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by Pat McDermot

Secure in her "Christy McKenna" identity, Ireland’s Princess Talty reports to California
for a classified military assignment. Lt. Colonel Richard Gale's hostile reception
confuses her. The Englishman clearly doesn't want her there.
His commanding officer does, however, and Richard has to apologize.

* * * * *

Christy was out in the gardens again. Her gloved hands picked spent blooms from a hedge of pink camellias. The setting sun played up the bronze in her free-flowing mane.

A lion isn’t a safe companion for all men.

Richard swallowed and sauntered over. “Samantha and I are leaving after dinner. I thought you and I might discuss the Mendocino assignment before we go.”

Eyes wary, she looked up from her task. “There isn’t one, remember?”

He opted for a light approach. “I’ve been giving the matter some thought. I was hoping you’d reconsider your refusal.”

My refusal?” Looking quite vicious, she stared him down.

He had no choice but to throw in his cards. “I deliberately bodged things with you, Christy, and I’d do it again in a minute. But Creek overruled me, and there’s bugger-all I can do about it. He ordered me to tell you about the work, if you’ll listen.”

“I won’t work where I’m not wanted.”

“It’s not that I don’t want you. I don’t want you hurt. Before you set foot in the Bioengineering Division, I intend to find out if you really know your onions, Creek or no Creek.”

She removed her garden gloves and nodded to a nearby bench. “I can see I’ll need to learn a few English idioms as well.”

They sat with their backs to the sun. Richard sighed and began. “As an officer with International Security Forces, you’re bound by the rules of classified and restricted information. What I tell you now, you’ll repeat to no one, is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Creek Martin has been director of ISF’s Bioengineering Division for years. He and his people have developed some extraordinary ideas. You saw his Creek Unit.”

“Yes. It’s amazing.”

“Indeed. Creek is a brilliant man, if a tad eccentric. Sometimes I wonder if the old boffin is batting on a full wicket.”

“I’m sure he knows his onions, Colonel.”

The twinkle in her eyes made Richard smile. He’d grown fond of her in the short time he’d known her, though he’d have to curb that fondness if they were to work together.

“We humans can perceive three dimensions,” he said. “Creek believes there are others.”

“Superimposed spatial dimensions. I’ve read about it.”

“I’m impressed, darling. Creek wanted to adjust the human brain to recognize more than three dimensions. He needed healthy individuals to help calibrate his readings. I volunteered. Soon he and his team were popping me inside a metal cocoon. I must admit I was nervous when they retreated behind a glass wall to conduct their tests.” Richard paused. The nightmare came alive for him again.

“Something went wrong, didn’t it?”

“Let’s just say things didn’t go as expected. When they pulled the switch, I disappeared. They scrambled to reverse what they’d done. When they did, I reappeared in the middle of the room. It seems that instead of simply perceiving different dimensions, I actually visited one.”

Those incredible brown eyes darted everywhere as she processed what he’d said. Alarm showed on her face, and something else. Skepticism? No. Curiosity. “You don’t have to make up this bizarre story so I’ll turn tail and run, Colonel. I already said I’d go to another division.”

“I’m not making it up, darling. Sometimes I wish I were.”

“Where were you?”

“I don’t really know. Creek thinks it was a parallel world, a place that physically occupies the same space as our world.”

“A parallel world. I’ll bet he couldn’t wait to try again.”

“You’re catching on. Research and Development launched the Peregrine Project. I became a permanent member of ISF, and Peregrine is now a classified military operation.”

“Have you returned to this parallel world?”

“Not the same one. We’ve never been to the same place twice. The portal’s controls are too willy-nilly just now.”

“So others have gone?”

“Besides me, only Nick. Good man, Nick. You’ll meet him later. Let’s walk a little, shall we? It’s a lovely time of day.”

They ambled past rustling cherry trees. She seemed upbeat and inquisitive, yet her tightened jaw and pale face betrayed a degree of fear. At least she had some sense. She also had a keen mind, one that apparently had something in common with his and Nick’s.

“Creek believes some unique component in our brains, mine and Nick’s, allows us to make the transition. For the last six months he’s been hijacking every newcomer to R&D and testing them for the same components.”

“I see. And I’m the latest hijackee. What’s he looking for?”

“I’ll let him explain that. I couldn’t repeat it if I tried. All I know is, Nick and I are the only ones to date whom Creek will allow through the portal. On the other side, we’ve met Native American sorts, Egyptian sorts, and sorts bearing no resemblance at all to any sort I know.”

“Egyptians? How do you know you aren’t going back in time?”

“We don’t. Perhaps you’ll help us determine that.”

“It sounds exciting.”

“It’s not all beer and skittles, darling. The work is dangerous.”

“So is crossing a busy street.”

Richard stopped. “Listen, Christy. Most of the natives we’ve met have been friendly. This last time, we did more than observe. We got caught up in their affairs, and ate some horrid food—true torture for Nick, as you’ll learn. The superstitious among them accused us of sorcery and tried to drown us. Nick got hurt. He’ll be fine, though he’ll be limping for a while. It could have been a lot worse—and that’s why I don’t want you to go.”

She seemed offended, indignant even. They walked on in awkward silence until they reached a small ornamental bridge. She rested her hands on the wooden rail and stared at the stream beneath her.

“Nick and I train constantly to ensure our survival. If you join us, darling—”

She spun so fast, he cringed. “If you really want to ensure your survival, stop calling me ‘darling.’ How soon do you need me back in Mendocino?”

Richard suddenly realized he’d have been disappointed if she’d gone to another division. “How much time do you need to wrap things up here?”

“Is two weeks acceptable?”

“Yes. If you need more time, that’s fine too. Be prepared to work when you come. Your friend Kieran assured me you’re well able to look after yourself, that you bested him in a sparring match. I sparred with the man myself before he left. If you can stand up to a man of his abilities, I’m impressed. Still, I need to know what you can do and what your weaknesses are.” He smiled. “Provided you have any, that is.”



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