South of Bikini 5: Episode 6- Devil's Cauldron

Returning from Persia, Alexandra Reilly’s daughter, Regina, shocks the Empress with her developing gift. A spur of the moment trip to the beach unites past and present Sisters of Kili, and allows one of Alex Reilly’s lingering missions to finally reach conclusion.

 
 

Copyright 2016: R.G. Beyer


 
 

South of Bikini

 

Season 5

 
 

Episode 6

“Devil’s Cauldron”

 
 

1830hrs, Reilly Research Station, July 8th, 2020BC
 
 

“So you can’t recall what you were thinking before that bottle hit you- and you don’t remember transporting up to 720BC Mahram?” Emily was still interrogating our sister when I walked into the infirmary. She was intently examining the back of Allie’s head. I had failed to notice the dried blood scabbed back there after I had pulled her free of Bilkis. Emily was carefully dabbing at the wound with some gauze held in a pair of forceps.

“Honest Em, ah got no clue where all ah went or fer how long. Ouch, that hurt a might!”

“After I clean this head wound I want you to have something to eat and drink then go to bed and rest for no less than eight hours! I’m reading severe fatigue and moderate dehydration. The nanos have finished repairing your concussion, but I’m guessing they need more material to finish closing this wound. Sis, I’m sorry, but I have to ground you for awhile.” Emily seemed to concentrate extremely hard for a moment.

“There. That should do it.” Emily said closing her eyes once more. This time an excited smile appeared on her face.

I offhandedly asked myself what she had just done.

I gasped!

“You can actually bring that on, Em?” I squeaked shrilly. “Since when can you do that?”

“Someone has to keep you three from killing yourselves, Alex! I’m sick and tired of patching you all up just to have you undo what I did! This at least keeps our sister from hurrying out on another dangerous mission and gives her nanos a week to do their thing.” Emily justified her action by kissing our sister’s ‘booboo’ lightly then giggled. Alex winced.

Alexis had watched silently from off to the right, shaking her head in agreement with everything Emily had said until my sister pulled that little trick from her hat.

My niece’s eyes went wide and I think she may even have gasped when I did! She stared between Emily and I as I asked my question. I noticed her eyes glistening as Emily explained her reasoning.

“What’s with them tears, hun?” I asked Alexis.

“Nothing, Ma.” She quickly looked to me. “IIIIII mean, Auuuunnnnt Alex.”

“Still digestin’ the sync with my Alexis, hun? I understand. I’ll answer to Ma OR Aunt, honey. Whichever you prefer at the time.” I said gently.

“By the Goddess, I still can’t believe this!” She said, gently wrapped her arms around me, and began to cry softly.

“Ah’ll answer to them same pronouns if y’all would like, ma.” My sister offered from beside Emily.

“Shut it, Alexandra.” Alexis’ muffled order sounded from my shoulder.

“Empress, if y’all need me ah’ll be in mah quarters getting’ twenty winks.”

“It better be way more than that, Alexandra Reilly!” Emily growled. “Or you might be the first girl to experience back to back menstrual cycles!”

Alex disappeared- as in ‘walked quickly’- out the door without so much as a gasp.
 
 

0835hrs, Reilly Research Station, July 9th, 2020BC
 
 

“Hey, sleepyhead! How y’all feelin’ this morning?” Alex Steinert asked as I walked into the Rec Room. I felt like my old self after an extended shower period. That reminded me of something.

“I’m feeling good, sis...well except for Emily’s little surprise that is.” I answered truthfully.

“Surprised the hell out of me too, hun. Guess I neglected to see that one comin’.” She giggled.

“I can always set things back into sync, sis.” I said raising an eyebrow deviously.

“I’d like to commiserate, but I hafta get back to that damn war! Sorry.” She smiled evilly.

I noticed all four Daroughs walk in. Quintin carried a small vacuum insulated carafe with him. I had foreseen a not-too-distant future visit where he forgot the gender-saving decanter.

It was my turn to smile wickedly.

Frances Darough’s face emulated my grin. Had she seen into my mind just now? Her wink confirmed my suspicion.

“So…” Alex Steinert…Allie now asked, redirecting my attention back to her. “What was it like to be the queen of your very own realm?”

“From what little I can recall, it seemed like a rough job. Bilkis isn’t allowed to do much. She mostly stays to herself and holds court. Listening to all the problems and making decisions with little or no information felt upsetting. She seemed to be a very lonely and bored person. No wonder she didn’t want to part with me.” I related as I remembered some very stressful court sessions. And some very comical sessions, too.

“The woman is just bursting with ambition, sis. It was like she felt trapped, unable to escape and just be herself. I felt that she really didn’t want to use my gift to ‘take over the world’, though. It felt more like her chance to escape…to be free.”

“I can see how she would feel like that.” My sister nodded and placed another forkful of pancake into her mouth.

“I had a chance while she slept to recall some of her memories, sis. She has some very familiar stories archived. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they involved Andie and Atlantis.” I went on.

“She is related, sis.” Allie admitted calmly. “When you first disappeared, I had to go back pretty far just to find you.”

“How far?” I asked as I took a sip of my coffee.

“Far enough to see the progression of her lineage. I assume you noticed the resemblance to us with the exception of the hair and dark skin?”

I nodded.

“I’d like Corrine or Julia to try that on me sometime. I didn’t look half bad.”

“She’s a direct descendant of Andromeda Celeste, sis.”

“I had a feeling you would say that.” I nodded and closed my eyes for a second. “It would also account for her high resistance to Jamie’s gift. I could almost feel the dormant ‘K’ cells floating around in her blood. I hope I didn’t accidentally trigger them like you did to Alexander that time.”

My sister paused several seconds then took a long sip from her coffee.

“About that…you…we did trigger them. What I’ve seen is she only develops her foresight. She may phase every once in a great while, but she’ll never realize it enough to develop.”

“That might be for the best, Allie. She could get into a lot of trouble if she phased in or out around the wrong people or gathering.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’ll happen! She meets ol’ Solomon, remember?”

I giggled as those images appeared in my mind. “Awwwwwkwaaaard!”

“Y’all got that right! She’ll be fine though. We see to that.”

“We certainly will, sis. She’s family after all.” I smiled.

“Have either of you seen momma?” Gena Sangiere asked as she suddenly popped in beside Allie.

“Not since our return last night, hun.” Allie answered first.

“Genaaaa!” Reggie cried out as she appeared beside me. “Where’d ya go? I thought we were going sunbathing down on the south beach? Why’d you end up here instead? How y’all feelin’’ ma?”

“Like I need to check mah britches, honey! What possessed you two to just pop in here and scare your aunt and I half to death? You two aren’t kids any longer.” I gently scolded.

“Sorry.” Both chorused.

“Yer ma and Aunt Jackie took a trip over to Rome for the day to one of them Roman Baths.” Allie informed Gena as she reopened her eyes.

Suddenly a very familiar feeling hit me.

As if choreographed, Allie, Reggie, Gena, and I turned and stared at the same spot.

“Oh! Now that is just so wrong! You guys are really no fun at all.” My daughter, Reilly, complained as she appeared in the exact spot where we stared.

“Jealous much, sis?” Reggie asked in a catty tone. Gena giggled to herself with a hand to her mouth.

“As if, kiddo! Allie, I’d like to go home if it’s okay with you?” Reilly asked my sister. “Mom, I’d really like to stay, but I really miss David and the kids.”

“I guess that’s my cue, sis.” Allie said as she finished the last of her coffee, stood, and picked up her tray to return it. Returning to our table, she offered her hand to my eldest daughter.

“Don’t forget about me, Reilly.” Mom said as she raised her arms and waited.

“Aw, Grandma!” Reilly whined, but embraced Alexis lovingly.

“Don’t be a stranger, Grams.” Reilly said as she took Allie’s hand.

“Tell Jack, Brie, and Emily I’ll be back for them in two days.” She said before she and Reilly disappeared.

Mom began crying again.

“Mom, what’s wrong?” I asked, concerned there was something I hadn’t foreseen.

“It’s just this place, honey.”

“What about Reilly, mom?”

“It…” she paused to wipe her eyes. “It…it feels like home, Alexandra. It feels like Avalon, back…back when I was young.” She wiped more tears. “There was always something…something going on that was exciting…strange. It was like we…your aunts and I were guarding the richest treasure in the world. Reilly feels just like that, Alex.”

“Only, I’m not Grandmother, right?” I offered.

“There has to be some line drawn, honey. It just seems wrong somehow to allow myself to think of you as mom. I mean, I’d like to, but…”

“I understand, ma. But if you ever feel the need…”

“You’ll be the first one I’ll call, Alexandra.” Mom smiled brightly.

“What about me, Grandma?” Reggie asked.

“You’ll be second, honeybee.” Mom said to my youngest.

Mom stopped talking and just stared at me for sixty seconds.

“Sorry, ma, but I can’t take you back just yet. I’ve got most of the week to go before my grounding is cancelled.” I said sadly.

“What? No. No. I…” Mom stumbled. “I…I was debating going back to my Earth…I was thinking of staying here. I know Franny has been entertaining the same thoughts, too.”

I suddenly felt a tear roll down my cheek and looked to Reggie as she gently grasped my hand in hers. She nodded to Gena, who nodded back and disappeared then looked back at me, her face sad as well. I turned my attention back to mom.

“I’m sorry, mom, but you know that can’t happen. You have seen what your life holds for you and our new Homeworld. You have new responsibilities there…you have a new life…”

“Alexandra? Shut it. I already know what is required of me. I AM the daughter AND the mother of the Empress of Time and Space, remember?”

I started giggling in spite of the serious, twisted, context of our conversation.

“Mom?” Reggie asked in concern.

“It’s just…it’s just the thought of how really absurd that statement was...and yet…” I explained quietly as I smiled at my youngest daughter… Memories came back to me of Alexis’ AND Reggie’s births!

Instantly a big smile filled my face.

“Mom?” Reggie asked again.

“Nevermind. Come on girls, let’s go to the beach!” I said as Reggie and mom smiled excitedly while taking my hands.
 
 

I looked around in awe. We had appeared on a wide, white sandy beach with hundreds of people surrounding us. Everything looked so modern and as I turned my head to look around I noticed automobiles parked not so far from us.

Mom immediately stared at me.

“Have you been holding out on us, Empress,” She asked in confusion?

I had no words and just left my mouth drop open. If she hadn’t done this and I hadn’t…

Mom and I slowly turned to look at the only person left.

“Oh, thank you Empress! Reilly had spoken of this place many times! It is such a wonderful beach…just like she said!” Reggie exclaimed in gleeful excitement. Her Reilly transformed into a cute hot pink string bikini with matching flip-flops. Her purse had become a canvas beach bag. “Come on! I bet the water is perfect!”

“Hold on, Honeybee!” Mom exclaimed as she tightened her grip on my hand and I, in turn, tightened my grip on Reggie’s hand.

A young woman in a white, thong bikini casually walked through us. Thank goodness. We were still out of phase.

“Regina Andromeda Reilly, just how did you do this?” Mom demanded.

“Reilly spoke so highly about this place, I had to see it for myself, Grandma. I think she was absolutely correct, don’t you?”

“That is not what I asked, young lady. How did you bring us here? To this place in time?” Mom reiterated.

“I don’t know. I just thought it would be a nice place to go.”

“What your Grandmother wants to know is how did you bring us here if you are only able to timeshift a few months at the most, honey?” I clarified.

“Um…I don’t know?”

Mom jiggled our clasped hands.

“Um, Alex? Since we’re here, shouldn’t we blend in?” She proposed.

I quickly ordered up my pink beach apparel, as did mom with her light blue two-piece.

“Rephasing in three, two, one.” Mom announced, though ‘one’ came out almost silent.

Finding a place to unfold our beach towels, I waited until things had settled somewhat.

“Care to tell us how you did it, Honey?” I asked Reggie as I got comfortable on my back. Mom rolled toward us and propped her head up with her hand and elbow as she too awaited her explanation.

“I really don’t know, mom. I suppose I could’ve augmented my own gift with yours in order to multiply, exponentially, my range thereby allowing me to achieve transit to the desired timeframe successfully. Although only theoretical, the hypothesis and resulting conclusion would seem to concisely prove this theory.” Reggie answered.

“Wise-ass.” Mom muttered as she lay back down on her back.

“So you ‘borrowed’ my gift? Honey, how did you ever figure that one out?” I asked as pride in my daughter swelled within me.

“I did what Aunt Alex suggested, Allie. I used my imagination,” She said with a devious smile. Her use of my ‘travel’ name only reinforced our being in the future.

“But don’t let Reilly know! I would prefer we said that Alexis pulled another trick out of her ass.”

Mom sat straight up and glared over at Reggie.

“Young lady! I will not allow my Granddaughter to speak in such a rude manner!”

I lifted my personal ocular protection…my sunglasses…and stared at mom in surprise.

“Lexi, knock off the roll-playing, will ya? You’re actually starting to sound like mom.” I complained as I noticed our conversation attracting attention from other nearby sunbathers.

“Allie’s right, Lexi. Give it a rest! We’re here to relax and have fun.” Reggie giggled playfully.

Mom let out a loud groan and rolled back in defeat.
 
 

1123hrs, Fort DeSoto Beach, St. Petersburg, Fla, July 9th, 2020AD
 
 

“Wow! They’ll let anybody on this beach, won’t they?” A familiar voice mocked annoyance. I opened my eyes to see Amy Reynolds standing over me.

“Apparently they will. How y’all doin’ Amy?” I asked in reply.

“Not bad, Alex. What brings you to Saint Pete?” She asked as she knelt down at the edge of my blanket.

“Reggie decided that Lexi and I needed a short vacation.” I said, but added, “I guess you’re responsible for the perfect weather conditions?”

“Oh my God!” Amy exclaimed quietly as she looked around then leaned forward. “I’m so sorry, Empress! Welcome to St. Petersburg, Florida. It is 1110hrs July 9th…”

“I already know the year, date, and time, honey, but thanks.” I giggled.

“Sorry, Allie, but I can’t take credit for this weather. It’s always sunny here…except around noon. It always rains around noon. Every day, like clockwork.” She giggled.

“So what brings you down here from Chicago?” I asked rhetorically.

“Rommie and I had planned to meet here for some ‘R & R’. The Senate decided to take an earlier recess so Rommie asked if I’d meet her in St. Pete. She should be here any minute.” Amy replied as she looked first to the parking area then out into the waters of the Gulf.

Obi-wan would have been proud, I thought as I sensed another one of our sisters in the direction of the water.

To all un-enhanced eyes a dolphin appeared to leap from the water with nary a splash.

“Oh. There she is.” I pointed out as a young woman’s head appeared in the surf not far off-shore.

“So that’s what she meant by needing some exercise.” Amy giggled as our sister stood and began walking out of the water, though she stumbled the first few steps.
 
 

“What’s the occasion, Alex?” Rommie asked as she eventually stopped before us.

Amy cleared her throat casually.

“Oh… What’s the occasion, Allie?” She rephrased.

“Same as you, honey- ‘R & R’; how’s things on the hill?” I asked with a smile.

“Cutthroat as usual. Sometimes I think sharks are more civilized! But enough about me, how’d you get Alexis to agree to come? I thought she hated to travel with you.”

“Oh, ‘mom’ here, decided to come with us to the beach. Reggie chose the location though. Let’s call it an unexpected trip that turned out very well.” I said, giving our newly arrived sister some clues. “I’m currently on waivers, so Reggie did the honors.”

“Interesting. I’d really like to hear about it, Reggie. Maybe we can talk about it later. Amy and I were thinking of hitting a club tonight to blow off some steam. We’d be delighted if you three would join us.”

“I suppose we could pop in for a few minutes, girls.” Mom giggled.

“Why? My car is parked over there.” Amy laughed as she motioned to the parking lot.

“Acknowledged. How long did you plan on staying here?” I responded.

“We thought maybe a week…or until we feel rested enough to return to the day-to-day grind.” Amy answered.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I could probably fall asleep here and now. I’d maybe wake up in a few hours.” Rommie admitted as her hand covered a yawn.

“So how long have you been on the road, honey?” I asked.

“Well…I hit the Potomac the night before last around dusk…”

“You must be famished!” Reggie exclaimed, though quietly.

“No, I ate along the way. They were catching Swordfish and Tuna off Ocracoke, Outer Banks so I stopped for a bite.”

“Oh! My sister told me about the wonderful seafood she once had on Hatteras Island.” Reggie giggled excitedly. “What did you have?”

“The Swordfish, but I couldn’t eat the whole thing so I left the rest for this young Sand Shark that was ‘curiously’ observing me…but she graciously thanked me before I continued on.” Rommie related.

My daughter looked at her in confusion before Amy leaned over and whispered in her ear.

“Oh. OH! I’m sorry, Rommie, I didn’t know. Sorry.”

“My mistake, dear, I thought you knew about me.”

Reggie smiled timidly and shook her head a few times in silence.

“Would you like to go swimming with me?” She asked switching gears immediately.

Rommie looked at the girl in disbelief.

“Sure. Why not?” Rommie acquiesced and turned back toward the water, but waited for Reggie to catch up. Taking her hand, they waded into the gentle two-foot swells and stopped when the water got just below their shoulders. Rommie seemed to be explaining something to Reggie.

Thank goodness for my foresight because I would have been gravely concerned as they both disappeared under the next swell.
 
 

“And then we found this sunken ship! It had a whole load of bullet holes in it! Rommie said that it was probably a drug smuggler and probably sunk by the Coast Guard!” Reggie related excitedly as she nursed her Shirley Temple at our table in the loud, crowded nightclub in downtown St. Petersburg.

“I really had a good time, Allie. You’ll have to try it, Lexi.” Reggie added as she noticed another ‘cute’ guy walking past us. She finished the last of the beverage and got up.

“I’m going to get this refilled. Either of you want anything else?” She asked politely.

“No, but remember you’re only fifteen, honey. Drinking age is twenty-one in this time period.” I reminded my daughter. I already knew what her response would be.

Regina reached into her clutch purse and pulled a small laminated card from it.

“According to this, I’m twenty-two, Allie. Why do you always have to act like mother?”

Mom…Alexis started laughing heartily and nearly knocked over her drink as her fist hit the table hard in response.

“What is with that exaggerated response, m…Lexi?” I asked, suddenly feeling very incensed.

“Ma called it karma, hun. I just find it completely hilarious and so apropos!”

When I responded with silence, she continued.

“Aw, come on, hun. Y’all can’t seriously think that wasn’t a little payback for them times y’all pulled the same crap on me? Alex?”

“I don’t find it funny at all, Alexis! Especially since I still can’t recall any of my childhood memories! Your mind-wipe exceeded expectations completely.” I moaned.

“Alexandra, you did order a complete wipe of everything previous to the explosion. Billie, Cami, and Cassie…we all just followed your orders, hun.”

I didn’t count on you being so damned efficient.” I complained.

“Didn’t count on it? So…this means you’re still human then, Empress?” Mom asked out of the blue. She smiled impishly.

I stuck my tongue out at her!

“Wow, talk about rude.” Reggie wisecracked as she returned with something other than a Shirley Temple and two other identical beverages. She sat two of them down in front of ‘Lexi’ and I, retained one, and resumed her seat.

I stared at the new drink.

“It’s something called ‘Sand In Your Shorts’. I thought you would like it, Allie.” Reggie told us with a pleasant smile.

The concoction was very good, but I failed to see the correlation between its name and taste.
 
 

“So, we’re going to Yellowstone next, right, Allie?” Reggie asked some moments later.

“What is a ‘Yellowstone’, Allie?” Mom…Lexi asked.

“Yellowstone National Park in the state of Wyoming- only we’re going back to way before it was ever a national park.” Reggie answered.

“I’ve been working on and off to move the inhabitants to safer areas, Mom. A super volcano is set to erupt- and I used the term lightly- in the next few months, relative to the time period. In previous missions, I have only been able to transport those who would accept my hands. Given the trust issues and superstitions of the period, the results have been less than adequate.” I informed.

“But now that Aunt Alex has shared her new trick with Allie, we can save all those people at once! Isn’t that great?” Reggie chirped out excitedly.

“Save who, Reggie?” Amy Reynolds asked as she arrived back at our table. She had been- and I quote my future twin’s memories- ‘tearing up the dance floor’ since we arrived two hours ago.

“We’ll be going to Yellowstone in four days.” My daughter answered with an excited smile.

“Oh. Visiting anybody we know?”

“Not really, but we’re sure to make a few friends.” Reggie chirped.

Amy’s mouth dropped open instantly.

“Ummmm, I mean…ummm…we’ll meet some friends.” She reiterated nervously.

Amy instantly looked relieved.

“I’m certainly glad you clarified that statement! Jacki hates having to make more room for ‘new friends’.” She teased.

“Sorry.” Reggie apologized and blushed profusely.

“How many of those has she had, Allie? And why is she drinking a “Sand in Your Shorts’ anyway?” Amy asked nodding to our newest drinks.

“One. Just this on…” Reggie quickly sputtered.

“She’s had three.” I interrupted with a serious expression. “Two at the bar and this one. But you KNOW your limit, don’t you ‘little sister’?”

“Hey, girls! Not to be a party-pooper, but I think I’m going to head back to the hotel. The trip down tired me out and that brief snooze on the beach only helped a smidgen.” Rommie said as she walked up next to Amy.

“I was thinking about heading back anyway, girlfriend. You three coming? Randi set us up in the penthouse suite.” Amy replied.

“Ya, it’s got a huuuge hot tub!” Rommie smiled euphorically. “Even the tips of my fluke can be submerged comfortably.”

“Four bedrooms and three full bathrooms…literally no waiting!” Amy giggled.

“Can we, Allie?” Reggie beamed.

“Its up to Lexi, honey.” I deferred.

Mom smiled and offered her hands.

Amy rolled her eyes in response.

“Lexi. The car’s right out in the parking garage?”

It was mom’s turn to blush this time.
 
 

A loud, sensuous moan escaped the master bath and its large hot tub.

“By Poseidon’s beard, this feels exquisite!” Rommie’s sultry voice exclaimed from that room.

Reggie’s mouth dropped open as she glanced sheepishly to the closed door.

“Relax, kid.” Amy comforted with a soothing smile. “She does this every time we take a vacation. Rommie claims it’s the difference between salt and fresh water. I’d like to think it’s the bubble bath and body wash, myself, though she’s never said anything about meeting Poseidon in person before. I guess anything is possible with the sisterhood though.”

Amy changed topics slightly.

“So, the Senator took you diving? How was that?” Amy asked Reggie.

“It was absolutely fantastic! Have you ever gone with her, Amy?”

“Ya…freaked me out at first, but I adapted. I’m not really into that sort of activity though. I prefer a good set of tanks, mask, regulator, and swim fins, myself.”

“So you like regular diving then?” Reggie inquired.

“Ya. I’ve been certified since 1940, though things have vastly improved since then. Those Navy diving suits were very heavy- especially after my Mahanilui!” Amy grinned wistfully as she seemed to remember those times.

“Ya, well, I’d still rather rely on a good Rebreather unit rather than gills. I could never get past them tickling my neck.” She concluded.

Another sensuous moan escaped the bathroom. This one sounding slightly…erotic.

“Excuse me a moment.” Amy apologized calmly as she disappeared into the master suite.

“”Hey! You DO realize there’s an innocent teenager in the room. She really doesn’t need to hear it, Rommie! Dial it back a few clicks, will ya?” We heard Amy tell her companion after a couple hard wraps on the door.

“I’m sorry for that, girls. Rommie’s got a lot of pent up stress- as you can imagine, that’s why I try to get her out of DC every chance I can. Usually we hit different beaches during the day and different clubs each night and this is only the second time in forty years we’ve had guests.”

“Well, we didn’t mean to interfere, honey.” I said. “But as I said before, Reggie did the driving this time. Mom and I were just as surprised as you two.”

“Really, Alex? You sure there isn’t some ulterior motive? The Empress always has an ulterior motive.” Amy challenged.

I smiled. Mom looked at me as if I had two heads and tentacles.

“I was thinking…” I paused after being silent for two full minutes. “I could use your help on our next mission, honey. How good are you at ‘cleansing rains’?”

Amy giggled absentmindedly.

“It’s always easier to make clouds than clear them, Empress. Rommie invited too?”

“For continuity, sure. We might be able to make use of her negotiating skills, too.” I answered.

Amy smiled, quickly held up her pointer finger, stood, and walked back into the master suite. We heard her knock on its bathroom door again.

“Hey Rommie! We got us an Empress job!”
 
 

1130hrs, St. Petersburg, Fla, July 13th, 2020AD
 
 

“Ma, I’m really glad we came here, aren’t you?” Reggie asked four days later as we made our preparations to leave.

“It was a nice surprise, honey.” I admitted.

My daughter eyed me questioningly.

“So why didn’t you continue working in Silver Springs, Rommie?” Reggie inquired innocently, switching topics instantly.

“Well…I had worked there for six years already. After I got my masters’, I decided I should move on. Since the mermaids of Silver Springs don’t usually work there for more than ten years, I didn’t want to raise suspicions. It was hard enough keeping the air they pumped into the breathing tube from escaping through my gills. Even worse was the secretive way I always had to leave the crystal clear water. People begin to think of you as antisocial when you wait until everyone else is gone before exiting the water, or if you beat them out by a significant margin.”

“Still, that seems like a dream job for a mermaid.”

“I was lucky to make it those six years without getting outed, Reg. People can get awfully suspicious and paranoid in less time than you think. I still can’t believe they bought my lame contact lens story!” Rommie laughed.

Just to be sure, I passed my hand through a nearby chair a few times. I was cleared for travel!

“Looks like Alex is eager to hit the road, girls.” Amy giggled as she motioned over to me.

Before her giggling stopped our surroundings had changed.

“Hey, Alex, a little warning next time?” Amy groused.

“Welcome to 637,980BC everyone.” I announced brightly as I rephased us.

“Wow! Alex never said it was this far back!” Amy said as she looked around us in awe.

Off in the distance, a small village- nothing more than a fire and seven or eight small, crude, stick huts could be seen through the trees. Because of the geothermal heat beneath our feet, there was no snow, but fresh, green grass, trees, and bushes on the ground despite the obvious chilly air.

“Wow! The smell of rotten eggs is terrible! How can those people stand to live here?” Rommie asked pinching her nose closed.

“They’ve built up a tolerance over the years.” I said as I keyed up my faux fur and animal hide parka, pants, gloves, and boots. My companions followed my lead quickly.

“Now would be a good time to enable your translators with the language I downloaded the other day, ladies.” I advised before quickly turning, instantly raising my right arm, and catching a crude spear in that hand. Quickly spinning it a few times it now pointed toward its owner.

My companions’- especially mom’s eyes went wide!

“Nice try, hun, but I knew you were there!” I shouted out into the closer tree line. “Is that any way to welcome a friend?”

A man of no more than 159 centimeters appeared and carefully made his way closer. For having met four times previously, I wondered why he was being so cautious until mom’s trembling hand took one of my hands and Reggie’s took the other.

“He can smell your fear, ladies. Best you should relax and pay him no heed. Aki won’t hurt us.” I advised as I smiled at the aboriginal, animal hide clad, man.

Aki stopped several feet from us and began sniffing the air, obviously comparing our scent with what he remembered.

“Took too long get back this time, Alak. Why?”

“Family had to gather, Aki. Took full moon to full moon. More decide travel with me?”

Many rock-head people, Alak. Too much no trust. Who they?”

“Alexis, Romney, Regina, and Amy.” I introduced, pointing to my companions as I said their names.

“Alak’sis, Reegeena, sisters?” He asked as he pointed to them.

“Yes. Romney, Amy family too.” I answered. “Go village?”

Aki nodded and motioned in the direction of the small, Spartan, encampment.

“Alak come.” He announced as we entered the settlement to twenty frightened, female faces. One old man fought to stand.

I nodded and offered my hand. He waved me off casually and staggered a few steps after reaching his feet.

“Alak.” He greeted, groaning in pain- his voice rather wispy and strained.

“Travel?” I asked hoping he would agree this time. I had tried four times so far to get him and his family- the rest of this village- to allow me to relocate them.

He sat back down, but almost fell backwards doing it. I guess I had my answer.

Aki snorted in disgust.

I smiled.

“Me sent.” I stated seriously as I pointed up to the hazy inversion the geothermal energy was causing. The sun was a mere, fuzzy, yellow ball through it.

The patriarch began laughing at me!

“Danger, Will Robinson!” Rommie giggled.

Reggie’s hand suddenly released mine and she appeared beside the staunch leader.

“Listen pal, my mother does not lie! If she says the Lords sent her, she means it.”

Although the man jumped, her words didn’t quite translate, instead coming out as ‘Mother no lie! Spirit send. Mean!’

The twenty women gathered closer in absolute fear of my daughter’s rash action.

The old man laughed again.

“Way to go, honeybee.” Mom complained sarcastically.

Reggie reappeared beside me to the cries and shrieks of the now terrified women.

“It was worth a try.” My daughter said shyly.

“Can I try, Alex?” Rommie asked politely. She approached the age-wizened leader after I nodded.

Rommie motioned to his side and the man offered her to sit beside him.

“Romney.” She introduced herself.

“Gerump.” He answered only it sounded more like ‘grump’.

That actually described the man accurately.

“Travel. Bad mountain. All die.” Rommie advised as she motioned to the horizon- to the slowly growing mega-bulge that would soon erupt with more force than ten thousand high yield nuclear devices and create a one million acre crater that would eventually become Yellowstone.

The old man remained stone quiet.

Rommie thought a moment before reaching to the ground and holding her hand to the warm dirt for a moment.

“Fire demon coming. Soon. All die. All travel.”

Again the man just sat still.

Rommie frowned and got to her feet. She approached the huddled womenfolk. Pointing to the nearest, she asked her question.

“Die? Live?”

“Live.”

She pointed to a young girl that looked about thirty weeks along.

“Live? Die?”

“Live, live.” She replied, rubbing her swollen belly gently.

Rommie repeated her question to the rest of the women. With two exceptions- those two being in their forties- the majority was ‘live’.

Our resident senator looked back to the patriarch and crossed her arms in angry satisfaction.

Still the man refused to speak or acknowledge her in any form.

Aki tried.

“Trees want travel! No die!”

Still the man sat silent.

“Alex. Estimated time ‘til eruption.” Mom asked as she released my hand with a jerking motion.

“One hundred and nine days, three hours, and forty-seven minutes.” I answered somberly.

“I’m seeing them still here if things don’t change, correct?”

“Confirmed.”

“I’ll be back in a jif, hun.” Mom said before she appeared behind the old man, placed a hand on his shoulder, and both disappeared.

The women around us began shrieking in terror!

Aki’s mouth dropped in amazement, even having seen me phase out numerous times before.

“I like her. Reminds me of Reilly or Cassandra.” Amy giggled.

“That’s my gram, girls!” Reggie clucked with pride.

“If she doesn’t give the old man a coronary.” I mumbled to myself.

A minute later both reappeared in their original location. The man looked on the verge of unconsciousness.

“What she do, Alak?” Aki asked me in confusion.

“Explained things.” I said, but realized I had to simplify. “See all die.”

Aki snorted in understanding.

“Live? Die?” Mom asked the pasty-faced old man.

“Live.”

Hu-rrrray!

“Aki, go gather spot two suns.” I told my liaison.

He grunted his confirmation and began giving the group instructions.

“Why give them two days, skipper…sorry…director.” Amy asked as Aki took complete charge of the camp.

“Their men are out hunting. They’ll need the provisions to survive.” I answered then pointed to the expectant mother. “And she’s going into labor in an hour.”

Mom looked at me in surprise.

“I didn’t know you looked that closely, Alexandra?”

“Mom,” I said looking at her stoically, “I refuse to have her give birth on the road and possibly lose the baby. It’s bad enough the child will have problems.”

“I can’t see any problems, hun. What have you seen that I haven’t?”

“The boy will be different than the rest. He will not ‘fit’ in with his family and be cast out shortly after puberty. Determined to survive using his enhanced cognitive skills, he will head south and become a great leader of his own tribe and set the groundwork for the first major civilization in Central America.” Reggie droned with glazed-over eyes.

Mom stared at her granddaughter in complete silence- her eyes wide with proud amazement.

“Sorry. I zoned out there. Did I say anything stupid? Reilly likes to tease me when I do that. She laughs and I don’t like it very much…” Reggie babbled after shaking her head and blinking a few times.

“Girl, you’re just as impressive as your mom!” Rommie declared with a huge smile.

“She’s right, Reg, you got the gift- that’s for sure!” Amy added excitedly.

“Thanks, guys, I appreciate the confidence.” Reggie blushed.

Mom suddenly wrapped her arms around her granddaughter.

“You remind me SO much of your Aunt Cassandra…in fact, if your hair were a shade or two darker…”

“We know a couple people that could help with that, Lexi!” Amy reminded wryly.

“We sure do, sweetie!” Rommie giggled before her face became serious. “What I find really interesting though, is how the genetics of the ‘Royal’ family keep repeating- how the Empress’ daughters match her sisters…her mothers. Despite the father, the pattern replicates.”

“You know, Splash, I never thought about that before! It makes you wonder if our director purposely incorporated that particular subroutine into her ‘K’ cells.” Amy wondered.

My vision dropped to the ground as I felt the weight of what I had to reveal.

“My nanos never made it into production.” I admitted sadly.

“Huh?” Mom, Amy, and Rommie gasped at the same time.

I shook my head slowly.

“No. When Will came in to confront Cami and I about the ethics of our project, the ensuing brawl between he and I caused my prototypes’ container to fall onto the worktable and break. Since Cami and I used the same contagion protection, all that was left of my strain was a reddish-blue, inanimate, pile of dust. Cami’s strain was the one absorbed into Reilly’s systems, not mine.”

“Damn!” Rommie exclaimed. “I thought Cami is your assistant, Alex?”

“Officially, yes, though her advanced postulations in programmable, bio-organic, micro-machines are what drew my attention and that of the Foundation.” I revealed. “In truth, her IQ vastly eclipses my own.”

“Funny, I had her pegged for a typical ditz that had only more than a slight clue.” Amy admitted as she shook her head in amazement.

“We need to visit the other camps around the magma dome, ladies.” I said to change the subject. Our scenery changed abruptly.

Another small village stood off to our left about one hundred and eighty-five meters away. Built of the same stick design, it consisted of four huts and a central smoldering fire.

An older woman that had noticed our appearance got up and slowly walked out to meet us.

“Welcome, Alak. Family?” She greeted and asked about my companions.

“Mother, child, sister, sister.” I introduced as I pointed to Mom, Reggie, Amy, and Romney.

The woman began to laugh and shook her head in the negative.

“Sister, sister, sister’s sister, sister’s sister, Alak.” She countered pointing in the same order with a knowing smile.

I just smiled back in reply. Best to let her think they were my sisters and cousins, I guess.

“Travel?” I asked.

She shook her head ‘no’, turned, and walked away sadly.

We doggedly followed her into the ‘village’.

Two young males, hunters, vectored in from our left and right, crude, flint-tipped spears at the ready. While my four companions stopped abruptly, I kept walking.

The hunter to my right jabbed with his spear angrily.

It passed through my phased-out abdomen without inflicting any damage. I snorted in disgust at him. He stared in fear as I stopped and glared at him in anger. I waggled my right pointer a few times and continued into the village.

The Matriarch of this group laughed at the young man, shaking her head slowly to the sides.

“No travel, Alak.” She said sadly.

“All die.” I responded by motioning around to those seated- about eight women and four men of varying ages. Most looked tired or sick.

“Die travel.” She motioned to the ones looking the worst.

“Die no travel.”

The women simply looked to the ground. I noticed tears fall from her downturned face. Apparently, they had given up.

“Alex? Look at these fish!” Rommie gasped as she walked over to where they were drying some freshly filleted fish on a flat rock.

“I may be mistaken, but these fish show high levels of sulfur ingestion. These people are eating tainted food!”

“Rommie, you sure about that?” Amy asked as Reggie and Mom looked on.

“Trust me, I know tainted food when I see it, Drizzle.” Rommie answered using Amy’s nickname. “A mermaid is always cautiously aware of her food supply and I can plainly smell the sulfur in these poor things.”

Rommie looked at the old woman intensely.

“Get?” She asked as she picked up one and held the flayed carcass toward her.

The old woman pointed behind us to a pristine looking lake about one hundred-five meters away.

“Let’s all go look.” I said as we were suddenly on the muddy shoreline.

Mom gasped as she noticed ‘all’ meant everybody. The old woman and her group gasped also. Some of the women began to sob in fright.

“Alak, home.” Reggie announced as she pointed to me then toward the sky.

That only made our guests even more frightened.

“Time to impress upon these people that the fish are not good for them to consume.” Rommie said as she winked at me.

I nodded and she took off her animal-skin boots and began to wade into the lake then began to hunt for fish.

In an instant she thrust her hands into the water and pulled out a good-sized fish that looked similar to the ones back at their camp, but instantly began screaming! Dropping the fish, she continued screaming and stared at her up-turned hands in terror!

As if slow motion, we all witnessed the delicate membranes form between her fingers as scales began to form on her exposed skin. Hurriedly, she exited the water and dropped to the ground still screaming in severe pain. Rommie blinked a few times and stared at the old woman with her large mermaid eyes and began gasping for air.

Whether sick or not, old or young, our guests jumped up and ran back to the ramshackle stick huts as fast as they could. Only the old woman remained sitting- silent and passive.

“Die?” She asked as she pointed to the Senator.

I laughed and winked to her as Rommie reverted back to her fully human form and stood. She proceeded to reach down and grasp her boots.

“Live. Swim good.” I smiled and offered my hand to the Matriarch to help her stand.

We were back standing among her people. I immediately pointed to one of the younger women.

“Live? Die?” I asked.

“Live.” She replied quickly.

I repeated Rommie’s interrogation with this village and received almost the same vote ratio. Finally, I confronted their elder.

“Travel?” I asked once more.

A smile came to her face and she rose to her knees. I offered my hand. When she took it I pulled her gently to her feet.

“Alak, Home!” She said as she pointed nervously up to the heavens.

I smiled at the woman and motioned to those around us. “Family.” I said with a smile.

She nodded, but barely.

“Mom, could you relay the images in my mind to the group?” I asked as I pictured the route to the meeting place in my mind.

The villagers immediately reached for their heads as one.

The matriarch was now staring at me intensely.

“Meet. One sun,” I said as I pointed to our south before smiling and turning to my sisters.

Our surroundings changed again. This time clouds of steam rose all around us in thick columns.

“Damn! People actually live here? This is more like hell than any of the previous locations, Alex!” Amy exclaimed.

“These are the difficult ones.” I said as I rephased us for only a few seconds.

Several spears and many more arrows and knives flew through us and embedded or bounced off the ground all around us.

When I rephased us again for only two seconds, we were rewarded by another volley of crude weapons!

“Soooo…um…how do we approach these guys, director?” Rommie asked as she looked around us to the trees. “They seem to have us at a disadvantage.”

I’ve seen better behaved savages on Chicago’s South side!” Amy chimed. “Give me a moment, Alex, I’ll tame these beasts.”

With my nod, Amy began to concentrate.

“Driz? Take it easy on them! Let’s not repeat the spring of 2016.” Rommie warned calmly. When Amy paid no heed she looked at me with concern. “Alex? I’ve seen her wind up like this before. It won’t be pretty! I suggest we phase in and hit the deck.”

“I’ve dealt with schmucks like this before, Alex. I’ll get them to listen to reason! Phase us in now and do what Splash says.” Amy advised as her voice seemed to echo around us.

A huge, dark, cloud popped into existence overhead and quickly grew darker and more ominous.

It began to rain as I phased us in. As predicted, a volley of crude spears, knives, and arrows appeared from the trees around us.

A rapid barrage of lightning flashed from the growing storm cloud and struck each and every weapon in mid-flight and turned them to ash instantly. The instantaneous thunder was deafening.

“WOW!” Reggie exclaimed in excited fascination.

Another attack was thwarted with another barrage of lightning.

“Thirty targets acquired, Alex. Orders?” Amy asked in a low, angry voice that seemed to echo eerily through our surrounding. She was the only one of us standing.

“We’re here to move this group to safety, honey, not help the super volcano do its job.” I said calmly as I looked directly up at my powered-up sister.

“Understood, skipper. Awaiting orders to engage.” Amy acknowledged in an ominous, echoing, monotone.

Yet another volley of arrows flew toward us. None made it any farther than the others.

“Stun only. Engage.” I ordered serenely.

Systematically, from the north, bolts of lightning began striking behind specific trees. With each thunderous crash a dazed warrior slumped into view until we were surrounded by unconscious men roughly fifty meters away in all directions. Some of the men tried in vain to escape their fate by humorously running or jumping away from their hiding places.

Amy’s aim was frighteningly accurate and in no way could be considered a ‘natural’ phenomenon.

It took a few minutes for our sister to disperse the storm and to gather our ‘welcoming committee’ together before I ported us directly into the center of a settlement of twenty or so crude, but more substantial, stick lodges. About fifty women sat preparing or mending one thing or another. By far, this was the largest and most organized ‘village’ of any we had visited.

To say we frightened the feces out of everyone was an understatement!

The women around us cowered in fear after our arrival.

“Chief!” I shouted out loud and clear then told my sisters to be on guard and remain where they were to watch our prisoners. Amy’s thundercloud reappeared looking menacing, but relatively well behaved and quiet.

Several more warriors ran to attack me but I simply snapped my fingers and they froze in place- in time. I looked at them angrily as I confidently walked past and snapped my fingers to release them only after I had reached the lodge where I knew the patriarch of this group was resided.

“Chief!” I shouted again.

These people ingeniously designed their living quarters to be entered from above and were heavily fortified on all sides. A loose tree trunk acted as a removable ladder to get in or out.

“Travel! Now!” I ordered as he looked down on me.

The man laughed confidently- a lecherous grin on his face as he leered.

Casually climbing down the ladder, his disgusting grin never abated as he walked toward me.

I noticed a smaller, dark gray, cloud floating above him and smiled in spite of myself.

“Mate!” He exclaimed with a sinister laugh.

I snorted at his humor.

Suddenly, he reached out to me, his large hand passed right through my left shoulder though. I smiled brightly. He tried again and failed once more.

Ingenious, but not very bright.

For a third time he tried to reach out and grab my shoulder. This time I snapped my finger and his huge paw stopped in mid air. He tried desperately to follow through or pull it away, but it remained frozen in a very localized temporal stoppage.

I decided to add to his discomfort by slowly walking around him, sizing him up as he would, me.

“No.” I said in disgust once I returned to face him. He kept looking between his out-stretched hand and me. His face conveyed his fear of me.

I motioned to his thirty unconscious warriors.

“No, Die. Rest.” I told him. “Die?” I then asked.

“No die.” He responded, but pointed to me again. “Mate!”

I had no intention of dealing with this man so I pointed up to the small, darkening cloud hovering about twenty meters directly above his head.

“Driz? Could you re-start their fire, please?” I asked my sister confidently.

“You got it, Alex.” She replied as a precision bolt launched out from the single cloud and landed spot on in the middle of the smoldering fire.

The chief’s mouth dropped open as the fire roared to life.

“Travel.” I said.

Another warrior suddenly ran toward me. This one was screaming wildly and sounded like an eagle during mating season. He dove for me, knife in hand and ready to strike.

Once more I yawned and snapped my fingers. The crazed attacker stopped in mid-air one meter from me. This time I reversed time for him and he returned to his original position outside the camp, his screaming sounding particularly humorous in reverse.

“Would anyone else like to try my patience?” I asked in anger as I pointed directly to the approaching warrior. Amy’s ‘little’ cloud released another precisely aimed bolt at the fire again just as a warning. That effectively stopped his advance.

“Show-off.” Rommie accused her sister.

“Travel.” I tried again.

“Mate?” he tried again- this time with much less gusto.

I pointed above him and folded my arms in front of me in anger. Maybe I should just have Amy stun him too, I thought to myself.

“I could wipe that urge from him in a split second, Alex.” Amy offered from back by our prisoners. “Just one well-placed bolt and goodbye stud, helloooo eunuch!” She giggled, but it had a very malevolent edge.

“Travel.” The macho guy sighed in resignation.

I nodded with a pleasant smile.

“Meet. Two suns.” I ordered as I pointed to the South-southwest and mentally thought of the location. As one, the whole village reached for their heads as Mom transferred the information- even the reviving warriors moaned as they too received the location telepathically.

“Let’s go.” I said to my sisters. They immediately left the waking men and joined me. I phased us out, but did not transit to our next location wanting to see the reaction from the chief.

As expected, everyone looked around in confusion as to what just happened. The stunned look the big guy had seemed comical on his face, but he immediately jumped into action, ordering the camp broken and began readying his people to make the two day journey to the newly ingrained meeting spot.

A new landscape appeared around us. This one was full of half withered trees, dried brush, and straw!

As I rephased us, my Reilly display flashed a red warning message that it was taking automated environmental countermeasures.

My Reilly suit instantly defaulted to its original form and a protective, transparent helmet enveloped my head.

What the hell just happened?” Rommie inquired, now through my suit’s comm system.

Ya! What the hell, Alex?” Amy concurred angrily.

Mom?” Reggie asked with a hint of fear in her voice.

As you all well know, the official purpose of our Reilly Research Station uniforms is for protection against hostile environments- what y’all call a space suit.” Mom explained. “According to my suit’s sensors, this area contains dangerously high levels of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S). Our suits took the necessary precautionary steps as they were programmed. Without this protection, we would be nearly dead.

I gulped as I hurried us to the next village- a scant one hundred meters away.

We were too late! Bodies lay around a cold fire pit; some slumped against each other, some splayed out on the warm, cracked ground.

“We search the buildings for any survivors.” I told my sisters as I tried to hold back my tears. After consulting my gift, I knew we would only find one, though.
 
 

Skipper! Found one!” Amy’s excited voice called out across our comm’s.

“Don’t move her. She’s above the bad air.” I ordered.

There was a full minute of silence.

Of course you knew.” Amy Reynolds deadpanned. “May I ask if she’s important to the sisterhood, ma’am?

Everyone is important to the sisterhood, Miss Reynolds,” I replied.

Understood, ma’am, but does this one hold ‘special’ importance?” Amy inquired further.

“She does,” was all I said before I arrived at the mostly dead tree and looked up to the highest branches where a young woman- about thirteen- hung precariously limp.

Amy was still feeling for a pulse.

“Enable your atmospheric rescue mask, Amy, but be on guard! She may wake fighting. I’m on my way up.” I recommended as I concentrated on the larger branches directly under the girl. I was immediately standing on the branch and quickly reached out to the trunk to steady myself.

Where the hell’d you learn that?” Amy cursed as she produced her rescue mask and held it to the girls face.

“Imagination, Miss Reynolds,” I answered. “We’ll go to my private domain where I can realign her attitude before we get to the ground. We’ll be right back ladies.” I added to let my other sisters know what was going on.

Reaching up with one hand, I touched the girl’s exposed right ankle.

“Amy, hold her as tight as you can. Transiting in three, two, one.

The blackness of my domain appeared around us. Amy and our victim remained suspended above me as I held their local time stationary. I gently pulled and maneuvered them to the ‘ground’ before restoring time around them. I thanked my grand niece and my sister for showing and sharing that little trick.

“God, do I despise this place.” Amy groaned once I restored time for them as she continued to tend to the girl.

“Try to get her to drink this.” I suggested as I held out my flask of nano-infused water.

Amy took it and opened the girl’s mouth slightly and put a few drops of water on her lips.

“It just disappeared.”

“Absorbed, honey. The nanos absorbed immediately into the surrounding damaged tissue. She should start to regain consciousness now.” I told my sister. “Let her drink as much as she wants.”
 
 

Welcome back, Empress.” Mom greeted as we rephased.

Our Reilly’s immediately reverted and sealed us from the dangerous atmosphere. Amy’s rescue mask was now firmly strapped to the still-groggy, girl’s head- the full-face, mask waiting to protect her eyes as well- when they finally opened.

With a muffled scream, our new charge came to full consciousness and began to fight wildly to escape.

“Calm.” I ordered gently as Reggie came close and helped hold her still.

“Calm.” I said again looking directly at her with as pleasant a smile as I could given our dire surroundings.

“Calm.” I said once more. This time the girl stopped fidgeting and nodded her understanding.

Alex, I carry a personal re-breather in case my companion can’t or decides against mermaid mode. Mind if I let her borrow it? I trust she drank from your Kili flask?” Rommie offered.

You could say that, Splash. She chugged almost twenty ounces!” Amy giggled. “A regular party girl, this one.

Rommie produced her apparatus from the impossibly small hidden pocket of her Reilly and helped fit it to the still-terrified girl. At first she fought the life-giving mask, but settled down once she realized it helped her breathe.

Live?” She asked, her voice muffled.

“Live.” I reassured her.

Instantly, she turned and sprinted off!

I guess that was expected, Alex?” Mom asked with a slight snicker.

I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily.

We appeared ten meters ahead of the fleeing girl, surprising her. She slid to a stop after stumbling and rolling several times. Unfortunately, her mask fell off in the process and she began to choke and cough violently. Amy rushed over and helped replace the breathing apparatus.

Calm.” Amy said gently as she cleared the girl’s unkempt hair from her face and under the mask.

Help you live.” She said pointing to the device.

The girl just stared at our sister for several minutes.

“Family?” She finally asked after another few minutes.

Amy shook her head sadly and looked to the ground, “die.”

Our sister held the girl securely as she cried and moaned, releasing her grief.
 
 
 

Twice more our Reilly’s transformed to protect us from the deadly gas as we continued to visit village after village. In most cases our ‘space suits’ spooked the villagers into running away. We used this to our advantage to clear the sickened people from the affected areas. Once clear of the toxic atmosphere, we reverted back to our era-specific clothing. We found the people a little more receptive of our requests to meet and ‘travel’ to safety.

Our last stop was Reilly.

“RVP, we’re back for the night. We’ll be departing again in the morning.” I told the A.I. as I reverted my Reilly suit to its default.

Welcome home, Empress. It is 4:30PM, July 15th, 2020 BC.” RVP greeted.
 
 

4:35PM, Reilly Research Station, July 15th, 2020BC
 
 

“Amy, you and Reggie escort our newest sister to Cynthia. I’d like her to make sure the nanos are addressing all her medical needs.” I requested and waited until they had been gone a minute or two. Mom and Rommie remained with me.

“RVP?”

Yes, director?

“I’d like the girl measured for a Reilly. Have any of our Mind Warriors returned yet?”

Jacki Cummins has returned to her own time as well as Emily and Brianna. The family Darough went along with Billie and Gena to a place called Niagara Falls in the North American continent. They should return later this evening, Director.

“Thank you, honey.” I replied.

Director? Shall I also prepare quarters for our new sister?

“Delay assignment until 2030AD, honey. Lena will be leaving with Amy Reynolds when our current mission has concluded. She will be rooming with her until she comes of age.” I revealed to looks of disbelief from mother and Rommie.

“Does Driz know about this, Alex?” Rommie asked showing some reservation. “May I remind you that Amy has already put her kids through school? Are you sure she’s ready for another one?”

I nodded. “She’s already accepted her as her own, Sen. Marsh.” I reassured her.

“I noticed that, ma’am.”
 
 

After a fair night’s sleep, my ‘mission specific’ sisters found me in the Rec Room playing with my breakfast. I was tired and feeling conflicted over yesterday’s events. Saving as many people as possible was the greater objective, but I was having problems reconciling the loss of all but one member of those devastated villages. One of my scenarios had the descendants of that one village advancing quickly to become a world power in just under two thousand years. That same discarded scenario also gave rise to a very different future for Earth- one that didn’t include the Empress of Time and Space. Still, it bothered me to lose any souls at all.

Then there was the fact that Lena threw back four tall glasses of Pa Steinert’s prize recipe like it was water! I felt bad about letting the teenager drink so much.

“You feeling alright, hun?” Mom asked as she and Frances Darough walked over to my table and sat down with their morning meal.

“In a word, ‘peachy’, ma.” I replied sarcastically. Even my coffee didn’t taste right this morning.

“It’s hard…having to make that call, Alex. Whether you like it or not it happened and deep down you know there was nothing you could do so try not to let it bother you.”

“Easier said than done, mother. I’ve had way too many of THOSE ‘calls’ to make in my rather ‘revisioned’ life, more so since becoming the Empress.” I lamented.

“Alex?” Amy Reynolds asked sounding worried and almost out of breath as she hurried into the Rec Room. “Have any of you seen Lena? When I woke up this morning she wasn’t in our quarters. RVP can’t find her on her internal sensors.”

I stood, took back my half eaten meal, and, returning to the table, offered my hand to my worried sister.

The south beach appeared. Just ahead of us at the water’s edge lay four women with exotic colored scales and tail flukes. They were lying on their stomachs in the shallows, propped up on their elbows, giggling and happily conversing. Occasionally, their individual flukes would randomly raise and flop lazily.

“Thank goodness she’s okay.” Amy breathed a sigh of relief as we drew near enough to identify them.

“Hey, ma.” Reggie greeted without looking in our direction. Her companions looked up at us.

“Yes, mom knows where I am, Alexandra.” Gena groaned, reading my mind.

“Fish!” Lena, our rescue from yesterday giggled as she motioned to herself and the other three.

“Morning, Alex. Oh, hey, Driz.” Rommie greeted as she noticed Amy beside me.

“Splash, I’ve been looking for this one since I woke up! Why didn’t you leave word with RVP?” Amy questioned.

“I didn’t know myself until the sneaky little fry scared the crap out of Reggie, Gena, and I as we were sunning here.” Rommie answered as she set her attention to our newest sister. “How DID you find us, sweetie?”

“Travel.” The thirteen-year old giggled as her tail fluke lazily rose out of the shallow swells and flopped back down again with a splash.

I rolled my eyes at the youngster. “Give it a rest, Lena. Use the words I know Camille Darough downloaded to you early this morning.”

Our new sister giggled, but said nothing.

“Answer the Empress, Lena. As I explained earlier, she already knows what is to happen and knows what you will say, so just humor her, sweetie.” Rommie advised gently.

“Yes, Miss Camille did, in fact, enable me to understand your language, Empress Alexandra. I thought humor might be better advised as I have been told it lightens the mood of given events. I have been informed that you hold yourself personally responsible for my tribe’s loss. You should not. After my family failed to wake two days ago, I hurried into the tree as I noticed another low hanging cloud of death approaching. By that time I was the sole survivor and I had given myself to the knowledge that I would again see the others in the next life. It was not your assumed late arrival, but our father’s negligence to see the danger and move us to a safer location.”

“Wow, has she got a silver tongue on her!” Amy quiped with a whistle.

“Yes, as usual, Cami exceeded all expectations.” I deadpanned.

‘Why thank you, Alex,’ echoed through my head!

I rolled my eyes in annoyance.

My other five sisters giggled lightly as they obviously heard the transmission.

“Does she do that often, Empress Alexandra?” Lena asked as she smiled pleasantly.

Gena choked.

“Hmmph! Does a mermaid shhi…swim in the ocean?” Amy Reynolds groaned sarcastically.

“Hey!” Rommie complained, “We resemble that at the moment!”

I loved my sisters!

“Lena, honey?” I asked kindly, “We aren’t very formal here so Alex or Alexandra will be a sufficient mode of address.”

“But you are Empress.” Lena puzzled. “I must pay you proper respect, for you are the one that delivered me from the long sleep.”

“I…I just brought us back here so you could get proper medical treatment, honey. Amy was the one that found you and rescued you, not me.”

“Is this true, Miss Amy?” Lena looked to the woman beside me.

Amy looked down to the sand and nodded her head slightly. “I just couldn’t leave you hanging up in the tree, kiddo. You wouldn’t have lasted much longer if I’d have done nothing.”

“Exiting ‘Mer-mode’.” Lena announced quickly as she began to change. Standing as soon as her feet reformed, she ran, buck-naked, to her savior.

“Thank you, Miss Amy! Thank you a thousand times over!” She cried as she embraced our stunned sister.

Alex Steinert’s Weather Mage automatically wrapped her arms around the teen and began gently rubbing her back.

Amy looked at me for guidance.

I nodded acknowledgement of her unspoken question.

“Hey. Kiddo,” Amy asked quietly, “How would you like to come home with me and Rommie? I know I can never replace your parents, but I’ll see to it that you’ll be loved and cared for as if you were my own.”

Lena began crying harder and nodded her head a few times. She seemed to squeeze Amy tighter.

“Make sure she gets her Reilly, ‘Driz’.” I giggled as I used her nickname. “I took the liberty of having one fabricated last night.”

Amy nodded.

After a few minutes, Lena released Amy and looked over to me.

“You knew this would happen, Empress?” She asked. “How? I didn’t know what I would do before this moment.”

I smiled.

“How did I know that yours and other’s people were in danger, Lena?” I asked back. “How do I know that the area where you lived will explode and completely obliterate any and all life remaining there in about four months?”

“It will?” Lena gasped in shock. “We have to save the other people, Empress- before they suffer my peoples’ fate! Please, Empress, please help the other people.”

I smiled brightly.

“You’ll do, honey. We leave in two hours, ladies.”

The Rec Room appeared around me.

“That went well, hun.” Mom replied as I sat down again next to her. Franny Darough looked on at us in silence.

“I know you were there, ma. You know I can feel when our sisters are near- seen or unseen, but yes, it went as foreseen.”

Mom nodded with an impish grin.

“We leave in two hours, mom. Franny, you and Quinn are invited should you wish.” I said as I stood and walked out into the hallway. I immediately jumped ahead two hours and walked back into the Rec Room.

A crowd of my sisters and Quintin Darough met my eyes as I turned the corner!

I did a double take as I saw Cami’s pa. He matched everyone else in his own Reilly suit.

“Director, I took the liberty of requisitioning a station uniform for Rep. Darough.” Mom stepped forward and stood to attention proudly. She then gave me a wink and a wicked grin.

“Director, situational analyses of the mission’s parameters have indicated that we split into six groups.” Billie announced as she stepped forward and stood to attention next to mom. “I’ve taken the liberty of assigning individuals to those six groups according to our foreseen field requirements. Group one will be led by Alexandra Reilly; group two, by Alexis Reilly; group three, Samantha Fleming; group four, Cassandra Sangiere. My daughter, Iphigeneia, will lead group five and I will lead group six. All group assignments have been designated prior to your arrival. Once transit to the mission site is complete, we will divide into our groups and each will transit to the assigned locations where we will affect inhabitant relocation requests and/or rescue if needed. Speaking for the mission staff, we’re ready when you are, ma’am.”

Though I knew it coming, I still felt tears of pride roll down my cheeks as I nodded.

The sun was just peaking over the gigantic, geologically active bulge that would become the Yellowstone Caldera in the following months. Steam or smoke- probably severely toxic- could be seen wafting from locations on and near its blunt summit. The smell of sulfur and death immediately assulted our sense of smell as I rephased us.

“By the Goddess! Is that what I imagine it to be, Alexandra?” Quintin Darough gasped as his mouth fell open at the ominous, but majestic sight.

“If we arrived when I think we did, the eruption will occur in one hundred and fourteen days. This entire area will become the gigantic caldera that will ultimately become the United States of America’s first national park. All life- human, plant, or animal- will be decimated. Thousands of lives will end in the following years as the ash and acidic fallout settles to the lands east of here. Global cooling from the expelled cloud will effectively drop the average planetary temperatures thirty to forty degrees and trigger what Earth scholars will call an ‘Ice Age’.”

“So how many people still live here, Alexandra?” Franny Darough asked curiously.

“Over two thousand people call the Yellowstone area their home.” I stated placidly. “I’ve already moved about fourteen hundred over sixteen missions.”

A combined gasp filled the air around us as my sisters balked at the numbers.

“Ladies, we will now divide into our rescue groups.” Billie announced as she turned to face our sisters and brother. All group leaders have seen the designated locations and the parameter set each require. We will all meet up at the specified extraction point and effect transit to the chosen relocation points. Group six, follow me and prepare for transit. Good hunting, everyone.”

Billie and her pick of five sisters gathered, walked several meters away, joined hands, and vanished. Gena, Sam, and Cassie gathered their groups and followed Billie’s lead. Each group disappeared sequentially.

“Franny, Quinn, Freya, Lily, and Mirabelle, you’re with me.” Mom announced as she turned to me. “Be careful, Alexandra. See you at the rendezvous point.” That impish grin of hers reappeared and her group vanished- without joining hands.

“So, she finally figured it out.” I said to myself.

“Rescue Group One reporting for duty, director!” Amy Reynolds declared as she, Reggie, Rommie, Cami, Lena, and Yuuka stopped in parade formation before me. All stood to attention and saluted!

Reflexively, I returned their salute then looked at my hand in confusion. It became blurry and out of focus. I instinctively sniffed back my tears and wiped gently at my eyes to dry them.

“Yuuka, Pixie mode only as a last resort, understand?”

“Aye, ma’am.” She answered and saluted again.

“Rommie, you’ll have to go swimming this time, but be forewarned, the water might be acidic so don’t spend too much time in there. Amy and Lena, a volcanic vent will breach the ground and threaten the people we will be ‘persuading’. They’ll need a fresh water shower to keep the scarring to a minimum. Follow prescribed Chemical Haz-Mat protocols.”

“Mom, how come I didn’t get my own rescue group? I can relocate like the rest of you.” Reggie asked in a whinny voice.

“Because I have a special task for you, honey.” I replied as Reggie closed her eyes. She nodded and smiled at me.

“I understand, ma’am. You can count on me!”

All around us the bare pine trees framed a barren and devastated land. The soil beneath our feet- cracked and severely dehydrated- crackled loudly under our feet. Our Reillys’ immediately sealed us from the dangerous atmosphere as soon as we rephased.

Nice place, Alex. We gonna find any survivors?” Yuuka asked as she looked over the desolate landscape.

“A family of fifteen, alive atop the ridge two hundred meters to our northeast.” I advised.

So being higher than the foul air saved them then?” She asked.

“Until the vent opens.”

Then we should hurry, Empress!” Lena urged. She was still examining her covering, this being the first time she had experienced the environmental aspect of her newly received Reilly.

Alex, I read fifteen minds up ahead. Eight of then are frightened women. Two men seem to be suffering from oxygen deprivation.” Cami reported as we made our way up the somewhat steep grade.

I’m not liking this at all, Alex. My spidey sense is telling me this land is becoming unstable.” Amy warned. “We need to get up there pronto.

“Start your warm-ups, girls. Drawing in enough humidity to create a downpour is going to take some time.” I said looking back to her and Lena.

“I thought you said there was a lake or stream nearby, Alex?” Rommie asked as she brought up the rear.

“You’ll have your fun after we guide these people down the other side into the next valley. Getting them away from the vent is our main concern, Rommie.”

Gotcha.

Miss Amy? What does the Empress mean by ‘warm-ups’?” Lena asked innocently.

Apparently, Alex knows we can both affect the weather, Kiddo. Something she neglected to inform me about you. Picture dark storm clouds in your mind. When one forms, picture it growing and holding a lot of water. When Alex asks, picture it raining. It might take you a few tries to get your first cloudburst, though, so don’t be discouraged.” Amy coached her protégé.

As we crested the ridge, our first patient appeared hunched down behind a chariot-sized boulder. The child was maybe six years old and was unconscious- his breathing very fast and labored.

I got this one, Alex.” Rommie said as she knelt down by his side and produced her rescue re-breather. Placing it on his head, she picked the child up and carefully placed him over her shoulder.

The ridge widened out onto a small plateau. Several makeshift stick huts surrounded a single campfire. A loud commotion arose as we came within sight of the inhabitants. Men reached for their crude stick weapons and the women hurried off into the huts in terror.

Ya. That’s really gonna protect you!” Amy deadpanned as she cocked her head to the side. “I’ve seen too many horror flicks to know that will never fool anybody! Sheesh!

Keep everyone back from our entry point. The vent will open fifteen meters behind us with a deafening howl.” I said as I disabled my Reilly’s environment system and reverted it to yesterday’s era specific clothing.

“Friends.” I announced with my hands open and outstretched. I nodded with a pleasant smile and motioned Yuuka to attend to a young warrior panting heavily on the ground to my right. Producing her rescue mask, she carefully approached the young man and demonstrated its use before gently placing it over his face.

Nodding to my daughter, Reggie disappeared and one by one the women that had taken refuge in the huts ran out screaming. Soon all fifteen people were gathered, all but two staring at us in sheer terror. Reggie reappeared next to me with a satiated smile.

“Travel. Live.” I said to the group and pointed in the direction we needed to go.

No one moved, even as the ground began to shake slightly- more like vibrated.

The predicted vent opened with a deafening ‘Bah-whoooosh’! Bone-dry soil, pebbles and larger rocks blasted high into the air.

“TRAVEL! LIVE!” I shouted and pointed again to the direction I knew to be somewhat safe.

My Reilly activated instantly.

Wet steam started surging from the newly opened vent and the horrified people began to panic. While protected by our environmental suits, the people before us started running, screaming in pain, and grasping their throats while trying to wipe the acidic moisture from their exposed skin.

Shifting my attention to my HUD display, the component analysis of the condensing steam appeared. I gasped!

“It’s almost straight sulfuric acid. I need a real downpour, ladies.” I ordered into our suits’ comm system. “NOW!”

Show me what ya got, kiddo!” Amy tasked Lena. This was the first time she would try to use her newly received gift.

The clouds that had developed and followed us began to darken instantly. I doubt any of our panicked friends noticed though. A quick flash of lightning arced across the growing clouds and thunder filled the air.

It began to rain- slowly at first then became heavy very quickly. The fifteen people simultaneously looked to the heavens then noticed Amy and Lena concentrating intensely. Several women pointed to them as the burning of their skin began to subside.

‘I hope that was Amy and not the volcano, Alex.’ Billie’s voice asked in my head.

‘She and Lena did a wonderful job, Billie. They just saved fifteen people from being burned by acid.’ Cami answered before I could.

‘Understood.’ Billie answered crisply.

“Travel!” I urged loudly to be heard over the downpour. I pointed down to the valley off to my left. “Travel! Live!” I repeated.

One by one they got the message and began to hurry down the dampening slope where I had pointed.

As we made our way down into the valley, our rain shower followed. It had become a full deluge, though. Again, I doubted anyone but we sisters noticed. It continued raining heavily even after we reached the rugged, but gently sloping valley floor and began walking along the rapidly filling streambed.

“You can clear the skies, Ladies. Danger averted…for now.” I said as I held our group so Yuuka and her patient could catch up. He had revived quickly with the clean air and was managing well enough with Yuuka’s help.

We had just started moving again when the boy on Rommie’s shoulder began to stir.

“Alex, hold up.”

Rommie immediately lowered the boy to the ground and removed the mask from his face. She disabled her Reilly as well. One of the young women finally turned around and noticed. She cautiously approached with a concerned expression, stopped, and looked on as the child began to cough and rub his eyes.

Rommie looked up at the woman and began to slowly back away from the boy.

“Live.”

Once far enough away, she stood up and looked on with a concerned expression.

It took several seconds for the boy’s vision to clear, but once he saw his mother, he hurried over to her. Several tense minutes followed, as the woman was apparently skeptical of accepting her child.

Lena disengaged her environmental Reilly and changed into her era-specific clothes. She boldly walked over to the woman and child and promptly grunted while she grabbed the boy’s arm. The mother’s face grew angry and she grabbed and pulled back the child by his other arm.

After several more cycles of this tug of war, Lena released the boy, turned and headed back to Amy with a satisfied smile on her face.

“And that takes care of that!” She said with a forceful nod of her head.

“Damn, Kiddo! You sure told her!” Amy praised.

“She would have abandoned him had I not shown interest in him. Once intent was shown she realized her love was stronger than a stranger’s scent.” Lena explained.

“Like a chick placed back into its nest by human hands.” Reggie simplified.

“Exactly.” Lena said with a smile.

“So how far to the extraction point, Alex?” Rommie asked.

“A day and a half by foot, instantly by Empress.” I answered.

“But the Empress isn’t going to appear, right?” Amy insinuated.

“Not until after dark, Driz.” I replied with a giggle.
 
 

The steep, rocky face and slightly narrowed walking corridor on either side of the valley threatened to slightly impede our progress, but didn’t strongly suggest we should cross the still swollen stream. Lena and Amy’s storm must have really hit the tributaries harder than the main stream. We had been following the watershed for several hours now and everyone looked ready for a rest.

The tribe’s leader, a sturdy, middle-aged, man of about forty-five, decided then and there that we should continue on and cross the fast flowing water at our present location. Though it narrowed significantly in this spot, I don’t think he factored in the increased speed and pressure of the water the narrowing caused.

Foreseeing there was a sufficiently large, downed, tree across the stream about half a kilometer downstream- one easily crossed by even the weakest of us, I voiced my concerns.

“Here, die.” I pointed to the fast moving water. “There,” I waved downstream, “live.”

“Here!” He insisted vehemently.

“Die.” I objected as I glared at him.

“Here!”

I shook my head side to side sharply and repeated my previous recommendation and pointed downstream again.

“Here!” He remained steadfast and waved the strongest of his people into the stream.

Looking down the somewhat straight valley, I also noticed that several hundred meters downstream, I could see the valley open up and that the water slowed, widening out into a pond- possibly created by a rodent’s dam or natural collection of fallen timber- the sturdy trunk I had foreseen being part of it.

Yuuka and the young warrior she was assisting were the last to cross.

In the blink of an eye, her charge began to slip and was quickly drawn off his feet by the current. Yuuka immediately panicked and took to the air in her Pixie form.

“Alex! We have one in the water!” She shouted excitedly as she hovered before me.

Having heard the commotion, Rommie instantly went into motion as she pushed and shoved her way through the others on the narrow trail trying to keep up with the panicking, weak, young man.

Though the girl could run, what she did next impressed me even more!

Once through the seemingly unconcerned tribesmen, Rommie skewed toward the widening, deepening, stream and launched into the air. Once her feet left the ground we all watched as her scales and tail quickly formed along with her large filmy dorsal and pectoral fins. Though still somewhat shallow, she hit the water headfirst and momentarily disappeared from view. In the blink of an eye she was almost to the pond and resurfaced to await the still panicking young man- her large tail fluke successfully fighting and winning against the slower, but still substantial, current.

That got everyone’s attention! Several of the people stopped and pointed to our Mer-sister as she intercepted the victim and swam over to the shore where she dragged his limp form onto the bank. She began to check his vitals and clear his lungs.

By the time we arrived Rommie had already reverted to her human form. She glared at the leader and began audibly growling as he neared.

This was the first time in my combined memories I had seen Rommie angry.

And booooyyy was she pissed!

“He almost died!” She shouted to the elder man.

He grunted and kept walking as if not hearing her or just not caring.

Hey! ASSHOLE!” She shouted and grabbed his arm forcefully. Given their size difference and her physique, I was surprised at how easily she actually spun him around!

The man growled back menacingly and began to raise his free hand.

That’s when I saw something that shocked me to my core!

Rommie’s eyes changed instantly. Her larger cat-like eyes accentuating her angry scowl. The look screamed ‘High Level Predator’.

Even as the leaders hand rose, Rommie lurched down into a defensive stance similar to a Rattlesnake coiling to strike and she growled in warning. Her mouth had opened to reveal ominous, shark-like, pointed teeth thus making her guttural growl even more frightening and ferocious.

Her Reilly began tightening around her body and took on a shiny black, scaly texture as her dorsal and pectoral fins re-emerged through it. She took on the visage of a ‘ninja-mer-shark’ hybrid. (Thanks for that image, Alex Covington!)

It was the most fearsome thing I had seen in my many revisions!

The tribe’s leader continued his preparation to assault her despite her fearsome transformation.

Within the twitch of an eye, Rommie shot straight up almost two meters and a half! As she rose, she began to twist- her legs and feet transforming instantly.

Rommie unleashed the energy she had just stored in one massive, sinuous, swing of her impressive tail. The man found himself thrown against the rocky Cliffside several meters away.

Before touching gracefully back to the ground, Rommie had turned a full circle and her tail had reverted back to her long, lean, almost frail-looking, legs.

She stood straight immediately; her Reilly reverting to this era’s norm, she calmly walked back to the recovering young man and offered to help him to his feet.

Having seen her vicious, instantaneous, and unbelievably fast attack on his leader, the man- not surprisingly- was cautiously accepting of her help.

One of the older woman and possibly her son hurried over to the tribal leader and dragged him to his feet- the woman gently palmed his face. She sneered and growled at the Senator. To which Rommie reverted her eyes and mouth back to their mer-form and growled, returning her challenge.

Of course the woman quickly backed down and busied herself tending to her obviously injured mate.

“Awesome!” Reggie and Lena exclaimed.

Cami remained quiet and just stared.

“Damn, Splash, where did that come from?” Amy asked in stunned amazement as she appraised our sister.

“I’m thinkin’ I shouldn’t go to the beach anymore.” Yuuka wisecracked from my shoulder before she again took to the air, flew up the rock face, and out of the valley.

“He was satisfied with just leaving him to die, Driz! I put up with this shit everyday on the hill! I’m not going to put up with it here, too! As Alex has said before, we’re here to help these people, not take them on a death march. Plus, I’ve learned to protect myself AND I refuse to be, or let anyone else be, abused.”

I nodded and smiled at Rommie before I approached this tribe’s leader.

“Live?” I angrily asked the still dazed man. He nodded once.

“Travel!” I ordered pointing downstream forcefully.

Yuuka flew past me carrying something twice as long as she was tall and stopped to hover in front of Rommie. It was a feather. She quickly grew to full size to the surprise of the indigenous people around us.

“What’s this, Little Flower?” Our sister asked curiously.

“According to Josie, each time a warrior proves herself in battle, she is presented with an Eagle feather to symbolize the accomplishment. I could only carry one Eagle feather despite your victory in both this battle and your courageous actions of April 1912, sister.” Yuuka explained as she bowed and presented the single feather.

Rommie exchanged the bow with our Pixie after accepting the token of valor. She promptly commanded her Reilly to create a simple cloth headband and wove the quill of the feather carefully into its fabric on the left side of her head.

Our tribal members looked on in silence. Was this where the tradition actually started?

I wondered.
 
 

Three more hours of walking and several rest breaks found us on a broad, rolling ridge overlooking the long valley we had followed all day. Yellowstone’s growing lava dome still loomed closer than I liked, but dusk was coming quickly and these people needed food and several hours of sleep.

“Eat, sleep, fire.” I ordered and glared at their leader as we stopped and I motioned around us. Here the mixture of pine and deciduous forest looked healthy and would provide everything we needed to bed down for the night. I thanked my shared memories of Alex Steinert’s childhood- her many boyhood wilderness adventures for helping me choose this ideal location.

The tribal leader only growled quietly to himself in displeasure at having been given orders from me, but went into action assigning tasks to the tribal members. Since his little altercation with Rommie he had been accepting my orders without much opposition. It had made our trek much safer and much more pleasant.

The men had gone into the tree line to collect firewood and hunt while a few of the women began preparing the dozen fish that Rommie had caught before we climbed out of the valley to our present location. Several other women, including the children scoured the area for rocks to build a fire ring and native herbs for cooking. I examined each and every one of the rocks making sure to reject the limestone that could possibly explode or pop when heated and send red-hot shards at us. An hour later, we had eaten and had enough wood to keep a warm fire all night. Several of the men had also returned with large pine boughs to serve as insulation against the cooler ground and cold night air.

I was thankful for our Reilly’s, but I wondered how much longer their power reserves would last knowing they were providing heat as well as maintaining their other essential services.

“According to Alex Steinert, the power reserves should be nominal for three days of heavy usage, Alex.” Cami related- having been monitoring me as she usually did.

We were sitting around the fire talking amongst ourselves quietly.

“So when did she tell you about the power reserves, Sweetheart?” I asked having located no memory of that specific information.

“While we searched for Clemson that first day back in the Ice-Age- 70,000BC. You were busy scanning for the dweeb at the time.” She answered before yawning deeply. “We should get some rest, Alex. Reggie saw no predatory visitors tonight.”

“Did y’all take into account my movin’ us closer to the extraction point a little later tonight, honey?” I asked, leaning back a little so I could see her.

“I looked at both sites, Alex. I saw two differing, yet acceptable scenarios, so chose to examine both.”

“Good job, hun. I’ll wait two hours then transit the whole camp to the beta site.” I complimented.

“Roger that, Alex.”

“Everyone did an outstanding job today, my sisters, but we have more to do tomorrow…though nothing as exciting as today.” I informed.
 
 

As the fire in front of me dwindled, I glanced around the camp- at the sleeping figures around us. For my sisters still awake and listening, I began my countdown.

“Transiting to beta site in three, two, one. Transit complete. Pleasant dreams everyone.”

“Same to you, Empress Alexandra.” Lena whispered.

“Why are you still awake, honey?” I whispered back.

I was charged with keeping my people’s fire going through the night, Empress. That responsibility has been ingrained and now it is second nature to remain vigilant throughout the dark hours before the sun awakes. Please, allow yourself some sleep, Empress Alexandra. I shall keep watch over the encampment.”

“Thanks, honey. Good night.”

“It certainly is, Empress.”
 
 

Two of my sisters were missing when I opened my eyes to the new day. I also noticed that Lena had curled up next to Amy and the two were still sleeping peacefully- Amy’s arm around Lena.

“Reggie took Rommie down to the local stream to catch breakfast. They said they wouldn’t be long, Alex.” Cami informed me as she poked at the fire to stoke it back to life. She had piled on some more wood and not having much success rekindling it, casually looked around to see who was watching her. Satisfied the tribe’s collective attention was elsewhere, she smiled and the fire roared back to life.

“I think the wood got a little damp overnight, Alex.” She justified with a blush as I raised an eyebrow to the blatant use of her gift.

“Hey guys. Sleep good?” Reggie asked as she and Rommie walked back into camp. They each carried a dozen fish strung through the gills with a thin, debarked, branch.

Several women noticed their arrival and quickly accepted the catch from them and began to prepare it.

Despite some initial confusion by the tribe members as we struck camp, I directed the group to the next ridge to our south- our extraction point now only half a day’s journey from us.

An hour into today’s trek, Lena caught up with me.

“I think Miss Romney has a potential suitor, Empress Alexandra.” She whispered as she gently nudged my shoulder to get my attention.

I had noticed the young man she had saved yesterday walking closer to her since we broke camp.

“He is very desirable, is he not?” She continued.

“It’s not what we think, honey. It’s what Rommie thinks that counts.” I reminded.

“Has your foresight revealed their future, Empress Alexandra?”

“How many times have I asked you to call me Alex, honey?”

“Don’t change the subject, Empress Alexandra, what does your foresight reveal?”

I rolled my eyes at my young sister.

“Though there is potential for the two of them…”

“Lame!” Lena declared, as her whisper got a little louder. “Can’t you just reveal the future of Miss Romney’s happiness and not shadow it in mystery or collusion?”

I suddenly wondered what language archive Cami had loaded into this girl’s mind.

I shook my head side to side a few times.

“Awww, that’s so sad. I think they would make a wonderful couple.”

“Rommie is too busy keeping her head above water in the political world, honey. I doubt she wants her attention split between that and a love interest. That kind of triangle can’t exist for long given the cutthroat nature of politics in her base time period.” I explained.

“Oh, maybe in her next life then, Empress Alexandra?”

‘So, how much did you tell this one about the sisterhood, Cami?’ I thought to my Mind Warrior.

‘I downloaded the whole manual, director.’ Cami giggled in my mind.

Naturally.

“Maybe, honey, but again, that’s up to Rommie.” I answered the young Weather Mage.

Twenty or so minutes later, Rommie slowed and began walking next to me. Of course her shadow did likewise, and he fell in slightly behind us.

“Alex, I think I have a problem.”

“Oh? And what sort of problem would that be, honey?” I asked feigning innocence.

“The problem you and Lena talked about a few minutes ago, Alex. Please don’t play dumb with me. I’ve experienced the ‘greats’ in action so I know the routine, Empress.” Rommie responded quickly going on the offensive.

“Do you find him attractive?” I asked bluntly.

“Yes, but that’s not the problem!”

“Have you dreamt of him? I mean REALLY dreamt of him, Rommie?” I giggled.

My sister’s expression grew angry at the embarrassing question and she took a deep, cleansing breath. The anger subsided instantly. That was definitely something she had learned in Washington DC.

“Of course I have, I mean, who wouldn’t? He’s young, VERY easy on the eyes, very, VERY well toned- muscle wise, and he seems to have taken a liking to me. To me, Alex!” Rommie answered in conflict.

“Sounds like he might be a keeper honey; so what’s the problem?” I asked.

“The problem, Alexandra Frances Reilly, is that I have a career in politics to deal with for the foreseeable future! How can I possibly weaken myself by adding love to an already highly combustible situation? Love and politics never mix well. Even you should realize that. So what should I do? What would you do, ma’am?”

I thought a minute while we continued walking.

“I…I’d make sure I got his number, Senator. If he checks out favorably with your trusted, unbiased, and confidential, sources, I would definitely look him up when you feel unburdened- politically.” I advised with a big smile.

“But I just started my second term, Alex. There’s potential for me to grow old on the hill! Can I afford to wait that long?” She complained quietly.

“I seriously doubt you will, ‘quote’, ‘grow old on the hill’, Rommie. Our lifespan excludes that right away.”

Quite the opposite would be true if the time stream remained on course.

“You know what I mean, Alex.”

“I do, but as with everyone else, I resist the urge to predict exactly what will happen in your future, Romney Ann Marsh! You alone must explore which avenue you embark on- whether you lay claim to him now or you score the amicable relationship after your change of occupations. It is strictly up to you and not the voters, my esteemed, courageous sister.”

Rommie smiled deviously at me before she thanked me and advanced up our column with her shadow trailing just behind her.

‘You are such a tease, Alex!’Cami giggled in my mind.

‘She grasped the clues immediately, Sweetheart. Rommie is no idiot when it comes to deciphering facts from meaningless rhetoric and doubletalk.’

“I think she’s fantastic, Alex.” Reggie bubbled from behind me.

“So how much longer, Alex?” Yuuka asked from just ahead.

“About ninety more minutes. Do we need a break?” I answered.

“Just wondering, that’s all. I’m good.”
 
 

"About time you decided to show up, Alex!” Billie greeted, embracing me as we finally arrived at our extraction point. From here we would transport the gathered tribes to their, safe, individual distribution points.

“Alexis report in yet?” I inquired.

“Last I heard they were on their way, but took casualties, Alex.”

“Oh?”

“They ran across a cave bear. Before Miri could talk to it, several young ‘warriors’ decided it posed a threat. They got pretty banged up before Fay could intervene. To hear Fay tell it, she had to make the difficult decision to ‘tranq’ the bear and not the macho morons.”

“I take it that Miri told the bear about the impending catastrophe?”

“She did, Alex, but given the obvious trust issues that developed, the word may not get passed along in time.”

I nodded. “Gena arrive yet?”

“They arrived late last night all confused. Apparently Gena was growing impatient with her tribe and decided to hurry things along. They were still a day-and-a-half out when she decided to transport them. She claims they all have ADHD- whatever that is. Gena claimed more than half the tribe kept wandering away from the caravan at any given time and said they could have used three or four sheepdogs to ‘wrangle’ them back to the main ‘herd’. Chrys, Trina, Pansy, and Peri looked completely worn out when they rephased. Say, when did you teach her your ‘no hands’ method, Alex?” Billie asked curiously.

“I didn’t, but I think I know who did, Billie. As for mom’s Pixies, I know you briefed them on the mission so they knew what to expect and should have packed accordingly.” I replied as I looked toward my own daughter, Reggie, not far away.

As if she had been listening- which she probably was- my daughter blushed and quickly looked away. Billie laughed.

“Those two have been chatting constantly since we left Reilly. And you’re right; Trina and her girls requisitioned twice as much honey as they needed, Alex. I think the constant fussing over the ‘stragglers’ without going to Pixie mode really got to them, though.”

“At least THEY fought the urge, Billie. Yuuka wasn’t so lucky.” I revealed shaking my head with a slight grin.

“Ya, I heard about that too.” She admitted with a giggle. “So, Rommie met a guy? Jacki Cummins’ memories tell me that’s a really big step for her.”

“She’s split on what to do.”

“Oh?”

“She’s got a very promising career in the United States federal government right now and worries that adding love to that situation might not work out. I agreed with her, but left it for her to decide. I gave her the usual hints though.” I smiled.

“Cryptic as ever, I imagine?” Billie smiled brightly.

“Naw, I went easy on her.” I giggled.

Billie rolled her eyes in response.
 
 

Alexis and her charges- about fifty or sixty, eight of which looked in bad shape- arrived ninety-five minutes later.

“Hey stranger.” I greeted my mother, who looked ready to drop over from exhaustion.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Miribelle could talk to animals?” She asked in a weary voice, her tired eyes telling the story of their adventurous journey.

Before I had any chance at a reply, she continued.

“And no…I didn’t consult my gift, Alexandra.”

“Miri needed the practice, Lexi. Kili isn’t home to too much wildlife. Oh, occasionally we get a stray Mermaid or a Pixie or two, but never a Cave Bear.” I said as, nearby, I noticed Yuuka and Rommie stick out their tongues.

Rommie’s admirer looked between us in confusion a few times since we were using our own language instead of theirs.

Aki walked over to our little group, pointed to Rommie and…I didn’t even know the guy’s name…probably couldn’t pronounce it anyway!

“Mate?” He asked seriously.

I shook my head in the negative. Rommie’s eyes bulged in surprise. Or was it horror?

“All travel? All live?” I asked, inquiring if everyone in his travel party made it in good health.

“All, Alak.” He nodded once.

I nodded back my acknowledgement.

The rest of our evening was spent keeping the peace. It seemed that some of the smaller tribes had recently split off from a couple of the bigger ones and there was some animosity.

One particular incident required the Empress to intercede.

“Alex!” Cassi Darough’s voice echoed in my mind. “Sam could use some help with a slight altercation.”

Since it was heading toward dusk, I decided to port straight over instead of walking the single kilometer to her tribe’s camp. We had tried to keep one kilometer spacing between each camp as a buffer zone.

When I arrived, men from both tribes were actively poking their flint-tipped sticks and snarling ferociously at each other. Samantha stood valiantly between the lines and glared at them angrily.

Both sides flinched and stared in fear at me as I rephased.

“So…what seems to be the problem, sis.” I asked, and got a glare from my sister/aunt.

“Like you don’t know, Alex!” She replied sarcastically.

It was precisely at that time that a spear flew from the right.

I stopped time for the weapon just before it struck Sam in her left side.

“Thanks, Alex, but I could’ve just phased and let it pass through me.” Sam replied, somewhat annoyed.

“No. It’s time to teach some civility to these people, Sam.” I said as I walked around her and grabbed the crude weapon from where it hung in the air. While I did I thought about my bluish glow. There was an immediate fervor that arose from both factions.

Examining the flint end for a minute, I walked over to its owner.

“Yours?’ I asked, my bluish glow still faint in the fading light.

Though I could see the fear in his eyes and knew otherwise, he still shook his head in denial.

I willed my glow to brighten.

“Yours!” I stated angrily, and shook the spear angrily at him. He shyly looked down to his animal hide-wrapped feet.

“Here!” I growled as I held the weapon toward him. I prepared to re establish time for it.

Upon taking it from me carefully, I snapped my fingers and sped up time for the crude weapon. It deteriorated to dust in his hand, save the piece of flint at its tip- that simply fell to the ground just missing his feet. At the same time I increased my glowing a little more.

As expected, the man jumped back in horror and everyone seeing the miraculous event became terribly excited. A clamber rose from both sides as I targeted certain weapons from both factions in my mind. With another snap of my fingers, I again greatly sped up time for them, turning them to dust in their owner’s hand, too!

“No!” I growled as I increased my glowing a little more and turned to look each man, on both sides, in the eyes. “No.” I reiterated and pointed each side back to their camps. I surged my bluish glow just to punctuate my command.

After a few tense minutes both factions began to retreat and Sam breathed a sigh of relief. I shut down my illumination.

“You have got to teach me that one, Director!” She exclaimed in wonder.

“Which one, Sam? The rapid decay trick or the heavenly glow?” I smiled brightly.

“Both, Alex. That was so awesome!” She gushed as she wrapped her arms around me and squeezed me tight.

“I’m not sure you could do the aging thing, but y’all can do the glowin’ one.” I said as I began to feel tired. Apparently, my aging trick took more out of me than expected.

“Will there be any more skirmishes tonight, Empress?” Sam asked intently. I could see she was anticipating more bad news.

“They’ll behave themselves for the rest’a our mission, hun.” I answered after checking with that part of my gift.

“Alex, it sounds like you could use some sleep. I could port you back…”

“I’m fine, hun. Ah kin git back on mah own, thank ya much.” I said just before my own tribe appeared around me.

Reggie hurried over to me and wrapped her arms around me.

“That was so awesome, ma! Ya gotta show me that trick!”

“And why didn’t y’all stay here and mind our folks, Reg?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

Her mouth snapped shut and she shyly looked away.

“I foresaw what you would do and wanted to see how you did it.” She replied quietly. “Couldn’t get anything from you.”

“Sometimes its easier ta ask insteada snoopin’ in somebody’s head, hun.” I advised as I gently lifted her chin and turned her head back to me.

“You’re right, ma.” She admitted shyly, but her demeanor changed instantly.

“So, how did you do those tricks? Could you show me? Please?” She inquired excitedly.

“The glowin’ y’all kin do on yer own, hun. Just think of something that will make ya angry. Ah’m not sure y’all kin do the other thing.” I told her.

“Think of something that makes me angry.” Reggie repeated as she began to concentrate. “Something that makes me angry…oh!”

I felt a warm pride fill me as my youngest began to give off a faint, bluish glow.

I also noticed that I was starting to glow, too. Quickly, I glanced around us and noticed I could easily pick out members of ‘the royal family in the neighboring campsites.

“That’s great, hun, but y’all should jus’ channel the anger an’ not stop time in the process.” I advised calmly.

“Stop time!” Reggie’s eyes flew open instantly. Her glow ceased immediately. “I didn’t know…are you sure, mom?”

I nodded with an impish smile.

“All right!” my daughter exclaimed excitedly.

I felt mom port in next to me.

“The girl’s got talent, ma.” I said to a still phased out Alexis.

She rephased and smiled over at me. When she did, I noticed tears cascading from her eyes.

“Ma?” I asked in concern.

She stayed silent for a few, long minutes.

“She reminds me so much of your sisters.” She finally revealed to my surprise.

“Huh? I have sisters? How many? Where are they? Why cain’t ah remember ‘em. Ma?” I was dumbfounded!

Ma wiped some tears away.

“I had twins a hundred and seventy-five years before I had you, Alex. Dee and Freda were born ten minutes apart and took after ma’s side of the family. They could do amazing things with their gifts just like Regina can.”

“So? Where are they?” I asked as I remained riveted to her every word.

“Ma took em on a mission. Yer pa went, too.” She revealed and instantly paused.

“And?”

Ma wiped more tears from her eyes.

“And?” I asked again, impatiently.

“Somethin’ happened to yer pa. Somehow he got caught, or got stopped from meeting up with Ma somehow in their mission’s period.” She told me and again wiped at her eyes.

“Dee and Freda, they just had to go back for him! Damn Ma and her ‘no one left behind’ motto!”

Ma sniffed back more tears.

“Ma had already left on her final mission. I never knew what had happened…my foresight…it don’t work too well fer history either. You were almost five at the time.”

I was flabbergasted! I had had two older sisters?

It did make sense though. Alex Steinert’s Alexis had three kids, Alexandra being the third. Now I find out I’m also the third born of the third daughter of the Empress.

“The power of three.” I mumbled absently to myself.

“You’re just figurin’ it out, Alex?” Mom giggled lightly as she tried again to wipe her eyes dry.

“Apparently, y’all done too good a mind wipe on me, ma.”

“It isn’t worth doing if it isn’t done right, Empress, but I erased them from your mind right after. You kept asking about when your sisters would return from the past and I was afraid people might find out about Ma…”

“Ah’m…Ah’m over-whelmed, ma! Ah got no words to…”

“Y’all need some sleep, honey! Y’all are soundin’ like yer gran!” Ma said as she took my arm and handed me off to Regina, who was silently staring at us in shock.

“Take yer ma back to yer camp an’ make sure she gets some rest, Honeybee.”

Reggie nodded silently then tugged on my arm.

“Come on, ma. I got a nice comfy spot picked out.”
 
 

6:00AM, Prehistoric Wyoming, North America, 637
 
 

I awoke to find Reggie spooning against me.

“Sleep well, ma?”

“Well, its not my bed in Reilly, but I’ll survive.” I replied before yawning several times.

“You went out as soon as your head hit the mattress.”

“Mattress?” I gasped as I sat up straight and looked down at her. We were sharing an inflatable mattress! I looked to my daughter.

“I brought it along just in case.” She stated. “You really needed your rest last night, mom.”

“That’s really thoughtful, honey, thank you.”

Regina’s bright, beaming smile brightened up the moderately overcast morning.

“So…have I seen right that we split up again to relocate the people this morning?”

I nodded. “I believe Billie has already assigned regions for us, yes.”

“So Gram’s group will become the forerunners of the southwestern aboriginals to be called the Anasai?” She asked, though it was more of a statement of confirmation.

“That’s a name that comes about very, very far off in their future, honey.” I confirmed.

“And our group will come to call themselves Seminoles?” She inquired.

“Again, that’s a long way away, honey. All the people gathered here today will intermingle and drift around for hundreds of thousands of years before those names will differentiate them. Even then they will continue to trade, intermarry, communicate, form alliances, fight each other... We have again set the past right and assured the Empress and her sisters can continue our mission.”

“How did you ever become such a wonderful daughter, Alexandra?” Mom asked as she rephased, helped me stand and hugged me tightly.

“One could say that I had a lot of time to figure things out. At least three lifetime’s worth.” I said as I smiled and pointed to my head.

“We start gathering our new groups in an hour, mom.” I added, changing gears.
 
 

“Everyone understand the importance of this relocation?” Billie asked loudly over the noise of the hundreds gathered around us Sisters of Kili. “Any questions about the assigned locations or the localized dangers?”

“One, my Queen.” Fay hovered slightly above her group so she could be seen and instantly raised the noise level around her.

“Freya Morgana.” Billie pointed.

“Will I have permissions to disable…I mean discourage unsustainable attacks on the localized wildlife, my Queen?”

“The warrant is for discouragement only, Miss Morgana, and only if necessary.” Billie answered as she fought to hide her laughter.

“Understood, my Queen.” Fay responded and lowered herself back down into the crowd around her.

“Any other questions?” Billie shouted then paused a minute.

“Let’s get to it then!” She said with a stern expression.

With the help of Reggie, Yuuka, Rommie, Amy, Lena, and Cami, we moved our group a short distance away from the others. I looked around to the crowd of two hundred and ten people. Everyone was carrying their personals, supplies, and weapons.

‘This should be far enough away.’ I thought to Cami and asked her to relay that to our sisters. ‘Let me know when we’re tight, sweetheart.’

‘Acknowledged, Director.’

As I looked to my right, and since I seemed to be the tallest in our group, I noticed Rommie still hadn’t ditched her admirer. Seeing me, she closed her eyes sadly, seemed to sigh heavily, and nodded once to acknowledge that she had made her decision.

‘All stations report ready for transit, Empress.’ Cami thought after five minutes.

‘Open comms to all stations, Cami.’

‘Ready, Empress.’

‘Transiting in three, two…’

‘Hold up, Alex! I’ve got a runaway rug-rat. Give me a minute to snag him and get him back to his mother.’ Amy announced excitedly.

‘Let me know when we’re green, Driz.’ I thought back to her. I couldn’t help letting a slight giggle modulate that thought. It was still humorous to think that some of my sisters had codenames. I felt an impish grin appear on my face.

“Splash, how’s that tentative significant other doing?’ I asked- this time intentionally modulating a giggle into the thought.

‘I’ll start the dismissal proceedings as soon as I know he’s safe, Empress.’ Rommie responded.

‘We’re ready over here, Empress.’ Amy announced. ‘Lena caught the little bugger and is standing by his mom.’

‘Transiting in three, two, one.’ I announced.

The first thing we all noticed was the abundant vegetation; the second was the abundant insect population.

‘Wow, some of these things are bigger than a Pixie!’ Yuuka thought to everyone in surprise.

‘Even more reason to stay grown-up then Little Flower.’ I suggested.

‘Everyone, make sure none of us are ensnared in anything. Report in when ready.’
 
 

‘All stations report ready, Empress.’ Cami announced and I quickly rephased us. ‘Sisters, regroup, it’s time to go home.’

‘Alex, we have a slight problem.’ Rommie interrupted my thoughts as I made my way through the people.

‘The clingy boyfriend won’t let go?’ I thought back to her.

‘Ya, I think I need an extraction, ma’am.’

‘Cami and I will be right there, Splash.’ I answered, but giggled aloud and shook my head a few times.

“Alex, I’m trying to get him to understand that I’ll be back for him, but he won’t let go!” Rommie cried as Cami and I approached.

Over the din of the crowd I heard the growl of a large cat. It sounded close.

“What the HELL was that?” Rommie demanded as she looked around us. Her Reilly went into battle mode as her beau looked on in amazement.

“Already on it, Alex.” Cami announced. “Large carnivore at eight o’clock, twenty clicks out. Orders?”

“Discourage, do not disable.” I answered as some of our group hurried away from us in the opposite direction. Rommie’s beau got a serious look on his face and raised his spear. He winced with that action.

Several deer, an ancient breed I hadn’t researched yet, rushed past us and disappeared into the trees in the same direction some of our people had gone.

“Looks like somebody’s hungry.” Cami said calmly.

Suddenly, the large panther leapt out into the open, hit the ground, and re-launched itself back into the air. The large cat stopped in mid-leap and hung there.

“Awwwww! What a cuuuute kitty cat!” Cami lampooned as she stepped closer to the fierce looking animal.

Apparently the thing was just as confused as those of us still brave enough to hang around!

Cami smiled and walked completely around the thing with a large smile.

“Isn’t you a cuuutie!” She giggled and gave the huge cat a scratch under it’s chin. “Yes, you like that, huh?”

The Panther growled ferociously, but Cami continued to scratch its chin. She apparently had it firmly secured.

“Anyone else want to pet the pretty kitty?” She asked in semi-babytalk.

“Hey, I’m game.” Rommie said as she carefully approached.

The animal began to sniff the air wildly as she did. It began to snarl fiercely and wiggle spastically.

Just as Rommie went to reach for its chin, the beast roared deafeningly and attempted to attack.

“I think you smell like food to it, Senator.” Cami observed as the beast continued to wrestle with its unseen bindings. “Cats seem to love seafood you know.” She giggled.

“Well this is one tuna that WILL get away, Cami. Could you possibly throw it back and tell it to prowl somewhere else?” Rommie asked seriously.

“Sure.” She giggled and looked back at the huge cat. “Time to go home, kitty. Find somewhere else to hunt.”

The big cat flew back in the direction it had come and disappeared from our sight. Cami winced and wrinkled her nose.

“Oops, I ran it into a tree. Sorry, kitty.”

“Camille Darough, did you really have to do that?” I asked as I rubbed my forehead in consternation.

“I got some really good readings and measurements for Reilly’s archives, Alex…ah oh.”

Rommie quickly looked back to where the panther had flown.

Instantly, the panther had reappeared and was lunging for us. Rommie rushed forward, instantly changing to her Mer-shark-human mode, crouched down just as quickly, and sprung into the air- again transforming her legs into her tail in one graceful motion.

As before, she started to twist and coil then released it all at the attacking cat- her tail connecting with the panther’s side with so much force that the cat flew several dozen meters into a sizable tree trunk and crumbled to the ground unconscious.

“This is one fish that fights back, kitty!” Rommie growled as her Reilly transformed back to our era specific clothing. “Let’s high-tail it out of here before it wakes up, people! It may have friends in the area, too.”

She looked at her boyfriend-to-be. “Travel! Now! Live!”

“Cami, transfer what I’m thinking to him, please.” I requested as I pictured a scene from a future scenario several days- for him- into the future.

“Done, Alex.”

“Alright. Let’s go ladies.” I said as I transported us back to our gathering point.

Once back I decided to survey the campsites to make sure no one had been left behind. The walk took almost an hour and a half. Once done I cheated and ported back to my sisters.
 
 

“And then this guy comes walking up to me and says, ‘Miss, if I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me…Geez! Thanks for the warning, Alex!” Amy groused. Lena started laughing hysterically.

“It sure looks different with all the people gone.” Yuuka observed.

“This isn’t right.” Lena growled as she motioned around us.

“I know this place is about to self-destruct, but the forest here might survive, so why didn’t some of the others quench their campfires?”

“Only you…two!” I said mimicking a fictional bear from Alex Steinert’s memories.

“Oh Lord, was that sad, Alex.” Amy groaned. “But I guess you could use the practice, kiddo. Let’s go for several, isolated downpours- one over each campfire. Try to resist making lightning though.”

“Roger that…Driz.” Lena giggled.

“Copy, Sprinkle!” Amy shot back with a devious smile.

“Gee, I wonder what she calls, Capt. Reynolds.” Yuuka asked as she hovered just in front of me.

“Oh, you mean ‘Thunderhead’?” Amy giggled. “All my kids have codenames.”

“So what would my codename be, Driz?’ Yuuka asked innocently.

“Oh, I’d think one of the names Disney uses for one of their Pixies, but I know that ‘Tink’ is taken. Matter of fact most of you already share names with Disney Pixies.” Amy laughed as she looked around to Mom’s girls.

“But what could my codename be?” Yuuka moaned.

“How about ‘Trouble’.” I suggested. “As in ‘constantly getting into’.”

“Pesky.” Billie suggested.

“Annoying.” Fay groaned.

“Fairy.” Trina proposed.

“Nymph.” Miri giggled.

“Flit?” Gena offered.

“We’ve got one of those already, sweetie-pie.” Yuuka shook her head.

“Why not stick with ‘Little Flower’. It keeps to the ‘botanical’ theme you girls seem to have going.” Rommie recommended.

“Sounds good to me, Senator.” Yuuka acknowledged with a smile.

“So I wonder what my handle should be?” I asked with a thoughtful expression.

“Empress!” My sisters all chorused.

“Hmmm, I feel left out. What would be my code name I wonder?” Billie mumbled just above a whisper.

“Well, must of us already call you Queen Bitc…” Yuuka started, but stopped abruptly.

“Hey, did someone leave something over there? I’ll go check it out…quickly!” Yuuka said quickly before zipping off in a random direction at light speed.



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