Next time I see the Big Rock Donut of Time, I’m going to give it a piece of my mind.
As I thought back to my life, I realized the only place I would have met Jirek was at the coming out ball I was forbidden to go to when I was fifteen. I ended up spending the night talking to a visiting ensign about her HuFleet career. It was the changing point of my life. I was chafing under the restrictions and dismissiveness of my parents and feeling, as usual, like an outsider among my peers. A place where I would be accepted, encouraged, and trusted to use my talents had given me hope for my future.
I did not remember much about the ensign or how long she stayed with us. I hardly remember her stories.
I certainly don’t remember hitting her with my car.
Consciousness came back to Ellie in a flash of panic. She sat bolt upright, shouting, “What day is it?”
Pausing to catch her breathe, she looked around the room. The stone walls had been warmed by luxurious fabrics, artistically draped. The window, a heavy opaque glass that let in the light while obscuring the view, was closed. She lay in a simple bed with a wooden headboard, but it was elevated. The handsome man standing beside her had the plain, functional uniform of a nurse.
He gave her a tentative smile. “An unusual question to ask when first awakening.”
“You’d be surprised.” She checked her ribs, the back of her skull. She felt sore, but healed. “The date?”
“It is the twentieth of Neemsat, 43rd Year of King Polour’s rein.” He followed with the intergalactic date.
Two days. How many days had the ensign of my past been with us? Whatever. It’s before the dance. That’s all that matters.
In the meantime, the nurse was reassuring her that she was safe and healing nicely, and would soon be able to go on her mission, whatever that might be. The human child who had hit her would be punished severely.
She definitely didn’t remember getting punished. “No! It wasn’t her fault.”
He smiled as if charmed by her generosity. She’d forgotten how annoying and patronizing Chatwayan smiles could be, even in a face as handsome as his. Instead of answering her or questioning her assertion, he said, “The child’s parents, the Ambassadors Doall, wish to convey their personal apologies.”
Oh, I bet they do. She put on a smile. “That would probably be best. I can explain to them, and also to the constabulary, if you would.”
“No need. In cases like this, we leave it to the father to provide the appropriate punishments. They are just outside. One moment.”
In fact, Ellie had already guessed they were outside her room from the arguing she heard past the door. It struck her (haha) as wrong. Her parents were all about decorum and the Ellie she remembered being was meek in their shadow when in public. They would never have done something as embarrassing as argue in a hospital. Had the Guardian sent her to the wrong time, after all? She never did tell the BRDoT when to go; it said it already knew. But this couldn’t be right.
At least the arguing stopped when the nurse went outside, quickly replaced by a cry of relief from her younger self and an admonition from her mother. That sounded more normal.
The door opened, and in stepped her parents, with a young Ellie two steps behind, just like Chatway protocol demanded.
Ellie seldom saw her parents after she’d run away from home, so this was the way she always remembered them: young, regal, perfectly dressed in upscale casual attire, and standing together as if they really were two pieces of a whole as Chatwayan tradition said husband and wife were. The worry lines Ellie knew she had caused were just starting to form around her mother’s eyes and forehead, but her hair was still deeply brown and her posture perfect. Ellie’s father, on the other hand, still had the remnants of a stoop and a bit of a paunch from too many years of desk work in the diplomatic corps. The next few years as the king’s friend would rid him of both, since, as Alternate Smythe had explained, hilos were more about befriending those in power than doing any work, and the king was the ultimate outdoorsman.
Her younger self also had a slight slouch that was as much from defensiveness and discouragement as from hours poring over science books and romance novels. She hadn’t grown into herself yet, so even if she stood straight, she’d be about four inches shorter. And she was about 10 pounds heavier.
But I was still pretty, she realized with surprise. Her eyes, when not downcast, were bright and intelligent, and she had a pert little nose. Her hair, as usual, was fighting to escape its elaborate braid, but looking at it with a dozen years’ distance, she found the wisps kind of cute in a frazzled way. Of course, she hadn’t seen it that way, then, and in a culture where proper ladies always looked collected, she’d gotten a lot of teasing. She felt a pang of sympathy for her former self.
Her father said, “Good morning, Ensign…?”
She pulled up the name she’d seen in her diary. “Shree. Shree Crane.”
He bowed in acknowledgement. “Shree Crane. I am Ambassador Hiro Doall. This is my wife, Ambassador Natalia Doall, and our daughter Ellie. On behalf of my daughter, my family, and all of Chatway’s impetuous youth, I apologize for the inconvenience and injury my daughter caused you.”
Behind his back, young Ellie put a finger to her lips. In a sudden flash of memory, Ellie realized her younger self had been on the passenger side of the car. She’d been trying to teach one of the girls from her school to drive. Chatwayan noblewomen were forbidden from driving along with too many other things, so they’d done it at night so no one would know.
Just a note here about “cars” and “driving.” These do sound like archaic concepts for one of the oldest civilizations in the Union, but “car” is simply a handy word the universal translator uses for the vehicles in question, which are fusion powered, have tritanium wheels with a variable nanite tread, and the choice of wheel, joystick, or touchscreen for steering. There were a number of anti-collision and other safety features, too, but Ellie had accidentally disabled them when she was circumventing the alarms that would have alerted the authorities and her parents that an unauthorized user was driving their car.
Ellie-as-Shree met her father’s eyes. “Oh, it’s really not necessary. You see, there is nothing your daughter could have done. I quite literally was not on that road until less than a second before I was struck. My ship was studying a space-time anomaly in a completely different sector of space, and I was teleporting when there was an unexpected flare. The next thing I knew, I was here. Believe me, no one had time to do anything, or I would have jumped out of the way.”
“Nonetheless,” her mother said, “our daughter knew better than to be driving or to be on that road at night.”
Ellie’s eyes flicked to her younger self. Ellie Younger’s face was the picture of placid obedience, but she knew she was seething inside. She always did when her mother took that dismissive tone. For that matter, she was seething herself.
She said, “I’m afraid when dealing with space-time anomalies, there’s often a bizarrely random logic to their effects. If I had not been hit by your daughter’s vehicle, most likely something else would have happened. All things considered, it could have been worse. I’m glad to speak to whomever needs to know this.” She glanced at Ellie and got a grateful smile in return.
However, her father said, “That won’t be necessary. Fortunately, our child can be as quick-to-think as she is to not think. She contacted us, and we arranged to clean up the scene and have you brought to Doctor Jorseen, who was kind enough to treat you discreetly.”
In the corner of the room, the man she’d thought was a nurse smiled and nodded.