South of Bikini 4: Episode 2- Colonial Trade

Danger, heart wrenching loss, catastrophe, and unforeseen temporal chaos challenge Alex and her away team as they set out to repair some revolutionary glitches perpetrated by Clemson’s ignorant and callous ‘corrections’ to history.

 

Copyright: 2014, R.G. Beyer


 
 

Chapter 2

“Colonial Trade"


 
 

1303hrs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Colony, June 17th, 1779
 
 

Independence Hall appeared beside us. I had never been here before; instead, I recognized it from my history books.

Several people walked, unimpeded, through us while I thought about what we were here to do this week. An image of Mr. Benedict Arnold came to mind and I watched Jack’s face shift and grimace while she relayed the information to Andie. This was the first time she had seen what was to happen and what her part in the mission would be.

“I guess this really is the right dress for me. Are you sure I need to persuade him that way, Cap…by those means?”

“He’s a notorious ladies’ man, Jack. I wish there was another way.” I said despondently just as a gentleman with a stylish wooden cane walked straight through me. The balding, gray-haired gentleman with small, round glasses perched on his nose stopped and turned slightly to look back in the direction he had just come. Had he sensed us?

Shaking his head as if confused for some reason, he turned back and went on his way, stopping again just a few steps farther to look back a second time. He shook his head as if to shake off any lingering stray thought, replaced the tri-corner hat he had been holding in his free hand, and continued on his way.

“Was that who I think it was, Alex?” Jack asked as her jaw dropped.

“History records Mr. Franklin in France this year helping to secure funding and assistance for the revolution, but as we’ve seen, historians can sometimes get it wrong, Jack.”

“It looked like he sensed us. You think he’s met us?”

I shrugged my shoulders in answer. “I haven’t seen us meeting- not that that wouldn’t change after things straighten out.”

“Empress, of whom do we speak? Does the older gentleman pose some historical significance?”

“He does indeed, Commodore Celeste.”

“I thought you discouraged use of our military rank when traveling?”

“And I thought I asked y’all to call me ‘Alex’ when we travel, Andie?” I retorted.

“I’m sorry, Alexandra. I am still new to this.”

“Every mission is a learning experience; remember that, hun. Now, shall we find a private place to rephase before too many more citizens parade through us?”

We walked a block and a half before finding a suitably unoccupied place to rephase. This was a secluded alleyway littered with partially stacked wooden crates and scattered old straw. I guided my companions about ten feet in.

“Rephasing in three; two; one.”

“So where do we go from here, Alex?” Jack asked. She stood furthest into the alley and faced Andie and I.

“Ye kin gimme a sample of ye wares, me sweet young whore.” A raspy male voice that sounded a bit inebriated, replied from behind Jack somewhere. Looking back into the alley, we spotted a man- dirt-smudged face, wild, uncombed hair, and raggedly dressed- peeking out from behind a stack of crates on the right. His expectant smile revealed only a few sparse, discolored, and skewed teeth.

The hair all over my body stood to attention as the unsuspecting, drunken, vagrant shot clumsily into the air, bounced off the red brick building opposite him, and landed several yards further down the cluttered alley.

Andie stared in disbelief.

“I…am not…a whore, sir!” Jack growled through clinched teeth as she pointed a finger to where he landed in a disheveled heap.

There was no movement from the drunken vagabond…that we noticed.

“He’s still alive, Alex, but he’s going to have one hell of a sore body when he wakes up.” Jack growled as she reassured Andie and I. “Can we get out of here and find our room before another ‘model citizen’ pays me a ‘compliment’?” She tried to push past us to get back to the main street.

“Jacquelyn?” I asked cautiously as I stopped her with my outstretched arm.

“What is it, Alex?”

“Throwing him against a wall may have been warranted, but throwing him against the second story of that wall was a bit of an overreaction.” I advised coolly.

“Duely noted.” She replied frigidly.

“Jack?” I asked again.

“Alex.”

“Jack, maybe a nice shade of purple might deter your many admirers.” I recommended, dropping my arm so she could pass.

“I’ll think about it, Alex.” She said as her clothing quickly deepened in color.

“Andie?”

“Ye…yes, Alex?” She answered sluggishly, finally tearing her eyes away from the unmoving tattered individual.

“Andie, you seem too quiet after what just happened. Do you still doubt Jack’s gift?”

“No…I mean…I understood why…I even understand how she did what she did…but…but how can you stand the smell of this place?” She began to complain. “I’ve witnessed sweeter emanations from Atlantis’ rare septic system backups. How can people actually live like this?”

“This is the way it has been for many centuries on Earth, Andromeda. Indoor plumbing is still seventy-five years away- and our suits…well…several centuries at least. I take it you never spent time on a farm back home?”

“We had agricultural regions! I just never expected to visit one.”

“Okay, so one important thing to know when visiting agrarian cultures.” I said with a serious expression. “Walk around anything that looks like it is wet and/or regurgitated, or has just been dropped there, when crossing the street.”

A horse and cart slowly passed by the mouth of the alley on the main street. As if to illustrate my statement, the horse unceremoniously lifted its tail and defecated.

“This place is so barbaric and unsanitary.” Andie declared as her face scrunched up in disgust of what she saw.

“There have been worse places in time, hun, let’s make a right and go two blocks.” I replied knowingly. “I also would like you two to find and select an accent more appropriate for this culture- preferably some derivation of British- from your suit’s library. Modern American English hasn’t been invented yet.”

“Why is that? I thought this was an American city, Alex.”

“At this time in American history, the ‘United States of America’ are still colonies of Britain and are locked in combat for their freedom, Andie. As I recall from my history courses, many cities on the east coast- Philadelphia being one of them until late last year- are still occupied by British garrisons and loyalists- Tory’s they’re called. If we sound more like British colonists we will be less noticeable.” I explained as I mentally opened the rarely used ‘Properties’ option in my suit’s language library. Twenty or so different selections opened on a separate menu marked ‘Default Accent’. ‘American- Central Midwest’ already had a check mark in front of it. I mentally selected ‘British- Southeast- Cockney’.

“Lemme know when you’ve got it done, Dearies.” I said, trying out my new voice.

“Oui, Mlle Alex. (Yes, Miss Alex.)

“Jack!” I growled, rolling my eyes and temporarily disabling my own translator. “I said English, not French.”

“But the French, they where here too, no?”

“Yes…they were…” I stopped walking, and glared at her. “This is y’all paying me back for teasing you earlier, right?”

“You have not seen this, Capitan? The Empress is wise and all-seeing, no?”

“Y’all really did get out of bed this morning and vowed to make my life hell this week, didn’t you?”

“Oui, je l'ai fait. (Yes, I did.)

I quickly turned and continued on our present course. “Please keep up, Jacquelyn.”

“Oui, madame. (Yes, ma’am.)

Andie let out a quiet giggle.

“What is it, Andie…or should I refer to you as ‘Lady Andromeda Andre’?” I asked in an exaggerated proper accent similar to the one Mina used when we first met.

I suddenly missed my sister and teacher.

“Alexandra, one could become quite enthralled by this option. I merely found humor in your tête-à-tête with Miss Jacquelyn.”

“Blimy, she’s usin’ the swanky, hoity-toity voice, ain’t she?” I replied, having re-enabled my translator. “We best be gettin’ to our flat ‘fore we all get too fulla ourselves.”
 
 

“Excuse me, Gov’nor, might you be able ta help three ladies in need of direction?” I asked as we neared a slightly overweight gentleman wielding a cane. Wearing a worn tri-corner hat, he looked every bit a colonial American. I waited for the grey-jacketed man to turn around.

To my surprise, he kept walking.

“Monsieur, un instant, s'il vous plaît? (Sir, a moment, please ?)

The gentleman turned quickly, hearing Jack’s voice, his eyes widening as he beheld us.

“Forgive me, ladies, my mind was wracked with other thoughts. I simply did not hear you approach. How might I be of assistance?”

“Might you know of and kindly direct us to the Arnold residence, sir? My niece and I are to meet with a Margaret Shippen-Arnold, of whom we have never made acquaintance.” Andie asked.

“And you would be?” He asked cautiously.

“Lady Andromeda Andre, sir. I believe my Uncle is known to have kept lodging here? This is my cousin, Alice Andre,” she pointed to me, “and her dutiful servant, Jacquelyn.”

“Dire Quoi? (Say what?)” Jack exclaimed suddenly. She looked menacingly at Andie.

Arnold seemed equally surprised by her response and looked at Jack questioningly.

“I’m sorry, sir, but Jacquelyn has her own opinions on servitude and disagrees quite often with her assigned duties.” Andie said, stifling a giggle or two. “Alice continuously pleads with me relative to her employment though. But they seem to work well together so I allow her to remain.”

“Oi! Jacki an’ me’s been friends since we’s lit’ll girls, Auntie. She’s part of the fam’ly now.” I protested before offering my hand to the gentleman. “Pleasure to make yer acquaintance, sir.” I curtsied then nodded to Jack. “Don’t be rude, say hi to the gentleman, Jacki.”

The hairs all over my body stiffened and I noticed our new acquaintance shiver.

“Ravi de vous rencontrer. (Pleased to meet you.)” Jack replied in an icy tone.

“Did you just feel that draft? We best find this Mrs. Shippen’s place ‘fore we catches our deaths.” I said, covering for my first officer’s recently short temper.

“That was a rather strange feeling, Mrs. Andre, I’ve never experienced one this far into the season.”

“Miss.” Andie corrected. “Miss Andre.”

“Forgive me, ‘Miss’ Andre. I just assumed-“

“That I should be otherwise engaged by this stage in life, sir?”

“No. No, I meant that a woman of your feminine beauty, not having a husband, it’s simply unthinkable! Why, if not completely smitten by my wife, Peggy, I’d make my advances on you this very moment.”

“Oi, you two gonna just stand here an snog or we gonna get help on our quest?” I asked rudely, rolling my eyes angrily.

“Yes, sorry.” He replied, looking down his nose at me. “Ladies, I’m afraid I have not properly introduced myself. I am Benedict Arnold. My wife, Peggy, is the woman for whom you search. My house is but a few blocks from here and shall take mere moments to arrive. If you’ll please allow me?” Arnold said pleasantly as he offered his free arm to Jack and I.

“Miss Andre, I do wish that I had a third arm with which to escort you properly.”

“Not to worry. I shall fall in line, Mr. Arnold. Lord knows the servant should be back here.” Andie responded dejectedly with a quiet giggle.

“Mordez-moi” Jack mumbled under her breath.

I’m not certain, but I think Jack turned her head and quickly stuck her tongue out at Andie.
 
 

Something was not right, I thought- and felt, as we walked closer to the riverfront.

“Oi! Where you live at, Gov’nor, some warehouse or underneath one-a them piers there?” I asked rudely.

“Miss Alice, I remembered that I forgot something at my trading house. It should take me but a few moments to fetch it.”

Alarm bells went off in my mind.

We stopped at a thick wooden door on the side of a large two-story building after walking another block. Arnold produced a skeleton key, opened a large padlock, and opened the door.

“Do come in and make yourselves at home. This is my cleric’s office.” Arnold said as he motioned us through the door into a small, dusty room with two, simple, wooden desks against opposite walls. He moved through the room and opened a door on the other side. “I shant be long.”

“Mlle Alex (Miss Alex), there is a bad feeling here, no?”

“I recon so, Jack. This ain’t how I first seen it. Somethin’s gone an’changed.”

“What ever shall we do, Alex?”

“I’ll take care of this, you two.” I said as I reselected my normal Missouri accent.

Quickly, I re-examined the next few minutes in my mind.

“Alex, Arnold, he is not alone. I should raise my shield?”

“Not necessary, Jack. I said I’d handle this.” I ordered as I enabled my tiara, stored safely in my period handbag.

“According to my tactical display there are four people in there, Ladies- three of which are standing almost on top of each other.”

“Why so close? Is the room that small, Alex?” Andie whispered.

“I’m not sure.” I said as I slowly moved closer to the door Arnold had just gone through.

“But the powder kegs are marked for General Washington and his men! Why would I just give you enough explosives to blow up the whole city?” Arnold’s voice argued from behind the door.

“Let’s call it payment for services rendered, Benny. Now, what are you gonna do about the three hot babes sent to spy on us out in the next room? We both know Capt. Andre ain’t got a niece named Andromeda let alone another niece named Alice- and Lewis Carrol ain’t written his ‘Alice in Wonderland’ shit yet.”

“What would you suggest, Mister Clemson? I am a lover of the fairest sex, not an assassin.”

“Incapacitate the dark blonde bitch- she’s their leader, but watch the shorter blonde all the same. That should give me enough time to power up my device and put an end to their meddling.”

“And how should I…in…incapacitate such beautiful creatures?”

“Fuck ‘em in the ass…bed ‘em…rape ‘em…I don’t give a shit how you do it, Benny! Just distract them long enough for me to make us millionaires.”

“If that is how you have seen this outcome, Mister Clemson.” Arnold said sadly.

I hurried back to my place between Jack and Andie as quietly as I could before the door opened. A troubled looking Benedict Arnold appeared and walked straight for me. My tactical showed three or four people- still unbelievably close together- moving into the main storeroom through another door.

‘Awaiting your orders, Cap.’ Jack thought to me.

‘I said I have this one, Jack. You and Andie take my hands.” I thought back, moving my arms behind me slowly.

“Miss Alice, might I have a word with you?” Arnold asked pleasantly.

“What word could that be, Mr. Arnold? Delay,” I accused?

He looked surprised at my sudden change in accent.

“I don’t want you to think badly of me at our first meeting, miss, but I am somewhat backed into a corner. What I must do shames me greatly.”

“Not as greatly as what I must do to you, sir.” I said as I started to concentrate deeply.

The world around us…stopped.

All sound vanished and Arnold froze in mid stride. Bothersome flies that had been buzzing around us froze in midair, their wings stiff and unmoving. Airborne dust and pollen particles disturbed by our recent entrance hung motionless in the air around us. Nothing except the three of us continued moving.

Nothing but us.

“What…what did you just do, Alex?” Jack gasped, fear filling her voice.

“She’s…by the seven worlds, she’s stopped time, Jacquelyn, isn’t it obvious?” Andie answered looking around us in awe. The same amount of fear was evident in her voice too.

“Dire quoi?

“We need to get to Clemson before he gets away.” I said as I pulled my companions straight through the room’s interior wall.

“What of Arnold? Should we just leave him?” Jack asked in a frightened tone.

“First things first, Jack.” I said as we hurried deeper into the dusty warehouse.

I noticed sixty or so small barrels arranged in a tightly grouped circle around another motionless figure- his hand already depressing a green circle on the small control panel of what I saw was the CDA.

“Damn! He’s already engaged the machine.” I cursed as we walked straight through the barrels to the modern dressed man at their center.

“As soon as I release, he’s going to disappear.”

“What do we do?” Jack asked.

“See if you can move some of these barrels of gunpowder out of the CDA’s reach.” I said as I felt the strain of holding off time become worse.

“Oui.” She replied as her face blushed.

A barrel on the outer edge of the grouping fell over and began to slowly roll away.

“It is tougher than it looks, madame.” Jack said, as her concentration seemed to increase.

“Move as many as you can. I can’t do this for too long.”

“Take the power from me, Alex!”

“No, Jack, you need everything you’ve got to do your job.”

“Then use me, Alexandra!” Andie cried. “Use me as a power source. Do not be afraid to use more than you did on our last mission together.”

I mentally envisioned the valve on Andie’s side again- just as I had before- and opened it a crack.

Andie moaned quietly, but I felt no surge of energy this time.

I opened the imaginary valve farther.

Again Andie moaned, louder this time, still I felt no assistance. Holding time at bay was beginning to put extreme stress on my body and mind. I knew what would happen if I held it for too long.

Another barrel fell over and began to roll away slowly from the stockpile.

I couldn’t hold it much longer, but I had too!

“Alexandra, there is blood trickling from your nose.” Andie warned. “Take more power from me! I can handle it.”

I mentally opened the valve a quarter turn.

“ARRRRRRGGHHH!” Andie screamed in pain and I began to feel a small amount of her energy enter my body. I felt I had gained another minute or so.

“Jack,” I strained through gritted teeth, “I can’t do this much longer.”

Jack seemed to concentrate even harder and two barrels fell over at once and began to roll. Their progress away from us was noticeably slower though.

“I am doing the best that I can, madame!”

“Alex, you have to take more from me! I can handle it. Do it, Alex!” Andie urged in a pained tone.

I gave the virtual fixture another quarter turn.

Andie shreiked out in agony as I felt the trickle of energy increase ever so slightly.

“Any more is going to kill you, Andie!” I strained, “Jack, I’m losing it. We have to move away from here!”

I began pulling my friends back through the hoard of packaged gunpowder as the strain on me became unbearable.

“Alexandra… your… ear.” Andie exclaimed in a raspy, guttural groan with wide, pained eyes.

“We have to go, Jack. Enable emergency egress- to previous location only, OakRidgeEmpress8716, Engage!” I spit out.

Atlantis’ bridge appeared around us as Andie collapsed at my side. My legs turned to jelly and I began to drop also.

“We need a medic,” was the last thing I heard from Jack before things went dark.
 
 

Atlantis Expeditionary Ship, Standard Year 257:06:16
 
 

“Alex, take a sip.” A voice said to me as things began to brighten.

Alex Reilly’s face hovered over me as I watched her move my flask closer.

“You’ve depleted your nanotech reserve. You need to replace them in order to recover faster, sis.”

Her voice sounded motherly and worried.

“Andie?”

“Recovering slowly, Alex. She’s gonna be okay though. Ya’ll had us worried, honey. Here, take a swig now.”

“Jack?”

“I’ll live to fight another day, Alex.” Jack’s disapproving voice said from somewhere off to my left.

I nodded before I allowed Alex to place the flask to my mouth. The cool water tasted of blood, but I swallowed it all the same.

“So, Jack tells me you’ve added a new dynamic to our inventory?”

I nodded. “Time.” I croaked out.

“Or the complete stoppage thereof!” She accused, raising her right brow.

“Alex, what possessed you?” She asked with more concern on our face than I could remember. “What made you think about actually stopping time- really stopping it?”

“Needed to be done.” I croaked out again.

“But at the risk of disintegrating your brain into mush? What were y’all thinkin’?”

“Time…line…changed…had…to…improvise.” I explained, starting to feel a little better.

“The mission…it wasn’t turning out as we had seen. Alex, Clemson was there. He took gunpowder meant for Washington’s troops.”

“We’ll get him, sis, we’ve both seen that. Now lie back and allow the nanos to repair the damage.

I closed my eyes and reveled in the feeling of my energy coming back to me.
 
 

“I’m sorry, Andie.” I said as tears blurred my vision. I had spent most of the day resting and felt that I had to apologize to her. I was now in her quarters- her bedroom to be exact.

“Empress, it was…it was my decision…my choice.”

“I almost killed you!”

“Also my choice, Alexandra. It was the right thing to do.”

“The mission…it wasn’t meant to go that way, though.”

“The probabilities were high that something unaccounted for would happen, ma’am. Your quick thinking and that miraculous garment you wear made all the difference.”

“I shouldn’t have had to use it though, Andie. I was careless. I left some variables unaddressed and almost killed two valued friends.” I said as tears ran down my cheeks.

Andie remained quiet and observed me for a few minutes then repositioned her pillow behind her to sit up straighter in her bed.

“How…” She began, sizing me up carefully, “How…did you do it?”

At my blank look, she asked again.

“How…how did you stop time…around us?”

I thought about the answer, or what I was going to tell her for a minute or two.

“I found out about it a while back…relatively. It was a mistake. Me from about twenty minute into the future had to do something to convince me in the present to do the right thing…to do what the mission demanded…what I absolutely had to do. She killed…sacrificed herself…in order to make me see reason- to give me time to make the right choice. Knowing that if she could do it, then so could I, I felt our situation warranted its use.” I paused a moment. “I still couldn’t get that maniac!”

“Alex, you scared the shit out of us!” Jack accussed, somewhat hysterically from behind me. She had obviously let herself in.

“That side-effect was not a concern at the time, Jack.” I said over my shoulder. “Something had to be done or Clemson would have not only canceled the biblical flood, but also crippled the Continental Army. With no powder, the British would have gained the advantage. Arnold wouldn’t have had the chance to reach traitor status with the Americans, but died a beaten, subjugated traitor to Britain instead.”

“But wouldn’t he still remember that we suddenly disappeared right in front of him?”

“I’m sure he has many questions about us, and the powder kegs disappearing, Andie. That’s why we’re going back…only this time, we’re going to ensure that Mr. Benedict Arnold retains his previous title of American traitor.”

“You’re not serious, Cap!”

“Jack, we’ll need Mademoiselle Jacquelyn again, I’m afraid.”

“What about Lady Andromeda Andre, Alex?”

“He already knows that the Colonel has no relatives by the names of Andromeda and Alice, hun- we go as ourselves this time.”

“But I still have to play the French tart?”

“Arnold seemed to have a weakness for the accent, Jack. We’ll need to use that to our advantage.”

Jack sighed.

“Oui, Mlle Alex.” She answered in a deflated tone.

“So when do we leave?”

“As soon as they release you from medical care, Andie…maybe a week or two.”

“How can you recover so quickly, Alex? You were hurt more severely than me and yet, here you stand, looking as if nothing had happened?”

“It’s all part of our gifts, Commodore. The sisters of Kili are very…very hard to dispose of.”
 
 

Atlantis Expeditionary Ship, Standard Year 257:06:23
 
 

“Commodore, what are you doing out of bed? I thought the doctor hadn’t cleared you yet?” I asked in surprise, answering my quarter’s door.

“It’s been long enough since we got back. I’m ready to go, Empress.” She replied cheerfully.

“I’m sure you are, but are we ready for you, Commodore?”

“What do you mean?”

I motioned for her to enter and have a seat.

“I’m sure you’ve been asking yourself why I asked you on these missions.”

“I don’t follow, Alex.”

“You’re not the least bit curious?” I looked at her and shook my head several times. “I find that difficult to believe considering your considerable training and finely tuned intuition, Andie.”

“What are you talking about? I thought you asked me along for my military background?”

I sat back on my side of the Davenport and re-evaluated this woman. Had she really no clue about her potential?

“You don’t know? Really?” I asked before I re-issued my question.

“Alex, can we quit playing games here? I have no clue as to what you’re hinting at…and frankly, I’m not into games all that much. Can we just skip the Empirical charades and tell me why I’m so important to you?”

“For one, your gift, Andie- the one I triggered in Philadelphia… when I stopped time.”

Commodore Andromeda Celeste stared at me in silence.

“Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, you have a gift, Andie.”

She continued to stare, almost daring me to continue.

I decided to stare back- back into those brilliant blue eyes.

“I should be going.” She said suddenly and made to get up.

I quickly stood and gently grasped her arm. “Let me explain.” I said to the statuesque brunette, with a smile.

“Alex, I thought I saw Andie coming to your room…” Alex Reilly said as soon as my quarter’s door began to open.

The door froze nearly half way open.

“And I was wondering if the doctors had…released her… early…by the Goddess’ what have you done now, Sister?” She continued as she looked curiously at the stuck door then at me. Squeezing through the opening, she entered. “You did it again…why, sis?”

Andie stared at me in horror before looking at Alex.

“To show Andie her gift, sis. The one she has no idea she carries.”

“But did you really have to demonstrate so soon after her release from the infirmary, Alex?”

“As with anything, the more you use it the easier it becomes, sis.”

“Alex, wouldn’t just telling her be more conducive to her rehabilitation?”

I shook my head in the negative. “Andie, I’m going to start to draw some energy from you. Let me know if the pain gets too unbearable.”

I gave my virtual valve a slow quarter turn and felt the trickle of power enter me.

Andie moaned softly and looked into my eyes in something between confusion and euphoria.

Alex looked around us in concern then her eyes latched onto Andie and I again.

“Andie, I’m going to take some more from you. I’ll ramp it up slowly. Tell me if it’s too much, alright?”

She nodded and I slowly gave another quarter turn to the imaginary fixture.

Andie moaned a little louder this time, but she seemed to be taking it in stride.

“Alex, what, if anything, is this going to prove?” Alex Reilly asked, her voice sounded a little more excited than concerned.

“I’d like to take it up another notch, Andie.”

She nodded approval.

“I’m taking us to three-quarters throttle.”

Andie’s moan turned into a pained groan as she slowly closed her eyes. She almost had a smile on her face.

The energy flowing into me now more than compensated for what I was expelling.

“Sis, does this have any theoretical premise, or have we suddenly turned into power vampires?” Alex Reilly complained.

“How do you feel, Andie?” I asked gently.

It’s nowhere near how it felt last week, Empress. What are we trying to prove, though?”

“I’m now drawing more than three times the energy from you that I was on the mission and you haven’t cried out in pain yet.”

“So are we into domination and masochism now, Alex?” Alex Reilly asked sarcastically.

“It’s beginning to hurt a little, Empress. What are you trying to tell me, ma’am?”

“This is your gift, Andromeda Celeste! You can somehow provide an energy reserve that I…maybe we, the sisters of Kili, can draw from if needed.”

“She’s a human power source, Alex?” Alex Reilly choked out.

“I’m a battery?”

“Yes!” I said in triumph as I slowly closed my imagined valve and felt the energy flow stop. I released my hold on time.

My quarter’s door opened fully and closed normally, much to my sister’s relief. I tried something else before releasing the Commodore’s arm.

I slowly turned the valve in the opposite direction and felt energy move from me.

“OHHHHHH, heavens, OOOHHHHH, what are you doing now, Empress?” Andie asked in a breathy, passionate moan as her eyes closed again. “That...” She licked her lips. “That feels sooooo…OoooooOHHHHHH!”

Commodore Celeste noticeably shivered.

The imaginary valve closed again and disappeared from my mind.

“When borrowing something, its always courteous to replenish what was used.” I told her and Allie.

“Andie, are you going to be okay?” I asked as the woman stood there and seemed to still be basking in a warm, comforting feeling. I recognized the expression from one of the video recordings made on a few of my trips back to Reilly BC.

My door opened and Jack and Cami walked in unannounced.

“I hope somebody made an archive of that. It was short but very…VERY good!” Cami grinned.

“That settles it” Allie began with a chuckle. “We’re both surrounded by perverts!”

“But director, you were the one that suggested we…” Cami started to say.

Alex Reilly disappeared from my room.

“Where did she go, Alex?” Cami finished abruptly.

“Your director had a few…um…things to take care of, sweetheart.” I giggled.

“So, Empress,” Andie giggled lightly as she finally composed herself. “When do we leave, and where do we go this time?”

“West Point, New York, 1780.”

“I guess I should go find Professor Samuels and borrow her extra Reilly suit again.” Andie said as her excited expression turned into a frown. “As soon as I clean up a bit, that is.”

The Commodore excused herself and exited my quarters.

“So…I take it that I’m still on Ricky Lynn detail, Alex?” Cami asked sadly.

I nodded. “How’s the thruster rehab going?”

“You do know this thing has over a thousand thrusters on it, right?”

“Tell her to focus on Rings ‘B’ through ‘E’, sections 10 through 80, and Ring ‘D’ section 180, Sweetheart.”

“Ricky Lynn says thanks, Alex. She also wants to know how long you were going to wait to tell her?”

“Tell her that we may or may not be using the thrusters to land Atlantis, Cami.”

Cami nodded but her eyes and mouth opened wide in surprise.

“What’d she say, Sweetheart?” I asked with a devious grin.

“You really don’t want to know her response, Alex.”

Jack laughed. “Come on, sis, Alex has some talking to do with the Commodore. I’ll be ready to leave in an hour, Alex.”

Both women turned and walked out the door.

“Jacki? I’ve never heard Ricky Lynn use the term…” I heard Cami say before the door closed.
 
 

Half an hour later I again answered my door, as expected, Andie stood dressed in her borrowed Reilly suit- its default red and blue matching mine.

“You have a question, Andromeda.” I stated rather than questioned as I motioned her in.

“The Past Empress…how” Andie thought about how to ask. “How could she still be moving if you stopped…if you stopped time?”

“Beats me.” I answered honestly. Maybe because we’re actually the same person? The same…um…entity?” I shrugged. “I told you that neither of us got the owner’s manual, hun, we just play it by ear. So far it’s worked out.”
 
 

This doesn’t look like the West Point I’ve seen pictures of, Alex.” Jack said as we looked around.

“We’re actually on the opposite side and downstream of Fort Clinton. This is a little hamlet called Verplanck’s Point. It’s early morning, September 22nd, 1780”

“This is no hamlet, Alex, this is a garrisoned outpost and a crude one at that.” Andie argued.

“Okay…so where are we…really, Empress?”

“Someplace where women really shouldn’t be, Jack- not in this time.” I said with a wry grin. “You see, this is one of the many small outposts along the Hudson River setup to keep British troops and ships,” I pointed out into the river and downstream a little ways, “like that one from securing a foothold in the upper Hudson valley.”

Jack and Andie’s mouths’ dropped open simultaneously.

“So what can we do about it, Alex?” Jack asked.

“Soooo,” I said dropping their hands, thereby indicating that we had rephased, “Jack, Alex, and Andie get to blow something up!”

Jack looks so pretty when she’s surprised- Andie too, for that matter.

“Alex?” Jack whispered. “What about those men over there? Shouldn’t we just tell them what’s coming up river?”

“Do you remember how to load one of these antiques, Commander?” I asked with a sly grin, skirting the question entirely.

“With the exception of how much powder to use, Cap.”

“Best guess, Commander Cummins. Commodore, how good are you with aiming an ancient cannon?”

“Somehow I think I’ll find out, Alex.”

I nodded.

From our right, a bag of powder floated past and emptied itself into the bore of the five or six inch iron cannon.

I watched as the bag emptied itself into the barrel and motioned for Jack to stop when I felt the right amount had been added. Jack nodded.

“I’ll pack it so they won’t notice a ghostly ramrod, Cap- same with the gun cotton.”

“Andie, don’t forget to account for windage and lead the target a little- I figure they’re doing one, maybe two knots. They’ll be tacking away from us in another five minutes in order to distance themselves from our guns.”

“Alex, I may be new to this planet, but the laws of physics still hold true on mine.” She told me in annoyance.

“That may be, but it’s not always true- especially in other universes.”

Andie stopped looking down river and stared back at me curiously.

I motioned with my index finger that her attention should be focused on the enemy ship and not me.

Jack floated a cannonball over to the gun’s muzzle and it disappeared silently down the barrel.

“Does anybody know where they keep the fuse powder?”

“Just a spark in the breech will do the trick, Commander.” I reminded.

“Oh ya…right. Awaiting coordinates and orders, Commodore Celeste.” Jack replied quietly with a devilish grin.

I noticed it was starting to get lighter. We’d lose our chance of getting the first shot off if one of the dozing soldiers happened to wake up.

Andie walked over to the side of the antique artillery piece and eyed up the barrel against the target, which had just started to come about to tack away from us.

“Two degrees to the right, Jacquelyn and raise the azimuth eight…no, ten degrees.” Jack complied and the gun silently moved the required distance- it’s muzzle rose about six inches.

Sighting the gun once more, Andie gave us a ‘thumbs up’ and stepped back behind me. I felt her hand in mine.

“Ready for firing, Cap.” Jack informed me before she too stepped back and took my offered left hand. I phased us out.

“Andie whenever you feel the time is right.” I said turning my head to her and squeezing her hand.

“Fire.” She said and the gun erupted in smoke and blinding flame. The noise was deafening.

A floury of men appeared around us- all wanting to know who or what set off the cannon.

An explosion echoed across the water and all eyes focused on the fire and commotion out in the river.

“That looks like a direct hit if I ever saw one, good job ladies.”

Immediately several other cannons were readied and systematically fired. The crew examining our gun, still at a loss for it’s firing, jumped into action, one man fetching and pouring a pail of water over the barrel while the others fetched shot, powder, cotton, and rod. Within two minutes the gun belched forth another ball- this one not so well aimed as the first.

“They fire cannon like a bunch of women, Alex.” Jack observed with a giggle.

“I would argue that statement, hun. At least we hit the target.”

Both Jack and Andie nodded.

“So what ship was that out there?” Jack asked as we stepped back and watched the ‘professionals’ work.

“HMS Vulture- Captain Andre’s ship. In about half an hour it’s going to turn back downstream toward New York for repairs…lots of repairs. Time to move on, Ladies.”

Our surroundings changed slightly from tree-lined shore to tree-lined, muddy, dirt road…well, two deep muddy ruts, anyway.

“Now where are we?” Jack asked as she and Andie looked around.

“South of West Point…um…Fort Clinton, September 24th, 1780.” I answered.

“So…what do we do here, Alex?”

“We’re here to inform Mr. Arnold that Capt. Andre has been captured, Jack.”

“Why?”

“Because I want him to see us again. We left so suddenly the last time we met, Jack.”

“I’d have thought you wanted to see his face when we ‘popped’ in. Where do we meet him then?”

“Over in that nice looking home over there, Jack. He uses that as his headquarters while commanding the fort.”

We were instantly in the well decorated- for the time period- dining room. Arnold entered and momentarily gazed out the window. He appeared to be waiting for someone. Two male servants, one at a door to another part of the house and one standing beside the table waited to attend the Commandant and his possible guest.

“Jack, I’m going to need a free hand in a minute. Would you mind taking Andie’s?”

She nodded agreement and switched positions. Andie was now between us.

“Andie, I’m going to start drawing energy from you and Jack, alright?” I told them.

“Are you going to do what I think, Empress?” Jack asked grimly.

“Sure am.” I answered raising my eyebrows twice.

“Jacquelyn, I thought we weren’t to use titles on missions?”

“If she’s going to stop time, that’s something only the Empress can do. So the title is warranted, Andie.”

Ignoring the debate, I began to explain what I planned to do.

“I’m going to try something a little different this time, ladies. Let’s see if I can use what I know about my children’s gifts and try to stop time everywhere except for us and Arnold- without touching him.”

Jack and Andie gave me a worrisome look as I started to concentrate on my self-imposed task. When I thought I had all the specifics covered, I imagined two control valves in my mind and slowly gave each a quarter turn.

Andie gave a quiet, almost pleasant, moan while Jack flinched noticeably and looked to me in wonder.

The energy flowing into me was amazing!

I pulled the trigger in my mind and everything around us suddenly stopped. As before, all noises and sounds vanished.

I noticed Arnold’s eyes slowly glance around the room as he detected something amiss.

‘Jacquelyn? Say hello to the man.’ I thought to my Ex-O as soon as I rephased us.

“Bonjour à nouveau, M. Arnold."

As expected, he jumped substantially.

“So, we meet again, General Arnold.” I said with a smile.

“How did you…?”

“Oh, you know, we just popped in to say hi, General.” I giggled.

“Sergeant!”

“They can’t hear you, Benedict…or should I call you ‘Benny’?” I said menacingly as I gave him an evil grin. “This room is now totally isolated from the outside world. No one can enter…no one can leave. Not even General Washington and his best troops could gain entry.”

“What do you want?”

“What do we want? Oh, Benny, we want history to be corrected so that America can win its freedom and our forefathers can arrive to a free nation, that’s all.” I answered, as my grin became a predatory smile.

“You speak so strangely. How can this be history as you say if this is the here and now?”

“Oh no, Benny, this is our,” I motioned to Andie and Jack, “history. Didn’t Clemson tell you about me?”

“Last year he said that you were the leader…of what, I do not know…that I should restrict you so he could gain escape. He said nothing else, I swear.”

“Didn’t he tell you to compromise and/or otherwise deflower me?”

“Details escape me, Miss Alice.”

“Empress!” I hissed sharply.

“Forgive me, what?”

“You shall address me by my rightful title- ‘Empress of Time and Space’, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold!” I shouted angrily. Feeling the burden starting to take its toll, I twisted each envisioned valve another quarter turn. Both were now at half throttle. The increase of energy lessened the strain on me sufficiently for now.

Again Andie let out a quiet moan and Jack blinked a few times before quickly glancing over at me.

The man’s mouth dropped open, his complexion turned very pale, as he looked around us, finally noticing that nothing outside of us was moving.

My smile widened as I approached him- Jack and Andie in tow.

“You’ve been a very bad boy, Benny.” I cooed as my right index finger menacingly jabbed his shoulder. “Misappropriating supplies and equipment designated for Gen. Washington’s Army for your own gain; black market dealings; conspiring with the British and the Tories.” I accused as I quickly turned away from him to look out a window. “Of course, who could blame you, right? You’ve been embarrassed and humiliated; refused a proper command numerous times in two wars; and now…and now, Benny, you’re trying to sell out your own country. One, by the way, you’ve only recently pledged your allegiance to. Valley Forge, I believe, was the place you took your oath?”

“How do you know all that?”

I quickly turned back around.

“Because it is our right and true history, Benedict!” I shouted pointing my thumb back at me. “One that is now in shambles thanks to you and Darren Clemson!”

“He only sought to obtain powder from me.”

“Yes, I know. Enough to level most of the city of Philadelphia as I recall.” I said evenly as I got within inches of his face. “Munitions slated for your friend and Commander, George Washington. It was a good thing we isolated half of those stores. At least the Continental Army had something to fight back with!”

“But you and Mr. Clemson…you both vanished into thin air at the same instance. How could you have rescued twenty kegs of powder in less than an instant? I thought he miscounted his inventory.”

“Did you not hear our Empress’ full title, Mr. Arnold? Empress of Time and Space?” Jack reminded in anger.

“What was an instant for you was about fifteen minutes for us, sir. I almost lost my colleague here doing it.” I said motioning to Andie.

“I am sorry about that…Empress…I was against harming any of you in any way! You must believe me. As for Mister Clemson, he gave me no recourse but to supply his needs. The man is devious and underhanded. He threatened my very existence!”

“I know that better than anyone, Benny. That is why we are here. To repair what Clemson has destroyed.”

“How?”

“In about a minute, a Lieutenant carrying a message from Col. Jameson’s command at Tarrytown will arrive with a letter informing you that Capt. Andre was captured yesterday. A similar message along with some correspondence and plans for West Point’s fortifications has also been sent to General Washington. He is, at this moment ordering your arrest and will not be joining you for the morning meal.”

“How can you know this?”

“I thought you were smarter than that, Benny? You are our history, remember?” I smiled evilly once more. “I’d answer the door if I were you.” I suggested and nodded to it before releasing time and phasing out.

There was a knock at the door as Arnold looked around the room for us.

“Excuse me, Commandant, this just arrived for you.” The younger man said handing Arnold a wax sealed message. Opening and reading the message, his eyes sprang open.

“Ready my horse! I have been summoned away on a matter of extreme importance.” He ordered as he continued to look for any sign of us.

“At once, Commandant.”

“He’s running?” Jack asked, already knowing the answer.

“This small part of history is back on track, ladies.” I announced happily. “Is everyone okay?”

Andie nodded, but Jack frowned a little.

“Jack?” I asked.

“I thought you said I would need to lure him out, Alex.”

I gave my Ex-O a strange glance and wondered about her.

“All I said was that I would need Mademoiselle Jacquelyn again, Jack. You still are Jacquelyn Cummins, right?” I asked, shaking my head.

“But thankfully, I never got to say or do much, Alex.”

“Jack, I wouldn’t have been able to set things straight without you and Andie here”

But all we did, Alex, was fire an ancient cannon at an ancient sailing ship.” Andie remarked.

“Exactly! And after readdressing everything that happened to us on our last mission this past week- the sudden changes; the added variables- it all snapped neatly into place.”

“You’re saying Clemson actually made it easier for us to fix things, Alex?” Jack asked in amazement.

I nodded. “If we hadn’t tried to stop him in Philadelphia though, things could’ve gotten worse. So…to answer your next question: ‘Was it worth us even going there in the first place, Alex?’ The answer is yes, definitely.”

“I can’t believe someone like him would make things easy intentionally, Alex.”

I looked at Jack and nodded.

“So, where to now, Empress?” Andie asked excitedly.

“We head back to Atlantis and plan our next mission.” I said as our surroundings changed…

Nothing!

My tiara immediately displayed its menu in my HUD and selected the environmental field.

“Alex…where’s my ship?” Andie cried in fear.

“How can we be breathing, Empress?” Jack cried hysterically. “I thought space was a vacuum?”

“The tiara must have sensed the pressure loss and engaged the environmental field, Jack. As for where Atlantis is, Andie…I’ve got no clue, but we need to get out of here.” I said as calmly as I could. I happened to see a huge cloud of smoke on the planet’s surface just on the horizon. Oh, God, no!

A heavily wooded slope appeared around us. In the distance a huge wildfire was burning. There was an enormously wide and deep gash carved into the ground leading out to the inferno.

“Noooo!” Andie cried out as she fell to her knees, still holding Jack’s hand.

“Empress?” Jack asked quietly, her eyes already tearing up.

“Can you sense…anybody…Jack?” I asked, trying to keep my composure.

“Maybe one hundred, maybe more Alex, I can’t really tell with all the chaos going on.”

“Alex, we need to be there! I need to be there!” Andie cried.

Quickly, I concentrated on the Bridge and asked the question in my mind: ‘Is it safe to go there’?

“Andie, you need to stand up now.” I said as Jack tried to pull her up.

“Everyone’s gone!” She cried out. “Everyone’s gone…”

‘Jack, stand her up.” I ordered as our location changed once more.

What surrounded us could only be described as carnage. All around us equipment freed by the brutal impact lay sparking and strewn about. Nothing seemed to be moving except a few lighting fixtures swinging from the ceiling.

I quickly disengaged my tiara’s environmental field and brought up its tactical display hoping it would direct us to any survivors.

“I show several life signs in here, Jack.” I pointed down to a lower tier from where we stood. “They’re not very strong.”

We began to make our way through the rubble that had been the various command stations.

“Alex, I found Cami.”

“Where is she, Jack?”

“Looking for Ricky Lynn, Alex.”

“Is she okay?”

“A few bumps and bruises.”

“Can she tell us what happened and when?”

“She doesn’t know, Alex, she was asleep when it started.”

“Reggie!” Andie shouted, as we approached a pile of battered consoles.

“Jack.”

“On it, Cap.”

The pile slowly cleared one piece at a time to reveal Andie’s first officer as Jack carefully relocated the debris. Reggie’s legs and right arm were bent in the wrong directions- in multiple places.

Andie broke free of Jack’s grasp and quickly, gently turned her head toward her.

“Reggie, by the heavens are you okay? We’re going to get you out of here.” Getting no response, she gently brushed the woman’s hair from her forehead away from her eyes. “Reggie?”

The woman’s eyes fluttered a few times before opening slightly.

“Commodore…you…you came back.” The severely injured woman said with a forced smile.

“Reggie, you’re going to be okay. What happened? When did it happen?”Andie said trying to comfort her.

I dropped my head when my tactical showed her heartbeat slowing.

Reggie began to say something, but Jack and I couldn’t hear it. Andie moved her head closer to the dying woman’s mouth.

“Reggie, don’t leave me! We’ll get help. Alex can get you to a doctor in an instant.” Andie hugged her friend’s head in her arms.

“I’m sorry…”

The woman’s eyes began to close as I noticed her indication on my tactical stop pulsing and turn grey.

“Andie, what did she tell you?” I asked, gently as I could as I tried desperately to hold my own emotions back. I could feel the tears cascading down my cheeks.

“Alex, Cami reports…that our…that our sisters…they didn’t make it, Alex.” Jack choked out. “She just found…” Jack burst into tears on my shoulder.

“Andie?” I choked out just above a whisper. “Andie, did she tell you when this began?”

“I…I wasn’t here for them… I was their commander and…and I wasn’t…wasn’t here…when …when they needed me…most. I…I let my own…my own…gratification…distract…distract me.”

“Andie, we can still make this right.” I urged placing my hand on her shoulder. We can go back to before this all happened and prevent it.” I told her.

“It can’t be undone, Empress! It’s too late!” She shouted in distress. “I wasn’t here for them! Don’t you know that it can’t be redone?”

“It can and we will, Commodore!” I told her sternly. “The Empress of Time and Space will undo this whole unfortunate event. I promise you!”

“You’ve done enough, Alex! What’s done is done. Just leave me here…this is where I should have been anyway. I should have been here in her place!”

“You don’t mean that, Andie!” I responded in anger. “You, Jack, and I are the only ones that can reverse this! We can stop this from happening!”

“Just let me be.”

“No! I will not let everything that you’ve done here just go away, Andromeda Celeste! You’ve all come too far to be stopped this easily. Jack, we have to go back to before this happened. Commodore Celeste, I need to know if Reggie told you when this started.”

“Got it, Alex. Transferring the information to you now.”

“Thanks, Jack.”

“You just stole my memory! That is not acceptable. It is stealing private property.” Andie complained weakly.

“If it saves millions of people, Commodore, I’ll gladly stand trial for the offence.”

“Millions? There were only two hundred and fifty thousand on Atlantis. How do you get millions out of that?”

“I’m talking about all of the lives that won’t exist if we let this tragedy happen!”

Our surroundings changed…

To chaos!

“What’s going on?” Andie shouted in confusion as she suddenly looked up. We now stood watching her bridge crew trying to contain whatever failure or catastrophe had occurred in our absence. It took a moment for a space to clear that was big enough for the three of us to rephase and another few for Andie to comprehend what I had just done.

“REPORT!” Commodore Celeste shouted at the top of her lungs over the warning horns, bells, klaxons, and hysteric conversations. “REGGIE!”

Andie’s Ex-O jumped in surprise misinterpreting her sudden emotion-filled outburst completely.

“Systematic failures on all environmental and station keeping equipment, Commodore. We think Ricky Lynn’s modifications to Dixie may have caused it! We’re unable to maintain orbit. Uncontrolled atmospheric insertion will occur in two hours, ma’am.”

Andie looked at me with an angry intensity that I’d never seen, but knew well. She was going to lose her ship and one of my sisters was to blame.

“Where is the professor now, Commander?” I asked Reggie.

“Last I saw she was running for the processing core, Empress.”

“Alex, I have to be here.” Andie said as she released my hand and hurried to her station with Reggie.

“Jack, stay here and assist where you can. I’m going to find the chief.”

“What’s going on, Cap?”

“If I’d have to guess, I’d say Clemson left his professor a small going away present.”

“If you’d have to guess, Cap?”

“This wasn’t something I’d seen happening, Jack. I didn’t see a single scenario where something like this happened.”

“Then how could he…”

“I told everyone this man was dangerous!” I said before the processor core appeared around me. Prof. Samuels sat cross-legged holding her head.

“I’m sorry baby! I never meant to hurt you. I was trying to help you be your best.” She cried glancing up at the rows of computer equipment racks.

“What happened, hun?” I asked.

“According to your diagnostic tool, this board should be operating at nominal efficiency, Chief.” Alex Reilly shouted from a row off to my left.

There was no recognition of my presence.

“Alex! What’s going on?” I shouted.

“That’s impossible, Alex. My gut tells me that it has to be where the problem started. From there it’s cascaded to every system controller in the ship. What the hell did I do to these people?” Ricky Lynn cried as she momentarily looked up and cupped her face in her hands.

“Could the tools be the cause, Chief?” I asked.

I got no response. This wasn’t good! Had I suddenly skipped into a parallel dimension somehow? If so, what…who caused it?

The chaotic bridge scene reappeared.

“Jack, Andi, Where do things stand?” I asked as I rephased.

Again, as with my sister and Ricky Lynn, I got no answer.

“What the hell’s happening around here?” I shouted in frustration.

“Empress. Empress, why can’t they hear you?” a tiny voice asked. Yuuka’s voice was barely audible above the chaotic din as she suddenly flew in close to my face.

“You can hear me, Yuuka?” I asked in surprise.

“Yes, Empress, I can.” She said, landing on my shoulder and speaking directly into my ear.

“Oh, thank God! I thought I had jumped into another dimension or something!” I told her, relieved that someone could interact with me.

“Alex…what’s going on?”

“It was Clemson!” I accused. “Somehow he found a way to sabotage Atlantis and our efforts to capture him.”

“How could he do that, Alex, He doesn’t know where we are, right?”

“He knows Professor Samuels, hun! He knows Ricky Lynn’s fondness for cybernetics. He also knows that Ricky Lynn can’t pass up the urge to tinker or repair something.”

“You mean he sabotaged her equipment?”

“I think so, hun. If I’m not mistaken, her tools will continue to fail her.”

“Prof. Samuels must be almost ready to give up, Alex! She’s taken an instant liking to Dixie. She’s like her child, ma’am!”

“A child she’s unintentionally killing with every effort, hun.”

“We have to stop her, Empress. Millions of people will be killed if Atlantis does not land safely.”

I thought about what the Pixie said and quickly ran a few scenarios.

“Yuuka, I know this may be too much to ask, but I need to borrow your energy.”

“Empress?”

“I need to do something crazy, but to do that I’ll need to tap into you, hun.”

“Do I need to grow up, Alex?”

Did she? I ran the possibilities.

“No, hun, you actually have more energy in your present form.” I answered after a few seconds.

“I do?”

I nodded my head.

“Just hold tight to my ear hun. I can’t guarantee this won’t be painful.”

“Understood, ma’am. I’m ready. Um…what are we going to do?”

“First I’m going to establish a localized perimeter around you and I, Jack, Cami, Andie, and possibly Reggie. After that I’m going to attempt to stop time everywhere but.”

“You can do that, Empress?”

“It’s worked once on a limited scale, hun.”

“If you stop time around us, what would you do next?”

“If that works, we have a very limited time to transport Atlantis safely to the surface, Yuuka.”

“Limited time, Empress?”

“I never did this before. If I don’t get it right, our new friends and our sisters die in the resulting crash.”

“And us, Empress?”

“This attempt will probably kill us in the process, my sister.”

“At least it will be an honorable death, Captain Steinert.” Yuuka said, her voice turning gruesomely serious. “I await your orders, ma’am.”

“I’m going to start drawing power from you, Yuuka.” I announced after I concentrated on my objective- how I could get there. Next I disabled the emergency recall function on my Reilly suit. I didn’t think I would arrive on Terra in its present form so why waste the energy to end up floating in the cold vacuum of space forever.

Yuuka tugged on my ear. “Are you sure I have more power the way I am, ma’am? I definitely felt that!”

I only opened the throttle a quarter, hun, it gets worse.” I warned gently. “Ready?”

“Bonzai!” She shouted.

I advanced my throttle, for that’s how I imagined it this time, another quarter. Yuuka’s grip on my earlobe tightened significantly as she let out a pained groan.

All motion and sound stopped around us save for four individuals.

Cami and Jack noticed first then Reggie then Andie at last.

“Empress, what could this possibly accomplish but to delay the inevitable?” Andie asked, being the first to turn to me and speak.

“Jack, Cami, I need a containment shield around Atlantis immediately!” I ordered ignoring Andie’s question.

My Mind Warriors quickly joined hands and began to concentrate.

Reggie, as of the last report, is the LZ still clear for landing?”

“There is another critical low pressure occurrence in the area, Empress.”

Andie’s mouth dropped wide open.

“Are you attempting what I think you are, Alex?”

“Less talk. Commander Cummins, what’s the status on my shield?”

“Shield established and ready, Captain Steinert.” Jack acknowledged.

“Andie, I could really use a backup to Yuuka.”

“It would be an honor, mighty Empress.”

“Great, you had to ruin it, hun.” I said offering my hand.

“Empress…Alex, I mean, have you ever attempted something like this with such a mass?” Reggie asked as she walked over to me and forcibly took my other hand.

I imagined two more ‘throttles’ in my mind.

“She once transposed Reilly Research Facility and the universe it occupied. Does that qualify?” Cami answered in a tense, deliberate tone.

“A whole universe, Empress?” Both Reggie and Andie’s eyes went wide.

“I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. It was dumb luck that we survived.” I admitted as I continued to concentrate on the objective.

“But a whole universe? How is something like that possible?” Reggie managed to ask.

“The very existence of the Empress AND time travel is impossible, Reg!” Jack told her as she continued to concentrate on her shield.

“Target acquired.” I announced and pushed my two new controls to half throttle.

Immediately, two voiced moaned in pain.

Feeling the increase in available power, I continued my ‘countdown’.

“Favorable time period established. Expanding localized temporal anomaly.”

The resulting additional load made me cringe in pain and I suddenly felt weaker. I only hoped it was enough to encompass the whole ship.

“Empress, your ear! You are bleeding.” Yuuka screamed in fright.

“It can’t be helped, Pixie.” I groaned as I continued my preset sequence.

“Increase your draw on me, my sister. These people must arrive at their new home safely.”

I felt her other hand clamp onto my earlobe.

“Thank you, Pixie.” I said as I pushed her throttle to three quarters. She screamed painfully into my ear. It was the loudest her voice had ever sounded in ‘Pixie” mode.

“Empress, increase the power from us as well. Andie said gently. Reggie nodded her consent.

I pushed theirs to three quarters also.

Both women screamed out in pain, their eyes were closed tightly from the intensity.

I was now consuming more power than I ever had before! A warm liquid touched my upper lip.

It was now or never.

“Transit in three; two; one!”

Atlantis seemed to shake and shimmy wildly around us. Was she going to shake apart?

Had this been the right thing to do or was there another option I had forgotten to account for?

Another warning signal came alive as I concentrated on settling Atlantis gently to Earth.

How could I be so stupid as to not account for Clemson’s cunning and intelligence? How could I allow him to kill millions of innocents? Did my arrogance completely blind me to all possibilities?

This wouldn’t end in disaster! I had to make this right.

I had to…
 
 

“Alex?”

Who was calling me?

“Alex, I know you can hear me. Time to wake up.”

Who?

“Captain Steinert, It’s been three days, ma’am. Time to wake up,”

“Jack?” I whispered.

“None other.”

“Are we dead? My God, I’ve killed Andie and her crew!” I replied again in a raspy whisper

“Andie, Reggie, and Yuuka are alive, Empress. Lord knows they wish they weren’t.”

“Where are we?”

“Welcome to Atlantis Base, Empress. Because of you, Atlantis safely landed in the Caribbean. There’s someone here to see you, ma’am.”

“Can I have a few minutes with my sister, Jack?”

“Of course, Allie. I’ll be back in a little bit, Alex.”

I nodded.

“Well, y’all gonna open those jade gems we call eyes, sis?”

The piercing brightness stung like nothing I could remember. I quickly shut them and tried again.

Alex Reilly slowly came into focus.

“Hey, sis.” I whispered.

“Hey yerself, you crazy blonde! What has gotten into you lately? Whenever I felt y’all stop time it scared me half ta death! Why do you keep doing these things, huh?”

“Had to save Atlantis.” I whispered, wondering why my voice wouldn’t serve me properly.

“What about Jack and Cami? Why not have them land Atlantis? If they can raise a skyscraper sized ice cube into orbit, what made you think they couldn’t land this ship?”

“LZ was still compromised.” Again I answered in a whisper.

Alex Reilly’s’ eyes went wide. “You transported WHILE time was stopped?” She cried. “By the Goddess’, what possessed you to…”

I tried , but failed in moving my hand to her arm.

“It was the only way. We were out of time...” I tried for something louder than a whisper and began to cough.

“Doc, think she can hold some water?” Alex said over her shoulder.

“You could try, ma’am, but her skin…being so fragile…it might fracture.” A voice I recognized as Andie’s personal physician answered.

“I’ll take the chance, hun. She NEEDS to replenish her nanos.”

“Can you open your mouth a small amount, sis?” Alex asked gently.

“I look like a corpse again, don’t I?” I croaked.

She nodded sadly.

The cool liquid felt so good in my dry mouth. My tongue and throat started to tingle as the machine-laced liquid seeped down my throat.

“More?” Alex asked.

Nodding, I accepted another sip.

Alex watched me for a few minutes.

“So how far forward did you take us, sis?”

“Ten years, I think.”

“You think?”

“I was sort of busy trying to do three things at the same time, Alex.”

“You’re absolutely impossible, Alexandra Steinert!”

“Pot calling the kettle, sis?”

Alex smiled pleasantly as she shook her head slowly.

“Glad you’re okay, Alex. I’ll let you get some rest now. See you tomorrow.”
 
 

Atlantis Expeditionary Base, Standard Year 257:06:27
 
 

“Morning, Alex.” Cami said pleasantly as she walked into my quarters.

“Sorry to leave you in the hot seat, Sweetheart. It wasn’t my intention. I can honestly say I didn’t see this coming.”

“But you turned disaster into triumph, Alex. You saved all these people.”

“I got caught with my britches down, Sweetheart! There is no excuse for that. I screwed up and these colonists almost paid dearly for it.”

“You saved everyone, Alex! That is what’s most important.”

“I almost killed everyone including Andie, Reggie, and Yuuka.”

“No, like always you almost killed yourself, Alex. Reggie, the Commodore, and Yuuka merely lost consciousness.”

I closed my eyes in relief. At least I hadn’t taken Atlantis’ captain and first officer from her.

“I didn’t think I’d make it this time, sweetheart.” I admitted. “I’ve never moved something so big before.”

“I don’t understand, Alex. You transposed Reilly and its associated universe to rescue us from…”

“That was before I actually knew I could do such things…it was a mistake- or maybe a miracle. I was lucky not to have killed myself then- especially without any power assist.”

“I supplicate reanalysis of that erroneous conclusion, Empress! (I beg to differ, Empress)” Cami exclaimed, visibly upset.

“But I had no idea if what I planned would work, Cami.”

Still staring angrily at me, Cami informed me of something I hadn’t thought of.

“You had one hundred and three power sources that day, Alexandra Steinert! I felt every last soul pour their energies into you so you could successfully remove us from harm- even Janelle Hathor donated!”

It was my turn to stare at her for a change.

“Y’all did that? For me?” I asked thunderstruck. “Even knowing that I was not the real director, why would anyone believe so strongly in me to follow me, let alone lend me their energy?”

“Because, whether you realized it or not at the time, Alex, you and the Director were more alike than you think.” Cami smiled deviously, taking my hand in hers. “Only your public presence is more commanding.

I blinked in amazement at her admission.

“I never meant to just take over for her. I’d never do that with somebody else’s command.”

“It’s what we needed, Alex. It was EXACTLY what we needed at THAT desperate moment. Janelle could never have inspired the faculty like you did.”

“Why?” I asked as I looked up to the ceiling, shaking my head to the side slowly several times.

“There is just something about you, Alex Steinert. Something…I don’t know…special, I postulate- something that makes people respect you.”

“Could it be the fact that I can travel through space and time?” I joked.

“It’s more than that, Alex. I think it’s your personality. You’re friendly and accommodating, smart…just fun to be around. The way you and the director interact…you’re like the sisters I never had. Silly as that sounds, it defines exactly how I feel- how you make me feel…how you make us all feel- like we’re all related- like real sisters.”

“Wow…I…I…”

“Alex, thank you for saving all these people.” Cami pulled me into a tight embrace as I heard her begin to cry. My shoulder became wet in the instant before my Reilly began absorbing the salty liquid.

“Oh, well, I thought your shoulder would be free. I’ll come back in a few minutes.” Andie said sadly as she entered and saw us.

“I have two, Commodore, though I fail to see why you would seek mine out after such a debacle.”

“You really have to say that, Alex? The woman that heroically sacrificed herself to save a quarter-million souls and bring them to safety on their new Homeworld instead of just disappearing and writing us off as another failed civilization? Who do you think you are, Alexandra Steinert?” Andie said as she tapped Cami gently on the shoulder to move over and wrapped her arms around me too.

“I’m just happy I could help, but you, Reggie, and Yuuka helped too.” I said quietly. “Without you all I cou…”

“Thank you, Empress…for…for everything you and your sisters have done for us.” Andie greatly tightened her hold on me.

“As I suspected, no regard for the home guard? How typical.” My voice said as I looked up to see Alex leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed.

“Sorry, I’m fresh outta shoulders, sis.” I said with a wink.

“Now that you’re recovered, we need to sync, Alexandra Steinert.” She said getting right down to business.

I glanced at Cami and Andie. “Sorry, ladies, I have a mission report to file with the director.”

Allie tilted her head to the side, rolled her eyes, and smiled oddly.

Both women released their death grips and stepped aside. Allie approached slowly, eyeing me carefully. At the last moment, she jumped at me and wrapped her arms around me. The tingle between us felt wonderful!

“You really worried me this time, sis.” She said into my ear. “You have to stop being so reckless. I don’t want to lose my sister so soon.”

“Recall the archives, director. You will see my motivations.”

Allie closed her eyes for a few seconds.

“You really couldn’t get us to respond? How was that possible? How could you just jump to a parallel dimension like that…if that’s what it was?”

“I’m open to any theories.”

“This new talent of stopping time…I see your power usage is becoming more efficient. It’s nice to know we aren’t going to kill those around us unintentionally.”

“You know I’d give my own life before that would ever happen, Alex.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of, sis! That one of us will lose the other while helping others.”

“It’s what we do.” I said with a shrug.

“We could be a little more careful.”

“What fun would that be, sis?” I said with a guarded smile.

“We need to reevaluate Clemson’s latest actions and incorporate them into what’s already known. We can’t be on defense all the time, Alex. That’s going to get more people deleted.”

“Agreed. I suggest we accept more input.” I said looking to Cami and Andie, and to Jack, Ricky Lynn, and Yuuka as they entered my quarters.

“As soon as Reggie gets here, we can start, Alex.” Jack said with a look that dared me to say something to the contrary.

I closed my eyes, smiled, and shook my head a few times in response.
 
 

“Status report on the critical failure?” Andie demanded after we had moved our group to her conference room overlooking the bridge.

“Thruster and attitude controls have been rendered completely inoperative. Life support, sanitation, and water purification systems are nominal. Dixie is still not responding to commands, Commodore.”

Ricky Lynn’s hands went to her face. She seemed to be taking Reggie’s last statement very hard.

“Well now that we’re on the surface, we won’t need those for the immediate future…right?” Andie looked at Allie and I cautiously.

“About that, Andie,” I began as I looked at Prof. Samuels. “I think the Empress needs a full accounting of the situation up to and including the critical failure, Professor.”

Allie nodded her agreement.

“I was just tryin’ ta fix their A.I. Skipper! According to her self-diagnostics, Dixie was going to terminate in four days. You know I hate to see a semi-sentient piece of equipment self-destruct fer no good reason.”

“That maybe, hun, but how do you account for that very failure after you repaired her higher functions?” Alex Reilly asked.

“As near as I can tell, several routines launched and executed themselves. They apparently migrated down into her peripheral comm ports and traveled throughout the ship. Why just certain systems were affected, is anybody’s guess. Skip, can’t we go an’ get Randi? I sure could use her help!”

“I’m not sure if I could stabilize us in the true timeline again, hun. I was lucky to do it before.” I said shaking my head. “Could you check your equipment for tampering?”

“The test and production equipment that I brought along was my personal gear, ma’am. It hasn’t left my house since I designed it ten years ago, so no one’s touched it but me. Besides, all the pre-start tests were okay when I turned them on. I have no idea what caused my service equipment to malfunction.”

“You can fix her though, right, Professor Samuels?” Andie asked, holding out hope for the A.I.

“After I find the problem with my own equipment, ma’am. If I don’t, we’d be back to square one.”

“Would it help to have someone else diagnosis your tools, Ricky Lynn?” Reggie asked of her new friend.

“That’s some pretty high tech stuff there, kid. Dixie was near a crash and yer people didn’t have a clue. How could they find the problems with my stuff if they couldn’t find the obvious?”

“Sometimes a personal touch is required, professor.” Reggie smiled. “I’m a little rusty, but I could try my luck.”

“I dunno…that’s some pretty complicated stuff, kid.”

“I’m not my repair crew, Ricky Lynn! Just let me take a look?”

Samuels nodded in defeat after a minute to think and Reggie’s face lit up brightly.

“Is it possible that Darren had something to do with this, Chief?” I asked.

“I don’t see how, Alex. He hadn’t been to my place for weeks before we completed the QDA.”

“I’m not talking about that Darren, hun.”

“You mean could he have traveled back and done somethin’?”

I nodded.

“I s’pose so, but I think the house would notice and alert me.”

“What if he compromised her too?” I proposed. “Would he have the means of doing that?”

“That’s assuming a lot, Alex. Darren’s only been to my place a few dozen times since we started workin’ together.”

“How close have you two been working, Ricky Lynn?” Jack asked as both she and Cami looked quizzically at our sister.

Prof. Samuels blushed profusely.

“That’s none o’ yer business, Jacki Cummins.” She protested.

“It is when one of you is trying to wipe all of us from existence, Ricky Lynn!” Jack responded sharply.

“Jack…Ricky Lynn’s personal life is not our concern. I’m sure she holds our secrecy to the general populous close to her heart, because any information gained could be used against us with great effect.” I said, raising an eyebrow to her.

“I’d never rat on the Empress, Alex. You know that, Jacki!”

“Not intentionally you wouldn’t.” Jack accused. “Sometimes things can ‘leak’ out while in the throes of passion.”

“An what would Miss Consummate Virgin know about anything regarding passion?”

“ENOUGH!” I shouted, slamming my hands on the table.

Did the lights just blink?

“We’re here to discuss our options, not point fingers, ladies! So what if she talks in bed? We’ve all…we’ll all be there at some point, so let’s figure out where and how much our adversary knows about us and plan accordingly.” I stressed as calmly as I could.

“Chief, I’d like you to allow Cami access to your memories.”

“But Skip, them’s personal.”

“We have to know how much he knows about us and the Empress, Ricky Lynn. We have to know what we can expect. Just be glad I didn’t ask Jack to do it.”

“Aye, skip.” She relented with a deep sigh.

Cami looked at Allie for her approval then looked sadly to Ricky Lynn.

“I’ll try to be gentle, Ricky Lynn.” Cami then looked at Jack. “I’d ask my sister to give us privacy, please?”

“Jack, take my hand, please?” I said as I stood and walked around the table to her.

“God, I hate this place!” She exclaimed as my private domain appeared around us.

“It was necessary, Jack. Ricky Lynn deserves her privacy as much as everyone else.”

“There’s things she knows that I’m not suppose to know yet, right?”

“Maybe.”

“I thought as much.”

“Look, Jack…if we don’t get things back to normal, those ‘things’ won’t matter anymore, will they? I don’t want any undue stress or complications compromising my team, got it?”

“I understand, Alex. I don’t like it, but I understand and I’ll try to keep things in perspective.” Jack thought a moment. “That mission with Connie…”

“Jack.”

“I just want to know if she was on the mission or was SHE the mission?”

I rubbed my forehead in frustration. “Yes.” I said to my friend - my sister. “Constance was the mission, Jack! There were things that she needed to know in order for her to effectively reach her true potential, all right? Is that what y’all wanted to know?” I told her as tears began flowing down my cheeks.

“The two of y’all are happy in the future…if we can get it back on track, that is.”

Jack regarded my sudden mood change and my face for a few minutes.

“That’s all I wanted to know, Alex. Thank you. Now, shouldn’t we get back to Atlantis?” She finally said, somberly.

I offered my hand to her again.

“About time you two got back!” Alex Reilly groused.

“Can it, Alex.” I said as I returned to my seat. “So what did we learn from the ‘Mind-meld’, Sweetheart?”

“Prof. Samuels seems to be missing several hours of memory from her last…um…encounter, with Mr. Clemson, Alex. I have no postulations to account for the errors.”

“Hun,” I looked sympathetically to my embarrassed sister, “Can you remember if Darren had a…um…reputation before you two started…”

“I’d heard rumors, ma’am, but…”

“But you chose not to pay them any mind?”

Ricky Lynn nodded sadly. “Ya.”

“Let me guess,” I said quietly as I recalled some of my future twin’s memories. “Something about an exotic drug that ‘loosens up’ the recipient’s inhibitions, but blocks any memory while under its influence?”

Tears fell from Ricky Lynn’s cheeks. “Ya, but I thought our nanos compensated for stuff like that?”

“Only Emily would know what we were immune to, Chief, and right now she may or may not exist back home.” I told her sadly.

I felt a heaviness come over me as I thought about my sister and the possibility I’d lost her and Brie.

“Alex,” Alex Reilly said, catching my attention.

“Alex, I think we need to start over.”

“Start over? How so, sis?” I asked, confused.

“Before you left Ricky Lynn’s house, the A.I. told her to download something- something that she accused Randi then you of setting up?”

I stabbed the table with my finger. “That’s right,” I remember that. “It sounded like me though, sis. I figured it was something that Alex Covington came up with.”

“That wasn’t from you, skipper?”

“Not from this me, hun. Alex?” I admitted, looking to my sister.

“I haven’t visited the twenty-first century since…” Alex stopped and looked around dejectedly. “I haven’t been there in a while, Alex.”

I noticed Cami lower her eyes for a moment. Jack quickly looked between our two sisters.

“Leave it alone, sister!” Cami commanded aloud as Jack’s head suddenly jerked to one side- as if being slapped in the face mentally.

“I told you to leave it alone, hun,” I whispered to myself as I rubbed my eyes.

“Can we get back on track here, Alex?” Yuuka asked impatiently.

“I concur with Miss Sukiro. We need to find a way to catch this cretin.” Andie added. “And make him pay dearly for what was done to my ship!”

“I’m not so sure he meant to hurt Atlantis, specifically, Commodore.” Allie proposed. “Think about it.”

We all looked at her, waiting.

“We know that Clemson couldn’t possibly have known we’d be here because we didn’t know ourselves before you went back to get Ricky Lynn. Assuming he still doesn’t know we’re here, the only possibility would be sabotage of something he did know about.”

“The QDA!” Ricky Lynn exclaimed. “The lousy bum didn’t want me following him- didn’t want me to make another unit!”

I began to think about the possible outcomes that statement generated.

Ricky Lynn, if she had constructed a second, errant, QDA, would most certainly be lost somewhere…out there. Floating helplessly in some void, somewhere between realities or dimensions- out of touch with and lost in time. There would be practically no way to find or rescue her- even if she would survive. One of our sisters would be gone- possibly dead, and I’d never see her again-maybe not even in my private domain because of the circumstances. There would be no way for me to rescue her…

“This isn’t good, ladies, she’s crying. That’s never good, when the Empress sees something so sad…” I heard Cami’s voice say.

I blinked my wet eyes a few times.

“Alex?” Andie asked in concern, seeing me come back from my thoughts.

“Allie is right. We have to go back and start over.” I said seriously. “Reggie, do you have the necessary equipment to fabricate new parts for Dixie, here on Atlantis?”

“It’s not as sophisticated as Ricky Lynn’s but it should work. Why…”

“Good, that’s all I wanted to know. Jack, you’re with me.” I said as I stood from my seat and walked around the table again. I offered Jack my hand. The second she took it; I opened the throttle I had just re-imagined half way. Jack noticeably flinched with the increased load I added.

“Where are we going to, Alex?” She winced slightly.

“Back to Pittsburgh.” I answered before I pulled the trigger.
 
 

“So it seems we are kindred spirits, Captain Steinert, in that both our bases have been erased from the face of this planet.” Commodore Celeste said sadly again as Jack and I watched. I had taken us back to Ricky Lynn’s house- to the day we brought her back to Atlantis.

“We always knew it would be temporary, Andie. Sometimes, friends and family do more to make a home than any special building or location.” That me said.

“A very philosophical and wise way to look at things, Empress.” Andie admitted. “Though I suspect, you yearn for ‘home’ as much as I do.”

“Alex,” Jack said, sounding down as we listened, “Are things ever going to be the same? I mean, Clemson, he mixed things up royally.”

“Not everything will be like before, Jack. We probably won’t be able to put things back one hundred percent.” I replied honestly.

“When we change this part of our recent history, will we…um…um…merge back?”

“I’m not sure, Jack. We’ll just have to accept whatever happens and know in our hearts that it was the right thing to do.”

“Alex, I’m a little scared.”

“…The Empress’ hand!” RVP suddenly announced loudly, making everyone including Jack and I jump.

“What the hell?” Ricky Lynn cursed as we returned our attention to what was going on in the room we now stood in, though out of phase.

“Terminal input only.” RVP responded clinically.

The Chief growled as she produced her hand-held device once more and typed something very quickly.

“Code accepted. Designate download location.”

Ricky Lynn angrily typed something else on the device.

“Remote location validation needed, please enter access code.”

“Son of a…” She exclaimed.

“Terminal input only.”

She growled once more as she again quickly typed something in.

“Thank you, Professor.” RVP responded.

“Do you really want to download this file? Yes or No?” The A.I. asked a few seconds later.

“Dammit, yes!”

“Terminal input required.”
 

“It certainly sounded like something you would do to the Chief, Alex.” Jack laughed as we watched Chief Samuels angrily hit a spot on her device.

“Find the main that feeds the A.I., Jack.”

“Are you sure about this, Alex? She’ll be really P.O’ed.”

“Kill power on my command, commander.”

“Aye, Cap. Finding the mains.”
 

“Thank you. Are you really sure you want to do this Ricky Lynn? To do so would admit that a machine could be as much of a pain in the ass as you think the Empress is being right now. Agreed? Yes or No.”

Ricky Lynn glared at the ‘me’ presently visible in the room with such an angry scowl that I expected the paint to start peeling off the wall behind my previous version.

Looking down to her hand, she stabbed at the device once more and glared back at me again.

“Hey, it’s you’re A.I. not mine, hun.” My past self giggled.

“I’ll get Randi for this.” She threatened.

“Who said Randi had anything to do with it, Chief?” That me laughed. “Let me know when your mystery download is complete, Professor.”
 

“Kill the power, Jack.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

The lights noticeably flickered and Ricky Lynn’s face grew even angrier.

“JACKI!” She shouted.

“I didn’t do anything, Professor.” The past Jack cried.

I noticed past Alex looking around the room. Her eyes settled on where Jack and I stood out of phase, a confused look appeared on her face.

“How do you know we’re here, Alex?” Jack asked as she quickly looked at me.

I shrugged my shoulders indicating I had no clue.

My past self’s face suddenly seemed to realize why we were here, her face went sad as she nodded ever so slightly.

“I’ll be back, Alex. I gotta reset the breaker and gather some equipment then I’ll be ready to go. It’ll just be a few minutes.”

“Jack, Tell that me not to let her do that.” I said.

“Aye, ma’am.”

Alex’s eyes went wide as she got the message.

“Ricky Lynn, wait! I’m sure Andie has all the necessary tools and would allow you their use if you ask nicely. I’m not sure how long I can hold us in this reality.” Alex said as she offered her hands.

Our previous selves disappeared.

Time to go, Jack.” I said as I thought of Atlantis and pulled the trigger.

We were back in Andie’s conference room.

“Let’s stay out of phase for a minute, Jack. I want to see how things changed.”

“Alex, look!” Jack pulled me to the left slightly. “We’re still in orbit.”

Something didn’t feel right.

“Let’s see if Earth comes into view, Jack,” I said with some skepticism.

“You think something different happened?”

“Let’s just say I’ve got a bad feeling, hun. I’m going to rephase us.”

“We’re back, everyone.” I said, but got no response.

“Now I know something’s not right.”

“You mean we can’t rephase, Alex?”

“Oh, we’ll rephase, Jack, I just need to shoehorn us in. Hold on.” I stressed as I began to concentrate.

“It’s about time you got back!” Alex Reilly growled angrily.

“We went back to the beginning like you suggested, sis. What changed? We noticed that we’re still in space.

“I take it we weren’t when you and Jack left, Empress?”

“I had to initiate emergency transport of Atlantis to the surface because of thruster malfunctions due to a virus Ricky Lynn mistakenly installed in Dixie.”

“Who’s Dixie, Empress?” Cami asked sadly. I noticed everyone in the room look down to the table sadly as soon as I mentioned the Chief’s name.

“Alex, Ricky Lynn is gone.”

“Where did she go?” Jack asked in confusion.

“There…there was an accident. Ricky Lynn was repairing one of the thrusters in sector twelve of ‘E’ ring when the bay doors inexplicably opened. Alex…she’s gone.” Alex Reilly said through developing tears.

The sound of Jack’s gasp was the only thing I heard before I found myself on my knees on the floor. My breath was coming in short, strained gasps as tears streamed down my face.

“No! That couldn’t have happened! We went back and made sure she didn’t bring the sabotaged equipment with her!” I cried.

“Analysis!” I shouted out, looking up to my sisters and friends.

“As near as Reggie…can tell, the station’s…A. I….it …it malfunctioned and jumped…it…” Andie gulped, “it executed” She gulped again, “an orbit correction routine. Alex…not only did the thruster bay doors open, but…but it initiated a five second burn.” Andie choked out in despair.

“Oh, God.” Jack and I said at the same time.

“Alex?” Jack choked out as she gently took my hand, her tear-laden eyes locked onto mine.

I nodded as I struggled to stand. Jack helped as much as she could given her despondency.

My private domain appeared around us.

“What can we do here, Alex?” Jack asked as she looked around us.

“Ricky Lynn Samuels, front and center.” I said loudly into the blackness.

“An what if I don’t wanna appear, Empress.” The voice’s emphasis on ‘Empress’ was undeniably hateful.

“I just found out, hun.” I said sadly. I had no idea I’d cause something so catastrophic.”

“You didn’t know? The all seeing ‘Empress’,” there was the hatred again, “didn’t see what would happen to me? Why does that not sound right?” Ricky Lynn said sarcastically as her form stepped out of the darkness. Her appearance immediately turned my stomach. There was no definable features left of her that hadn’t been charred.

I quickly restored her image.

“Jack and I need to know what happened. Maybe we missed some detail or other indicator.”

“You stopped me from getting the tools I needed to fix the A.I., Alex!”

“We stopped you from infecting Atlantis with a virus that made me transport her to the surface prematurely, professor! Clemson did something to RVP last time he paid you a visit.”

Clemson hasn’t been over for…”

“Stow it, Chief! We already know the two of you have been intimate.”

“Oh…is this take two or…”

“Just take two, hun. Now, can we talk civilly or do Jack and I punt?”

“Why did you go back to my place a second time, skipper?”

“We determined that Darren drugged you. We aren’t sure if he sabotaged your equipment or if there was something in that download you thought I staged for you.”

Drugged? I thought we was immune to stuff like that, Alex.”

“You asked that the first time, hun. As I told you then, Emily would be able to answer that.

“Well, I never got to download that file packet because someone killed the power to RVP! I take it you did that, Jacki?”

“We were just trying to mend things, Ricky Lynn. Because Clemson has things so screwed up, Alex is having trouble seeing the right actions to take. Your boyfriend isn’t going to be happy until he destroys the whole universe!” Jack explained tersely.

“He’s not my ‘boyfriend’, Jacki Cummins! We just have similar interests.”

“Ya, and I’m a virgin!”

Ricky Lynn looked at me curiously, “you told her, skip?”

“She means Connie, hun. Can we get through this so we can get you back to the living?”

“An what if I like it here? Isn’t that okay?”

“No it is not, Miss Samuels! It’s my fault y’all are here and I aim to fix that little detail the same way I redid Atlantis’ crash landing when Jack, Andie, and I first came back.” I countered heatedly. “So, is there a way that you could have checked your equipment for tampering prior to our departure for Atlantis?”

“If I had a backup of the original software that I could reload, it would overwrite any changes he made. Hey, ya think that download coulda’ been the backup?”

“I’m not sure, hun, I don’t even know if you opened the download the first time.”

“I probably didn’t. If I didn’t suspect foul play I’d think it was just precautionary and ignore it.”

“Then we have to go back and make you suspicious enough to reload that software.”

“How are we going to do that, Alex? You know she trusts machines more than humans.” Jack accused.

“That’s because machines are more honest than humans, Jacki Cummins. Machines never lie.”

“In this case, I disagree, hun. Jack, I think I know how we can get Ricky Lynn to question her beliefs in the ‘honesty’ of machines.” I said offering my hand. “See you back on the other side, chief.”

I envisioned the throttle for Jack’s energy once more while Ricky Lynn slowly faded away into the blackness.

“I’m going to borrow a little more this time. I’m not sure how stable things will be with three of us there, Jack.”

“As long as we get Ricky Lynn back, I don’t care, ma’am. Whatever it takes!”

Jack groaned as I quickly throttled up to half and slowly pushed it to three quarters.

“Now that really smarts, Alex.” She moaned as I pulled the trigger.
 
 

“We always knew it would be temporary, Andie. Sometimes, friends and family do more to make a home than any special building or location.” The original me said.

“A very philosophical and wise way to look at things, Empress.” Andie admitted. “Though I suspect, you yurn for ‘home’ as much as I do.”
 

“Alex,” Jack said, sounding down as we listened, “this is really creepy. How many times will we have to do this? How many of us will be here?”

“We do it until we get it right, Jack. I don’t care how many of us are here at the moment, this needs to get straightened out.” I declared harshly.

“So, if and when we fix this part of our recent history, will we…um…you know…merge back?”

“Like I said the last time, I’m not sure, Jack. We’ll just have to accept whatever happens.”

“Alex, I’m more than a little scared, now.”

“…The Empress’ hand!” RVP suddenly announced loudly, making everyone except Jack and I jump.
 

“This is getting old already, Alex.” Jack complained. I nodded to the repeating scene before us.

“What the hell?” Ricky Lynn cursed as we returned our attention to what was going on in the room we now stood, out of phase in.

“Terminal input only.” RVP responded clinically.

The Chief growled as she produced her hand-held device once more and typed something very quickly.

“Code accepted. Designate download location.”

Ricky Lynn angrily typed something else on the device.

“Remote location validation needed, please enter access code.”

“Son of a…” She exclaimed.

“Terminal input only.”

She growled once more as she again quickly typed something in.

“Thank you, Professor.” RVP responded.

“Do you really want to download this file? Yes or No?” The A.I. asked a few seconds later.

“Dammit, yes!”

“Terminal input required.”

Chief Samuels angrily hit a spot on her device.
 

“We need to alert both me’s that we are here, Jack. And to disregard any and all plans they might have. Send this to the original Alex, Jack. Empress abort 353.”

“Are you sure you’ll listen, Alex?”

“Do it, Jack.”

“Aye, Cap.”

My original incarnation nodded her head ever so slightly twice.

“Thank you. Are you really sure you want to do this Ricky Lynn? To do so would admit that a machine could be as much of a pain in the ass as you think the Empress is being right now. Agreed? Yes or No.” RVP continued.

Ricky Lynn glared at the original me presently visible in the room.

Looking down to her hand, she stabbed at the device once more and glared back at me again.

“Hey, it’s you’re A.I. not mine, hun.” My past self giggled.

“I’ll get Randi for this.” She threatened.

“Who said Randi had anything to do with it, Chief?” That me laughed. “Let me know when your mystery download is complete, Professor.”
 

“Tell the original me to tell Ricky Lynn that Emily found out that ‘Rave X’ can affect us just like any normal human and to be aware of gaps we think we have in our memories, Jack.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

The original Alex nodded, visibly this time.

“You know, Jack, I was talking to Emily before we left 2035 on a previous mission. She was telling me that she was researching something called ‘Rave X’? She mentioned that preliminary tests indicated we might be affected by it and that we should be leery of missing memories or gaps.”

Ricky Lynn got a concerned look on her face.

I noticed the original Alex look around the room- her eyes stopping where Jack and I had stood out of phase before. A confused look appeared on her face and she turned her head to stare right at Jack and I where we stood now.

“How do you know we’re here, Alex?” Jack asked a second time.

I gave her the same answer as before, shrugging my shoulders to indicate I still had no clue.

My original self’s face suddenly seemed to realize why we were here twice, her face went sad again as she nodded ever so slightly.

Jack and I waited patiently to see if things had followed the original sequence. It seemed Ricky Lynn took a few more minutes to return this time. To my relief, the power stayed on. My second instance here must have noticed the change to the timeline.
 

Ricky Lynn angrily took the original ‘me’s’ hand and continued glaring at ‘her’ after returning from ‘getting some things together for the trip’ as she put it.

“Ladies, that’s our cue to travel.” The original Alex giggled evilly.

Our previous selves disappeared.

Time to go, Jack.” I said as I thought of Atlantis and pulled the trigger.

We were back in Andie’s conference room again.

“Tell me things are back to the way they were?” I pleaded, hoping the group would hear me this time.

“That question would only be valid had we known how it was before, Empress.” Alex Reilly responded, rubbing her temples gently. You changed something again, didn’t you? I’m beginning to understand some of Alex Covington’s complaints.”

“Dixie, Where are we in regard to Earth?” I asked as I smiled at Prof. Samuels.

“Empress, we are currently holding in geosynchronous orbit above the planet and selected LZ.”

I closed my eyes and exhaled audibly. “Thank you, hun.”

“You are very welcome, Empress.”

Jack turned me toward her and hugged me tightly.

“We did it, Alex! We fixed things and got Ricky Lynn back too!”

“The hell you talkin’ ‘bout, Jacki?” Samuels’ grumbled.

Jack began to laugh and cry at the same time on my shoulder.

“It’s a long story, hun,” I said to the confused redhead.

“Alex, we need to really put some time into cornering Clemson- serious time.” I said to my past twin.

“Your domain or mine, sis?”

“This time we’ll use both, Alex.” I replied before turning to our resident professor.

“Ricky Lynn, I need you to download the data I gathered from your QDA when we first saw it at Pearl Harbor. Then, from that data, I want you to extrapolate the destinations it’s already traveled to and calculate the number of jumps left?”

“If Reggie and Andie will let me borrow Dixie for a few hours, of course.”

“You’ll have four hours and a full rest period, hun. Alex and I are gonna be tired after this one. Jack, you might want to grab some shut-eye too. I’ve been borrowin’ your energy a lot lately.” I said as Jack pulled away from me and yawned.

“Aye, but I could use something to eat first.”



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