Story of Mac and Bugsy
Day 3 (cont)
MacGregor was surprised when the off-duty navigation officer unceremoniously joined him at his lunch table. "Lt Buglu," he greeted.
"I have a bone to pick with you," the negro stated. "You've got some nerve, telling Mac not to wear clothes."
Mac without clothes-- He took a shuddering breath at the thought. "Only when we're alone," he mumbled.
Bugalu told him sharply, "Don't even think about it!"
Being warned off by Bugalu? That's unlike him. "The lady is free to see whomever she wants."
"She wants you as a friend!" Bugalu hissed. "You can't do that if you let your mind wander in that direction about her." He sighed, and some of the tenseness left his body. "Believe me, that's the voice of experience."
"Then you aren't trying to eliminate some competition?"
Bugalu frowned at him. "Mac asked if you could be trusted as a friend. Was I mistaken to tell her to go for it?"
MacGregor considered. "I did ask her if we could be friends. She took exception to the idea of anything else. And I meant it. But the more I'm with her, the harder it is to keep that in mind."
"Stop thinking of her as a woman."
MacGregor shook his head. "Can't be done."
"If I can do it, you can," Bugalu returned. "Granted, it isn't easy. Think of her as an irritant, a pest. It helps if you have sisters."
"She calls you her brother."
The younger man nodded. "That's right."
"Sounds like that isn't the relationship you'd like to have with her."
"Doesn't matter. It's the relationship we have; the one she needs from me, the one I agreed to. Nothing else rest matters."
"How - exactly - did that happen? Her version was ... abbreviated."
I was studying for a math exam. Matt was out, maybe with his kid sister, when the visiphone buzzed. It kept buzzing, kept breaking my concentration. It was Ed, of the Horsedrawn Carriage, one of Matt's favorite hangouts.
Where's Matt?" Ed demanded.
"Out. Probably with his sister."
"No, he ain't," Ed denied. "Haven't seen him, but his sister's here-" He ducked as a bottle sailed past. "She's tearing up the place!" He winced as something crashed. "I can't take anymore, I'm calling the patrol."
"No!" I told him. She was a brand-new cadet. Being picked up on a drunk and brawling charge would not be a good beginning for her career. I knew her, slightly – she’d been hanging around Matt, but she seemed reserved, and I'd been busy.
"I've got to do something. The place is wrecked!"
"I'll be right there. I'll handle it. Just don't call the patrol!"
When I got there, Mac stood in the wreckage, glaring at everyone. Her freshman's uniform was tattered. She took a long pull from the bottle in her hand.
"Colleen, I'll take you to quarters."
She stared at me for a long minute. "I know."
Behind the bar, Ed sighed. "Go with him, will ya? He's a friend of Matt's, and-"
"Matt's not here. He's here to try, just like Baker and the others."
I was trying not to lose track of parabolas and hyperbolas. I stepped forward to ask what started the fight. As I passed, she buried her fist in my stomach. I doubled over, surprised by her strength, and then the pain. I backed away, gulping for air.
Doc, I don’t fight unless it’s necessary. I especially won’t fight a woman. But I didn’t want to be a punching bag.
Mac can fight, even drunk. I saw that right away. After she planted some kicks to my ribs, I finally her leg and twisted her off balance. She could duck, too, so not many of my punches landed where I intended. It was obvious she had practiced with her brother. She had all of Matt's bad habits, and a few others. That didn't make it an easy fight for me, but eventually I won.
We stood in our final position for some time, catching our breath. I worried I might be twisting her arm too hard, but she gave no indication of pain. "You win," she said quietly.
"No more fighting?" I had to be sure.
"I said you win. I'll go quietly."
"What about the damages?" Ed asked.
I let go of Mac to face him. "How did it start?"
Ed pointed to several unconscious male cadets, some in a corner booth, others strewn about the wreckage. "They bought her a drink. Then another. Lots of them. Obviously, they expected her to get drunk so they could … you know. Only she didn't get drunk. A couple of them passed out, which made the rest impatient. She got mad." He waved his hand around the place. "You see the results."
I shrugged. "They started it. Let them pay for it."
Ed smiled. "Suits me. You taking her home?"
"Good. Get her out of here and I’ll call the patrol. Look, Red, don’t come back. You’re trouble."
"Come on, Colleen." We started for the dormitories. I tried to talk, having lost all track of my studies, but she wouldn’t reply. At times, she had trouble with her balance, but refused my support.
I figured out what had happened. Matt hadn't let her out of his sight since her arrival, but that severely cut into Matt's social life. When he finally went out on a date, she went out too. Every two-legged wolf at the Academy had immediately moved on her.
She wouldn’t tell me where her room was. I couldn’t leave her in the middle of campus, alone. I took her back to my room, Matt’s room, told her to get comfortable, and went back to math.
Later, Matt stormed in. "Where is she? If you've touched her, I'll kill you!"
"Who?" My head was full of equations. "Oh, your sister." I looked around, didn't see her. "Colleen?"
"Little Mac!" Mac called.
"What?" She peeked from the blankets of the top bunk – my bunk, as it happened.
Matt lunged, I ducked, she jumped from the bed, and Matt stared at her. "You've got your clothes on."
I was angered by his assumption. "I got her from the Horsedrawn Carriage for you, Matt. It wouldn’t be a favor if I took advantage of her, would it?"
"She was in your bed!"
"I didn't pay attention what she did! I told her to wait for you!"
"Little Mac, tell me the truth. Did he ... make use of you?"
"But you did," MacGregor surmised.
Bugalu shut his mouth decisively. "I had a test, which I did halfway decent on, despite everything. Anyway, since I hadn't raped her, they thought I could be trusted. Can't imagine why Matt thought that; he knew me. But I couldn't disappoint them. She still needs me as a brother. She wants you as a friend. So the question becomes, are you going to disappoint her?"
MacGregor sighed. "Not if I can help it. It's just-"
They were interrupted when another tray slammed onto the table. "Men!" Abdulla exclaimed as she sat down. "He should be horse-whipped!" She tore her dinner roll into bits. "Give them some rank, and they go completely bonkers!"
"Is this something for the ship's psychiatrist?" MacGregor asked.
She considered the question. "I don't think so," she finally stated. "She seems to handle it pretty well. Bugalu, you know her. Does she need a psychiatrist?"
"Yes, but not for this," he returned.
"Wait a minute," MacGregor said. "First you say 'he', and then it's 'she'. Who and what are we talking about?"
"Mac," Abdulla stated.
Somehow, that’s not a surprise.
"As a member of her chain of command, I've just spent two hours studying ... her files, getting to know her. And I found she hasn't had any furlough, no shore leave, in the past year."
"Eleven months," Bugalu corrected.
"You didn't look hard enough!" Abdulla growled.
"You'd better look again," MacGregor said. "Shore leave is very cyclic on a tug."
"And if you look in her main files, you’ll find paperwork that says she got them," the dusky woman agreed sweetly. "But in her sub-sub-files, you start seeing that she didn't! Like the time she was treated shipside for an injury during a scheduled shore leave. They wouldn't take her back to the ship for treatment. Or the time she was assigned to overhaul the communications console just the day before shore leave, and it was signed off as done the day everyone got back. Even on a tug, that's a 3-day job for one person. I couldn't necessarily prove it for every shore leave, but that's the impression I got. It makes me want to throttle some man!"
"Which could leave some of us wishing we were into that sort of thing," MacGregor heard himself say. The others stared at him in shock. "Now that I've put my foot in my mouth and shown how flexible I am-" Abdulla smirked and he stopped. "Maybe I'll just leave."
He disposed of his dirty dishes returned to sick bay. "Temple, come with me," he instructed, and led her to his office.
"Doctor?" She closed the door behind her.
He turned the computer interface toward her. "You're better at this thing than I am. Call up Mac's file. Not just medical, the whole thing. Get all the sub-files, too."
"Will this take long? Monroe's not back from lunch."
"She'll be back," he predicted. "As for how long, it took Abdulla a couple hours."
"Let's get started," she answered, her fingers flying over the keyboard.