“I would like to propose a toast.” Cox announced, serving himself a well-deserved drink at the bar in the lounge on Deck Ten. Lessia, Sarah and Jennifer, all with their own drinks in hand, looked to their Captain expectantly. “To Xavier Syrius;” Cox raised his glass; “Vindicated at last.” Everyone present nodded and raised their drinks to his.
“Wherever he might be.” Sarah added as they all took a drink and Cox remembered when her mother had mentioned that Syrius had vanished while demonstrating his theories. But even s their glasses clinked together, Sarah straightened in her chair, her head perking up. She looked across the table at Cox, who nodded to her: He had heard it too.
From behind the bar had come the unmistakable clinking of metal silverware. There was silence as they listened for more, but it was shattered as Lauri entered the lounge.
“Captain, I—” She was stopped dead in her tracks and silenced by an urgent wave of a hand from Cox.
‘Was there anyone else in here when we found you?’ He asked the dancer silently.
Lauri’s silence and her uncomfortable fidgeting caused both Sarah and Cox to turn to stare at her. “There was someone. One other dancer.” Lauri confirmed out loud.
“Who is it?” Lessia whispered to her, her low voice a hushed hiss. “Is there anything you can tell us about her?”
“She’s a…” Lauri answered. Her voice trailed off as she searched in vain for adjectives. “I don’t know what in the worlds she is.” She admitted finally. “To be honest;” She elaborated; “No one I’ve ever met has ever seen anything else like her anywhere.”, but moved slowly toward the stage.
Ascending the steps one at a time, such that her feet, even in her six-inch heels, made no sound on the metal grating of the steps. Reaching the stage, Lauri held up a hand: “She lives most of her time backstage. You’d better let me be the one to go in and get her to come out;” She started across the stage and was just parting the curtains when she turned; “And it would make her more comfortable if you were all sitting down when she first sees you.” Then she ducked behind the curtain and Cox gestured for them to all do as instructed and take a seat.
It was a long several minutes before she parted the curtains and emerged again. The curtains did not close behind her, and it took Cox a moment to discern a figure in the shadows behind Lauri. The woman blended into the dim haze cast by the multiple-colored overhead spotlights more so than Cox would have though should have been possible.
He wondered what she could be wearing that would camouflage her so well. He was perhaps more shocked than any of the rest, therefore, when the woman stepped forward through the curtains and into the light and he saw that she wore absolutely nothing at all.
Standing on the stage, it appeared at first glance as though the stage lights illuminated the woman’s naked skin in constantly changing patterns of color. However, as Lauri led her across the stage and down the steps, the patterns continued to change even as the overhead lights remained constant, revealing to the observers that it was not the lights that were changing color but rather the woman’s skin.
“What in the worlds…?” Jennifer breathed. Her voice trailed off as her question was answered: As the woman descended the stairs behind Lauri, it was noticeable that the move of her long bright red hair did not mirror the motion of her feet, the reason for which made itself known as she turned momentarily away from them and they saw two long tube-like appendages dangling and serpentining down her back.
“She’s a Rhylorionthian.” Lessia murmured in a hushed whisper under her breath.
Cox could only nod, fighting hard not to gape.
Though they had been one of the four founding worlds of the Federation along with Earth, Valogra and Trillaxia, even in the universe they knew natives of what 20th century astronomer had labeled “Delta Orion”, which the natives called Ryloth, were an extraordinarily rare sight. Even more rare still were the sensual females of the species, few of who ever left the homeworld. The Rhylorionthians had, however, been longtime friends and allies with Valogra Prime and so as the son and heir of the Valogran Queen, Cox had seen the males of the species who had come to Earth to meet with his mother, and had learned all about the exotic and reclusive aliens. But even he had never met or even seen one so breathtaking. It had, in that moment, been well worth the wait. Like Lauri, the Rhylorionthian woman had the lithe body of a dancer. Unlike her fellow dancer, the Rhylorionthian woman wore no clothes of any kind at all, not only since this was the manner in which females appeared when on their homeworld but because the alien’s skin was capable of producing mesmerizing and dazzling displays of brilliant colors.
Cox’s limited knowledge of Rhylorionthian physiology told him from the length and thickness of the snakelike tentacles that sprouted from her head beneath her hair that the dancer was only a little more than two hundred and fifty years old, the human equivalent of a young teenager by the standards of her species.
“Her name;” Lauri was saying; “Is Talula.” The dancer said nothing, but smiled at hearing the mention of her name. Her tentacles settled to drape over her shoulders, now only slithering from side to side over her chest and the tone of her skin color brightened from a deep forest green to a vivid almost neon blue. “She’s very pleased that you are her new bosses.” Lauri translated.
As they all stood one by one from their chairs, the naked Rhylorionthian sashayed from one to another, as though inspecting each member of Cox’s team, and greeted each of them in turn.
Standing in front of Cox and turning a shimmering turquoise color; her assessment of his bearing must have told her Cox was in charge, because she bent her knees and bowed at the waist in a facsimile of a courtly curtsy, made quixotic by the fact that she wore no clothes.
As she passed in front of Sarah, Cox saw a wave of deep ocean blue spread from her chest up to her face, in what the Captain guessed was her kind’s equivalent of a blush and she ducked her head away sheepishly, averting her eyes as though she and the blonde shared some unknown private joke between them. However, when she came to Lessia, Talula immediately stood straight, her skin flashing a bright flaming red that matched her hair. The tentacles descending from her head shot out and wrapped themselves around the back of Lessia’s head and neck, twisting and twirling through her hair, and the scientist’s gasp was cut short as Talula pulled the Trillaxian to her in order to kiss her forcefully on her open mouth.
She wrapped her arms around Lessia to kiss her long and passionately, and Talula’s tentacles slipped underneath the front of Lessia’s uniform to slither caressingly over the other woman’s chest as she pressed her nude body against her.
“I should have warned you.” Lauri said to a still-dazed Lessia after the Rhylorionthian had released her. “There apparently exists no such thing as inhibitions in her species’ culture…about anything.”
Lessia could only nod as she licked her lips, reaching up to tug the neckline of her tunic back on her shoulders, leaving the collar undone.
One look at Slaavik was all it took for Talula to turn a deep blue, her tentacles moving with her hands to cover her anatomy, before she turned and disappeared backstage again.
“You’ll have to forgive her.” Lauri explained, watching her fellow exotic dancer leave. “She’s used to performing her act in front of large crowds;” She glanced at Lessia; “Of men and women. So the concept of embarrassment is, how would you say…Alien to her.”
Lessia insisted on staying behind as Lauri followed her fellow dancer backstage and so Cox and Slaavik continued their exploration of the Endeavor.
Sarah had excused herself, saying she needed to go and speak with her mother and the two women intercepted Cox and Slaavik a while later as they stood outside the door to one ship’s innumerable science labs. “Captain!” Sarah began, even before she had fully come to a complete stop beside him, indicating to Cox that whatever she needed to tell him concerned the ship and her official duties.
Cox turned at the sound of her voice as the door in front of them refuse to open for the third time and Slaavik, with a huff, knelt to begin working on the control panel beside it. “What is it, Colonel?”
Sara glanced at her mother, who nodded to her, before continuing. “As you know;” She began; “I am quite a skilled and adept pilot.”
Cox nodded, having witnessed the blonde’s talent for flying firsthand during their dizzying trip through the slipstream.
“What you may or may not know;” Sarah shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other; “Is that I’ve been one for much longer than you’ve been alive.”
“How long?” Slaavik asked, not looking up from her work opening up the control panel.
“Back before the founding of the Federation.”
This caught Cox’s attention. “I thought you said you were a physicist?” It was more a statement than a question, remembering what she had told him on the holodeck earlier that morning.
Sarah nodded, glancing back at her mother gain. “It’s true. I do have a Ph.D. in Theoretical Astrophysics from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.”
Cox’s ears perked up, this being the first indication he had heard from Sarah of her ever having lived in England, their destination.
“But in the first half of the twenty-first century, served as a pilot of the space plane for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America.”
“You were an astronaut.” Cox summarized with a smile, referring to the name for humans engaged in space exploration of Earth solar system in the two centuries prior to First Contact.
Sarah said nothing and Cox looked at her expectantly, knowing that there was a reason she was telling them this.
However, before Sarah could continue, Slaavik grunted happily and the doors to the lab in front of them opened. All conversation ceased as they stepped inside and looked around. Before he could even think to consider it, Cox slapped his chest. “Lieutenant Hansen, this is Captain Cox;” He heard his voice piped through the hallways and corridors outside the doors; “Please report to my location immediately.”
As had become a pattern since the two had first met, Jenny impressed Cox her punctuality, walking in the now open doors of the lab only a few minutes after having been summoned.
“A fully-functional Astrometrics Lab!” Her voice was full of awe and ever eye in the room turned to her as she strode to the front of the room as though walking down the aisle of a church. “They didn’t exist before First Contact;” She explained; “But there have been prototypes on several recent Federation starships.”
“You seemed to speak with a degree of familiarity with them.” Slaavik analyzed, tilting her head to one side curiously as Hansen lowered her hands reverently onto the control panels
“I should be.” Jenny replied, turning to the others. “I designed them.”
“And what, exactly, does this… What did you call it? An Astro—what lab?”
“Astrometrics.” Hansen answered, nodding.
“What exactly does an Astrometrics Lab do?”
Hansen did not answer directly, but her fingers flew over the panel in front of her and the screen at the front of the room flickered to life, an image of a slowly rotating galaxy growing as it was magnified to fill the screen.
“It’s incredibly detailed.” Sarah remarked, studying the pinpricks that were the hundred thousand stars in the Milky Way.
“It would appear;” Slaavik assessed, nodding to the list of names scrolling down the screen beside the rotating image; “That, whatever and however numerous its failings as a civilized society may be, this Empire has managed to explore substantially more of our galaxy than the Federation.”
Cox nodded, recognizing the names of the planets in Earth’s solar system as well as those in the Delta Orion system, Valogra and Trillaxia Prime among the scrolling lists of names.
They were lost, however, among tens of thousands of other names. As they walked out of the lab, Cox turned to Sarah.
“What was it you needed to tell me?”
“During the First Cold War;” Sarah explained; “The United States and the Soviet Union filled Earth’s seas with surveillance ships and submarines, its skies with spy planes and space with surveillance satellites.”
“So?” Cox prompted, not appreciating the meaningful look that Sarah and her mother were giving him, as though that alone in and of itself explained everything that he needed to know.
Sarah sighed. “So how were you planning on getting us from the moon to downtown London?”
Cox stopped in his steps, realizing belatedly only now that with everything that had happened that day, he had never actually given that part much thought, thinking instead at least half a dozen steps ahead. He had planned for what they would do when they reached London, but had never given much consideration to how they might go about getting there. “I was hoping we could give the voyager a spin.” He said, mostly to himself, already looking forward to experiencing Commander Brooks’ pleasure yacht for himself.
“I should have qualified that.” Sarah was grinning. “Let me rephrase it: How do you think you’re going to get half a dozen people into one of the most populous cities in the developed industrialized world without being seen by anyone?”
Will knew the blonde well enough to recognize the knowing glimmer in her eyes. “I take it you have a suggestion of a way we might do that.” It was more of a statement than an inquiry, but nevertheless Sarah nodded.
“The Imperial shuttle.” She said.
Cox cocked his head to the side curiously, not having considered that option.
“The industrialized nations of the time still relied on radar and sonar detection systems from the Second World War.” Sarah explained. “The shuttle’s shape and the composition of its hull should render it all but invisible and undetectable.”
The Captain eyed her scrupulously. “And where in downtown London do you propose we land a craft that size?” He asked pointedly, deliberately mirroring her words back to her.
Sarah smiled as she exchanged a knowing look with her mother behind her.
“Oh, we know a place. Don’t worry.” Hera answered enigmatically.
Once the Endeavor was in orbit on the dark side of the moon, Cox left Slaavik in Command on the bridge and responded to Hera having summoned him to the lounge on deck ten of the forward section.
He walked in the doors to find the rest of his crew already assembled inside.
“We’ve been monitoring all Earth communications;” Sarah told them; “Looking for any references to anything occurring in London that may have led to the disruption of the timeline.”
All present nodded, recognizing this as being prudent measure to take.
“Less than an hour ago, we intercepted a television news broadcast from Britain to America that featured the image of a scientist recently employed by Military Intelligence.” She paused and looked first at Lessia then at Jennifer pointedly. “There was no mistake . The man on the television was General Syrius.”
Lessia’s eyes went wide. “Now we know where he want after he vanished.”
Sarah nodded, turning to her mother. “As you might guess, this complicates our mission significantly.”
“How so?” Jennifer asked.
“Syrius was one of the founding members of the Federation’s Star Fleet.” Hera explained. “It was, in fact, he who coined the term.” Cox cocked an eyebrow, often having wondered about its origin. “If we hope to track it down successfully without him detecting our presence, then we cannot enter this world as our present selves.”
“You mean we need cover identities.” Casey sounded excited by the prospect and her older sibling smiled.
Hera nodded. “Captain;” she addressed Cox; “You will be going in as a wealthy military industrialist corporate contractor by the name of William Harper.”
“Like Anthony Stark;” Cox said, half to himself and saw both Sarah and her mother startle with recognition that he knew the name; “A multi-billionaire genius inventor in early Twenty-First Century Los Angeles.” The Captain explained to the younger members of his crew.
“Mister Harper will be in need of a wife.” Hera said and Cox could not have missed the glow of eager anticipation that alit in her daughter’s eyes. “Lieutenant Hansen seems the obvious choice;” Hera concluded thankfully unable to see Sarah unable to hid her crestfallen expression; “As we will be in need of the services of Colonel Connor here;” She gestured to her daughter, who smiled at the reference to her earlier-revealed identity; “If we are to infiltrate Britain’s military.” She turned to the remaining crewmembers. “Wealthy men such as Mister Harper frequently employed chauffeurs, that is to say drivers, who also served as their personal bodyguards and I believe Commander Amdanros is ideally suited for this capacity.” Alexander nodded and Hera turned to Lessia. “Wealthy families such as the Harpers also employed in-house full-time maids, in charge of cleaning and household chores.”
Cox almost laughed at the shell-shocked expression on the Trillaxian’s face.
As an influential daughter of her home world’s ruling family, Odanox had more than probably never contemplated becoming anyone’s servant.
“And what about me?” Lauriaina raised her hand sheepishly.
“Yours might turn out to be the most pivotal assignment of them all.” Hera answered and turned to her daughter to explain. “The news reports we have intercepted made mention of the fact that many high-ranking officers within the military had a habit of frequenting the gentlemen’s clubs around downtown London.”
Lauri shrank back at realizing that her assignment meant a return to her old life.
“We don’t know whether this includes General Syrius or not.” Sarah continued, looking at the dancer emphatically. “But if it does, you may very well be the one of us most able to get the closest to him long before any of the rest of us can.” She smiled as Lauri straightened, recognizing the importance of her mission. “Though female psychoanalysts were unheard of at this point in time, your particular gifts will still come in quite useful if you ever encounter Syrius.” Lauri knew Sarah was referring to her telepathic ability to hear other people’s thoughts. “If you can get close to him, use your abilities to try and discern what his intentions might be and more importantly what it is that he might be planning to do that might interfere with the normal progression of history and result in the future you come from.” Lauri smiled and nodded, recognizing that her assignment meant far more than just merely being a dancer for men’s pleasure as she had been in the Empire from which they had come. “You’ll be glad to hear that the specific clubs mentioned in the broadcasts are all upper-class establishments.”
Lauri cocked her head to one side, unsure what that meant. “Places where you get to keep your clothes on;” Lessia explained; “for the most part.”
“We will need to assume our new identities from the moment we step off the shuttle.” Hera told. “So I’ve taken the liberty of replicating you disguises in advance.”
Cox’s costume consisted of a pinstriped suit coat, whose dark blue color resembled that of his Starfleet uniform and its matching pants. He was just reentering the lounge when the curtains to backstage parted and Jenny stepped through onto the stage.
As he understood the fashion to have been in the mid-20th century, Hansen’s dress was conservative, with long sleeves and a skirt that hugged close to her legs, extending all the way down to her ankles. Even its low-scoop neckline was concealed beneath an embroidered silk mesh that covered her shoulders.
Cox noted, however, ways in which Hera had managed to make the ensemble Jennifer’s own,
The sleeves, though long, were made of embroidered mesh that hugged her arms. Indeed the entire top of the dress fit her like a snug sweater.
Cox also noted how the way that the cobalt blue of the sleeves contrasted with the silver of the rest of her dress mirrored the color pattern of her uniform suit.
The dress itself was made of a glossy metallic material and the pattern of the embroidery in the silk mesh that covered the bodice made it appear to shimmer and even glitter as she moved.
Jenny wore her hair up, swept tightly back with a headband and gathered up at the crown of her head with a clip to fan out in a wide tail that fell back down against the back of her neck.
Sarah was the next to emerge, dressed in a tailored and fitted skirt suit of deep navy blue that Cox recognized from his North American history courses as the uniform of the United States Air Force.
The double-breasted coat was adorned with medallions and the padded shoulders displayed golden chevron shapes, indicating the rank of Colonel.
“Mister Harper;” She addressed Cox; “Mrs. Harper;” She acknowledged Jenny as she descended from the stage and held out her hand. “Colonel Samantha Connor, United States Air Force.” She greeted each of them in turn as one would strangers.
“How do you know us?” Cox asked, playing along.
“Through our mutual friend.” Connor answered, nodding to the doorway behind them as it opened and they both turned simultaneously to see the colonel’s mother stride in, dressed from head to toe in a tailor-fitted pantsuit the same color gold a her hair. “I believe you already know Doctor Hera Day, Director of the National Security Department Intelligence Agency.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Colonel.” Hera greeted her daughter as Connor had Cox and Jennifer, like they were strangers. “And you as well, Mister Harper.” She shook Cox’s hand. “And this must be your daughter!” She exclaimed and cox for the first time noticed the Casey had accompanied her sister from the stage.
He and Jenny smiled at one another, both knowing they were much too young to have a daughter Casey’s age.
“This is out Cassandra.” Jenny confirmed, still smiling as she laid her hands on her sister’s shoulders.
“Shall we?” Hera ushered them toward the doors with a flourish.
“Our carriage awaits.” Cox held out his elbow and Jenny smiled as she slid her arm through his.
It took Connor no time at all to adapt to the unfamiliar controls of the Imperial shuttle.
She was right, however, about the sleek black craft going undetected as it dropped from orbit toward Southern England.
Cox was seated next to Jennifer, who sat beside her sister.
However, he could not see the others seated across from him, as with the windows closed the interior of the shuttle was black.
He felt the shuttle settle onto a landing pad and stood.
Jenny had not removed her arm from his through the shuttle ride and so stood with him.
Cox heard rather than saw when the hatch of the shuttle opened as the space in the room outside was just as dark as the interior of the shuttle.
Walking blindly straight ahead, with Jenny leading Casey by the hand, the Captain heard the others exiting the shuttle single-file behind him: ‘Probably;’ He thought; ‘They were sticking as close to the shimmer of Jenny’s dress, the only thing visible in the darkness, as they could.’
The space on either side of them narrowed, which Cox interpreted as meaning that they were passing through a doorway into another room.
He sensed the railing in front of them before he bumped into it and stopped.
From the difference in the flow of air between this room and the one that they had just left, Cox sensed that this new room was a vast space.
He heard Hera’s heels descend the ramp from the shuttle and as she crossed the threshold of the doorway behind them, Cox squinted and blinked, holding up his free hand in front of his eyes as the lights in the room came on one by one.
The light fixtures directly fixtures directly over their heads flickered to life first, revealing that Cox had been right about there being a vertical drop off on the other side of the railing in front of them: He saw that they stood on an elevated metal platform that overlooked the vast space before them.
As the lights in front of them flickered on one by one, each one further out than the one before, Cox heard Jenny beside him gasp and found himself blinking again in order to refocus his eyes on what they were seeing. Spread out below them, stretching off into the shadows beyond what the light illuminated, were row after row of shelves, each one of them six to seven meters tall, stacked three to four stories tall. The room that they were standing in was the single largest enclosed space Cox had ever seen anywhere in his life, stretching more than two kilometers in front of them before fading into the shadows beyond what they could see.
“Captain Cox, Lieutenant Hansen;” Hera said, coming up to stand beside him, and gestured with a broad sweep of her arm to the room in front of them; “Welcome to the London Warehouse.”
“What is this place?” Jennifer asked, her voice a monotone murmur as she stared with eyes the size of saucers at where the space faded into the infinite distance.
“We’re standing in a museum.” Even just on the shelves directly in front of them, Cox could identify artifacts from Ancient Egypt, the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire and Medieval France and England.
“Not exactly, but something like that;” Sarah said, coming up behind him and he finally turned around away from the sight before him; “More or less.”
“If you’ll all follow me into my office;” Hera announced, ushering them through a door to a room off of the causeway on which they now stood; “We have something we’d like to show you.”
They stepped from the metal grating of the platform onto the intricately embroidered rug of a red brick room. The centerpiece was an ornately carved wooden desk backdropped by windows that looked out on the shelves of the Warehouse below.
Hera sat behind the desk as he daughter ushered the rest of them to gather in a horizontal line between two other smaller desks piled high with towering stacks of bulging folders full of papers. Hera’s desk, Cox noticed, had instead an old-fashioned-looking computer, complete with a keyboard that looked as though it belonged to a nineteenth century manual typewriter and the bulky monitor of an old analog television.
He had to remind himself that what he was looking at was actually incredibly advanced for its time, as the computers of the mid-twentieth century were the size of office buildings and the first desktop personal computer would not be invented for nearly two and a half decades yet. His examination of the Hera’s computer was disrupted as her daughter reached out toward Hera’s desk.
A small object that resembled a handheld pet grooming razor lifted off the desk and flew into Sarah’s outstretched hand,
Cox blinked, knowing that the Valogran woman possessed such abilities but unaccustomed to seeing her being quite so open and unabashed concerning their use.
Cassandra, however, was staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the display of Sarah’s superhuman powers. “What is that and what does it do?”
“I call it a dermal regenerator.” Sarah said, shrugging and Hera’s smile indicated that was not its proper name. “As to what it does, like mother said;” She stepped up to Cox; “It will be simpler to show you.” She lifted the device to Cox’s face and looked him in the eye as he reflexively jerked his head back. “Try your best to hold as still as you can.” She instructed.
Cox did as instructed as Sarah ran the device back and forth across his forehead and then up and down the bridge of his nose.
“See for yourself.” She concluded with a satisfied deep breath after she finished.
Cox’s hand shot up to touch his face. He was rendered speechless as his fingers felt no trace of his Valogran brow ridges.
“What did you do to him?” Jennifer blurted out before she could stop to censor herself.
Sarah looked over at her. “Don’t panic!” She told the human firmly. “The process is reversible just as simply.”
Lessia held out her hand and Sarah handed her the device.
Doing her level best to mimic Sarah’s movements, Lessia very carefully ran the device over the Valogran wrinkles on the bridge of Lauri’s nose.
Lessia smiled bemusedly as the dancer froze rigid and stiff, squeezing her eyes closed as the unfamiliar device hovered close to her face.
She opened them again as she felt Lessia place the device in her hand, her fingers lingering a moment longer than necessary on Lauri’s as they closed around it. Lauri’s eyes went wide and she as she swallowed a lump in her throat nervously as the first thing she saw upon reopening her eyes was Lessia standing in front of her and beginning to unbutton her tunic.
No part of Lauri moved except for her eyes, not even breathing as Lessia slipped the unbuttoned tunic off, revealing the thinly spaghetti-strapped sports bra-like tank top that she wore underneath.
Lauri’s eyes widened steadily as they traced each new inch of the Trillaxian’s pattern of deep brown spots as it was revealed as Lessia removed her tunic.
Tossing her Starfleet uniform onto a nearby chair, Lessia stood still as Lauri approached her slowly, lifting the device in her hand. Beginning at Lessia hairline where her tightly swept back ponytail revealed it, Lauri moved the device with painstaking gradualness down along the row of spots, watching as each one vanished.
She reached up with her other hand to run her fingers over the Trillaxian woman’s now-spotless skin, trailing her free hand behind the one holding the device.
Lessia closed her eyes as Lauri passed the device around her temple and a pleased smile spread her lips as Lauri continued down the side of her neck from her jawline to her shoulder. Lessia reached up to the straps on her shoulders, clearly considering whether to take off her top as well.
But then Lauri shifted to her other shoulder and reversed direction, moving more efficiently as her confidence in her ability to wield the device grew. Even as she moved the device up the side of Lessia’s face, her free hand remained on the Trillaxian’s shoulder and with her eyes open now Lessia could see Lauri’s eyes dart occasionally downward into the cleavage revealed by her top.
Lauri finished with the last of Lessia ‘s spots and lowered her hand, but lingered a moment with her other hand on Lessia’s shoulder and the Trillaxian’s face mere centimeters from her own, their eyes locked with one another.
A moment that could have easily ended very differently was interrupted as the door to the office opened and a woman entered.
She stopped in her tracks as she saw the eclectic group gathered inside, but then her gaze came to rest on Hera seated behind her desk and a smile grew on her face. She walked up to Cox, evidently sensing him to be the leader of the group. “My name is Selina Deveraux;” She greeted him in an upper-class English accent; “Acting Director of Warehouse Four.”
Then she turned to Hera’s daughter standing beside him.
“Welcome home, Agent Wells.” The two women studied one another before the silence that stretched between them was broken by the newcomer reaching up to run her fingers through Sarah’s shortened blonde hair: “I think I liked you better as a brunette, Helena.” It seemed to take Sarah a moment to recover from this, before her eyes narrowed.
“You have no idea what a pleasure it is to meet you again, Sophie.” She said in a tone that implied that the answer was very little.
Deveraux seemed surprised to hear her voice. “You’ve been in America too long, Miss Wells.” She commented. “Wherever did your accent go?” Then she noticed that colors on Connor’s Air Force uniform: “And whatever are you wearing?”
Hera interrupted a tension between them that could have come to blows at any minute by clearing her throat. “Where is Doctor Watson?”
Deveraux looked as though she didn’t understand why the question had been asked. “He’s still in America with Francis.” She said slowly. “And last I heard;” She turned to her boss; “So were you.” She glanced at Cox and Jennifer a though she knew somehow that they were part of the reason for her visit. “What are you doing here?”
Sarah opened her mouth to answer, but Hera shook her head, thinking quickly: “I just felt like visiting Spencer House.”
This seemed to satisfy Selina, who nodded, her gaze not leaving Cox’s face.
Cox shifted uncomfortably as he noticed that Deveraux’s gaze was not on his eyes but on his forehead, wondering whether the human woman noticed anything off about his appearance.
The thought of his Valogran brow ridges made him glance over at Alexander, remembering that they had not gotten a chance to use the device on his fellow Valogran before Selina arrived. Thankfully, Connor had located a wide-brimmed fedora that matched the black of his three-piece suit.
Alexander, he saw, also wore a pair of oversized, almost comically large mirrored sunglasses.
The Captain heaved a sigh of relief, prompting Selina to arch an eyebrow.
Deveraux took Hera’s place behind the desk the moment that she vacated her chair.
Leaving her in the office, Hera ushered them out the door and once on the other side, gathered them in a circle in the dark room.
Cox did not even recognize the fact that the circular platform underneath their feet was rising until a set of stone doors above them began grinding apart, bathing the group in daylight.
They approached the growing crack between the stone slabs as they opened and then passed through the opening.
Cox found himself standing in an octagonal stone chapel of a larger cathedral. He racked his memory, wondering where in downtown London such a cathedral might have been located, until he glanced out one of the high windows through which the sunlight filtered.
The window overlooked the courtyard around which the cathedral was built. A single tree in the center of the courtyard dominated the view from the window. In spite of it being dead and bare in the middle of winter, Cox recognized it as an apple tree. All at once, the pieces clicked into place and Cox gasped, straightening with the realization of where they were standing. The five-hundred-year-old apple tree was famous worldwide for the pivotal role that it had played in the biographical narrative of the cathedral’s most renowned tenant. The cathedral that they were standing in, in downtown London, was known as Westminster Abbey, burial place of the founder of physics: Sir Isaac Newton.
He heard similar gasps from the others as Hera led them outside as each member of the team in turn recognized one by one where they had been. Cox, however was preoccupied with a singular thought: The vast Warehouse in which they had been standing was located directly beneath Westminster Abbey, one of the most famous buildings in all of London and this Warehouse was owned and operated by Hera Day, his own godmother. He should not have been surprised, given what he had learned, to see a black sedan waiting for them at the curb outside of Westminster, large enough to have more than enough seats to fit all of them comfortably inside.
Connor had significantly more difficulty, Cox noticed, adapting to the controls of a twentieth-century automobile than she had to those of the imperial shuttle.
However, he also noted that once they were moving down the streets of downtown London, she needed no directions from her mother to their destination.
“So where is this Spencer House?” Cox asked as he saw them leaving downtown, remembering what Hera told Selena their destination was.
“Look out your window.” Hera replied.
Cox was sitting in the middle seat and so knew right away that the direction was not meant for him, but for his wife seated beside him.
Jenny did as instructed and cox saw her jaw drop as she craned her neck upward.
The building that towered outside her window appeared to be composed entirely of gleaming white marble. The Corinthian columns of the mansion’s facade gave it the appearance of an Ancient Greek temple.
“This is yours?” Cassandra asked Hera as Connor pulled the car up to the front steps of the mansion.
“It belongs to my younger sister.” Hera smiled, clearly looking forward eagerly to reuniting with her sibling.
Cox’s ears perked up as this was the first time that Hera had made any mention to him of her having any family other than her daughter.
At the same moment that the car doors opened for Cox and his team to pile out, the towering metal doors of the mansion began to swing slowly open.
Hera led the way as they ascended the steps. Hera did an impressive job, Cox thought, maintaining her composure as they saw a figure begin to emerge from the shadows as the doors parted.
Until, that is, she reached the topmost step, at which time she hurried forward to embrace the other woman.
Cox could not help but glance between his wife and daughter, thinking of his first impressions of Jennifer and her sister as he noted a likewise contrast between the golden-blonde Hera and her maroon-haired sister.
From the expression on their hostess’s face, it was clear that the younger sister had not been anticipating such an enthusiastic greeting from her sibling.
“You’re acting as though you haven’t seen me in centuries.” The redhead exclaimed, taking her sister by the shoulders and holding Hera at arms’ length as they parted.
Hera could only nod, not trusting her voice not to bring her to tears.
The younger sister tilted her head to the side to look over Hera’s shoulder: “And you brought guests!”
Hera swallowed and took a deep breath before clearing her throat. She turned to Cox, who had crested the top step behind her. “His name is William Harper.” She smiled. “Will, I’m very pleased for you to meet my younger sister, Minerva.”
The maroon-haired younger sibling smiled as she shook Cox’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She looked around him as his team as she spoke. “Any friend of Hera’s is more than welcome.”
Hera saw that her sister’s gaze had come to rest on the blonde at Cox’s shoulder. “She looks just like Diana, doesn’t she?” Minerva nodded slowly. “Her name is Jennifer, Will’s wife.”
Minerva’s eyes glanced back and forth between husband and wife, before darting to the raven-haired girl beside Jenny.
“Their daughter Cassandra.” Hera informed her, answering her unasked question.
Then they saw Minerva’s face light up as she saw Connor hurrying up the steps, having parked and locked the car in which they had arrived.
“Helena!” She embraced her niece. “I haven’t seen you in years!”
Cox’s eyebrows raised, the fact that Hera’s sister knew Sarah in the mid-twentieth century indicating that the blonde was far older and had been on Earth much longer than she had ever let on to him.
The rest of Cox’s team went without introductions and Hera began directing them to where they would be staying.
“You two;” She turned to Lessia and Lauri; “Your rooms are upstairs.” She gestured to the grand spiral staircase.
The Palm Room had always been Sarah’s favourite room in the House. The House itself sat in the front of its accompanying estate, at the far end of its own private gated cul-de-sac on the outside edge of a curve in the River Thames and the second-story room’s curved bay windows displayed a nearly-hundred-and-eighty-degree panorama of the most iconic landmark buildings in downtown central London. The coconut palm trees that had given the room its name were long gone, replaced by a freestanding sculpture. The work depicted a young woman balancing on the tips of the toes of one foot, her other leg arched improbably backward over her arched back, her foot resting on the bun of hair at the back of her head.
Sarah understood the positioning of the piece, as the circle formed by the woman’s leg and back perfectly framed what she recognized to be the spires of Westminster Abbey.
What she found improbable about the sculpture was that it should not be standing, as it seemed to flatly defy the laws of gravity.
Her aunt Minerva’s characteristic modesty showed in that the sculpture was not a nude, the woman depicted dressed in a lace bra and short skirt.
The sculpture was so lifelike that she wondered for a moment whether the clothes were real and not merely carved out of the same material as the figure.
She found herself reaching out to touch the shape of the woman’s nipple realistically distending the lace of the bra, but froze as still as the statue herself when she unexpectedly heard a melodious feminine voice in her mind: ‘I did not see you come in, Doctor Wells.’ Sarah twisted from side to side, scanning the room for the person who had sent the message.
Then she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Slowly, she turned back around, blinked and reopened her eyes.
Her eyes had not been playing tricks on her: The statue had moved. ‘No;’ She thought, her eyes going wide; ‘Was moving.’
The breast inches from her finger rose and fell minutely, almost imperceptibly. Slowly, she raised her eyes to study the statue’s face, for the first time noticing the unusual smoothness of the skin on the bridge of the woman’s nose.
Sarah gasped, but did her best not to jerk away as while she watched, the woman’s eyes opened. She aw those same eyes dart down to her hand, frozen in place, the fingertips centimeters from the woman’s breast. Sarah immediately lowered her hand.
At the same time, the woman’s foot appeared to detach itself from her head. As she settled from the tips of her toes to the flat of her foot, Sarah was far enough away to recognize her.
“Lauriaina.” Her voice was a murmur.
Lauri smiled at her as she slowly lowered her leg, causing Sarah to swallow hard an unbidden lump in her throat. “Good afternoon, Sarah.”
“What are you doing up here?” Sarah managed with a cough to clear her throat.
Lauri gestured to her legs, now together beneath her. “Stretching of course.” She answered, as though it should have been obvious, which it was. ‘I could ask you the same question.’ Sarah heard Lauri’s voice in her head say and she nodded.
“This room…” She trailed off, gesturing around. Her train of thought folded under the scantily clad Valogran’s penetrating gaze. “I was looking you.” She lied.
Lauri raised an eyebrow dubiously, but said nothing.
“Yeah.” Sarah continued, deciding to stick with the cover story and committing to it. “I wanted to let you know where you’ll be working.”
“Dancing at gentlemen’s clubs.” Laurie recalled.
Sarah nodded. “Two in particular.” She looked out the bay windows at downtown London. “It’s up to you to decide how to divide up your time between them.”
“And those are?” Lauri inquired. Her earnestness and scanty attire was making it difficult for Sarah to maintain a train of thought and she was forced to pull out the paper on which she had written the names and addresses of the two establishments.
“Madame Jojo’s on Brewer Street in Soho;” Lauri nodded as Sarah handed her the packet with the club’s details and information; “And the Café De Paris on Coventry Street.”
Finally, Sarah was forced to turn away from the scantily-clad dancer, stepping over to stand in the crescent formed by the curving bay windows, watching as the lights of the city came on one by one as the sun sank toward the horizon.
“When do I start?” Lauri asked.
Sarah shrugged. “You can start after the New Years holiday, if you wish.” She looked across the Thames at the strings of red and green light bulbs hanging from every streetlamp in preparation for Christmas.
“Do you know when Professor Syrius is most likely to be there?” Lauri asked and Sarah cocked her head, not having considered it from that particular perspective. “Now that you mention it ;” She began to turn around; “He is more likely to visit one of his regular clubs over the holidays—” She broke off as she saw not only that Lauri had resumed her stretching, reassuming again the pose she had been in when Sarah had first entered, but that the two of them were no longer alone in the room.
Lessia, whose room was down the hall on the same floor, stood in the doorway with the same dropped-jaw, saucer-eyed expression as Sarah had had upon seeing Lauri. Behind her stood the Captain and Jennifer Hansen, both staring as well.
‘Are you married?” Sarah heard the Captain’s voice in her head and opened her mouth to answer before realizing that the question had not been directed at her.
Lauri shook her head as she turned around and, without missing a beat, seamlessly transitioned from standing on the tiptoes of one foot to a perfect split flat on the floor. “Of course I’ve danced for all sorts of men;” She answered aloud, no doubt leaving those among them unable to hear the Captain’s message wondering what or who she might be replying to; “But I have to admit that I have never been all that particularly attracted to any of them.”
Lessia had corrected herself from her gaping open mouth, but now the expression that grew across the Trillaxian’s features was one that could be best described as being one of elation. Her wide eyes lit up and Sarah could tell from what she knew of Trillaxians that, had they not been concealed by the dermal regenerator, the spots along Lessia’s neck would have darkened as her eyes scanned up and down the lithe dancer’s figure.
“Is there something I can help you with, Mister Harper?” Sarah cleared her throat with a loud, polite cough, jerking Cox and Jenny’s attention away from Lauri.
“We were looking for your mother.” Jenny answered, recognizing that Will was still not collected enough to speak coherently.
Sarah let her eyes fall closed momentarily. “She’s in the mural room.” She said, starting walking toward the door almost before she had fully opened her eyes.
Cox turned away from the Palm Room visibly reluctantly as Sarah guided them back down the stairs to the first floor.
Sure enough, they found Hera standing at the windows of a large room with a fireplace and a circle of chairs around a round table.
True to its name, the walls of the room were covered from floor to ceiling in vividly lifelike paintings of events from Ancient Greek mythology. Like with the theme of the remainder of the House, many of the scenes centered on the classical Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, but Cox noted that the scenes did not match the myths, as he was familiar with them.
There was the famous scene of the beauty contest between Athena and her sister Aphrodite that sparked the Trojan War. But in the painting, the figure of Paris, Prince of Troy, judging the contest had been replaced by one that bore a striking resemblance to the woman beside him, the one he knew as Sarah Wells. There was the famous scene of Athena transforming the high priestess of her temple into the monstrous Gorgon Medusa. But in the Athena’s place stood a figure resembling Will’s godmother Hera and in the place of the priestess stood a woman Cox recognized from the other painting as being that of Aphrodite and instead of transforming into a hideous Gorgon with poisonous snakes for hair, Aphrodite was shown turning into something that looked, from Cox’s familiarity with Earth mythology, like a vampire.
Sarah knocked on the open door, drawing her mother’s attention away from the window at which she stood and Cox’s attention away from the idiosyncratic murals.
“Mister and Misses Harper!” She greeted them boisterously. “What can I do for you?”
“We have a question about our accommodations.” Cox said.
“Are you unhappy with your rooms?” Hera’s eyes narrowed.
“The rooms are gorgeous!” Jennifer corrected hurriedly. “Our concern is with the beds.”
“Namely the fact that there just so happen to be two of them.” Cox added. “I thought we were supposed to be happily-married newlyweds.”
Sarah could not help but grin.
Their cover was merely as a husband and wife couple. The Captain had, apparently, extrapolated the rest of his sentence on his own. Even Jenny herself was studying her “husband” curiously, wondering from where he had derived the other adjectives and adverbs that he had just used to describe their relationship. Before Hera could open her mouth to answer, they were joined by another as the House’s owner roiled into the room.
“I presume you have some sort of perfectly good explanation for this, do you?” Minerva burst out at her sister without pretext, waving a notepad of paper in the air in front of her.
“What’s that?” Sarah asked her aunt.
Minerva turned on her, equally seething. “My head of the London Warehouse, Selina Deveraux just informed me that she received her daily check-in from Eureka;” As Sarah’s face drained, Minerva turned back to her sister; “From you;” She enunciated slowly; “In Nevada.” She paused and waited for a long several minutes, but Hera did not turn around, continuing to gaze stoically out the windows overlooking the estate’s courtyard. “So either that island of misfit toys you’ve accumulated at Area 51 have discovered some madcap that allows you to be in two places at the same time, or else…”
“It’s a long story.” Hera interrupted’ her. “One we’re not entirely certain that you would believe even if we were to tell you.” Her tone strongly implied such a time would never come. “As far as your bedrooms, Mister and Misses Harper;” She turned to the Captain and his Chief Engineer. “It’s customary for husbands and wives, especially newly married ones;” She grinned at Cox; “To sleep in separate beds and even in separate rooms, especially in strongly Christian countries in particular.”
“Christianity?” Cox sifted his memories for what little had been taught of the subject of First-Century Abrahamic monotheistic religious cults in the Western Earth history course he had taken at the Federation Academy.
“I don’t recall their texts saying anything about married men and women sharing a bed.” Jennifer voiced Cox’s own thought.
Hera nodded understandingly, her glance darting to her sister, who was staring back and forth between the Captain and her sister. “Strictly speaking, it didn’t.” Hera explained. “However, much of Christian tradition was made up by the leaders of Christianity throughout its history.”
“But we’re not Christians!” Cox stated emphatically. “Why should any of this apply to us?”
“England, at least at this time, still is.” Hera sighed. “For the sake of appearances, you should sleep in your assigned rooms just for the next couple of weeks.” She saw their shoulders fall. “After which you should feel free to move both of your beds into the Master Bedroom.” She gave her sister a hard glare not to object to this.
Cox threw up his hands and turned around to walk out the door, heading reticently back to his assigned room.
Jenny, however, lingered, looking back and forth between the two sisters. “I heard what you said to one another when I arrived.” She began slowly and both women turned to her. “Who was, or is, Diana and why did you say that I looked just like her?”
“Diana is our youngest sister.” Her smiled fondly and Minerva nodded.
“She always loved to dress in blue.” Minerva answered Jenny’s second question. “Especially dresses of blue silk and lace.”
Jenny nodded, her fingers plucking thoughtfully at her own blur lace dress.