That Was Then This Is Now

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Ana  hated men.  What she truly hated were lazy men,  but since all men she had ever known were lazy at heart it really did not matter.  Ana  also hated lazy women but she had never known too many of them where she was from.   Technician Duncan Foster her current partner was  working very hard to avoid his fair share of this job, thus living up to her hard learned belief that all men were lazy and worthy of her disgust.

Everyone in the fleet had said ‘The Phrase’.  Everyone except Ana, Ana Meski  had listened to the endless discussions and walked away from as many as she could.   Now she was out here on this deep space weapons platform with Duncan and he was taking the discussion about ‘The Phrase’ to a whole new level and since no one else was around she could not deflect his conversation to anyone else.  Ana was beginning to really hate Duncan on a personal level and he was reinforcing her observation that the men talked more about ‘The Phrase’ then  the women of the Fleet.

“I mean it how do they know our lives had no substantial impact on the history of the world?”

There it was, for the last six months if people had nothing else to do the same conversation came up again and again ‘no substantial impact on history’ and now the conversation was slowing down her work.  Ana  shook her head slightly and continued the secondary weld on the base of the weapon’s pivot arm as the satellite spun.

“I myself felt as though I was this close to being in the history books.”

Ana  knew that Duncan had his fingers only an inch apart but continued the work, why did men think talking ever accomplished anything.

“You are not listening to me.”  Duncan said as he stepped right in front of the light from the shuttle blocking the her illuminated work area. That was the one thing about space, when working you needed all the light you could get.

Ana  put the  torch into its magnetic holder trying to look over the still glowing metal with the just her head lamp then finally looked up.  “Yes I am listening I am just not commenting.” She wanted to add an angry name to the end of that sentence but she had learned by painful experience  that it was best if women kept their tongues lest they receive a backhand, and even though no one had hit her since the Awakening it was still wiser to avoid the anger of men.  When Duncan did not move she finished his story for him. “You were very close to being a teamster on the relief column that broke Chief Pontiacs hold on the frontier of  Pennsylvania  at the battle of Bushy Run led by Colonel Bouquet.”

“Yeah.”  Her response had caught him off guard but after a second  he continued his rant. ” I was almost with the Colonel.  I was living on the frontier and if the Outfitters had not pulled me from Ligonier two days after the battle at Bushy Run I would have gone on to own some land, I had plans to build a tavern, I would have been a very successful man, but no I am out  building satellites with you.”

Ana  knew that Duncan was not likely to hit her, plus he was pretty far away, and they were both wearing full Mark 4 Environmental Suit so she responded in a slightly testy manner.  “I am the doing all the work you are just standing around complaining.”

Duncan was not deterred and went on like he did not even hear her.  “The point is the Outfitters took the wrong person, I am sure of that.”  Duncan shot back.  “You know what really ticked me off, I had just made the perfect pair of loaded dice and was going to ready to win big after the next pay day. ”  His tone was angry but not directed at her but she inside her suit she cringed anyways.   Ana  was sure Duncan did not see it, being encased by the suit. “Can you please move out of the light.”  Ana  said motioning for him to move.

Duncan did move, but not towards her or towards his own welding equipment, he pushed off the hull of the floating weapons platform and the low gravity allowed him to grab an arm of the communications array, Ana  had hoped he was going to get to work but he just hung on to the  antenna and floated  and continued his rant thru the suit to suit radio circuit.  “As far as we can tell our bloodline was removed from the timeline of Earth, who is to say that our lines were not important to the Earth’s history.”

Ana  was going to hate herself later but she could not stop herself.  “Well the Outfitter made that decision.”

Now that she had directly responded to something he had said Duncan ramped up his enthusiasm.  “Okay I will not go into the issue about who gave them the right to interfere in Earth’s history but how do they know I was not important to the history of Earth.  They admitted themselves that you cannot go back in time, it is a one way door.”

Ana  shook her head, maybe if she engaged him he would run out of steam and maybe help her get the work done.  “No they never said that, all they said was we, as in we,”  she motioned towards herself and him. “people in The Fleet cannot go back in time, maybe they can, maybe they are like angels, incorporeal and can move around time, like we are moving around this satellite.”

Duncan had heard that argument before and already had a counter.  “Well if that is true than why don’t they just go back and tweak along human history so that the current people of Earth are ready to fight this war against the Alarians why bring us from Earth’s past to fight.”

Now Ana  was stumped. “Well,”  and she let this drag out for a few seconds.  “Maybe they have, maybe they changed history just enough so that the people of Earth would be accepting of their ancestors coming along to save them.”

Duncan called out loudly.  “Wrong.”  Then he pushed off the antenna down to the outer skin of the satellite very close to her.  Ana  was on the far side of the support arm but she still was a little scared of his sudden movement towards her. “Since none of us in the Fleet never had kids the current people of Earth cannot be called our offspring, and they cannot call us their ancestors, at the most they can call us forefathers, but since our lineage was stopped we are only distantly related to the current inhabitants of Earth.”

“Well we sure our more related to the people of Earth then those things out there,”  She said motioning towards the stars,  “we are not blue skinned Alarians, or those grey hulking Stetonians or the hundred of other races that make up the Horde.”

Duncan started pacing around sometimes coming on her side of the support arm, other times going towards their shuttle but always talking. “You are getting off the subject  Ana Meski , I think the whole thing about us, you, me and everyone else not having a substantial impact on Earth’s history is because we were taken.  We might have had an impact if allowed to stay on Earth.  If the Outfitters had never plucked us up and put us halfway across the galaxy.”

Ana  snorted she hated when people used her last name it felt like they were being condescending, then went back to running a scanner device over the weld.

Duncan decided to go on another tact.  “You had three sisters right?”

Ana  was surprised she had only talked about her family once, apparently Duncan had listened and remembered.  “Yeah Lia, Tinatini, and Elisbed, and a little brother who died when he was a few days old.”

“Yeah I had a couple of little brothers and sisters die young to.”  Duncan said, then he got back to his original thoughts. “And I assume they had kids?”

“According to the church records I looked up, I think they had a total of seven kids.”  Ana  said dropping he eyes and going back to scanning.

“And I assume if you had stayed on Earth you would have been around those kids even if you did not have kids of your own.”

Ana  wondered where he was going with this.  “I suppose.”

“You would have taught them things, maybe how to sew, or make bread,  or some other useful skill maybe you would have told them stories. ”

Ana simply nodded, more likely her nieces would have learned to tap beer kegs, wipe down tables and avoid the grabby hands of sailors.  The nod was hard to see in a Environmental suit but Duncan was looking directly at her so he saw the gesture.  She got self conscious that he was looking directly at her, so she bent back down even though she was now done with the scanner.

“Well who would have been around to teach them skills if you were not there.”

“Well I suppose my sisters.”

“Ah but none of them would have done it in quite the same way or manner you would have, you would have done it the way you did it, the Ana way, whereas your sister Lia could only do it the way she could do, therefore your method and unique way of doing those things would have been lost when you were snatched from Earth by the Outfitters.”

Ana  thought  fast and did not say that she would have taught her nieces to stay away from her father at the end of the night when business was slow and he drank more than he sold.  “Well the way I baked bread or sewed could not really change history.”

“Not in and of itself.”  Duncan said moving closer to to the sorting table.  “But if your way was unique, then that uniqueness was lost to history, and the ripples in time, like ripples in a pond would be felt eventually.”

Ana  thought about this for few moments.  “Well maybe.”

“So you see the Outfitters were lying when they said we had no impact on history, our ripples were left out of the pool.”

Ana  had a thought and a picture came into her head this happened from time to time with the knowledge the Outfitters had placed in their heads to operate their spaceships.  She was almost used to the knowledge coming up like that but in quite moments it still bothered her.  She had learned to carry drinks without spilling them by doing, but now she could repair highly specialized micro circuitry even though she had never seen anything more complex than a block and tackle before she left Earth.   She spoke up before she could stop herself.  “Do you know what happens when equal ripples meet in a pool of water?”

Duncan thought about it for a few minutes.  “If they are equal magnitude they cancel each other out,” he paused as if the words were coming to him. “destructive interference.”  He said this thoughtfully.   Ana  suspected he was having one of those unintended learning moments like she had just had.

“Well what if the Outfitters understand time ripples and how they can be created and such I mean really understand them like we can walk without even thinking about it, maybe even foresee the ripples in time  and make their ripples accordingly?”

Duncan was silent for a few seconds, and then growled which rattled Ana  a little.  “Okay but that is if you view history or time as a pool, what if you view it as a river, always moving, always effecting the ground it passes thru.”

Ana  looked over her comm panel with the to do list.  “Duncan we really need to get these jobs done.”  She said in a pleading tone.

Duncan stopped his pacing then looked over at her.  “You know if we get this job done there are just fifteen more jobs to complete.”

Ana  rolled her eyes, typical man always doing as little work as possible.   “Well I want to get out of this suit and back into the shuttle.”

Duncan turned and looked at her.  “I thought you liked suit work, every time there is something to be done in suits you are one of the first to volunteer.”

She focused her attentions back on the work list but was inwardly shocked.  It was true she like working in the suits, no one could get to her, she was totally self contained and no one unless they wanted to really hurt her could touch her in her suit, also being in a suit meant she was outside and being outside of the ships meant not many people would be around and she could relax a bit.

“Ana you okay?”  Duncan said and realized she had allowed herself to be distracted, if she had done that around the tavern someone would have taken advantage of that distraction in some way; most likely a  sailor coping a feel.

“Yes I am fine.  Can we get back to work.”  Ana said strongly she hated that she was distracted by the past.  The past was the past and out here in space she was better off than working in the tavern no matter how she had gotten out here.

“Sure I guess so.”  Duncan said sounding a little shocked at her tone.

For the next hour and twenty minutes Duncan actually concentrated on the job and they got the welding done quickly and efficiently, but not quietly.   Ana  was able to politely say ‘yes’ at the right times he paused so he continued working.  He mostly talked about gossip he had heard or wild rumors about what was going on in the rest of the Fleet, but at least he worked.  When they were done Duncan even offered to stow the gear while she did pre-flight checks.   Ana was finishing the short preflight check when he came into the cockpit area.  He discarded his helmet on a secondary chair not placing it on the hook oh his own chair.  The hook was there so the helmet would never be out of reach in an emergency.  “Everything in its place and a place for everything.”  Ana  muttered but in such a low tone she was sure her current partner never heard her.  Besides Duncan had started his conversation back where he had left off.  “Okay never mind weather or not the Outfitters can pull someone from history without disturbing the timeline.”  He made a motion as if throwing away that idea.  “What right do they have to interfere with the natural development of Earth?”

Ana  simply said. “Strap in we are about to take off.”

Duncan strapped in but continued his tirade against the Outfitters.  “If the Outfitters have such a good grasp of history and such, why not just go to the governments of Earth about say a hundred years ago and tell them that the Horde is coming and prep them so they were ready?”

Ana  just shrugged and plugged in a course for the next satellite on the list.  “And another thing do you think Admiral Bashir met the Alarians, he has never said one way or another, but the higher ranks were Awoken long before us lowly technicians, heck Captain Chung was awake two whole days before the rest of the officers I hear.”  Ana said nothing but finished plugging in the route and double checking it before activing the auto pilot.  Duncan rambled on.  “I mean if Admiral Bashir met the Outfitters shouldn’t he share that,”  He paused as if hoping for Ana react but  she continued to say nothing  and purposefully kept her head down doing triple checks of ship board systems.  Duncan tried again. “I personally think it would be very selfish and wrong of him to keep his full knowledge of the Outfitters to himself don’t you?”

Ana  looked up at him and then started to put her hand up to her mouth, then moved the comm link microphone up to her lips. “Brokkr Control this is shuttle two seven bravo on the way to job site Oak on our list.”  Duncan looked like he was about to say something when the comm circuit showed a message coming in. “Shuttle two seven bravo, roger. ”  The voice was clearly that of their supervisor Senior Tech Nejem. “Pick up the pace a little bit two seven bravo you are falling behind in completion of the assigned tasks.”

Ana  smiled, Nejem was not supposed to give out those details in this blind head to head competition but Nejem seemed to have taken a liking to her and Ana really wanted the  much coveted Tech Two position that went to the winner of this two day skills race.  Ana hit the broadcast button. “Roger Brokkr Control Shuttle two seven bravo out.”  Ana cut the circuit, then looked over at Duncan who was frowning.  “What is the matter?”

Duncan shook his head.  “That is what I am talking about who ever heard of a squaw being in charge of fixing things, I mean sure back home women could sew and mend and do things like that around the house of the fort, but when it came to the important things like digging wells,  hitching up horses and big jobs women just aren’t suited to this type of work.”

Ana  spoke before she thought.  “Do you see any wells around here that need dug, our water comes out of a machine which I not only know how it works but how to take it apart and fix it if it should break and I don’t see any horses out here, but if this shuttle breaks down I can break out my tools and I have a pretty good chance of fixing it.  The Outfitters put the same knowledge in your head as they did mine so why am I at the top of our class and your are at the bottom so don’t give me that bull about women not being as good as men, and Nejem is not an American Indian she is from the South Central Asian the sub continent  of India country called India so she is not a ‘squaw’ you dummy.

Duncan just stared at her opened mouth. “You know that is the longest I have ever heard you speak at one time.”

Ana just glared at him and then chose her words more carefully.  “Well,”  then she paused like she did back at the tavern after losing her temper and not getting a backhand right away “I am sorry, I just really want to get that Tech Two position.”

Duncan spoke softly. “Hey don’t mind me I know you are better than me in just about everything we do out here I just spout off a lot without thinking and I keep forgetting that Nejem is not from America, but the Indian thing still really throws me.”  He paused but she did not say anything so he continued.  “Do you know that people are always trying to figure you out,  no one knows what you are thinking because you never talk.”  Ana wanted to say ‘and everyone always knows what you are thinking because you never shut up” but instead bit her tongue and stayed silent.  Duncan shook his head. “I am the one that should be be sorry here, you are the top of the class and you get paired with the dud of the class for this competition.”  Then Duncan smiled.  “Hey you are the only one in our section that has never yelled at me, I was beginning to think you did not like me.”  His smile made Ana smile slightly back. “Ah I saw that a little bit of smile, so you don’t  totally hate me.”

Ana  caught herself and then shook her head.  “You have the controls, I have to use the bathroom.” Without waiting for him to answer she unstrapped and started to rise.

“I know what you mean, I hate using the built in system in this suits but it does save a lot of time.”  Ana  was glad when the door closed behind her and Duncan was still talking about how fast it was to use the suit.

Once by herself she locked the door behind her climbed out of her suit and hurriedly used the bathroom.  Ana  was thankful every time for these clean bathrooms and the way water just poured out of the faucet when she turned it one.  She swore to herself she would always be grateful for the miracle of running water after all the time she spent cranking  buckets up from the well in the back of the tavern.   Before washing up she quickly ducked out of the bathroom and cleaned her suit with the standard towels and then plugged it into its charging unit, then she went back to the luxury of the bathroom with the wonderful hot and cold water.

Ten minutes later she started to get dressed when the steady hum of the engines abruptly stopped, she pulled on her uniform top and stomped onto the flight deck.  “Technician Duncan Foster what did you do?”  Her eyes automatically took in all the instruments.

“Nothing I swear I was just sitting here and all of a sudden our forward propulsion unit redlined and we stopped.

“You did something, engines just don’t deadline for no reason.”  Ana  started to look over the panel.  Engine temp normal, phase variance within specs,  containment was on a upswing but she traced its wavelength and saw it was on the proper course.  She looked at Duncan who was scanning the board as well, but not in the pattern they had been taught.   She stood over him and gritted her teeth. “I am going to ask you one last time Technician Foster what did you do?”

Duncan seemed to sink down in his seat and looked up at her. “Nothing, I was just sitting here, I wanted to listen to some music, and I was scanning the database for one of my music selections, you know like they showed us.”  He motioned towards the information database control.

“Show me what you did.”  Ana  commanded.

Duncan punched in the proper sequence and Ana  watched him.  Right before he was about to hit execute she saw a strange prefix next to his music collection and she caught his finger right before he activated the music.  She highlighted the selection and on all the screens in the cockpit the voice and personage of Senior Technician Nejem appeared and started talking.   “You have uncovered a special task in the competition, by activating a common music selection you have temporarily deactivated your engines but since you have found the extra line of code before beginning maintenance, thus showing extraordinary intuitive diagnostic skills no further delay will be assessed continue with your mission.”  The hum of the engines returned and Ana  quickly checked over the boards to see that their course had resumed.    “No further software glitches will occur.”  Nejem’s image faded from the screens and they returned to their normal displays of information.

Ana  smiled and wondered how many other people had found the glitch within moments of the test being initiated.  She hoped Lee and Ruth took hours to figure out the software problems, they were the only ones close to her in scores coming into this competition for the Tech Two position.

“See I told you I did nothing wrong.”  Duncan said in a somewhat hurt tone.

“Well if you had been paying attention to what you were doing you would have noticed that extra prefix on that playlist.   Anything out of the normal can kill you out here in space,  if you don’t weld something right, if you don’t calibrate something right someone could die, everything we do out here is important, every misstep could be a step towards something breaking and hurting someone do you get that?”

Jeff’s head was down thru most of the lecture she had just given, but during the last sentence it snapped up and he glared at her.  “Don’t you think I know that.  I mess up all the time, and people tell me all the time that I am messing up, now I am stuck with you Ms. Perfection.”  Ana  saw a tear come out of his eye.  “I just want to go home where there is sky and dirt and horses and things I understand.”  Jeff’s voice continued to rise but he remained seated.  “What right do the all knowing and all powerful Outfitters have to pluck me out of my bed and bring all of us a couple hundred years into the future and say, there’s the bad guys, save the Earth.”   Duncan said this last part with a hint of anger in his voice, which made Ana  cringe.

“Tell me you don’t a problem with your life not being you own any more,”  Duncan  asked.  “The Outfitters  are a bunch of aliens that might be worse then the Horde.   They  grabbed you in the middle of the night, took you half way across the universe to fight someone who never did you any wrong doesn’t that make you angry in the least.”

Ana  tried to ignore him but the was getting personal.

“I mean yeah I lived on the frontier and I got cold in the winter, and hot in the summer and the medical care was terrible but we had control of our own destinies, I could go where I wanted, do what I  wanted when I wanted. ” Duncan continued. “Give me dirt under my feet and trees everywhere.”

Ana  slammed her hand down.  “You know what I like about being out here.  I like that I have clean clothes whenever I  want them,  I can eat plenty of hot food and I don’t have to sleep in a flea ridden bed with my youngest sister.”   Now that she had uncorked her feelings it was like she could not stop. “All I could see for my life was the same thing that killed my mother, long days of working serving drinks to sailors and fighting off my father at night when he was drinking.  You may have had a choice in your life I didn’t.”  She said almost shouting.  “I could drink chacha and kill myself slowly like my mother did leaving us to deal with our father on our own or I could have run away from my father’s tavern, but where would I have gone, into the streets doing God knows what to survive.”  Ana  was crying hot tears of anger now. “I thank God for the Outfitters I am free of that terrible miserable existence, I could not even read now I am fixing starships and if I have to kill a hundred or thousand blue skinned aliens as a way of thanking the Outfitters well then so be it.”  She looked over a Duncan who had a look of shock on his face and then she ran into the rear portion of the shuttle craft.

Ana sat in the rear portion of the ship for what seemed like hours, she cried and just when she thought she was finished an image of her sisters would leap to her mind and she would start crying, not that she missed them, but that it felt like she had deserted them by being glad the Outfitters had plucked her out of her home in Poti on the Black Sea.  Poti, where the men smelled and the women could never get clean, thinking of what she had escaped made her happy that she was here.  A simple ding brought her out of her pity party.  The ding was the sound of the suit reaching its full charge which she knew only took an hour.  She went to the bathroom and cleaned herself up, washing her face with a wonderfully cool wet cloth, then put a calm look on her face and went to the flight deck.

Duncan had just finished placing his suit in the charging cradle and stood up suddenly when she came thru the door, then he did what he always did he started talking.  “Hey Ana  I am sorry I got upset and if I offended you I am sorry for that.”

Ana  just nodded and went to the pilot’s chair and checked the board.  One hour and twenty minutes till they were at the next test site, good Jeff’s suit would be fully charged.

“Ana ?”  Duncan said tentatively almost timidly.

“Yes.”  She said not looking up.

“You said something a little while ago, I did not understand can I ask you about it?”

Ana  breathed in deeply. “Yes Duncan what?”

“You said the word ‘chacha’, what is that?

Ana  smiled.  “It is a disgusting cheap nasty drink, the leftover part of wine that Georgia is famous for, it is what we served to the degenerate sailors who came into our tavern.”

Duncan was silent for a few minutes.  “Chacha sounds like cheap applejack.”

Ana  glanced over at him. “Applejack?  Is that something made from apples.

“Yeah.”

“I love apples.”

Duncan nodded.  “Me too, but there is something about the apples that come out of the machines out here, either they are too mushy, or too soft, or dry I mean who ever heard of a dry apple?”

Ana  responded.  “Yeah, I ordered one the other day, it came out round, apples aren’t round they are well apple shaped, how hard is that to for a computer to comprehend?”

Duncan laughed at that then got quite for a minute then spoke quietly in a serious tone.  “You could not read before the Outfitters grabbed you?”

Ana looked at him.  “No could you?”

Duncan shook his head.  “But hey look at us now.”

Ana smiled.  “Yeah look at me now.”

If you liked this story you can find my books from my Outfitters Universe at smashwords.com.    Right now you can read the books in order but I suggest Scouts Out, Disconnect and lastly Q Runner.   Coming out soon (Dec 2017) will be Primary Collision, the 4th book in the Outfitters Universe, and the 3rd book in the Fleet Stories.   Leo Grant and the crew of the Arrogant Lion (Scouts Out) have a large role in the book along with Shelby Pickett (from Disconnect).  

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