Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Strange Study Habits

Strange Study Habits
Month 3, Day 10
0948 Hours
Fuzzy-headed from lack of sleep - or something - Smythe entered the deck 7 recroom in search of a mid-morning cup of coffee. It’s always noisy and crowded here. I’d rather take my coffee on deck 11, but that’s no good, these days. Instead of relaxing, it’s just... boring. Too quiet. Lonely.
He got his cup of coffee and looked around for a place to sit - alone - when a familiar mass of red curls caught his attention. There she is. Looks like she’s abandoned solitude to study in the midst of a crowd. How can she concentrate here? Still, that may be best, if she wants to avoid any more run-ins with Winthrop. She is studying, isn’t she? Wonder what she’s got in the reader right now. If.. she is... afraid of me, or in awe of me, as some have intimated, perhaps I should say a word of encouragement at times like this. When there’s plenty of people around to make sure that I... Ah, it couldn’t hurt, surely.
Uncertain of the wisdom of his decision, Smitty slowly started across the room for a quick look at her viewscreen, but by the time he reached the middle of the room, the room had become eerily silent. Looking around, he found that everyone was watching him.
“Are we supposed to stop him, too?” someone asked in a loud whisper.
“I thought we were only supposed to keep Winthrop away from her,” came the hushed answer. “Smythe is up her chain of command.”
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know. Bugalu never mentioned anybody else by name.”
Is the whole ship involved in protecting her from Winthrop? Good. Novel idea. Why haven’t they done it for any other female? Or all of them? Would that even work?
“Let me handle this,” a woman stated, sounding peeved. A shapely blond rose from a near-by table.
She looks vaguely familiar. Not sure why. She’s not one of mine, I know that. A nurse, maybe? Scientist? Cook? Can’t remember where I’ve seen her before.
“Hello, Bart,” she greeted him and smiled. “Why don’t you sit with me?”
I really hate that name. Nobody who knows me uses it. Who is this woman? “I... was just going to see what MacDowell’s studying today.”
“Oh, she hates interruptions.” The blond took his arm and insistently pulled him to an empty table. “I’ve hardly seen you since shore leave. As memorable as that was, I thought it would soon be joined by many other memories, just as enjoyable.” He disengaged from her grasp and took a seat, while the woman sat down so close, she was nearly on his lap. He didn’t want to be rude, but he moved his chair a hair away from her.
Shore leave? Oh, space, this is the woman who wanted a bubble bath, then forgot all about it. And what does she mean, memorable? I’d just as soon forget it ever happened! What was her name? Liz? Alise? Lisa? Morton? Murray? Face it, Smitty, you weren’t impressed then, and you still aren’t. “I’ve been busy.” He gulped down most of his drink and lowered his voice. “Actually, I don’t really date on board.”
“That’s not what I’ve been hearing.” She leaned even closer with a broad grin and a promise in her eyes.
Who’s been gossiping about me? If I find out, I’ll-
“Okay, that’s enough, Mac.” Smitty’s head whirled toward the voice as Bugalu strode across the room. The helmsman glanced at the redhead’s screen, grimaced and turned off the reader.
“Hey!” she protested and looked up in anger, which quickly drained away. “Oh. Bugs. Already?”
“Already?” he repeated with sarcasm, and began gathering her study aids together. “You spent your entire off-shift here last night. And that screen was in the exact same spot in your studies now as when I went to the bridge this morning.”
“That’s silly.” She tried to reclaim the items he had gathered, but he held them out of her reach.
“Don’t argue with me! You are going to bed, and you will do it now. I want you to sleep today.”
“But I have to study!” she told him.
“All right,” she growled, and drug herself out of her chair. She looked like she had lead feet as she plodded for the door, her shoulders slumped and head down. “But don’t hold your breath on that sleep,” she muttered as her path took her past Smitty’s table.
What does she mean? She can’t possibly have as much trouble getting a decent night’s sleep as I have!
“What?” Bugalu asked as he followed her.
“I’m going, I’m going,” she told him, not bothering to repeat the statement. She raised a hand, apparently to stifle a yawn.
“Good. Open your eyes, Mac, and don’t run into any walls. You obviously need to sleep. I’m glad you’re being reasonable. My break is almost over.”

They were gone. My break is over, too. Smitty turned back to finish his coffee, found himself face to face with the blond. Blue eyes looked at him petulantly, as if he had just been ogling another woman, when this woman had expected all his attention to be on her. It didn’t make any sense to him. “I have to get back to work,” he told the blond, then abandoned the coffee to bolt from the room.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Full of Surprises / Dream, Dream, Dream

Full of Surprises
Month 2, Day 30
Dr. MacGregor
2222 Hours

Drake left Bugalu’s quarters and started down the corridor toward the Chief Engineer’s quarters. Hope Smitty’s not too soundly asleep yet. He’s a creature of habit who likes a solid 8 hours of sleep.
This whole thing is my fault. Jane’s been hinting for weeks that Mac needed that off-shift she was owed, and I’ve resisted it. Because Mac’s resisted it, insisted she’s fine, just busy studying. I thought if she couldn’t admit she needed a break, it’d be counter-productive to make she take one. No getting around it tonight, though. I could detox her and send her to her station, but she’s too fragile emotionally to deal with Evans and Adams. Maybe I should speak to Smitty about that, too.
He saw a familiar form ahead, the man’s head bent forward in contemplation. Or fatigue. He’s still up? That’s unusual. “Hey, Smitty!” He jogged forward to approach the other man, who turned to face him impatiently, his hands sliding behind his back. “Good, you’re still awake,” Drake said as he approached.
“Not for long, I hope,” the engineer sighed.
“Bad news,” Drake told him. “Mac needs that off-shift; she needs it tonight.”
Smitty blinked at the news, and his brow furrowed. “It’s less than 2 hours before her shift starts. You’re a little late making that decision, aren’t you?”
“Sorry,” Drake answered. “I came to tell you as soon as it became obvious. These things don’t always give us a lot of warning.”
“I suppose not,” Smitty agreed peevishly, and glanced in the direction Drake had come. “So you’ve come from Sick Bay, have you? Dr Davis couldn’t handle this?”
Why is he suspicious? Maybe I’m just paranoid. Being drunk isn’t a reason I expected Mac would need an off-shift. “It’s Peggy’s day off, but no, I didn’t come from sick bay. I made a... house call, you could say.”
“Did you?”
Smitty stood unmoving, staring at him, until Drake got uncomfortable. “Um, I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job, Smitty, but don’t you think you should make arrangements for a replacement?”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Smitty asked with an evil grin. He pulled his hands from behind him to slam a bottle into the doctor’s ribs. “I’ve already made those arrangements! I just came from Colleen’s quarters, where I found she wasn’t home, so I had to leave a message that I was granting her an off-shift! That’s where I found this empty bottle! I don’t know where you made your house call, but it wasn’t at her quarters! Don’t try to fool me! She’s drunk!”
Smitty’s anger reminded Drake of some of his teachers, way back when, for he had not been a model student. And his quick wits that helped keep him out of trouble back then were put to work now to help out his adopted niece. “I never said she wasn’t. The fact she ignored her duty to escape into a bottle just shows how emotionally fragile she is. It was bound to happen, as hard as she finds it to do anything that meets with your approval.”
“Me! Don’t blame this on me!”
“I heard you flunked her again today.”
“She couldn’t think!” the engineer returned hotly. “Didn’t get any sleep today, according to Abdulla, but that wasn’t my fault! If you’re going to blame anybody, blame Winthrop! Caught her alone and wouldn’t have let her go, if I hadn’t made him! If she’s emotionally fragile, there’s your reason! It’s got nothing to do with me!”
“Winthrop!” That was an unexpected wrinkle that sent his mind skittering this way and that. “Nobody told me that.”
“She didn’t mention it? If she’s as emotionally fragile as you say, I’m surprised she didn’t need a shoulder to cry on.”
Why bring that up? Nobody’s mentioned that in over a week. “Not when she’s passed out.” Woops. Probably shouldn’t have said that.
Smitty’s eyes rounded, and then he considered the bottle Drake still held. “I thought she held her liquor better than that,” he muttered.
She does, since it took 3 bottles, not just one. But he’s not going to hear that from me. “If you drink it fast enough, it all hits at once.”
“I suppose,” Smitty agreed softly. “Wish Jane would get rid of Winthrop. Now Co- MacDowell’s got another month of worrying about her probation, and I haven’t got the slightest idea how to help her relax.” He sighed. “Well, I have to get some sleep, or I won’t be able to think. Good night, MacGreg.” He turned toward his quarters, paused. “She’s got her day off, MacGreg; the one I’ve owed her. She won’t get another freebie. I need people I can depend on. All the women have to put up with occasional skirmishes with Winthrop. I can’t expect any less from her than anyone else.”
“Understood,” Drake stated, and the engineer entered his room. Okay, she won’t be AWOL. But he doesn’t see himself as a problem for her, and he’s not going to be any easier on her. Sure hope Bugalu finds out what her problem is.

Dream, Dream, Dream
Month 2, Day 30
2335 Hours

He was awakened when his bedroom door opened, letting the corridor light shine in his face. “What is it?” he asked, bolting upright. He saw a red uniform in the doorway. “Is there an emergency?” The woman had red hair to go with the uniform. “Oh, it’s you.” She walked over to stand beside his bed. “What do you want?”
“I need some R&R,” she told him. The door closed, throwing the room into near darkness.
“You had shore leave,” he pointed out. “All 3 days. That should be enough.” Her knee rubbed his knuckles where they rested on the edge of the bed; he could feel her smooth uniform tights.
“I wanted R&R on shore leave,” she returned. “You refused. I still need it.”
He heard the metallic sound of a uniform being unfastened. “You’re a subordinate. I don’t fraternize.” The uniform fell to the floor with a soft ripple. She leaned forward. He backed away until he was against the bulkhead. “What are you doing?”
”Looking for R&R.” She kept getting closer.
He broke into an overheated sweat. “I can’t,” he breathed, but his resolve was melting.
“Then you’re the only superior I’ve ever had who couldn’t,” she told him.

Smitty’s eyes flew open as he sat bolt upright in the dark room. Her name on his lips, he looked around, but was alone in his bedroom. A dream. That dream. Probably because she invited me to her bed today. No, she didn’t! I just think she did because I want her to want me! Forget her! Get back to sleep! He lay back down, angrily rolled to his side and adjusted his blanket. Forget her? That’s as likely as me getting back to sleep! Is that how she got her rank, got transferred here? Even her old flame Bugalu was surprised to see she’d managed it. But I suppose it makes sense, if she doesn’t know her field. Trick a superior into bed, and then blackmail him. And if I don’t watch it, I’ll be the next one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Whole Gang

The Whole Gang
Month 2, Day 30
2136 Hours

2,189 words

When Ivy emerged from his bathroom, Bugalu handed her a glass of wine before leading her to his living room couch. After they settled in on the couch, she gave him a quick peck on his check. “Explain something,” she requested.
“If I can,” he answered, and nuzzled her neck.
“When you asked me to your quarters, I thought you were in a hurry. But you’ve been delaying. So, what’s going on?”
He sat back. Surprised she isn’t complaining about a lack of attention. It’s been hard to keep my mind on her. “Mac’s taking her test this evening.”
“She just took one.”
“A month ago. I said I’d be here. To celebrate or... whatever.”
Her brow puckered. “And your reason for having me here while you wait for her is-?”
To keep you away from LaPour, who would snatch you away at any opportunity. “She likes you. I thought you liked her.”
“I do, but... If I hadn’t asked, when were you going to tell me you were expecting her? When she interrupted us mid-coitus? That’s not fair. To either of us.”
I never had this kind of difficulty before Mac came aboard. No, I won’t think like that. “Sorry. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Before Ivy could respond, Mac walked in and stopped in mid-room to stare at the floor. Her top-knot had pretty much disintegrated, letting curls cascade in every direction. Her tomato red top was practically hidden by the overlarge overalls she wore.
This doesn’t look good. “Mac?”
The young woman in question slowly shook her head, then pulled a hand out of the interior of her overalls, bringing a nearly empty bottle with it. She drank the last of the liquid and tossed the bottle aside. Then she pulled out her other hand to reveal a fresh bottle, and began chugging that brown liquid.
“Uh oh,” Ivy muttered.
“Not good,” Bugalu agreed as he got up. He reached for the bottle, but green eyes glared at him as she continued to drink. “Mac, don’t do this.”
She lowered the bottle and stared at him with desperate, tear-filled eyes. “I couldn’t do it, Bugs. I’ll never be able to do it! Pa was right.”
“No, he- Mac!” he declared as she began chugging again, and watched helplessly as the level of the liquid remaining in the bottle visibly lowered.
“Lt MacDowell, you can’t go on duty drunk!” Ivy told her sharply.
Nice try, Ivy, but it won’t work. Bugs watched in surprise as Mac lowered her bottle again, this time to regard the engineering supervisor.
After a moment, Mac shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” she muttered, and walked over to sit in the easy chair. “You two go ahead with what you were doing. Don’t let me stop you.” She began drinking once again.
Ivy was staring at him in shock, probably at Mac’s revelation. “Later,” he requested of the woman, and sat down on the coffee table, his knees bumping Mac’s. “What happened?”
It took her a moment to pause long enough to answer. “I flunked. Thought it obvious.”
“Obvious, yes, I suppose, but it doesn’t make any sense. Abdulla said you know your field.”
“Yes,” Ivy agreed, but the redhead was already chugging again. “Better than most.” She sat next to Bugalu, put a hand on Mac’s knee. “Mac, why did you flunk?”
The green eyes closed, and tears rolled down white cheeks. Finally, with most of the liquid gone, she lowered the bottle again. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Because of him! I don’t know how he does it, but he does, and I can’t stop him! I don’t even know what it is he does to me!”
If I ever meet her father-
Mac’s hand lashed out and grabbed his shirt, pulled until his face was an inch from her own. “Make him stop, Bugs! I can’t take any more! I can’t think, I can’t sleep, I can’t...” Her voice petered out, and she let go of him to kill what remained in her bottle.
“Mac, get a hold of yourself,” Ivy suggested.
“I’d rather get a hold of-“ She lurched to her feet and went unsteadily to the liquor cabinet. “Or he could get a hold of-“ She glanced at them, reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bottle, prepared to continue drinking.
“Mac, that’s not whiskey!” Bugalu warned.
“What?” She looked at the bottle’s label for a moment and giggled. “The letters are dancing.”
“Oh, space!” Bugalu jumped forward, caught her as she started to crumple into an unconscious heap. Ivy was right beside him, and rescued the bottle from a nasty tumble as the redhead’s grip failed. Bugalu picked up his friend and deposited her on the sofa. “Okay, not bottles 1 and 2 like I thought, but bottles 2 and 3. No way she’ll make it to work tonight.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Ivy agreed, returning the rum to the cabinet. “Are you saying she’s drunk 3 bottles of whiskey tonight?”
“You saw how fast she was putting it away.”
“She hardly seemed drunk, just upset.”
“When she couldn’t read the label, I knew she was done.” He sighed. “Now what do I do?”
“Take her to sick bay. That much alcohol is dangerous.”
“Not for a Gaelunder.” Before Ivy could protest, he held up his hand. “I know I should take her to sick bay, but she’ll be reported as unable to work because she’s drunk, and that won’t make her life any easier. You know Mr Smythe.”
“I do. And he might be more sympathetic to hear she was so upset she got drunk, rather than she never showed up for work. She’ll be reported AWOL.”
“I know, but... I just can’t picture Mr Smythe having any sympathy.”
The icy tone made Bugalu realize he had said the wrong thing, and he winced. He didn’t have time to argue with Ivy tonight, he needed to think out what to do about Mac.
His door opened again, and they both turned. “We need to talk,” Abdulla announced, and her gaze slipped past them to the redhead on the couch. “About her.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Beth left Abdulla’s side, headed for the sofa.
“She’s drunk,” Bugalu stated. “I figure about 3 bottles of whiskey in the last hour, maybe? Hour and a half?”
“Impossible,” Abdulla stated, but Beth rolled her eyes, changed direction to go to the desk, and punched an intercom button. The call wasn’t answered.
“Why’s she drinking?” Beth asked as she tried a second time. “She’s been sober since shore leave.”
“She flunked, why else?” Bugalu answered.
“Flunked?” Abdulla asked. “Not exactly-“
“Yes?” interrupted a female voice on the intercom.
“Drake’s niece needs vitamins in his nephew’s quarters,” Beth stated flatly.
There was a hesitation from the other end. “I’ll give him the message.”
“Thank you,” Beth returned and broke the connection.
“Who was that?” Abdulla asked in surprise.
“Never mind,” Beth answered. “I’m not supposed to know about her.”
“Drake?” Ivy asked. “Dr MacGregor doesn’t have any relatives aboard, that I know of.”
Beth grinned and sat down. “That’s what Mac does. She takes the men most likely to try to date her, and she - somehow - convinces them to adopt her. A little sister for Bugalu, a niece for MacGregor.”
“That’s... not exactly how it happens,” Bugalu stated. Is it?
Beth shrugged. “Close enough. Now, why am I here?”
“Something has to be done,” Abdulla stated. “I’m hoping one of us has an idea.”
“About what?” Ivy wondered.
“About why Mac keeps flunking! She should have passed it last month. Maybe it was jitters, I don’t know. But she didn’t even try tonight! Granted, she didn’t have a good day, but she was answering questions just fine until-“
“Wait,” Bugalu requested. “What was wrong with her day? I didn’t find her studying, so I figured she wanted a decent amount of sleep before the test.”
Abdulla hesitated. “Winthrop found her.”
“Blast!” Should have realized she can’t study in the same place every day.
“Don’t know how long he had her cornered.” Abdulla shuddered. “From what I understand, Smythe wandered in and virtually rescued her. She went to her room, but was so upset, she didn’t get a wink of sleep.”
Ivy commented, “Well, that’s not going to help her get over her hero worship of Mr Smythe.”
“Hero!” Abdulla exclaimed. “She’s scared to death of Smythe!”
Beth had her own thoughts. “No, I think it’s more personal than either of those.” She turned her gaze on the helmsman. “What do you think, Bugalu?”
Bugalu hesitated, his mind racing. There’s some truth in all their suggestions, yet all of them together don’t add up to the truth. Still, it’s not my place to be discussing any of it. Except with Mac, when she’s finally ready to talk. If she ever is.
The door opened again, and MacGregor walked in, stopped short at seeing so many people. “Ahhh, I was told I was needed here?”
Thanks for the timely interruption, Doc. “Mac’s drunk,” Bugalu stated, jerking a thumb in her direction.
MacGregor frowned. “Isn’t she on duty tonight?” He started forward, stopped when he kicked an empty whiskey bottle.
“Supposed to be,” Abdulla agreed.
Doc started forward again, glanced at the second bottle he kicked out of his way, and pulled out his med scanner. “She was celebrating? I hope?”
“Afraid not,” Abdulla answered.
“Blast.” After a brief scan, he gave the redhead several shots. “I’ll certify her unfit for duty and request an off-shift for her. Shouldn’t be any problem. She’s been pretty frazzled lately. Smitty must have noticed.” He turned to Abdulla. “Tell me she at least did better this time.”
She shook her head. “The same. Meaning, she was doing fine, until Mr Smythe showed up. Then she couldn’t remember her own name.”
Doc turned to Bugalu. “Any clue what her problem is?”
Bugalu glanced around, and they were all waiting for his answer. Right back into the fire. “Maybe.”
“What are you doing about it?”
“I’m working on it.” As much as I can.
Doc shook his head in frustration. “I hope so. She can’t go without sleep forever.” He glanced at her unconscious form. “And this isn’t going to count as sleep.”
“She’d ace the test if she just wasn’t so scared of Mr Smythe!” Abdulla sighed.
“Scared?” Doc glanced to Bugalu, who shrugged. “Well, I need to go find him.” He started for the door, stopped when he saw Beth sitting at the desk. “Beth. Was that you-?”
“Yes,” she answered softly. “Sorry.” Doc nodded and left.
Everybody looked around at everybody else, each wondering what to say or do. Bugalu wondered how to get all these ladies to leave. Mac groaned and rolled to face the sofa back. Even asleep, her quiet voice revealed distress: “I can’t take anymore! Make him stop!”
“Make who stop what?” Beth asked.
“That’s what we were trying to figure out when she passed out,” Ivy replied.
“It’s obvious,” Abdulla stated. “Make Winthrop stop pestering her.”
“Sorry, ladies, but it’s time for you to leave,” Bugalu told them. “If Mac can talk, I’ve got work to do.”
Beth glanced at the sleeping girl. “She’s not awake.”
“Then she needs to sleep it off,” he answered. “And having us talk about her as if she wasn’t here won’t help with either case.”
“Bugalu, we want to help,” Abdulla told him. “She’s our friend, too.”
“I appreciate that,” he responded. “And she will, too, once she adjusts to the idea. I’m not sure she’s ever thought of women as friends who would help her. Anyway, I’ve got to make sure just what the problem is.”
“Yes,” Abdulla agreed. “Let us know what we can do, Bugalu. Come on, Beth.”
Ivy paused after the others left to touch her lips to his. “I do like her, Bugalu.”
“Glad to hear it.” He sighed. “Sorry about tonight’s date.”
She smiled. “It was... different from our usual dates. But if I had any worries about you two before, it’s obvious she thinks of you as a brother, someone who can solve all her problems.”
“I don’t know about solving. Maybe help her cope.”
“And that’s a big brother talking.” She gave him another quick kiss and left.
Bugalu went back across the room to sit in the chair recently occupied by Mac. She wouldn’t have been that upset by Winthrop. That’s a normal day for her, or that’s how she would see it. If she didn’t sleep, she might have continued to study, trying to get ready for the test. But Abdulla, Ivy... everybody’s been telling her for a month she knows the material, that she just needs to relax. Thought they were getting through to her. So that leaves... Smythe. He sighed. Wish you hadn’t drunk quite so much, Mac. We need to talk.

He got up, retrieved the empty bottles and threw them down the trash chute. He got a spare blanket from his bedroom to spread over his guest and turned on his e-book to read.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Test #2

Test #2
Month 2, Day 30
1944 Hours

1,473 words

Mac lurched into the briefing room and fell into a chair. Startled, Abdulla told her, “You look terrible!” Mac was in uniform, but her topknot was loose and lopsided, and there were dark smudges under half-closed eyes.
The redhead lowered her head to the table. “I couldn’t sleep!”
“Mac, I know you’ve been worried about this test, but you shouldn’t have spent the entire day studying! You can’t expect your brain to work when it’s exhausted!”
“I know!” Mac pillowed her head on her arms and let her eyes close. “I didn’t intend to stay awake! I was actually in my bed for 7 hours, but... I couldn’t sleep!”
Poor kid. “Go back to bed. I’ll explain to Mr Smythe. We can do this tomorrow.”
Mac’s eyes flew open in horror. “Spend another 24 hours worrying about it? No thanks!”
“But if you can’t think-“
“Who says I can’t?” Mac asked, and forced herself to sit up. “I never said I couldn’t think.”
“The way you look, I doubt you can remember the hailing frequency of Podidas, let alone-“
“Sixty megahertz for the military authorities, which is who we’d most likely be contacting. Sixteen megahertz for the civilian authorities.”
Abdulla regarded her underling evenly. Okay, she got that one, but it’s almost a freebie. She’s stubborn, won’t admit she needs to postpone. Let’s try something tougher, then. “If a level 3 diagnostic shows everything normal except for a slight wiggle in the aft C123 unit and an intermittent, slight spike in the C96, what does that tell you?”
“That you’d better shunt everything to the secondary system and get the C485 unit replaced immediately, before it completely melts down.”
No hesitation at all! And she didn’t say ‘go replace it’, like she used to. She must be getting used to having technicians to do the grunt work. “Why not do a level 4 diagnostic?” Behind the redhead, the door opened silently and Smythe stood uncertainly. Abdulla saw him in her peripheral vision, but kept her eyes on Mac, didn’t give her friend any hint of the man’s presence.
“You could,” Mac answered. “But it wouldn’t necessarily tell you anything. If the 485 tested okay, you’d either have a false sense that everything was okay, or you’d waste more time with a level 5 diagnostic, or even level 6. No, you’re best off just replacing the 485, because 99% of the time, that’s what it’s going to be. Of course, after the C485 is changed out, you’d better repeat the level 3 diagnostic and make sure that solved the problem. There is that 1% of the time when it isn’t the 485. In that case, it might be the Z77, the aft M10 or one of the Purvis Relays. Hope real hard it’s not a Purvis. That’s a long and tedious process, to figure out which one.”
Abdulla smiled. “Sounds like the voice of experience.”
Mac gave a short nod. “I spent a week testing and re-testing Purvis Relays on the Bartholomew. It’s not enough there’s so many of the blasted things, but they’re jammed into the tiniest, hardest-to-reach places! I swear they did it on purpose!”
Abdulla blinked, suddenly lost. “Who?”
“The designers. Actually, they probably did. Purvis Relays are workhorses, and hardly ever go bad, so they probably figured nobody would need to get to them very often. Which is true, because that week I spent with them was the first time any of the Purvises had displayed any problems in the Bartholomew’s 50 years of service. But when you do need to get to them- Ugh!” Mac grimaced and then yawned. “Did I answer that one well enough? Do you think that would suit Smit?”
Abdulla saw Smythe’s mouth open to respond, and she hurriedly answered the girl. “Yes, I think it would.” She touched the computer controls. “We might as well get started. The first question is-“Blast! She’s already answered that one, but I didn’t record it at the time, and I can’t do it now, because Smythe didn’t hear it. “The hailing frequency of Podidas.”
“That’s the question the computer randomly selected,” Abdulla stated blandly.
“Oh, let’s not waste time. You know I know it; just mark it and let’s go on.”
I’d like to hear your answer,” Smythe stated, stepping forward.
The redhead jerked around, watched him take a seat on the opposite side of the table. “You came.”
“Of course,” he answered, folding his hands together on the table. “It’s test time.”
“Yes,” Mac agreed, nodding, then mumbled, “You rescued me and took me to bed.”
Abdulla stared at the younger woman in confusion. I’ve never seen her like this. She’s in her own world or something. It’s like- Wait. Smythe did what? She turned an inquiring gaze to her superior, who was staring at his folded hands. I’d expect outrage. Instead, his face is red, but he is studiously not looking at me. Or her. He wouldn’t- He isn’t denying it. I don’t know what to believe!
“I merely gave you an excuse to get away,” Smythe said softly and threw a glance at Abdulla. “I didn’t even take you all the way to your quarters.” He cleared his throat and spoke a little louder. “Now, the question?”
“What question?” Mac asked, still looking dazed.
What is with her? She was perfectly fine - despite being tired - just a moment ago. Abdulla repeated the question, then waited expectantly as Mac’s face went from soft and dreamy to white, hard, and... scared.
“Colleen?” Smythe asked quietly.
Since when does he use a subordinate’s first name? I can’t remember him ever doing it.
Mac licked her lips nervously, still staring at the chief engineer. “Question,” she muttered. “Quiz.” She suddenly emerged from her daze, and the fear on her face became panic. “Oh, space!” She jumped to her feet, but didn’t seem steady. “I... I... I can’t! I’m not ready! I ca- I just can’t handle a quiz right now!” The two stared at each other for a long moment, the redhead breathing rapidly, the engineer hardly breathing at all. Uttering a wordless sound, Mac turned and ran out of the room.
“Lt MacDowell!” Abdulla called after her, rising to her feet.
“Let her go,” Smythe said.
“But... she wasn’t dismissed!” That’s a reason he’ll accept, but not my reason for calling after her.
“That’s the least of her problems right now,” he returned.
Abdulla sat down, although she really wanted to go after the other woman. “She knows the material, Mr Smythe! I don’t know why-“
“She can’t think tonight, that’s all,” he stated, and sighed. “Winthrop caught her on deck 11 today.”
“Oh, blast!” Abdulla bit her bottom lip in embarrassment at her slip. “She’ll have to find someplace else to study.”
“I imagine so. Surprised it took him so long to find her.”
“How do you know he did?” she asked. He was there once before, but surely that was just circumstance.
Smythe cleared his throat again. “I... stopped in for a cup of coffee. As soon as I saw Winthrop had her cornered, I... well-“
“You rescued her,” Abdulla finished, then daringly added, “And... took her to bed?”
A flash of panic showed on his face. “It was nearly noon. Her bed time. I merely sent the lift to her quarters and reminded her that she needed sleep.”
He not only knows where she studies, but when she goes to bed. Does he keep this close an eye on all newbies? Surely not!
“Anyway,” Smythe went on, “after an encounter with him, I doubt she slept well.”
“Apparently, she didn’t sleep at all,” Abdulla muttered, and he gave her a sharp look. “That’s what she said when she first came in, and she did look bad. I tried to get her to postpone until tomorrow night, but she wouldn’t.”
“Tomorrow!” he declared, as if the very thought gave him a panic attack. “No, not tomorrow! We’ll, uh... We’ll just wait for the next test date.” He stood up. “Yes, that’s what we’ll do.” He started for the door.
“But Mr Smythe! What do we do for her score for this test?” We have to indicate she tried to take a test, or all sorts of difficulties rear their ugly heads.
He paused to look back. “She was talking about Purvis Relays and the C485 unit when I came in. Grade her on that.” He left.

Abdulla scanned through the randomly selected questions. The problem is, there’s nothing here about Purvis Relays or the 485 unit. She sighed in frustration. His willingness to accept something he only partially heard is weird. Well, I’m going to give her full points for Podidas. She answered it, even if he didn’t hear it. If he doesn’t trust me, maybe it’s time I found out about it.