Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Signs of a Problem / Part 2 - Monroe

Signs of a Problem / Part 2 - Monroe
Month 4, Day 1
0959 Hrs

“You next, Drake. How’s your new nurse working out?” Drake’s face stiffened. Uh oh. I don’t like the looks of that.

Drake changed his position and smoothed one sleeve. “Well, knowledge-wise, she passed her probational test. Although I wondered, at first, if she’d paid attention in some of her classes. But she passed.”

“And?” Jane asked when he seemed unwilling to continue.

“I’m not thrilled with her attitude,” Drake admitted. “I had trouble putting my finger on the problem, but a friend helped me bring it into focus these past couple of days.”

Temple, I’ll bet. A Chief Medical Officer needs a good Head Nurse. “What is the problem?”

“Monroe isn’t professional. She flirts with male patients and is cold toward females. It’s even worse when she’s off duty, but we’re getting into gossip.”

And officers aren’t supposed to pay attention to gossip. Never did agree with that, not completely. She sat back and tried to relax. “If it’s something that ‘everyone’ is saying, then it reflects the common crew member’s perception of her, and gives a clue how well she is - or isn’t - fitting in. So tell me all the juicy details.”

“Captain!” Smitty protested.

“It’s my ship,” she reminded him. “I’ll decide how far to delve into the forbidden depths of gossip.” The engineer frowned and finished his beverage while his other hand tapped restlessly against his knee. Jane turned her attention to Drake expectantly.

“Apparently, there’s hardly a man aboard she hasn’t been to bed with, including some married and engaged men.”

Surely there’s more to it than that. Her brow puckered. “There are other women aboard who are active. Including one of yours, Smitty.” At the man’s blank stare, she tried to offer clues. “Umm, day shift, I think. Brown hair...”

It was Drake who identified her. “Lt Della Harris. Sure, Harris dates. A lot. But she doesn’t date men who are officially paired, she doesn’t brag about her activities, and she doesn’t treat other women as opponents. She’s kind of like an unofficial Morale Officer.”

“Unofficial being the only kind the Fleet has,” Jane reminded him. “But I take it your nurse is not universally liked by the crew.”

“The women barely tolerate her. That’s a quarter of the crew. The men are welcoming her with open arms. Most of the men.”

“Including you, Drake?”

He shook his head. “She offered, I turned her down. Even if I wanted to, it is against the rules, after all.” He cleared his throat and threw a glance at Smitty, who was frowning at his empty cup. “If you’re looking for potential problems, she’s been bragging that she got together with a senior officer last shore leave, went to his hotel room for the night.”

She remembered, then, that two pair of crew members had arrived at the transport station about the same time as she had; Drake and the redhead, Smitty and the blond nurse. She considered the engineer thoughtfully. For a time, he seemed oblivious of her attention, one knee bouncing as he passed his cup back and forth between hands, checking inside it every few seconds as if he expected coffee to magically appear inside it.

Eventually Smitty looked up, saw her looking at him, and exclaimed, “It wasn’t my idea!” His face reddened. “She claimed she’d run into trouble, she was fairly desperate for a bubble bath. But when we got to my room, she grabbed me and pulled me to the bed... It wasn’t my idea!”
What is wrong with him? He wasn’t this bad on the bridge, dealing with that redhead. It was almost as if he didn’t want to talk to her! Whatever his problem is, I wish he’d get himself pulled together. She stared at the man coldly. “Are you trying to lay the blame - if there is any - on her? I don’t remember any accusation of specific wrong-doing, so-“

Smitty opened his mouth, but Drake interrupted. “Actually, that story doesn’t surprise me. Beth has heard it, too. Not about Smitty, because no one’s had the nerve to ask him. But two men have claimed that Monroe tricked her way into their quarters and pretty much raped them. And don’t you dare say it’s not possible.”

“Not impossible,” Jane muttered. “But difficult, if the man really isn’t interested.” She looked up from her desktop. “Have they considered filing charges?”

“I don’t know. Haven’t heard. I don’t imagine they’d want it in their record. Even if it was a matter of their body reacting to stimuli despite the protest of their brain. I don’t have their names, but I understand an engagement is on hold, and a marriage has hit a very rocky stretch.”

“That’s a lot of trouble for one crew member to cause, even without getting involved with higher officers. Smitty, if we decide she’s not fitting in, would you feel the urge to argue for letting her stay?”

“In a heartbeat,” he muttered into his empty cup.

Which is exactly why officers are not supposed to fraternize with junior officers. Never thought I’d hear Smitty-

“I’m surprised to hear you say that,” Drake stated. “You didn’t look like you were thrilled with her on shore leave.”

Smitty’s head jerked up, and anger flashed in his eyes as he stared at the doctor. “Well, you certainly enjoyed being with her!”

“Me!” Drake returned in surprise. “The only time I saw Monroe on shore leave was when she was with you.”

Smitty’s face sagged as his anger drained, and his eyes dulled in confusion. “Who’s Monroe?”

Jane exchanged a glance with the doctor. “Monroe is Drake’s new nurse. Who did you think we were talking about?”

Her explanation only made the engineer more confused. “Why would you ask me about a nurse?”

“The question was,” Jane told him, “if we decided Nurse Monroe wasn’t fitting in on the Fireball and we should transfer her, would you feel inclined to argue for her staying?”

“She’s a nurse, not under my command,” he returned. “So I don’t understand why you’re asking me. If you want my personal opinion...” He paused to think, a frown puckering his brow. “I’d just as soon she left.”

She spends one night in his hotel room, and he’d as soon ship her off? Well, if she tricked her way in, he’d see that as an affront. At least she can’t use him to argue for her staying. If it comes to that. “Duck, do we need to replace her?”

Drake sighed. “I don’t know. Now that we’re aware of the scope of the problem, Beth and I can try to shift her attitude. Maybe some sessions with Dr Fong would help.”

“You’re frowning.”

“It occurs to me that Dr Fong is male.”

“So are you, and you’ve resisted her.” She watched him shift positions in his chair, looking for comfort. “Drake?”

“I’ve had other wo-things on my mind these last 3 months. But I don’t know if Dr Fong is dating anyone, or what his... habits might be.”

“That’s his problem, not yours.” What good is a ship’s psychiatrist if you can’t send problem crew members to him?

“They’re both my subordinates,” he pointed out, and shook his head. “Maybe. That’s the best I can do right now.”

It doesn’t sound hopeful. “Keep me apprised.” What a mess. Smitty is level-headed, organized and nearly as impartial as Takor. Despite his running on ‘fumes’ this morning, I expect the rest of this meeting to be short and succinct. She turned her attention to the engineer, whose gaze was on his cup, although she wasn’t sure he actually saw it. The heel of one foot was bouncing, the fingers of his empty hand drummed against the chair arm, the muscles of his face kept moving. Looks like he’s having an argument with himself. “Smitty, how are you doing with your redhead?”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Signs of a Problem / Part 1 - Yellow Dog

Signs of a Problem / Part 1 - Yellow Dog
Month 4, Day 1
0959 Hrs

Jane greeted the two officers waiting in her office as she took her seat. “Where’s Smitty?” she asked. The way he looked, I’m not surprised he forgot, even with my reminder. At our age, it’s not so easy to stay up all night and still function the next day.

“I haven’t seen him this morning,” Drake stated.

“Agreed.” Takor was still learning the intricacies of English, but she usually understood its intent, even if the words were not quite correct.

Jane tried not to frown as she reached for the intercom to call the absent man, but her office door opened and the engineer entered, a coffee cup in his hand. “Sorry, captain,” he mumbled as he started for one chair, changed his mind and took another. His hand quivered as he took a drink. “There were a number of reports on my desk, and I wanted to ask some questions of Harris - Lt Harris, who was late, as usual, so I had a talk with her about that nasty habit, instead of what I really wanted to ask about. Then I wanted to talk to Wilson, but she’s evenings, and I couldn’t justify bothering her when she’s off duty, so I’ll have to talk with her this afternoon, but I don’t imagine it will matter by then.” He took another drink, seemed unwilling to put his cup down.

He looks worse now than he did 2 hours ago. And that’s a lot of talking to say... nothing. Smitty’s usually succinct. She glanced at Drake, who was staring at the engineer, his eyebrows pulled together. Drake noticed, too. Maybe he can figure out what’s going on.

“Gentlemen,” she began. “Most of us have been through this before. I just want a brief statement about how your new people are doing, whether or not they’re fitting in, that sort of thing. I hate being blind-sided when somebody doesn’t work out.” She considered the 3 officers, her gaze lingering on the dark smudges under Smitty’s eyes, the tic that made his upper lip tremble at irregular intervals. He looks half panicked, which doesn’t make sense. He has been through this before. Maybe he just needs a minute to get his thoughts organized. She turned to the science officer. “Takor, we’ll start with you. How is your yeoman doing? Is she knowledgeable? Have you noticed how she gets along with other members of the crew?”

“She passed her probation exam on her first attempt,” the Scissan stated. “Also, Ms Dog often-“

“Yellow Dog,” Jane corrected.


Nice job of shortening the phrase. It’ll be talking like a human in another year. “Your yeoman’s culture often has 2 words for the last name. We had this discussion before, when you referred to a particular security lieutenant as Lt Bear. To do so is similar to us calling you ‘Tak’. It isn’t your full name.”

The alien considered her words briefly. “They are of the same culture? Their relationship has me... much confused.”

“Same cultural base, different tribes,” Drake offered. “A tribe is like an extended family. Each tribe has somewhat different traditions. In ancient times, I believe their tribes had many conflicts. I think Tall Bear and Yellow Dog compete, trying to honor their ancestors without actually doing damage to each other. I’m not sure I understand it; I don’t share their culture.”

“Captain!” Smitty’s eyes were round. “We can’t allow ancient animosity to run rampant on our ship! The next thing, the Irish would declare war on the British, Abdulla would pick a fight with Goldmann, and nobody would like Kraus! We can’t have it!”

Jane held up a hand to stop his tirade and turned to Drake, who had been startled by Smitty’s outburst. “You said they compete without doing damage?”

“Yeah, it’s... like a game. Can one of them get close enough to touch the other before the 2nd realizes they are there? It’s only a touch, not like they’re actually fighting. No matter which way it goes, they both wind up laughing.”

“That explains much,” Takor stated, and continued its report. “I have observed that Ms Dog - my apologies, Ms Yellow Dog - frequently anticipates my needs and requests, and seldom makes an error. I have seen her interacting with several crewmembers, and such interactions often include laughter. Therefore, I have no reason to believe she has not been accepted by the crew.”

Jane smiled. When it came aboard, it thought laughter was some horrible medical condition, possibly lethal. “Very good comments, Takor. You’ve hit all the points I asked about. Doesn’t seem likely we’ll have to replace her, then. I was worried she might prove surly, when she first came aboard.”

Drake apparently had more to contribute. “YD’s problem, if you want to see it as one, is that she only says a word or two at a time. Less, if she can get away with it. Somehow, she makes herself understood. She uses hand signals with Tall Bear, who used to complain she ‘talked’ too fast, but I think the skill has come back to him by now. As for the non-AmerInd crew members, I don’t know, maybe she’s got a touch of telepathy. It would explain how she anticipates Takor’s requests.”

“I don’t care how she communicates, as long as she is integrated and not hiding somewhere, plotting sabotage,” Jane told him. “You next, Drake. How’s your new nurse working out?” Drake’s face stiffened. Uh oh. I don’t like the looks of that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trying to Make Amends

Trying to Make Amends
Month 4 Day 1
0745 Hrs

Smitty stifled a yawn as he stepped onto the lift. “Bridge,” he told the equipment.

“There you are.” He turned his head to see the captain already aboard. “You missed breakfast.”

He nodded. “Time got away from me.”

Her smile faded. “Another bad dream?”

“No. I... managed to avoid that.”

She studied his face for a long moment. “By staying up all night, looks like.”

He gave her a quick glance, unaccountably feeling guilty. “Did some soul searching,” he admitted.

“If you want to talk-“

“I know,” he told her, and thought for half a moment. “It would have to be off the record.”
Now it seemed to be her turn to think. “I can do that,” she decided.

He pondered that statement. Would she still feel that way if she knew I’d be confessing to a heavy case of lust for a subordinate? Would I dare? Even if I didn’t name Colleen, the captain’s smart; it wouldn’t take her long to figure out- She made the offer. It doesn’t mean I have to take her up on it. “Thank you, Ca-Jane. I’ll keep that in mind.” The door opened, and he followed her off the lift.

“Mr Evans,” the captain greeted. “Was there a problem at the communications console that required your assistance?”

The helmsman seemed startled as he scurried for his own post. “Ah, no, sir, it turns out there wasn’t,” he replied.

The captain’s question had caught Smitty’s attention, but since there wasn’t any problem, he lost interest. He turned to communications, paused to consider the redhead as he reviewed what he planned to say.

Colleen sat at her station, brow furrowed in concentration as she stared at her screen. Smitty heard a ping as a piece of mail arrived. The redhead raised a finger to a particular spot on the screen, and then - without removing her gaze from that screen - she used her left hand on the controls to send the mail to the personal terminal of whoever it was for. As Smitty finally stepped forward, her left forefinger also went to the screen, and the two fingers followed different paths.

That brought Smitty’s attention to the screen, and he stopped dead. “Purvis units?”

Colleen jumped, landed hard in her chair. “Ouch.” The screen went black as she whirled to face him. “Sir!” Her face turned red, and when she spoke again, her voice was low, almost a whisper. “You... didn’t explain the difference last night.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, Mr Smythe,” the captain observed from her command chair.

He turned to face his superior as a wave of guilt flowed through him. “The question arose during her test, and was... forgotten by the time we... ended.”

The captain nodded without looking up from her own screen. “Well, you’re not in the middle of a test now.”

“Yes, captain,” he agreed softly as he realized this brief meeting he had planned was already off schedule and going to take far longer than he had hoped. He faced the redhead. “Put it back on screen. Which one were you looking at?”

“Um, both,” she replied as she touched a single button.

It took him half a second to realize there were 2 Purvis units displayed on the screen, one in blue, the other in red. The sections that were exactly the same - which was most of the display - were purple. Why did Abdulla teach her how to do that? Or was it Ivy? He took a deep breath, and the smell of lilacs removed all thoughts from his mind. “Here,” he finally croaked, pointing to a corner where the red line was definitely inside the blue one. “Most people think that’s the difference, but that’s simply a matter of adjusting the shape to fit the space allotted. The biggest difference is here.” He moved his finger to a section that looked like a tiny checkerboard of blue, red and purple. “It’s a little hard to see in this display, but the different configuration here means that...” Almost before he knew it, he had reached the end of his explanation and didn’t know what else to say. I usually go on from here, but she’s not engineering, and I don’t want to confuse her. He unthinkingly glanced at Colleen - who was looking at him rather than the screen - and quickly pulled his gaze away before he got distracted. “Did you understand that?”

“Yes, sir.”

I doubt it, but as long as the captain’s satisfied. “Any questions?”

“No, sir.”

He gave a short nod and turned to go, realized he held something in his hands and remembered why he had come. He turned back and handed the study files to her. “These are yours.”

She accepted them with quivering fingers and whispered, “Thank you.”

He cleared his throat. “When I started to suggest that the senior techs might be able to help, my thought was that some of them may be studying for their own exam. In their case, a promotional exam.”

“Yes,” she agreed softly. “I helped a number of new lieutenants on the tugs.”

Then why is she having so much trouble here? And why did she get so mad- No, that was Abdulla. He held out the electronic pad he had also brought. “Here’s the list I promised.”

This item she eagerly took from him, turned on and studied the list. “I don’t see Della on here.”

She seems to be a ‘first name’ person. I’m glad she can’t use mine! “Della?” he asked.

“Della Harris. Her roommate,” said a soft voice behind him, and he knew he had not gotten away fast enough. Fortunately, Abdulla didn’t sound angry any more. “No, I wouldn’t have thought Harris a good choice, either, but she did a good job undoing Clines’ scrambling.”

He tried not to show his surprise. Harris’ habitual tardiness irritated him, and he hadn’t observed anything outstanding about her work. “Well, add her to the list if you want.”

“Not sure she’d stop dating long enough- Steph isn’t here, either.” Smitty turned to look at Abdulla, but the dusky woman shrugged and shook her head. “Tech Freyer,” Colleen explained. “You sent her to fix Bugalu’s door that time... uh...” She stopped, her eyes darting toward the helm.

“Tech Freyer is engineering,” he stated.

Colleen licked her lips nervously. “Don’t you expect your engineers to know all the... side dishes?”

Why in blazes did I ever use such a silly phrase? He sighed. “Try her if you want, but she’s only a Jr Tech.”

The redhead nodded, and a curl escaped from her bun to bounce delectably just behind one ear. “Thank you, Smi- Mr Smythe.”

He turned away, eager to make his escape at last, but Abdulla stood before him. “Mr Smythe, I need to apologize for-“

He held up a hand to stop her. “You had some good points, Lt. Let’s discuss it more fully in a few days. Some place more private than this.” At her nod of agreement, he told the captain, “I’ll be in engineering, sir.”

“Don’t forget our meeting this morning, Smitty,” she returned. “Ten hundred, my office.”

He had forgotten, but wasn’t going to admit it. “I’ll be there,” he stated, and stepped onto the lift before it could leave again. It wasn’t until he reached his own office that he remembered this was the half-way point of Colleen’s probation. The captain would be expecting a report on how she was doing. He plopped down into his chair and stared at nothing rather than the various report chips lined up on his desktop. What in Black Space am I going to say?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Test 3

Test 3
Month 3, Day 30
2002 Hours

Smythe exited the lift and headed for the meeting room. Why can I never seem to get to these on time? I’ve never had this problem before!
He turned a corner and stopped short at sight of what awaited him. Bugalu leaned against the bulkhead, his arms wrapped around the redhead, whose head rested on his chest. Standing next to them, Abdulla looked bored. Smitty started to say, “Lieutenants, I’ve told you before-“ Oh, what’s the use? They’ve flaunted protocol since she arrived.
“Mac, it’s time,” Bugalu stated, but she didn’t respond. “Mac?”
Abdulla glanced at the other woman’s face. “She’s asleep.”
Again? Still? She should have gotten several hours of sleep. Unless- Just why is Bugalu here?
“I wish she’d tell me what her problem is with sleeping,” Bugalu stated, and shook her violently. “Mac! Time to wake up!”
She groaned and shifted her weight. “Not yet!” she begged.
“I thought she had time to sleep when I sent her to bed,” Smitty stated. “But if she’s too tired, we can postpone it until morning.”
Colleen pushed herself upright, lurched around to face him. “I’m ready,” she stated, trying to blink sleep out of her eyes.
Smitty was surprised. “Are you sure? You did just wake up.”
She tried to stifle a yawn. “That’s the most sleep I’ve gotten in... a long time.”
“Why are you having so much trouble sleeping?” Bugalu asked.
Well, if she keeps getting interrupted-
Colleen blushed as she glanced toward Smitty. “Fear of failing, I guess.”
Bugalu frowned. “I doubt if Doc can do help with that.”
“Let’s wait until morning,” Smitty suggested again. “Let you get some extra sleep, at least until your shift begins.”
“No,” she refused. “If I miss the movie tonight, I don’t want it to be because I’m asleep! Anyway, tonight’ll be busy, lots of magazines arriving, so I’ll be tired in the morning. I’ll do the test now.”
“As you wish,” Smitty reluctantly agreed, and entered the meeting room.
“Don’t be nervous,” Bugalu told her. “When you’re done, we’ll still have time.”
“She’ll do fine,” Abdulla stated. “She knows this stuff inside out.”
Smitty sat at the table and watched Bugalu gave the redhead a final hug before she stepped inside. The door closed, and the two women sat down. Smitty swallowed the lump in his throat. “I understand a movie with Lt Bugalu can be quite... exciting. Just answer the questions quickly and fully, and there might still be time for the... second half of the date.”
The redhead stared at him in confusion, then sudden comprehension came to her. “Oh, pineapple. Yes, I definitely need some of that.”
Pineapple? Is that some strange sex position? I’ve never heard of it. Wonder what it might... look like.
“Mr Smythe?”
He turned to Abdulla. “Yes?”
She shared a confused glance with Colleen, turned uncertainly back to him. “Did you want me to ask the questions? I assumed-”
Oh, blast. I tell her to take as short a time as possible, then I get lost in my thoughts and sit here staring at her for... how long? Doesn’t matter. “Sorry, I was thinking about sex.” Smitty! “Ah, 6. Um, a 6th level diagnostic shows a slight wriggle in the crystal S356 readout, and an occasional blip in the starboard Purvis relays, but lesser diagnostics showed nothing. What would you do?”
“What?” Abdulla gasped.
“Let her answer,” he stated, irritated at the intrusion, and turned his attention to the redhead. Oh, no, she’s staring at me. White face, unblinking eyes. She’s scared, confused, even shocked. I thought she knew her field? “What would you do?” he asked again, softly.
“I’d... I’d... ask for help?” she offered tentatively.
He tried not to scowl. “Why would you do that?”
“Because it’s engineering, Mr Smythe, not communications!” Abdulla exclaimed.
“What?” He thought about what he had asked, felt his face flush and cleared his throat. “So it is,” he admitted. “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”
“Is- Are engineering Purvis relays the same as communications?” Coleen asked.
“Nearly,” he answered. “The difference is in-“ We’ll never get the test done if we get side-tracked into engineering. “Well, that’s not why we’re here.” He shifted in his chair uncomfortably. “Let’s start with something simple. The hailing frequency of Podidas.” There was animation in her face a moment ago. Where is it now? She’s still beautiful. Tall Bear wouldn’t have managed to get her to bed alone and unmolested. Neither would I. When she passes this test, I’ll have to stay completely away from her. Just sitting here, she’s got my blood boiling. If we were alone, we could try out this pineapple position, whatever it is. Her mouth is so... deliciously kissable. Just once, that’s all I ask. Just one coupling, in whatever position she wanted. No, that wouldn’t be enough. A night. One night of absolute pleasure. That would have to be it, though. I wouldn’t dare- It wouldn’t be enough. I’m not sure a whole lifetime-
“Mr Smythe?”
He turned his head, focused his gaze on the dusky face of Lt Abdulla. “Yes?”
“Was that an acceptable answer? Or were you waiting for something more?”
I didn’t hear the answer. “Ahh... have you graded it?”
“Good, then let’s do sex.” An inorganic noise made his head swivel. Scratches on the table showed where fingernails had tried to dig in as hands had become fists. “Colleen?”
“Sex?” she asked, her voice little more than a whisper.
She’s eager to get to Bugalu. If she thinks about that, we won’t get the test done. “We’ll get to question six soon enough,” he told her. He noted the next question on his screen. Kodalis receivers. “I hope Clines didn’t get you too confused about Kodalis receivers,” he offered with a smile.
Her eyes flew widened. “You know about Clines?”
They were in public! Why wouldn’t I know? “Let’s just get on with the answer.”
She licked her lips, squirmed. “What was the question?”
Appalled at her lack of attention, he read it loudly and slowly to her, then smiled and nodded in encouragement. Her answer made sense, but she faltered in the middle, and was struggling by the end. “Not too badly scrambled, then,” he said, and moved to the next question. She stumbled over her words, backtracked, and forgot a couple items she should have included. “Are you done?” he asked after a long hesitation.
“Yes,” she decided in defeat.
“Relax,” Abdulla told her. “Take a deep breath, calm down, and we’ll go on.”
Smitty found himself staring at her upper uniform as it expanded. What a sight. Beautiful when she’s got clothes on. If she didn’t have them on-
“I’m ready,” she stated.
“Me, too,” Smitty muttered. Ready to test the limits- Test! We’re in the middle of her test! What is wrong with me tonight? He moved his gaze to the computer screen and read the next question.
She’d said she was ready to continue, but he didn’t see it in her answers. He tried to keep his eyes off her, since the sight was so distracting tonight, but every time he did glance her way, her gaze was on him. Like she’s trying to pull answers from my mind. Never known anyone who could do that. She’s probably just trying to keep her mind off Bugalu. Her answers are better; at least she’s offering answers. But they’re rambling, incomplete... distracted, definitely.
By the time they reached the 6th question, her answers had completely petered out, and they were both aware of it. Smitty sighed. “That’s enough,” he said. “You’re doing better, MacDowell. But not good enough. I’ve seen you studying. Perhaps it’s time to consider tutoring.”
Every muscle in her body tensed. “You’d tutor me?”
It wouldn’t be communications we studied. He shoved that feeling deep inside. “My field is engineering. Communications is just... ah... like a side dish, you might say. You’d be better off with a tutor in your own field.”
“Like who?” Abdulla asked with a touch of anger. “I’ve been helping her, when I can, and I can’t find anything else she needs help with. Clines can’t tutor her, because he scrambles everything up and gets her confused. Chun puts her to sleep. Which might not be a bad thing, because I’m not sure she bothers to sleep, otherwise. But that’s the sum total of her peers in the field on this ship, so just who did you have in mind?”
Summed it up nicely, hasn’t she? Not one to waste words. Obviously, she’s been keeping tabs on Colleen’s progress. Taking care of her responsibilities. Very good. She’ll be ready for promotion soon. Hate to see her go, though. Clines isn’t ready to take head position, Chun never will be, and Colleen-
“Mr Smythe?”
“There’s plenty of others who could help,” he suggested. “The senior communications technicians-” Ouch, that’s a stone cold glare, for sure. I suppose that idea does seem insulting. But if the techs help Colleen study, they’d be preparing themselves for their next promotional exam at the same time. Maybe I can explain that another time. Doubt if she’d listen right now. “Or she could ask some of the engineering lieutenants. I expect them to know all the various... ah... side dishes, so tutoring could be a refresher for them.”
“Ivy has been helping,” Colleen offered.
“Ivy?” He blinked. “Oh, Wilson. Yes, she’s a good choice, but not the only choice. You could work with Adams, he’s on your shift.”
Not Adams!” Colleen exclaimed.
“Stuff yourself,” Colleen told Adams and left the deck 11 recroom. Can’t believe I forgot that incident. “Well, there’s still plenty of others. I’ll, uh... I’ll make a list. Abdulla can help you choose who to ask. Dismissed.” She was out of her seat in a flash, and out the door, where Bugalu wrapped his arms around her again. Smitty pulled his eyes away from the sight. “She started out fairly well, this time,” he stated.
“I don’t believe it!” Abdulla exclaimed. “She answered all of those questions perfectly this morning, and another 2 dozen besides! Yet around you, she remembers virtually nothing!”
“She was half asleep. I should have postponed it.”
“Like that would have helped!”
“Abdulla, I’m giving her every chance I can.”
“Tell me another!’ she exclaimed, her anger over-riding her usual demeanor. “Such intense disapproval of her taking a nap while we wait for you. You tell her to be quick and succinct, but you sit and stare at her in utter silence! Then you ask an engineering question, as if you expect her to answer! That was as bad as that first question, when she first got here! And I thought you were a reasonable man!”
“I just-”
Abdulla jumped to her feet. “I’m not done yet!”
Better let her finish, or all this will fester.
The woman put her hands on the table and leaned forward. “Just as she starts to get herself pulled together, you mention sex - totally out of line - and you leer at her - which is so unlike you, but she doesn’t know that - which throws all her concentration right out of her head! You remind her that Clines confused her, making her uncertain she understands what he scrambled, and you act like she must be an idiot when she points out you never actually asked the question. Then you give her that inane smile and unceasing nods, like you’re only humoring her, undermining her confidence even more. And when she finally fails, you state she hasn’t done well enough! As if she doesn’t know that! Really! ‘Perhaps it’s time to consider tutoring.’ She has been tutored! Ask Ivy! She’ll tell you Mac knows this stuff!”
“Unfortunately, I haven’t-“
“And when she asks if you could tutor her - which took a lot of guts, I can tell you, because she is petrified of you! When she asks if you would tutor her, you refuse! Can’t be bothered! You make a lot of silly suggestions that are absolutely no help, like the 2 of us are so incompetent, we never thought of-!” She suddenly stopped to take a deep breath, still irate. “Oh, what’s the use! You obviously are doing everything you can to see that she doesn’t pass probation! I don’t know why we bother with this farce, month after month! Good night, Mr Smythe!”

He watched her storm out, his mind busy with all she had said. Is that what I’m doing? Am I really trying to keep Colleen from passing? It would make my life simpler. But it wouldn’t be fair to her. And it isn’t like me. Even if I don’t like a new assignee, I still try to get them up to snuff, like Chun. I even tutored him myself, a time or two. But I can’t tutor Colleen. I’d do a worse job than Clines. He sighed and got up, headed back for his quarters. Well, I wonder what tonight’s dream will be. Bound to be a doozy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Another Dream / Study Partner / Sleeping Beauty

Another Dream
Month 3, Day 16
2358 Hours

As Abdulla relieved the redhead, Smitty heard Colleen exclaim, “I wish we were married!”
Bugalu stepped forward. “Mac?”
She turned to face him. “I never meant for this to happen.”
Despite being on the bridge, the helmsman slipped his arms around her. “We’ll figure something out. Right now, I need to make a proper apology.”
“Yes, let’s do that,” Colleen agreed, and the pair left.
His room was dark when Smitty opened his eyes. Is that really the way it went? I turned my back, tried not to listen, but surely they weren’t that...
How circumspect could I be, if I were the one trying to make up with her? Not that I have anything to apologize for, despite what Abdulla thinks.
I’m doing my best to treat her the same as anyone else. He sighed, rolled over, punched his pillow into a different shape, and closed his eyes again.

Study Partner
Month 3, Day 20
1455 Hours

Smitty ducked into the deck 7 recroom and breathed a sigh of relief. If I have to play one more game of table tennis with MacGreg, I’ll go spacey. Anna and I played it all the time, back before Michael, so I could probably beat the pants off him, but where’s the fun in that? He’d just want a rematch.
He went to the dispenser for a cup of coffee. It’s always so noisy here. I should have gone to deck 11. Well, never mind, I didn’t. Somebody’s bound to be playing Atakke; I can watch that for a while. Coffee in hand, he started across the room.
“Cut it out, Clines.”
Smitty dropped his cup as the voice cut through his senses. Turning, he saw her at a corner table with Clines, the evening communications officer. She took the man’s hand off her knee and put it back on the table. “Keep your mind on the subject.”
“You can’t possibly understand how hard that is,” Clines told  her. “If you’d just-“
“No,” she told him shortly. “I didn’t understand your explanation of the Kodalis receiver. Please go through it again.”
“No, don’t,” interrupted another voice, and Lt Harris got up from a nearby table. “Clines, I thought you knew your stuff, but you just scrambled the Kodalis receiver with 3 other types of equipment. With you as a study partner, she’ll never pass probation. Go on, it’s time for you to get ready for duty anyway. I’ll take over for now, and I’ll have Abdulla get Chun to help her study.”
“Chun?” Colleen repeated. “Well, that’s one way for me to get some sleep.”
There she goes, insinuating she can’t sleep, again. Come to think of it, why isn’t she in bed? And Harris? Not sure I’d pick her as a communications study partner.
“Della, it’s not my fault! I can’t think around her! She sets my blood on fire, and all I can think of is-“
“Not my problem,” Harris told him coldly. “Tell it to Abdulla. Go away.”
“There you are.” Smitty turned, found MacGreg at his side, looking at the floor. “Somebody spilled their coffee here. And didn’t clean it up.”
“Let’s play table tennis,” Smitty suggested, pushing the other man towards the door, and picked a face he recognized at a table they passed. “Ivanokov, do me a favor and clean up that spilled coffee, will you? Before someone slips on it?”
The technician looked surprised that Smitty knew his name. “Yes, Mr Smythe. Be glad to.”
“Thank you,” he tossed over his shoulder, and then they were in the corridor, headed for the lift.
“I’m a little surprised,” MacGregor admitted. “I had the feeling you were tired of table tennis. But if we’re going to play, don’t take it easy on me. I’m not as bad as you think I am.”
“Good. Glad to hear it.” Now I’ve done it! Yet another game of table tennis! Well, anything to get out of there. Clines is right. Just seeing her sets my blood on fire, even though I know she’s not for me. I’ve got to find a way to get over her.

Sleeping Beauty
Month 3, Day 30
1157 Hrs

Smitty saw her at her usual corner table as soon as he walked into the deck 7 recroom. Knew she’d be here. Always seems to be here. When does she sleep?
Who’s helping her today? Abdulla’s working. Clines is off, but I saw how well that went last week. Ivy’s off tonight, but she’s probably asleep right now. He took a deep, shuddering breath. Well, I could at least see what she’s studying today. Give her a kind word on her progress. If I can think of one. If I can think.
He glanced at the clock. So late! I’d better politely suggest she get some sleep. It’s test night. He started forward, aware of a myriad of eyes turning toward him. It took every ounce of his self-control not to glance around. Hope that blond doesn’t stop me again. Or try to stop me. I’m not interested, and she’s just going to have to learn that.
He forced himself to smile as he approached Colleen’s position. She sat facing the wall, which seemed strange, if she was worried about Winthrop. Maybe she trusts these other people to have her back, but facing the wall makes it easier to ignore the distractions.
He stopped behind her and a step to one side to look at the display screen over her shoulder and head. Kodalis receiver. Isn’t that what Clines mis-explained last week? He cleared his throat. “Would you like me to go over that with you?” He waited, but she didn’t respond. “Would only take a minute,” he went on. Still no response. She’s ignoring me? That’s no way to treat a superior.
Smitty stepped to the side of her table, determined to get her attention. “Lieutenant, do you-” He stopped in surprise. Colleen had an elbow on the tabletop, and that hand cupped her chin, but all the muscles in her face were soft and relaxed, her eyes closed. She’s asleep! Knew she had to sometime, but why here? Why pretend to be studying? A week ago, she was definitely awake at this time, when Clines was here. She’s so beautiful, sleeping. I could stand to wake up to that in the mornings. Space, I can’t be thinking like that!
Smitty reached out and gently shook her shoulder. “Colleen.” He shook her again, slightly harder.
“I’m busy,” she said softly, her eyes still shut. “Go away.” She raised her other arm to join the first, tipped her head so that this hand supported her cheek.
She’ll never get any decent sleep like that. What she will get is a crick in her neck. She needs to sleep in her own bed, or she hasn’t got a chance with tonight’s test. Shaking his head, he turned off the reader and then tried again to wake her. This attempt disrupted her balance, and she slowly leaned to one side until her shoulder bumped into his thigh.
He knew a moment of panic, wondering what everybody else would be thinking. This must look extremely personal, if they don’t realize she’s asleep! But her body kept moving, headed for the floor, and he instinctively wrapped his arms around her to prevent it.
Her lips whispered, “Safe,” and tension left her body as she retreated even further into sleep.
Smitty’s back complained, unaccustomed to holding this much weight in such an awkward, forward-bent position. She’s heavier than she looks. Or I haven’t been working out enough. It won’t be easy to get her to her room. What am I thinking? Me take her to her room and put her to bed? As if I could trust myself!
A quick glance around revealed the entire room was watching. One set of dark eyes stood out from the rest. “Tall Bear, come here,” he instructed, and then concentrated on changing his grip from the awkward position of catching her to a more traditional position for carrying. His back still complained, but he ignored it.
She feels so good. Better than I remember. I’m an idiot, turning this over to someone else. If I didn’t... climb in with her, if I could keep from doing that... I could still hold her until I got her there.
“Yes, Mr Smythe?” Tall Bear had approached silently.
Smitty turned to face him. “She’s fallen asleep,” he explained.
The AmerInd’s gaze wandered to the woman’s head where it snuggled against the officer’s shoulder. “Yeah, she’s been doing that lately,” he stated.
“She’s got a test tonight. I want her rested for it. Put her to bed.”
Tall Bear took a half-step back, although his expression never changed. “What?”
“Come on, she’s heavy,” Smitty muttered, and resolved to make time for the gym from now on. I can’t really blame him for hesitating, since I don’t trust myself to do what I’m asking him to do. “Keep in mind that I won’t be amused if you... try anything.”
“You’re not the only one,” the big man stated, then shrugged and took her.
I suppose he means Bugalu. Smitty turned to gather her study guides together.
“Hands off!” he heard, followed by a thud, and then a thump.
Whirling, Smitty found Tall Bear standing stiffly, a cut on his cheek starting to bleed, while the delectable redhead sat at his feet, wincing as she rubbed her rear. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Sir, I was attempting to follow your order and put her to bed.” Tall Bear lowered his head to tell her, “Alone and unmolested.”
“What?” she asked softly, sounding dazed.
All that work to keep her from landing on the floor, and he just drops her? “Then why in space did you-“
“My fault, sir,” she broke in, having apparently assessed the situation. “I... I mistook his intentions, I guess.” Still frustrated, Smitty offered a hand to help her up, which she stared at for a moment before letting him help her to feet.
“You always expect the worst of a man,” Tall Bear muttered.
“That’s what I was taught,” she returned just as softly. “And most men have proven it true.” Bear sighed, and the redhead turned to the higher officer. “Sir, I was... resting my eyes for a moment, but I’m ready to resume my studies.” She reached for the computer files.
He quickly put them behind him, out of her reach. “You were asleep. I know the difference.”
She swallowed, suddenly nervous. “It won’t happen again.”
“No, it won’t,” he agreed. Blast, that sounds like I expect her to study day and night, without any sleep at all! “You have a test tonight,” he reminded her, keeping his voice calm. “Go get some real sleep.”
Colleen blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“I said, go get some sleep. You can have your study aids back after tonight’s test. If you still need them. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered meekly. “I’ll try.” She turned, paused to look up at the weight lifter. “Sorry about your eye, Tall.”
He shrugged. “I’ve had worse. Sorry about your... fall.”
Her hand lightly stroked one taut cheek, which Smitty tried not to watch. “Yeah, it will give me something to think about on duty tonight.”
“Me, too.”
She giggled. “But you don’t sit on your eye!”
Tall Bear glanced briefly at the officer behind her. “You’d better get going.”
She sighed. “I hope I dream about Kodalis Receivers. I won’t, of course, but I can hope.” Both men - probably the entire room - watched her leave.
“Just as well,” Tall Bear muttered.
“What?” Smitty asked.
The AmerInd turned to face him, his arms crossed, but kept his voice low. “I’m not sure I could have followed those orders, sir. So I’m glad I wasn’t actually put to the test.”
She has that kind of effect on men. That blond tries hard for it, but Colleen actually has it. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse. He looked up at the taller man, wondering what to say, and his attention was caught by the blood-seeping cut on Tall Bear’s cheek. The surrounding area already looked puffy and swelling. “Go to Sick Bay and get that eye tended.”

The AmerInd reached for the wound but didn’t touch it. “That I can do,” he said, and turned away. “Space, she packs a wallop!”