Soon, she’d filled a console with equations and specifications and gotten a tablet full of Ambassador Ellie’s musings on her miserable life—plus the cozy mysteries she never published. She started reviewing visual files, seeking a moment that would have changed everything.

Jirek was the key, the big difference between her life here and her real life. All she remembered of Jirek was that he was a loud, bossy oaf that treated the staff badly and that the girls swooned over. Especially Ester. She was so narcissistic and mean to Ellie, Ellie had figured she was the perfect match for Jirek. 

He’d sent her a note: I could own you, little human, if you were worth anything. Her parents had laughed it off. So the next night, when a similar note arrived on her bed, she hadn’t bothered saying anything. 

Not long after that, I ran away to HuFleet. They saw my worth right off.

But she hadn’t done that here, and that looks she and Jirek gave each other in the recordings. Could they have somehow fallen in love?


She checked timestamps. She got married—ew—to Jirek—double ew—when she was only 15 and a half. Something had to have happened in the two-and-a-half years between when they moved to Chatway and the wedding. 

Twenty minutes later, she found the answer, and it was worse than she anticipated.

“A party? I ruined my life and the whole Union because I got drunk at a party?”

* * *

For once, Ellie was relieved to discover she didn’t know everything. The Alternate Doctor Pasteur, who had until now been in his office quietly filling out a report on the first imposazine trial against the venom or the Earth-American rattlesnake circa 1867, heard her moan of distress, and deciding this one was different from the 28 previous ones, went in to investigate. She showed him the articles.

“Mystery debutant turns out to be human,” he read aloud. “Third in line to the throne bonds to human ambassadors’ child… Forbidden love apparently makes it sweeter…”

“Ew. Stop, please. Look, I remember this party. In Chatway, the sexes are separated until the coming out ball, usually between fifteen and sixteen years of age. That was my year group, and I was the only one who couldn’t go. So I can see myself sneaking in. I can even see myself dancing with Jirek, but just to prove to that stuck-up Princess Ester Cha’mi’an that I could. But fall in love with him? He was mean and creepy. If anything, I’d have done something violent or at least violently embarrassing to make him stay away from me.

“But I didn’t. In my timeline, I stayed home like a good girl. And the next day, all my classmates had True Loves that they wouldn’t stop going on about, and Esther and Jirek were together, and the teasing got worse. So I ran away and I joined HuFleet. And I have the most awesome life imaginable.”

She paused then, memories of months of high school hell squeezing her hindbrain and making her body shake with anger and fear. She felt like crying all over again, and this wasn’t like her, either. She’d gotten over all this years ago. That’s what her tour on the HMB Mary Sue was about: coming to terms with her past and acknowledging her worth.

“Are you sure you gave me the right amount of imposazine?” she asked.

He grimaced. “You have to understand. It’s still an inexact science.”

She gaped at him, wide-eyed. “You’re kidding me. Well, I cannot take the blame for that one. Can you give me something else? Because I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now, and it’s making it hard to think.”

He ran a scanner over her. He frowned at the results. “There’s a lot of unusual brain activity. I think your body is trying to adapt to the new timeline.”

“So I’m going to turn into Your Ellie? Oh, hell, no! Give me something! How about… fifteen-point-five ccs of imposazine? That inhibits biochemical production in the brain.”

“It does?”

“Yes! Specifically, those associated with moods and… Omigosh! Jirek was drugging me! That (explicative deleted by the universal translator but it was bad)! He drugged me, and I must have gotten addicted or something. That explains so much!”

“Hold still.” The doc pressed a hypospray against her arm. “That’s fifteen-point-five ccs imposazine. Let me know if you experience nausea, headaches, blurred vision, or unusual facial hair growth.”

Suddenly, the Red Alert sounded, followed closely by Commander Smythe calling everyone to Battle Stations.

Without thinking, Ellie leaped from her bed and ran out the door.

“Ambassa…” Doctor Pasteur started, then shrugged. She’d remember soon enough. In the meantime, that gave him one more bed free for the wounded. 

There were always a lot when they came up against the UGS Hood.