Month 2, Day 30
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.