Friday, August 29, 2014

Sleeping Redhead

Sleeping Redhead
Month 4, Day 10
1717 Hours

Drake paused in following Jane, Smitty and Takor to stare across the mess hall at Bugalu and Mac. What’s going on? Did they have another fight? They’re just sitting there. Bugalu is finishing his dessert, but it doesn’t look like Mac has touched her food; she’s just staring at it. And neither one has said a word, which isn’t like them. Jane told me last week to figure out what Mac’s sleep problem. But Mac won’t talk to anybody except to study. Maybe this is my opportunity.
He changed direction, saw Yellow Dog join the two-some; she just sat down without saying a word, glanced at the redhead - who didn’t greet her - and handed a coffee to Bugalu, who smiled.
Drake set his tray on the table and sat down at the only seat available, opposite the AmerInd. “You 2 fight again?” I get lost in YD’s brown eyes whenever she looks at me.
“Are you talking to me or YD?” Bugalu asked.
Drake tossed a glance his way. “You, of course. Why?”
“Because you were looking at YD,” Bugalu returned.
“Yeah, I do that a lot.”
“No,” Bugalu contradicted.
“How would you know?” Drake demanded.
“I’d remember fighting with Mac,” the negro stated.
Drake swallowed his pique. “Oh, you’ve gone back to my original question. In that case, what’s going on? You two sure haven’t been talking.”
Bugalu sipped his coffee. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to get her into bed.”
Drake gave the helmsman a sharp look, then swiveled his head to look at the still-silent redhead. She ‘sat’ motionless, her head leaning slightly to one side, her eyes closed. “Is she asleep?” he blurted out.
“Yes,” YD answered between bites of her quiche.
In this noise? Wouldn’t have thought it possible. “How long has-“
“Since she sat down,” Bugalu interrupted. “And don’t blame me for waking her, because I didn’t. She was awake when I checked on her. Stumbling around looking for her shoes, which were where they belonged. Looked half asleep - or more - but when I told her to go back to bed, she shuddered and said she’d had enough of that for the day. But as soon as she sat down here, she was asleep.”
“I don’t care what she said, she obviously did not get enough sleep.” If Jane sees this, she’ll have my hide for not getting this problem under control by now. Won’t matter that I hardly ever see the girl for a private conversation.
“Not today, this week, this month,” Bugalu agreed. “She won’t talk about it, so I haven’t got a clue what’s going on.”
“What did her brother do to send her to bed at the Academy?” Drake asked.
“He never had to, that I remember. She always claimed she wasn’t good at math, but she never crammed for a test. This not sleeping, this is brand new territory for me.”
“You know her better than anybody else on board,” Drake stated, and wondered at the slight rise in one of Yellow Dog’s eyebrows. “Don’t you have any ideas what might be causing it?” YD turned her bland expression to regard the younger man.
The helmsman scowled at the remnants of his meal for a long heartbeat. “Two,” he allowed, and sighed. “The most likely is that she’s failed probation.” Yellow Dog blinked at the statement and resumed eating.
“She hasn’t completely failed yet,” Drake pointed out.
“Doesn’t look good, and she knows it,” Bugalu said softly. “Trouble is, studying won’t do any good if she doesn’t get some sleep.”
Drake frowned his agreement and reluctantly suggested, “Maybe I should slap her into Sick Bay at the end of her shift and give her 8 hours of sleeping potion for the next week.”
It was Yellow Dog’s turn to frown, although Bugalu considered the radical treatment idea. “Maybe.” He obviously didn’t like the idea any more than Yellow Dog.
How do I put that in her record? ‘Patient isn’t sleeping, so I tied her to a sick bay bed and drugged her’? Yeah, that would look good. “Can we talk her into it?”
“No,” the negro sighed. “That would take a direct order from a superior. Like a doctor.”
“That’s what I figured.” Her body chemistry is just different enough that I can’t be sure how big a dose it would take to make her sleep for 8 hours.
“Every single day,” Bugalu emphasized. “Which won’t give her time to calm down before you have to do it again.”
“That makes me the bad guy,” Drake acknowledged, and sent a half-glare at the younger man. “While you get off scott-free.”
“If it helps any, I’ll be right there, telling her it’s for her own good.”
Will that help?”
Bugalu hesitated, then moved his head a bit. “Inside, she’ll already know it, so she’ll probably get stubborn and more angry.”
“And how long do you think that will last?”
“No clue. New territory.” His mood was somber. “It might ruin the relationship.”
“Space!” Drake swore. Sometimes, you have to do what’s best for a person, even if they don’t understand it. It’s part of being an adult. But I don’t have to like it. “Space,” he muttered.
“Noooo.” Mac’s quiet moan surprised them. As both men stared, she started to lean. Yellow Dog’s hand flashed as she grabbed the redhead’s arm. Mac jerked, and her green eyes popped open in terror. After a moment of mindless staring, the girl looked around, took in her surroundings and relaxed. “Hello, Bugs, Mac.”
“Thought you had enough sleep,” Bugalu stated.
“I thought so, too,” Mac agreed slowly, and stared at her tray of food. “This looks... cold.”
“We’ve been here for... going on an hour.”
“Have we?” She rubbed a hand over her face. “Look, I’ve got to... I’ve got to... I can’t remember.”
“You need sleep,” Drake told her bluntly.
“Yeah,” she agreed, another surprise. “About half an hour seems to be my limit.” She turned bleary eyes to the AmerInd. “YD?” The yeoman stood, pulled the redhead to her feet, and led her out of the messhall by the hand.
Drake watched them leave, Mac hardly able to put one foot before the other without stumbling. “Where are they going?”
“I hope YD puts Mac to bed,” Bugalu responded. “But they’ve probably gone to the gym.”
“In the condition Mac’s in?”
Bugalu shrugged. “Mac doesn’t want to give up that little touch of home she gets with the variable gravity station. Says it’s the only time she feels comfortable.”
Drake considered the rest of his meal glumly. “I’ll start the enforced sleeping tomorrow morning.”

“Not tomorrow,” Bugalu contradicted. “I’m off. I’ll spend the day reading in her quarters, keep sending her back to bed. Should have done that today, but she promised she would sleep. Try to sleep.” He sighed. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Personal Investigation

Personal Investigation
Month 4, Day 2
Jane Burke
0755 Hrs

The lift doors opened, and 3 blue shirts got off, leaving Jane and Lt Abdulla alone in the small enclosure. As soon as the door closed, Jane instructed, “Halt lift.”

“Captain?” the lieutenant asked uncertainly.

“I have a question,” Jane explained. “At Lt MacDowell’s latest exam, did Purvis units come up?”
“Yes,” Abdulla stated. “They frequently do.”

“I imagine so, there’s so many of them. What I should have asked is if engineering Purvis units came up.” Abdulla’s mouth stiffened, and she hesitated for a long moment. “It must seem a strange question, since MacDowell is communications, like you. But when Lt Cmdr Smythe came to the bridge yesterday morning, he said the topic of Purvis unit differences had come up, and he had neglected to explain it before her test ended.”

The brown woman’s dark eyes flashed. “Did he-“ She stopped short. “Never mind.”

She seems... protective of the girl. From Smitty? That’s odd. “He was so surprised to find her trying to figure out the difference herself.”

Abdullah sighed. “That sounds like Mac. She can get so distracted by something like that. And once a question gets in her mind, she’s just got to find the answer.”

Which can be either good or bad, depending on the circumstances. “Well, he explained the differences in that succinct, no-nonsense manner he has when he thinks you should already know what he’s explaining, which I found surprising. Still, when he asked if she understood, she promptly said yes. Which brings us to my next question, lieutenant. Do you understand the difference between the two types of Purvis units?”

Abdulla blushed. “I’m afraid not. Mr Smythe encourages us to cross-train, but I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve fallen behind.”

I knew he expected his engineers to know the entire ship, but I didn’t realize he expected it of the specialists as well. “I see. Thank you, lieutenant. Lift continue.”

“If I might ask a question, captain?” the younger woman asked.

“By all means.”

“Since Mac - MacDowell has been aboard for 3 months, I assume Mr Smythe has made a preliminary report on her prospects of staying. Is there any chance you might share that report with me?”

Jane smiled. “I won’t bore you with the details, but in the end, he stated he didn’t know, at this point. You’ve been working more closely with her than he has, so what’s your opinion?”

The underling blinked in surprise. “Mac has a mind like a sponge, but her confidence is shaky. Nonexistent, around Mr Smythe. The more he talks, tries to give options he would accept, the more she hears disapproval. I can see it in her eyes, her face. Every time she fails, she pushes herself harder, but I think she could answer the questions in her sleep. If she bothered to sleep, and if Mr Smythe wasn’t the one asking.” The lift door opened to the bridge. “But that’s just my opinion.”

“And Mr Smythe thinks highly of your opinion, Ms Abdulla.” They stepped forward, onto the bridge, the dusky woman looking gratified. “That’s why I asked for it. Please have Ms MacDowell wait for a moment. I have a question for her, as well.”

“Yes, captain.” Abdulla stepped away.

Jane considered the man at the engineering console, but it took her a moment to remember anything about him. Xylander. How could I forget a name like that? Because he hasn’t caused any problems that required my attention in all the time he’s been here. And he’s midnight bridge, so we’re only in the same room for about 2 minutes on any given day. She walked over to him. “Mr Xylander.”

“Good morning, Captain.”

She lowered her voice, hoping he took the hint that she wanted this conversation to be as private as possible. “Mr Xylander, since I know Mr Smythe’s requirements of engineering personnel assigned to the bridge, I assume you know the various types of Purvis units?”
He matched her tone. “Yes, sir.”

There’s a question mark at the end of that answer. He wonders what’s going on. “Would you please join us in my office this morning? There’s something I’m curious about.”

“As soon as I’m relieved, captain.”

“Thank you.” She turned, smiled as Lt Zaire approached. MacDowell stood to the side of the lift, waiting. I keep hearing people mention her sleeping habits, and she does look tired. I’ll have Duck figure that out. Looks like Smitty’s gone to his own office this morning. Good. No need to make him wonder what’s going on. She walked over, and the redhead made an effort to stand up straight. “May I ask you a question, Lieutenant?”

“Sure. I mean, yes, sir.”

“Come with me,” Jane instructed, and led her to her office. “Please have a seat,” she told the younger woman, and sat behind her desk. “Lt Xylander will be joining us shortly. Would you like some refreshment? My yeoman generally keeps coffee, tea and water available.”

MacDowell’s blink revealed her uncertainty at this unaccounted friendliness from the ship’s captain. “I never developed a taste for coffee, but water would be nice.”

“Coffee for me, Alyce,” Jane told Yeoman Blossom, who sat at her own tiny desk in the corner. “You know how I like it.”

“Of course,” the young lady stated as she stood. “Mac, would you like your water iced or room temperature?”

“Iced.” Blossom disappeared into the tiny closet where such things were kept.

“When you came aboard, MacDowell, I told you life on the Fireball would be different than life on a tug. You’ve been here 3 months. Have you found it to be different?”

“Oh, yes. The types of stress are much more diverse.”

“I spoke with Lt Abdulla. She has a glowing opinion of you.”

The redhead covered a yawn she could not stifle. “Unfortunately, the only opinion that counts is that of Mr Smythe,” she stated calmly.

No, she is definitely not stupid. The door to the bridge opened and Lt Xylander hesitantly stepped inside. “Thank you for joining us. Please have a seat. I won’t keep either of you long; I probably only have a single question for each of you, and then I’ll let you get on with your day.” She paused as Blossom silently set a mug of coffee in its usual place on her desk. “Thank you, Alyce. Please serve Mr Xylander and then leave for about 10 minutes.”

“Yes, captain. Here’s your water, Mac. You drink your coffee black, don’t you, Xylander?”

“No cream, 2 sugars.”

“Coming right up.”

“How long have you been with us, Mr Xylander?” Jane asked.

“A little over 6 years, captain.”

“MacDowell and I were just discussing the differences between being on the Fireball and an assignment to a different class of ship. Even different ships of the same class have a different... feel to them. Would you care to comment?”

Alyce handed him a mug, and they exchanged fleeting smiles before she headed for the doorway. “I can’t, captain. I was assigned here directly from the Academy.”

Jane felt a piece of ice in her craw. I should have picked my assistant more carefully. I certainly did not want to add to the girl’s feeling of inadequacy. She sipped her coffee as she watched her yeoman leave, then put her mug down. “Okay, let’s get to business. MacDowell, explain to Xylander the difference between a communications and an engineering Purvis unit.”
The redhead’s eyes grew round and she turned to the engineer. “Don’t you know?”

“Of course I do.”

“But Evans-“

“Is an idiot,” Xylander broke in, and blushed. “Sorry, captain. I shouldn’t have-“

“Quite all right. I’ve known a few idiots during my career.” Every ship has at least one. “MacDowell, humor me and explain the difference to him.”

“Yes, captain.” MacDowell took a swallow of water and began.

She’s not just parroting what Smitty said yesterday. That wouldn’t be a good sign. Abdulla said she had a mind like a sponge; soaks everything in and keeps it. But she only needed one hurried explanation to understand it? That’s hard to believe.

“But it seems to me,” the girl summed up, “that with that internal configuration, the engineering Purvis unit would need more power than a communications Purvis.”

“Twice as much,” Xylander confirmed.

“Oh. So you’d definitely have to turn off the power before you tried to work on an engineering Purvis.”

Xylander blinked in surprise. “You should turn off the power before you work on a communications Purvis.”

MacDowell’s voice lowered. “Well, of course, those are the guidelines, but I haven’t always been afforded that... luxury.”

Jane tried not to reveal the sudden tension in her back. Is she implying that- Can’t do anything about it, if it’s true. Have to deal with the here and now. She turned her gaze to the engineer. “Did she get it right?”

He nodded. “Better than some engineers I could name. Even figured out it takes more power. But Mac, I don’t understand why you’re studying engineering Purvis units when you can’t pass your communications probational.”

The girl’s face turned so red, it almost matched her hair, and thus her uniform. Her voice was very small. “Oh, it accidentally came up, and it was different from what I’ve been studying. It just, kind of, caught my attention.”

Jane sipped her coffee and leaned forward, clasping her hands together. “MacDowell, Lt Abdulla told me you know your field inside out. Yet you haven’t passed your probational, as Lt Xylander just mentioned. Is there a problem that needs to be addressed?”

“I... don’t know what’s wrong, captain. I always think I’m ready, but as soon as the test starts... I can’t think.”

Not a word about Smitty. Could she be intimidated by him and not realize it? They usually recognize fear. And she said as much, as soon as she arrived. Well, these 2 have answered the question I had. “Thank you, lieutenants, for your assistance - and patience. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, captain.” Xylander stood up. “My boy friend will be wondering where I am.”

“Boy friend?” Mac muttered. “Guess that explains why you’ve never asked me for a date.”

“It does,” he confirmed as they headed for the door.

“Oh, Alyce,” Mac greeted as the door opened. “Can you help me study this evening?”

“Sure. 2000, deck 7?”

“Sounds good.”

The door closed, and Alyce started picking up after the visitors. “Alyce, I didn’t realize you knew communications,” Jane stated.

“I don’t. But the way Abdulla has the files set up, it’s a matter of reading randomly-generated questions. I don’t even have to listen to the answer, because the computer grades it.”

That’s exactly like she was taking the probational, except it isn’t Smitty asking the questions. “Does she have a lot of difficulty answering the questions?”

“Not usually. I’ve helped her 3 times, and twice, she had perfect scores.”

“And the other time?”

“Oh.” Her mouth twitched in confusion. “Last time, she fell asleep half-way through, so she didn’t do well.”

I expect not. So, sleeping does seem to be a problem for her. How does she stay awake for her shift? She realized her yeoman had said something. “I’m sorry, Alyce, I was wool-gathering. What did you say?”

“I just said I hope Mac gets to stay. She’s a lot of fun.”

“You don’t... resent the attention she gets from the men?”

“She doesn’t want their attention. I think some of them are starting to get the idea, now that she gave Tall Bear a black eye.” She suddenly stiffened and looked up. “Oh, I wasn’t going to mention that. It wasn’t-“

“Relax, Alyce. I’ve already heard about it. And if Tall Bear wanted it in the record, he certainly knows how to fill out the paperwork.”

“Yes, captain. I’ll... get back to my paperwork.”

So, the redhead is fitting in somewhat better than Smitty indicated. I’ll talk to Duck about her sleeping. Or lack of it. Don’t have enough information to figure out if she has any other problems, but I do know this; that girl has got a brain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Signs of a Problem / Part 4 - Summary

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

Smitty opened his mouth to object, then closed it again. “Yes, captain.” As he got to his feet to scurry out, Drake also stood.

“One moment, Drake,” Jane requested.

He hesitated, and by then, Smitty was out the door. “I am the doctor on duty, captain,” Drake reminded her. “And you just sent Smitty to sick bay.”

“It won’t hurt him to pace your lobby for a minute to two. I need information, and you seem to know the redhead. Is it true she can’t pass her test because she’s scared of him?”

He sat back down. “That’s Abdulla’s theory. Wilson thinks it’s hero worship. My personal belief...” He cleared his throat. “ that they’ve got the hots for each other. I can’t be positive about that; neither one said anything to me. But it makes sense, if you think about it. If she can’t think around him because of sexual tension, and he avoids her for the same reason, and because he doesn’t fraternize... Things might get sorted out if they’d just have sex and get it over with.”

“I can’t approve of that.”

“You wouldn’t have to know about it.”

I probably would, one way or another, but I wouldn’t have to officially know.

Drake pursed his lips into a frown. “But it wouldn’t be as simple as that, of course, since she’s never had sex.”

“A virgin? At her age?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “It’s not impossible. And she’s confirmed it. Anyway, I think her infatuation has her tongue-tied; she’s never dealt with sexual tension before.”

“Tongue-tied? I could have sworn he said she’s propositioned him.”

“Yes,” Drake agreed drily. “In the middle of the night. When she works midnights.”

“Are you suggesting she might be in those ‘bad dreams’ he’s complained about?”

“To Smitty, having wet dreams about a subordinate would be ‘bad’.”

Jane took a deep breath. “True. Well, you have a patient waiting. You’re dismissed.” After the doctor left, she turned her attention to the silent Scissan. “That was a much more complicated meeting than I anticipated. Three new people, and two of them problems. While the one I thought might be a problem has fit in seamlessly.”

“May I ask questions, captain?”


“Do these meetings usually involve delving into the new person’s... sexual habits?”

“No. That subject rarely comes up.”

“The complexities of human... mating is a source of great confusion to me. Scissan sex is much more straight-forward. If our pheromones entice us, we mate. It is why one is not assigned to a ship without having met all the other crew members before hand. And why our ships are smaller than this one.”

“Do you have any comments to make regarding Nurse Monroe or Lt MacDowell?”

“I would not recognize Nurse Monroe if she were in this room. She looks much like many other humans. I have seen Lt MacDowell in the company of Yellow Dog. Considering the amount of time they spend together, and the laughter they emit, they seem to enjoy each other’s company. MacDowell has expressed an interest in learning about my race.”

“Are you willing to converse with her, share information on your cultures? She’s from a human colony that was settled by a specific country of Old Earth. This would be an opportunity to study a human - other than me - but her culture may cause you some confusion. You gave a fine report concerning your yeoman, and I’d like to hear your thoughts concerning MacDowell.”

“She is very red.”

Jane laughed. “Yes, she is. If she could wear her hair down on duty, it would probably blend right in with her uniform, they’re so close in color. Most human redheads actually have hair that’s more orange or brownish. Her vividness must come from being Gaelunder.”

“You laughed,” Takor stated. “It was a good joke?”

She smiled. “It was a good joke.”

“As I study her, may I ask her questions?”

“That is usually the best way to learn.”

“Good. I am confused as to what parents could have produced such a red daughter, and such a black son. Or perhaps there are aspects of human genetics I have not yet discovered.”

Jane paused. “What black son?”

“Lts MacDowell and Bugalu are brothers. Did you not know this?”

I think Drake said something about that, once upon a time. I don’t remember the details right now. “That would give you something to talk about. But have a care, Takor. She may decide a question is too personal, and prefer not to answer.”

“No is no. I have read this in the Fleet manual.” It hesitated. “Are we done?”

“Yes,” Jane decided. “You may go. I look forward to hearing your impression of MacDowell’s attitude, personality, capabilities. Hopefully you will have something to report within a month?”

“I will do my best,” it assured her, and left.

I just assigned an alien to assess a human who has confused one of my best officers. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience for Takor. Still, I would probably be remiss if I didn’t try to discover the truth myself. The whole ship is buzzing about how hard she studies, but still can’t pass her probational exam. If she were that stupid, she never would have graduated from the Academy.

Well, something to do besides the usual paperwork, I guess.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Signs of a Problem / Part 3 - Mac

Signs of a Problem / Part 3 - Mac
Month 4, Day 1
0959 Hrs

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?”

He jumped, and his face filled with panic. “I never touched her!”

Jane surreptitiously turned off the recorder. I have a feeling this may be that ‘off the record’ talk he mentioned this morning. Have all his ‘bad’ dreams been about his newest subordinate? Her arrival is about the time he started having them. But Smitty? It’s not like him. “Has MacDowell passed her probational?” she asked calmly.

“No!” he declared. “Not once!”

She only needs to pass it once.

He went on feverishly. “I hoped she would pass last night, and she did better than she’s done previously, but... she didn’t manage it. Started leaving things out, back tracking to insert things she left out, but not all of them, and then the answers completely petered out. I can’t be sure she knows as much as a first-year cadet! Despite Abdulla’s assertions that Colleen has mastered it all! As if that’s possible in four short weeks!”

It’s been 3 months. How can he be this confused? Jane broke in before he could go on. “Has she been studying?”

“Relentlessly,” Drake stated.

Smitty gave the doctor an angry glare. “Yesterday, she appeared to be studying in the deck 7 rec room, but she was actually asleep.”

“Good,” Drake muttered. “She needs to sleep sometime.”

Jane ignored the interruption. For now. “What time did you make that discovery, Smitty?”

The engineer rubbed his face and raised his cup before realizing - again - that it was empty. “Around noon. On my way to lunch.”

Deck 7 isn’t on the way from his office to the mess hall. “And you tested her at...?”

“Twenty hundred hours.”

From the corner of her eye, Jane saw Drake frown, heard him mutter, “Right in the middle of movie night.”

“Smitty, she works midnights, and I saw her at her station yesterday morning. If she tried to stay awake for some last minute studying, but fell asleep in a rec room, amid all that noise... maybe she was too tired to take the test.”

He nodded. “I offered to delay the test until this morning. She refused. She always refuses. Somehow, that’s my fault. It’s always my fault, no matter what I do! If I rescue her from Winthrop, she didn’t want to be rescued. If I offer to delay her test, she doesn’t want to delay it. If I offer a bubble bath, she has something else in mind. She always has something else in mind! How many times have I refused her? I’ve lost count! And her probation only half done!”

Yes, this definitely needs to be off the record.

“I try to see that she has every chance to succeed, and I’m accused of, of saying things, doing things that make her uncomfortable and afraid of me! As if! She certainly wasn’t afraid on shore leave when she asked- Or any of the dozens of times she’s come to my quarters in the middle of the night-“ He stopped suddenly. “Or were those dreams?” Sweat started down his face as he tried to figure it out.

“Must have been dreams,” Drake offered softly. “She works midnights.”

“I think that one scares the pants off me,” the redhead whispered to her new captain. I thought it amusing at the time, but it’s developed into a problem. How bad a problem remains to be seen. “When did you rescue her from Winthrop?”

“Oh, um, must have been a month ago. At the time, she was doing her studying in the Deck 11 rec room, above the arboretum.”

“Why haven’t I heard anything about the incident? You know I want to be kept apprised of anything having to do with Winthrop.” Smitty stared at her, unable to speak.

Drake broke the silence. “I don’t know why Smitty didn’t remember to tell you, but I understand why Mac wouldn’t have. She was taught by her father that the only thing a man wants from a women is sex, and he had all her brothers lined up to protect her from such attentions. That was fine while she was home, I suppose, but at the Academy, she only had one brother to protect her. And her Gaelunder physiology, but people seldom consider that. She’s beautiful, and some men can’t accept a refusal. Being accosted by Winthrop would have seemed ‘normal’ to her.”
That could explain so much of what I found in her record. And what I didn’t find.

“I’m surprised she didn’t deck Winthrop and leave him on the floor,” Drake summed up.

“I told her not to!” Smitty exclaimed.

“Wait.” Jane sat up straight and put her hands on her desk as she looked at the chief engineer. “You told her not to protect herself from Winthrop? When did you do that?”

Smitty’s mouth worked for a moment before any sound came out. “I never said she couldn’t... Well, I didn’t think about...” He sighed. “Would have been her first few days aboard. Don’t remember if it was before shore leave or after. I found her ready to hit a man who apparently had made comments she hadn’t liked. Well, I couldn’t let her pick fights with the men, so I told her to... I ordered her to walk away instead. Never gave a thought to Winthrop at the time.”
Jane found herself grinding her teeth in irritation, and forced herself to stop. “A woman is entitled to protect herself from unwanted attention. I thought you understood that!”

“Yes, you’re right, captain! But... but simply making a suggestion isn’t reason to... When I found her threatening Ensign Jones with bodily injury, I... I simply thought she was a trouble-maker! I mean, yes, I’ve had to talk to Jones about his behavior, and I reminded him of that, but that was after I gave her that stupid order! And it was a stupid order, I admit that! But-“

“But?” Jane prompted.

Smitty’s face turned red, and his gaze wandered, unable to meet Jane’s. “I... A man should have the right to ask. Some aren’t any good at it, or won’t accept a refusal, but Colleen has a hair trigger. Yesterday, I told Tall Bear to take her to her quarters so she could sleep in peace. As soon as he had hold of her, she hit him! Thought he was going to rape her, she said!”

“That’s how he got the black eye,” Drake muttered, and cleared his throat. “Tall Bear has asked her out, at least once that I know of, so she might have been primed, expecting an escalation. He doesn’t rape, but she’s been trained to expect it from any man. If she was asleep, that training would have been in charge. No chance for her to think things out and set it aside.”

“If she’s got that hair of a trigger, I can’t imagine how she’s managed to stay in the Fleet. Especially given the whispered reputation of at least one of her previous commanders,” Jane stated.

“Study her file,” Drake suggested. “All those cancelled leaves, when they’re supposed to be automatic on a tug. Horrible assignments below her grade. Constantly being confined to her quarters when off-duty for ‘insubordination’, but no formal charges.”

“That could be suspect,” she agreed. “Or she could be a trouble-maker, and they were trying to break her bad habits.”

“Nash!” Smitty spat in sudden revelation. “He’s as bad as Winthrop, from what I’ve heard.”

“Very nearly,” Jane agreed. “So-“

“I could kill him!” Smitty exclaimed. “And Underwood must not have been much better, reading between the lines from his command! The 2 of them have made her believe that all superiors expect-! But I’m not like them! I don’t fraternize! I never have, I don’t now, and-“ He stopped to take a deep breath. His anger changed to bleak hopelessness, and he whispered, “I’m in trouble.”

Sounds like he is. How many times have I heard him say he doesn’t fraternize? Never have, doesn’t now, never will. But this time, he couldn’t finish it. My level-headed and logical chief engineer is unaccountably confused. He thinks the redhead has propositioned him, which seems strange, if Drake’s right about her background. Still, if she thinks that’s the only sure way to win his approval and get to stay... So far, he’s refused her advances, but it sounds like he wonders how long he can manage that. Never thought I’d see the day when Smitty saw a female crew member as a woman. Spent the night soul-searching? Maybe I need to get more involved. I need him alert and capable, not... distracted. “I see.” Before she could think what else to say, she automatically asked, “How does she get along with the crew?”

“What do you think?” Smitty growled. “Every man aboard is eager for his turn.”

“She doesn’t date,” Drake stated, provoking an angry glare from the engineer.

“I’ve seen her with you, Bugalu, Tall Bear, Ferguson... She just doesn’t have time for the others yet, and they’re chafing to get to her!”

“Those aren’t dates,” Drake returned. “Tall Bear and Ferguson spot for her workouts. Bugalu and I are... her friends.”

“Do you think I’m daft?” Smitty barked. “I’ve seen her in your bed!”

Drake and- “Aboard ship?” Jane asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer, glad this conversation was not official.

“Shore leave,” Drake responded, and turned his attention to the irate engineer. “That wasn’t what it looked like. She arrived at my door too drunk to function. I was up for the day, so I let her sleep it off.”

“Yeah, you’d like me to believe it was all perfectly innocent, wouldn’t-“

Enough!” Jane broke in, and gave the two men half a moment to calm down. “Sounds like we’ll need to replace her. I’ll start asking around-“

“Replace her!” Smitty exclaimed, his face going deathly white.

How can that surprise him? “That’s the usual outcome when they don’t pass probation and can’t fit in with the rest of the crew.”

“But- But- It’s because she’s scared of me! She knows her field!”

Talk about an about-face... “Does she?”

“Abdulla says so, and it’s not like her to be mistaken about something like that! And the crew likes her fine! Well, those who aren’t trying to badger her into their bed. For instance, when she studies in the deck 7 rec room, everybody tries to keep her from being interrupted.”

He is so confused, he’s managed to get me confused. But at least my emotions aren’t involved, so with a little investigation, I should be able to figure out what’s what. “I’ve heard enough. For now. Smitty, I’ve observed you are not yourself today, and I believe staying up all night may have contributed to your... current behavior. Go to sick bay and get yourself checked out.”

Smitty opened his mouth to object, then closed it again. “Yes, captain.” As he got to his feet to scurry out, Drake also stood.