The Emperor ran her hand over the newly synthesised cloth.
‘So… utilitarian,’ she said.
‘More comfortable than that cuirass, I’ll wager,’ Cornwell said. She was standing, feet wide and arms crossed, still wearing her stab-vest. She was not going to take any chances with this woman, however familiar she looked. The Emperor looked over at her for a moment, waiting for her to move.
‘We don’t have a lot of time,’ Cornwell said. ‘Please, Emperor.’
She did not give any sign of resignation or acceptance, only watched her for a moment more. Then she started working on the clasps of the cuirass.
She should have left the room. The Terran Georgiou was not a prisoner who needed to be guarded. However reprehensible her actions in her own universe was, she was a guest who should be given her privacy. Nevertheless, Cornwell stayed. The Emperor did not ask her to go or move into another part of the quarters. She undressed right in front of her. Then, with each piece of Starfleet regulation clothing, she became more and more the Philippa she had known. It was absurd. First Gabriel, now her. Was there a version of her in that universe? If there were, the Emperor had not known her. She had seen no recognition in her face upon their first meeting.
As the Emperor buckled her boots, Cornwell stepped closer and picked up the uniform jacket. Seeing her like this, dressed in a vest and uniform trousers, was so familiar. She remembered every time she had lain in bed, sleepily watching Philippa throwing on her uniform. She used to reach out and grab her by the arm, stealing a goodbye kiss before she left. This could have been her. Only the hair, which framed her face and changed it, was wrong.
The Emperor turned to put on the jacket, and caught sight of Cornwell. She changed her grip of it, taking it by the neck and holding it open. Georgiou faced away from her and put her arms in the sleeves. They moved in unison, Georgiou shrugging the jacket on and Cornwell pulling it straight over her shoulders. It felt practiced, like they had done it before. She had. Georgiou had not.
‘Your hair doesn’t look right.’
‘Do you know how she wore it?’ Georgiou asked.
It was not until she had picked up the brush and started brushing out her hair that Cornwell realised she had not asked her permission. The Emperor did not object, but stood still. Slowly, the product that straightened her hair was letting go. Between her hands, it regained the soft wave she knew. She put it in a pony-tail and wrapped it with a small section of hair which she pinned to her neck. She let her hands fall. Before she could say anything or even step away, the Emperor turned. The hardened tyrant’s eyes stared from Philippa’s face. She took Cornwell’s hand in hers. Her fingers caressed her wrist. She smiled, and Katrina knew that she knew.
Georgiou let go of her and stepped away. Her smile widened.
‘Curtains up, Admiral.’