Emma looked back at Sanctuary as the ship left orbit, she was glad it was behind her now. No more being substandard, no more being last in everything, no more being weak. It did not matter what was ahead on Earth she would just be one of the millions on the planet. She knew she would have to pull her own weight, doing some sort of job, but it would not be a matter of life and death.
She had always tried to pull her own weight, even back in Utah she was just a little behind everyone else. Even her younger sisters seemed stronger than her. Even her ‘baby’ sister, Sarah, at fifteen was taller than Emma, able to reach things on the top shelf without the cursed step stool that Emma relied upon.
Out in her father’s butcher shop all her siblings were able to help their father with little effort, but she always took longer, needed an extra boost or just a little help.
It got worse after the Awakening here on Sanctuary. The Outfitters must have had some sort of perverse humor making her a Marine. She had looked up stats on the six thousand and thirty Marines in the Fleet, and she was the shortest. Standing at only five foot tall the next person closest to her was a five-foot one-inch officer, who was made a Captain. Emma guessed he must have been some sort of military genius to be given such a position. Her Captain, Zhu Dake, was only five foot five inches but the man could fight, she had seen him take out two people at once because he was lighting fast.
She was often paired up against him when the company had single elimination fighting tournaments as everyone else towered over her, but he easily took her out and moved on to fight bigger and better opponents than her. He was always gracious about it, and she had even landed a few blows on him, but he shook them off like they were nothing. She kinda thought he was putting on a show for her.
She had met with him two days ago when she had requested to go back to Earth with the next transport. He had tried to talk her out of it, but her mind was made up, after coming in last once again on the three-day obstacle course she had enough. It seemed everyone in the platoon had tried to talk her out of leaving. Even Juan, who always made fun of her he had told her not to go.
Emma shook her head, she was simply deadweight on her fire team, a burden to her squad, a weak link in her platoon and a liability in the company. Captain Zhu Dake had tried to show her she was not holding the company back with statistics and charts. He said her performance was always well within the standard, she carried her own gear, and everything assigned to her, but she knew he was just trying to make her feel good. All she ever saw was the backs of her fellow Marines as they outran her and out fought her.
Not that Captain Zhu Dake had any say, anyone could leave the Fleet whenever they wanted. But Commander Geritt, the Top Marine in the Fleet, had addressed all of his Marines and asked that if any Marine wanted to leave, he would at least do him a personal favor and talk to his chain of command about why he or she was leaving.
Everyone knew that only one Marine had left the Regiments before this, and his name was mud as far as everyone who stayed was concerned, he was one of the Renegades. Some other Marines had left, in fact she would be third, all the others were women as well, but they were all pregnant. But they all had met with their commanders before going back to Earth. Those departures had been understandable.
Emma was sure that was the not the case with her, no one seemed to understand why she wanted to leave. Captain Zhu had asked her if she would at least teach the skills the Outfitters had placed in her brain, weapons, tactics and even hand to hand to the modern Earthers.
She was unsure how good she was going to be as a teacher, but she had promised Captain Zhu she would, so she would. Her family, especially her father, was proud of never making a promise he did not keep.
She settled into her bunk on the transport ship, she had a room to herself and unheard-of luxury in the Marines, heck even before the Outfitters she had shared a bed with her two sisters. There were no real requirements for her on this ship going back to Earth, except a lot of reading. She read up on the training she was going to be required to do, and there was also the social changes on Earth.
Most of the changes on Earth sounded just silly and she was not sure how she was going to get by. The biggest one, no one on Earth ate meat. Not that she had real meat since awakening on Sanctuary everything was the fake replicated stuff but at least it looked and tasted like real meat even though it was just reconstructed molecules into something that was meat like.
The voyage was a going to be a long one and she soon fell into a schedule, a couple of hours at the gym, then reading up on Earth, followed by a couple more hours in the gym, then falling asleep in her room reading.
It was the third week of the trip, and she was just leaving the gym. If she was going to be teaching Marines back on Earth, she should at least give the appearance of what a real Marine looked like, even though she never lived up to the standards set forth by the real Marines.
She was coming out of the on-board gym when she heard a woman shrieking turning the corner, she realized it was one of the pregnant women on board. She was kneeling down on the floor hanging onto the wall. Emma ran to her. “Are you okay?”
“My baby is coming.” The woman roared.
Emma looked around, no one was in sight, and she did not have her comm link on her. “Okay I will get you to sick bay.”
The woman looked at her and nodded fervently, Emma helped her up the woman screamed again. “I don’t think I can make it.”
Emma looked again around for help and saw no one. “Okay I will get you there.” Emma then got behind the woman and picked her up cradling her in her arms and started walking, getting her to the closest turbo lift she commanded it to take them to the Medical Bay. All along the woman was basically screeching in her ear. She shouted as she entered the medical bay. “A little help here.” A Medical Technician looked up from a table where he had his head down napping and Emma carried the woman to a nearby bed putting her on top of it.
Twenty minutes later Emma was walking away from the Medical Bay, the girl, named Olga, had given birth to a baby boy. The kid had inherited his mother’s strong lungs as he came out crying. Emma had smiled as she watched the mother cradling the newborn and took that as her cue to leave.
Emma turned to see who was calling for her. She knew it was for her, as she was the only Marine on the ship. Turning she saw it was the Captain of the ship. In reality he was only a Jr. Lieutenant, but he commanded the ship, so he was a Captain. “Yes sir.” She said turning and coming to the position of Parade Rest.
“At ease Marine, I am sorry I forgot your name.” The Lieutenant said as he walked up to her.
“Emma Anderson sir.”
“You can leave the sir off, I just wanted to thank you for helping Olga and her baby.”
“It was really nothing sir, anyone else would have done the same.” Emma stated plainly.
“Well still, thank you. They say you brought her in, can I ask you where you found a grav lift to bring her in.”
Emma shook her head confused. “I did not use a gravity lift sir, I carried her.”
“You carried Olga, the blonde Swedish lady?”
Emma simply nodded.
“You carried the six-foot-tall blonde pregnant lady, the one nicknamed Lady Thor?”
Emma shrugged. “It really was not that big a deal sir, a bit lighter than a some of my fellow Marines back on Sanctuary, it was only a couple hundred meters, the hardest part was holding her while she was yelling in my ear on the turbo lift, it kind of echoed in there.”
“I see.” The ensign said. “Well good job.”
“Am I dismissed sir; I was going to get a shower before having some dinner.”
“Yes, you are dismissed Marine Emma Anderson.”
Emma saluted with a fist to her chest, did an about face and left the area.
Emma breathed in the air, it was so clear here, almost like home, which was less than a thousand or so miles away, if she got some time off, she might sign out a shuttle and fly home. From the shadows she looked out over the field where the recruits were lining up. She adjusted her comm link making sure it would stay in place as she was demonstrating the exercises.
She had memorized the exercises she was going to go thru this first morning, and she had already laid out the course they were going to run. Luckily, she had helpers who were lining everyone up and she did not have to deal with the minutia of making sure lines were straight or people had enough space. She ran up the steps up the raised platform and centered herself so everyone around could see her.
Half an hour later she let out a deep sigh and decided to end the calisthenics only halfway through the exercises she had planned. There was not a single person who was able to keep up with her, not even her ‘helpers’ who had volunteered to keep the fifty students organized. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, they had gotten in late last night and then mustered on the field just as the sun was coming up over the Rockies. Maybe it was the altitude or the unfamiliarity of what she was asking.
She was tasked with helping to build a fighting force similar to the Marines, basic ground troops, and these fifty people had volunteered to be the founding members of it. She had not talked to any of them last night as she was only their trainer, teacher. Not their commander, he would be here in a week. She did not understand that logic, but she was just the trainer.
She signaled everyone that they would begin the morning run and she dismounted the steps and lead the fifty cadets on her pre planned route.
It was a week later, and the commander had arrived at the camp.
“Your report says they are not meeting the standards.”
“That is correct sir.”
There was silence from the man as he shuffled through the reports on the desk in front of him, he looked at one chart for a long time. “It says here they are meeting the standards on the cardiovascular part of the training.”
Emma nodded. “Just barely sir, and if I add a pack or even a rifle to carry, they do not pass.”
The Captain simply nodded. “I need to think about this, I will be in the area the rest of the day, watching your teaching, what is the schedule?”
“Heading to lunch now, and then weapons training, followed by our first hand-to-hand class.”
“Very good.” The captain said putting the comm panel down.
Emma walked with the skinny captain to the chow hall, Emma noted that the new replicators where hardly used and, but she grabbed a hamburger and kettle chips. She noted the salad bar seemed to be the preferred grazing material for most of the ‘troops’ and the support staff. No one ever wanted to eat meat, even replicated meat, which she found barely palatable.
The Captain watched her eat the hamburger and she could tell he did not approve but these Modern Earthers were so deferential, they would never come right out and say anything to her. She pointedly ignored the judgmental looks and read a letter from Olga on her comm panel.
Olga had decided they were going to be friends on the trip back to Earth and had talked to her every time she saw her. Which was not often due to Emma’s solitary habits. Now that they were back on Earth Olga had begun sending her an electronic letters every couple of days. Emma wrote back, occasionally, always short letters, but every couple of days a new letter from Olga showed up regardless of her response or lack thereof.
She was instructing the volunteers on the blaster carbine, a shorter version of the standard blaster rifle, a little less powerful but with its own advantages. She watch her people handle the weapons like they were loaded, even though she had expressly forbidden the power cartridges to be anywhere near the weapons. Forbid was not strong enough, she had personally collected every weapon power cartridge in the camp and locked it in a trunk underneath her bed and she was the only one that had a key. The very first time these trainees had handled a weapon they had pointed it at her no less than twenty times, and that was just the ones she had seen. Of those twenty times, she heard the distinctive trigger click at least ten times.
It was a problem and but there was no way she was going to give these trainees a way to kill her or even just stun her with these weapons.
The two-hour training went well with only three weapons being carelessly pointed at her. Twice by the Captain who had joined in on the training. The amount of times the trainees pointed them at each other was too numerous to count. But her preaching about keeping fingers off the triggers seemed to be working as she had only heard two trigger clicks from the thankfully empty carbines.
Two hours later she was ready to give up.
The hand-to-hand combat training session was a total and absolute failure. She had tried to get them to punch some free-standing bags initially, seven of them had cried on the first hit. No one had hit them; it was from them hitting the bag.
She had to show them all how to make a fist, keeping their thumbs outside of their fingers. After the bag work, she was scared to try kicking so she moved on teaching them how to fall, a simple judo roll, rolling and slapping the mats. She thought the mats were too soft, but after the first couple of falls three of her trainees had requested to use the auto-docs for injuries. She then moved onto a simple wrestling move, the double leg takedown. She had wrestled even before the Outfitters; it was something they just did in her family. The Outfitters just gave her a better understanding of her natural moves.
The Modern Earthers were abysmal. They were hesitant in everything, falling, pushing, shoving, grabbing, or pulling. They were afraid they were either going to get hurt or hurt someone else. She walked away after one of the largest men in the group cried when she demonstrated the double leg take down on him.
The Captain had watched the whole class not participating and when she walked away, leaving the large man crying, he had asked her to stop but she kept on walking.
The man was not her commander. She was not technically in the military any longer. Her title was Training Consultant, and she had a feeling after this demonstration of her inadequacy she was going to lose that job, but she was not sure what to do, as her father had said many times “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
The man was a butcher, so he knew pig’s ears.
The next day was the beginning of a three-day weekend, some sort of holiday here on Earth, Peace Day. She originally was going to continue training, but she sent out a notification that the training would begin again on Monday. That night she took a shuttle and went home.
At least that is what she wanted to do, but somewhere she had read you can never go home again. What had been the location of her home was now covered in small gardens managed by automated machines, that grew all matter of vegetables and fruits.
She landed the shuttle as close as she could figure where the house had once stood, lining up the mountain peaks close enough that she was within a couple hundred meters of where her home had been. Not even a foundation remained. It had been two hundred and seventy-four years, so it was to be expected. She did not know what she had been expecting.
She spent the night sleeping on the roof of the shuttle, unsure what to do with herself. She watched the stars as they came out. So familiar but so different now that she had seen some of them up close. She was surprised that she knew so many constellations now, undoubtedly Outfitter knowledge coming up from somewhere deep in her brain.
In the morning she climbed back in the shuttle and was having breakfast from the replicator when a chime sounded on her comm panel. Another letter from Olga. She opened it out of habit. Just news about her and the baby whom she had named Rupert after his father who was a Marine. A Marine that she did not know but was still out with the Fleet. The last line was the same, come and visit when she got a chance.
Emma looked at the last line, come and visit. Why not, she had a chance now.
“Well tell me what you have been doing.” Olga said as they watched the neighborhood children playing. Junior was down for a nap, and they were sitting on the porch drinking tea.
Something came over her and she proceeded to talk for the next hour, telling about her job as a trainer, the lack of progress, and her fear of losing her job. She cried for the last part. Olga handed her a tissue and let her get herself together while she went and got more tea and checked on the baby. When Olga returned Emma had composed herself and apologized for her outburst.
Olga shook her head. “You were there when I needed you, I can do nothing less.”
Emma smiled halfheartedly.
“You are my family, my sister, and you are as of this moment Rupert’s god mother.” Olga said smiling.
Emma was shocked and a tear slide down her face and nodded her head yes. They hugged again. “Can I come live here when I lose my job?”
Olga smiled and shook her head. “No.”
Emma was shocked and confused “No?”.
“You are welcome here of course, but you are not going to lose your job. You are going to go back and turn those wimps into Marines or some sort of equivalent.”
“I don’t think it can be done.” Emma said getting defensive.
Olga shook her head. “Do you know what my job was before I left the Fleet.”
Emma shook her head; it had never come up.
“I was in Fleet Intelligence, a technical analyst on Commander Gerritt’s staff and if there is one thing I learned, my Rupert and all your Marine buddies out there,” she said motioning skyward. “are going to need as much help as you can give them eventually against the Alarians.”
“But I don’t know if I can.”
Olga reached over and gently slapped her on the face then got right next to her face. “Are you going to let your god son grow up without a father because you could not get your job done?”
Emma swallowed hard. “No.”
Olga hugged her now. “Of course, you’re not, I believe in you.”
It was just then that her god son started crying.
Flying the shuttle back to the camp in Montana she received a signal to land for an encrypted message. Landing on a nearby mountain she engaged the comm gear.
“Marine Anderson.” The voice of Commander Gerritt came through her headset.
“Sir.” Emma said.
“This is going to be short as I stopped my ship to make this call and I do not want to fall too far out of formation.”
“Olga tells me you are having some difficulties training the Modern Earthers.”
“Well, it is your job to build them up, if you have to tear them down and start from scratch so be it, but I need fighters, I need you to do this job.” There was a pause. “You gave up on yourself, me and your fellow Marines out here because you were afraid you did not measure up, is that correct?”
Emma answered hesitantly after a long pause. “Yes sir.”
Commander Gerritt responded. “Horse shit.” He said gruffly. “I saw your stats, you were doing fine, but maybe it is for the best, maybe you needed more time to overcome your doubts and fears Marine.” He said the next part a bit softly. “I am overcoming my fears and doubts every day, time for you to do the same.” He turned back on his gruff tone. “I need you Marine. I need you to do this job, I am sending you some documents with some ideas of how to start, but the plan to build some fighters has got to be yours.”
“Send me fighters Marine, we are counting on you.”
“Tell me you are going to build me warriors.”
“I am going to build you warriors sir.” Emma said.
Gerritt growled. “Say it like you mean it Marine.”
Emma had heard him use this phrase before and knew what he wanted. “I am going to build you warriors sir.” Emma said loudly. Emma had learned if you say something loudly it sounded and made you feel like you really meant it.
“I am going to hold you to that Emma.” Gerritt said and in that moment, she heard her father’s voice.
“You are,” stressing the word are, “a good Marine Anderson, maybe this is why you are on Earth.” He paused and Emma could almost feel the smile across the distance. “Gerritt out.”
The communication channel closed, and she saw she had also received a large amount of documents and a few videos as well during the transmission. She put her head down on the console of the ship and took a deep breath.
On Monday morning, just as sun crested the mountains to the east she lit the firecrackers, letting them drop into the empty trash can. The ones at the other end of barracks started to go off as well thanks to the long fuse, she smiled, her timing had been nearly perfect. She unholstered her blaster and went in shooting the stunning bolts into the ceiling.
Twenty minutes later she watched as the trainees shivered in the early morning. She was dressed exactly as they were, running pants, hooded sweatshirt, and black knit cap. She handed her equipment belt with the sidearm off to a labor droid and motioned for the running to begin.
They were only a mile out when she heard some muttering and looked back to see someone throwing up alongside the road. She motioned for those nearest to her to keep running and ran back to talk to the one who fell out. Yelling at the lone female. “Either get moving or get on the truck.”
The girl looked behind her to see the hover trucks that had been following them down the dirt road from the camp. She nodded and walked towards the truck.
The girl did not know that she was not just going back to camp, she was leaving the program. A prerecorded message was waiting for her back a camp telling her to pack up her personal gear and get on a shuttle.
Emma sprinted back to the head of the formation and kicked up the pace as the leaders had slowed down letting the formation have a sort of a break.
Over the next two hours the hover trucks had taken thirty-five people back to camp. It looked like she was about to lose number thirty-six any moment. She held up her hand slowing the formation to a walk giving the last person a reprieve. There was no water in nice clean cups waiting here as there had been whenever they ended a run, but there was water available.
There was a stream about a hundred yards away from the dirt road they had been on. Leaving the road and she walked towards the stream. She noted that the fifteen people followed her hesitatingly. She got down on her knees and took a long cold drink directly from the stream, then she took off her knit cap and dunked her head in the water.
After drinking her fill, she looked around, they were all down by the stream but while they all looked thirsty not a one of them had gotten a drink yet.
She walked out into the stream and then started walking up stream. It was cold, but she knew she had to set an example, at least that was said time and time again in all the stuff Commander Gerritt had sent her. They were either going to follow her or she was just going to have wet feet.
Emma looked up the mountain range and smiled. After the half mile walk in the creek her group following her slowly, she had gotten back on the old dirt road, and she signaled for the robots to unload the packs. Luckily with automation the bags were packed exactly to her specifications and individualized to each trainee. Without a word she took off her wet shoes, socks, and pants down to her athletic shorts. Leaving on the hoody she put on fresh socks and then her boots. She watched the trainees follow her lead except for three, one woman and two men.
She was adjusting her ruck when the three came up to her, the woman, spoke up. “Ah Emma we want to go back to the camp.”
Emma simply nodded.
“We are sorry, but we are beat.”
“So go.” Emma said pulling a hat, called a ball cap, out of her ruck and placed it on her head.
“We are sorry, but we need to rest.”
“No one is stopping you.” She said motioning towards the closest truck. The three turned to go and she said it loud enough for everyone to hear. “But you get on that truck you are not coming back; at camp you are going to pack up your gear and leave the program.”
“What?” One of the men asked angrily.
“Anyone getting on a truck is out of the program, everyone that has left is already on a shuttle and out of the program.” She shouted so everyone could hear her. The remaining people looked around at each other. “Enough talk, if you are coming, ruck up, weapons belts on, we are moving out, if not the trucks will take you back.” Suiting actions to her words she strapped on her gun belt with a fully charged blaster on her hip and started walking.
It felt good to be carrying a weapon again. On Sanctuary everyone was armed all the time, and she was going to institute that here.
After landing the shuttle back at the camp she dived into the documents that Commander Gerritt had sent. It was basically a crash course in building a fighting force from nothing. All the documents stressed starting with a small group, tried, tested, ones that she could trust implicitly. Gerritt had stressed this point many times in the documents; better five lions than five hundred sheep.
Luckily, she had always been able to read quickly, even before the Outfitters she had high marks for reading and writing in her one room schoolhouse and Sunday School.
She needed to winnow down these fifty and see who would not quit, to see who had a fighting spirt, but at the same time show them that she would lead them, not just tell them to go. She called Olga and talked about her plan, Olga had giving some suggestions and encouragement but, in the end, it was Emma’s plan.
After gearing up from the trucks she had begun a leisurely pace, at least she thought it was, they had walked only three kilometers when someone stopped and gotten on a hover truck. It was closing in on noon according to the sun when she stopped and took off her rucksack. She started chewing on the prepackaged food, she had made the standard ration for everyone. She was halfway through her own meal when one man approached her, she had seen the group talking and he was the obviously the spokesperson.
She was leaning against her ruck and raised her hat brim to look up at him. “Yes.”
“Is there anything to eat?”
“Yes, everyone’s ruck was packed exactly the same, you have the exact same rations I do.” She said taking another bite of her turkey and cheese wrap.
“We don’t eat meat.”
“Fine, then don’t eat.” Emma said taking a sip of water from backpack water bladder. There was a lot of sidelong looks at her and she saw a few people taking tentative bites out of the burrito like meal. After she had finished eating and laid back on her ruck for a short nap with her ball cap pulled low over her eyes simply enjoying the warm sun and clean mountain air, she got up stretched, rucked up and started walking.
The entire group watched her and followed suit. Emma walked on for three more hours at a slow leisurely pace continuing away from the camp.
She had scouted the next stop carefully the day before, a large open meadow with the same mountain stream nearby. The trainees looked wiped out as they let their packs drop and the formed a semi-circle around her. “Eat if you want to, water to fill your bladders is over there, weapons training in fifteen.”
Fifteen minutes later she was standing in the semi-circle of the remaining fourteen people. She had dug out her comm link and panel out of her bag, the only thing she carried that the trainees did not. Checking on the status of the ones who went back to camp she saw thirty of them had left camp. Of the nine remaining they had sent her an electronic letter protesting their removal from the program. She would deal with that issue later.
She then sent a command to the labor droids to start making the preparations for dinner. Al fresco as it were, in fact the next several days everything would be outside, sleeping, eating and hygienic matters. This last part was more of a test for her, these Modern Earthers had no problem with exposing themselves to each other, but she still had some of her Mormon modesty. It had taken a big hit back on Sanctuary, but she was still a bit shy about some things.
Weapons training went better than she hoped, there was only one negligent discharge and it had not hit anyone. Luckily all the weapons had been reprogrammed to only fire on light stun, but it had been a wake-up call about trigger discipline when they unholstered them up and found them loaded and ready to fire. Their first time with loaded weapons.
The dinner that night went as good as she expected. She had the robots bring out grills and then she had personally cooked raw replicated beef steaks, the smell was amazing to her, not so much her vegetable eating trainees. She had seen some eating the beef, they all ate the baked potatoes and corn. She had not gotten any of these as she ate last after serving the steaks.
She had put a little shame on them for this, announcing loudly that she did not have a baked potato or corn, even though there had been an exact number for the remaining people. “Not much of a unit if you are only looking out for yourselves when it comes to a simple thing like food.”
That night she had them set up a guard rotation, with herself on the roster as the last one in the morning. Then she simply laid out her air mattress, pulled out her sleeping bag and laid down to watch the stars coming out, falling asleep to whispers around her.
She woke to the sun the next morning. She knew immediately what had happened, someone had fallen asleep on guard duty and not woken the next one on the roster and so forth until no one had woken her up. She pondered what to do for a few minutes, trying to figure out how to handle this breech. In the Fleet Marines there would be punishment of some kind, but that only worked if you knew who dropped the ball as it were, maybe this needed to be a bigger example.
She pulled her blaster, double checked the setting, and popped up and started shooting.
Over the next two days, no one else fell asleep on guard duty. Being woken up by your trainer shooting you in the legs with a blaster on stun setting is not a good way to prepare for a twelve-mile road march.
Just to show she was fair, she shot herself in the legs with the stun setting after shooting each of them. The look of horror on the trainee’s face as she fell to the ground was priceless.
It was the middle of the third day when things came to a head with the remaining nine people, three women and six men to be exact. She had just finished her lunch when one man approached before she started another hand-to-hand lesson.
After the first disastrous day she went to slow motion empty air kicks and punches, katas and three step sparring, getting their form right, eventually she would bring in the bags and pads but not right away.
“Emma, can I talk to you?”
“Is this about hand-to-hand combat because that is what we are about to do.” Emma said while tying her shoe.
“No this is about our living conditions, the food, the lack of hygiene, the beds.”
Emma had been waiting for this, looking around she saw everyone was watching her. She motioned them to come in closer. Then took off her sweatshirt so she was just down to her sports bra, she felt almost naked but wanted to be ready for what was next. Taking a deep breath, she began.
“You wanted to be here, you got through the selection process to get here, you wanted to be Marines.” She saw a few nods. “Let me tell you, you will never be Marines like the ones out in space right now.” She paused slightly. “Every single one of them out there is tougher than me, faster, stronger, and willing to be there.” She let that sink in. “They are all willing to do whatever it takes to win in a fight, they don’t quit, and they would think what you have been through these last couple of days as an easy stroll.” She looked in the faces of the nine left. “You wanted to be fighters, fine then fight to stay here, fight to protect Earth, fight to protect your home, your friends, fight to save the people you love.”
Emma let there be silence for a few moments.
“All the weak-willed members are gone, you remain out of the fifty that started, you have something in you that won’t quit.” Emma looked around. “I was not sure it still existed with you Modern Earthers. The ‘nothing will stop me’ attitude. “Do any of you know the name of this trail we are on?”
There were shrugs and confused looks.
“This is part of the Oregon Trail.”
A few looks of recognition crossed some faces.
“One of the trails people took while crossing America in the pioneer days, walking or riding over two thousand miles from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean.” She looked at the nine left. “There were no auto-docs, no food trucks, heck our boots are light years better than anything we could even dream of then.” She let that sink in, then decided to clarify. “I was twelve when the last great wagon trains ended. That was in 1869, again I was twelve.”
This got a gasp from the trainees, she heard speculation about her background, but she had never shared with anyone on Earth where or when she was from.
“So, if you don’t want to eat what I tell you, if you don’t want to train the way I tell you, if you want to quit, go ahead.” She looked around glaring. “I see something in you though.” Looking each in the face again. “Something that can be built upon. If you stay, I will teach you, I will help shape you, I will turn you into fighters, but the choice has to be made. Every step you have taken has been a choice. Every bite of meat you have consumed has been a choice to do what it takes.” Emma paused. “Don’t quit now.”
She turned her back and put some distance between her and the group, then turned back to face them.
“Anyone stays has to fight me right here right now. I might hurt you, you might hurt me, but it shows me that you are all in.”
Emma watched them closely, they were looking at each other unsure of what to do, then one of the girls stepped forward putting up her hands in the basic fighting position.
She looked around at the group before putting up her hands in the same position. “It begins here.”
One year later Captain Emma Anderson looked out on the training field. It was the first day of the new group. Her nine sergeants were out straightening the lines, getting the people in the proper position for the morning exercises. From the shadows she looked out over the field where the new recruits were lining up. She adjusted her comm link making sure it would stay in place as she was demonstrating the exercises to the two hundred people new volunteers, she anticipated by the end of the week the group might be down to a hundred.
Better five lions than a hundred sheep.
“And that is how I saved George Washington’s life.”
Miles held up his hand. “Right hand up to God, upon my dear mother’s soul it happened just they way I have told you.”
Some of the people in the kneeling in the corridor rolled their eyes while one or two nodded in agreement.
One who rolled his eyes and now waved his hand dismissively. “If you did something as significant as saving George Washington’s life then you would not have been snatched.”
Miles had heard this before and came back with a well thought out answer. “But you see I did that before I was snatched away so therefore the rest of my life was not going to amount to anything in the Outfitter’s eyes. Besides the Outfitters knew I would be much better use out here. ”
Again the eyes rolled. “Yeah right fuel man.”
Miles looked back at him with a smug look then spoke. “Yeah I am just a fuel man, making my deliveries in and out of ships, blending in, talking to all sorts of people on all kinds of different ships.” The Marine was about to say something but Miles stopped him with a raised hand. “Never mind about that last part I am just a fuel man. ”
The Marine waived his hand dismissively.
Miles was about to say something when the door to the hangar bay opened and a medical team came rushing past with a patient on a stretcher. Some of the people in the corridor simply watched, others made the sign of the cross and others made other motions with their hands. The talkative Marine was one of them that made the sign of the cross.
“He will make it through, I read his aura it is very strong.” Miles stated.
Another Marine who had not spoken yet but had rolled his eyes spoke now with some anger. “Shut up you big fat liar.”
“No really I can read auras my mother was a gypsy and she had the gift.” Miles was about to start telling another story when the Marine’s Lt. yelled. “On your feet Marines we are heading directly to the transport and getting off this ship.”
Miles stood with the Marines, mostly to just get closer to the wall so he would be out of the way.
“Move out.” The order was shouted and Miles pressed himself flatter against the wall and watched the Marines jog past him, but not so fast that he did not see the look of contempt coming from the two Marines they brushed past.
Miles smiled no need for him to run, he was just going to get on his ship then back to the Star Digger, no need to hurry. He strolled in the direction of his ship looking around at the current chaos that was the landing bay, he counted two wrecked ships, Sharks he thought. A Traffic Control Officer stopped him and told him to move his ship the sooner the better. Miles nodded and continued towards his ship and pressed the ramp activation and as he looked around he noted the clean up crew scrubbing down the deck nearby with a laser brush. He walked over and looked over what they were doing.
“You missed a spot.” Miles stated.
Ten minutes later the same Traffic Controller’s Office stomped over.
Miles held up one fingers motioning for him to give him a minutes and Miles continued to talk. “And after I sold him the brushes I said, ‘Hey Michelangelo everyone paints on walls why don’t you paint somewhere original’ and I pointed up to the ceiling.”
There were a few nods around the assembled group.
“Refueling Tech if I have to tell you again I will write you up, now get your ship out.” The Ensign said more forcefully now.
“Okay Ensign I am going,” Miles turned back to his audience and in a wise and serious tone stated. “Just remember always think outside the box.”
Miles walked away with the Traffic Control Officer glaring at him. He saw that the ramp had gone up again, he was about to push the button when the familiar whine began and the lamp lowered.
“Lucy I am home.” Miles said going up the ramp.
“Your presence is requested on the bridge Miles.” The general labor droid said as Miles closed the ramp.
“Jeeves you are a good man.”
The general purpose droid stared at him unblinking. “Sir I must remind you that I am not a man and my name is Carson.”
Miles reached out and patted the mechanical man on his shoulder. “Whatever you say Jeeves.”
Miles stopped by the gallery on his way to the bridge and grabbed a sandwich along with a bottle of ice tea.
He arrived on the bridge and slid into the copilots seat placing his sandwich on the console.
“Do not place that sandwich on the console.” The words came out as a hiss.
“Hey no mayo on this one, just some mustard.” Miles said defensively.
“Strap in we got the greenlight to leave twenty minutes ago.”
Miles took another bite of his sandwich and began to strap in. He had barely strapped in when they began to move and even though he could not hear the chatter from Traffic Control because he did not have his headphones on yet he could Fahad was getting an earful.
“Yes Traffic Control we have everything locked down and will be out of your airspace in a few short minutes. ”
Miles could not help him space. “Its not technically ‘airspace’ it is the vacuum of space.” He shut up when Fahad gave him a sour look. Miles looked around at the panels and noted everything was set correctly and there were no current problems so he finished his sandwich and then sipped slowly on the bottle of iced tea as he watched Fahad drive the ship off the Aid Ship the Charles Drew. He put on his headphones but did not bother turning on the piloting channel instead he pulled up the internal viewing monitors and flipped through the channels. He found the Ensign laying face down in the Engineering section in a hastily hung hammock with an empty bottle on the floor underneath her. “How do you fall asleep face down in a hammock?” Miles asked out loud.
Fahad huffed. “You do it after drinking a quart of rot gut whiskey.”
“Is she alive?” Miles said looking for some sign of movement from their Commanding Officer.
Fahad punched a button and a heart beat monitor was superimposed on the screen, the woman’s heart rate showed a steady seventy beats per minute.
“When did you rig that up?” Miles asked.
“When you were off gallivanting around.”
“Gallivanting around, I will have you know I was doing important work, gathering information and gauging the mood of the troops, establishing a baseline of morale for my report.”
Fahad rolled his eyes.
Miles watched the Ensign sleeping for a few more minutes and then turned off the screen. “Do you need any help plotting a course to the Star Digger?”
Fahad shook his head. “You know I never leave the deck unless I have a route already plotted along with two alternate routes, so no I do not need any help plotting the course.”
“Well in that case I have to go to the head.” Miles said as he started to undo his restraint straps.
“No Miles I do mind, I have been sitting in this seat for the last two hours supervising the offloading and then waiting for you to return, I need to get up for a little bit, so you can just sit here and monitor the cockpit while I go back and get something to eat and use the head.” Fahad said getting up from his the pilots seat.
“Okay, okay I am sorry you go do what you need to do and I will take control of the ship.”
“Don’t touch anything, just call me if something changes.” Fahad said leaving the bridge.
“You know I am fully qualified to fly this ship.” Miles said calling at the back of Fahad. Miles sat alone on the bridge for a few minutes before he put his headphones on the ship board operations channel. “Candy my dear are your there?”
The first sound from the positornic brain was not a sigh but Miles could have sworn the whole sentence came out in a sigh. “Technician Two Miles Gray this is the thirty-third time I have told you my name is Candace, not Candy and as always I am always monitoring this channel what do you need assistance with at this time?”
“I just wanted to check to make sure Fahad plotted in the best course back to the Star Digger.”
“Technician One Fahad has plotted the most efficient course back to the Star Digger that is both direct and efficient, I am guessing that is what you mean by the best.” Candace replied.
Miles bobbled his head as he spoke. “Yeah I guess but do we go by anything interesting on our way back?”
Candace responded. “What do you mean by interesting, we pass by three navigational beacons and one moon on the legs of two of our hyperspace jumps. ”
“Candy baby I want to see some action or at least some shooting, is there any routes that take us by any live fire exercises, does the moon we pass have a bombing range on it?”
Candace replied more quickly than a human could. “The moon has targets for both suborbital and orbital bombardments. ”
“Good, good, how long till we reach this moon?”
“Thirty two hours, but no bombardment practice is scheduled until ten hours after we make our pass.”
“That is no good.” Miles said taking off his boots and putting his stocking feet up on the console. “Can you slow down the first leg of our route so we arrive just as the bombing run is starting.”
“That would mean changing Technician Fahad’s carefully laid route.”
Miles shrugged. “Candy who is of a higher rank Technician Fahad or myself.”
The pause before the answer, it was very noticeable this time. “You are Technician Gray.”
“Very good, make the changes.” Miles said then turned off the Operations channel and started watching a series of Three Stooges shorts on the screens of the bridge. ”
Fahad came back twenty minutes later. Miles was concentrating on the Curly who was having some difficulties with a pipe so he did not pay much attention to the returning pilot. “What did you do?” Fahad asked as he sat down in the pilot’s seat.
“Nothing.” Miles said.
“You changed the course I laid out.” Fahad said.
“Just a little bit, if we slowed down we could watch a run on that bombing range on this moon.” Miles said reaching towards the navigation screen and pointing out the moon.
“We do not have time to slow down, we have got to get back to the Star Digger and get another load.”
Miles snorted. “That is all we ever do.”
“That is our job you donkey brained idiot.” Fahad said increasing his volume a bit.
“It only adds about twelve hours to our course.” Miles said defensively.
“Twelve hours, twelve hours.” Fahad repeated his face turning red.
“Allah why am I being punished?” Fahad said looking upwards.
“Punished?” Miles said. “All I am trying to do is add a little excitement to our life.”
Fahad slapped his hands to his head and rubbed his buzz cut hair several times. “Did you not see those two sharks that crashed back on the Charles Drew, in case you have not noticed the war is picking up, attacks are more frequent and we are a large slow moving target that any Alarian would love to shoot up.”
“Yeah but that bombing range is way off the beaten path and it is New Fleet personnel doing the bombing so we should see misses and stuff.” Fahad stopped rubbing his head and stared at the more Senior Tech not saying a word. Miles shrugged. “What?” Fahad continued to stare and Miles started to get uncomfortable. “What?”
Fahad finally spoke. “I am seriously beginning to suspect there is something mentally wrong with you.”
Miles shook his head. “There is nothing wrong with me.” Fahad continued to stare at Miles. Miles waved a hand dismissively. “I am going back to get another sandwich.” He said unstrapping and leaving the bridge on his way out he heard Fahad talking to Candy changing their course again.
Miles grabbed a sandwich and then wandered back towards engineering where he found the Ensign in the same position he had seen her in earlier. He sniffed at the empty bottle underneath the hammock and shuddered at the terrible odor. “Hey Ensign are you okay?” Miles said rocking the hammock gently. Nothing, well actually she was snoring very softly. Miles shrugged.
“Miles get in the turret.”
“Huh?” Miles said waking up in his bunk. The ship shuddered and then the alarms started to go off signifying a ship wide pressure change. Miles made it up to topside ball turret while the alarms continued and the ship continued to shake. “What is going on?” Miles yelled strapping in.
“We are under attack you idiot start shooting.”
Luckily Fahad had already powered up the guns and Miles activated the targeting system. “Is the Ensign on the rear turret?” Miles said as he scanned the front area of the ship for targets.
“No. She is still passed out in the Engine room.”
“Oh crap.” Miles said. Miles scanned and then scanned again, he caught glimpse of an Alarian two person fighters occasionally on the peripheral areas of the scanner but they never got near enough so he could shoot. He was about to access the targeting scanners in the rear turrets when a new alarm started to sound. “Fahad what is going on?”
“We got trouble.” Fahad shouted. “Suit up.”
Miles looked around. Suit up, he had no idea where his space suit was. Lights began to flicker and his powered chair in the turret sputtered to a stop and the targeting scanner bipped off, unstrapping himself he climbed down and found and emergency locker where he pulled out an trauma suit which could double as a makeshift environmental suit in a pinch.
“Abandon ship, abandon ship.” The voice of Candace came over all the speakers on the ship. Miles was about to start running for the closet escape pod when the gravity plates went out and he was slammed into the ceiling and everything went black.
Fahad looked over Miles his vitals were good although from the readouts on the medical scanner the technician had a concussion. Served him right thought Fahad the guy was a terrible soldier with no sense of duty, the man was a horrible technician with no pride in any work that he did if he did any, and he was a worthless excuses for a human being who only thought of himself. Fahad shook his head. The ship had been falling apart, power was gone, back up power was blown out in fifty percent of the ship and the Alarians were still pounding the defenseless ship with occasional blasts. Fahad had found the Ensign first and stuffed him in an escape pod, he was still not sure if she had made it. Then he had gone back and found Miles, he was floating unconscious with the stupid makeshift environmental suit about to give out when he stuffed him into the remaining escape pod.
“Escape pod Charlie fiver, niner, two, two come in.”
Fahad let out a breath finally someone was calling. “This is escape pod to last calling station we have two on board.”
“Roger escape pod you have been marked and will be picked up by a Q Runner in less than twelve hours.”
“Roger pick up, has Escape Pod Fiver, Niner, two, one been located.”
“Affirmative, life signs of one, but no response to any hails.”
“Most likely the Ensign is injured.” Fahad said, not bringing up the injury was self inflicted by a bottle of one hundred proof. Fahad was relieved that the Ensign was alive but then a little upset, if she was alive that meant she could command another ship, or at least still be an officer and with the limited positions on the Star Digger Fahad could be working for her again. Fahad looked over at Miles, worse than that he could be working with both of these fools again, Fahad shook his head . Fahad had two hours of blissful silence before Miles woke up.
“Did anyone get the number of that truck that hit me?” Miles asked.
“Our ship was destroyed, you are in an escape pod, the Ensign is in another and she if alive, we have been marked for retrieval by a Q Runner, estimated time of retrieval within ten hours. ”
Miles nodded. “Very good concise report Technician Fahad remind me to put that on your personnel report next time.”
Fahad rolled his eyes.
“Did I ever tell you how I was adrift in the South Pacific in World War Two.” Mile said reaching for an emergency rations pack that was sitting in front of Fahad.
Fahad shook his head and asked out loud. “Why merciful Allah do you hate me?”
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.
“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).
“You should not have done it.”
“Oh come on he is enjoying it so much.”
“His delusions have not changed in three years, so instead of fighting them I figure we should just let him have them.”
Achike simply nodded not in agreement but in simple acknowledgment. He watched the figure on the ‘horse’ as he crossed back and forth across the valley several times. “You have not made it more unsteady have you, with those legs moving about will it throw the balance off ?”
Domino shook her head. “Na I built an extra gyros into the base of each leg if anything it is more stable then it was before the modifications.”
Achike nodded at least Austin would not harm himself, at least not anymore than usual. Achike saw that Austin was approaching and Domino kneeled down. Achike refused to kneel but did placate him as much as possible without being foolish.
“Young blacksmith this horse you have procured me is truly a magnificent beast.” Austin said as he maneuvered the modified hover cycle to within a few feet of the two.
Domino looked up and Austin gave a motion with his hand for him to rise. “Only the finest beast for the King of Sanctuary my lord.”
“What say you Count Achike of my steed, have you ever seen its equal?”
Achike sighed then answered, it was easier than correcting him. “No I have never seen it’s equal.”
“Quite.” Austin said then turned his attention back to Domino. “My boy I shall reward you handsomely I know you do not want to become a squire, but perhaps someday I can entice you to come to court and be my personal armorer?” Austin said beaming. “You could move your family into the castle proper and keep my men’s blades razor sharp.”
Domino smiled, Austin had never acknowledged that she was a girl because being a smith was men’s work. “Your lord you honor me so, but for now I must decline as I have an extended family to take care of and to move into your castle would leave many of them forlorn and without a means of support.”
“You are a good man Domino thinking of your family but I shall reward you someday.”
“Your gratitude and protection of the realm is all the thanks I need.” Domino then bowed.
Austin pulled up the control bars of the hover cycle as if urging a horse to rear up. “Well I am off to survey my fields on my fine new horse, a Kings work is never done.” He nodded curtly to the taller man “Count Achike.” Then he sped off across the green fields.