There were many adjectives one could use to describe Laney Sul, with her laser cut black hair and her even sharper black eyes, with her quick hands and even quicker brain. Patient was not one of them. With six standards of training off-world, she could curse volubly in the five languages she was fluent in—as opposed to the obligatory three for interstellar pilot certification—and she could curse in another four beyond that.

Since she'd paged her mother, she'd run through all the profanity she knew in six languages and was starting on the seventh when her comm unit finally beeped with an incoming tight beam. "Mom!" she said, connecting.

"Hello Laney. Did you need something?" Vana Sul raised an eyebrow with a touch of her own impatience, her hair hidden beneath a surgical cap and a mask loose around her neck. Purple, so it was Vandergeres. Probably testy, then, but Laney was in no mood to be considerate.

"Mom! It's impossible! I was top of my class all five standards, had the highest rating of anyone at practicals..."

"Oh, gods," Vana murmured with no expectation it would save her.

"I should not be floating around on garbage duty, shuttling lazy fat cats from station to station because they can't wait for the scheduled transports. It's a waste of my talents!"

Vana sighed. "You pulled me out of a packed day of Vandergere surgeries to tell me what I already know?"

"It's not fair! I'm certified for interstellar but no one will hire me without experience and I can't get experience if I can't get hired. Most of the guys I graduated with are already working the trade routes since they had people they knew in the business but I'm..."

"The daughter of an omnisurgeon. Yes, I know. You've complained to me before. No one made you become a pilot. What did you call me for?"

"I should have known you wouldn't understand. Multi-species surgeons like you never had to fight for anything."

Vana had been looking off screen at her chronometer, but she looked back at that, held her daughter's eyes with her blandest look. "Really? Know so much, do you? What do I tell you when you reap the fruits of your own choices and then complain to me about the consequences?"

"She can't help me."

"What do I tell you?" Vana persisted.

Laney grit her teeth. "Ask Hati."

"And that's what I'm telling you this time. I don't have time to hold your hand as you deal with the same paradox that has hounded fresh graduates since time immemorial. Your situation is neither dire nor unique. If you want insight into it and what you can do about it, ask Hati."

"You do realize grandma has been dead for seven standards, right?"

"Don't get snide with me, Laney. She was a talk show host and advice guru for decades before she passed. There's tons of information about her and from her for you to access since you're clearly hurting for something to fill your time. Which cannot be said about me. If you want to talk again, call me after work hours."

"But, Mom! She won't know anything about my situation. She was an entertainer!"

"If you'd ever once followed my advice, you'd know there was so much more to my mother than that. And I'm going to keep giving you the same advice until you take it and learn something. Signing off." The screen went blank.

Laney went back into her cursing right where she left off.

By the time she started on her last language of cursing, she stopped. She was, after all, a woman of action rather than complaint—though she wouldn't hit her mother up as a witness. It's not like she wasn't stuck in a parking orbit for the next thirty-two hours, or that she didn't have the whole data base on Hati Sul on her shipboard computer. Her mother had insisted.

Grandma Hati, in person, was a regular grandma, leaving her advice guru persona behind when it came to family. Laney couldn't remember a single time she gave Laney advice or tried to tell her what to do, nor could Laney remember seeing Hati advise Vana, but then Vana had always had a pretty damn strong streak of independence and pursued her own thinking. It was true that, as a family, they hadn't spent a lot of time together in person or even in contact, at least in Laney's memory. Hati was an interstellar celebrity and rarely came to visit, but Vana never missed a show and seemed genuinely disappointed that Laney hadn't been the slightest bit interested.

Oddly enough, Laney's disinterest, her rejection of Hati the celebrity was really because Laney loved her grandmother despite their infrequent contact. Bright, beautiful, kind, her grandmother was often a warm and comforting presence somewhat at odds with her mother's cool efficiency. Laney always thought the Hati she knew was different than the Hati the galaxy knew and loved and she didn't want to share or somehow sully her cuddly, non-judgmental grandma with hard reality. 

Clearly, her mother wanted her to dive into all aspects of Hati, but why? And what would be the point now? What would any version of Hati know about fighting a boy's club to become a pilot or swimming upstream in an industry where most people were legacy pilots and already had a leg up? It's not like Hati had ever had to struggle. Right?

But Laney did have a whole heaping helping of free time. And her grandmother had been dead some time, a fact Laney had grieved over for standards. If there was more to Hati, maybe Laney should know it. She plugged in the first of Hati's many shows on the video and started reading her first autobiography on a handheld at the same time.

Sixteen hours later, the comm beeped to let Laney know the VIP she was shepherding was going to stay where he was another two days so sit tight. Laney had been so lost in old videos, a biopic and autobiographical information, she'd completely lost track of time, of food, of sleep and might have read/watched until she'd dropped if that communication hadn't interrupted. 

She acknowledged the communication and stumbled toward her berth, mind reeling. There were tons of data, of course, lots of good common sense advice and worldly wisdom, but it was Hati's life story that really threw Laney off-balance.

At seventeen, newly orphaned and uneducated, I'd answered an ad for a new colonization effort. I'd be a mail order bride, partnering with a pioneer as we conquered a brave new world. Well, that was how it was supposed to be, how it sounded. In real life, a bunch of us girls with no ties or family to protest were tricked into becoming chattel for men, property as much as their homesteads, with no rights, no options but to do as we were told and make babies.

I didn't know it then. A lot of the colonization efforts went on like that. Sure, things were supposed to be all equal in the federation, but, as soon as someone said, "pioneer" the system reverted to the dark ages. No laws to protect us. No voice or support, there was no hope for us to ever come out of the slavery we'd been sold into unknowingly.

Well, that was the theory. Dram Sul probably hadn't reckoned on having his particular young wife coming in and changing things around whether he, or everyone else, liked it or not. But then, he didn't know Hati.

Turned out he didn't know Hati. Didn't know that Hati preferred to consent to sex and that even big beefy farmers had to sleep sometime. Or that a woman who grew up in a world where she was considered a full citizen, with rights and power, wasn't going to settle for becoming powerless or voiceless. They might have stripped her of her power, but they hadn't taken her voice.

But what a difference in perspective those hours had given Laney. Sure, Laney was in a dead end position with no ready path to the success she felt she should have. But Hati had been made a slave, handed over, body and soul, to a lout in a world where there was no one disposed to listen to her, where she had no legal recourse or options, not even family elsewhere to help her.

Laney's body was tired but her mind was still racing. Could she imagine it? Sure, her mother rolled her eyes at Laney plenty of times, but Laney knew that, if she called her mother in trouble even a fraction as dangerous as Hati's lot, her mother would move heaven and earth to fix it. Laney knew that before reading Hati's biography. Now she knew where her mother had learned it.

There was no one to move heaven and earth for Hati, so Hati bloody well moved it herself. What did that woman have in her that made her so strong?

After disposing of her predatory husband, the unlamented Dram Sul, Hati gathered other women who did not want to be slaves, who remembered a world where they were treated as human beings and, together, they worked Dram's farm. The more she had with her, the more likely they would be heard. When the "law" came to challenge Hati, the "law" found it was not going to be so easy. The women were smart and well-prepared, well-armed, and not about to back down readily. And Hati knew how to talk. The other male colonists, just like these women, had grown up in a world where women had the same rights as men. Some of the men were chagrined at the mistreatment or felt guilty. Some were convinced by Hati's logic and passion. Some, especially those that had no women of their own, became angry and were quite willing to aim their anger at their own "law".

The louder and more fervent the defense on why women were weaker and shouldn't stand on equal footing with men here in the wilderness, the more men found themselves sympathetic to Hati as she pointed out they'd run the farm without a hitch and were certainly strong enough that an envoy of the "law" hadn't been able to oust them.

The problem with powerlessness, especially in the legal realm, Hati's autobiography had said, is that, without any voice of your own, you're dependent on others to speak for you and use their power on your behalf. That is how women first got the rights that had been taken from us. And that's how we were able to convince others we were robbed. We could never have done so so quickly if others hadn't fought for our rights centuries before and then refought those battles whenever our rights were infringed. Just as we did.

Hati was just seventeen when she started this, when she stood up first to her husband and then to the colonial government. Seventeen. That was ten standards younger than Laney was now. Laney couldn't even imagine.

When Laney woke back up, unclear when she had actually fallen asleep, she shook her head. Seventeen when she stood against all those men. But Hati didn't change things overnight. Vana was eight when Hati was able to change the local government and regain the rights she'd been born with. It was another five standards, before Hati got off that farm and found herself as a representative of that same colonial government at the great Convention where Federation laws were made.

Instead of quiet, Hati was still noisy, still persuasive, still logical, and she pushed the Federation to include limitations on colonial governments to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else. To ensure there was oversight.

Laney wandered back to the bridge, munching on an energy bar, her second. Hati had been younger than Laney's mother was now when she was changing the way the Federation let colonies start, forcing them to ensure human rights were not infringed. Laney had always thought her mother a bit incredible, an overachiever, but Hati was something else entirely. Self-taught, self-motivated, compelled not just to save herself but to save everyone else who didn't have a voice. Women's rights transformed into alien rights, to robot rights, and then sentient rights. Hati spearheaded it all. No one was going to be mistreated, not if Hati could help it. And Hati could help it. Dram Sul wasn't ready for Hati. Turned out the universe probably wasn't either, or maybe it was. Maybe the universe had been building for millennia, just waiting for Hati to put it back into balance.

And Laney was all spun up about not flying to the stars.

Perspective really could make mincemeat of a paradox.

Over the next two days, over every waking hour, Laney read more of the dozen or so books her grandmother had written, watched more videos, some movies her grandmother had been involved with. As she ate pre-cooked food, Laney studied the sweet face with its laughing eyes, the woman she had grown up with, and watched those eyes grow hard or sharp or drown as she talked through issues, as she offered her unending wisdom, as she commiserated the misused.

Yet time and again, Hati credited those that came before her. The ones that had built the path she'd laid again, that made precedents and changed minds in a world where women had never had a voice, never made the world change, never had power. "They changed things," Hati said on one of her shows, "when they had no chance of success. They used every possible resource, every ounce of ingenuity and grit and patience. They spoke up when women were beaten for far less. They took beatings. They came back for more. They learned history and used examples. They fought with logic and with passion. They told their daughters to want more. They told their sons that their daughters deserved better. They cajoled and persuaded, they threatened and insulted, they stood firm and retreated as often and as hard as they needed to. They never gave up. That's the lesson I learned."

Hati looked directly into the camera and it was as if she was talking directly to Laney, using the voice that Laney had thought she would never hear again. "The key to destroying paradox is perseverance."

Hati turned back to her guests and smiled. "Women weren't the only ones who had these victories, of course, but we definitely had real battles and, in the end, we've won every one. We have our answer to the age old question on what would prevail, an immovable object or an irresistible force. The force, every damn time. We need to remember that, too, and never rest, assuming the war is over. It's only won as long as we stay vigilant. And we need to make sure everyone has those same rights, because rules that don't apply to everyone are meaningless."

The hair stood up on Laney's collar, along her arms and she shivered.

Her grandmother. So much power, so much strength and still so much humanity. There wasn't really a difference between the grandmother who had rocked her in a chair and read her stories from this woman who had forced the universe to conform to her idea of just.

When the comm beeped to let her know her charge was at last ready to move to his next locale, Laney took him without comment and slid neatly into the slot at the next station. Then, she took a pouch full of data chips, a slingbag of ship clothing, and her wallet, then tendered her resignation.

If Laney wanted to reach the stars, she'd never get there if she waited for them to come to her. Time to make her own destiny.

But first, she should call her mother.

From the anthology Legacy by Stephanie Barr

Stephanie E Barr

Stephanie E Barr

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