Sleeping Dogs Lie
“Hey Crash Em.”
Ian made a rude gestured in the direction of the loudmouth without looking to see who it was. He had a singular destination in mind and had no time for blunderbusses as he walked the flight line to his bay. Number Nine was in disarray and the lights were down low and no one was working. He stood there with his hands on his hips, he was told his ship was the highest priority and not a soul was there working. He kicked a wing plate cover knocking it to the floor with a loud clatter and shouted. “Finney!” He heard something move from behind a pile of crates.
Ian squinted his eyes in the dim light. “Finney is that you?”
There was movement behind some crates and a head scooted out from behind them at shoulder level. “Oh, hi McKracken.”
“Are you sleeping back there?” Ian said trying to figure out how to navigate back to where the obviously sleeping technician was.
Finney’s head had disappeared again, but his voice called out from behind the assorted parts, bins and crates that were stacked up. “Ensign, I told you I would have your new Shark together in a couple of days, you got to give me more time.”
Ensign Ian McKracken was stepping over pieces and ducking under a partially constructed fuselage with what looked like a loaded missile launcher that was suspended on a chain from the ceiling. “Finney it has been seven days, and you are nowhere near done.”
Finney crawled up from behind a crate. “Au contraire mon frere to the untrained eye this looks like it is a jumble of parts, a mish mash of unconnected and unrelated fragments, crude chunks of simple metal and plastisteel, but to the superior mechanically minded mind such as myself, it will take but a few hours of solitude and perspiration and you good Ensign will once again be flying untethered in the cosmos, striking fear into the hearts of Alarian ner’do wells who would love to end us.”
Ian tried to be serious for about five whole seconds then burst out laughing. “That must have been a very good nap back there.”
Finney chuckled. “A great nap, I even got a pillow and blanket stashed back there.”
Ian laughed. “Okay, okay, can you just move it along, the Captain is beginning to run out of easy jobs for me to do and soon he is going to start thinking of nasty jobs I am going to have to do, I would rather be flying before he starts me on latrine inspections.”
Finney chuckled. “You got it boss.” Then he sunk back behind a mostly completed engine assembly and began banging on something.
Ian walked down to the exit of the flight bay and turned left on the main corridor towards his cabin. Normally he would have exited right from his on-flight bay directly into his cabin but with Finney stacking engine pieces in a haphazard manner his personal door was blocked. Door might not be the most adapt description, hatch was more like it, where he could slide from his bed to a spot only feet away from his mounting ladder being in the cockpit of his fighter, The Steel Grouse in less then thirty seconds. Well actually his ship would be the Steel Grouse Seven, as this would be the seventh one, he piloted. He had just crashed number Steel Grouse Six a week ago.
Someone had once suggested that maybe the name itself was unlucky and Ian replied back the name was very lucky as he was able to come back every time and name the next ship.
He was almost to his cabin when something come barreling towards him and he jumped out of the way as an orange blur barely missing him
“Sorry Ensign it kind of got away from me.” A small female form said skidding to a halt behind the orange blur which was a heavily laden repair droid on four wheels.
Ian saw it was Technician Pena and she was out of breath from the chase. “Penny what are you doing?” Ian said looking both ways before he stepped into the middle of the corridor again.
She looked afraid just for second then she looked up at her name. “Sorry sir, just trying to get something down to the starboard side.”
The droid had come to a complete stop and Ian chuckled. “Penny don’t call me sir, I am just Ian or McCracken, but not sir please.”
“Okay, but I have to move this load on Big Orange down the corridor.”
Ian laughed. “Well, you are very conscientious moving so fast with whatever needs moved, he said looking at the heavy load the droid was carrying. These are kind of heavy.” Ian said tapping the heavy load and it rang out. “Isn’t Big Orange usually just loaded with the small droids.”
Penny nodded while not looking up. “Yes si” She said catching herself. “Ian, I have get moving.”
“Well, be careful that stuff doesn’t fall off.” Ian said tugging at the straps holding down the canvased covered load.”
Technician Pena looked at him. “My thoughts exactly si.” She caught herself. “Ian.”
Ian smiled at the short girl who loved her droids and waved to her as he made his way into his cabin.
Ian entered his cabin and was immediately assaulted by a flashing light on his desk that signified he had an urgent message waiting. He ignored it and climbed into his bunk built into the wall to try and take a nap, reaching for the light switch he turned the lights off, but the switch was malfunctioning as the lights got brighter. Trying the switch again, the lights got brighter again almost to the point of being painful. He looked at the blinking light on the desk. Someone really wanted him to respond. He stuck his tongue out at the blinking light and left his room. He had about six places he could take a nap, his quarters was just the most convenient and comfortable.
He was going to nap spot number four on the starboard side of the ship when he saw a familiar figure walk into the mess hall and she was unaccompanied.
“Lt. funny running into you here.” Ian said sliding into a seat directly across from Lieutenant Elliot.
“McCracken.” Was the only reply, with dislike, that Ian ignored.
“How many times have I said you can call me Ian.” He said smiling at her as he put his hands on the table palms up inviting her to put his hands in her.
“About a hundred times, and very equal to the number of times I have told you I am engaged to Lt. Beard.”
“And a lucky man he is, but I am just trying to be friendly and remind you that should you get tired of his macho façade,” Ian said smiling. “I am a viable option, caring, feeling, and a really good listener.”
“That is not the song that I heard from a little bird in Flight Operations.”
Ian waved his hand dismissively.
The lieutenant rolled her eyes and simply concentrated on her cup of coffee that she was adding a bit of cream to. “Finney should finish your ship, if not you are going to get into trouble.”
Ian nodded trying to look wise. “We are in a war, where big blue aliens are trying to kill me every time I fly, everything else is not that big of a deal.” Ian said. “Once Finney fixes up my ship, we will not have these stolen moments when Beard is out on patrol. This is the only time we together when Beard is not breathing down both our necks.”
“I like it just fine when my fiancé is breathing down my neck and that is a lot closer than you will ever get to me.” Lieutenant Eliot said then smiled, actually it was more a smirk. “I know something you don’t know Ensign McCracken.”
“What is that my love?” Ian said ignoring the smirk.
“Your squadron’s duty assignment changed. My betrothed is not on patrol and is even now looking for you.”
Ian quickly scanned the mess hall suspiciously and that is when someone called out. “Ensign McCracken.” The voice called out from the kitchen area, Ian recognized it as the Chief Culinary Tech, also known to everyone as Chef calling his name, never a good sign. “Ensign McCracken.” Chef called out again.
“Someone is looking for you.” Lieutenant Elliot said smirking again and put down her cup and started pointing towards Ian.
“Oh, you would not turn me in.” Ian said starting to stand.
Lieutenant Elliot simply smiled and began to raise her hand pointing towards him and drawing a deep breath to call out to Chef. Ian sighed and made a beeline for the nearby door. Making a series of turns he was only a few hundred steps from his second favorite napping and hiding spot when his luck ran out.
“Ensign McCracken.” The surprised but winning tone of Senior Lieutenant Beard signaled an end to Ian’s search for a few peaceful hours of napping.
“Beard how are you doing I thought you and guys were on patrol?”
“Last minute change but the new captain wants to talk to you.” He motioned for Ian to follow him as they walked towards their bosses office.
Ian shook his head and followed his squadron leader.
“Ian do you like being a pilot?”
“Best job in the Fleet sir.”
“And you like flying Sharks?”
“Yes sir, they are the best ship that money can buy sir.”
“And you are happy with being on the Canaveral, you do not want to transfer to another fighter ship, or maybe a Command ship, like the Cyclone, or maybe even the Redemption?”
“This is my home sir and the best carrier ship in the fleet.”
There was silence in the room for a few uncomfortable minutes as the Junior Captain Lazaar, the head Shark Pilot and the 2nd Wing Flight Commander on the Canaveral looked at his comm panel. Ian was about to say something when the man dropped the comm panel on his desk and threw up his hands in exasperation. “Do you know that you have the lowest number of flight hours of all my pilots?” Ian was about to say something when the Captain continued. “Not just by a little bit, but by a lot, the next lowest has a two hundred more hours in a cockpit.” Ian raised a finger, but the Captain glared at him, and Ian thought better of it. “I do not know if you are the luckiest man I have ever met, or the unluckiest, six Sharks shot out from under you and yet you still manage to make it back here every time.”
Ian felt this was a good time to speak up. “One of those was not entirely my fault, I was on my approach when Crenshaw rammed into me as I was about to land.”
Captain Lazaar glared at him. Then read off the comm panel. “You have no confirmed kills of Alarians either, but whoever your wingman is their stats soar, usually making ace after flying with you for only a month. That is the only reason I do not think you are a coward, you are always just on the periphery of the action, but never right in the mix.” The Captain could paused. “I simply cannot figure you out McKracken.” There was a pause as the Captain looked over his comm panel one more time. “You know you could leave the Fleet anytime you wanted to?”
Ian shook his head. “I do not want to leave sir.” There was another long pause between the two of them.
Captain Lazaar looked up and gritted his teeth in anger. “Ensign, I have only been your boss for three months and you are starting to drive me just a little bit crazy.” He said raising his voice a bit, then he got control of himself. “Lt. Beard is waiting outside; he has some very clear instructions for you.” The man took a breath. “Get out.”
Ian found the rescue suit and began to do his checklist. All the tanks were topped off, then he checked on the other items off his list. Right as he checked off the last item his comm panel chimed. He had twenty minutes to get back to his launch bay to report to Lt. Beard. Ian stowed his panel and began walking back to the launch bay. Ian debated if he had a few spare minutes to get a cup of tea and a biscuit when the klaxons started to sound.
There had been an emergency launch earlier in the day and this was most likely that squadron returning, but with the horns it meant someone was in trouble with the landing. Ian knew that the Rescue Techs would be ready, they always were for whatever was going to happen. Heck, he had just inspected the readiness aspect of all portside techs and none of it was below peak readiness.
Ian made his way to the catwalk above the landing bay, it was the only place to watch the entire bay and also be out of the way. He only had to wait a few moments before something happened. He noted that the Rescue Techs were already staged ready to do their firefighting duty. He saw the landing was bad, the nose was too far down, and the wingtips were uneven, after a hundred feet the shark began to cartwheel, end over end down the landing bay. It came to a rest several dozen yards from the catwalk and so Ian was able to see the rescue operations unfold.
Ian was not overly concerned about the pilot from the crash itself, his third crash was very similar to what he had just witnessed and also a little bit like his fifth crash to be honest. The sharks were built really well, and rescue operations were always top notch. Ian knew if he made it back to the carrier, he had a really good chance of survival. Trying to see the markings on the craft to see who it might have been, he was only able to make out it was a First Wing ship. Although he was in the Second Wing, he knew a lot of guys and gals in the First. He was not able to make out much more because the Rescue Technicians starting spraying extinguisher foam from their Mark Four Environmental Suits. It was then that things went bad.
An hour later Ian shook his head at the memory of the explosion. Two things were wrong with what happened. Something was wrong with what everyone was saying. He was sitting in the medical bay waiting to be released and everyone was talking about the explosion. How unlucky it was that the shark’s torpedo had gone off and killed Tech Hossam.
But Ian knew this was wrong, he had seen that the explosion had started with Tech Hossam’s suit. Sure, the torpedo was what killed the technician, and had destroyed the catwalk he was on as well, but the first explosion was the left arm of Environmental Suit, not the shark.
That was the first thing that he saw that was wrong. The second happened a few seconds later. He had just rolled off the broken catwalk and joined in with everyone else as they rushed save the Rescue Tech. Hossam’s suit that had taken a direct hit from torpedo from the shark. Even if someone has seen it, he was sure no one knew it’s significance. But he did. A shiny black tank had popped out of the technician’s right arm.
After all those inspections he knew the only thing that was supposed to be in the arms of the Rescue suits was a flat green tank with a single yellow stripe. So, the shiny black tank meant nothing to anyone else.
Ian had gotten some minor scrapes and cuts and bumped his head as well. The medics had thrown him in the auto-doc anyways due to some of the noxious fumes from the fire and the head injury, but he knew he was fine. Now he was just waiting to be released but everyone around him was wrong about the explosion.
Ian went to dinner and was going to pal around with the guys, maybe throw some darts or play table skittles but he just could not shake it, something wrong had happened today. Back in his quarters he watched some American Western movie with their biggest movie star John Wayne but could not concentrate fully on it. So, he turned off the lights and tried to sleep, after a few hours of tossing and turning he decided to figure out who was wrong, everyone else or his memory.
He did not bother putting on his uniform, just his physical training gear and went to find the most levelheaded person he knew.
“Ian is that you, good I could use a hand, lift up the fuselage with the winch by about 3 centimeters.”
Ian found the control and puzzled over the buttons for a few seconds then firgured out what to do. “Perfect.” Came from Finney from down below. There was a few seconds of powered wrenches and then the squirting sound of sealant being applied. Finney clapped his hands and dropped his tools then popped up. “Looking good don’t you think?”
Ian nodded and smiled at the half-completed ship. What had been just parts only a few hours ago was beginning to take shape of a single person fighter ship that he would be piloting very soon. “You are amazing.”
Finney wiped his hands. “I know.” But then he looked at Ian. “Something bothering you buddy? How is your head, I heard you took a blow?”
“My head is fine, nothing up there to damage.” He said and rapped on his head making a hollow sound with his mouth. “You heard about Tech Hossam?”
“Yeah, good Technician, bit of prick out of the suit, but still a rotten way to go. Good thing the warhead on that torpedo didn’t go off, it would have been a lot more people than just Hossam.” Finney said putting his hand rag back into a pocket.
Ian raised his eyebrow, Finney hardly ever said anything bad about anyone, but he continued with why he came here. “Everyone is saying it was the hung-up torpedo that ignited, but I was watching from the catwalk, and I thought I saw something else happen, and then when I ran over to the suit with everyone else, I thought I saw a black tank on his right arm.”
“I don’t follow ‘a black tank’?” Finney asked.
“All their tanks are green, at least the ones on their arms, the green ones are extinguisher fluid and I thought I saw the flames come out of his left arm jet.”
“You think.” Finney said skeptically.
Ian thought about it. “No, I definitely saw a black tank.”
Finney grimaced. “How come you know what color tanks they use?”
Ian nodded. “Lt. Beard had me doing busy work earlier today, I was checking the readiness of the Rescue Technicians gear. I did port side, Hossam’s deployed from the starboard side.
“And Hossam’s suit was on the starboard side.”
Ian nodded and continued. “The first item on the checklist were the arm tanks in their Environmental suits, one flat military green tanks with fifty psi of extinguisher foam in each arm.”
Finney nodded. “Kind of a mystery.”
“Yeah, it’s been bugging me.”
Finney nodded. “Well, you could go check the suit, it got pushed into the reclamation pit with the rest of the debris from the crash site. Penny uses Big Brown, to push everything into the pit, it gets broken down and the raw material are reconstituted to make new spare parts, they run the reclamation pit every Sunday morning, there is a huge power drain when they do it, all the lights go dim for about a half an hour. Great time to plan a nap.”
Ian looked at his watch, it was only Thursday so the stuff should be there. “Where is the pit?”
Finney pointed aft.
Ian nodded and took off running and yelled over his shoulder. “Thanks.” Arriving at the pit and he looked over the control panel. It was locked down, but he knew just about every standard code on the ship and activated the control panel after four tries. He looked around first to see if anyone was about or if any ships were incoming, he considered calling Deck Operations first but he this was just going to take a couple of minutes.
He activated the sliding doors on the floor and then leaned over to look into the pit to see what he could see. The pit was empty, swept clean, not a single stray bolt or piece of plastisteel from the destroyed environmental suit or the broken Shark. The pit had already been emptied.
“Captain Lazaar, can I speak to you?”
The Captain turned around. “McKracken?” The Captain said as he turned. “Aren’t you supposed to be meeting with you Lieutenant Beard for your daily assignment right now.” he said looking at his watch.
Ian simply winced but plunged on ahead with what he had to say. “Sir I think something strange happened with the crash yesterday, it was not as cut and dry as everyone thinks.”
The Captain looked concerned. “What do you mean?”
“Well sir the reclamation pit has been run early.”
“I don’t follow Ensign, what reclamation pit?”
Ian cursed himself silently. He was getting ahead of himself.
“Never mind about the reclamation pit for now sir.” Ian tried to say calmly. “I think the explosion started at the Rescue Techs suit, the torpedo was a secondary explosion, the primary one came from the suit.”
“There is nothing on those suits that could explode.” The Captain Lazaar retorted. Ian was about to tell him about the black tank but Lazaar held up his hand. “Nobody knows what happened officially yet, Lieutenant Beard is the officer I appointed to investigate it and from his preliminary report it is pretty cut and dry, EnsighnTkach took a hit and cartwheeled in, and an short circuit of the torpedo ignited the motor and it caught Tech Hossam while engaged in rescue duties.”
“But I do not think that is what happened sir.”
Just then a voice came from down the hall. “Ensign McKracken.”
Captain Lazaar looked past Ian to the owner of the voice. “Lieutenant the Ensign here is under some strange idea that there was something more to the crash then what it appears, any credence to that?”
Lieutenant Beard shook his head dismissively. “No sir, I just sent you the report, I interviewed every eyewitness, just simple bad luck all around, Tech Hossam was a good man, he is going to be missed.”
The Captain nodded at the Lieutenant then looked at McKracken and shook his head. “Case closed Ensign, now I think you need to get to your bay and give Tech Finney a hand with your ship, you have twenty-four hours to have a level one circuit check completed on all your major components, comms, weapons, navigation, and life support and be ready to integrate them within thirty hours.”
Ian nodded signifying that he heard him, and the Captain turned dismissing him.
Beard looked at him. “You got until lunch time tomorrow, you had better get on it.” Then he turned and followed Captain Lazaar into the mess hall.
“Kiss ass.” Ian said towards Beards back, sighed and made his way to Launch Bay Nine.
Ian walked away from the Launch Bay Nine after helping Finney for about an hour, until Finney said he was being more a hindrance than a help and he should go get his head together. Ian headed in no direction in particular. Then he started talking to himself in the empty corridor. ‘The captain and the lieutenant say that it was just a simple crash.’ ‘But you know better don’t you.’ ‘You bet I do I know what I saw.’ ‘No one else does.’ ‘So.’ ‘So what if it happened the way you think you saw it, it aint going to change things, Hossam will still be dead.’ ‘Yes, but someone really screwed up and put the wrong canister in his arms….’ Ian let the idea sit for a minute. ‘Or someone did it on purpose, hoping his suit would have a catastrophic failure during a rescue.’ ‘And that means what’ Ian was quiet, and he said the last part very softly. ‘They were trying to kill Hossam.’
He looked up he had ended up near the main landing bay doors, they were closed now but he knew they could open at any minute as a patrol was due back soon. Then he thought back to something Finney has said about Hossam being a bit of prick. He needed more information.
“Up here Ian.”
Ian looked up, Finney was on top of the almost completed Shark, doing some sort of adjust to the topside rear engine.
“Glad you are back; I need you to climb in the cockpit and turn on some switches.”
Ian looked around, the ladder was not installed yet, but he found some toe holds and got into the ship unfortunately he had to climb in backwards, but he easily turned himself around since there was plenty of room when not wearing a Mark Three Environmental suit.
The next hour passed quickly with yelled instructions from Finney to flick one switch then another, then a series of switches and then turning them off in a certain order.
“Okay we are good to go bud.” Finney said as he climbed down from the engine cowling.
Ian looked around to try and remember how he got up here, but Finney saw his distress and moved a portable ladder to the cockpit and Ian nodded his thanks. They both sat down on some boxes and looked at the ship. Ian spoke first after a few minutes. “No one believes me about the accident not being an accident.”
“You believe me?” Ian said surprised.
“Of course, you have a lot of faults Ian. You are pretty sharp even with a blow to your noggin and if you say you saw something then you did. You may play a little fast and loose with the whole military rules thing, but you do your duty when it comes down to it.”
“So, what should I do, I cannot find any proof of what I saw; the pit was cleaned out, not a nut, bolt, or casing in the reclamation pit and no one believes me.” Ian said.
Finney walked over to a shelf and grabbed his thermos and poured himself some coffee, he offered some to Ian who waved it off. There was silence in the bay for a few minutes then Finney spoke up. “So, what are you going to do?”
Ian was quiet for a few minutes as he thought, then he remembered why he had come back here. “You said something earlier about Hossam being a bit of a jerk off duty, what was that about?”
“That.” He waved his hand dismissively. “That was nothing, he was a bit of a prick when he drank, picked on people, took teasing a little too far, bullied people. Some of the other Techs would teach him a lesson occasionally, give him a few lumps but the guy never seemed to learn to keep his hands to himself.”
“I never saw or heard about that.” Ian said.
“Ah you wouldn’t no matter how great you are, you still got Ensign before your name and enlisted personnel are not always the same when officers are around.”
“I never knew.” Ian said.
“Kind of my point buddy.”
Ian sat there for a few minutes and looked around at the half-built ship and then at the launch bay. He spotted something which promoted a thought in his head and then he moaned.
“I think I know how to prove the accident was not an accident.”
“So why the groan?”
“I have to go up to Flight Operations.”
Finney groaned as well and put his hand on his shoulder. “Nice knowing you buddy, I will make sure the Steel Grouse Seven finds a good home.”
Flight Operations was a place he avoided like the plague. The second reason he hated going there was because every time he went there, he ended up behind a screen watching other people fly, or worse yet, fly and fight. Not that he was particularly enamored with flying or fighting, he liked to do it better than watching other people do it. He felt the same when he saw his first pornographic movie.
“As I live and breathe Ensign Crash Em.”
“Hi Sylvia.” This was Ian’s top reason for avoiding Flight Operations.
“And what does the night shift Flight Operations owe the honor of your visit?”
Ian winced, how long was this woman going to hold a grudge, it had been months. “I wanted to review the records of the crash yesterday, more importantly the explosion.”
Ian saw a bit of long-suffering cross Sylvia’s face, she hated it when anyone died having seen a lot of it in her previous life. “Shame about Tech Hossam, but I heard Ensign Tkach is expected to make it, with about five trips to the Auto-doc and some physical therapy to regrow his arm.”
Ian said what came naturally. “That is rough.”
Sylvia rolled her eyes. “What do you know about it, the most you ever had to regrow was the tip of two fingers, and then is was just your ring and pinky fingers. Not that you needed a ring finger for anything.” She looked at him with irritation.
Ian was about to say something, but he thought better about it and she just continued anyways
“Why are you interested in footage from the crash?” Then she decided to twist the knife. “Looking for some pointers or inspiration on a new way to crash?”
Ian shook his head he knew this had been a bad idea. “Never mind, just forget I was ever here.” He turned and started to leave the big room.
He was within a few inches of activating the door when Sylvia called out. “Come back you insensitive clod.”
Ian turned and looked back at the girl he had dated for a bit, and she motioned for him to follow her to the break room, once they were alone, she sat down and motioned for him to sit across the table. Ian moved the chair so he could lean against the wall and sit on it sideways with his arm draped over the back of the chair. “Okay spit it out, what are you looking for, I have never known you to go looking for extra responsibility let alone extra work, and you never stay up late unless you are gallivanting around with Finney”
He explained what he had seen and how he thought everyone else was wrong with what they thought they saw.
“So, you want to review the footage? No one ordered you to do this, or anything?”
Ian shook his head. “No, I just keep replaying it in my head and every time I think of it,” he paused. “it just seems wrong somehow.”
Sylvia looked at him then stood up and grabbed a cup of coffee from the replicator, then leaned against the wall. “This must have really got you bothered; you don’t go looking for a problems you just avoid them. You are the ‘king of going along to get along’.
Ian simply shrugged.
Sylvia took another sip of her mug. “Figures you would not have an answer.” Sylvia looked at him for a few moments.
Ian was beginning to get uncomfortable; it was not her all too familiar, ‘I am disappointed in you’, it was something else. Something not so judgey.
Sylvia spoke up before Ian could figure out what her look meant. “Okay I will let you look over the footage, you can have one of the workstations in the back, just don’t bug any of my technicians and don’t fall asleep, everyone has to be on their toes here, the Captain has been coming in a different times and I don’t need you to cause me any grief.”
Ian nodded and got up to leave. “You got it babe.”
Sylvia stared daggers at him. “Don’t call me babe we aren’t dating anymore.”
When Ian found what he was looking for it, but it wasn’t as good as he hoped. At least it wasn’t as clear as he was looking for. The camera view was terrible, it was too far to be clear and definite. But he swore the argument could be made that the flame came from the Rescue Techs suit instead of the crashed ship.
“What you got there Crash Em?”
Ian sighed. He keyed up the sequence and moved away from the screen so Sylvia could see what he found.
She watched it and then hit the rewind button and squinted as she watched it again.
“She was in the process of watching it again when Ian spoke up. “Are you seeing it.”
Sylvia hit the stop button. “Sort of but it is hard to make out.”
Ian sighed again.
Sylvia looked at him. “Kind of? If you hadn’t told me what it was, I was seeing, I wouldn’t have seen it.”
“So, you think I was wrong?”
Sylvia shook her head. “Not what I said. You never listen, one of your many flaws.” She stopped shaking her head then took a breath and stated calmly. “I do not think you are wrong.”
“You,” Ian stammered. “You, you mean I convinced you?”
Sylvia looked him over. “Yeah dummy. Why you are going to all this trouble for that jerk Hossam I will never know, but yeah there was something wrong with that suit.”
Ian nodded then looked quizzically at Sylvia. “What did you have against Hossam?”
Sylvia looked back at him. “You never know what is going on around you that is one of the reasons I broke up with you, you never paid attention to anything that did not directly happen in front of you, out of sight out of mind, if it was not happening right in front of you it never happened.”
Ian hold up a hand. “Yeah, we have gone over this ground, and I admit it’s mostly true, but let’s stick to the subject at hand.” Ian took a breath. “What did Hossam do that made everyone else but me, dislike him.”
Sylvia nodded in tacit agreement. “The way I heard it Hossam was a little handsy with a few of the lower enlisted females, touching them when they did not want to be touched, he got slapped a lot, in fact about two months ago a couple of the girls got into his quarters and smashed some of his fingers with a spanner.”
“Ouch.” Ian said.
“I did not hear about it until afterward and then only by accident, but it never got reported to the chain of command because it seemed to have been fixed.”
Ian shook his head. “Finney said this guy never seemed to get the message.”
Sylvia shrugged. “I did not hear anything more about him acting up.”
Ian shrugged back. “Good or bad person,” he looked at the screen. “I think someone set him up to die, someone ended his life.”
“You think he was murdered?”
Ian thought about if for a few seconds. “I guess so.”
Sylvia gave him a look he had not seen in a while, but he had not seen in a while. He thought it might be admiration. Ian got uncomfortable with her look and said the first thing that came to his mind. “You ever hear of anyone else being murdered out here?” He motioned towards the big display implying the Fleet as a whole.
“I think everyone heard about that bar fight with the Marines and that one guy getting punched so hard he died, but the guy that threw the punch was blubbering like a baby as soon as the pulled the sheet over the dead guy. But nothing intentional, like this.” She said motioning to the comm panel in Ian’s hand.
Ian looked down at the comm panel realizing what he had; he had evidence of a murder.
She saw his expression of shock and she went back to the way she was when he first came in. “Get out of here before my relief comes you stupid detective. I will send the footage to your chain of command.”
Ian checked his uniform in the mirror and continued down the hall towards the Captain’s office. He was about to turn the corner when someone shouted. “Can someone lend me a hand.” Ian turned and saw Technician Pena trying to stop a load of droids from falling off a cart. “I got ya, I got ya.” Ian said as he lended a hand in helping the petite girl gather up a dozen or so droids that had gotten dislodged from the top of the cart. It took the two of them to set the droids properly on top of the cart and arrange them so they would not fall over again. “Well, that should get you to where you are going.” He said smiling.
Penny nodded and looked at Ian but did not answer his question. “You are not in repair or flight gear; you have to report to the captain for something?”
“Nothing special, I just got to convince him of something and I firgured I would put on a clean uniform to present my case.”
“Oh, well you look good sir, I mean Ian.” She looked back at her cart then down the hall. “Thanks for the help, Ian, I have got to get going.”
Ian nodded and tipped his imaginary hat to her and turned and walked the way he was going. He turned back towards the way Penny had disappeared a bit confused, normally Penny transported her small droids on her other droids, like Big Orange or Big Blue, so why was she pushing them on top of a cart.
“Ensign McCracken.” The voice of Lt. Beard called down the hall distracting him.
Finney found Ian sitting in the cockpit of the almost totally rebuilt Steel Grouse. “You okay partner?”
“Did you find what you needed up in Flight Ops?”
“And did you take the evidence to the Captain?”
Ian nodded again.
“And?” Finney added. Ian was usually much more forthcoming.
Ian shrugged. “They said what I found was interesting so they said and said they would look into it further.”
“That is a good thing.” Finney said.
“Maybe,” Ian said. “I am not sure if they really believe me.”
“They did not believe you, why?”
Ian nodded. “It was not great evidence, kind of grainy, hard to make out, hard to see and.”
“But you said Sylvia believed you.”
“Yeah, but I told her what she was looking at, the Captain and Lt. Beard, not so much.”
Finney thought it over, then he remembered something. “You said ‘and’.”
“I think I know who put the tanks into Hossam’s arm.”
“Well, that is good.” Finney said.
“Not sure it is.” Ian said.
Ian leaned against the wall but did not have to wait long.
“Hey Ian.” Penny said as she came to the door of her shop. “You need something fixed?”
Ian shook his head sadly.
“What is the matter something wrong?”
Ian sighed. He did not want to do this, but he had started this and for some reason he felt he needed to see it through to the end. “I have been looking into something, that crash that occurred the other day.”
Penny just nodded but was intently studying the droid which had followed her down the hall like a big orange dog.
“You are really good with droids and machinery and even programming Penny.”
“Yeah, well my parents owned a clock shop and it just sort of comes natural to me.” She said without looking up from the droid where she had a panel open now.
“But not so much with people huh?”
The petite Tech shrugged.
“Penny why did you have two extinguisher tanks on Big Orange the other day?”
Penny did not answer but just buried her head deeper into the maintenance panel on the droid.
“What happened Penny, what did he do to you?” He said looking at her directly. “He had a history of taking advantage of people, did he do something to you?”
“Who sir?” She crouched lower behind Big Orange.
“Tech Hossan.” Ian stated flatly. “I know he was a bit of jerk, did he hit you?”
Penny looked, up shocked for a second at the mention of the dead man’s name, then a cascade of looks, anger, sadness, shock again and then her face got blank like all the energy left her entire body. “He came to my cabin one night after I danced with him in the pub, it was just one dance and then I left, and I think he kept drinking.” Then her tears started to flow, big tears full of sadness.
“Did you tell anyone?” Ian asked softly.
Penny shook her head no. “I went right to the auto doc, and I erased the records of what he did to me.”
There was a silence in the hall for a good five minutes as Penny got herself together. Ian still never moved. Penny spoke first. “It happened in my village, and the girl was looked at as a whore. No one was going to know about my shame.”
Ian shook his head in disgust at people.
Penny spoke again. “So, I replaced his arm tanks with fuel tanks.”
“That is what was under Big Orange when I ran into you in the hall?”
“Yes.” Was her only response.
“And then you ran the reclamation pit early after the crash, getting rid of the evidence.”
Silence between the two of them again Penny spoke first. “You are not going to tell on me are you.”
“What he did was so wrong Penny, but what you did was wrong as well, other people could have been hurt as well.”
Penny got angry now. “It was just enough to blow off his arms the tanks were not even full, it was just bad luck that Tkach had a hung-up torpedo in his forward tube.”
“Penny.” Ian said. “I am not saying Hossam did not get what he deserved but it was not for you alone to take matters into you own hands. It was not your fault what happened to you.”
Penny looked at him. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
Ian just stared at the floor. “I already have.” He pulled out his comm panel and showed that it was in broadcast mode. It was then they heard boots coming down the hall. Captain Lazaar turned the corner with two Marines in tow. The Marines cuffed her, and the Captain stayed back as she was led away
It wasn’t until they were out of sight and hearing when the captain spoke up. “Good job Ian.”
“Hossam deserved it.”
“Maybe so, but we can’t be vigilantes, we have to be a community about punishment.” Lazaar said.
Ian looked at the Captain. “What is going to happen to her?”
Lazaar shrugged “It is up to the Commanding Officer this can’t be handled with a simple flogging; it might get kicked all the way up to the Admiral for him to decide.”
“Better him than me.” Ian said. He did not want to think about it anymore, so he changed the subject. “Finney said we will be running tests when I come back, I had better get back there sir.”
“Very well.” Lazaar said as Ian walked away before being dismissed.
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.
That Was Then This Is Now
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).
What is Going on Back on Sanctuary?
“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.