Todd smacked his fists against the door. “Come on, Pulsie! Let us out.”

The voice of the Impulsive answered, “Sorry, Todd. I’m not authorized. All guests are confined to quarters for the time being.”

“Tell us what’s going on—I command you!” Ellie’s mother said. The steel in her haughty tone almost hid the quiver of fear. But again, the Impulsive simply repeated that it was not authorized to respond. Her husband, now standing, wrapped his arms around her.

“I’m sure it’s all right,” Todd said. “Ellie probably saw the intruder and sent LeRoy after him.”

“What intruder?” Mr. Doall asked. From his embrace, his wife turned her head just enough to eye Todd questioningly.

Todd shrugged. “Well, it stands to reason. If it had been an attack or something science-related, they’d probably need Ellie. We’re confined for our own protection, and they were posting a guard at our door. That means it’s a Security issue internal to the ship. So, someone must be running wild on the ship—other than Ellie, I mean.” He smiled to show he was joking.

And, apparently, his words had reassured her mother, because she disengaged herself from her husband, smoothed her skirts, and said, “Then, since our daughter has elected to leave this conversation, shall we continue it without her? She’ll need time to calm herself.”

“Uh,” Todd stammered. “I think she just wants to get out of the dress. It’s…not comfortable.” It was more than that, and he knew it. Or rather, he knew it now. The outfit had put her in the role of a child again, and for her, that was even more uncomfortable than the dress. She’d change and come back ready to fight for their love as herself and not a Chatwayan girl petitioning her parents.

Her mother gave him a patronizing smile and took his arm to lead him to the table. “Be that as it may, she’ll need at least ten minutes just to get out of that corset. More, if she doesn’t have someone to help her.”

“Or she finds a knife?” He gallantly pulled out a chair for her.

Hiro took a spot opposite. “A phaser is more her style,” he joked. “Remember, my dear, when she wanted us to give her a phaser?”

Natalie frowned.

“Was this when she thought Jirek wanted to kill her?” Back when the King of Chatway was just an obnoxious teenager, he’d sent Ellie what he’d intended to be romantic notes, but he’d tried to write them in Earth Common, and had gotten the vernacular just wrong enough to sound sinister instead of endearing. Ellie, already conditioned by her classmates to see herself as the fat human with no place in proper Chatway society, interpreted them as threats on her life.

“They worked it out,” her father said, but more to his wife. “Though they never told us how.”

“It was…quite an undertaking,” Todd said. Ellie had gone back in time to prevent her younger self from stopping Jirek and Ester from courting, and in the process had helped the three become friends. She’d been very weirded out when she returned to discover just how strong their friendship had grown in the new timeline.

“It’s a miracle, is what it is,” her mother said. She picked up a flaky pastry and started to rip it, setting the scraps on the plate rather than eating. “Anger and fear have been her fallback ever since that awful woman… Did she tell you about her Logic nanny? The one who destroyed her ability to think like a human?”

Todd shifted uncomfortably. Ellie had told him about the nanny on Logic and the games they’d played and the mind-melds and what it had done to her thought processes. He’d laughed when Ellie had complained that her mother thought she was brain-damaged. It had seemed preposterous that anyone could think his brilliant, compassionate fiancé was anything less than exceptional.

Yet there it was. For Ellie, it meant she was forever not good enough in her mother’s eyes, but looking at her mother’s eyes now, Todd saw something different. He reached out and grasped her arm. “Ellie’s fine. Better than fine—she’s amazing. And what happened wasn’t your fault.”

“This isn’t about fault,” her father started.

“Well, maybe it should be—or more to the fact, about letting go of self-blame for the past so you can see what’s here now,” Todd countered. “You still see Ellie as an angry, impulsive 15-year-old who ran away from home to a dangerous career—and you see the four-year-old who woke up with night terrors and had to be on medication. You see Ellie as broken, and…”

“How dare you?” Her father stood. Ellie’s mom, in the meantime, had turned away and was hugging herself as if her stomach hurt.

Todd stayed seated and forced himself to stay calm. “I dare, sir, because I love your daughter. The Ellie she is now. She’s brilliant and loving and insightful and compassionate… People here adore her and not just because she’s saved the ship on more than one occasion. And if she can make a life-or-death decision about someone she loves, I know it will be only after she’s exhausted every alternative, even those most humans would not consider. Because she’s taken what happened to her and turned it into tool she uses to do things very few people can. I trust her with my life.”

Again, he reached out to Ellie’s mom. “But this is my point: She was a mess as a teen. She knows that. You did your best to help her—she knows that, too. But she had to find her own answers. You couldn’t do that for her.”

“How?” her mother asked, still staring at a spot on the floor as if she could pour herself into it and disappear. “We were told the synaptic pathways were too ingrained. How did she heal herself?”

Now Todd hesitated. Ellie had had a year of intense training under her Logic first officer on the Mary Sue. “I…think that’s for her to tell you. But I don’t think she will until you can recognize that she is fine—and forgive yourself for not being the one to rescue her.”

Now, she turned to Todd with a sad smile. “Are you sure you aren’t a psychologist?”

He grinned back, “I took a lot of psych courses as part of my A.I. degree. But I’m also a middle child, and I help Dad raise my younger sibs while Mom’s out on runs. I’ve seen Mom-guilt.”

She took in a breath and let it out in a shuddering sigh, then dabbed her eyes and nose daintily with a napkin. From seemingly nowhere, Shavala stepped forward to take the dirty napkin, replacing it with a clean one, plus a new plate with a fresh pastry. Todd hadn’t even known he was still in the room.

Once everyone had fresh coffee, Natalie, now calm, said, “Well, then, Todd: Tell us about the Ellie you know.”

The door chimed.

She sighed and signaled for Shavala to answer. “Is it bad to almost hope that’s not Ellie yet?”

It was Captain Tiberius, Ensign Gel in tow. They both wore phasers on their belts, but what worried Todd more was the ashen look on the captain’s face.