"The Vulcan Science Directorate has studied the question of time travel in great detail. They found no evidence that it exists or that it can exist."
--Star Trek: Enterprise, "Cold Front"
May 20, 1881
Grace Williams walked into the farmhouse, stomped her boots clean, and sat down on a stool at the low table by the fire.
"How many days of feed do we have left?" her identical sister, Lillian, asked.
"Three," Grace replied glumly. "And with the harvest not being very good this year..." She trailed off. There was no need to complete the sentence.
"I hope Mr. Baker can find someone who will buy," their third triplet sister, Rose, said. "We're not asking a particularly high price for a farm this size."
"I know," Lillian said, "but at the same time..." She, too, trailed off.
None of them had to finish that thought, either.
"If only Papa had been able to get us married off, even just one of us," Grace said.
Two identical heads nodded.
"Well, I'll take what we have to market tomorrow," Rose said. "Hopefully that will fetch enough to keep us going for a little longer."
The looks the three shared were full only of doubt and despair.
May 21, 1881
A knock at the door startled the sisters as they were eating a meagre breakfast. Lillian hopped up and opened the door to find Albert Baker, their portly, balding realtor, looking completely winded and sweaty, as if he'd run all the way from his office in town to their farmhouse without stopping. Which, considering that she didn't see his put-upon horse anywhere, was very probably the case, however much she might not have thought him capable of such a feat. In his hand he clutched a sheaf of papers.
"Mr. Baker! What brings you out here at this hour of the morning?" At the sound of that name, Grace and Rose both craned their necks around to see what was going on.
"I..." Albert Baker took a few deep breaths, almost bent double, desperately gesturing at Lillian to take the papers so he could rest both his hands on his knees. Lillian took them. "I... got an... offer..."
"You've gotten quite a few offers," Rose put in. "All of them seemed to think that we were just three desperate women who would sell at far below what we know the farm's worth."
"Read... the documents..." Albert panted. Grace got up from the table and helped her sister carry the man into the house and put him in a comfortable armchair. Grace went to the farm's well to draw a cup of water while Lillian spread the documents on the table Rose hastily cleared.
"You must have mistranscribed something," she said some time later, as Grace walked back in, giving Albert the cup of cold, pure water. He sipped gratefully.
"I assure you, everything is exactly as the prospective buyer dictated. She even made sure to read it afterward to make sure." He thought for a moment. "Though from what I heard her mutter I'm sure I did make one or two mistakes, but she didn't ask me to fix them. She told me to bring the papers to you immediately."
"A hundred and twenty pounds of gold? Twenty-five percent paid in advance as a non-refundable deposit? And only a five percent commission to you? This can't be real, Mr. Baker." The looks on Grace and Rose's faces as they scanned through the proposed contract reflected their shared disbelief.
"I assure you, Miss Williams, those are the precise terms that the buyer approved. Including," he said, suddenly remembering the folded slip of paper in his suit pocket, "this addendum." He handed the page to Rose, and her eyes went wide as she read it and passed it silently to her sisters.
"And how much," Lillian asked, "would this Ms."--the honorific was unfamiliar on her tongue--"Parker pay to have the place to herself?"
"I asked. No sale, she said. She is not only happy for you three to continue living here, she was in fact quite insistent that you do," Albert replied.
"As free labour, I'll wager," Rose muttered.
Albert shrugged. "She didn't put this part in writing, but she told me that you would be free to live lives of leisure on the proceeds of the sale, and that if any of you wished to continue working on the farm, she would negotiate fair terms of employment. Starting, I believe she said, at a minimum of two dollars per day."
"This Hannah Parker seems to have a very generous definition of 'fair'," Grace observed.
"If she hadn't indicated a deep understanding of farming, ranching, and everything else you do, I would almost believe that she is a rich heiress from New England wishing to try out homesteading as if it were some sort of fancy that had gotten into her head. Certainly it seemed to me that money is no object to her. I wouldn't be surprised if I could have gotten five times her proposed prices if I'd pushed a little, but the offer already seemed too good to be true."
"I somehow doubt," Grace observed, "that even the richest heiress would give you sixty thousand pounds of gold, all in advance, all non-refundable, on a flight of fancy. And be willing to pay unskilled laborers a thousand dollars a day."
Albert Baker shrugged. "Come to think of it, I have no idea how she got twelve thousand pounds of gold to my office in the first place. But I take it you accept?"
"Let's meet her first," Rose cautioned. "After all, the worst that can happen is that we're rich enough not to need the farm any more."
"She insisted on that, too. I called the carriage to come right about now," Albert said, pulling out his pocket watch. "I hope that you are willing to have me come along with you."
"Mr. Baker, for the commission you will make on this sale," Lillian said, a laugh in her voice, "I would trust you with anything."
"The thought of losing a hundred and twenty pounds of gold is certainly an inducement to proper behaviour," he agreed.
As the four left the farmhouse, all of them each barely suppressed an urge to giggle.
Had her first sight of Hannah Parker been anything other than the beatific smile on her delicate, fine-boned face, Grace Williams reflected, she likely would have found the young woman extraordinarily imposing.
As it was she was still quite intimidated.
Shoulder-length jet-black hair framed the woman's face, but the lace cap atop it was at odds with the rest of her dress, a homespun blouse and loose working pants.
Money, Grace realized, allowed for a lot of eccentricity.
The rest of Hannah Parker was no less strange. Grace and her sisters had been working on a farm from when she was old enough to hold a trowel, and she knew she was in good physical health, but this woman simply exuded athleticism. Her movement as she stood to greet them told Grace that this was someone best not crossed, and it seemed almost deliberate how she moved in a way to let the trio realize that underneath the loose clothing was a lushly curvaceous body, at odds with Grace's slim, if wiry, form.
"Hello," Hannah Parker greeted them, extending her hand, and the sound of her voice almost drove Grace to her knees in adulation.
A more perfect sound she could not imagine. In that moment she wanted nothing more than to bow before Hannah Parker, to declare her undying love and everlasting fealty, to beg to be allowed to serve her in any way she saw fit, to be nothing but Hannah's for as long as she might live--
Or, at least, that's what a part of her mind told her she ought to be thinking. As it was, she found that she had more than enough composure to take Hannah's hand as she shook hers and her sisters' in turn, and say, "Hello, Ms."--that strange sound again--"Parker."
Albert finished pulling enough chairs into the room for all of them to sit down by the time the women had completed the pleasantries. "Ms. Parker," he asked, "are you certain about this offer?" His voice carried a note of skepticism.
"Quite sure," Hannah said calmly, turning to the triplets. "A hundred and twenty thousand pounds of gold, all yours, minus a meagre commission of six hundred to Mr. Baker, whether you choose to sell or not. If you decide to sell, I will take ownership, move in, and handle the farm work; you may contract with me for your services or not as you choose, at a rate not less than two thousand dollars per day, but you will be obliged to remain resident. If you decide not to sell, then the farm will remain yours and I will leave." She sat back, that same perfect smile on her face.
Grace scrutinized Hannah for any signs of duplicity. Surely there had to be some catch, some way she would be able to, sooner or later, throw them out and have the farm for her own. No rich heiress, however eccentric, could possibly want three unrefined farm women underfoot while she indulged herself and pretended to be a rancher. Could she?
But her eyes were guileless. Nothing but honesty shone in them, no matter how much Grace looked, however hard she tried to find something, some imperfection, some flaw, some...
Grace wasn't sure how much time had passed by the time she tore herself away from Hannah's perfect eyes, but she found herself saying, in unison with her sisters, "I accept."
For a long time afterward Lillian wondered how she couldn't have seen it as strange that Hannah hauled a strongbox containing a hundred and twenty thousand pounds of gold all the way from Mr. Baker's office to the farmhouse without showing any signs of strain at what should have been an impossible task. It was after midday by the time they got home, but not having done any real work, Lillian didn't feel at all hungry despite having missed dinner.
"I'll get the... master bedroom ready, Ms. Parker," Rose said, running ahead a bit. Lillian winced. None of them had set foot in there since Papa's heart attack.
But Hannah's reaction surprised them. "It's quite alright," she said. "I read the obituary. A truly beautiful bit of writing. No, you needn't worry about that. I'll build an extension to the farmhouse, and in the meantime, I'll just rough it in front of the fire." A beat. "Oh, and call me Hannah. It'll just get awkward if you three are always being so formal."
Every instinct drilled into Lillian from the moment she was born screamed against it, but all she found herself saying, once more in unison with her sisters, was, "All right, Hannah."
Once inside, Grace moved toward the kitchen to make a late, light lunch. "No, no!" Hannah's voice sang again. "This must all be a very great shock for you. Please, sit, and allow me." When Grace opened her mouth to protest, Hannah held up a single finger to forestall any protest. "It's my house now, and that means that what I say goes, doesn't it?" That beatific smile allowed no dissent even to cross the triplets' minds.
"You know," Rose said as they sat back, digesting Hannah's excellent meal, "we might be among the richest people in the county now, but I at least honestly don't know how to just be one of the idle rich. Being a farmhand is all I know how to do." Grace and Lillian nodded agreement.
"Well, then, it's just as well that I find myself quite willing to hire three farmhands right now," Hannah said, another gentle smile lighting up her face. She reached into her satchel and withdrew paper, a fountain pen and a capped inkwell. Carefully filling the pen, Hannah wrote out a contract and turned it to the three.
"Hold on," said Rose, "it doesn't matter how much work we do on any given day, you'll pay us the full wage so long as we do some?"
"Any carrot you pull up is one I don't have to," Hannah said, a low chuckle in her voice.
After all three had signed, Grace asked, hesitantly, "You seem to be very... free with your funds." She paused. "Hannah," she decided to end her question.
"A combination of holding a few choice patents and having made a few good investments," Hannah said modestly, but her tone made it clear that she had no intention of discussing her financials further. "Now, do you want to give me a tour of the place before or after I get in from working in the field?"
Grace massaged her aching muscles as she sat down by the fire, too grateful for Hannah's willingness also to make dinner to raise any objection. Hannah had not only seemed utterly tireless in the field, she'd also shown a knowledge of farming well beyond anything Grace or her sisters had learned from their father, and executed it perfectly despite its necessarily having come from books. The three had run themselves ragged trying to keep up with her, despite Hannah's repeated assurances that they had done enough for the day and could head in whenever they chose.
A delicate hand--Hannah had repeatedly and, seemingly, enviously, expressed her hope that her hands would soon be as callused as Grace's--put a huge bowl of steaming-hot soup in front of her. "The steaks are on their way, they just need another minute or two," Hannah said. Grace would never have thought to kill one of their few cattle for a meal or two, but she supposed that they were Hannah's cattle now, and besides, the woman could clearly simply purchase replacements.
When they were done with the meal, the sun had long since set. "Please don't feel obligated to try to keep up with me," Hannah said, the stiffness in the triplets' movements evident even just in how they twitched while sitting down. "Really, I'm just grateful for any help you're willing to give. But if you try to do this again you'll probably just end up keeling over from exhaustion or heat stroke." Again, her voice was nothing but gentle, and yet it brooked no argument.
Hannah stood up. "Now, I think it's time we all got to bed, don't you?" she asked, and before any of them could move, she swiftly stripped out of her clothes, her blouse and pants hitting the floor next to her while she carefully picked her lace cap out of her hair.
Grace could only boggle.
Hannah's body, like seemingly everything else about her, defied explanation in its perfection. Grace's eyes raced along the firm muscles of the arms and legs, the smooth skin over the tight abdomen, the pristine feet, the rippling back--before Hannah's hair fell down from its confinement to conceal it--and the massive rear, matching bosom, and a crotch that instantly put extraordinarily sinful thoughts in Grace's mind.
But Hannah, apparently misreading their looks, said, "We're all women here. No need to be so modest with each other." But at the others' clear discomfort, she just laughed and continued, "But it does take some getting used to. Good night." She walked around their still-frozen forms, laid down on the hard wood floor in front of the warm fire, and was apparently asleep before any of the triplets could move.
They looked wordless glances at each other before rising, each going her own way to her small bedroom. Each of them looked at herself in the mirror and frowned an identical frown at how utterly inadequate Hannah had made them feel... but then smiled at how much she clearly valued having them around. And each of them fell asleep with the same dreams.
May 23, 1881
"I need to head into town," Hannah said after their large midday dinner. "I'd rather not walk again, though, and I arrived here by train. Do you have a riding horse?" It seemed to Rose that Hannah also hadn't quite gotten used to the notion that any horse they might have had, she now owned.
"Just the one," Rose said. "It was Papa's, and..."
"Even before he died," Lillian picked up, "she wouldn't let anyone else ride her. By now she's almost feral."
"We'll see about that," Hannah said confidently, getting up, still showing no signs of stiffness despite having worked seemingly ceaselessly for a day and a half. Rose didn't feel all that stiff, but she'd also been working far more slowly than she had that first afternoon. "What's her name?"
"Sophia," Lillian said promptly, and Rose was surprised to see a visible wince cross Hannah's face. Lillian went on hastily. "It's the name Papa would have given his next daughter, if Mama hadn't died in childbirth with us."
Hannah nodded. "Then it's a good name." She gestured for one of them to lead the way to the stable.
Once there, Rose opened the gate and stepped well back. "She likes to kick..." she began, but her voice trailed off at the sight of Hannah gently stroking Sophia's mane, whispering in the mare's ear before expertly saddling her and leaping on. "I would appreciate your input on the wood I'm buying to build the extension, by the way," Hannah said as Grace and Lillian came running up when they didn't hear the sound of hoof crunching against body. "After all, it might be my house, but it's still your home."
"But I still need to weed the cucumber patch," Grace pointed out.
Hannah waved a hand idly. "Don't worry about the cucumbers, they'll keep until tomorrow. For now just bring the carriage around and follow me."
Shrugging, Rose attached their other horse to the carriage, and she and her sisters climbed in and followed after Hannah.
The ride into town took longer than usual. With Hannah not hauling her gold, they had time to stop and greet people as they passed by, the sisters making the introductions for their new landlady. A trip that should have taken no more than twenty minutes ended up getting stretched to an hour and a half by the time Hannah was hitching Sophia to the post outside the lumber yard.
"Hi, Walter!" Grace said, waving to the burly middle-aged man operating the two-man saw with his son Lewis. They finished cutting the log and set it down in its cradle to walk over to the four, the two men giving each of the triplets a firm, warm hug.
"Roof holding up fine?" Lewis asked.
"Better than ever," Lillian said. "If we'd hired your dad to build it in the first place, it would've never caved in during that snowstorm last winter."
Walter smiled. "Who's your friend?"
"Oh," Rose said, a bit embarrassed that she had forgotten her manners in not introducing Hannah first. "This is Hannah Parker. She recently--"
"--bought your farm. Talk of the town," Lewis finished. "For a rather handsome sum, if the rumours are true."
Hannah just shrugged noncommittally and shook the two men's hands.
"So what brings you here?" the yard owner said.
"Well," said Hannah casually, her voice unlike that which she used when in private with the sisters, "I'm looking to build an extension to my new farmhouse. Not a big one, just enough for a bedroom and lavatory, but I will of course require the materials. I'm hoping you have enough lumber for something meeting these specifications?" Hannah reached into her satchel and pulled out paper with a detailed sketch of her proposed extension. "And, of course, I'll want to engage the services of the best blacksmith in town."
"That'd be Charles, just down the lane that way," Lewis said, gesturing north. "Course, he's also the only blacksmith in town, but I've never known him to make a bad nail."
"He shoed Sophia shortly before Papa died," Lillian added.
Hannah nodded. "Can you handle the wood I'll need?" she asked.
"It'll be a bit of work, cutting and curing it to your specifications, but yes," Walter said.
"Excellent. Do you prefer payment in gold, silver, or notes?"
"Any will be fine," Walter said agreeably.
Hannah pulled two ounces of gold from her satchel. "And how much of a discount will you give me if I help prepare it?"
Walter and Lewis looked at each other skeptically.
Hannah crooked a finger, gesturing Lewis over to the other end of the two-person saw.
Fifteen minutes later, Walter commented to the triplets, "If she helps us with a few other orders, I'll give her all the wood she needs for free."
"I'll hold you to that," Hannah said after hauling a few cut logs onto the yard pile, but still left the two ounces of gold on the worktable as she left.
Much the same process repeated itself at the smithy, Hannah easily crafting a few dozen nails and reshoeing both Sophia and Wilbur, the cart horse, before leaving behind another few ounces of gold.
"So do you want us helping you in the field, the yard, or the smithy?" Rose asked as they rode back, each on her own mare. The sisters had used their new wealth to purchase horses for themselves, too, which Hannah kindly went back to the smithy to shoe perfectly, Wilbur chugging along behind with a first delivery of lumber and tools in his carriage. Rose stroked Dawn's mane and looked at her sisters, Grace on Jolene and Lillian on Maybelle.
"Anywhere you like, though the smithy's more or less a one-woman operation," Hannah said. "Probably the lumber yard, though, if you really want to help. The farm will keep."
Rose thought Grace was going to say something about the cucumbers again, but instead, she said, "All right. And thanks for buying that team; old Wilbur's earned his rest." Lillian and Rose nodded agreement; four oxen would allow them to haul a lot more to market than their single pack horse ever could.
"Nothing but the best for my farm," Hannah said. "The best horses, the best oxen, the best workers."
Grace, Lillian and Rose all involuntarily blushed.
August 1, 1881
"That," said Grace, looking up as Hannah hammered in the last nail, "has got to be a record for building this sort of extension."
Lillian nodded agreement as Hannah came down the ladder and turned to face them. "Papa told us that we were well over a year old by the time we were sleeping in our own cribs, in our own bedrooms."
"Well, this is a much smaller extension than three bedrooms," Hannah said modestly.
"Still, the fastest around here before this had been, what, five months for the Johnsons' new shed?" Rose asked, and Grace nodded agreement.
Hannah shrugged modestly. "I guess I have a natural knack for these things."
"More like a supernatural knack," Lillian said.
"Well, with that done," Hannah said, "how about we head into town for a few drinks and celebratory baths?" If Grace hadn't known better, she would've sworn that the tiny smirk on her landlady's face indicated that, somehow, she knew that the barmaids and bath maids had begun to pop up in Grace's dreams lately.
"Race you there!" said Lillian, laughing as she sped off toward the stable. Hannah, Grace and Rose followed more slowly, knowing that Lillian wouldn't get far on Maybelle. The four mares had become very close over the last few months, and the sisters in particular found it difficult to part their horses from each other, though Hannah never seemed to have any issues taking Sophia out for a ride. Grace saddled Jolene and it wasn't long until the four of them were galloping at full speed toward the bar.
Lillian closed her eyes, sank into the perfectly warm, soapy water, and relaxed under Rachel's expert ministrations.
Even with the steam obscuring the room, the only other time she'd been here the maid had been rather more reticent about helping wash her. But something had changed this time, and the only difference that Lillian could point to was Hannah's presence. She'd noticed it on the farm, too, especially while they were all indoors with no visitors expected. They'd all become more casual about clothing especially, often not bothering to put on clothes until after breakfast, and especially on hot summer evenings after a long day in the field, or working on the extension or in the lumber yard, stripping off as soon as they were inside.
For their part, Rachel and the other maids at the bathhouse seemed to have no reluctance to wash every part of their bodies and, with the doors closed, go without clothes themselves. After all, as Hannah was fond of pointing out, they were all women. None of them was seeing anything that they didn't have themselves.
Lillian shivered a little as she got out of the tub and Rachel helped her towel off, and not from any temperature change, the air being comfortably warm.
The ride back was rather more sedate, and Rachel featured quite prominently in Lillian's dreams that night.
March 23, 1883
The oxen trudged back to the farmhouse, hauling the large, empty carts that only that morning had been full of produce. As usual, it sold in what seemed like heartbeats, given how busy Rose and her sisters had been handling customers, though in truth the sun was close to setting by the time they were sold out.
On the way they passed other farmers, their carts still mostly full, as Hannah's farm turned out more and better-quality produce than any other farm around, and, not needing money, she directed the sisters to sell it at a lower price, almost entirely cornering the local market. People had even started to come in from towns miles away to purchase some of it.
After stabling the team and seeing that the mares and Wilbur had enough feed, Rose walked into the house to see what had become an unusual sight: a fully-dressed Hannah Parker.
The reason for it became apparent as Rose took another few steps in and saw her sitting across a table from Thomas Johnson, the ink clearly drying on a page. Hannah was counting out notes.
"Ninety-eight hundred, ninety-nine hundred, ten thousand, as agreed."
"Thank you, Ms. Parker," Thomas said, gratefulness in his voice, bowing his head as he shook her hand. Hannah shooed him out the door and closed it before turning to the other three, shucking her clothes as she did so.
"What was that about?" Rose asked.
"I bought the Johnsons' farm. Paid a fair price for it. They'll continue living there, of course, and working as my employees."
"How much are you paying them?" Grace asked.
"A fair wage, three dollars per day," Hannah said.
"I think your definition of 'fair' has changed in the two years since we met you," Lillian said.
"No, I just like you more," Hannah laughed. "And anyway, now their farm will be far more productive, once I work my magic touch on it. And the Johnsons will get one percent of the gross receipts."
"That sounds more like your regular definition of 'fair'," Rose said.
"Only if we start getting more people coming in from out of town," Hannah pointed out. "Otherwise we're just largely selling our own products to ourselves."
"We could start running advertisements in the papers," Grace suggested. "It'll be expensive to send the telegrams, though I guess we could ride there if we can get Jolene, Maybelle and Dawn to part."
"You can give a thrifty woman money, but you can't make her spend, I guess," Hannah chuckled. Grace blushed as she realized that the "expensive" telegrams she mentioned were only a few dollars apiece.
"I'll start drafting the ads," Lillian said. "With or without a picture?" she asked.
"Just the farm logo, if any," Hannah said.
"Well, we'd have to ride if we're going to do that," Rose pointed out.
"I'll take care of that part, don't worry. You just write the ad," Hannah decided. Lillian nodded, took a piece of paper, pen and inkwell, and began drafting the message.
"How long are we going to run these for, and how often?" Grace asked.
"Well, considering that we've got fresh crops to sell every day, it should be every day for as long as they'll let us pay in advance," Hannah concluded.
"Good thing you just hired five more hands, then," Rose said.
"Although," Grace added, more somberly, "let's be honest with ourselves: how much help are they really going to be?"
The somber look crossed the other three faces as none of them liked contemplating the thought of how little use their friends were really going to be at working on the farm.
October 22, 1885
Grace smiled as a customer, having picked out a few tomatoes from a bin, came up to her to ask the price shortly after noon.
"Ten cents," she said. "Will that be all?"
The man nodded, put a dime on the table and turned to walk out, only to scurry back in as Grace heard the sound of horse hooves on the packed dirt road of the market square.
Grace walked out from behind the cash table and poked her head out from under the awning of the tent to see a group of men on horseback waving pistols at passersby, directing them to congregate in the central square. A few had dismounted and were opening the tents, rousting people out. Grace saw Lillian and Rose getting herded out before the leader pointed his nasty-looking rifle at her and beckoned her over, too. A moment later one of his thugs ushered her customer out, too.
Lillian broke the silence. "So what brings you fine gentlemen here?"
"Well," the leader said casually, "we saw in the papers that you claim to have the best produce in the area."
"Best, and cheapest," Lillian replied, a touch of pride in her voice.
"Price ain't something I'm worried about," the leader said. Waving his rifle, he beckoned for Grace's customer to toss one of his tomatoes up, which the man promptly did. The leader took a bite. "Seems pretty good, though."
"Glad you like it," Rose put in.
"Oh, I do like it, missy. In fact, I think I like it enough that I'll want your entire stock. And I'll be coming back for more in the future."
"I'm sure we can come to some sort of reasonable nego--" Grace began.
"I told you price ain't something I'm worried about," the leader cut her off. "Here's my deal: you give us what we want, and we don't start shooting."
"Oh, I wouldn't recommend that, if I were you," Hannah Parker's voice came from behind Grace, and taking advantage of the bandits' brief startlement at the newcomer she glanced over her shoulder quickly to see her friend dismounting Sophia. For a moment Grace wondered how she'd come up so quietly--and with such fortuitous timing--before she was brought back to the immediate moment by the bandit leader's reply.
"And just who might you--" He cut himself off as recognition dawned. "Ah, you must be the famous Hannah Parker. I couldn't fail to recognize a face as lovely as yours when it's splashed across every paper in the state."
"The one and only," Hannah confirmed, walking up through the crowd, which parted obligingly as the rifleman gestured for her to be allowed through. "Now, as my friend was trying to say, I am sure we can all be reasonable here and negotiate a fair price for the produce you desire."
"I already told you my price," the drawled reply came. "All your produce, on demand, and nobody gets hurt."
"And for my part," Hannah replied, "I'd gladly sell you all my goods at regular market prices, but I can arrange a volume discount for such fine gentlemen as yourself."
"I don't think you understand the situation you're in, Miss Parker. These"--the sound of hammers drawing back filled the air for a moment--"mean that it's my terms that are what matter here. I ain't interested in negotiation."
"Well, that's unfortunate, because I'm quite willing to negotiate, but I can't allow you to threaten innocent lives simply to extract a better price from me," Hannah said, a touch of sorrow in her voice.
"You can't allow?" The bandit leader guffawed. "Did you hear that, fellers? The little lady here can't allow." Grace quirked an eyebrow; by her estimate, Hannah was taller than any of the men on horseback by at least three inches.
"I think you need a more personal demonstration, Miss Parker. You," he leveled the rifle at Hannah's head, "are going to allow whatever I say." The crack of a rifle shot rang through the air, and Grace tore her eyes away from the bandit to see Hannah sprawled on the ground, a hole in her blouse below her right collarbone; the bandit's aim had thankfully been off. As Hannah picked herself up, slowly, clearly in some pain, one hand plucked a flattened bullet from the hole.
"I think you'll find that it's best if you do as I say. Now, shall we negotiate a price for the goods you desire, or will you persist with useless violence?"
"It's been my experience, lady, that violence is never useless." Another crack, and Hannah was once again sent sprawling to the hard road.
It took longer for her to pick herself up this time, but she did, plucking another crushed bullet from her dress, this time below her left shoulder. "It appears that you have two examples that would say otherwise," she said as she stood on her feet again, clearly a little shaky, but her gaze and voice steady.
"Fuck this," the leader said. "Shoot--"
But his voice died in his throat as Hannah simply smiled at him, and while Grace could feel that same urge to devote herself to her friend that she had felt only once before, it clearly had quite a different effect on the bandits, as they promptly wheeled their horses about and fled.
"Refund everyone's money and divvy up the remainder by need," Hannah directed her friends and employees. "Go about town to make sure you don't miss anyone who'd already left."
"We had a few people from out of town," Rose pointed out. "Well, a few other people."
"I'll take care of them, don't worry," Hannah promised. "Now get everyone's money back to them and meet me at home." She smiled gratefully as Grace and Lillian helped her into Sophia's saddle and the mare walked slowly back the way she had come.
"So just what was that about?" Rose asked as the sisters got back home about an hour later. Hannah's insistence on keeping detailed notes on every sale had made their task much more straightforward.
"You tell me," Hannah said, lying on the floor with ice across her upper chest. "You were there when they arrived."
"None of us know much more than you do," Rose retorted. "I was more wondering how it was that you arrived like that, just in time."
"I had a feeling," Hannah said. "We've been advertising quite widely, word of mouth gets around, too, proves that we're not just making empty claims. Really it was only a matter of time until something like this happened."
"Some feeling, getting not only the right day to take a break from the field but the right time!" Lillian pointed out.
Hannah clearly tried to shrug but the movement was impeded both by the pain and the ice. "Women's intuition."
"And how is it that you're not bleeding out?" Grace asked. "I was of half a mind to insist on cauterizing your wounds then and there!"
"No wounds," Hannah replied, gesturing weakly at a chair just out of sight around a doorway. The sisters moved slightly to see the skin-coloured bulletproof vest lying over it. "I had that brought in about a year ago, just in case. I'll be sporting a magnificent bruise across my upper chest for the next little while, but there'll be no lasting damage."
"Guess we'll have to pick up the slack in the fields for the next little while, then," Rose said, "while you rest and recuperate at the market. You can still write, I hope."
Hannah smiled slightly and laughed faintly. "Yes, ma'am."
"Oh," Grace said, "and just what made them run off like that?"
Another struggle to shrug. "I guess they just couldn't handle seeing a pretty little lady smile at them after being shot twice."
May 21, 1888
Lillian woke up from her hour-long rest.
Not bothering to light her candle--she wondered why she still kept one in her bedroom, considering she'd had perfect night vision for a few years now--she picked up the gold-plated pocket watch she'd had imported from Switzerland the previous year and smiled as it showed she woke up, as usual, at 4 AM on the dot.
Getting out of bed, she stood in front of her full-length mirror and smiled as it showed what she expected: a body identical to her sisters', almost as lush, gorgeous and well-muscled as Hannah's. As she turned to go to breakfast--she could already smell it cooking--her eyes glided across an old photograph, taken a little more than seven years prior, of her and Grace and Rose in mourning clothes, shortly after their father's funeral.
And Lillian realized that the young women in the photo bore almost no resemblance to who they were today.
Deliberately she turned away from the door and opened a drawer, pulling out a book of matches that she hadn't used in years. Striking one, she lit her candle and grimaced as her eyes adjusted to the additional light instantly. Holding the match up, she let the flame lick down the wood until it reached her fingers. She had to consciously brace for the pain, which didn't come, the fire guttering out against her skin.
She compared the picture to what she saw in the mirror. Even with its having aged, and the loose, all-covering clothes she had worn, it was very obvious that she was not the same woman she had been back then, and there was only really one thing that had changed about her life in the last seven years.
Putting the photo down and ostentatiously leaving the candle to burn down, she marched determinedly out of her bedroom before stopping, turning around again, and putting on a dress.
As she expected, Hannah and Rose were sitting at the table while Grace made breakfast, all three thoroughly naked. They turned as she entered, their eyes going wide at her unconventional state of dress.
She took advantage of their shocked silence to march up to the table, put both fists on it, look Hannah square in the eyes and ask, "What have you done to us?"
"What do you mean?" her friend asked.
"What have you done to us? I remember that first day, working in the fields. We tried to do a tenth of what you did and were completely knackered by supper. Now we do almost as much as you do and I can't remember the last time I needed more than an hour of sleep. We can see perfectly in the dark and look almost as incredible as you. And the only thing that's really changed has been you buying the farm and living with us. So I ask again: what have you done to us?"
Slow recognition of the truth of what Lillian had said crossed her sisters' faces, and Hannah let out a long sigh. "I guess it's time I told you the truth."
"So you've been lying to us this whole time?"
"Sort of. Not really. Well, I guess that depends on your definition of a lie. I've never lied about liking you three. You're some of the best friends I've ever had." Hannah stood up and... something... shifted about her. Lillian thought her eyes might have been tricking her, but while she couldn't detect that anything had changed about Hannah, she somehow looked different. "I have been using a fake name, though it's not far from my own. I'm Park Ha-neul, or Ha-neul Park, as it would be here."
"Who are you?" Lillian pressed.
"Well, absent a much lengthier explanation, in short, I guess you could say I'm God."
A silence hung in the air, a pause pregnant with anticipation and stunned shock.
"What?" three identical voices said simultaneously.
Lillian sat in an unfamiliar armchair that Hannah--Ha-neul, she corrected herself--had created apparently from nothing, a chair which molded itself to her skin, which she felt lightly massaging her in a pleasurable and slightly sensual manner.
"To be more precise, I'm a Super Goddess, one of about a dozen women from your future. The first of us will be born in around a hundred and thirty years--at least, in the regular timeline. Probably not in this one, we're not sure."
"If you won't be born for another century, then how are you here?" Grace asked.
"Well, basically, we're omnipotent. We can pretty much do whatever we want, including travel back in time. And anyway, once we attain our full powers, things change so that we've actually always existed. It's hard to explain to anyone who isn't one of us, and we understand it so intuitively that it's hard to put it into words."
As Ha-neul had implied, the sisters were left thoroughly confused.
"Anyway, I decided that I wanted to try out being a rancher in this time and place. So I created, I guess, a divergent past, so what I did here wouldn't inadvertently ruin the future I know. But things are still largely proceeding as they did in my own timeline, except for around here."
"What happened to us in your timeline?" Rose asked.
"You really don't want to know, trust me," Ha-neul said. "Anyway, I decided to make an offer for your farm not just because I knew you'd almost certainly accept, but because I specifically wanted to meet and live with you three for a few years."
"Why?" Lillian asked, more sharply than her sisters.
"Because I want to offer to make you ultipotent."
"Being like me, more or less. You'd basically be able to do everything I can, which is to say, anything you want. Not quite as powerful as me, I'll fill you in on the details later if you want, but for pretty much all practical purposes there'd be no effective differences between us."
Lillian was still skeptical, her eyes and voice hard. "What have you done to us already, though?" she asked, waving a hand down her body.
"Oh. That." Ha-neul laughed nervously. "That's just something that happens to people around us. They become more beautiful, by our standards of beauty anyway, which means a much larger bust and rear, and, especially in my case, exquisite muscle tone. And great hair."
Lillian shook her head as she realized she hadn't even noticed how long that had gotten.
"So what would being ultimate--" Grace began.
"Ultipotent," Rose corrected.
"--ultipotent involve, really? What is it that you do, at least when you're not pretending to be a farmer?"
"I wasn't pretending," Ha-neul said. "I might've been better at it than anyone else but I'd at least like to think I was a proper farmer, for a while anyway. But when we're not doing stuff like this, mostly? We have really great sex."
Lillian just quirked an eyebrow.
"When we can't think of anything better to do, anyway. Just having infinite power coursing through us makes us constantly aroused." Another nervous laugh. "You have no idea how many times I've had to restrain myself from slipping into bed with each of you. Probably at once. Especially once your dreams became too lurid to ignore."
"At once?" Lillian asked.
The room transformed into a large, comfortable bed, and there were three Ha-neuls lying on it. "I know each of you has dreamed of this, dreams you didn't want to admit to yourself you were having. Let me bring your dreams to life," she asked. "If you don't like it, I'll leave. For good, if you insist on it."
The looks on her sisters' faces told Lillian that they, too, had been having these dreams. Each of them nodded in turn, and a moment later screamed in perfect ecstasy as three tongues touched three pairs of lower lips.
"Fuck," said Rose hours later as Ha-neul withdrew a still-dripping cock from her slit, "if that's what sex with you is like, I never want to be apart from you again!"
"I could just take you to the future with me," Ha-neul said. "You'd probably find it easier to adjust if I also gave you some powers, though. Otherwise you wouldn't even have the intellectual knowledge to deal with the culture shock."
"If you made us... ultipotent," Lillian asked, "would we be able to do that sort of thing too? Even to you?"
"If I let you," Ha-neul said. "Which I probably would."
The triplets looked at each other, before Grace said, "Why the hell not. You can always take it away if we don't like it, right?"
"Then sure," Rose concluded. "Why not try out being God?"
Ha-neul waved her hands at her three friends, and they felt power surge through them as reality's secrets unfolded before them in their minds, every aspect of existence becoming easily understood and trivial to alter to their every whim.
Ha-neul smiled as she saw that the very first thing they used their powers to do was grow their own massive dicks. "Now pin me down," she said in three voices at once. "Fuck me senseless. Knock me up. We'll be in my time once you're done."
The newly-fledged gods needed no further invitation.
May 21, 2177
Park Ha-neul sat in her small bedroom in what was once more the Williams' farmhouse. She'd transplanted the entire farm and town into the future from its alternate history, not wishing to lose any of the friends she'd made during her sojourn to the past. It instantly became a weird museum of sorts, modern amenities readily available yet much of the work still done with techniques from three centuries prior. Still, except for the triplets, she knew it would take quite a long time for the others to adjust to the new time period, but she'd taken the liberty of ensuring they wouldn't question why they would end up living so long.
"Sounds like Ellie is enjoying her newest friends," Paula Estévez said as blissful screams of pain came from elsewhere in the farmhouse.
"Good for her," Ha-neul said. "She needs something new to take her mind off of..."
Neither of them wanted to complete that sentence.
"A guy, and now triplets from the past," Paula said, chuckling. "Who are you going to make ultipotent next, a hot android?"
"Well, there are plenty of sentient AIs around, ever since Irina let her mind slip a few decades back," Ha-neul pointed out. "More keep being created every day. Who knows, maybe one of them will end up being a Super Goddess."
"Do we even know if non-humans can be Super Goddesses?" Paula pointed out.
"Seems to me it'd be a pretty lonely universe if they couldn't. I don't think I'd want to live in one where just our existence necessarily makes humans the dominant species by default," Ha-neul mused.
"I'm glad you're back," Paula said.
"I was gone for a day and you missed me already?" Ha-neul laughed.
"You know how long a day is for us. And anyway, a lot happened in that day. Can't you feel it?"
"Only faintly," Ha-neul agreed. "We should probably check it out sooner or later. But in the meantime, I've got my own triplets to deal with," she said, rubbing her still taut, but soon to be bulging, abdomen.
Ellie Kare is an original character of Ash Kare, used with permission
With contributions from delta7447
The Super Goddess universe was created by Akane