She let her mother—Natalia—help her dress, feigning ignorance at the buckles and ties that she’d spent nearly three years fighting with as a teen. Her mother, in turn, gave her a crash course on Chatwayan etiquette while she fussed over each ruffle and pull. When younger Ellie voiced her impatience, she responded, “You’ll have plenty of time to pepper the ensign with your questions later. Go to your Father, please.”

When Ellie slunk out of the room, Natalia said, “I hope my daughter won’t be too much for you, especially after your injuries. She only seems to move at Warp speed, and she expects the world to move with her.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

“This is a Chatwayan travel dress, so called because with proper use of the strings, you can set it for casual afternoon or formal gatherings,” she said as she knelt to mess with the flounces on Ellie’s hem. “I worry about her. She sees everything, but she’s so young, she doesn’t always notice the right things. She looks at Chatway and sees oppression and regression, but these people have had millennia of experience as a unified world in a galactic union. They have been through thousands of cultural and political iterations, and they’ve settled on something that works for them. And it does work. There’s no war. No crime. Order and tradition in place of strife. Very little want. Marriages last, and families are close. I don’t expect her to choose to stay, but for a few years, I wish she could appreciate it. Is it really so bad to want to be Cinderella for a while?”

Was her mother crying? She didn’t know what to say. Fortunately, Natalia adjusted a tie, fluffed the edge a bit and gave a sigh then a hum of satisfaction. “Forgive me. Mothers and daughters often have difficult relationships. But we were speaking of etiquette and tradition, and there is one last indulgence I must implore of you.”

She went to the bed where several bags that had held Ellie’s costume lay. She reached into a hatbox and pulled out a black wig elaborately coiffed at the top but with the bottom layer loose.

“You see,” she said as she handed it to Ellie. “All Chatwayan upper class wear their hair touching their shoulders. Yours is too short. Scandalously so. If you wish to truly blend in..?”

Ellie slipped it on and gasped at the reflection. Talk about Cinderella! Or maybe Snow White. Either way, she looked like something out of a fairy tale. “Wow!”

Natalia laughed. “Wow, indeed. It is perhaps a good thing the men here mate for life, or you would make more than a small impression.”

“Wow,” young Ellie said wistfully when they went into the other room. “You’re beautiful!”

You will be, too, Ellie wanted to respond, but she didn’t know how to say that without sounding odd. She was saved making any response by Doctor Jorseen adding his appreciation in a warm low voice that made her suddenly aware of her bare shoulders. She blushed a little.

Her father—Hiro—was looking at her oddly.


He ducked his head and chuckled, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. You look a lot like Natalia when we first met.” He turned a fond smile to his wife. “Remember? The aspirations party in DC? We both came dressed as Chatwayan nobility.”

She chuckled. “They said, ‘Dress for the job you want,’ and now, here we are.”

He held out an arm, and his wife moved to snuggle against his side. It would have been adorable, except Ellie had seen herself wearing that same lovesick expression when clinging to Jirek’s arm.

“Well! Now that I’m incognito, I’m sure there are things all of you need to do. Ellie, I think you’re my guide. What shall we do first?”