Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Explanation

The Explanation
Month 1 Day 20
2305 Hrs

When they walked down the corridor, Bugalu felt Mac's arm tremble around his waist. Movie night wasn't quite the hell I expected. And Mac's not nervous, she's excited. Wrong word. Happy. Yeah, happy. They entered messhall. Every person here is watching, sure she's just another of my conquests. Oh, well. I expected that.

"There's Mac," Mac said. Who? Oh, right, she's shortened the doc's name. "He looks mad," she added. "I wonder what I've done?"
"Don't be paranoid," he told her. "It's me he's glaring at."
"Oh." She sighed. "I was about to suggest we sit with him."
She doesn't need her 'relatives' mad at each other, so- "Good idea," he agreed. "You claim the pizza, and I'll settle whatever's got Doc upset."
She gave him a hesitant grin. "Okay. What flavor is it?"
"Ham and pineapple, what else?"
She squealed and threw her arms around his neck. His arms naturally encircled her, but his hands didn't roam. "Mac asked me to a movie," she whispered. What? "I didn't know what to say." She let go and stared at him uncertainly.
"Get the pizza," he instructed. The midnighters are looking for breakfast now, and it'll take her a few minutes. Bugalu headed for MacGregor's table. "Mac wants us to sit with you," he told the doctor.
"You don't want to be alone?" MacGregor growled. "Or are you done?"
Bugalu ignored the questions' meaning. "I won't send her to work without lunch." He glanced her way, saw her bouncing as she waited, from feet to toes, again and again. "What's up? She thinks you're mad at her." He sat down.
"How was the movie?"
Lots of anger in his voice. Why can't he just answer the question? Bugalu shrugged. "Funnier than most westerns. Jokes that probably meant something when it was made. Lots of racial comments I vaguely remember hearing about from my great-grandparents. Plenty of sexual references that went over Mac's head. Probably."
Doc's eyes widened. "You watched it? Or have you seen it before?"
Bugalu shook his head. "I don't usually like the old ones. But I figured it was better than being alone with Mac in my quarters for 4 hours."
Doc stared at him. "The movie's less than 2 hours."
"We saw it twice."
"Why not your quarters? You take other women there. Even during the movie. I saw you, last week, with... someone."
"Not Mac," Bugalu answered at once. Last week? "That must have been Beth. Or Stephanie. But not Mac. Never Mac."
"But you started with the movie, just like with... others."
"Not-!" Bugalu stopped, leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I held her, that's all! She and Matt did it at the Academy, spent hours watching movies, arms around each other. Before the Academy, only her mother could treat her like that. She calls them hugs, and it's the closest she ever gets to any display of affection. From anybody! No kissing, no making out, no fondling. No hand holding, no pats on the shoulder, no hand on her cheek, no stroke to her hair, nothing! Just the occasional hug."
Understanding slowly dawned in the doctor's eyes. "It must have been torture."
Bugalu sighed. "It wasn't as bad as I was afraid. The movie distracted me."
"You know what people will think," Doc pointed out.
"They already do. So what? She needs it."
Doc's gaze crossed the room to where Mac was about to claim her food. She was still bouncing, a grin on her face. "She looks like she's in love."
Bugalu glared at him. "Don't even joke about that!"
Doc turned back to him. "I wasn't."
"Well, not with me. She might think she is, but... it isn't me."
"So she does have a mystery man in her life. Who?"
Do I tell him? She hasn't. Actually, she hasn't even- "She hasn't told me."
Doc frowned. "How do I gently guide him toward her if I don't know who 'he' is?"
"You can't," Bugalu spat. "Stop and think, Doc. As un-sexed as her pa's got her, do you really think any man has a chance?"
"Crying shame," Doc stated. "Everybody should have a chance at-"
"Pizza!" Mac exclaimed as she set the large tray on the table. "Hope you like it, Mac. This is my favorite kind!"
"Pizza's not on the menu," Doc stated. "Hardly ever. And it certainly wasn't today."
"Special order," she responded. "Now, don't touch until I get back with drinks and napkins." She hurried off, paused to talk to Tall Bear, bouncing again, one finger lightly touching his arm. The AmerInd looked bemused.
"We can still have lunch, though, right?" Bear asked as she moved away.
She paused to look back, smiled. "Okay!"
"What's that about?" Doc asked.
"I think she's practicing her ballet," Bugalu suggested.
"I meant, with Tall Bear."
"Oh." Bugalu shrugged. "She likes Bear. She's just afraid to admit it. So far, he's accepted that she won't date him, and that means a lot to her. Tonight's hug has made her friendly enough to actually touch him."
"They spot each other for weight lifting."
"Yes, and if they accidentally touch each other during that, she can forgive it because of the activity. If he habitually touched her during weight lifting, she'd get very unhappy with him."
"But she is allowed to touch men. She told me so."
"When she can get past pa's dictates. Hugs let her consider the possibility that not every man is out to rape her. So I have to time them carefully. I can't send her to work with Evans when she's feeling friendly. Pa's training would snap back into place, might even be stronger."
"Who's Evans?"
"Picture a young Winthrop and put him on midnight helm," Bugalu instructed.
Doc was aghast. "It's a wonder she hasn't landed in the brig."
"Thanks to Bear," Bugalu revealed. "He eats supper with her, keeping Evans and Adams away."
"Thought I knew the crew, but I guess not. Who's Adams?"
Mac placed drinks and napkins on the table. "Lt Adams is midnight engineering supervisor." She sat down, helped herself to a slice of pizza. "He visits the bridge at least 3 times a night, but he doesn't pay any attention to engineering when he's on the bridge." She waved at someone with a grin. "Like I said, Bugs, he won't show up tonight."
"Why not?" Doc asked.
Bugalu answered. "Because tonight is Evans' day off, and Amana won't put up with Adams being on the bridge without reason. So, with Evans off, and Adams out of the picture, it seems relatively safe for Mac to be friendly. What do you say, Mac, do it again in 8 days?"
"I don't know if I can get pizza again. Kitchen doesn't make a habit of fulfilling personal requests."
"I'll live," she decided, taking another piece. "I could probably live through anything, as long as I get hugs."
"Hugs," Doc repeated quietly. "You know, Mac-"
"No!" Bugalu exclaimed, then lowered his voice. "It's not easy, Doc!"
"Things could get... bad... if you lost control," Mac stated quietly.
"Yeah, I didn't do so well the first time, did I?" Bugalu looked up sharply, to see that Mac had colored slightly. Doc went on. "I hardly ever see you, but I've rethought the idea of seeing a movie together. Bugalu has that under control, and if the captain thought you and I were dating, she'd have my head. But we did okay with supper, didn't we? Did some brainstorming about your problem-"
"What problem?" Bugalu broke in.
"I've had trouble calming down after work to go to sleep," Mac told him, and turned to the doctor. "The more often you see me, the more rumors there will be."
"I'm aware of that-"
"Doc, if you want to join us for supper, that's fine with me," Bugalu told him. "Any day you want."
"Thank you. I'll take you up on that, some evenings. But I thought of another thing she could do in the mornings to help her calm down. Come to Sick Bay."
"And do what?" Bugalu asked.
"Talk to me," Doc replied. "Or Beth. A friendly ear can do wonders for your mood. And I have days off, too. We could play a game of pool to help you de-stress. Or have you given up that game?"
She grinned. "I don't give up a game just because I'm stupid enough to hurt myself on the equipment."
"Good. Come in some morning and we'll make some plans."
"Here's an idea," Bugalu said. "If you want to spend time with Mac, help her study."
"It's not my field."
"Doesn't have to be, the way Abdulla's got the review files set up. You read the question and see if her answer matches the file. If not, that's an area she needs to study. There's not many areas left, though. She's boned up well."
"Good," Doc stated. "The sooner she passes, the sooner she can enjoy her evenings, instead of studying. What about tomorrow night, Mac?"
"Tomorrow's mine," Bugalu said. "All study, from breakfast until lunch, with a break for the gym. But the night after that, she's free. I've got a date."
"That makes her sound like... like..."
Bugalu grinned. "Like a pesky little sister. That's what she is."
"But not for you, Mac," she refuted.
Bugalu frowned. "No?"
"No. For him, I'm a pesky niece." She picked a last piece of pineapple off the pan, then began gathering the meal's debris. "I need to get ready for work."
"I'll walk you to your room," Bugalu offered, and they carried the items to the disposal.
After they left the messhall, Mac glanced around, then quietly asked, "Why would the captain be upset if she thought Mac and I were dating?"
Bugalu nearly stumbled. The Doc? No, I've seen them together. She's definitely 'adopted' him. "It's against regs. And because of the difference in rank. Some people use their rank to force a subordinate into a relationship."
"Oh." She seemed lost in her thoughts until they approached her quarters, where she turned and asked, "But... love... doesn't pay any attention to rank. Does it?"
Bugalu cleared his throat. There's no way to answer but with the truth. "No, it doesn't. Actually, the regs aren't very effective as a deterrent. That's why Capt Burke steps in as soon as she's aware of a mixed-rank relationship. She doesn't want anybody forced into anything. On the Fireball, the crew dates within their rank. Well, most do. They don't want to get into trouble just for a little-" He stopped, unwilling to destroy her good mood.
"Sex," she completed, and he was surprised she could say the word. "But I wasn't talking about sex, Bugsy."
"I know." He gave her a tight embrace, whispered in her ear, "Be absolutely positive, Mac, without the slightest shadow of a doubt. And for space's sake, be careful!" When he let go, her face was red, her eyes large. "Any other questions?"
"Not-" She swallowed and shook her head.

He gently turned her toward her door. "Then get ready for work."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Not Date / Fresh Beginnings

The Not Date
Month 1, Day 20
1908 Hrs

Mac's hand trembled as Bugalu led her to a pair of empty seats in the dim theater. "Relax," he told her as they sat down.

"You forgot popcorn."
Surprised, he asked, "Didn't you have breakfast?"
"Yes, but I understand popcorn is traditional."
"With us, pizza is traditional." He slipped his arm around her shoulders.
"We don't have that, either," she pointed out, wriggling to get comfortable in the unaccustomed seat.
"We will."
She turned in sudden excitement. "We will?"
He grinned. "I've already ordered it."
Her arms encircled his torso as she rested her head on his shoulder. "You're too good to me."
"I know," he agreed teasingly as the dimness deepened. Everybody watched us come in. They'll all think... They already think that. The only other option was the sofa in my quarters, and after all these years, I don't know if I can trust myself. Look how quickly I succumbed when we were dancing.
A man whispered into his ear. "I'll be watching, to see how it's done."
Bugalu frowned in the darkness, then relaxed. If that doesn't keep me on my best behavior, then... Mac will hit me. Maybe these guys will get that hint.

Fresh Beginnings
Month 1 Day 20
1936 Hrs

Smitty realized that the lights had lowered, the movie had started, opening credits were over, and he had no memory of any of it. This is going to be long. Already feels like we've been here for hours. I just want to go, be anywhere but here.

His eyes wandered yet again to the couple several rows down. How long before they leave for his place? As he did with Beth, and how many other women? She deserves better treatment than that.
Uncomfortable with his thoughts, he changed positions, felt his fingers brush against uniform tights. Anna grabbed his hand. Before he could apologize, she leaned toward him to whisper, "Not quite that fast, Smitty." She retained his hand in a comfortable grasp.
I wasn't planning- Not tonight, anyway. Not here, where anyone can see us. Is she ready for that? If she's just now getting over- Oh, follow her lead. Take it slow. He exchanged hands within hers and slipped his arm around her shoulders. Anna leaned against him.

She smelled just a bit like chocolate.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An Old Friend

An Old Friend
Month 1, Day 20
1731 Hours

Smitty transferred his supper from the dumblift to his table and sat. Should have thought of this long ago. Don't have to see her having supper with Bugalu if I'm not in the main messhall. Don't know how often I can do this, though, before Jane complains I've abandoned her. Sometimes I feel like we're just a... stable for her entertainment. Not sex. Thank space she doesn't expect that. Still, sometimes I don't feel like being in the main messhall. It's too crowded. Too noisy. Impossible not to hear-

"Depends who's asking." He jumped at hearing the voice he'd hoped not to hear.
"I'm asking," MacGreg stated as they passed the door to Smitty's alcove to take the next. They had seen his was occupied and didn't even look in to see who had it.
"Yes, but are you-"
The translucent walls between the booths allowed a modicum of privacy by blurring sight and sound, so it was impossible for him to hear what else they said. For a time, he stared at the wall between the booths as he waited for- What am I waiting for? They don't know I'm here. It wouldn't matter to them if they did. If it doesn't matter to them, it shouldn't matter to me. He turned back to his meal, tried hard to appreciate the flavors.
Should have known MacGreg wouldn't let go of her. She usually eats with Bugalu, but if she's going to break that habit for anyone, I'm not surprised it's MacGreg. I've got to stop thinking about her. Them. He again concentrated on his food.
"You want me-?" That was said so loudly, he heard it plainly, despite the walls. MacGreg's response, of course, was just a blur. That can't be a surprise! Of course he wants her. A man would have to be an idiot not to. With breasts so firm, and- Oh, Blast, not again! I'm here to eat, not daydream about... anybody.
Eventually, his meal done, he was faced with the prospect of leaving. Although he disposed of the dirty plates, he could not bring himself to step outside the booth. They might see me, think I've been spying, listening to them. I haven't. Couldn't listen if I wanted to. Oh, space, I'll just have some dessert. Maybe they'll be gone by the time I get that eaten. After making his selection, he waited impatiently for the dumblift to bring his pie. It seemed to take forever.
"And flirting," Mac teased as she left the neighboring booth and the dining room.
Now they leave. No, only she left. She's not spending the evening with him? Well, even if he left now- As if on cue, the doctor left the dining room, still without glancing into Smitty's booth. -I have dessert coming. For a few minutes, he heard the mutter of voices in the hallway, but the walls did their job, and he didn't hear anything distinctly. What's taking that pie so long?
"I knew it had to be you." He looked up as Lt Cmdr Anna Humara entered his booth. "And they said you had only ordered food for one, so I took a chance that I wouldn't be interrupting anything."
"Anna!" he greeted her in pleasure. "Where have you been hiding yourself?"
"In the kitchen, where else?" She slid a slice of pie in front of him, and sat down opposite with her own slice. "I knew it had to be you, because no one else requests banana pie with chocolate sauce."
He grinned as she handed him a fork. "They might if you put it on the menu." They both began eating, and he briefly closed his eyes at the first bite. "Fresh bananas! Did you get some on the last stop?"
She gave him a sly smile. "These aren't fresh. I finally figured out how to correctly hydrate banana chips."
"Congratulations. You've been working on that since you and Michael started dating."
Her smile disappeared. "Yes," she agreed flatly.
Oh, space. I shouldn't have mentioned him. She was devastated when he left. Threw herself into work, and we've hardly seen her since. How long's it been? A year?
"I think I'm over him," Anna announced, taking the time to lick pie off her fork. "In any case, having learned to make a decent banana pie, I've decided it's time to stop hiding. I mean, why should I let him spoil my entire life? He's not worth it."
"I could have told you that."
"Yes, I remember you trying to tell me that, but I wasn't ready to listen, then. It's been over two years, and I'm tired of 20-hour days in the kitchen. I might even be ready to start dating again."
He gazed at her, the last couple of bites of his pie momentarily forgotten. She's not an underling. She's a peer. And she was fun, back before Michael's jealousy made her break off from her friends. "I'm free tonight. Maybe we could see a movie." Blast, her eyes are tearing up. Did I saw something wrong? I thought-
Her lips trembled as she smiled. "Thank you, Smitty. You always were a good friend."
"I tried to be." Came to blows with Michael a couple times when he started monopolizing her so thoroughly. Gave that up when I saw her with a black eye that time, even though I wanted to beat him to a bloody pulp. She needed me, and I let her down. "Shall I pick you up at 7?"
"Sounds fine," she stated. "Speaking of dates, who's the redhead Drake was chasing?"
For a second, Smitty's mouth clamped shut. "Communications."
Anna looked up, her eyes round with surprise. "A tech?"
"A newly minted lieutenant. She works midnights."
She shook her head. "Even so, he'd better not let the captain hear he's after a lieutenant. Burke doesn't like mixing the ranks like that."

"So I've told him," Smitty agreed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Family Dinner

Family Dinner
Month 1, Day 20
Drake MacGregor
1714 Hours

Drake drummed fingers against the opposite bicep of his folded arms. She's late. Well, she's a woman, so why-
"You waiting for me, Mac?"
He looked up from the floor to smile at the approaching redhead. "Yes." He stopped leaning against the bulkhead. "You look tired. You sleeping okay?"
She yawned as they entered the small mess hall. "That depends who's asking."
What's she mean by that? "I'm asking." He steered her to a back booth. She slid into a seat, and he took the opposing side.
"Are you asking as Uncle Mac or as Dr Mac?"
He started to answer, then paused. If I ask as her doctor, she might answer. Or she might say I'm off duty and she won't make me talk shop. If I say as her uncle, she might answer. Or she might say that sleeping's not something an uncle can help with, and close the subject. "Whichever one will get me an answer."
She chuckled. "You learn fast, Mac. Shall we order now, so we can eat?"
"Are you going to answer me?" he countered. If I let her change the subject...
"As soon as we order, I promise."
And a promise is a promise. He gave in. Mac chose oatmeal, eggs and fruit juice, typical breakfast. But it was supper for him, so he ordered beef stew and French bread. He leaned back. "Well?"
She stifled another yawn. "I'm a restless sleeper, Mac. Never noticed it before coming here, but I move around so much, even eight hours of sleep isn't enough. And working midnight bridge - with Evans - often gets me so upset, so - tense, that I can't sleep right away."
He tried not to frown. "That could become a problem."
"It is," she admitted. "It's started to nibble into my evenings. That's why I'm late - I only drug myself out of bed twenty minutes ago."
"What have you tried?" I hope it's not booze.
"For a couple days, I tried running for half an hour, to work some energy out. I'd prefer to punch, but I haven't found a sparring partner. But running only woke me up. So, the last couple days, I've spent time in the whirlpool." That should help, as long as nobody bothers her. She continued. "If I go directly from bridge to whirlpool, I generally have the place to myself." She sighed. "Hope nobody figures that out, or I won't have that option anymore."
"Why not?"
She frowned. "It's hard to relax with a gaggle of men crowded around, pestering you for a date."
Several men, all sporting white feathers and orange beaks, splashed around Mac in the whirlpool, all honking loudly, snapping at each other and generally making pests of themselves. Drake chuckled.
"You think it's funny?" Mac asked.
He shook his head. "It was the idea of a gaggle of men."
Her brow furrowed. "Did I say it wrong?"
"The word usually refers to geese, so the picture it brought to my mind was... amusing. Still, your meaning is clear."
"They act like geese, sometimes," she grumbled. Their food arrived by dumblift; they transferred it to their table. She smiled as they worked, but sighed as she added milk to her oatmeal. "I wish someone besides me could take this seriously."
"I do," he assured her. "It was just the mental picture that was amusing. So, you need a way to relax that won't put you in the same place at the same time every day. Ideally, you need several ways, so you can mix them randomly."
"The only way I've found so far is the whirlpool," she reminded him.
Good. Not a word about whiskey. "The sauna is also a warm place to relax."
"They're virtually the same place, Mac," she pointed out.
"True, but the sauna has walls. If they expect to find you in the whirlpool, they might not look in the sauna. If someone does bother you, just leave."
"And do what? It's hard to fall asleep when-"
"Go to your quarters. Tell the computer you don't want to be disturbed, and the doorbell won't even work."
"I know that, but if I'm still tense-"
He shrugged. "You could always take a hot shower." She jerked back in her seat. What did I say to elicit that response?
She was pale. "You want me to-!" She seemed unable to finish.
She acts like that's against Pa's rules, but what does a shower have to do with sex? "Why not?"
Her brow twisted around itself. "Is that... healthy?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
She considered his question carefully. "Pa-" I don't believe it. Although, according to Bugalu, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. She finally went on. "I don't remember exactly what Pa said, but I've always thought only cold showers were healthy."
Another of Pa's methods of negating her sexual urges? I am not going to raise that subject! "A hot shower is a good way to relax," he stated, buttering his bread. "As long as you don't scald yourself. But if Smitty's people are doing their job, the showers won't be hot enough to scald." Now what did I say?
"Smit." She stared at her eggs.
"Has Smythe been giving you a hard time?" It wouldn't be personal, but if he feels she needs to study-
She shook her head without looking up. "No. I've hardly seen him since... just after shore leave."
That's not adding to her stress, then. I thought shore leave would fix his infatuation. "Good. I was afraid he might encourage you to study. Too much, I mean."
"I've been studying," she admitted. "He made that need clear. I think it's a relief to Bugs. He sends me to hit the books, and he has time for a date." She gave him a sudden grin. "Very reminiscent of the Academy."
"Not much of a brother, is he?" Blast! I should not have said that! "I mean, I know you've been working out, too. So when does Bugalu see you? For that matter, when do you get time off? All work and no-"
She smiled. "Worried about me? My days are pretty uneventful. Bugsy checks on me as we pass at shift change. Then he apparently warns Evans to leave me alone, which doesn't help, but that's a brother for you. Usually, Bugs gets me up when he gets off duty, and we have supper together."
"If I'd known, he could've joined us."
"It's not every night. Tonight he's having supper with... someone else. Anyway, then I go to the gym, and then I study."
"You study every night?"
"Pretty much." Drake started to object, and she hurriedly added, "But not tonight."
"I'm taking the night off. For good behavior, I suppose." She giggled. "No gym tonight, and no books. Bugs is taking me to the movie."
Bugalu whispered into Beth's ear. Beth responded by turning her head and giving him a sizzling kiss that sent waves of steam emanating into the darkness. Drake swallowed at the memory. "You sure that's a good idea?"
She grimaced and began stacking her empty dishes. "I would have preferred staying in his quarters, but he insisted nobody pays any attention in the theater." Yes they do, they just don't say anything. "Anyway, he promised me this on shore leave. I think it'll be weird, us seeing a movie that isn't 'Monster from Mars'." She seems perfectly okay with this. Either I'm mis-judging things, or-
She put her dishes on the dumblift. "If you don't mind, I'm going to take off. I was in such a hurry, having overslept, I didn't comb my hair properly. But if you like, we can do this again in four days." She smiled brightly.
"Maybe I'd like to take you to the movie," he suggested rashly.
She looked shocked. More to this than just watching a movie, obviously. "You?" She swallowed. "I've never... done that... with an uncle."
A lot more than watching a movie. Now what am I getting myself into? "Well, think about it," he suggested. "You adopted me, too. Why is Bugalu the only one who gets to see you?"
Her smile was back as quickly as it had disappeared. "I've missed you, too. Look, as soon as I pass probation, we'll be able to spend more time together." She cleared her throat nervously. "I hope you've got my lessons ready."
Lessons? "That's right, the birds and bees," he muttered.
"And flirting," she added as she walked out. Almost, he called out, asked what she meant. But his gaze caught the sway of hips, and his demand for info was never made.
Once Mac was gone, Drake sent the dirty dishes back to the kitchen, and left the small dining room. He almost ran into Lt Cmdr Humara on his way out. "Sorry, Anna. I should watch where I'm going."
"Don't worry about it, Drake. I saw the redhead, and figured somebody would be following her. She got on the turbolift."
"It's not-" Never mind. Not worth it. He glanced at the two pieces of pie she held. "Double helping, Anna? You'll spoil your girlish figure."
She gave a bark of laughter. "Too late to worry about that! And don't gallantly deny it. Go, catch your redhead. I think she went up."
"Probably," he agreed. "She went to get ready for her-" What do I call it without getting into a long explanation? "-date."
He smiled. "Not with me."
"Oh. Well, keep trying. They never resist you for long."
This is becoming hopelessly tangled. He smiled and stepped aside. "It's good to see you, Anna. You keep hiding in the kitchen."

"Yes. I've noticed that, too," she stated, and moved past him, into the dining room. Drake headed for the library.