Unfortunately, her feet did not catch up with her brain until they had taken three steps out of the lazivator.
There was a laugh from the viewscreen, one she might have recognized if it hadn’t sounded so arrogant and cruel. She did recognize the voice, even with the heavy Hoodian accent.
“Madria, Phin. No wonder you haven’t made Captain. You gotta be the worst liar ever.”
“I’m not lying, LaFuentes. This is not our Ellie Doall,” the Commander responded, his voice calm, reasonable, and tense. He sat in the Captain’s Chair, and she could see how he fought not to grip its arms. Captain Tiberius must have still been on the planet.
“It’s true!” Ellie said. “I’m Ensign Ellie Elizabeth Doall for the HMB Impulsive, only from another timeline. Something happened when we were in the Birdot…”
The raucous laughter from the bridge crew of the Hood interrupted her. They were a rough lot, muscled and tattooed, even the women. Their hair was stylishly wild, and their clothes made of leathers and hides. Even in her timeline, there were rumors about where the hides came from, and Enigo never commented on them. Here, he seemed too glad to flaunt them; she thought she recognized the patterned scales of the Sliphils of Sliph Three on the jacket of his ops officer. She swallowed.
Enigo himself wore a brown sleeveless shirt that opened wide at the chest. Even with the tattoo of a Dread Ogg getting its own chest blown apart, he had impressive pecs. Very impressive. He’d shaved his goatee, but grew his hair long in a kind of half-mohawk/half-mullet that somehow looked sinister and sexy.
Enigo snapped his fingers, and the laughter stopped. “Ph’Tonna, where’d you find her?”
Everyone on the bridge of the Impulsive looked around for the historian, but she wasn’t there. Instead a voice came from off screen. “Weird as it sounds, they are telling the truth. That is an alternate timeline Ellie. The real one is actually dead; at least, they believe it’s so, and nothing in the Chatway recent histories show her returning home in secret.”
Ph’Tonna stepped into view and leaned against the back of Enigo’s chair. He reached back lazily and ran a knuckle along the edge of her neckline. She leaned down and licked his ear.
“Oh,” the ops officer said in a small voice. “That must have been the weird teleporter signal I saw.”
Ellie was really glad the imposazine had kicked in, because otherwise, she’d be freaking out. At least she wasn’t alone. Leslie was staring at the screen, shaking, her hands clenched in fists.
Ellie stepped forward to draw attention to herself. She had to end this nightmare. But first, she had to save this ship. No matter what timeline, she owed it that much.
“Listen to me, Enigo. We made a mistake on Tempora. The timeline’s changed. That Ellie wasn’t the real me. And this isn’t the real you! You believed in HuFleet and the Union. You were a good and unselfish man, an inspiration to everyone you met. You were our Chief of Security, and everyone depended on you. You were our rock. You—Oh, for pity’s sake, would you pay attention?”
Enigo stopped sloppy-French-kissing ph’Tonna and turned back to the viewscreen. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, giving everyone an even better view of his impressive chest. When he spoke, it was reasonable, calm, almost mentoring. “See, Alternate Ellie, you’re operating on the wrong premise. I don’t care. I like what I’ve become. And if I am a little ‘selfish,’ you’ll find plenty in the Hoodian Armada who also find me ‘good’ and ‘inspiring.’ I am the rock of a new nation.”
“Viva, Jeffe!” someone behind him yelled, and the rest of his bridge crew repeated the cheer.
He held up a hand to stop further outburst, but he smiled slightly.
He concluded, almost in a whisper, “So, if Ambassador Ellie really is dead, I don’t mind making do with an alternate.”
He really does like himself. Ellie felt a spark of fear.
Enigo dismissed her with a glance and returned his attention back to Smythe. “I’m gonna make you the same deal as always, Phin. Give me Doall, and I don’t break your ship. It’s not like she’s even your Darling Elliedoll, anyway.”
Smythe’s back stiffened in anger. “No.”
Enigo shrugged. “I can kill Jeb first. He’s still on the planet talking to the Big Round Donut of Time. Joachim, target phasers.”
“That’s enough!” Leslie cried. She pulled out her phaser and pointed it at Ellie. “If I send her to you, will you just leave us alone? I mean, all of us, the whole Union. Go make trouble with the Cybers or the Manitikkans or something?”
Enigo sat back and spread his hands magnanimously. “Claro. I would do that. For you. Well, for her.”
Smythe had stood and turned toward Leslie, “Lieutenant.”
She was trembling and on the verge of tears, but her gun hand was steady. “If anyone tries to stop me sir, I will kill her myself and shove her out the airlock.”
“It’s okay,” Ellie said. “I’ll go.”
She let Leslie lead her into the lazivator.
Once the doors shut, Leslie pressed herself against a wall and squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back a sob.
Leslie took a deep breath, then started again. Unshed tears swam in her eyes. “Can you really fix this timeline? Can you make him the man he was—the man he should be?”
“Yes. I know what to do. I think I may have already done it, anyway. Ph’tonna looking at my history screwed it up.”
She nodded. “I knew him…before. That was your fault, too. I was on duty at the space station when you tried to stop the terrorists. They’d knocked me out and you’d left me in a corner to go after them. He found me, revived me, put his extra phaser in my hand. I was terrified. ‘Don’t think,’ he told me. ‘Just shoot. It’s on stun, so who cares?’”
“Headaches save lives,” Ellie whispered.
“We were big daym heroes for two weeks. Then your husband the king started raising a stink about how we disrespected you and should pay, and you—alternate you—just leaned on his arm, smiling at him like you agreed with everything he said. Enigo even tried to reason with you. And you know what you said, ‘I really can’t. Jirek has to Jirek. It will work out.’ So Enigo took the blame, and the Union was only too glad to lay it all on him. After all, he was a Hoodian. Everyone knew they were only good for violence.”
Ellie wanted to hug her friend, but Alternate Leslie had made it clear they were not friends, here. “I can fix this. I just have to get to the Birdot.”
The doors opened, and Leslie marched her to the teleporter room. No sooner had they stepped in and the doors shut behind them, than Leslie stunned Chief Dour.
“I’ll send you to the planet,” she said as she handed Ellie a spare phaser. “There are four Hoodian Fleet ships surrounding us. When they realize where you’ve gone, they will blast us out of existence, then send a team down to find you. You won’t have much time.”
“Pulsie,” Ellie asked, “Were you able to do anything with the equations I sent you?” She grabbed an away kit and two extra phasers from the cabinet, slung them over her shoulder, and mounted the platform.
“Heck, yeah! Commander Deary and his team have been working triple-time to make the modifications. We may have a surprise for those Hoodian scum.”
“Awesome! Fill Leslie in, okay? I’m ready.”
“Bring him back to me,” Leslie said, and before Ellie could protest that there was no Enigo-Leslie pairing, the teleporter stream took her.
* * *
Ellie materialized a few yards from the captain and Gary. Gary was trying to get answers from the BRDoT while the captain was trying to get answers from the ship. Both seemed equally frustrated. She ran to the captain first and pressed a phaser into his hands.
“We don’t have much time,” she said. “The Hood will be sending someone after me any minute. I know where things went wrong. There’s a party I have to stop myself from attending, and I think I may have already done so because I have a distinct memory of spending that night talking with a HuFleet officer about her adventures. Just hold them off while I go back to Chatway.”
He didn’t question. He didn’t doubt her. He didn’t tell her to let him handle it. He just took the phaser and said, “Make us proud.”
That was the life she wanted.
She pressed her second phaser into Gary’s hand. “It’s on stun, so just shoot.” She pushed him to where Jeb was waiting behind cover of some convenient boulders. Then, she turned to the Big Rock Donut of Time.
“Guardian, I must go to Chatway, Stardate…”
“I know,” the Guardian replied with some asperity. “It took all of you long enough to realize that. Stand ready.”
Ellie prepared to jump, but just as the Guardian said, “Now,” she heard the whine of the teleporters and a phaser blasted the rock beside her. As a result, she jumped a hair later than she should have.
The world spun dizzily around her, and she landed on rough gravel. It caused her to stumble onto the roadway in front of her. She heard a horn and the screech of brakes.
The last thing she saw was the horrified expression on her 15-year-old face just before the car struck her and sent her flying over the hood.