Month 1, Day 10
Although his lunch choices seemed entirely too familiar, Drake didn't take long to choose. He glanced around before selecting a table. No, she's not here. Wonder where she is. I'm getting as bad as Bugalu. At least I haven't interrupted a superior's date looking for her. She's a big girl; she can take care of herself. I'm just... lonely. I always thought days off on a ship were a waste of time, but they wouldn't be bad if I had someone to do nothing with. Haircut, hot tub and I finished my book. What will I do this afternoon? And tomorrow?
"May we join you, Duck?" Jane put her tray on his table, followed by Takor and Smitty. Jane had a sweet smile pasted on her face. Uh oh. She's upset but determined to behave civilly and hear all sides before she pronounces sentence. Wonder what I've done.
"What is this?" Takor asked him.
Drake glanced at the Sciss' tray. "Meatloaf. Mostly meat. Shouldn't give you any problem." Don't know if it'll like meatloaf, but the Sciss are omnivores. He indicated the other items. "That's potatoes, mashed. You've had potatoes before. On top of the potatoes is gravy, a semi-solidified meat juice. The little green balls are-"
"Peas," Takor broke in. "Rich. Tasty. Must not eat too many."
"Yes," MacGregor agreed, remembering the first time the Scissan had eaten peas. "Don't land in Sick Bay again. The flat stuff is bread, spread your butter on it."
"What is butter?"
"It's that little slab of yellow stuff. It's solidified milk fat."
"Your species likes to solidify its food," Takor observed.
Drake smiled. "We do a lot of things to our food before we eat it." He took a final look at the other's tray. "Coffee again; I'd be a wreck if I drank half as much as you do. Be careful with that dessert."
"I scream," the alien stated.
"You might," Drake returned. Then he realized what the other had said. "Close. Ice cream. Cream is extra rich milk. To make that dessert, the cream is sweetened and then frozen. Between the sugar and the cold, it might not suit you."
"I'll be careful," Takor stated.
Jane continued smiling sweetly as she ate. Smitty seemed lost in thought. "Takor," the captain started, "this conversation may confuse you, but please save questions until later. Something has happened that has me so upset, I'm not sure I can behave. So I will deal with it here, in public, where I will be forced to behave as if I were calm."
"I am already confused," Takor admitted, and busied itself with eating.
"Smitty," Jane said.
Good. She's not after my skin. Wonder what he's done? And him not paying attention.
Drake kicked the engineer under the table, bringing him out of his trance. "What?" Smitty asked, looking up.
"Who was scheduled to work midnight communications today?" Jane asked.
Uh oh. What's Mac done? Forgot to report for duty? She should have been-
Smitty sighed. "Chun. Lt Chun was there for the 2nd day of relief for midnights."
Chun? But I know Mac was planning-
"Then why was Lt MacDowell present?" the captain asked. "If she forgot her schedule, Lt Chun should have reminded her."
"No," Smitty told his lunch. "She didn't forget." He raised his head again. "She was never told."
"Explain," Burke instructed.
Smitty shook his head, staring at his barely-touched meal, his face white. "Abdulla told her she'd be on midnights after shore leave. That's as far as she got. While I was working with her, I... forgot to specify."
"Forgot-?" Jane hissed.
Smitty glanced up at no one in particular in embarrassed panic.
"You know what Smitty's like when he's working, Captain," MacGregor stated.
"Normally, it's not a problem. But this time, he's done a disservice to a subordinate. I'm surprised to hear you speak on his behalf, Duck, since you were determined she needed to be treated with kid gloves."
Meaning if I make excuses for him, she'll take some of my hide, too. "Well, she had an enjoyable shore leave," he ventured.
"You would know," Smitty snarled.
"What do you-"
"Off subject," Jane interrupted. "When they both arrived for the same shift, Smitty, somebody should have called you to straighten it out!"
"I was there," he blurted.
She stared at him, chewed and swallowed a bite of meatloaf. "Why?"
"To introduce Lt MacDowell to her shift," Smitty admitted, and sighed again. "I hadn't paid attention to the relief schedule. By the time I realized Chun was there, I'd already made a to-do about whether she could do the job with her hand bandaged."
"Bandaged!" MacGregor exclaimed. "Again?"
Smitty's glance was icy. "Apparently, Dr Davis treated it last night. Don't you read your overnight reports?"
"Not this morning." It's my day off.
"So," Jane broke in pleasantly. "Because you forgot to check the schedule, because you weren't sure she could perform her job - you felt it was okay to rob her of an off shift."
The engineer frowned. "I'll pull an ensign up to fill the chair for a night."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Drake offered.
"Who's side are you on?" Jane asked.
"I have an idea how her mind works," he stated. "Smitty, what reason did you give for both to work the same shift?"
"He told Chun to see that she knew her job," Jane stated. "Although he didn't ask Lt Chun anything this morning."
"She won't see anything wrong with that," the doctor stated. "She isn't sure of her abilities herself, so she won't be surprised if he isn't. But she has had difficulties with... superiors. If Smitty starts giving her days off - after her extra shore leave day - it might make her nervous about his intentions." Why did he suddenly go brilliant red? "If she needs it, I'll insist she get her off-shift. But it would make her too nervous, to get it right now."
"There must be some way he can make up for this," Jane insisted.
Inspiration came to him. "Maybe there is." Smitty looked up in suspicious distrust. "Remember your experiment where people can adjust the artificial gravity for weight station C?"
Smitty grunted. "After a few curious attempts, no one's used it for years."
"Until last week," Drake corrected. "Mac's a heavy-worlder. She loves it."
Smitty shifted uncomfortably. "So?"
"She also uses the treadmill. If you could make it possible to adjust the gravity of one of those, I think you'd make her very happy."
"I like it," Jane pronounced. "It shows consideration without getting personal. Can you do it, Smitty?"
He looked almost panicked. "I... suppose it's possible. I'd have to-"
"Good. That's settled. And lunch is over." She stood. "Ready, Duck?"
"No. This is my day off."
Jane blinked and turned to Smitty as he rose to his feet. "Smitty, you worked all last week. When's your next day off?"
"Well, I- Soon, I suppose."
"Have you forgotten your own schedule?" she asked sharply.
"Today." Drake grinned at the glowering engineer. "We're on the same schedule. Supposed to be, anyway."
"You did forget," Jane breathed. "Obviously, since your memory is so poor, you need the time off. So take it. Come on, Takor." She glanced at the alien's plate. "I guess you liked the meatloaf."
"Why do humans solidify so many foods, yet pre-digest others?" it asked as they turned away.
"It's not really pre-digesting," she answered as they moved off.
Drake grinned at the engineer, who was still glaring at him. "I've got a book you can read, if you need something to do."
"A mystery, no doubt."
Drake shrugged. "You got any suggestions? I'm at loose ends myself."
"Why do you think I don't bother with shipside days off?"
"We're grown men. We should be able to find a way to entertain ourselves."
Smitty snorted. "Like what?"
Drake mentally reviewed the ship's possibilities. "We could play table tennis, pool, or-" Pool. "Did you say Mac's hand was bandaged again?"
"It was last night," Smitty answered. "She claimed Dr Davis had done it, but if it wasn't in your overnight reports-"
"I didn't go to my office this morning," he pointed out. "I'm not surprised, though. If she weren't Gaelund, she would have broken it."
Drake almost answered, but remembered he didn't officially know, which made it gossip. If he had officially known, it was private information. "Well, I won't ask her to play pool."
"Don't be daft. She can't hold a cue stick all bandaged up." Smitty finished his coffee. "Well, care for a game of pool? I've got to while away time somehow. At least pool won't keep me from figuring out how to give a treadmill variable gravity."
"Why not? It's something to do."