“So, I’m not in a hospital?”

Her parents exchanged glances. “I assure you, Doctor Jorseen is very skilled.”

“Oh, I’m sure! I mean, I feel fine, really. I’m just…trying to get oriented.” She glanced around, seeing the room in a new way, as someone’s guest bedroom. The bed wasn’t elevated because it was a medical bed, but because that was Chatwayan style. And the ill-fitting hospital gown she’d taken for granted must have been one of his shirts.

Her mother stepped forward and took her hand, comfortingly. “This must seem very clandestine, especially for a military officer. You have to understand. What my daughter was doing is forbidden by Chatway society. It would have made things very difficult for the family of the girl riding with her. Not to mention, us—and by that, I mean Terrans.  We are a relatively new species to the Union, while Chatway—”

“—is one of the founding members. I understand. I hope I’ve not been too much of an inconvenience for you and your wife.” She directed the last toward the doctor.

His smile warmed. “My wife died young. We purchased this home expecting to fill it with children, but we were not so blessed. You are welcome to stay here until we can contact HuFleet and your ship.”

“My ship?” She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. “No. Actually, we should not contact HuFleet or my ship. When I asked the date, I was concerned that I hadn’t just been thrown through space but also time, and that’s exactly what happened.”

“Omigosh!” Ellie Younger cried. “Is your presence going to change the timeline?”

Oh, I hope so. “I’m sure my ship is working on how to retrieve me. The best thing I can do is keep as small and ordinary a temporal footprint as possible. And we’re actually off to a good start. Perhaps I could just pose as a visiting friend?”

Her mother glanced back at her father, then said, “I think we can make that work. I brought one of my daughter’s dresses. My elder daughter, Aspira, that is. She’s taller and thinner than Ellie. You’re about her size. Let’s get you dressed. In the meantime, Ellie, we’ll have Goynee get you to school.”

“Why?” Younger Ellie pouted. “I already missed the academics, not like I really ‘miss’ anything, anyway. All that’s left is lunch—” she all but spat the word “—then equestrian studies, and then ballroom dancing, which hardly matters since you won’t let me go to the Ball, anyway.”

“Ellie Elizabeth, this is not the time!” her mother snapped. “You have a duty to your education.”

“What education? I bet I’d learn more staying here talking with Ensign Crane.”

“Actually, Madame Ambassador,” Ellie cut in before her mother called her younger self a bother, “I’m sure you and the Ambassador have other duties, and you might be missed if you spend all your time with me. It could raise questions in official circles which may have repercussions in the timeline. On the other hand, missing a day of school to entertain the friend of one’s older sister would draw less attention.”

“It is Chatwayan custom,” the doctor added. 

Her mother frowned but nodded. “All right. Today. But tomorrow, school. Ellie, bring in the dress, and gentlemen, if you’d give us some privacy?”

Younger Ellie gave her a bright, grateful smile before scampering out of the room. Ellie couldn’t help but return it. She remembered how much she hated high school.

Her mother led her to the bathroom, hovering at her elbow until Ellie assured her that she felt fine and could take care of herself. Alone with the hot water pouring over her and a nutty-smelling shampoo sudsing in her hair, she gathered her thoughts.

She did remember teaching Tilya to drive. It had been part of her secret plan to influence the girls in her generation to do things for themselves. The working-class women were independent and to her mind, made something of their lives, while the noblewomen were doomed to lives of hanging on their husband’s arms, supporting their plans (which mostly involved hunting, upholding tradition, and putting in an appearance as a founding member of the Union.) Chatway, in truth, was a retired member of the Union, glad to sit back on the porch of its own solar system and watch as the youngsters of the Union carried on the work, only occasionally yanking them back with some ages-old rule they had helped establish “for everyone’s own good.”

Ellie had hated it from the time they first moved there, and not just because she thought it was a waste of potential. As a human, her parents both pushed her to do more while insisting she conform around her Chatwayan peers. She did get to learn to drive and fly a shuttle and study astrophysics, and it set her apart as much as did the fact that she was Terran. Her classmates  excluded her from their circles of tea and gossip and clothes, which she had found excruciatingly dull, anyway. So she’d tried to pull them into hers.

Tilya had been the first. She’d actually been getting the hang of it when Ellie had run away. They never spoke again after that. Ellie had been a blip in her life.

So maybe my getting hit won’t change anything. She’ll be mad about the scare, but no harm done, and I’m leaving soon, anyway. I do remember spending a day with ‘Shree.’ What stories did I tell her—me? I couldn’t have told her my own, or I’d have recognized them, wouldn’t I?

She didn’t remember the stories, nor had she written them into her diary. But she remembered how excited she was about them.

She shook her head, then rinsed the last of the shampoo from her hair.