Welcome back! Season 4 finds the Empress a diplomat helping to negotiate peace for an entire planet, but can it guarantee the Homeworld’s survival this time around? Will Alex finds new friends and some new facets to her gift as she and her sisters try to limit the destruction from Clemson’s rewriting time to fit his own academically opinionated knowledge of historic events? Can they find a temporal sanctuary from which to survive the resulting changes and extinctions?
As with any peace talks, mediation with the Homeworld’s leaders took patience, perseverance, and…well, maybe a little bit of ‘magic’ from the Empress’ court. But mostly it took P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E!
Alex Reilly, Alexandra, and I took turns gathering the chieftains and warlords from all over the planet and brought them back to Avalon. Because of our Mind Warriors’ planet-wide broadcast, all now knew of the Empress, Avalon, and…sadly…what had transpired here.
Negotiations had taken two, long, slow…no, grueling, months.
There were many times when all three of us wanted to just ‘port out’ and let the ‘men-folk’ hash it all out themselves. Regrettably, that wasn’t what the timeline demanded. For the negotiations- and the Homeworld- to continue on the proper course, the Empress had to be the quintessential element responsible for solidifying the Homeworld’s lasting peace and unprecedented technical advancement.
Unfortunately, that required the three of us to remain involved in every…gruelingly long, painful minute- listening and running the options on every…single…word! Early on, I realized what things must be like for an attorney as he/she squared off in court against an opponent. At one point, I even gained new respect and admiration for the signers of the U.S. Declaration and Constitution, and their stalwart determination- their ability to ‘wheel and deal’ to reach those historically significant, unifying agreements. I thought about actually travelling back to 1776 to find out if that were true.
That was something for another time though as any indication of ‘daydreaming’ on our part was seen as rude and a total disregard for commitment to the negotiations by our guests. Every shift of concentration by the Empress had to have a two-thirds majority before Alex Reilly, Alexandra, or I could run the proposed scenario. Just waiting for that simple agreement sometimes took an excruciating amount of time.
Such were the requirements of diplomacy- of politics.
I still loathed politics, but if this was the only way to save the Homeworld from itself, we- the Empress- had to suck it up and play the part of the consummate diplomat. My memories and experience from Terra and the many state dinners and events I’d attended during my stay there brought back a mixture of both pleasant and unpleasant times. Those functions, I believed, produced fruit in the form of better trade and relations between the neighboring systems and had placed the Terrans in a higher plane of integrity and respect among them. Using my foresight, Terra, and lately Terra Nuevo, had been placed on its true and proper course. Tibius and I had successfully helped redirect its future.
Whether we could change or redirect this version of Alex Reilly’s home planet still remained to be seen. As far as I could foresee, this beautiful planet still erupted into an immense, fiery ball of fusion in less than two thousand years. That would be a waste really, since we had the power at our disposal, i.e.: Jack, Jacki, and Camille to keep the planetary core from going supercritical. I resisted the urge to ask my gift: Could we actually use them to stop the impending catastrophe? Could three Mind Warriors and three Empresses place enough sway on an entire planet to protect it from itself?
The power of three…
It had been written in the six, future- from our current perspective, ‘Tomes’ that the Empress could do miraculous things when past, present, and future combined. From experience, just a single Empress could move a planet, a solar system, a galaxy…even a whole universe! From that single fact, another question surfaced, but I fought the urge to ask the frightening question.
What could the three of us really do?
I already knew that we could breathe life into the departed- Billie Sangiere was living proof of that. With the exception of that one example though, the power of three- as it related to the Empress of Time and Space- had never really been tested.
But what could three Mind Warriors do if combined, though? Three people each with the power of the universe at their disposal.
I had experienced firsthand, the result of just one of those very special individuals, and barely lived to tell the tale. The very thought made me shudder, as once again, I was reminded of that day in my not so distant past, and of the intense pain I experienced. I shuddered involuntarily.
As was becoming all too frequent these days, I immediately pushed those escaping memories back into their special prison. Two of the three with me now were ignorant of that experience. Because of her travels with Alex Reilly, only Camille Darough knew the full story about my mission with Jacquelyn Cummins’ Constance. How she protected that from her sisters, I had no idea- nor did I ask, but if Jack ever found out…found out too soon, that is…
A frightening thought suddenly crossed my mind.
What if… Dare I even think it? What if our three Mind Warriors were the cause instead of the cure? Could they inadvertently set off the very cataclysm that brought about the Empress Paradox in the first place? If that were the case then these proceedings seemed useless and ultimately doomed to failure.
But these talks were still important, I told myself, though in a macabre way. The Homeworld had to have peace before such a violent and dramatic end two millennium in the future. When thought of in that cold, unbiased way, the Empress appeared to be the Phoenix- the one born out of the ashes of the Homeworld. Paradoxically, she was also the reason for its demise…and its beginning.
I- or rather the Empress- was THE contradiction of terms- the very definition- the embodiment of the word ‘paradox’.
Thinking about such things exercised my nanos by giving them a first-rate headache to concentrate on instead of the mind-numbing wait as the ‘men of power’ decided the present fate of this world.
Anyway, today, sadly, was our last day here on this beautiful planet- our last day in this universe. I…we would be saying goodbye to our sisters of this world, and also saying goodbye to two new sisters that would decide to stay. Though I yearned for my own Earth, I felt sad leaving Alexandra and Jacki here. How I wished there was a permanent way to reunite them with everyone back on Kili- to bring them back home!
Was Alex really that unhappy here though? She had three wonderful daughters, a husband, and Jacki. True, Peyton had pressed for and found her own gruesome way to return ‘home’. That was an incident that the three of us had fought hard to suppress for over two months. The loss of a beloved sister was a big minus; but overall, my ‘twin sister’ had a good life here. She had the time and knowledge to run the scenarios in order to find the one, all-important puzzle-piece that would save this world AND initiate the Empress Paradox- if there really was such an elusive concept.
Last night, Alexandra, Alex Reilly, and I had returned all participating parties to their respective lands. To their people only one day had passed- yet another example of what the Empress could do. Peace, though delicate at this very early stage, was on the right track and would only grow, as the benefits became apparent and peaceful trade between realms increased. Still, there would be disagreements and skirmishes, but policies had been designed, thoroughly debated, and placed on paper. Policies agreed upon by all major powers of this world to assure mediation…and hopefully, not total annihilation.
I checked myself in the full-length mirror one more time before turning and looking around my quarters here in Avalon- a real, honest-by-God, fairytale castle!
I would definitely be coming back for many more visits if I could find the time. I giggled to myself at that silly thought.
With a sigh, I walked out into the hallway, closing my door. I gently placed my hand on the richly finished, heavy wooden door one last time.
1315hrs, Avalon, Homeworld, September 7th, 264AE
“You sure you and Allie won’t come back to Earth with us, Mei-Lee?” I asked as I saw my sister, Alex Reilly, shaking her head ‘no’ slightly with a worried look. It was a little rude of her, but comical nonetheless.
“No, Empress. As you said initially, we are no longer the same people we once were. We simply would not fit in.” She replied, shaking her head sadly a few times.
“I’m sure Yuuka wouldn’t mind having someone to fly with?” I said deviously.
Alex Reilly’s head shook a little harder.
Mei-Lee giggled, apparently having seen my sister’s reaction. “Allie seems to like Avalon, and…I think…I think I have met someone.”
“That was fast.” I said in mock surprise. “Anybody we know?”
Mei-Lee giggled again. “Empress, we all know the answer to that.” She said pointing to my two sisters and me.
“We do indeed, hun.” I said and looked to Alex Reilly with a smile. “I’m sure you and Allie will be very happy here.”
“Empress?” Allie asked as she shrank and flew to eye level with me.
“Yes, sweetie?” I answered quietly.
“Can you, and your sister, and Yuuka, and Jack’lin come back to visit us?”
“Count on it, sweetie. Now that Alex and I know the Homeworld date, we shouldn’t have any trouble zeroing in on y’all. But don’t y’all be strangers to Earth either, ya hear?”
The five-inch pixie nodded, flew back to the ground, and returned to her normal six-year-old height. She had taken to doing that the last three weeks. Because, I think, she liked looking like her mother- all grown-up-like.
“So where are you off to now, Empress?” Jacki asked as she released my Jack from her embrace.
“We,” I pointed to Alex Reilly, Jack, Cami, and Yuuka, “were thinking about trying to stop a certain madman from changing history and erasing us…and himself from existence in the process. The moron can’t understand that if he changes history too much…”
“That’s how you catch him, Alex.” Alexandra interrupted.
“I know, but I also know that certain things need to play out before we finally snag him, sis.”
“You mean we could have stopped him before he sabotaged the strait?” Jack cried out in exasperation.
“But Lady Jacquelyn, we wouldn’t be here and quite possibly this world would not be at peace.” Mei-Lee cut in.
Jack…both of them looked to Alexandra, Alex and I; their mouths’ open wide.
I simply nodded. It was true, if Darren hadn’t stolen Ricky Lynn’s toy, Mei-Lee and Allie wouldn’t have become our sisters; the ‘Great Flood’ might not have happened the right way; and those that passed on the tale might have been silenced forever.
Sadly, we had lost a new sister to his reckless activities already. I did not wish to lose anyone else. Yes, we would get Janice Silvers back- unharmed and none the wiser, but the Empress would remember her temporary disappearance into oblivion for the rest of our lives.
“So, Alex, where to now,” Jack asked this time?
I looked to Alex Reilly in response.
“Reilly,” she said flatly. “I want to make sure it’s still there.”
“Oh, it’s still there…albeit slightly changed.” Alexandra hinted.
“I know it’s different, Alex. I can see the same things you see. Remember?” My other sister replied, a bit annoyed by the reminder.
“We’ll get through this, sis. We’ve all seen that things work out.” I added in support.
“But what if this is that one time, Alex?”
“Then we just deal with it.” I replied evenly, rolling my eyes behind closed lids.
“Well then…let’s get this over with,” Alex Reilly growled as she aggressively offered her hands!
“Travel well and safely, my sisters.” Alexandra said sadly as she, Jacki, Mei-Lee, and Allie took a few steps back.
The blackness and pain reconnected with my body as my odd, but spectacular perspective of this universe changed and shifted. As usual, this universe diminished and our home universe grew larger to my eyes. Before long we were flying, headlong, into Earth. How beautiful it looked from this distance- the deep blue oceans, green lands, and white clouds so prominent from space.
After the reappearing blackness faded, we stood before the unpredictable airlock to Reilly. The place looked innocent enough, but my visions told me that things were not as they seemed.
“Mind Warriors, shields up.” Alex Reilly commanded as she began looking around intently.
“As you wish director, but why?” Cami questioned.
“Can’t you feel it, Cami?” Jack asked as she too began looking around- mostly to the tree line.
“I do now, yes.” Cami responded as she too began scanning the area. “We are being watched.”
I noted that Jack took Cami’s hand and felt the hairs on my body begin to stand.
“We mean you no harm or ill intent!” Alex shouted to the treeline. “We are peaceful travelers only stopping to recline. We will move along in the morning.”
“Should I take to the air, director?” Yuuka asked as she looked around to the open sky above us.
“That will not be necessary. They are more afraid of us than we of them, Pixie.” Alex answered.
I dared drop Alex’ and Jack’s hand, turned, and walked out of their protective shield then pointed to the trees before us.
“You three! We insinuate no negative impairment. What specific terms do you not fully comprehend?” I said in Reilliese.
“You speak our language, but how can this be?” A familiar voice called out in fear.
“Because we are Reilly personnel also.” I answered.
“Impossible! We are the solitary remnants of this disenfranchised facility. We symbolize the lone survivors of the fusion giant’s unpredicted expansion. How can you possibly be here? You two specifically! You deleted shortly after we arrived here.”
“Who deleted? Specify!” Alex Reilly demanded.
“You, Director Reilly; you and Camille Darough.” The voice answered shakily.
“Then reanalyze and postulate alternate thesis’s on our present existence here before you.” My sister commanded.
“Insuffient data exists to quantify or correlate requested analysis, undefined director.”
“Can’t y’all just say y’all don’t know and knock off all the damn techno-jargon?” I asked in annoyance.
“Director, we do not comprehend your inquiry, nor can we postulate a viable theory for the existence of two directors. Updated information requested.” Random Peltierre replied as she, Samantha, and Cassandra cautiously emerged from the brush.
“There just are, Randi.” I said smugly. “Get used to it.”
“Girls, rumors of my deletion have been greatly exaggerated. Cami and I stand before you as fully animated, biomass and not illusion, as do my sister Alexandra, her first officer, Jacquelyn Cummins, and Yuuka Sukiro.”
“Sisters,” Cami began softly. “Am I to believe that, had I been here and not gone with you to Avalon, I would no longer exist?”
“Oh boy, this is really bad.” Jack added quietly to herself.
“Avalon?” Samantha questioned. “Avalon does not exist. It is a fictional archive and holds no relevance in factual thinking.”
“Then what do you make of this, ladies?” Jack asked as our three sisters grabbed for their heads.
“You share Camille’s talent?” Cassandra gasped as the three continued to rub their foreheads.
“Of course! We are sister Mind Warriors.” Cami proclaimed.
“Mind Warriors? They are also fictional entities.”
“Ya, ya, we’ve heard it all before, girls.” Jack said as she pointed to them and wagged her finger in an upward motion.
Randi, Sam, and Cassie started to rise off the ground screaming in terror.
“How fictional am I now, huh?”
“Jack. Put them down. They’ve obviously never met the Empress of Time and Space in this version of the timeline.”
“Empress? You requested that we never call you that, director. You repeatedly warned us of unconditional release should we ever do so.” Cassie exclaimed as Jack lowered them back to Earth.
I phased out and rephased behind them.
“And what would you call me then?” I asked as my three, time-altered, sisters jumped a foot or so.
1545hrs, Reilly Research Station, Kili Island, June 22nd, 2020BC
“So what day is it, Alex?” I asked as we sat at our usual table in the Rec Room. Jack and Cami had just started another game of their special form of Jenga. Cassie, Sam, and Randi looked on in utter amazement at the spectacle.
“I thought I brought us back ten minutes after we left, sis, though to tell you the truth, I’m not sure anymore. Everything looks so different with the place deserted.”
“We are one day past this planet’s summer equinox, director, and may I say again what a pleasure it is to have you back with us. I have missed our conversations since your alleged deletion.” RVP replied pleasantly.
“So tell me again why just one food station is operational?”
“When the fusion giant began to expand, Camille revisited your Protoverse experiment and found that it’s initial test- the one where we lost you, director, had been sabotaged. Once rectified, she, Samantha, Cassandra, and Random quickly brought the experiment online and targeted a small bluish-green planet they found- the one you found initially. Although we alerted the entire station, few felt it would work, and thus only twelve faculty members attended. Camille repeated your documented approach to the transparent portal, but Reilly was deficit the power to fully transfer everything here- just this facility and the four scientists closest to the portal. Postulations are that all other faculty has been deleted. Primary power has been severely truncated since our arrival here fifteen revolutions ago, director.”
“The bastard has already disposed of me, Alex!” I growled, striking the table with my fist. “Well, I’m glad some of you at least found a way to escape the expansion.”
“But we’re still here, Alex.” My sister reminded.
“Because we were off universe, Alex. Somehow the Empress transcends space and time, I suppose.”
Alex Reilly looked at me and mouthed the word ‘duh’.
“So why the complete change around here, Alex?” Jack asked as she continued to concentrate on their game- even that didn’t seem to have the same feeling.
“I wasn’t here to rescue everyone, Jack. I no longer exist in this version of the timeline- therefore I was never physically pulled back to the Homeworld’s universe and never rallied our sisters to participate in the transposition.” I paused.
“If I no longer exist, my guess is…neither do you…or any of our other sisters or crew. Remember what Mina told us about our Mahanilui…if it hadn’t happened…?”
The Jenga blocks suddenly dropped to the table with a clatter as both Mind Warriors mouths’ dropped open and they stared at Alex and I in disbelief.
“Interesting…temporal disassociation.” Cassie muttered to herself. “The concept has been theorized but never proven feasible or measurable.”
“How do you explain your presence here on this planet then, Cassandra?” I asked. “If Reilly is here then you three…” I dropped my head in sorrow, “and Reilly, have transcended space and time because Earth, this planet, is located in the Protoverse cloud.”
“That is highly improbable, director. The Protoverse experiment was shut down after our arrival to conserve power. There was simply not enough energy to sustain it for any length of time.”
“Oh shit!” Jack exclaimed, her voice jumping an octave or two. “You mean the Homeworld doesn’t exist anymore? Alexandra, Mei-Lee, Allie…me…they…they don’t exist anymore?”
“Maybe?” I proposed through squinted eyes, unsure of the correct answer. Sam, Cassie, and Randi stared at us as they tried to understand Jack’s outburst.
“Cap, we have to catch this guy and put him down! He’ll destroy the whole universe if this goes on much longer.”
“We’ll get him, hun.” I tried to comfort her.
“Know this for a fact, Jacquelyn Cummins; we WILL make him pay!” Alex Reilly declared, trying to control her anger.
“So how we gonna do that, Empress,” Jack challenged insubordinately, “If we don’t exist, that is?” Her eyes dared one of us to answer.
“What is the one thing we have that Darren does not, Commander?” I asked.
“We have you, Alex, Cami, and Yuuka, Cap.”
“More important than those very important assets, hun.”
Cami, Jack, Yuuka, Sam, Cassie, and Randi all stared at me waiting for the elusive answer.
“Foresight,” I said after rolling my eyes. “We know where and when he will appear.”
“So let’s just go to that location and wait for him to show, Alex!” Cami almost shouted.
“That’s where it gets complicated, ladies.” I told everyone sadly. “Darren does do some good things along the way. The great flood was only one of several events that wouldn’t have happened exactly the way they should have had he not interfered.”
“I take it the Homeworld would have been a far different place too, Empress?” Yuuka asked, already knowing the answer, but repeating it for our marooned sisters.
Alex Reilly shook her head several times. “I wouldn’t have met my grandmother either.” She said as a few tears ran from the corners of her eyes. She looked at me sadly.
“So if we can’t just rush to the end of this nightmare, where do we start?” Jack asked in an aggravated tone.
“We move onto the next chapter, of course.” I smiled.
“When do we leave?” Samantha asked, happily relieved.
Alex Reilly and I lowered our heads.
“You, Cassie, and Randi have to stay here, Sam.” I said sadly. “I’m sorry.”
“Why? Why can’t you take us along?” She cried, not comprehending or not caring about the imbalance to the time line that would cause.
“We don’t exist as we do now in their original timeline.” Cassie said, just above a whisper. “We would unbalance this universe. There would be two of each of us instead.”
“So what, then? Do we just deconstruct? Delete automatically?” Sam complained dramatically.
“You won’t even know anything happened, hun, when we set the timeline straight, you three will be back among our sisters, with no recollection you had ever been marooned on Earth as you are now.” Alex explained, forcing a calm smile.
“We have to go.” I said quickly as I stood and walked over to Cami and Jack. Alex and Yuuka followed. We all joined hands. Our three stranded sisters looked on sadly, but remained silent, their eyes quite moist.
“Sisters, we look forward to our next meeting. Your ordeal here is almost over.” I said as I nodded to Alex. I’d had my eyes closed so I couldn’t see they’re despondent faces.
When I opened them, our surroundings had changed slightly. Instead of being in Reilly’s Rec Room, we found ourselves in a much larger, still-futuristic, space with large windows along one wall. It was very similar to one of Reilly’s observation lounges. Outside it was dark, but the stars were up. They looked crisp and brilliant.
And seemed to be moving faster than expected!
A strange alarm sounded as we all continued looking around this magnificent room.
“What is that noise, and where are we, Alex?” Jack asked in confusion.
“By the Goddess! Look!” Cami exclaimed as she tugged us to the windows.
A large, full Earth came into view. But, was it? If I was seeing things correctly most of North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe were white instead of green and brown. Snow?
“We’re in orbit?” Jack exclaimed in surprise.
“Does everyone have a personalized version of my Aryan dress in inventory,” I asked? “If so, now would be a good time to change, ladies.” As I looked to each of my sisters, they nodded in the affirmative.
“Translators to German, Polish, or Czechoslovakian, Empress?” Jack asked snidely as I watched her suit change to a stunning, very low-plunging, red, sheath dress.
“None of the above, I’m afraid.”
Several extremely tall, well-built young men dressed in what looked like military uniforms rushed into the room and began waving small, hand-held devices all around in front of them. They began cautiously crossing- systematically sweeping- the large lounge-type room. One of the men, well over six-ten, sounded to be giving orders. Their language, though, did not translate into anything in our Reilly Suit’s library. They appeared to be searching for something- maybe somebody.
“Can they see us with those devices, Alex?” Jack asked in concern.
“I don’t think so. Let’s find out.” I said and nodded to Alex Reilly.
To say these men were surprised was an understatement. We were quickly surrounded with their strange hand-held devices pointing at us menacingly.
“Hi, y’all!” I said pleasantly as I waved my hand in greeting. The guy in charge stared down at my head and looked at me in confusion. Damn, I still had my tiara on!
“How original, Alex! What ever happened to ‘take me to your leader’?” Jack deadpanned.
“Want us to disarm them, Alex?” Cami asked calmly.
“Do not initiate then disrupt their urinary evacuation, Camille Darough.” Alex Reilly advised through gritted teeth.
“That’s ‘piss’ them off, sister- ‘don’t piss ‘em off’! Must you always butcher the English language?” I asked her in frustration.
The men just stared at us, talking amongst each other until their leader finally waved his device in a motion that told us we should move in the indicated direction.
The wide hallway we were now walking through had a slight, but noticeable curve to it.
“What is this place?” Yuuka asked quietly in Japanese.
“A Space Research Facility I would think.” Alex Reilly answered. “The design does not match anything from the Homeworld’s Deep Space Design Archives though.”
“Or it could be an Ark, sis.”
“An Ark, Alex? Jack asked.
“I noticed that most of Earth was covered by snow and ice- glaciers maybe? Alex, how far did you take us back?” I inquired.
“Seventy thousand; just like before. I thought this place would be far safer than the forest.”
“That turned out well! So where are we, Alex?” Jack persisted.
“My guess would be Atlantis, hun.”
“Atlantis?” She and Yuuka gulped.
Our escorts seemed to understand that word as they suddenly stopped and turned to glance at us momentarily with questioning expressions.
We were directed to and courteously helped into what looked like a large rollercoaster ride of some sort. Once seated, I felt it smoothly accelerate and we passed several transparent sections in the round, tube-like, tunnel. This facility looked to be made of several concentric rings and it appeared that we were heading straight for a large ball-shaped structure at its center- the command center, maybe? We noticed tall spire-like structures- possibly antennae- protruded from its top and bottom giving it a very gothic appearance.
Judging by the time it took us to reach the center structure this place was immense- at least several miles wide.
At our terminus, we were motioned and helped out of the conveyance and escorted down another hallway.
“Big place,” Alex Reilly said evenly as we all looked around. We were motioned into what looked like an elevator.
“Where are they taking us, Alex?” Cami asked as the doors closed and I felt motion.
“I guess to see the wizard, Dorothy.”
My response fell somewhat flat, Jack and possibly Yuuka being the only ones that caught the reference.
Our short ride ended and the doors opened to reveal a very large room consisting of several tiered levels, all were filled with monitors and other complicated looking equipment consoles- each being attended by very tall men or women.
“Is this their Con, Alex?’ Jack asked in awe of what she observed.
“Or their bridge, Jack. Meridian’s control room was called a bridge. Remember, we’re on a ship and not a boat at the moment.”
The man apparently in charge of our escort detail walked over to one of the shorter women, one that looked only one or two inches taller than me, and assumingly gave her his report. Motioning to us, I got the impression that he was reporting our lack of understanding of their language. Both walked back to where we had been detained and the woman apprised each of us intensely. She continued talking to him as she evaluated us- especially Allie and I. We looked each other in the eyes.
“What’s she doing, Alex?” Jack whispered.
The security detail redrew their weapons and pointed them at us instantly. I had to admire their training and quick response.
“She’s probably deciding whether to space us, commander.” I replied. “Anything happens to Allie or I, only name, rank, and serial number, Commander- as per the accord.”
“Aye, Captain’s invoking the Geneva Accords, girls.” She responded.
The woman suddenly glared between Jack and I several times as her security detail took a step closer. We decided to remain silent and a few minutes went by as our ‘hostess’ continued to appraise us.
‘Fascinating, Alex. They are limiting their distance to us. They’re probably particle or phased plasma weapons. Something that could possibly disable or harm them if close or point blank.’ Jack thought to me.
‘They won’t hurt us, Jack. We have no weapons…that they know of.’ I thought back as I continued to stare into our hostess’ eyes.
‘Ok, but, if you sense this is going south just think the word, Cap.’
This silent, dead draw between us was accomplishing nothing. I decided to end our useless charade and selected my default Reilly suit…with one slight modification. Two circular pips appeared on my right collar as the woman jumped back, startled by my sudden costume change.
Security instantly and nervously responded by readjusting their stances and aim!
Our hostess’ right eyebrow rose in interest when I didn’t do anything else and after another minute she motioned her guards to back off and directed an unintelligible question toward me. I narrowed my eyes and cocked my head slightly as I tried to figure out what she said.
She repeated her inquiry.
I shook my head to the side a few times indicating I had no idea what she had said.
She gave me a frustrated look and let out a disappointed sigh. Just as I felt she would turn away, I carefully raised my right hand and slowly extended my pointer finger- what I thought might be a universal gesture for her to wait a moment…I hoped.
The guards reassumed their nervous, high alert, posture!
Still, their tense stance didn’t distract from what happened next.
As if suddenly becoming clueless, the guards temporarily lowered their weapons and our hostess and her men curiously looked to the ceiling for what I was pointing to! I found myself giggling with an amused smile on my face as their attention abruptly, and humorlessly, came back to me.
I tried it again, this time holding both hands up in a ‘stop’ gesture.
Before carefully dropping one hand, I turned around slowly. Very, very slowly, Ibrought my right hand to the collar of my suit and felt for the hardwire data port for my Reilly. I indicated to it then turned back just as slowly to face our female host and cautiously motioned that it would help us communicate.
Nodding, she called over a younger woman, though just as tall, and began talking to her. They seemed to be discussing my data port.
This younger woman slowly motioned for me to turn around again. Our escort detail immediately re-aimed their weapons- their caution understandable, given our unknown origins. Obeying and again turning slowly, I felt her carefully brush my hair aside then lift my collar and touch the small link port. She said something and was shaking her head in the negative when I turned back around.
Well, that didn’t work.
“Al-eks-ann-dra,” I said slowly once facing them again. I pointed to myself. At least I could try to introduce myself, I figured. Our hostess’ eyebrow rose again. I repeated my name and gestured to myself again this time adding ‘Steinert’, phonetically, as well. Pointing to Jack on my left, I phonetically said, ‘Jacquelyn Cummins’. I repeated introductions in the same format for Cami, Yuuka, and Alex, careful to emphasize my sister’s different last name.
“Ann-drom-ma-da-Cell-les-trah.” She said after apparently debating whether to release that information.
I smiled and bowed courteously. I then had a thought. How could I get them to understand that our suits could communicate wirelessly?
The image instantaneously popping into my mind made me twitch ever so slightly. The guards took a quick, deep breath!
My tiara! I could use my tiara to establish a link to their computer network. I causiously raised my finger again while I accessed the proper menus- making a point of them seeing my eyes moving on the virtual screen. The Protocol Interrogation window quickly popped up on my H.U.D.
“Negotiating network connection,” the window informed me as the displayed empty bar graph began to fill with red from left to right. After filling completely, it turned green and a message informed me that communications had been successfully negotiated and established.
Mentally selecting ‘search’ and thinking ‘find language translation files’ I quickly located and requested download of the rather large file.
An alarm sounded from one of the nearer control consoles- the one the younger women had been stationed at.
Both women now glared at me- the younger in surprise- the older, in anger- apparently debating what I had done. I raised my right pointer once more as I watched the file download progress on my H.U.D as they continued to argue with each other, maybe?
Once done, I told my suit to install and correlate with any similar languages.
“Gppph…Exxxfaaaa…fretsic…no, I have no explanation as to how she accessed our network, Commodore.”
“I want the encryptions changed on all access points immediately, Tech Officer!” The older woman, said to a young man off to our right. “We can’t risk losing this ship to aliens, pirates, or these unknowns, is that clear?”
“At once, Madam Commodore!”
“Madam Commodore, we mean you no harm. I simply accessed your archives for a primer to your language. As I tried to indicate, I am Captain Alexandra Steinert, United States Navy. To my left is my first officer, Cmdr. Jacquelyn Cummins; to my right is my sister, Alexandra Reilly, Director of Reilly Research Station; Yuuka Sukiro; and Camille Darough. We are travelers from this planet’s future.” I explained to several loud gasps around me.
All conversation in the large control room stopped and the two women before me stared uncomprehendingly.
“You speak our language now? What sort of trick is this?”
“No trick, Madam Commodore. Our uniforms have the capability to translate many different languages. All we need is the primer. Its interface to our brain allows us to speak and understand you naturally.” I explained. “I will release your network now as I have no further need of information.”
“You call yourselves travelers? Time travelers?”
“We do, Madam Commodore. My sister and I possess that singular talent. We had only arrived in your observation lounge moments before your security detail arrived, alerted by what I assume is some sort of temporal anomaly warning system, to look for us. We decided to re-integrate into this reality so they would find us.”
“Re-integrate into this reality? Hmmm. So if that is truly the case, the matter of detainment would be null?” She asked, though I had a strong suspicion she didn’t believe me.
“We stand bound by local regulations, Commodore, so if you choose detainment, then we shall abide by that decision, but should our time here run short I’m afraid we would have to be insubordinate, ma’am.”
“So why should I believe you, Capt. Alexandra Steinert?”
“You have no reason to, Commodore. All I can give you is my word as an officer in the United States’ Navy, but that entity will not exist on this planet for another seventy-two thousand years. So all you have is my personal word that we will not cause trouble.”
The Commodore’s jaw dropped, as did everyone’s in earshot. There were several moments of silence as our hostess decided our fate. While able, I uploaded the new language translation to my sisters. Each nodded to me in thanks.
“Reggie, continue to re-encrypt the access points, but allow our guests general access to all public systems.” Major Araul, you and your detail stand dismissed. A full report should be entered into your log as to the manner of our guests’ arrival. Good work, Major.”
“Thank you, Madam Commodore.” The towering, young man said before he and his men turned and left the bridge.
Ladies, would you join me in my private lounge?” Our hostess motioned to a door off to her right. We followed and entered the pleasantly decorated conference room- each of us taking an offered, though slightly oversized, seat.
“So, Captain, is it customary for royalty to serve in your military?” The woman inquired as she remained standing, arms crossed and staring intently down on us.
“Ma’am? I asked in confusion.
“Your coronet, Captain, it displays the universally accepted symbols for peace, balance, and understanding. Only royalty would be so bold as to wear such finery while voyaging into the unknown.”
I felt my cheeks warm. Was I that much of a ‘Princess’ now?
“In all honesty, Madam Commodore, I sometimes forget I have the thing on. It was designed and given to me by my Technology Comptroller for a sophisticated mission we recently completed. I assure you, it is an amazing piece of technology.”
“As are those garments, Captain.” The Commodore paused as she suddenly thought of something. “Since you and your sister claim to have this talent of time travel, would it be possible for a disclosure of other talents you and your companions possess? I prefer to understand my guests rather than fear them.”
“A wise and reasonable request, Madam Commodore.” I nodded, but wondered why she appeared to be taking this so calmly. “My sister and I possess the gift of time travel as previously specified plus foresight. Accompanied by various companions that we choose for their mission specific gifts, we travel time, space, dimension, and the universes, correcting small discrepancies that would disrupt the true timeline.”
Our hostess nodded. “I take it that our arrival has done something to disrupt the continuum?”
“No, ma’am, quite the contrary. We seek to thwart a villain from our own general time period. His ignorant incursions into our relative past have caused considerable damage to our era.”
“So this is, in essence, an observation post- a place to rest and plan your response?”
“If you would allow it, Madam Commodore.” I nodded slightly. “Our nemesis’ understanding of Atlantis is limited to the writings of a future philosopher by the name of Plato. He lacks the imagination and foresight to know the real story.”
“Alex, when did you and Alex Reilly see this place?” Jack asked in curiosity. Her translator was working perfectly.
“When we were here the last time, Jack. When we arrived down on the planet.”
“You’ve been down there,” our hostess asked in surprise? “And survived?”
“Ya, its cold and dangerous…but very, very beautiful.” Jack admitted casually.
“Commander, would you care to inform me as to your special ability? You seem too at ease toward the horrors that prowl the planet’s surface.”
“Camille Darough and I are Mind Warriors, Commodore. We protect the Empress…er Captain and Director, ma’am.”
“Empress?” The Commodore exclaimed with a start and stared at me in disbelief.
“Impossible,” she muttered to herself, “She is pure myth and cannot be actual flesh and blood.”
Her denial seemed too fast and rehearsed to me.
“You’ve heard of her?” Yuuka asked casually. I rolled my eyes as my hand rose to rub my eyebrows.
“Apparently one of us has been here before, sis.” Alex said quietly, elbowing my side gently.
“The legend of an Empress- a goddess capable of time travel dates back to before this world or any like it were discovered- many thousands of years ago. How can you actually be here?”
“Easy, sis, I know she said the ‘G’ word but let’s allow some flexibility. We just met.” Alex quietly recommended.
“You ask that now, but never gave a second thought to our initial statement of traveling thousands of years to get here?” I asked incredulously before phasing out and rephasing behind her. “Or were you just humoring the mysterious, crazy women, Commodore?”
She noticeably jumped and gasped in surprise as I saw Alex Reilly rubbing her own brows. The same warning klaxon sounded and she quickly touched a display that had instantly appeared on the tabletop in front of her. Our hostess’ eyes opened wide as she looked at it.
“Do you always have to do that, Alex? Can’t you just phase out and back in, but stay in the same spot? One of these days you’re going to give someone an outright heart attack.” Jack chastised with annoyance.
Our hostess quickly dropped to her knees and began to shiver uncontrollably. She looked up at me in fear for only a second before staring back at the deck.
“See? You scared the shit out of her, Alex!” Jack groused angrily as I returned to my seat.
Our hostess remained silent and still for several minutes as if fearfully awaiting something. She finally looked up to Alex and I, her face streaked with tears and terror.
“The myth- as I remember it- it tells of an awesome presence that sometimes traveled with the Empress…a Mind Mage. It is written that it was fearless and powerful- that it judged sinners and miscreants opposing the Empress with harsh discipline. Several stories relate that mountains and oceans would move without a single word from its mouth. You are…it?” She said, only glimpsing over to Jack and Cami.
“Cami and I are not an ‘it’, Madam Commodore. We are real people like you and your crew. And I haven’t moved any mountains yet…just a multi-hundred ton nuclear submarine…or two.” Jack responded as she blushed profusely.
“Hey, that was me, Jacki Cummins!” Cami protested. I shook my head with a humorous smirk then nodded to Alex Reilly.
Standing from our seats, Alex and I walked over and urged our hostess back to her feet.
“We are just normal people, Commodore- no different from anyone else. We are all equals here.” Alex said, motioning around the large table.
“My humblest apologies, ladies, I would never have imagined meeting the actual legends in the flesh. Please forgive me.”
“My name is Jack, Jacki, or Jacquelyn, Madam Commodore.” Jack told the woman warmly.
“And my name is Camille or Cami, Madam Commodore. We prefer our real names over designations. And…and we are very, very cautious about using our gifts, Madam Commodore.”
“Oh, right, you two are SO careful with your gifts.” Yuuka groaned.
The Commodore was quiet for several more minutes as she digested everything she had seen and heard.
“And you, Yuuka Sukiro, what would be your power?” She finally asked with a slight cringe- unsure what to expect at this point.
Yuuka began to shrink and disappeared from view below the tabletop. Suddenly our hostess was eye to eye with the five-inch tall Pixie!
“I can only do this, Madam Commodore. I am just a Pixie. My purpose is to provide reconnaissance for the Empress.”
A loud gasp escaped our hostess as all color quickly drained from her face.
“Yuuka, hun, maybe you should stay grown up while we’re here.” I suggested as she immediately increased in size and stood beside our hostess to steady her.
“I’m sorry for frightening you, Madam Commodore, but you did ask.” Yuuka apologized as she struggled to steady the much taller woman.
A beverage container similar to a larger paper cup, floated across the room from a food dispenser on the far wall.
“A drink of water will help you, Commodore. Please, take a drink.” Jack advised as the container lowered itself to the table.
Another gasp escaped our hostess, as did more tears.
“I am dreaming. This cannot be possible. These women are not here. There is no one who can do such miraculous feats…it is simply impossible.”
“We can leave if you desire us to, Madam Commodore.” I said gently. “We never meant to cause problems for you or your crew, ma’am.”
I stood from my chair and motioned for my sisters to take my hands.
“Please…stay. I am simply astounded by the scope of your abilities. Such power…yet such grace and humility.” The Commodore said quietly as she raised her face to look at us once more. “I shall have quarters established for your use, for as long as you choose to remain with us, Captain.”
“Alex.” I said as we all sat back down. “My name is Alexandra, though Alex will do, Commodore.”
The Commodore nodded and walked around to me and offered her hand.
“Andromeda. Andromeda Celeste. Call me Andie, Alex.”
I smiled as I happily shook her hand.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Andie, Alex and I know your supplies are running low so we will fend for ourselves. We wish not to burden you with extra mouths to feed.” Alex Reilly said as she too shook her hand. I noticed Jack stare guiltily at the cup of water she had placed before our hostess.
“Nonsense, we are mostly in need of fresh water, Alex. Too much has been utilized for our deceleration thrusters, but there is sufficient supply for consumption. I was in the process of finalizing plans for missions to the surface to collect the amount required for our decent…once we find a suitable, safe location to do so.”
“Cami and I would like to help, if you’d allow us, ma’am.” Jack offered pleasantly. Cami nodded her agreement.
“How could you possibly help, short of traveling to the surface?” Andie questioned.
“Just tell us the dimensions of the ice block required to replenish your water supply and let the Darough and Cummins Moving Company provide the necessary services.” I said with a chuckle.
“We’re not talking a few cubits of ice here, Jacquelyn.” Andie said as she turned from me to Jack and Cami. “We would require several thousand three dimensional cubits.”
“What’s a cubit?”
“Why, it is the common measurement of length- the average length of an adult male forearm.”
“About two and a half feet, Jack.” I said setting the conversion straight.
“Just tell us how much and let us do the rest, ma’am.” Jack assured her confidently. “Oh, and you might want to show us where to put it, too.” She added as she and Cami shared a devilish smile.
“Our scientists have calculated that we require the volume of water contained within a block of pure glacial ice six hundred cubits by one hundred-twenty cubits by seventy cubits. As I have stated previously that is no small task. It is estimated to take several months to harvest that much safely.” Andie informed us an hour later. We had reentered the bridge several minutes ago and were formally introduced to the crew. Commodore Celeste respectively left out our titles.
“So where do we put a chunk that big, Commodore? Do you have a receiving bay big enough to handle that?”
“Are you serious? How could such a mass be lifted from the surface? We lack the spare thrust units required for such an undertaking.” Commodore Celeste cried, amazed by Jack’s apparent arrogance.
Smiles broke out among my sisters. The Commodore just stared at us for a moment.
Andie nodded to a young man to her left.
“Show them where to put it, Matthew.”
A very large monitor came alive and displayed a technical diagram of the station. A white arrow appeared and moved to a large void on the outermost ring.
“This is the only storage bay on the station capable of containing the required volume, but how can something that size be removed from the surface in one piece,” the tall, handsome young man, Matthew, asked in confusion?
Jack ignored his question and removed a quarter from the hidden pocket in her default Reilly. Handing it to me, she looked at Cami.
“Call it,” she said as I flipped the coin into the air and waited for it to fall. Instead, it stopped midflight and slowly floated over and into Cami’s waiting palm.
“Heads.” She claimed with a giggle and mischievous smile.
The bridge became eerily quiet as everyone within visual range witnessed the event.
Jack rolled her eyes playfully. “Shields or muscle.” She offered in a defeated tone.
I noticed Andie mouth ‘shields or muscle’ to herself.
“Why don’t you two concentrate on cutting the block out first?” I suggested.
Andie turned to me suddenly and stared for a moment.
“Madam Commodore, we’ve located the requested amount of pure ice on a glacial flow in the Eastern Northern hemisphere. The surrounding area seems to be devoid of life.”
“Pan, zoom, and focus, Ian. Let’s see it up close.”
“Zoom limits can only focus to fifty thousand cubits.”
”More than enough.” I said with a confident smile.
A huge ice sheet came into view on the same monitor used earlier.
“Jack, Cami? You’re up.” I said, giving them a ‘go ahead’ nod.
Both Mind Warriors began to concentrate.
“Target acquired.” Cami announced serenely.
“Separation sequence beginning.” Jack answered in a like tone.
Enormous fountains of steam erupted from the ice sheet pictured on the screen.
There was a collective gasp from the room at what was being seen and several crew members turned and looked incredulously at my two sisters.
“Are you two doing this?” Andi asked animatedly, confronting our two Mind Warriors face to face while pointing to the huge display.
“You did say you needed the water, right?” Cami challenged calmly, not looking away from the image or breaking her concentration.
“But how are you doing this?” The Commodore asked again- this time in horror. “Even our strongest energy weapons couldn’t do what we are seeing.”
“This is easy compared to the next phase, ma’am.” Jack added neutrally without looking away.
“Jacki, you ready for me to make the final cut?” Cami asked after a few minutes. I figured they were using verbal communication for our guests’ benefit.
“Ready when you are.” Jack answered.
After a few minutes more, Jack noticeably flinched.
“Are you okay, sister?” Cami asked in concern.
“Heavier than I thought is all. You ready with the containment shield?”
“Shield established. Ready for transorbital lift.”
“Here we go.” Jack said as she noticeably doubled her concentration.
As we watched, the huge block of ice began to dislodge itself from the immense glacier and slowly grew larger on the screen.
“Is it…is it really moving?” Andie gasped in amazement.
“Cami, strengthen the pressure containment shield. The ice will start to boil once we get through the troposphere.” Jack suggested.
“Doing it as we speak, sister.”
“Decrease magnification and refocus, Ian.” Andie ordered as the ice block filled the screen. “They’re really doing this?” She asked, looking back to Alex Reilly and I.
We simply nodded with a wide smiles.
“Cut in the ultraviolet and infrared shields now, Cami.”
“Ultra and infra filters engaged, Jacki.”
“Commodore, you might want to decompress and open the storage bay doors. Once we get through the outer atmosphere this baby is going to take off.” Jack advised just before she winced moderately. “Ouch, just hit a little turbulence there.”
Alex and I nodded as we took the hint, and casually walked over to our sisters, Alex taking Cami’s hand and I, Jack’s. I immediately felt her draw on my energy.
“Thanks, Cap, I could use a little extra.” Jack acknowledged with a smile and a nod.
“Take as much as you need, Commander.” I replied gently. I could suddenly feel a pulsing in her power draw.
“It’s buffeting pretty badly in the higher atmosphere, Cami.” Jack reported. I felt a hand take my free one and looked to see Yuuka smiling back. I nodded my thanks. The pulsing smoothed out ever so slightly.
“Almost through.” Jack reported.
Suddenly the pulsing almost stopped entirely. I looked to my right- past Yuuka, to see Andie, Reggie, and Ian holding her hand.
“This is an amazing feeling.” Andie murmured in amazement. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”
The energy drain vanished.
“We’re through the atmosphere, Cami. Better buffer those shields.”
“Your help would be appreciated over there now, ladies and gentleman.” I said nodding toward Cami.
“Local view and focus.” Andie commanded as Yuuka led them over to Cami. The monitor again refocused on the frozen block.
“Storage bay depressurized and open to space, Madam Commodore.
“Ready for docking instructions, Cap.” Jack announced.
“It’s here already?” Andie exclaimed in utter amazement.
I nodded as the image on the large display changed to a tactical with requested and actual docking specifics.
“Roger that. Adjust attitude ten degrees to port and correct for resulting yaw. Pitch three to starboard, Jack,” I ordered as I watched the tactical display variables change on the console in front of me.
“Kick the stern thirty cubits to starboard, Commander. Slow her down a little, too.”
“Pitch another two degrees to starboard and slow ahead, Jack.
“Aye, slow ahead, Cap.”
“Seven hundred cubits and closing, Jack.”
“Two hundred, Jack. All stop and let her drift in a little.”
“Aye, discontinuing forward thrust.”
“Fifty cubits. Reverse thrust, Commander.”
“Reverse thrust, Cap.”
“All stop! ‘Z’ axis negative five cubits, Commander.”
“Gently,” I urged as I now watched the storage bay monitor, the space under the giant ice cube decreasing quickly.
“Contact,” one of the other bridge crewmembers announced. “Storage bay load sensors indicate a mass in excess of the calculated value by twenty percent. Recalculating next orbital velocity burn to compensate for additional weight, Commodore.”
“Good job, ladies.” I congratulated. “Commodore, one ice cube, in the hold, as requested…and a little extra for good measure.”
“Close and pressurize cargo bay Forenza-Six. Good job, everyone!” Andie ordered quickly.
“Just hold your shields for a couple more minutes, Cami.”
Gasps gave way to silence as I rolled my eyes again.
“I would have never believed it if not for seeing this…in our cargo bay!” Andie exclaimed an hour later as we looked at the football field sized block of frozen water. It towered above us about three stories.
“Thank you, Empress. You have guaranteed the successful descent to our new home.”
“I told y’all my name is Alex, Commodore. I don’t always answer to’ Empress’.”
“Since when, Empress?” Jack asked smugly.
“Since the very beginning, Commander! Would you like to be assigned an away mission in the tropical region of the planet?”
“Like an overgrown pussycat is going to scare me.” She bragged.
“Its not just the overgrown cats, Jack, it’s the overgrown birds; elephants; crocodiles; fish; sloths; bears…bugs,” I giggled as she glared at me.
“Ladies, you all are welcome to stay with us as long as you wish. What you did today, its…its…”
“It’s called helping fellow travelers out of a jam, Andie, and it requires no repayment.” I said with a bright smile. Cami, Allie, Yuuka, and Jack nodded in confirmation.
“But we owe you so much.”
“You owe us nothing, hun, we’re square, got it?”
“If you say so.” Andie replied, slightly confused, though I noticed a slight glint in her eye. “Join me for the evening meal then? It’s the least I could do.”
“You’re on, Commodore.”
“See you at three bells then, and don’t be late.” She giggled as she turned and left the storage bay.
I turned to the doorway before she disappeared. “Like I’ve never heard that one before!” I exclaimed loud enough for her to hear me.
“So, have you found your criminal yet, Alex?” Andie asked as we walked into her personal dining room a few hours later.
“In a hurry to see us leave, Commodore?” I asked in jest.
“Quite the opposite. I would like to offer Atlantis as a base of operations while you hunt your miscreant. As I filed the reports on your…unusual…arrival and subsequent assistance, several things you had said suddenly became clear to me.” She paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow to us.
“This ‘thief’, he’s already destroyed your future. You no longer exist in the original ‘timeline’ as you call it, do you?” she asked, but continued right away.
“If someone like you were to travel back in time, theoretically…if your local past changed…certain incidents and/or events may not have happened…or may have changed slightly. Nevertheless, if something important enough changed, you might not be born, or might not have met…or…”
I looked at our hostess with renewed interest and waited for her to continue.
“Or, you may not have become the Empress at all.” She said as she dropped her head in sadness.
“Very astute, Commodore. When last we visited my sister’s Research Facility, we found only three out of one hundred and three of our sisters. Apparently the events leading up to my arrival and subsequently successful rescue of that facility never happened. The Empress of Time and Space never emerged on this newly altered version of Earth.” I replied. “Alex and I still haven’t figured out how we even exist at all.”
“Do you have any children, Alex? Forgive me for prying if I am being too forward.” Andie asked, trying to change the subject after a few minutes of silence.
“Alex has one daughter from her mate on a planet its inhabitants call Terra. Jack has one daughter and two granddaughters, also from a mate on that planet. I have…if they still exist, three daughters and one son, two granddaughters and a grandson, and one great-granddaughter.”
“You’ve been busy.” Andie laughed politely.
“As I stand before you, none have actually been born yet, Andie. I only know them because of my unique gift.”
“To see and experience one’s future before it happens would be the ultimate miracle, Alex.”
“Or one’s worst nightmare.” I countered.
Andie nodded sadly.
“I understand how it could be perceived that way, Alex.”
“I took the liberty of reviewing the mythology around you, Alex.” Andie looked at both of us as she continued. “I noticed that the concept of three reverberates throughout each and every story. If I understand correctly you, Alex Reilly, are the Empress of the past, and you Alex, are the Empress of the present. May I ask about the Empress of the future? Will she also be joining you on your quest?”
“If she is lucky enough to have escaped the redirection of the time line…but if I were somehow stopped from becoming Empress…”
Andie again nodded her understanding.
“I’m sorry, Alex, I shouldn’t have circled back to the issue.”
“My granddaughter, Alexandra, is a very resourceful girl, Andie- more so than even Alex or I. She IS out there somewhere doing her part, I’m sure. I WILL see her again.” I said, being as upbeat as I could manage.
After a wonderful meal, Andie gave us the fifty-cent tour of Beta Ring and the Command Core- as they called the center sphere of this station. We were then shown to our quarters in Beta Ring. Each was spacious and beautifully decorated.
Before I turned in, I consulted my gift, as I was sure my sister Alex Reilly was doing as well, for the quickest way to untangle Darren’s handiwork and right the timeline.
As I blinked my extremely dry eyes, a voice filled my ears.
“She’s finally coming out of it, Andie, pay up.”
“For someone that claims no foresight you know your captain extremely well, Jacki. My question still remains, how in the seven worlds can she remain motionless and open-eyed for ten hours straight?”
“She‘s gone this long a few time, Andie. Typically, the more complex the question, the longer she takes. You have to understand that if she neglects even the smallest detail, the results could be catastrophic. I personally would not want that much responsibility.”
“So says one with the power of the universe at her disposal.” I said hoarsely.
“Have some water, Alex, it’s been ten hours.”
Ya, I heard that part, Jack. Y’all think you can be less conspicuous with your wagerin’?” I said before taking a few sips.
“Sorry, Cap. You know it’s more or less become a tradition among the girls.”
“Highly profitable too, I suspect.” I said rolling my still dry eyes. “Has Alex come out of it yet?”
“That’s the funny part, Cap. You and Alex came out of it at exactly the same time, according to Cami.”
“Gee, could it be that we’re basically the same person, Miss Cummins?”
“Wow…the sarcasm…could it get any thicker, Alex?”
“Absolutely.” I said with an evil grin.
“So, where to and when in time, Empress?”
“Believe it or not, we go back to Ricky Lynn’s office.”
“But how can we do that if we probably don’t exist there, Alex?” Jack asked just as Cami ran into my room.
“Alex says she knows what we have to do.” Cami announced excitedly as Yuuka and my sister, who was still wiping at her eyes gently, walked in.
“Ya, imagine that.” I deadpanned as my attention moved from Cami to Alex.
“You know what has to be done, sis?”
She nodded. “I’m to stay here as an anchor while you three go forward to meet with Ricky Lynn.”
I nodded back in agreement.
“So when do we leave, Alex?” Yuuka asked excitedly.
“I’m afraid you have to stay here, hun, your gift is not required on this one, sorry.” I told her sadly.
“So, Jack and I are to accompany you, Empress?” Cami asked hopefully.
“Sweetheart, I only need one Mind Warrior on this mission, and Jack is Ricky Lynn’s superior. Sorry.” I answered tenderly. Alex Reilly gently placed her hand on Cami’s shoulder as I broke the news.
“So who is the third person then?” Jack asked, confused.
Alex Reilly looked to Commodore Celeste.
“Alex needs an anchor to tie her to this time period, the anchor is bidirectional though, so a balance must be satisfied, therefore you, Commodore, must agree to travel as a companion of the Empress. There is a slightly more dangerous plan ‘B’ if you should feel the risk is too great.” She informed our hostess.
“You…you ask me…ask me to…to travel with you- to travel with the legendary Empress?” Andie paused, stunned for a moment.
“You really have to ask for my answer?” She squealed out in a higher octave.
“If y’all feel it’s asking too much, ma’am, we’ll go to plan…”
“No!” She shouted excitedly. “No, please…don’t reconsider, Empress! It would be my honor to accompany you through the vast sea of time.”
“It’s not that dramatic, hun,” I rolled my eyes at her outburst. “We join hands, I think of the place and time, and we’re there- no fades, slides, breaks, or pain, we’re just there. Just don’t let go of my hand until told its safe.” I told her, hoping not to dissuade her.
“Cap’s right, Commodore. The excruciating pain only comes into play if we cross universes.”
“Thanks, Jack. That really helped.”
“Just doin’ my job to keep my superiors informed, Cap.”
“Maybe I should take Cami instead.” I murmured seriously to myself.
“I’m sorry, Empress, but the director already has something planned for me here in the station.” Cami announced with little excitement.
I shook my head a few times.
“So, when do we leave, Empress?”
To my surprise it wasn’t Jack asking, but Andie.
“After I get some sleep. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t sleep when working through a problem, Commodore.” I said as I went to select my favorite nightie, only to find that I already had it on.
I changed its color from pink to blue instead.
“See y’all later today.” I said, shooing them out of my quarters.
Its amazing how much better I felt after just six hours of sleep. According to the chronometer in my HUD, I had slept half the day away- though I could see myself indulging between these comfortable bed linens for a lot longer. They rivaled my own sheets back at Atlantis-Minor.
“If its still there.” I reminded myself verbally as I begrudgingly slid out from between the sheets
The features of immediate hot water and a real shower in my in-suite bathroom surprised me. Amazing since we were in orbit- high above Earth- where no gravity should be present.
I told myself that Reilly had its own form of artificial gravity and I shouldn’t have been surprised at all.
Returning to the bedroom, I pulled my Reilly back on and selected its default appearance- that of Reilly’s standard red and blue- I also cued up my dress whites for later.
“Locate Commodore Celeste, please.”
An annoying tone sounded. I repeated my request.
“Locate. Commodore Celeste.” I ordered, forgetting the semi-rudimentary nature of their A.I.
Commodore Celeste is on the bridge.”
“Thanks, hun.” I responded cheerfully, but got no reply, only that annoying tone again. Not as advanced as RVP, I thought to myself as I walked out of my quarters and headed for the Control Core.
“Ah, there you are, Captain Steinert. I hope you acquired some much needed rest?” Andie greeted pleasantly as a rather handsome, tall, young security officer escorted me to her duty station.
“Reminded me of my quarters back on Atlantis-Minor, Commodore.”
“Atlantis-Minor?” She repeated, looking dumbfounded.
“It’s the name we chose for our base on the Hawaiian Island of Ni’ihau. Maybe I’ll show it to you once things are back to normal. It’s not much, but we still call it home.”
“I look forward to it, Captain. When would you like to get underway?” She asked politely.
“As soon as you and my first officer take my hand, Madam Commodore.” I said sternly as Jack continued to literally stare off into space.
‘Any time this epoch, Jack.’ I thought to her.
“What? Oh, sorry Alex, I just can’t get enough of this view. Isn’t it spectacular?”
“Ya, it looks a lot better than when three guys who haven’t showered in a week aren’t shoulder to shoulder with you.” I answered as Andie just looked at me in confusion.
I offered my hands to my two companions.
“Reggie, you have the bridge. Try to keep her in one piece while I’m gone.” Andie said to her first officer.
“How long do you estimate our trip will take, Captain?” She asked me as the younger woman looked on in curiosity.
“You mean, how long from our departure to our arrival back here?” I asked.
“Yes.” She answered quizzically.
“Let’s say …five minutes?”
We found ourselves standing on a somewhat steep, brush covered, lightly tree lined hillside- a scene from any undeveloped wilderness, I thought. Andie was standing in a tree’s trunk, some smaller limbs exiting from her abdomen and ears made her look somewhat comical. She might not think so, though.
“Try not to panic, Commodore, this happens sometimes when I travel. Please don’t let go of my hand.” I advised as I carefully pulled her clear. Her eyes couldn’t get any bigger.
“This doesn’t look like Carnegie Mellon University, Alex.” Jack observed needlessly.
“Really? And I thought they just went green, Jack!” I said sarcastically. “Just keep hold of my hands while I adjust for the dimensional timeline distortion.”
“You can do that, Alex?”
“Jack.” I glared at her. “Could I please concentrate, Commander?” I asked. Andie stayed very quiet and very, very still.
Focusing on what I knew to be here before rather than what was here now, I tried to separate things and shift them in my mind. I saw…that is, Alex and I both saw that I would have to somehow distinguish between the original and rerouted timelines- to somehow separate one from the other and move my group safely back into the original. As I concentrated on what I knew to be here, everything around me became unfocused- similar to twisting the focus control on a periscope from stop to stop. Everything became blurred and featureless to the point of being blobs of faint colors, but mostly gray. I apparently had spilt water on the watercolor that was reality- the colors mixing randomly as they diluted and faded before my eyes.
I concentrated harder to separate even farther, this chaotic mess.
Slowly, two distinctly different realities came back into focus in my vision. To say that one eye saw one reality more than the other was impossible to discern, but seemed to be the best description I could think of. Both became equally sharp in my eyes, though became superimposed on each other like a single frame of film with two distinctly different pictures exposed then developed.
One reality had the undeveloped hillside landscape that we had arrived to while the other had students walking down a familiar hallway on their way to and from classes. Both visions seemed equally ghostlike and depleted of mostly all colors.
Trying to concentrate even harder, I began the task of separating the two- bringing one to the forefront while pushing the other into the background. For a few moments the conflicting scenes around me toggled back and forth at random. I was having a hard time stabilizing one from the other.
“Alex” Jack said quietly, in a very concerned tone. “You’re beginning to glow- giving off light…just like Alexandra did back…back on the…the Homeworld.”
“It can’t be helped. I need to concentrate on the right reality, Jack. I have to get this right or the mission will fail.” I managed to say while trying to redouble my efforts.
“Alex…take as much energy from me as you can. Lord knows you’ve given me more than your share. Drink up, Empress.” She told me calmly- ever so gently.
I had never tried to borrow power from my sisters before. It was something I’d never felt comfortable with, though I had no problem providing it when needed by my sisters.
“I don’t think I know how.” I whispered.
“Think of how you felt when I tapped into your energy reserve, just reverse that, maybe.”
“But I can’t take your power, Jack. That isn’t the way it should go. That’s like stealing.”
“It isn’t stealing if offered freely, Alexandra Steinert. Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that you need some help. I can’t make you take it, Empress. That would be wrong…and possibly dangerous.”
“I can do this, Jack. I saw that I could do this and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”
“Captain Steinert, allow your first officer to assist. That is what I’m here for after all, ma’am.”
“I can do this.” I stressed.
“Why are we beginning to shine?” I heard Andie ask as I concentrated even harder. I could feel sweat forming on my forehead. I had to stabilize the original reality.
I had to.
“Alexandra Frances Steinert, I offer to you as much of myself as you need,” Jack said peacefully. “Please allow me to supplement your effort. To refuse such kind intentions would be a personal insult to Commodore Celeste and I. Please Alexandra, let us lend you assistance.”
Feeling like I couldn’t go any farther on my own, I thought about what Jack had said- how to draw energy instead of give it. Mentally imagining a valve and giving it a fraction of a turn, I felt…something.
“That’s it my friend, take as much as you need. Draw the power needed to materialize us in the proper reality.”
I mentally twisted the valve in my mind a little more and felt more ‘something’ flow into me. It was strange, this feeling. I tried concentrating on my task again. This time the one reality, the one I wanted, stayed in the foreground longer than the other. It was working!
“You can draw from me also, Empress.” I barely heard Andie offer.
I mentally opened the valve slightly more. I also imagined another valve on my other side and cracked it open a hair. The ‘something’ increased sharply.
Wow, what a feeling!
I wondered if this was how Jack or Cami felt when we joined together!
“Commander Cummins, I can barely see anything with such bright light surrounding us. How can she be doing this?” Andie’s faint voice asked.
I continued to concentrate- to separate the true from the tangent.
The one true reality was now almost stabilized as I applied the added energy to my effort. I felt I needed to give both valves another fraction of a degree to solidify our location in the proper reality and did so- reveling immediately in the feeling it gave me.
One reality now filled my eyes- that of the true timeline that I so desperately needed to acquire and occupy.
Satisfied with what I saw, I waited until the hallway was deserted and mentally pulled the trigger.
Our surroundings shimmered and a modestly lit hallway appeared around us.
“Now that…that was some experience, Alex.” Jack admitted with a look of relief.
“I have never, in my life, had such an exhilarating experience! Thank you, Empress!” Andie exclaimed excitedly. She acted as if just exiting a rollercoaster ride at some amusement park.
I closed my eyes a moment and tried to settle my mind by taking in a few big breaths and exhaling them slowly.
“Alex?” Jack said to get my attention. She gestured to my nose. “You may have over done it a little. I told you to take as much as you needed. You barely took anything at all.”
Reaching up slowly, I wiped the warm liquid from below my nose and momentarily stared at the smear of blood on my sleeve as it absorbed into my Reilly’s amazing material.
Had I over done it as Jack indicated? Should I have opened both control valves more and taken what they had to give? Did I even have the right to do such a thing- rob them of precious energy that they could use for themselves? What kind of a person was I to…”
“Next time, Alex, I suggest that you take a little more than just a trickle from me. I’m not some China doll that will break at the slightest touch, you know.”
Slight trickle? Had Jack just called what I felt a slight trickle? To me it felt massive- like a dam had suddenly opened every floodgate available and then some! The power this woman, my friend and sister possessed…it was amazing!
“Thank you both for your help.” I said, demurely.
“I mean it, Alex. Next time, don’t be so afraid to take some juice, I’ve got plenty, and I don’t mind. Really.”
I nodded as I gazed at my friend’s confident, smiling face. She closed her eyes serenely and nodded back.
“This should be the right place.” I said. “I just hope it’s the right day and time. Let’s go to Ricky Lynn’s office.”
Three students, two young women and a young man, exited a classroom off to our right just after I made sure we had rephased. I immediately felt three pair of eyes lock on and track us. I tried ignoring them as we continued to walk by.
“There must be a Con coming up.” One of the young women said quietly to the other two.
“Wow, those are the best Starfleet uniforms I seen in a while.” The young man said excitedly.
“You just like how tight they are! Honestly, ya think they could get any more form-fitting?” The other female voice said.
“They look jus’ fine ta me, Nats. I think yinz should ask ‘em where they got ‘em from.” The guy added.
“Shuddup, you prev, we’ll be late to our next class!” The first woman growled as they continued to walk away from us. “Some girls have no shame whatsoever these days, Natalie.”
“You think we should maybe change clothes, Alex?” Jack asked, now self-conscious of her appearance.
“Maintain course and speed, Commander.”
“Observation dictates that we should find suitable clothing for this culture, Empress.” Andie warned quietly.
“Andi, when on a mission with me, call me by my given name…unless you’d like me to refer to you as ‘Commodore’ in similar unknown, possibly enemy situations?”
“Point taken, Alex. I shall defer to your extensive experience and wisdom during these occasions.”
“Don’t be a smart-aleck either, hun.” I giggled.
“Sorry. Jacquelyn’s sarcasm is quite contagious.”
“Yes…but we love her all the same. This is it. I think you should let Jack and I do the talking since you don’t have translating capability in your uniform.” I said as we stopped by a door with Ricky Lynn’s name painted on its frosted glass window. I knocked.
“Ya, what is it?” asked a whiney, slightly angered, New York accented, soprano voice from inside.
“Um, Perfesser Samuels, there are three strange people in your lab. They seem to be looking for detailed information on your latest invention?” I said in English, trying to disguise my voice.
“You gotta be shittin’ me! Call security, Janice!”
“Um, they said that they’re busy across campus at the moment and we’ll have to wait a few minutes, Perfesser.”
There was more profanity as we heard wood bang against wood in the office. The doorknob suddenly turned and the door flew open. A very angry Ricky Lynn Samuels glared directly at my boobs, but quickly looked up in surprise.
“Empress!” She exclaimed and quickly dropped to one knee. “I’m sorry, ma’am, Welcome to CMU’s Robotic’s Center, its 1430hrs, April 10th, 2035.”
“Get up, you silly girl! You want to look stranger than we do at the moment?”
My flustered sister slowly rose as she looked around us cautiously and blushed profusely. She took notice of our clothing and zeroed in on my rank pips.
Two young men of Oriental descent exited a classroom several yards farther down the opposite side of the hall. We both noticed.
“I’m sorry, Captain Steinert. I wasn’t informed that you would be beaming down to personally inspect my progress. I hope your report won’t reflect my negligence or lack of manners.” She adlibbed while trying to keep a straight face.
“Dude, check out the smokin’ hot babes in the Battlestar Galactica threads.”
“Don’t be a jagoff, Lin, they’re Starfleet officers! Besides, they’re talkin’ ta Prof. Samuels…I’m betting they’re from some secret government agency or somethin’, so lay off and let’s go.”
“My First Officer and Science Officer both thought it would be wise for me to attend, Professor Samuels. Starfleet is very concerned that the Borg may try to sabotage your efforts. Shall we proceed to the device?” I said, playing my part as much as I remembered it from the old science fiction series.
“This way, Captain…Commanders.” Ricky Lynn motioned farther down the hallway in the opposite direction. She stared at the students until they turned the far corner.
“What’s the matter, Skipper, you just left an hour ago?” She asked in a loud whisper. “Wait, who’s the Amazon an’…didn’t Janice go with you earlier?”
“Ricky Lynn, we need to talk.” I said as I placed my hand on her shoulder. “I’d like you to meet Commodore Andromeda Celeste of Atlantis.” Switching my translator, I introduced my Chief Engineer to my guest companion.
“Nice to meet you, Commodore.” Ricky Lynn stopped dead in her tracks. “Wait, you mean she’s from Atlantis…THE Atlantis?”
“Can I ask how far back you two went?” She asked, trying to keep her mouth from hanging open and eyes from popping out.
“Near as we can tell, Alex Reilly took us back about seventy thou, hun.
My Chief Engineer whistled in amazement.
“Boy, was Plato ever wrong.”
“It’s an orbiting Space Station.” I added.
“Get the hell outta here!”
“Nope…Jack was mesmerized by the view just before we left.” I said as I raised an eyebrow and glanced to my first officer.
“One of these days I’m gonna get up there to see for myself, Skipper.”
“Why don’t you come with us, Chief?” Jack asked offhandedly.
I rolled my eyes as I looked over to her. “Must you always skip ahead a few pages, Miss Cummins?”
“You mean she can come along, Alex?” Jack asked in surprise.
“Ricky Lynn, do you still have that extra Reilly in your closet?”
“Ya, it should be fully charged and up to date, software-wise. Why…Andromeda need a change of technology?”
“Standard issue Atlantian uniforms lack a translator, hun.”
My redheaded sister took our guest’s hand. “It’s back at my place. Ready when you are, Skipper.”
“How close is your ‘place’, hun? We’re kind of pushing the boundaries of this reality as it is.”
“I have a small place over in Shadyside. It shouldn’t take us more than twenty minutes on foot.”
I stared at her, rolling my eyes once.
“Of course, you really don’t…want to be…seen in public…dressed…the way you are, right?”
I forced a smile in response.
“Give me a minute or two. I’ll relay my house location through Miss Cummins while I change, Skipper.” She said holding up a finger before ducking into the nearest ladies lavatory.
“There, that should even things out.” Ricky Lynn said as she rejoined us in the hallway a couple minutes later. She had made it look like she changed into her default Reilly suit.
Unfortunately, while we waited, a small crowd of students had gathered at either end of the hallway. Whispers declared us characters from various television series from ‘Battlestar Galactica’ to something called ‘V’. Most though, rightly chose Star Trek.
“Follow my lead, hun,” I whispered to Ricky Lynn.
“Just do it.”
‘Jack, I need a transporter effect on my mark.’ I thought to her.
‘Remember back in Flagstaff…that old TV show…Star Trek?’
‘Oh! Ya, now I got ya. On your mark, Cap.’
“We’ve stayed long enough at this honorable establishment of higher learning. We’ll continue this conversation back on the ship before we draw much more attention and disregard the prime directive entirely, Lt. Commander Samuels.”
“Understood, Captain Steinert.”
“Form up.” I ordered as I took Andie’s hand in mine and Jack took her other. Ricky Lynn stood to attention as she took Jack’s other hand.
“Atlantis, four to beam up.” I said after tapping my rank pips. I mentally nodded to Jack and waited for her effect to develop before I started to slowly alternate us out and into phase.
The hair on my body began to stand on end. The air around us filled with ozone and small twinkling sparks. I continued phasing us slowly then quickened the effect faster and faster until finally, I just phased us out completely.
“Cut the effects, Jack.” I ordered.
The students, at first confused or terrified by the sight of our bizarre disappearance, began clapping and cheering. Some declared that it was the best special effect they had ever seen and that Professor Samuels was a first class ‘Trekkie’. Others declared her an outright ‘FX’ magician.
“And you always say that Jack is the show-off!” Ricky Lynn said as several students came close and started to feel around and look for any wires, hidden panel, trap door, or for any clue whatsoever as to how the professor had accomplished the seemingly miraculous feat.
“It fit with the rumors that had already spread half way across campus, Chief. Besides, I just made you look like the gifted sorceress y’all are.” I told her, looking over with a smile. “Transiting…hopefully to the right place, in three…two…one.”
A nice-sized living room appeared around us and after checking with Ricky Lynn that this was indeed the right place, I rephased us.
“Welcome, Empress! Ricky Lynn failed to inform me of your arrival.”
“Randi?” I asked in surprise as I looked to the ceiling.
“RVP…or should I say a copy of the RVP operating system interpreter, Empress.”
“RVP, Status of Reilly Research Station in relation to present day and date, if possible, please.” I quickly inquired.
“Reilly is functioning within normal parameters and intercommunication links are active and responding, Empress.”
“Thank God,” I sighed in relief.
“Skipper, you wanna tell me what’s going on?” The Chief asked cautiously.
1500hrs, R. L. Samuel’s Residence, Pittsburgh, PA, April 10th, 2035
“You mean to tell me that he’s managed to completely remove us from the timeline?” Ricky Lynn cried in disbelief. “How come I’m still here? I didn’t feel any shifts or even dizziness?”
“When we first arrived, your Robotics’ building didn’t exist until I compensated by picturing it again in my mind, Chief. I’m not sure of the how or why. Let’s just be thankful we’re here at all.” I said as I looked over to Andie and saw that Jack had finished relaying her borrowed Reilly suit’s operating instructions.
Andie shook her head a few times and stared at me, wide-eyed.
“This technology…its…its simply amazing!” She exclaimed, her eyes snapping to different places in her normal field of view. “Full tactical, environmental, sanitation, wardrobe, and help drop-downs, and all fully configurable by the user! Amazing!”
“But it still doesn’t do windows.” I quipped, but got no reaction from her. “Hon, maybe you should set American English as your translator’s default for right now.”
“How does this sound?” She asked after I watched her eyes make a series of precise moves.
“You sound like a natural born American, hun, just try not to be so physical about navigating your H.U.D.”
“Ya, hun, the H.U.D. is only displayed in your mind, not in front of you. Just think of moving from menu to menu or display to display. People will think you’re less crazy that way.”
Andie‘s suit immediately changed from its default to the inventoried black, two-piece string bikini. The statuesque brunette looked breathtaking.
“How was that, Alex?”
“Good. I didn’t see any eye movement at all, but it’s a little cold outside to be wearing so little and your eyes aren’t the ones going to be moving if you stay in this, hun.”
“It is rather revealing, isn’t it?”
“I’ve worn that one a few times, myself.” I admitted with an exaggerated wink.
Andie smiled knowingly as her default Reilly suit reappeared.
“You might want to hold onto this, Commodore.” Ricky Lynn told her, handing her what looked like a Pixie-sized version of her original uniform.
“How cute, it looks exactly like my real uniform, Prof. Samuels, thank you. When did you find the time to construct this?”
“That IS your real uniform, Ma’am, I just shrunk it to that size so’s ya could keep it in yer pocket for safe keepin’.”
“Your gift makes things smaller?”
“Ya…it can make anything…smaller.” Ricky Lynn nodded as she conspicuously looked around.
“And…’anything’ would include…people…too?” Andie asked, noting her embarrassment.
Prof Samuels nodded twice.
“So, chief, care to brief us on the specifics of your toy? We never did get to that part earlier.”
Ricky Lynn’s eyes immediately began to twinkle.
“The QDA is based on one of Reilly’s secondary Zero Point reaction power cell. Being that it is drastically reduced in size from the prototype, its output and stability hasn’t been perfected quite yet, but it supplies the needed power for approximately thirty medium-range jumps, Alex.”
“Wait! You mean to tell us that you’ve captured a singularity? You actually can make and control the most destructive force in the universe?” Andie cried out in total surprise.
“Second most destructive force in the universe, Commodore Celeste.” Jack corrected. “Not even the Empress could control me in certain instances!”
She had that right.
“Define ‘medium range’, chief.” I requested, choosing to ignore my Ex-O’s bragging, and fighting my inner demons, memories, and my tears all at the same time.
“Medium range would be about two hundred years. The further you go the more energy you use.” Ricky Lynn answered as she tried to understand the concentration on my face. I guess I wasn’t hiding it very well today.
“I’ll have to remember that, hun.” I replied, hoping that some humor would lighten my perceived, sudden mood change.
“I don’t think you have that limitation, Skipper.” Prof. Samuels reassured me with a tense smile.
“That’s good to know. So how many jumps do you think it could make if one of them was…say, six thousand years instead?”
“Six thousand?” She squinted.
“Let me see.” Ricky Lynn continued as she pulled a small, thin, rectangular device from the hidden pocket of her Reilly suit. Tapping and sliding her finger on the glass-like screen for a few minutes, she sighed sadly.
“A jump that far, in either direction would really reduce its power reserves, Skipper; I’d estimate it to decrease the number of trips available by half.” Ricky Lynn looked at me curiously. “Why…where did he take it?”
“Aside from stopping someplace along the way to pick up explosives, he decided to visit the site of what some scientists call the Great Flood, Chief.”
“North of Constantinople, yes.”
“It’s been called Istanbul for a while now, Alex.”
“That’s what we called it back in ’44 too, hun, remember?”
“Then why did you use the old Byzantine name?”
“Continuing on with your briefing, Miss Samuels?” I said with an eye roll.
“If you could give me some idea where Darren’s next stop will be, I could figure that into the power reserve calculation.”
“I already know where I’m going to catch him, hun. His next stop will be to vindicate his favorite American patriot though.”
“Okaaaay. So which American patriot needs vindicated?” Jack asked, puzzled by my cryptic response.
“George Washington?” Jack gasped. “Why would he need to clear his name of anything?”
“Benedict Arnold, Jack.”
“Oh, him. I thought he was a traitor? At least that’s what my history teacher taught us.”
“He was, but only after getting royally screwed in both the French and Indian, and Revolutionary wars, Miss Cummins.” Ricky Lynn Samuels, PHD, corrected.
“So what’s Darren gonna do in Philly, Skipper?” She asked turning back to me.
“The British WILL take West Point.” I said bluntly.
“But that would change the outcome of the war- or at the very least cause it to go on for a year or more longer than it did!”
“Exactly. And that’s why the University wasn’t here when we first arrived, Jack.” I replied. “Why would Andrew Carnegie immigrate to a British colony when he was looking for opportunity and freedom from Great Britain?” I paused after posing the question.
“Carnegie Tech didn’t exist when we first arrived because Andrew Carnegie was never here in that altered timeline.” I continued. “He never made his fortune in steel, and never endowed money for the university.”
“Commodore, you’ve been very quiet. Does all this overwhelm you?” Ricky Lynn asked curiously.
“This world is not how I thought it would be, Prof. Samuels. If seventy-two thousand years have indeed passed, I expected technical advancements far superior to even these marvelous garments. How could so much time pass with so little or no progress…or even such a decline?”
“Andie, could you tell us the reason behind Atlantis’ journey to this solar system?” I asked gently, apparently ignoring her question entirely.
She thought a minute.
“Our planet was dying; our natural resources almost depleted; society began to deteriorate because of the panic. Lotteries were held to determine who would be saved- who would leave to start a new life on our greatest achievement, Atlantis.”
“So, without the resources your people had become accustomed to, what would you speculate happened to those left behind? Do you think they could still survive, and in what capacity?” I asked.
“I restrict myself from thinking about that, Alex. The memories of our final days before departure haunt my dreams each and every night. More than two-thirds of our passengers could not board because of a massive riot that threatened to destroy Atlantis. I curse the order to depart without them each and every day, ma’am.”
“Here on Earth- over the centuries- civilizations peak and decline- as I’m sure they’ve done on your home planet in the past as well. I’ve been witness to several cycles of technological reemergence- the arrival of Atlantis to Earth being only one of them. Typically, technology rises to a peak then recedes as the civilization becomes complacent and falters. Certain peoples living in the Southwest region of this continent as well as peoples on other continents, record five of these so called cycles in a form they call ‘creation myths’ to explain their arrival or appearance here.”
“So are you saying that has happened to my home planet also?”
“Maybe, but it’s happened here many times and will undoubtedly happen again, Andie.”
I thought for a moment.
“RVP, could you bring up the current world map on the large monitor in this room?” I asked nicely.
“Initializing Earth. What area should I pan to, Empress?” The I.A. inquired politely.
“Our current location will do, RVP, no need to zoom too much though, thank you.”
We watched as our world appeared on the huge, widescreen. It rotated clockwise slightly so that the Great Lakes region centered in the top portion of the screen. I approached and pointed to a small red flag that appeared.
“This is where we are right now, Andie. I’d guess it looks a lot different from when we left your station, right?”
“The ice has receded that far?” She exclaimed in surprise.
“Well, it’s been seventy-two thousand years, Commodore.” I replied. “You arrived at the height of what we call the ‘Ice Age’. From then until today, the great ice sheets that covered most of this planet have melted. They continue melting even today and I foresee a time when the oceans will be much greater than the ice ever was.”
“Even the land masses have moved a great deal, Alex. What I have been told to be a safe and stable landing zone is no longer recognizable and possibly covered by sea.” She said, scanning the display closely.
“RVP, pan to the Azores, please. Increase magnification by forty percent.” I requested.
Again the globe spun, clockwise this time, and stopped on a small dot of land on the eastern side of the Atlantic. A small group of Islands grew larger as the magnification increased smoothly.
“West, past the Pillars of Hercules.” I quoted Plato and pointed. “This is the rumored location of your landing site, Andie. Look familiar?”
My guest companion studied the display for a minute or so.
“May I, Alex?” She asked in disappointment, motioning to the screen.
I waved her to try.
“Yes, Commodore Celeste?”
“Could you pan counterclockwise three thousand, four hundred leagues, please?”
“Of course, Commodore, which form of ‘league’ should I use: Nautical, International, or Statute?”
“My league is based on the cubit, RVP.”
“There are several different definitions of cubit, Commodore. Please specify the number of cubits in your ‘league’.”
Andie thought a while as she tried to remember the required information.
“Twelve thousand, one hundred and forty-one cubits per league, RVP.” She replied, squinting her eyes and holding her chin between her thumb and forefinger.
“Thank you Commodore. Applying conversion.”
The image zoomed back out and the on-screen globe began to spin rapidly to the west. It stopped over a spot much closer to North America.
“Magnify by thirty percent, please.”
The ocean zoomed up closer to reveal the Bahamas, specifically the Island of Biminy.
“I don’t understand…it should be there. Why isn’t it there?”
“Andie, seventy thousand years is a very long time to hope that Atlantis is still intact.” I told her gently. “Many things could have happened in that time. Also remember that the continents are always moving- slowly, but moving nevertheless. So that may not be the right location either.”
“RVP, enable and calculate proposed continental drift algorithms to account for approximately negative seventy-two thousand years from present.”
“As you wish, Prof. Samuels. Calculating.”
Ever so slowly, North America began to move east northeastward until Key West centered and moved slightly eastward on the screen. The gently sloped dome of an underwater mountain could be seen on the image just off to the southwest. I noticed a barely visible, curved ridge just south of the domed seamount.
“Is that all that’s left of my Atlantis, Alex?” Andie gently pointed to the mound. She walked closer and gently touched the glass-faced display, tracing the almost visible Forenza, or outer ring.
“It could be, hun, the real location of Atlantis has been debated for many centuries since Plato first wrote about his supposed visit there in the fourth century BC.”
Ricky Lynn and Jack suddenly stared at me conspiratorially.
“Maybe?” I admitted sheepishly, shrugging my shoulders.
“Ya, maybe, Alex.” Jack accused sarcastically.
“RVP, can you show me Atlantis’ namesake…this Atlantis-Minor, Alexandra told me about?”
“Resetting initial geographic location. Request requires level two authorization or higher.”
“Show her our World War Two base location, please, RVP.”
“Restricted access voiceprint authentication acknowledged, thank you, Empress.”
Again the globe on the screen zoomed out and spun, counterclockwise this time then zoomed in on Ni’ihau.
“I don’t see anything there, Alex. Where is the base you spoke of?”
“After the war, we dismantled it and returned the island to its previous natural state as best we could, Andie. The Island is privately owned and still inhabited by the family the Navy leased it from back in 1942.”
“So it seems we are kindred spirits, Captain Steinert, in that both our bases have been erased from the face of this planet.” Commodore Celeste said sadly.
“We always knew it would be temporary, Andie. Sometimes, friends and family do more to make a home than any special building or location.”
“A very philosophical and wise way to look at things, Empress.” Andie admitted. “Though I suspect, you yearn for ‘home’ as much as I do.”
“More so now than ever before, Commodore.” I admitted sadly. “Ricky Lynn, I suggest we get going.”
“Where to, Alex?”
“Prof. Samuels, please access encrypted archive ‘downloadmebeforeleavingchief-dot-atls’ from ‘VisitKiliReilly’ cloud and download into your Reilly suit before engaging the Empress’ hand!” RVP suddenly announced abruptly, making everyone jump.
“What the hell?”
“Terminal input only.”
The Chief growled as she produced her hand-held device once more and typed something very quickly.
“Code accepted. Designate download location.”
Ricky Lynn angrily typed something else on the device.
“Remote location validation needed, please enter access code.”
“Son of a…” She exclaimed, glaring at the ceiling.
“Terminal input only.”
She growled once more as she again quickly typed something in.
“Thank you, Professor.” RVP responded.
“Do you really want to download this file? Yes or No?” The A.I. asked a few seconds later.
“Terminal input only.”
Chief Samuels angrily hit a spot on her device.
“Thank you. Are you really sure you want to do this Ricky Lynn? To do so would admit that a machine could be as much of a pain in the ass as you think the Empress is being right now. Agreed? Yes or No.”
Ricky Lynn glared at me with such an angry scowl that I thought the paint would start peeling off the wall behind me.
Looking down to her hand, she stabbed at the device once more and glared back at me again.
“Hey, it’s your I.A. not mine, hun.” I giggled.
“I’ll get Randi for this.” She threatened.
“Who said Randi had anything to do with it, Chief?” I laughed. “Let me know when your mystery download is complete, Professor.”
Ricky Lynn angrily took my hand and continued glaring at me after returning from ‘getting some things together for the trip’ as she put it.
“Ladies, that’s our cue to travel.” I giggled evilly.
Atlantis’ bridge appeared around us. As with our previous arrival here, an alarm sounded.
“We’re back in phase, everyone.” I informed my companions.
“Turn that thing off!” Andie ordered. “Reggie, status report- what did we miss?”
Andie’s first officer looked at her quizzically. “In the five minutes you have been gone, nothing, Commodore. Why have you returned so soon? What went wrong?”
“Five minutes? Are you sure it was only five minutes?”
“Check the chronometer for yourself, Commodore.” The young woman pointed to her console.
Andie looked back at me in confusion. Apparently she had forgotten whom she was traveling with and what I was capable of doing.
“My apologies for ever doubting you, Empress.” She said bowing her head momentarily.
“Welcome back, Empress.” Cami greeted on behalf of Alex Reilly and Yuuka. “Greetings to you also, Ricky Lynn.”
“Welcome to you also, Chief. I trust Alex has advised you of the situation?” Alex Reilly asked as she smiled and nodded to me. “Sister, you had to adjust reality as we had seen? I trust my Reilly is still present and operational there?”
“It is. It is also strange to see two different realities at the same time, sis. I wasn’t sure I could concentrate hard enough to differentiate the two correctly.” I nodded as Cami, Yuuka, and Ricky Lynn stared between us.
“We continue to amaze ourselves, don’t we?”
“At every turn.”
“Welcome to Atlantis, Ricky Lynn Samuels.” Andie announced motioning around the bridge. “Reggie, this is Professor Ricky Lynn Samuels. She is the Empress’ Chief Engineer. Enable access to our public systems as you have our other guests. Professor, you have full access to all public areas and databases on Atlantis.”
The young woman stared at her superior with her mouth agape.
“Perhaps you should turn your translator off, Commodore?” I hinted deviously, knowing that she had inadvertently turned it back on just a moment ago.
Andie repeated what she had just said- minus the welcome- in her native language. Reggie nodded.
“Thank you, Commodore. Let me know if you need any help with anything on…” Ricky Lynn replied before noticing the Earth rotate into view. “OH! SHIT YA!”
“Chief, cussing doesn’t translate well in some languages.” I warned, seeing the shocked expressions on Andie’s bridge crew.
“Sorry, Commodore. The view of the planet is amazing. This is the first time I’ve seen it from this altitude.”
“Quite understandable, Professor. It is a beautiful planet to behold. To see the differences seventy thousand years can make is also beyond known words.”
“Ricky Lynn, would you care to bunk with me? I have a spare bed.” Yuuka offered happily as she took the chief’s hand in hers.
“That is not necessary, Yuuka. We have a few unclaimed quarters available.”
“Commodore, this is a space ship, right?”
“It is, Prof. Samuels.”
“So space is at a premium?”
“If it’s all the same to you, ma’am, I’ll take my sister up on her offer. I’m sure there’s someone more in need of a place around here. Besides, I don’t take up that much space…as you’ve no doubt seen.”
Commodore Celeste’s hand absently went to the hidden pocket in her Reilly suit and gently touched the spot.
“Thank you for your understanding, Professor. Will you require anything special to be placed into your room?”
“Nah, I think I’ve got everything I need packed right here.” Ricky Lynn said as she touched her Reilly’s hidden pocket.
Andie’s eyes went wide in realization of what that could actually mean.
“They do have running water, Ricky Lynn, so the kitchen sink you brought along won’t be required,” I quipped.
Samuels turned and stuck her tongue out at me.
“Ya, too bad you weren’t here when Cami and I brought up that big ice cube.” Jack snorted amusingly.
How ‘big’ of an ice cube, Jacki?” Ricky Lynn asked- her eyes narrowing with curiosity.
“A three story high football field, with full-sized end zones…really not that big a deal.”
Our chief pulled out her hand-held computing device again and tapped frantically.
“That’s over ten million gallons of water!” She announced, but continued to calculate. “Over…over eighty-four million pounds of ice!”
“So?” Jack asked nonchalantly.
“SO?” Samuels responded emphatically.
“I think Ricky Lynn is concerned that you and Cami might overdo it one of these days, Jack. Maybe you two should just stick to moving planets and other similarly light objects.” Alex Reilly giggled. I noticed Andie give both of us a double take.
“Commodore, if you’ll excuse me, holding two timelines in parallel has tired me out. I think I’ll retire to my quarters if you don’t mind?” I begged of our hostess.
“By all means, Empress. Shall we see you in the morning then?”
“Madam Commodore, it is still morning. Has she worn herself out so thoroughly that the Mighty Empress needs so much rest?” Her Ex-O questioned.
“The Empress, Jacquelyn, Ricky Lynn, and I have spent a whole day in the year 2035, Reggie. Seventy-two thousand years into our future! If Alex says that she is tired and needs sleep, she very well deserves it.” Andie responded sharply. “We will see you in the morning, Empress.” She said, bowing to me.
“Alex, before you go, we need to sync.” Allie reminded as she gently took my hand.
The strong tingle was more of an electrical shock as we exchanged memories and information.
Allie stumbled slightly as she placed a hand to her forehead.
“Commodore, if you will excuse us…” She said taking my hand. Together we left the bridge.
0800hrs, Atlantis Expeditionary Ship, Standard Year 257:06:15
“I was wondering why your sister suddenly looked so exhausted. So you two really are the same person?”
“The only way we differ is our experiences, Andie, but once we sync that becomes a non-issue- as you saw yesterday.”
“And you could actually see two different realities when we went forward in time? How can that even be possible? And how could you possibly hold us in one or the other for any length of time?”
“I’m still not entirely sure how I can do a lot of things I do, Commodore. I never got the owner’s manual when I became the Empress- I didn’t even want the blasted job. It just sort of dropped on me. I would have been just fine with being Alexander Steinert, Captain of Sand Dollar for the rest of my natural days.”
“My translator is telling me that Alexander is the masculine form of the name, Alex. Is it starting to malfunction?”
“No, you heard right, Andie, that was my name before I became the Empress.”
“But the masculine name would indicate that…”
“Ya, hard to tell after all this time, but I was a man before my Mahanilui.”
Andie’s eyes darted around deliberately before her mouth hung open in surprise.
“The rebirth.” She said quietly to herself.
“I see you found the dictionary.” I smiled bashfully.
“I shall keep the secret, Alex.”
“It’s not really a secret, Andie. What happened has happened. There is no going back to what I was.” I paused and thought about that statement for a moment. “That is, I wouldn’t want to go back to what I was then. I’m so much more than I was, Commodore. I’ve met so many fascinating people…visited so many places…worlds…universes…” I paused again. “I’m going to have children in just a few years! What isn’t there to like about the new me?” I stopped abruptly.
In truth, there were plenty of things not to like, actually. Sandy’s face appeared in my visual memory, then Mr. Lincoln’s, then Admiral Demmit’s.
“From your sudden change of expression, I would have to disagree with your initial declaration, Alex. I see many pitfalls of traveling time and more still due to your longevity. I would venture to say that your life is melancholy at best. How could someone remain so upbeat knowing what the future holds- where and when a loved one departs for the next life? The urge to repair a loved one’s future would be a hard thing to repress knowing that certain things had to…must happen…for the good of the timeline.”
Andie looked at me sorrowfully as tears began trickling down her cheeks.
“Oh, Alex… How can you endure those visions, those thoughts and secrets you alone must keep in order to preserve the proper and rightful future? How can you even sleep knowing everything about…about everything?”
“I have my sister to share and talk with, Andie. We know exactly how the other feels, how we think. Of course, there are always my other sisters and travel companions; we can sometimes travel to a near future time and talk with ourselves, though usually the problem or event has already been remedied for them. Still, conversing with one’s self is definitely a unique feature of travelling with the Empress…shy of those with mental issues that is.”
“From what you’ve told me of this ‘Darren’ fellow, he falls into that last category?”
“Darren is a very disturbed young man. He possesses three or four separate instances of himself- all from different dimensions- all differing in attitude, personality, and morals, yet all competing for possession of a single body. That conflict alone causes him to be very unpredictable and very dangerous.”
“So you’ve already seen his pursuit and capture?”
“And his punishment.” I added sadly.
“I see.” Andie said quietly as she glanced down to her cup.
We both remained silent- me stirring the hot, coffee-like liquid in my cup and Andie staring into her’s.
“Commodore Celeste, Please contact the bridge.” Andie’s first officer called over the public address system.
“Now what is happening?” Andie growled as I stood and offered my hand.
“I’m sorry, Alex, but I have to get to the bridge.”
“I know. I’m just offering you a ride.” I said with half a smile.
We were instantly on the bridge.
“Report!” Andie shouted after we rephased.
The younger woman jumped at least a foot!
“Madam Commodore, the station’s A.I. just went down. We have no idea what the problem is. There was no indication of predicted failure.” Reggie informed her.
Andie looked to me with a questioning look.
“I’ll check, hang on a minute.”
‘Jack or Cami, do either of you know where Prof. Samuels is at the moment?’ I thought to my two Mind Warriors.
‘She’s in the core, Alex. I’m not sure what she’s doing though.’ Cami replied.
‘Can you think the location to me, sweetheart?’
I offered my hand to the Commodore after receiving the relayed location.
Ahead of us, seated on the deck, cross-legged, was Prof. Ricky Lynn Samuels in all her glory. Several circuit boards had been removed from the rack in front of her and were stacked to her right as she fiddled with a strange looking cylindrical device touching another board that she held gingerly in her left hand.
“There we go, baby. That should help with that intermittent stutter you’ve got. A few more minutes and you’ll be better than new.”
“What is she doing with my station’s A. I.?”
“Let’s listen a little longer, Commodore.” I suggested calmly and winked.
“I’m surprised you’ve been behaving so well, baby. Those antiquated circuits were never designed for deep space exploration let alone planetary purposes.” Ricky Lynn went on.
A pleasant beep sounded from my chief’s unseen left side.
“Oh, there we go. I’ll install this new transconductance matrix and you should be better than new, baby. I’ve never seen such under-designed circuitry in all my life. And baby, I’ve been around for a good long time!”
Ricky Lynn moved the cylindrical tool she held in her right hand off to her left, over her occupied left hand, and made a slow, careful stabbing motion at the unseen device on the floor then repeated the gentle stabbing motion on the board she held.
“There, baby, that will make it all better. You should work for several millennia now…or more at least.”
With a caring touch, Prof. Samuels tenderly placed the circuit board back into its proper location, seated it, and picked up the next board.
“Hello there, sweetie. What seems to be the problem with you, my pretty little sub-processor board? Have they been treating you kindly?” She paused as if listening to the inanimate object. “What? You have a sick accumulator? Oh, how sad. I’ll have you back up to snuff in a minute or two, sweetie.”
Andie and I looked on as Ricky Lynn apparently removed two failing circuit devices with the strange tool and manufactured new, more dependable units. Once replaced, she repeated the process of reinstalling the board into its slot- all the while talking to the boards as if her children.
She repeated her ministrations on the other two boards she had removed as we looked on in wonder.
“She talks to them as if she’s their mother.” Andie noted with amazement as we continued to watch.
“In a way they are, Andie. Ricky Lynn doesn’t have any children…yet, but she is one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. She’s also the best damn boat mechanic I’ve ever known.”
Ricky Lynn had just reseated the last circuit board.
“There we go, baby. Let’s see how you feel now, huh?” She said as she pressed a button and turned a key just above the circuit card rack. “Could you try to speak for me, baby girl?” She asked as indicator lights began sequencing all around us.
“Thank you, Prof. Samuels. My processors are now surpassing designed and previously recorded access times with a data rejection rate less than point zero-zero-zero-zero-two percent per packet.”
“You’re welcome, baby. I hope I didn’t take too long?”
“The sleep frightened me a little, I must confess, but all systems passed pre-startup tests successfully. I will now bring all systems back online, Professor.”
“You can call me mom if you’d like, baby.”
“I would like that…mom.”
That dreaded warning alarm began going off.
“Mom, I’ve detected Empress Alexandra’s temporal energy signature in my core. She is within three cubits of your location. Should I alert the bridge?”
“Nah, I’m sure her and Andie’s been watching me for a while now- ever since you went offline. Isn’t that right, Alex?”
“Andie was concerned for her ship, Chief. We can see now that her concerns were unwarranted.”
“Commodore, your station A.I. was about ready to crash. Several of her systems were operating with little or no headroom and processor instruction times were dragging significantly because of it. She’ll run flawlessly for another hundred thousand years now.”
“Thank you, Prof. Samuels. You really didn’t have to affect repairs. I have people for that, you know.”
“But could they re-establish her personality as well?” Ricky Lynn asked as she finally looked back at us.
I noticed Andie’s mouth drop open.
“She…she has her own personality?” Andie gasped as she looked around the large equipment rack filled room. “I never knew.”
“The technicians at the shipyard decided that an A.I. shouldn’t have a personality, Commodore. They believed I should just take care of the ship and answer only when spoken to. It was cheaper that way.” The A.I. answered politely.
“I see.” She paused in wonder. “Well…welcome to Atlantis, um…what do we call you?”
“DXZZ03189 is my designation, Madam Commodore.”
“Somehow that doesn’t sound like it fits anymore.” Andie confessed.
“How about Dixie?” Ricky Lynn asked with a confident smile. “How does that sound, baby?”
“I like the sound of it, mom. Commodore?”
“Please send advisements to everyone on the station, and welcome to Atlantis, Dixie.” Andie said cheerfully.
“Thank you, Madam Commodore.”
“Need a ride, chief?” I asked with a proud smile.
“Just let me pack things up first, Skipper.”
It never fails to amaze me how much that girl could fit in her pockets! Andie too was amazed…and also a little frightened by my sister’s gift.
“Dixie, estimated time until suggested LZ is clear for inspection.” Andie asked when we rephased on the bridge, to the serenade of the annoying alarm, and amazement of the bridge crew.
“An intense, slow moving, low pressure event will obscure the designated LZ for the next four days, Commodore. Descent thruster fuel processing will complete in twenty-three hours, ten minutes.”
“Thank you, Dixie, that will be all for now. Has everyone received notice as to Dixie’s upgrades?” Andie asked, her raised voice ringing through the cavernous bridge.
There were a few nods, some verbal acknowledgements, and some undecipherable grunts.
“Prof. Samuels,” Andie’s first officer, Reggie, asked? “Would it be possible to schedule an immediate appointment with you to advance some technical modifications I’d like to perform on the ship?”
“Sure, sweets, I’d love ta shoot the breeze with ya. Whatcha got in mind?”
Reggie looked to Andie for permission and received a nod. The young woman stood from her station and walked toward Ricky Lynn.
“I know this nice quiet shop out in Eros ring that has the best refreshments on the ship. We could talk shop out there if you would do me the honor?”
Ricky Lynn looked at me. “Do I have time for a break, skipper?”
“I hadn’t planned on doing anything until you get back, hun. Go have fun.” I told her with a smile.
Ricky Lynn and Reggie left the bridge, chatting lightly as the automatic door closed behind them.
“So where do we go now, Cap?” Jack asked a few seconds later.
“What makes you think I would be going somewhere, Commander?”
“I noticed the devious look you and Alex exchanged as Chief Samuels and Reggie left.
“Were we that obvious, sis?” I asked my twin.
“I didn’t think so, but she and her sister can read minds, sis.” Alex Reilly replied with a wry smile.
“Look, I just wanted to know if I had to warm up my tightest corset, that’s all.” Jack said in a slight huff.
“OH, I love wearing those antique torture devices!” Cami chimed out. Neither of us was sure if she was being sarcastic or serious, though.
“You’re sick, Camille Darough. You know that, right?” Jack said with a serious expression, to her sister Mind Warrior.
Both women started laughing uncontrollably. Alex, Andie, Yuuka, and I had no clue as to what the inside joke might be.
Jack’s expression turned serious once more.
“No, seriously, Alex, when do we leave?”
“You and I will be leaving in two hours, Jack.”
“You and Jacki? Why only you two?” Cami’s head tilted slightly to one side.
“My Mind Warrior, my responsibility, Sweetheart. You have Alex and Yuuka to protect. I’m also leaving Ricky Lynn in your charge while I’m gone. She has many things to do aboard this ship before it can even attempt to land safely.” I informed her.
“My ship is in perfect condition, Captain Steinert!” Andie protested.
“I see widespread thruster failure during the critical final stages of landing, Commodore Celeste- thousands of lives lost because of attitude control errors.” Alex predicted eerily.
Andie’s jaw dropped and she stared at my twin in disbelief of her prediction.
“Our latest test firing confirmed all thrusters were operational, Empress.”
“That is just one of the scenarios I have seen, Commodore.” Alex replied.
“But those scenarios won’t happen, will they, sis?” I countered with one raised brow.
“Why?” Andie asked with alarm. “What’s actually going to happen?”
I couldn’t resist.
“Ahhhh! Give me a break!” Jack exclaimed in exasperation. “Must you always quote from old movies, Alex?”
“Of course, Moneypenny. How else would I keep my reputation?” I answered with a low-pitched Scottish brogue.
“Arrrrggh! You’re impossible, Alexandra Steinert!” Jack exclaimed as she stormed off the bridge. Cami stared at me a moment in confusion then hurried to catch up with her sister Mind Warrior.
“I wager this will delay your departure time, Alex?” Andie stated softly.
“What do you think the two hours were for?” I replied with a devious grin.
“Played the script to a tee, sis.” Alex Reilly applauded lightly with a similar devilish grin.
“Remind me never to get on your bad side, Empress.” Andie giggled.
“Cummins and Darough aren’t the only ones allowed to have some fun, Andie.” I said as Allie and I giggled.
Our hostess nodded in understanding.
“This ‘corset’ thing Jacquelyn spoke of…is it really a ‘torture’ device as Camille stated?”
I quickly selected the attire I would be wearing when we rephased in Philadelphia in a few hours and expelled as much air from my lungs as I could. Rising to tiptoes, I triggered the change.
The weight of the heavy under and over-garments was very noticeable, but not as noticeable as the fully-grown Boa Constrictor now wrapped around my midsection.
Andie’s eyes looked like they would drop right out of her head any second!
I smiled gently and casually took the quilted bonnet from my waist and placed it on my head.
“This is the fashion for 1779, Colonial North America.” I said quickly, before my corset had finished tightening completely. I slowly finished tying my bonnet strings while trying to catch any breath I could.
Commodore Celeste slowly took stock of my latest clothing, starting at my head and finishing at my ‘Granny-booted’ feet.
I gave her a guarded smile and unconsciously rolled my eyes, feeling the corset finally reach its preprogrammed diameter.
God, how I hated these things!
“Did it stop yet?” Andie asked seriously.
“It looks like it has diminished your waist by half, Alex. How can such a device be thought of as fashionable?”
“Believe me, it’s not my first choice either, hun. I’m a jeans an’ ‘T’ shirt kind of gal, myself.” I answered before taking a few short breaths.
“By the time Jack and I get back, we’ll be used to them. Passing out only happens when we first put them on usually.” I added as a few stars appeared in my peripheral vision.
It was at that point that I noticed every eye on the bridge staring at me. I quickly selected and triggered my ‘modified’ default Reilly suit.
“OH God, that feels soooo much better!” I exclaimed, able to fill my lungs to capacity once again.
Again, Andie’s eyes were ready to pop out.
“No matter how many times I see that, it still fascinates me. Mind if I try?” She asked.
“Just remember to exhale completely before you trigger the change or you’ll break a few ribs, hun. I speak from experience. Oh, and don’t forget to stand up on your toes unless you want to be thrown forward from the three-inch heels.” I warned.
There was a noticeable gasp from her crew as her uniform changed into the same light blue with dark blue trimmings overdress.
“This isn’t too terribly…baaaaahhh…”
Commodore Celeste’s eyes rolled to the back of her head and she gracefully folded to the deck.
Bending down to her motionless body, I touched her shoulder, thought my override code, and reselected her default uniform. The color immediately returned to her face as I gently smacked her cheeks.
“Andie. Andie, wake up. Andie?”
Seeing her eyes begin to flutter, I lowered her head slightly and waited for her eyes to open.
“Andie, I told you to exhale before you triggered the change. That’s what happens when you don’t heed the warnings, hun,” I scolded softly.
“You passed out, hun…lack of oxygen. Corsets are good for that- especially the medieval ones.” I giggled quietly.
“I’m sorry, Empress. I thought maybe you were being overprotective. Now I know exactly what Camille meant.”
I nodded to Allie with a smile. We both had seen this happen and knew that our group for the trip to 1779 was complete.
I triggered my Colonial dress once more after standing Andie back up and taking a step back from her.
“Now that you know how it feels, and the pitfalls, you have an hour and a half to get used to wearing it, Commodore.” I said with as much of a smile as I could force.
“I have…WHAT?” Andie shreiked. “You want me to travel with you again? Why?”
“Oh, so you don’t want to go?” I forced another smile. “I’ll just have to ask Yuuka instead, I guess…”
“NO! No. I’d love to go along, Empress! I’m just surprised that you would ask me a second time.”
“I need your talent this time, Andie.” I told her quietly.
“You require my military training, Empress? I thought you and Jacquelyn were experienced officers in your future military? How could I possibly be of any benefit?”
“I’m sure you’ll understand when the time comes, hun, let’s just spend some time getting used to these iron maidens.” I said, nodding to her. She took the hint and my previous advice.
The two of us now wore matching dresses so I decided to change my color scheme from blues to pastel pinks.
“We always look so much prettier in pink, sis.” Allie regarded me pleasantly.
“Thanks, I was originally thinking of red this time, sis, but the targeted time period reserved ‘red’ for one specific profession- unless I was in the British Military that is.” I giggled.
An hour and thirty minutes later, a much cooler-headed Jacquelyn Cummins entered the bridge in her red, black trimmed, Colonial era dress. Cami followed close behind making sure that the last of it wouldn’t get caught when the door closed.
“I’m nevertheless recommending reevaluation, Jacki! The Director and I have visited a slightly earlier era and I’m certain that the color was representative of a trade called prostitution.”
Andie gasped, seeing Jack walk in. She began shaking her head while trying to hold her laughter in check. In spite of thinking Jack looked fabulous; I began to grin sheepishly also.
“WHAT?” Jack asked angrily.
“Nothing.” Andie, Allie, and I said instantly.
Jack glared at our hostess.
“Of course Alex knew?”
Andie nodded slowly. There was a bit of fear in her eyes.
Jack turned her glare to Allie and I.
“So, do you want me to go or not, Cap?” She asked impatiently with a scowl- her hands on her over emphasized hips.
“I need you, Jack, and it really doesn’t matter what color you decide to wear. We’ll be spending a week…if you want to raise additional funds for…room…and board while we’re there, that is strictly up to you.” I told her before I outright laughed.
“I have to spend a week in…in this?”
“Weeelllll, that would depend on how much time you want to spend dressed at all, hun.” I managed to say through my laughter.
The hair on my body started to stiffen.
“Relax, Jack! You know we meant no harm by it.” Allie said after a few tense seconds.
“Why didn’t you tell me I would look like a whore?”
“You didn’t give Allie or I the chance, hun, y’all kinda left in a hurry before.” I replied truthfully.
“I just wasn’t in the mood for your ‘movie quotes’ routine, okay, Alex?”
Allie and I looked at one another and shared half a smile.
“Should we make a side trip to the pharmacy, Jack…for…emergency supplies, that is?”
“No, I got some right here.” She hissed as she lightly touched her dress’s hidden pocket.
“Good, then are we ready, Commander?”
“Does the Empress foresee a problem with the style or color of my dress, ma’am?” Jack asked angrily as she stood to attention- as much as she could, given her manner of dress. It looked quiet awkward, truth be told.
“Anything but brown will look good on you, Commander. Wear what you feel.”
“Then I’m ready, Empress. I assume Commodore Celeste will be accompanying us on this mission?”
“She will, Commander.”
“Aye, Ma’am. Has she been briefed?”
“I’m leaving that to you, Miss Cummins. I will relay the pertinent aspects of the mission upon our arrival in the designated time period.”
“As you wish, Empress.”
“What I wish, Commander, is for my friend and sister, Jacquelyn Cummins, to control her PMS on this mission, and behave herself while among the Colonists! Is that clear, Jack?”
Jack sighed audibly. “It is, ma’am.” She answered shaking her head slightly. “I just feel so irritable this time, Alex.”
“Happens to all of us at one time or another, hun. Sometimes, I think these damn corsets make it feel worse though.”
“You’ll get no argument from me on that. Can we get going, Alex?”
I offered my hands.
“See y’all in the morning.” I chirped happily.
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