Month 3, Day 30
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.
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-
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-
“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!”
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.