My parents insisted we stay away from crowds, and I could hardly argue since I wanted to keep a low temporal profile, so we had lunch with Doctor Jorseen, then wandered the nearby park, talking and feeding the ducks. My younger self didn’t mind.
I’d forgotten what a breath of fresh air Ensign Shree Crane had been to my teenage self. Finally, someone other than a teacher who would talk to me about something other than tradition, politics, and hemstrings. My mother was right; I did pepper myself with questions about everything: HuFleet and subspace anomalies, battle drills and alien romance. I did my best to keep answers generic, claiming security reasons when the specifics might have been too revealing. It was actually easier than I thought.
The real hard part was when she talked about herself. Ourself. I’d forgotten how miserable I was, feeling like all the things I took pride in about myself were somehow wrong in everyone else’s eyes.
She confided in me about the creepy notes. The last one had come with an asaya blossom. I remembered that one. I’d almost cried when I saw the poisonous bloom on my pillow. All I could do was listen approvingly as she outlined how she’d gotten rid of it and the pillow, hiding it away as evidence because when it happened again, she was going straight to the guard. Of course, I knew it was not going to happen again. Either my timeline will win out, and Jirek will turn to a different kind of cruelty, or Alternate Ellie’s timeline will win, and a poisonous flower will be the least of my problems.
Young Ellie’s eyes were wide with horror. “He didn’t!”
Ellie-as-Shree shrugged. They’d been talking nonstop for hours and now were sitting on the grass, and the conversation had turned to funny stories about HuFleet Academy. There were several things that seemed to happen in every class, anyway, which made it easy. “He’d never been in real vacuum before, and his expensive planetside tutors had convinced him the simulations were just as real. He learned fast, and he learned when the instructors said to eat light before a training, you should listen.”
“That is so disgusting!” Ellie toppled over onto the grass, laughing, then stared up at the clouds. “I haven’t been in space since I was 13, and then, only on ships and stations. I wonder if I’d be any good on a spacewalk.”
“I’ll bet you would,” Ellie said. “The key is to find something to orient yourself to.”
“And to eat light! Speaking of, do you smell that?”
Kera tarts. She’d been smelling them for a while. “Yes, I do! What are they?”
Ellie younger jumped to her feet. “Only one of the few redeeming qualities on this entire planet. Come on!”
They went to a small stand and stood in line. A few Chatwayans looked at them, noting their pinker skin and narrow-set eyes, then dismissed them as visitors. The cashier, however, complimented Ellie’s dress and younger Ellie’s bright smile, and gave them a bag of six of the sweet fruit pastries.
They hadn’t taken three steps from the crowd when her younger self tore into the bag and pulled out one for each of them.
Ellie’s mouth exploded with ecstasy at the flavors. “Omigosh. Oh! I’d forgotten how good it tastes!”
“You’ve had them before?”
“Uh, I mean real food. I usually eat replicated.” Ellie nearly choked at her slip up and clumsy attempt to cover it. Fortunately, her teenage self was too busy digging into the bag for seconds that she didn’t notice.
Then a voice that had always made Ellie’s hackles rise sounded from behind her. “Better slow down, Little Human. You don’t want to get fat…ter.”
Teen Ellie did slow down, but only in that she took a longer time to chew. She licked her lips with exaggerated pleasure. Then, she addressed her antagonist with the same charm her mother often used in diplomatic circles, minus the sincerity.
“Shree, may I introduce my classmates? Princess Ester Cha’mi’an, Lady Philla Ta’chana, and Lady Geth Pri’mitha. Princess, ladies, this is Ensign Shree Crane of HuFleet. She’s here as our guest studying Chatwayan culture.”
As the girls gave the requisite curtsies which Ellie returned, Ellie younger continued.
“Shree, did you know one of the fascinating differences between Chatwayans and humans is that humans have heightened senses? Touch, smell, taste… we experience it at an estimated three to five times greater intensity than the average Chatwayan. That’s why we can enjoy their food so much more.”
She took another dramatic bite, humming with pleasure.
Esther rolled her eyes. “Yes, but humans also feel discomfort at a greater intensity, too. Which is the second reason you never tighten your corset properly. Don’t get a belly ache.”
She gave ‘Shree’ a perfunctory curtsey and left, her friends giggling behind her.
Young Ellie popped the last bit into her mouth, but chewed without pleasure. “We should probably be getting back.”
As they moved off, Ellie happened to see the girls standing at a tree. They were giggling as she always remembered them doing, but Esther was looking at Ellie’s retreating back with an odd expression. Ellie remembered thinking it was what humans called bichface, but now, she thought she saw something different.
Was she jealous of me?