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