any of you would like to join me.” He said in disgust before turning to the door and walking out into the compound.
“I hope he doesn’t have you court-martialed for this, Alex. You’re attitude was a little demeaning.” Jack said as I stared at the empty doorway.
“I didn’t think I was that…” I paused to evaluate our next foreseeable conversation.
Deciding I really had to have a conversation with my uncle, I quickly summed up the mission for everyone.
“Ladies…We leave tomorrow at 1000hrs to rescue twenty people from the most catastrophic sea incident in maritime history. Make sure everyone’s Reilly suit is charged and programmed with our hi-tech cold weather apparel. Dr. Scott, make sure you pack medical supplies for severe hypothermia and extra woolen blankets. Rachael, we’re going to need your gift again, hun. I want you ready to really turn the heat on for this one. I want Sand Dollar ready to slip moorings at 0945. Thank you. Dismissed.”
I thought about Admiral Demmit one more time as my crew started to filter out.
“Miss Simonetti, please come with me.” I said to the still sitting woman. Her gaze was set to the floor and she had been unusually quiet since she arrived late to the briefing. Cautiously she stood up and took my hand in silence.
The Admiral’s quarters appeared before us.
“I believe we need to talk, Ensign.” I said strongly as we entered the old man’s quarters.
“So…you really did run the scenarios I see.” Uncle Rick growled. “Have a seat, Ensign Simonetti, Alex.”
Demmit looked at us for a few moments.
“You understand that the captain has every right to keep you from participating in this mission, Miss Simonetti?”
“Did it really happen this way?” She asked quietly, just above a whisper.
“I’m afraid so, sweetheart.” Demmit answered kindly. “If I’ve figured things right, the captain is going to need your gift on this one. Are you comfortable with that?”
“I don’t see any other choice, Admiral, I have to go.”
Shel, we always have a choice.” I informed her. “I’ll have Jack wipe us from their minds.”
“But what if she erases too much? What if she picks the wrong things to erase? What if she forgets what she must do? How would you fix that, Empress?”
“It would be difficult but could be remedied, Shel.”
“I can’t believe I had anything to do with this.” She mumbled.
“And I don’t want to risk losing one of my sisters, Shel.” I admitted.
The three of us remained quiet for some time.
“Can I offer you girls a drink?” Uncle Rick asked in an attempt to finally break the ice.
“Double bourbon, leave the bottle!” Michelle barked.
“The stars…they really look beautiful tonight, Alex. It’s a shame something like this has to happen.” Jack said as we scanned the horizon for lifeboats. Off in the distance we could just make out the lights of the doomed ship.
“There goes another one.” Jack said as we watched another flare shoot into the moonless sky off in the distance. It would be the last.
My heart went out for all the souls that would move on tonight.
“How’s Michelle handling it, Jack?” I pointed out to our bow where two people stood motionless on the deck.
She’s been quiet since we left the grotto, Alex.”
“I would be too.” I replied quietly…cryptically.
“Rommie offered to help her watch for them. She says she can see better than us on nights like this- you know…the new moon?”
“Rommie’s going to take a big step tonight, Jack,” I stated solemnly- seemingly out of the blue. “She’ll never be quite the same after.”
“She’ll make it though, right?”
I nodded and looked out around the boat to verify that our running lights were burning brightly. Jack noticed.
“So we’re the mysterious lights…the unknown ship on the horizon that was reported by her surviving crew?”
I nodded again.
“Can’t we come back with a bigger…?”
I looked over at my first officer. I could feel the cold tears roll down my cheeks.
“Sorry, Alex, I should know by now that if there were a way...” Jack whispered sadly.
“Con, Bridge. Kill the running lights. New course: zero-one-two degrees ahead slow.” I said into the squawk.
“Aye, Cap, zero-one-two, ahead slow.” Emily answered.
What little light given off by Sand Dollar, ceased.
“Skipper, there isn’t another ship anywhere on the horizon.” Amy Reynolds said in concern from her station on our starboard lookout after a few moments.
“Carpathia?” Jack asked hopefully.
I shook my head. “Three hours out, Jack. She won’t get here until well after…” I didn’t finish. We all knew the stories, but only I knew the full story- one that would finally be told a little over one hundred years from tonight. I heard Amy and Jamie Hilf both sigh heavily above and behind us.
Movement on the foredeck caught our attention.
“Rommie! Don’t do it, you’ll freeze to death!” Michelle Simonetti’s scream echoed as we heard the splash to starboard.
“It’s starting, Jack.” I said.
It was Jack’s turn to nod.
“Help her as much as you can when the time comes, Jack. Under no circumstances will you hinder the ship from realizing its fate, though.”
Again she nodded, sadly this time.
Standing next to me, on my bridge, was the one person on this planet- in this time- that could irrevocably change the ship’s disastrous future and I was ordering her not to interfere.
This had to happen though. Without the inquiries generated by this disaster, maritime safety mandates- particularly truly watertight compartment specifications and mandatory lifeboat requirements and drills- would fail to manifest and many thousands more souls would be lost to the oceans of the world.
Yes, this had to happen.
“Lt. Scott and Ens. Morris to the foredeck.” I called into the squawk.
Two more people appeared on our foredeck, each with an armload of blankets.
“Jamie,” I said turning to our port lookout, “We’ll need your gift tonight as well, hun.”
“I figured as much, Skipper.”
“Alex?” A tiny voice called to me from off to my right.
“Sasha, what are you doing up here?” I asked the pixie hovering beside me.
“It’s not much, but I can see pretty well out here and I was…well, I was wondering if you wanted me to scout the waters ahead of us?”
“You’ll freeze out here, hun.” I responded.
“I made changes to my costume, Alex. I added in the heating system from our cold weather gear.”
I looked closer and noted that she looked like she had a sweater on, but still sported the excessively short, delicate miniskirt.
I shook my head in amazement. Pixies!
“Remember you’ll tire faster in the cold weather, hun. I want you on a return course as soon as you feel the slightest bit of fatigue.”
“Aye, Skipper.” The hovering, six-inch woman saluted and flew off to the north.
“Not even a fight, Alex?” Jack asked as she looked over at me curiously.
“Wouldn’t have made any difference either way, Jack.” I replied shaking my head.
“To the mission or to Sasha?” She countered.
“Either, Jack, either.”
Jack suddenly put her binoculars to her eyes and quickly refocused them with a gasp.
“She’s starting to break up.”
A muted chorus of screams echoed over the calm water seconds after we watched the not so distant lights blink a few times.
The horizon suddenly went dark.
Despite knowing the history, I felt more tears roll down my cheeks. The Empress of Time and Space and her crew- the only people capable of rescuing these unfortunates- were powerless to stop this disaster!
“Alex, I’ve lost contact with Rommie.”
“She’s busy, Jack, give her five minutes.” I said distantly.
“It might be on the bottom by then, Alex!” My first officer cried.
“She’ll stay up for another fifteen before she goes under. The future estimates put her on the bottom in closer to two, Jack.”
“I can hold it for a little bit, Alex. Just give the word.”
“Give Rommie the time, Jack.” I replied calmly before I drew in a deep breath.
The asked for five minutes felt like an eternity and at any given moment during that wait I expected to see Titanic’s bow once more rise above the glassy ocean’s surface. I knew for a fact that Jack had the power to do just that and more. She would lift a hundred thousand times more in the future.
“Alex, she’s coming! She actually saved those people!” Sasha’s tiny voice startled me just as Jack and I were becoming concerned.
“Longboat approaching at high speed- dead ahead!” Both Amy and Jamie cried out in unison.
“Alex?” Jack asked.
“Alex!” Emily shouted from the foredeck. “I read nineteen souls…all suffering from severe hypothermia, frostbite, and muscle fatigue!”
“Jack.” I said and nodded to the small, dim craft closing on us.
Within seconds the white, longboat-style lifeboat, minus her means of propulsion, was high and dry on our deck. Emily, Michelle, and Rachael jumped into action.
“I want them taken below as soon as possible.” I ordered from the bridge. “Ens. Morris, do what you can for them in the meantime. Follow Dr. Scott’s guidelines.”
“All stop! Rescue teams to the foredeck on the double!” Jack ordered into the squawk.
Captain! She’s not here! Maria isn’t here!” Michelle Simonetti screamed in distress.
“Rommie? Where are you going?” Jack suddenly said aloud. “Alex, she’s going to…”
“Let her go, commander, she has to do this.” I paused. “She can do it, Jack.” I again said serenely.
“You know this for a fact, Empress?” Jack asked skeptically, looking directly into my eyes.
“Come on…hurry it up, honey!” I said instead through gritted teeth, not certain the future interpretation was entirely correct.
A horrific metallic groan echoed across the still water followed by more screams and shrieking.
“What just happened, Alex?” Jack looked away at the sound then back to me. She looked terrified.
“The bow section finally ripped away from the stern and is heading for the bottom. She’s got about five minutes before the stern section takes its two minute, high-speed spiral to the bottom- five miles down.”
Jack’s mouth fell open and we both stared out across the tranquil sea for a moment. I can’t speak for my first officer, but I was praying that my foresight held true…just this one time.
“Phones, Bridge! Captain, there was just one horrendous thud on the bottom just now!”
“Thanks, Kayla. I’d advise turning the volume down completely and taking off the headset in about three minutes…for your hearing’s sake.” I suggested.
“There’s going to be something louder than that excruciating twisting metal sound?” Mina’s second oldest asked over the speaker.
“This one’s going to sound like Krakatau going off, hun.” I responded.
“Alex! She’s starting to go down!” Jack screamed hysterically as she continued to stare into her binoculars.
“Can you hear Rommie?” I asked.
“Not a thought, Alex!”
Another minute passed.
Please, I thought, don’t let this be that one time.
Jack slowly dropped her field glasses to stare at me in horrified silence.
“Captain Steinert, two degrees off the port bow…one hundred yards out!” Jamie Hilf shouted.
“On it, Cap.” She said instantly in relief.
Our resident mermaid and another waterlogged figure appeared in the starlit air and quickly flew over the bow to land gently on the deck.
“Get those two in blankets and down below, now!” I shouted and made for the hatch.
I met Chief Samuels, Scotti, and Corrine Masterson valiantly attempting to ease Rommie’s slender, seven-foot mermaid’s body through the forward torpedo room’s loading hatch.
“Try to get her onto my rack.” I ordered as her tail fluke flopped free. Rommie’s eyes were closed, her face slightly blue, and, by the stillness of her neck gills, she appeared to be barely breathing.
“Aye, skip. Put her down, girls, I got an idea.” Ricky Lynn replied.
“What do you have in mind, Chief?” Scotti asked.
“Never tried this on a human before.” Samuels said as she placed her hands on her unconscious, finned crewmate.
The three of us witnessed firsthand how Ricky Lynn was able to pack ten pounds of…um…equipment into a one-pound sack.
“I’ll be damned, it did work!” Samuels cursed as she looked at the now three-foot mermaid. “Let’s get her into the skipper’s rack, girls.”
“Water.” Ens. Marsh gasped as her eyes flew open suddenly. It took everything I was to pin her massive tail fluke to the bed and not have it wreak havoc on my cramped cabin. Unfortunately, Ricky Lynn had reversed her magic after Rommie was safely on my rack.
“Breathe air Rommie, you’re back on Sand Dollar now.” I said gently. Emily looked extremely relieved that our crewmate was conscious again.
“No, I’m thirsty, Captain, I’d like a drink, please.” Ens. Marsh responded.
“Fine, but hold still, you’re in my quarters, hun.”
I turned to open my sink, poured a cup, and carefully held it until her delicately webbed fingers grasped it firmly.
“My dorsal is killing me!” She groaned as Emily helped her up to a semi–sitting position. “Is she…is she going to make it, Dr. Scott?”
“You got her here just in time, Rommie.” Emily answered with a smile. You got them all here in the nick of time.
“Why haven’t I changed back?” She asked nodding back to my sister.
“My guess would be that you need to consciously tell yourself to do it, hun,” I suggested. “Maybe so you don’t inadvertently drown?”
“Oh…maybe you’re right, Empress. Permission to change back to my land form?”
“Granted, Rommie, but you never have to ask for that permission, hun,” I told our latest heroine. Emily and I stood and allowed Rommie to ‘do her thing’.
“There, that’s better.” The now fully human girl said as her Reilly changed back into her cold weather outfit. “If you don’t mind, I’m still feeling a little cold.” She said as she blushed slightly. “That water was freezing.”
“Rommie? Rommie! Miss Cummins said you were awake!” Michelle Simonetti cried as she appeared in my doorway. Rushing past me, she wrapped her arms around her crewmate. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She continued to cry and thank her crewmate profusely for several minutes.
“Now what happens, Empress? Now that we’ve rescued them, what is to become of them?” Romney Marsh asked after another few minutes.
“Please tell us, Miss Simonetti, this is your rescue mission after all.” I replied.
Romney Marsh stared at her crewmate in surprise.
“This was your idea, Shel?”
Simonetti remained silent and all color drained from her face.
“Rommie, you know you rescued someone very special tonight, right?” I informed her.
“I knew she was important to Shel, Captain, but I didn’t ask as to any relationship. Who is she…I mean really?”
“How did you find this woman tonight, hun? How did you know who to look for?” I asked instead.
“Shel had an old photo of her, Empress. Who is she? Who did I rescue tonight?” She asked excitedly.
I looked between Michelle and Romney. “Hun, you have no idea why she would have a very old picture of that woman in her possession?” I asked as Emily automatically handed me the frame from the small storage shelf at the head of my rack. I smiled, as I looked upon my Ma, my brother, Pa, and the old me.
“I think it’s standard practice for every sailor to carry a picture of her loved ones- family, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend,” I looked up to Emily as I felt the sting in my heart from that word, “…mother.” I continued, emphasizing that word.
Romney’s mouth dropped open. Obviously it had never occurred to her that she was rescuing Michelle’s mother- that the future Mrs. Michael Simonetti Sr. would be a Titanic survivor.
“This means that I…” Rommie’s words became stuck in her throat.
“Without your heroism tonight we stood a very good chance of losing a valued member of the crew and our sisterhood,” I finished for her, “And a good friend, Rommie. Thank you for helping the Empress right the time stream, hun, you did a fantastic job!”
It took a minute to sink in, but Rommie’s smile flashed brilliantly to her face. It would remain there for several days, in fact.
“Empress, what’s to happen with them?” Michelle asked.
“Skipper, some of the survivors are stirring. What should I do?” Rachael Morris asked from just out in the passageway.
I nodded. “We’re going to find out right now, hun, just go back and keep an eye on them for now. Commander Cummins is monitoring them and will lend a hand if needed. Jamie is also standing by to ‘suggest’ they sleep some more.
“Aye, ma’am.” She said before disappearing aft in the passage.
“Did your Ma ever talk about that night, Shel?” I asked gently.
“She really didn’t like to talk about it, although once she told me that she remembered the ship shuddering and wondered what had happened, that some of the crew ran through the third class section in a panic. People started heading topside to see what the problem was only to be turned back by other members of the crew.”
“She claimed that they told them nothing important had happened and to just go back about their business- that the ship could withstand anything the sea could throw at it. It wasn’t until someone noticed the rising water that panic spread and she thinks she got knocked out in the mad rush.”
“Mom claimed she had no idea how she got to safety- that she only remembers coming too in Grandpapa’s office.” Michelle stopped suddenly, her eyes widened. She stared at the three of us and swallowed hard.
“She claimed that a group of beautiful, merciful angels came down from the heavens to save her wretched soul.”
Our sister paused and looked down to wipe her eyes.
“Jesus…that…that was…us!” Michelle gasped as she looked up at me. “Empress!” She choked out before jumping up and wrapping her arms tightly around me.
“It’s what we do, Shel…we make things right.” I calmly whispered to my emotional sister as I gently rubbed her back and brushed the back of her head.
“I’ll go check on my patients, sis.” Emily said as she easily squeezed past Michelle and I.
‘Jack,” I thought, ‘have everyone near the survivors go to dress whites until we effect transport to final destinations.
‘Aye, Cap. Attention! All hands in or near the survivors shall appear in dress whites at all times until further notice.’
Michelle moved her head back to look at me. “Thank you,” she mouthed silently.
“Thanks for having the courage to take this matter up with the Admiral, Shel.” I said with a reassuring smile. “You did good.”
“Doctor?” I called out as Jack, Emily, and I awkwardly carried the unconscious young woman into the outer office of Michiel Simonetti, doctor of Psychiatry. Our period dresses hampered the operation somewhat.
“Yes? What is it…? What on earth happened?” The middle-aged gentleman exclaimed as he appeared from the rear hallway.
“Michael! Michael, get out here! We have a patient in need of aid! What happened to her?”
“We were on our way across town when we saw this woman just fall down into the street outside.” I answered. “Jacquelyn, Emily, and I hurried to pull her back to the sidewalk before a carriage could run her over.”
“Do you know her name, miss…”
“Alexandra, sir, Alexandra Scott. This is my sister, Emily and our friend Jacquelyn Cummins.” I introduced. “I have no idea what her name is, sir, I’m sorry.” I added as I glanced over at the calendar hung on one of the room’s walls. May of 1912, it indicated. Good.
“Well, I’ll find that out after I revive her. Michael! Michael Joseph Simonetti, get out here this instant- and bring my bag!”
I silently offered my hands to my two companions after placing a small cloth bag on a nearby wooden desk.
“Miss Scott, would you care to…where did they hurry off to?” The elder Simonetti looked around baffled by our abrupt disappearance.
“The youth of today…” He said shaking his head as we watched out of phase, “In such a hurry!”
“Michael!” He immediately shouted as he noticed the small bag. On opening, three, twenty-dollar gold pieces dropped out onto the desktop. Dr. Simonetti looked around the room in confusion.
“That makes all of them, Alex.” Emily said as Sand Dollar’s forward passageway appeared around us.
“Just one more detail, sis. Jack could you ask Shel to come here?”
Romney Marsh stood this side of the Control Room’s forward hatch- her smile still beaming. She nodded to us.
I smiled and nodded back in reply. She silently turned around and headed aft.
“She did really good, Alex. I think Romney Marsh has definitely found her niche in our family.” Emily said with a smile.
“Sure looks that way- now it’s time for Shel to earn her medal.” I giggled, as I offered my hand to a confused Michelle Simonetti.
“Shel, select the 1911 dress from your Reilly’s inventory…don’t forget the corset.”
“Hey…I thought you said we weren’t the ones going to wear the corsets this mission, Alex?” Jack groaned before she changed back into her working uniform.
“It just slipped my mind, Jack.” I replied as excuse. “If you think this was bad, wait until we visit eighteenth century France.” I said as Emily and I laughed deviously.
“Awww, do I have to come along?” Jack whined.
“Empress, where are we going? I thought this mission was finished?” Michelle asked.
“Your mother still has to go through customs, Shel.”
“But how’s she gonna do that if you dropped her off in Grandpapa’s office already?”
We walked the few steps back to the Con.
“Corrine? Shel needs her hair color changed.”
“What color you want her, Skipper?” Corrine asked, as she wasted no time cupping her crewmate’s hair in her hands.
“Medium brown with some red and a few inches longer, hun.”
“Wait…I’m going to stand in for mom, Alex?” Simonetti asked in astonishment.
“You’ll look close enough once you’re a brunette, Shel. Then, once you make it through the investigator’s questioning and the lengthy process through immigration, I’ll take it from there.” I answered with a bright smile.
“This is payback for stealin’ Chief Samuels’ alcohol, isn’t it?” She replied with a frown.
“Maybe.” I giggled as Corrine dropped Michelle’s longer, brown hair and I phased us out.
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