The first time Ellie woke up, she called the bridge. Her throat was sore, and it was hard to get a breath, but she rasped, “Captain, the ship. It’s not alien; it’s with the assassin…”

She was interrupted by a baffling cheer from the bridge crew.

The captain said, “Lieutenant, it’s a right joy to hear your voice, but we already took care of the ship. Now you just rest and…”

But she never heard what else he expected her to do.

The second time Ellie awoke, it was to feelings of overwhelming terror and the remembered pain of a barbed knife cutting into her body. She swung and screamed, sure everyone coming at her was an assassin, until at last someone pressed a hypospray against her neck and the world again faded.

The third time Ellie awoke, it was to her mother singing a lullaby as she stroked her hair, just like she used to when she was sick or had had bad dreams. She smiled even before she opened her eyes.

Her mother’s singing stopped. “Ellie? Are you awake dear? Doctor? Doctor! She’s conscious!”

“I’m aware,” came the aspheric reply from elsewhere in the room, and then Doc Sorcha materialized on the side opposite her mother. “And without hysterics this time. That’s a good sign. I think you’ll stay awake awhile. It’s imperative that you keep your core still, but I will arrange the bed so you may sit up, and you’re to let me know if you feel any pain or uneasiness.”

Ellie grinned. Doc Sorcha was tied into the medical sensors; she’d know if Ellie was in trouble probably before Ellie would know herself. The doctor was putting on a show for her mother. She wondered if her mother had given her a hard time about her inattention to her daughter during her recovery. Nonetheless, Ellie nodded in promise and let the EMPT readjusted the bed. The biomonitor that covered her from chest to hips moved with it. The movement was harder than she expected; she felt a sheen of sweat on her forehead from the effort. She let her mother help her sip some water.

“Good,” Doc Sorcha said. “Now, what’s the last thing you remember?”

“The assassin. He stabbed me? He…” Her eyes widened. “Mother! He thought I was you. He wanted to kill you! He…”

Her mother shushed her. “It’s all right. He’s taken care of.”

“He’s dead,” the doctor clarified. “As is the ship that was tailing us. When it was obvious they could not complete their mission, they both self-destructed.”

Her mother threw the photonic healer a dark look. “Everything is fine now. You just concentrate on resting and getting better.”

Ellie’s mind, however, had already started whirling with questions and theories and demands for information. “But, Mother, everyone knows you’re the last to leave a party and up early the next day to check on your guests. If you were the actual target…”

“It’s not something you need to worry about now,” her mother stressed. She fussed at Ellie’s blankets, smoothing the wrinkles, trying to make things neat and perfect as always… Ellie felt a spark of annoyance, but then she noticed how her mother’s hands were trembling.

Ellie set her mother’s hand on her own. “Mother, it’s all right. I’m all right.” But the enormity of the situation caught up to her, and she felt her eyes sting with tears. “Mom, I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have run out like that. I…”

Her mother clasped her hand in both of hers and kissed it. “No. No, Sweetie. It was my fault. I told your father we were given a gift to have this time together, then I squandered it with the same tired assertions.  No wonder you wanted to escape.”

“I wanted to escape the corset,” Ellie tried to joke because her mother was starting to tear up, too, and that would make her cry in earnest. Even the sniffling was making her chest hurt.

Doc Sorcha seemed to sense it. “Should I give you both a sedative?”

Whether she intended it to or not, the doctor’s comment made both women giggle, diffusing some of the tension. Ellie’s mom pulled a silk kerchief from her sleeve and gently wiped Ellie’s tears, then her own. “I don’t think it will be necessary. But if we could have some privacy?”

The doctor gave them a nod, then disappeared. Holographic walls appeared around the bed, making a cozy room.

Ellie’s mom settled herself on the bed facing her daughter. “You have had a continuing run of visitors since you got out of surgery. We’ve heard so many wonderful things about you from your crewmates and friends. Now, of course, we kept up on your deeds. We’ve always known you were smart and daring and courageous, but your crewmates told us about your compassion, your humor… It was a side of you we didn’t know.”

“I’m sorry.”

Her mother stroked her hair, and her smile was regretful. “No, my darling. This is not your fault. Your insightful fiancé has suggested that I don’t really see the woman you’ve become.”

“‘Fiancé’?” Ellie interrupted with a smile.

Her mother sighed but nodded. “Your father and I think there are still more issues than you realize, but if the two of you believe you can work through them, then we have no objections. Not that you really needed our approval, did you?”

“I wanted it, Mom. Where is he? Where’s Dad?”

“Todd is working on his robots—and under protest, I might add. He’d rather be here, worrying at your bedside. Your father is making preparations for our departure. We’ll be at Belon in a few hours.”

Ellie gasped. “Already? That’s not fair!”

Her mother pressed Ellie’s hand to her cheek. Her eyes sparkled with happy tears at Ellie’s words. Nonetheless, her voice was businesslike. “You’re right. It’s not. But what this means is that we expect a real visit in the near future. Your sister has an exhibition on Viventium in four months. Perhaps we can make it a family vacation. In the meantime, we have a few hours. I want to get acquainted with this remarkable young woman who happens to be my daughter.”