Feeding the Gossip Mill
Month 1, Day 10
Smitty turned to the evening engineering supervisor. He blinked, and her hair lost its redness, went back to brown. "Wilson, " he acknowledged.
"Can I do something to help you?"
"I've come for some tools," he told her. "I have a project to do."
"Very good, sir." She glanced around and lowered her voice. "Still, you've been standing in front of the tool cabinet for 10 minutes. You seem preoccupied. I understand, but it's making my crew... nervous."
Her crew. Good. She's learned well. "Maybe they don't see enough of me."
"You don't visit often," she admitted. "And when you do, you don't - usually - stand in one place, staring at nothing."
He grunted. "Maybe I should." He began to select tools from the cabinet. "Get an MN27, would you?"
She was back before he finished selecting tools. "May I ask why you need a mini grav unit? The cargo handlers are working fine."
"Not cargo handlers. I'm going to rig a treadmill for variable gravity."
"You are?" He heard eagerness in her voice. "I've wondered how you give variable gravity to a limited space. Tried to figure it out. But since it isn't actually part of the ship-"
"I'd appreciate some help. Come along, and I'll explain the procedure."
She grinned. "Love to."
I love a woman who loves her work. As they left engineering, he realized they were the object of several curious and startled stares. They'd think nothing of it if we were the same gender. For years I avoid anything that might produce gossip, but the first time I leave with a female, they all think the worst.
What good has it done me, all these years of being careful? Maybe MacGreg's right. The past shore leave left me with lust I can't control. Oh, space, that sounds like Winthrop. I've no desire to be like him. Perhaps I'd better start dating. Not Wilson, of course, but Temple's not a subordinate.
"Wilson," he started, but couldn't look at her. "If one were to... date. Between shore leaves. What is there to do on the Fireball?"
Her shock reverberated off the life walls, like a dense gelatin surrounded them. She didn't answer for a time, during which he memorized the scuffmarks on the lift floor. "Well," she finally began, "some couples go straight for sex and don't bother with anything else." He flushed, found he couldn't breathe. "However, most women want more than that." She cleared her throat, and he sucked a welcome lungful of air. "Not to get personal, but if I knew who, I might have specific suggestions."
"No one!" he croaked, starting to panic. Why did I start this? "Never mind! I shouldn't have asked!" He glanced at her, found her studying him.
"Are you trying to ask me out, Mr Smythe?"
He staggered half a step away. "Certainly not! You're a subordinate!" That is not disappointment in her eyes. It's not!
She gave a curt nod. "There's the usual activities; dinner, a movie, table tennis, pool, or some other game in one of the recrooms. Once a month, there's a concert, play or sporting event. Occasionally, there's a dance. For privacy, try an observation deck, the arboretum or a... privacy room. Of course, for real privacy, you have your quarters." The door opened, revealing the short hall past the locker rooms to the gym. "The lady might have suggestions, also."
He started forward, feeling trapped. "I suppose," he agreed rashly. They fell into silence. A glance her way revealed she was watching him, but when he did not continue the subject, she let the conversation drop.
I brought her to do a job. "It's pretty simple, giving a specified area variable gravity."
"I haven't found it simple to figure out."
"You're probably trying to make it complicated," he returned as they entered the gym. "Most people do. But it's merely a matter of encasing-" He turned for the treadmills, and his attention was immediately caught by a shapely butt in an orange exercise suit as the owner bent over to fasten her shoe. There's the woman for me! Nice bottom! A hint thick around the waist, but we can't have everything. Who is she? Space, I hope she's not in engineering! "A beautiful body in orange," he breathed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."
He glanced at Wilson, but his eyes returned to the woman of his dreams, who... stood up, revealing bright red hair. MacDowell! I should have known, I should have known!
The redhead's gaze wandered over the half-dozen men standing around. "Instead of just watching, you could race with us." Smitty turned away as her gaze wandered their way. "Hi, Ivy!"
"Mac, racing YD again?"
"She gets grumpy if I don't." A throaty peal of laughter came from the AmerInd. "Come on, YD, let's do it. I have to study tonight."
Wilson turned to Smitty as he tried to pull air into lungs that had forgotten how to work. "Mr Smythe?"
"I can't do this. We... we need room to work; it's too crowded right now. I'll come later," he decided, and headed back the way they had come.
She followed him. "I'd still like to assist you."
"Of course. Glad to have you." The lift let 2 men off, and the engineers got on.
Wilson cleared her throat. "If you want to do it when M- the gym isn't crowded, you'll either have to do it tomorrow or later tonight. Near shift's end, I would guess."
"Tomorrow," he decided. She'll be asleep. I heard her tell Bugalu she'd sleep days. "About 1300."
"Oh." For such a simple word, it expressed a great deal of disappointment. "Perhaps you can explain the procedure another time." He looked at her in surprise, and she grimaced. "I'll be asleep at 1300," she stated. "I don't like to change my schedule during my week. It's hard enough to get my hours straightened out after my days off."
She's the best assistant I've got. She wants to learn. Most of 'em are happy knowing the basics. It's not fair for- "Alright, tonight, then." Can't make it too late, or I'll not get up myself. "Shouldn't take long. About 2230?"
"Sounds great!" She started pulling tools from his hands. "Why don't I bring all this stuff with me and meet you there?"
"You can't carry all that!" he protested. "I can come to engineering and get you."
She sighed. "May I be frank, Mr Smythe?"
"I'm not as successful as you at discouraging gossip. I try, but... they are human. I know they wonder who you... see. After we left together, there's bound to be some who- Anyway, the less often you fetch me, the easier it will be to scotch that rumor."
How dare they- Oh, space, she had the same thought, so how can I- He handed the tools to her, kept the MN27. "I'll meet you there," he agreed.
"Thank you, Mr Smythe. I knew you'd understand."
The door opened, and she left him alone in the lift. He watched her return to her post as the doors closed. Nice bottom. She bent down, and he got a very good view of a rounded rear in red uniform shorts. Not quite as nice as- Blast, I'm doing it again!