Day 1 (cont)
Space, Ryan beat me here! Bugalu paused as he stepped off the turbo lift to watch the Irishman flirt with the redhead. She has her arms crossed tightly, and her head lowered, and Ryan's reading that as coy interest, instead of a mounting temper.
"If you're from Gaelund, then we have plenty in common," the navigation engineer told her. "We might even be related."
She raised her head, suddenly uncertain. "Related?"
"Sure! Cousins!" Ryan agreed eagerly. "Kissing cousins!"
Her face went hard. "No."
Bugalu tried not to laugh as he stepped forward and pushed the other man aside. "Not this one, Ryan. Forget about her."
Ryan looked surprised. "Warning me off, Bugalu? That's not like you. You don't usually mind sharing."
Bugalu shook his head. "Just telling you for your own good - leave her alone."
"Maybe she doesn't feel that way," Ryan suggested.
Bugs was surprised when she threw herself against him, forcing his own arms to encircle her. "Whatever Bugsy says."
"Your loss," Ryan muttered and left.
Bugalu held her a pace away to take a good look at her. Wow! The uniform really looks good on her, even better than a cadet's. "I can't believe you're here." He pulled her close again for a hug.
"I'm here." Her voice was muffled by her chin being buried in his shoulder. "I didn't think I'd ever get here, but I'm here."
A throat cleared as someone went past. "A little public for that, lieutenants."
He pulled apart from her, found her blushing as Lt Cmdr Smythe walked down the corridor. "Forget him," Bugalu told her. "It's not every day you and I get back together. And how did you get this stripe?"
She gave a nervous laugh. Oh, there's a story there for sure. "That's a long story." She slipped her arm through his so they could walk. "Are you sure you want to hear it now? Because it starts a long, long time ago."
Meaning, she isn't ready to tell it yet. "Okay, we can save it for another day. But if we're going to have supper together, we'd better hurry, because I've got a date."
Her face fell. "Oh."
"You didn't tell me you were coming," he reminded her. "What did you expect?"
"Well, I wanted to be a surprise," she muttered, and sighed as they neared the cafeteria. "What do you suppose is on the menu tonight?"
He glanced at her sideways. "You've been where, on a tug?" That’s right. "Things are different on a starship. Two dozen stand-by items, just in case none of the six main menu selections fits your fancy. Except you’ll be midnights."
"What happens on midnights?"
"You're lucky if anything's left over from yesterday, and chances are they haven't exactly got today's menu pulled together." They walked into the mess hall and took their place in line. After a glance at the menu, he grimaced. "Looks like they went Russian today. Pick something from the stand-by menu."
"What's wrong with Russian?"
"Wouldn't be anything wrong, if they got it right," he answered. "But they don't. They do a decent tuna sandwich, though."
She shook her head. "No, not tuna. Potato soup." That figures. She gave her order, and he gave his, then they took a few steps along the line to collect their food. When they turned to look for a table, none were empty. "Now what?"
"Over there." He pointed to a brown man sitting alone. "We can sit with Capac." He led the way, surprising the young man by their arrival. "Capac, this is Colleen MacDowell, communications. Call her Mac."
"Mac?" the boy repeated as he stared at her. "Too masculine a name for someone that beautiful."
Bugalu reconsidered his choice of seating. Didn't know Capac had that in him. Going to have to warn him, I guess.
"Thank you, Capac," she replied quietly. "But I like being called Mac. What are you having for supper?"
Somehow, the Peruvian tore his eyes off the redhead to look down at his meal. "Borst. It's good."
Why's she grinning? "He's from Peru, what's he know about Russian food?"
"Well, what would a Nubian know about Russian food?" she asked.
"I'm not-" Her eyes say she's teasing. "Maybe it's an acquired taste," he allowed.
Six others suddenly invaded the table, which was meant for four. "Bugs!" Mac called as the new arrivals tussled to sit next to her. She grabbed the back of Capac's chair and slid him closer to her, so only one of the newcomers could insinuate himself on her other side.
Bugalu glanced at the newcomers and frowned. Not a single one trustworthy, except Capac. "Gentlemen, this is Colleen MacDowell, communications. Call her Mac. But if you don't want to get decked, keep your hands off her."
There was a moment of confusion among the newcomers. "You're warning us off, Bugalu?" Kagan asked.
He frowned. "Just consider her untouchable."
"Hey!" Mac jumped sideways, her fist raised to threaten Jones beside her. Bugalu jumped up, grabbed her fist. He couldn’t physically to stop her, but she obeyed him. "Hands off!" she hissed at the engineering ensign.
"Not your first day, Mac," Bugalu told her. "He’s not worth it. Not ever." She still stared at the ensign, though her fist remained motionless. "Jones, leave. Mac's a heavy worlder; she'll break your jaw if I let her."
Jones made no move to leave, but a hand pulled him from the seat, and Ferguson took his place, looked around the table. "Okay, let her go," Ferguson said, his hands on the tabletop. In plain sight. Good. "If I'm not strong enough to keep my hands to myself, I deserve a broken jaw." He grinned. "Might be worth it, at that."
Despite the final comment, Mac relaxed, and Bugalu let go to take his seat again. Something doesn’t look right. She obviously doesn't realize-- "Mac, scoot toward Ferguson about 2 inches."
"I'm Ferguson," the newcomer provided helpfully.
Mac looked to Bugalu in confusion. "Why?"
Here it gets tricky. "You're practically in Capac's lap."
She jerked over hurriedly, and Capac closed his eyes, expecting a punch. "Sorry, Capac," Mac muttered.
The Peruvian opened his eyes. "No problem! My pleasure! Any time!" The other men laughed.
At least Ferguson is here. Anyway, she's been on her own several years, she must have learned something. Bugalu swallowed his last bite of sandwich and washed it down with tea. "Gotta go." He stood up, his tray in hand.
"Now?" Mac demanded.
"I told you, I've got a date."
"I know, but we need to talk."
"We can catch up--"
"Not to catch up!" she declared, and glanced around at the other men. "Bugs, I need you!"
He hesitated. She's serious. "How badly?" She's got several levels; important, really important, utterly important--
"Urgent!" He stared, stunned by a level she'd never used before. She sighed and sat back, resigned. "When?"
Is that why she's here? Did she manage her entire transfer? And yet, she isn't asking me to break a date. "0700," he told her. "My place." He heard the men gasp, but ignored them. "Unless--?"
"No, I can hold out," she decided sourly. As he hesitated another second, she looked around the table, and then stood up. "Come to think of it, I need to unpack. Bye, guys."
Good. I'm not sure even Ferguson could keep things from exploding.