Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If Dreams Came True / Strained Relations

If Dreams Came True
Month 3, Day 15
2351 Hours

It had been an ugly scene between the lovers, and Smitty hadn’t meant to intrude on it. But it had happened so quickly, it had concluded before he had thought of leaving the area. “We are not a couple, Mac!” Bugalu told her angrily. “Not anymore!”
The redhead went absolutely white, broke into tears, and seemed ready to collapse. He instinctively moved forward, reached out to pat her shoulder. She threw herself against him, and his arms went around her of their own volition. “It’s okay,” he told her. “You’re better off without him.”
“Maybe,” she sniffed, and her arms found their way around him. Her body warmth soaked into him from chest to thigh. Tender kisses fluttered against his neck, and her warm breath blew in his ear. “But I need someone.”
“Me, too,” he agreed, moving his mouth to catch hers in a proper kiss. She felt so good. He wanted her so much. It was the perfect opportunity-
Smitty groaned and opened his eyes, checked the bedroom clock. The perfect opportunity! Ha! If MacGreg hadn’t beaten me to it. If she wasn’t my subordinate. If it wouldn’t have been taking advantage of her. Other than all of that, it would have been the perfect opportunity! But since all of that was in place... He sighed and climbed out of bed. Time for another cold shower.

Strained Relations
Month 3, Day 16
0757 Hours

Abdulla’s eyes sparked at the rumpled, non-uniformed Bugalu already on the lift. She crossed her arms and glared at him. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“I need to see Mac,” he mumbled hoarsely.
“Word is, you were plenty mad last night when you pulled her out of the gym. She give you another gerkat shower?”
He shook his head. “That would have deserved a tickling, not... what I did.”
What’s with them? Most of the time, they’re like siblings. Or lovers. Then they fight, and it’s devastation. For both of them. “Then what is the problem?” The lift stopped, and she moved closer as more people got on.
He sighed. “I’ve been refused dates because women think we’re serious.”
No, he wouldn’t be happy about that. Unless...Are you serious?”
He recoiled from the suggestion, his eyes round. “Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Just checking,” she said soothingly. “Why in the universe would you take that out on Mac?”
Bugalu sighed. “I shouldn’t have. It’s just that... Mac came here knowing it would happen. She knew! And she tried to warn me, but I didn’t pay attention. Nothing like that would ever interrupt my life.”
“She’s not stupid, Bugalu.”
“No,” he agreed. “Maybe she understands women better than I think I do. Maybe that idea is part of why I got so mad, and that’s not her fault, either. Now I have to apologize. And I mean right now, because if I don’t, I probably won’t find her for days. She knows how to hide, if she wants to.”
“Captain doesn’t like off-duties distracting the bridge crew,” she reminded him.
“I have to risk that,” he returned.
The lift stopped at the bridge, and Abdulla turned as others began to exit. Lt Cmdr Smythe waited just inside the doorway as others exited, his eyes on the off-duty helmsman. “You’re sure this is what you want?”
“Yes,” Bugalu answered without hesitation.
The higher officer sighed, no doubt thinking of the captain’s displeasure. “Alright, come along. Both of you.” He led them onto the bridge, where they stepped to the side. “Relieve her, lieutenant,” he instructed softly.
The captain, Abdulla realized, actually was on the bridge, conversing with Takor and the midnight science officer. If Bugalu were lucky, Burke wouldn’t notice his presence. She took another step toward communications, put a hand on Mac’s shoulder. “I’m here.”
Mac turned, her face white, her green eyes red-rimmed, as if she’d been crying. Her mouth, however, was pressed tightly closed. “I’ll kill him, one day,” she snarled under her breath.
Has she been stewing about their argument all night? “W-Who?” she stammered.
“Evans!” Mac spat out.
Abdulla glanced around, wondering how many had heard. The captain’s eyes flicked in their direction for a nano-second, and Evans - who was being relieved - suddenly turned pink. “Oh.” Abdulla put on her headset and ran the equipment through the shift change run at her highest speed. “If he’s been bothering you, report him.”
“Like that does any good! The man gets a slap on the wrist for being too persistent, so he gets even more persistent.” She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Sometimes, I wish I were married.”
Startled, Abdulla missed her final check, slapped the button again. Thought they weren’t serious? “You’re relieved,” she told the redhead.
Mac tossed her headpiece into its holder and whirled as she stood, obviously eager to get off the bridge. “Smit!”
Turning her head, Abdulla saw that Mac had nearly run into the senior engineer, who stood stiffly in her path, staring at her in what looked like intense confusion. “Rough night?” he finally asked softly.
Finally, he lets some of his humanity show!
“N-Not p-particularly.” Mac’s voice was meek as she stumbled with her words.
I said you should report Evans! You’re acting like... like you’re in the middle of a probational!
Smythe stared at the redhead for another minute, nodded, and moved to the engineering console.
“Mac,” Bugalu greeted.
“Are you sure this is public enough for you?” the redhead derided.
“You aren’t supposed to be here,” Evans hissed at Bugalu upon his approach to the lift door.
“Back off, Evans!” Bugalu and Mac told the intruder in unison.
Alarmed, Abdulla glanced at the captain, who not only didn’t look, but actually turned, so that her back was slightly more toward the pair. Meanwhile, the two friends had stepped closer and began to chuckle.
“Bugsy, I don’t know how to undo something I never intended to happen,” Mac said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bugalu told her. The lift door opened, and the last of the day crew got off. “We’ll figure something out. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Let me do a proper apology, and then I’ll help you study.” They joined others getting on the lift, and Bugalu’s arm slipped around Mac’s waist as the door closed.
At the science console, the captain’s voice became slightly louder. “Okay, have I cleared up this misunderstanding? Are we all clear about this?”
“Yes, captain,” Takor answered. “I do understand now. Thank you for the clarification.”
“Glad I could help,” Burke responded. “Lt Hauser, if you don’t mind, I’ll ride the lift with you. I have a couple questions I’d like to ask.”
“Not at all,” Hauser answered, and as they walked toward the lift, he dared to ask, “What field of science, Captain?”
“Biology,” she responded at once.
“Hmm. Not one of my strongest suits, but I’ll do my best.”

The lift door opened to admit them. “I know you’ll have answers for me,” Burke stated as they stepped aboard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Another Fine Mess1 / Another Fine Mess2

Another Fine Mess1
Month 3, Day 15
Drake MacGregor
1759 Hours
Drake glanced at the other man in the lift. Smitty seems nervous. Think I know why, too, though I’d never get him to admit it. Mac will be in the gym. And he doesn’t want to see her.
The door opened, and they stepped off just in time to see the redhead bounce off the wall before them. Bugalu placed a hand on the wall on either side of her, his eyes glaring at her fiercely. “Enough is enough!” the helmsman declared.
Wonder what she’s done this time.
“What’s the problem?” Mac asked in confusion.
“Stephanie just refused a date with me,” Bugalu asserted.
Mac didn’t seem horrified, or even surprised. “Oh. Who’s Stephanie?”
“Engineering tech on C shift,” Bugalu explained shortly. “She thinks we’re a couple!”
“Told you it would happen,” Mac stated calmly. “But okay, I’ll talk to her.”
“No!” the negro declared. “You already have; that’s why she thinks we’re a couple!”
“Bugs, I don’t even know who she is.”
“She fixed my bathroom door last week after you gave me that gerkat shower!”
“Oh.” Her face went pink but expressionless. “That tech.” She licked her lower lip. “I never said that. To her or anybody.”
She’s keeping something unsaid, but no, Mac never would have said she and Bugalu were an item.
“You must have said something, because she’s positive we’re a couple! And she’s not the only one! Blossom said as much when she turned me down. Even Ivy is starting to have second thoughts about dating me, which is not something I tolerate well.”
“But... Ivy knows about us!”
“That’s what I thought, too!”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” she asked, pushing her braids behind her. “I mean, make a list, and I can talk to them. Or is there some way I can make a general announcement to the entire crew?”
“Think it would work?” he asked sarcastically.
“No,” she admitted. “Works best when it’s done woman to woman, one to one.” She shook her head. “But if there’s a lot of them, one to one could take a long time.”
“Well, start working at it. Just work your way down a list of female crewmembers.”
“But I need to study!”
“That’s your choice,” he told her coldly. “But until you get this... mess straightened out, there will be no more movie nights!” She gasped in disbelief, her eyes round and lower jaw hanging. “Not only that, but you are not allowed in my quarters, and I will not enter yours! If we do anything together, it will be in public, and it will not involve touching! Of any kind!”
How will she survive without those weekly hugs?
Her face had gone absolutely stark white. “You can’t... mean it.”
“Oh, yes, I do!” he insisted, standing straight and crossing his arms. “Fix this problem, Mac. Prove to people we aren’t a couple, because we aren’t!” He turned toward the lift, saw the two men standing in front of it, and turned for the men’s locker room instead.
Mac was still leaning against the wall, her face utterly white. This must be even worse for her than failing a probationary. Drake stepped forward, opened his arms, and she fell against him. She shuddered convulsively as hot tears soaked into his tunic. “What did I do wrong, Mac?” she asked, her voice broken and muffled.
“We’ll figure something out,” he assured her, patting her shoulder. A sound made him turn his head, and he realized Smitty was back on the lift, his face unreadable as the door closed. Oh, blast, I should have let him be her shoulder! He sighed. Too late now.

Another Fine Mess2
Month 3, Day 15
1800 Hours

Smitty shifted his weight to the other foot as he and MacGregor rode the lift. What am I doing? I can’t go to the gym now! She’ll be there, this time of night. I don’t want to see her. Actually, I do, but... it’s not a good idea.
The door opened, and they stepped off, just as Bugalu shoved the redhead against the wall outside the gym doors. The helmsman threw an arm to either side of her to trap her and glared at her. “Enough!” the negro declared.
Wonder what she’s done.
“What’s the problem?” Colleen asked casually.
You’d think she’d be upset about being tossed around. Unless she’s used to it. That’s an ugly thought.
“Stephanie just refused a date with me,” Bugalu asserted.
Colleen didn’t blink at the news. “Who’s Stephanie?”
“Engineering tech on C shift,” Bugalu explained. “Somehow, she thinks you and I are a couple!”
“Told you it would happen,” Mac stated smugly. “But I suppose you want me to talk to her.”
“No!” Bugalu declared. “You already have; that’s why she thinks we’re a couple!”
“I don’t even know who she is.”
“She fixed my bathroom door last week after you gave me that gerkat shower!”
“Oh.” Her face went pink as she tried to hide her satisfaction. “That technician.” She licked her lower lip invitingly. “I never said a word to her about you.”
“You must have said something, because she knows we’re a couple! And not just her! Blossom turned me down. Even Ivy is having second thoughts about me, which is not something I tolerate well.”
“So Ivy knows about us.”
She sounds plenty satisfied by the news. Not surprising, I suppose.
“That’s what I thought you’d say!”
And he sounds frustrated, even desperate. How many times has she put him through this kind of scene?
“Well, what do you want me to do?” she asked in mock frustration, pushing her braids behind her. “I mean, if you insist, I can talk to them. Or maybe you want me to make a general announcement to the entire crew?”
“Do you really think this will work?” he asked.
He’s bluffing. Or trying to. But she’s full of confidence.
“Why not?” she asked. “These things work best when it’s just one to one.” She moved her head as she studied his face. “Anyway, if you’ve had a lot of them, talking could take a long time.”
The helmsman was not ready to give in. “Well, go ahead and start talking. Just work your way down a list of female crewmembers.”
Yes, he’s probably dated about 90% of them. Or however many aren’t married.
“Don’t be so stubborn!”
“That’s my choice,” he told her coldly. “Until you get this... mess straightened out, there will be no more us!” She gasped in disbelief, her eyes round.
No, I don’t believe Bugalu is breaking off with a woman as beautiful as she is.
“From now on, you are not allowed in my quarters, and I won’t enter yours! If we do anything together, it will be in public, and it will not involve touching! Of any kind!”
He is breaking up with her! That leaves her free to date others! For all the good that does me.
Her face went white. “You can’t... mean that.”
“Oh, I do!” he insisted, standing straight and crossing his arms. “Fix this, Mac. Prove to people we aren’t a couple, because we aren’t!” He turned, saw the two men watching, and headed for the men’s locker room.
But they have been, ever since she came aboard. Unless... she’s been trying to make it more than it actually is? He didn’t stop dating when she arrived; he simply added her to the mix.
Colleen was still pressed against the wall for support, her face utterly white.
It’s like her whole universe - all her hopes and dreams - just went sour.
MacGregor stepped forward, opened his arms, and she flew into his embrace. They hugged each other tightly, completely oblivious of anyone else. “I may have lost him,” she said, her voice muffled by the doctor’s shoulder.
“You’ve still got me,” he assured her, fondling her shoulder.
I should have known. He’s been in her pocket since she arrived. Even if she succeeds in getting the word out that she and Bugalu are not together, every man aboard will be after her. As if they haven’t been already. She won’t need another officer cornering her in some quiet spot, like Winthrop.
And I don’t need this. He stepped back onto the lift. If I went back ten or fifteen years, would the technical magazines seem... unread? MacGregor looked around at him, seemed startled to realize he was still there. Like he’s just now remembered me, or realized this isn’t exactly a private place for them to- He sighed once the lift doors had closed. Don’t worry, MacGreg, I’m not running to tell Jane you’re handling an underling in public. Colleen’s not objecting. It’s none of my business.
I can’t decide which is worse. Knowing that she’s trying to ensnare Bugalu, knowing that Bugalu can resist her, or knowing that MacGreg is quite willing to insert himself in Bugalu’s stead. Or maybe it’s knowing that, with those two already in the picture, there’s definitely no room for me. Especially since I’m her superior.

What is it going to take to get her out of my mind?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fixing a Mess / Nightmare

Fixing a Mess
Month 3, Day 10
Tech Stephanie Freyer
1740 Hours

Engineering Junior Technician Stephanie Freyer entered Bugalu’s bedroom and walked to the bathroom door. That’s strange. I had the impression Mr Smythe left the panel open. Oh, well. She opened the service panel and looked for the damage that had been described. This isn’t torn up. She glanced around, assured herself she was in the correct bedroom, then stepped over to the intercom and placed a call.
“Mr Smythe, this is Technician Freyer. I was assigned to repair Lt Bugalu’s bathroom door.”
“Oh. Done already? Good.”
“Uh, not exactly. The fact is, I can’t find the damage you described.”
“It’s in plain sight.”
“No, I’m afraid it’s not.”
“Are you sure you’re in the correct place?”
“I assure you, I know my way to Bugalu’s bedroom.” Woops! Well, what I do on my time is my business. There’s not that much difference in our rank.
“Every woman aboard knows their way to his bedroom,” came faintly over the intercom.
She heard a sigh. “I’ll be right there. Time I checked on her work, anyway.” The connection was broken.
Check whose work? Mine? I haven’t done any. And I’m not up for a promotion. Nervous and uncertain, she sat down on the bed. I wonder who Bugalu is with tonight? I hear he’s been seeing a lot of that new girl, MacDowell. That it’s really slowed him down. I know I haven’t had a date with him recently. Wonder if they’re-
Mr Smythe entered, and she jumped to her feet. He glanced inside the service panel, then looked around, as if to assure himself he was in the correct place. “I know I tore those wires out,” he muttered, and pounded on the bathroom door. “Alright, let’s see how much you’ve got done!”
The door opened, and there stood the redhead Stephanie had just been thinking about. “Almost done, Smit. Just polishing tape residue off the showerhead.”
Smythe glanced at the bathroom, which seemed spotless, and grunted. Then he turned to Stephanie. “Not bad, Freyer,” he stated, and walked out.
“But I didn’t do anything,” Stephanie said to the closing door.
The bombshell of a redhead - guess Bugalu isn’t with her tonight after all - stood in the bathroom doorway. “Um... Freyer, is it? I need a favor.”
“You need a favor from me?” Probably wants me to leave Bugalu alone. Not that he’s had time for me lately.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind. I normally clean up my own messes. The bathroom wasn’t any problem; I’ve had to get a lot worse spotless. But that control panel... well, that’s engineering, and outside my field. So I’d appreciate it if you could take a close look at it. I mean, the door opens and closes, so I think it’s okay, but I’d really appreciate you checking it.”
Stephanie stared at the other woman in disbelief. “You fixed the wires in the control panel?” I’ve heard she doesn’t have a brain in her body. No, if that was true, she wouldn’t be on the Fireball.
The redhead smiled sheepishly. “Well, I tried to reason it out. Figured electronics were electronics, and I have some knowledge of that. But I didn’t have a heatgun or anything, so the connections might be weak.”
Well, she’s right about electronics. If she’s flunked her probationary test twice, it’s no wonder if some people think she’s stupid. But those of us in engineering know that Smythe’s tests are murder! Strange, but Wilson seems to like this woman, even if they’re both dating Bugalu. You’d think they’d have nothing to do with each other.
“Let’s take a look.” She pulled out a work light and directed it into the control panel, then carefully examined each wire and connection. “All the wires are connected correctly,” she announced, and reached for the heatgun on her belt. “But you’re right; those connections are weak. Do you want to solidify them?” The redhead’s eyebrows rose in surprise, her eyes sparkled with excitement, and then her face paled with fear. “It’s just like finishing communications connections,” Stephanie stated, and handed over the heatgun.
“Is it? Okay, I’ll try. As long as you make sure I do it right.” It only took her a moment to finish up. The redhead seemed to be a natural with a heatgun.
With a little more practice, she could rival Wilson. With a heatgun, I mean. “Good job, Lieutenant.”
“Call me Mac,” she instructed, handing the tool back. “Everybody does. And thanks. I can still say I clean up my own messes.”
“But this isn’t your quarters. Bugalu should clean his own place.”
Mac gave her a big grin. “He does. But I pulled a practical joke on him, and, uh... things got a little further out of hand than I planned. I’m still not sure how those wires got disconnected.”
“A practical joke?”
“If you want to know about it, ask him. In a couple days, when he has a chance to calm down and see the humor himself.” She stretched and stifled a yawn. “I’m going to have a nap. I really needed a good laugh, and I got it. Maybe now I can actually sleep.”
“Don’t you have duty tonight?”
“Yeah.” She closed the control panel and returned Stephanie’s work light. “Plenty of time for at least one nightmare. Maybe even two. Anyway, thanks, Freyer. I appreciate your help.” She was yawning again as she headed for the door.
Stephanie followed at a slightly slower pace. Nightmare? Well, I guess we all have one, time to time. But I certainly don’t plan it when I do.

Month 3, Day 10
2332 Hours

When Smitty opened his bathroom door, the shower was already occupied; black, copper and pale skin intermixed in an intimate threesome.
With a moan, Smitty sat up in his bed and tried to pull the dream out of his head by tugging at his hair. Fortunately, his hair was more stubborn than he was, and the roots held firm, while the pain soon made him give up the effort.
He bent a leg up and leaned forward to lay his head on a damp and clammy arm atop his knee.
“I hate cold showers!” Colleen complained.
And I need one. Again. Angry at his lack of control, Smitty tossed his cover aside and climbed from bed. He hesitated as his hand neared the bathroom door. They aren’t there! It was nothing but a dream!
Stealing himself, he opened the door, sighed in relief to find the bathroom empty. It would be nice if I could get through just 1 day without a sex dream. I don’t even remember what it’s like, to actually sleep through the night. A cold shower always leaves me wide-awake for half the night. It’s a wonder I haven’t fallen asleep on duty yet. Still standing at the doorway, he glanced at the bedroom clock. Still hours before the mail gets delivered. For the first time in years, I’ve finished reading one month’s technical journals before new ones have arrived.

That brought to mind the redhead who was in charge of shunting his mail - including the technical magazines he so eagerly awaited - to his channel. Stiffening his chin, he stepped inside and started the shower, turning the water temperature to its coldest setting.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mac Pulls a Prank

Mac Pulls a Prank
Month 3, Day 10
Drake MacGregor
1645 Hours

“Our days off are coming up,” Drake reminded Smitty as they exited the lift. “Want to do something together?”
Smitty shrugged. “Any suggestions?”
Drake sighed. “I hoped you’d have some.” They started around the corner.
“Coming through!” A flurry of red squeezed between them, headed for the lift.
“Was that-?” Smitty started.
“I’ll get you!” A half-naked and wet Bugalu came running toward them, stopped abruptly. An overwhelming stench wafted over them. “She’s too fast,” he complained. “Plus, I had to stop and put on pants.”
“Pants only,” Smitty observed. “That’s hardly suitable attire.”
“Where’d you get that cologne?” Drake asked. “If I were you, I’d scrub it off and throw the rest out.”
Bugalu gave him an angry glance. “It’s not cologne. She spiked my shower!”
“What do you mean?” Smitty asked.
“That is really rank,” MacGregor added. “Please step away so we can breathe.”
Bugalu obligingly backed up several steps. “Mac did something so that I got this... stench sprayed all over me! I should have known she was up to something when she hung around even when I went to take my shower.”
Smitty nodded. “Trying to make you stop dating others.”
Drake stared at the engineer in surprise, as did Bugalu. “No,” the negro answered. “A practical joke. She doesn’t intend to disrupt anything, so she’ll be back with the antidote, and-” He stopped in sudden comprehension. “-clean up her mess!” He whirled and ran back the way he had come.
The two officers followed him to his bedroom, where he was trying to open the door to his bathroom. “It’s locked,” he said. He pounded on the door. “Bear! Don’t turn on the shower!”
“What?” came Tall Bear’s rumble through the door, then the sound of water.
A woman’s scream momentarily stunned Drake into immobility, while Smitty opened the service panel and tore out some wires. The door slid open before them.
Tall Bear grinned from the opposite doorway, one sleeve wet. Mac was in the shower stall, glaring at the AmerInd. She held a small bottle in one hand, the other was on the shower controls, while her dripping tunic and slacks were plastered against her. Drake tried to keep his gaze above her shoulders; Smitty gasped.
“I hate cold showers!” Mac declared.
“Join the club,” Smitty muttered.
“Thanks, Bear.” Bugalu grinned.
“Any time.”
“You were helping me!” Mac reminded Tall Bear.
“I have to live next to him,” Bear stated.
“Is pay-back a bummer, Mac?” Bugalu asked. “How do I get rid of this stench?”
“Oh, pay-back is fair, I guess,” she admitted. “Hand me a towel, Bear?”
“Sure.” He stepped inside to pull a towel from the rack.
“Bear, watch out-“ Bugalu began, but was too late.
A slim arm shot out, grabbed the AmerInd, and pulled him into the shower. Almost, she slipped out past him, but he blocked her with an arm, so that the water she turned on drenched them both. “Cool off, Bear,” she told him.
“Keep her there,” Bugalu said, jumping into the small room. “It’s time for a tickle.”
“Tickle!” Smitty exclaimed.
MacGregor explained, “It’s just a bit of fun.”
“It’s a sadistic form of control,” Smitty growled.
“If she objects, she can stop it,” he told the engineer.
“That’s a chauvinistic viewpoint I didn’t think to hear from you,” Smitty returned. Laughter rolled through the small bathroom, and he scowled.
“No, in Mac’s case-“
“Enough,” Mac stated, and both men were sent staggering by a brush of her arm. “Woops!” Breaking glass tinkled, and then everybody’s eyes watered as the terrible stench invaded the entire room.
Drake’s hand reached for the exhaust fan, but Smitty stopped him. “You want this throughout the entire ship? First, we have to figure out how to neutralize it.”
“Now you’ve done it, Mac,” Bugalu coughed.
“It’s gerkat oil. Smells terrible, but it’s not toxic. Blast! That was the last of it.”
“Good!” Bear gagged.
“I have a date, Mac!” Bugalu told her.
“You’ve got time,” she returned, and dug a bag of white powder from her pocket. “Go to the gym for a shower while I clean up.” She tossed the package to him. “Add water to make this a paste, use it like soap, and the smell will be gone.”
“It better be!” Bugalu squeezed between the two older men into his bedroom, where he gathered clothes together.
“You can go away,” Mac instructed Tall Bear. “I have work to do, and I don’t need you hanging around. You might decide to turn the water on again.”
The AmerInd hesitated. “No hard feelings?”
“No hard feelings,” she agreed. “I knew it was risky, trusting one of his friends.”
“I’d like to be your friend, too,” Bear returned. “So, how can I help?”
“I clean my own messes,” she returned, and paused, tears streaming down her face. “However, I never anticipated breaking the bottle. I didn’t bring enough cleanser.”
“What is it?” Smitty asked.
“Nothing special,” she replied, and turned to face him. Her face went white and blank as she realized who he was. “Smit!” she exclaimed breathlessly.
There was silence for a long moment. She looks frozen. Didn’t she realize we were here? Maybe not. She was concentrating on Bugalu and Bear. That’s quite a stare she’s giving Smitty. Not sure she realizes I’m here, even now. Is that fear, uncertainty, what? He swung his head to study the also-silent engineer. Wow! No denying how he feels about her! If he’s been hard on her, it’s because he’s trying to keep her at arm’s length.
“Where do I get it?” Tall Bear asked. “What’s it called?
She stiffly turned her head toward him. “What?”
“Tell me where to get that cleanser,” he requested patiently.
“Oh, uh, kitchen. Baking soda. Or chemistry, but I don’t know what it’s called there.” With a nod, he was gone. Bugalu had already left. Mac got a towel and wrapped it around her shoulders with shaky hands. “I’m chilly,” she whispered, and wiped her cheeks with one hand.
Smitty flipped the switch to turn on the fan. “You said-“ Drake protested.
“The filters include baking soda.” Smitty stepped into the bathroom, skirted around the woman to the shower. “How did you get the shower to spray that... grakit oil?”
If the cold water got turned on now, I’m not sure he’d even notice it.
“Gerkat,” she corrected in a whisper. “Nothing complicated. If he’d looked, he would have seen it taped to the showerhead. When the water flowed past the tiny hole in the lid, it pulled out some oil. Just a drop or two. Doesn’t take much.”
“It’s very potent,” Smitty agreed.
“But why?” MacGregor asked. “It seems pretty-“
She whirled to face him. “Mac!” She threw herself against him, hugged him close.
Nope, she didn’t know I was here. Wetness soaked into his clothes. Cold wetness. “I don’t like cold showers, either,” he observed.
Smitty turned from the showerhead to glare at them. “I’ll get someone to repair the lock,” he stated coldly. “In the meantime, MacDowell, you’ll clean this bathroom. I want it not only spotless, but completely odor-free.”
“Of course,” she agreed meekly.
“I’ll be back in an hour to see how you’re doing,” he told her, and headed for the door. He paused to glance back, still scowling, just before he stepped outside.
“I thought he’d never leave,” Mac whispered.
“That’s supposed to be my line,” MacGregor stated.
No sexual teasing. She’s my niece. “Never mind. Why pick on Bugalu today? Has something happened?”
“Nothing specific,” she answered. “It just occurred to me that it’s been over a month since I had a good laugh.” She grinned. “So I decided to have one.”
“Why Bugalu?”
“He wouldn’t take it personally,” she answered. “When he became family, he became fair game.”
Nobody warned me of that when I volunteered to become family. “You look tired and stressed. You sleeping okay?”
“As good as I can.”
That’s an oblique answer. “What does that mean?”
“Oh, you know. Work and... studies, and... everything.” She wiped her face with a corner of the towel. “I’d better start cleaning.”
Meaning, I won’t get any better answer out of her.
Tall Bear entered, carrying a small box. “This enough?” He tossed it to her.
“Should be,” she answered as she caught it. “Thanks, Bear.”
“Listen, since Bugalu’s busy tonight, why don’t we see a movie after the gym?”
“I told you, Bear, I don’t date.”
“It doesn’t have to be a date,” Bear told her. “We can just go as friends.”
Watch it, Bear, there’s a touch of desperation in your voice.
“I have to study.” She sprinkled white powder in the area of the broken bottle. She paused to look at the AmerInd. “Bear, it’s not looking good. But if I ever pass my probation, then we can think about being friends.” She set the box aside, squatted to pick shards of broken glass. “But even then, I won’t be dating.”
“Too fast,” Tall Bear muttered, and left again.
Is she thinking of adding another brother, or just putting him off? Or here’s a wild thought - did she actually mean it the way she said it? He leaned against the doorjamb. “Have you ever thought about adopting a sister?”
“Actually, I have,” she answered. “But the thing is, since I’ve never had one, I’m not sure how to treat one. I keep thinking what a pain it must be, having me as a sister, and the trouble I cause my brothers. And uncle. Then I wonder... what sane person would actually want to be included in that?”
“Me,” came a quiet voice over Drake’s shoulder. He turned to find Yellow Dog was behind him.
“You might want to rethink that,” Mac told her with a teasing smile. “That would make dating Bugalu or Mac incest.”
Don’t tell her that! “Well... not really,” he hurried to say, then found himself lost in the soft brown eyes staring at him.
“Doable,” the AmerInd said.
Wait, did she mean Bugalu or me?
“Why don’t you talk about it with Mac?” the redhead suggested. “He can tell you what a pain it is to be my relative. Go away,  you two, and let me work.”
With a smile, the yeoman turned, and Drake followed her into the corridor. “Movie?” she asked softly.

“Sure,” he agreed readily.