Month 4, Day 30
Smitty gave an irritated glance to MacGreg as they walked down the corridor. “I know my way,” he stated coolly. “You don’t need to go with me.”
“Not going for you, going for Mac. Want to make sure she slept today.”
Can’t fault him for that, I guess. Smitty slowed upon sight of Colleen and Bugalu embracing outside the briefing room, but MacGreg charged forward.
Before the doctor could say anything, Bugalu shushed him. “She’s asleep. Standing, sitting, anything but in bed. Thought you were watching her this afternoon.”
“She was gone when I went to pull her from her studies. There was no response at her door, so I assumed she was asleep.”
Bugalu frowned. “Might not have been there. She was in my room when I got off duty.”
“What was she doing there?”
“Looked like she’d been sleeping. But not well.”
“My bed kicked me out,” the woman muttered. “Thought Bugsy’s might be friendlier. Wasn’t.”
“Her bed kicked her out?” MacGreg repeated. “What’s that mean?”
“No idea,” Bugalu returned.
The redhead shifted position, but didn’t open her eyes. “Means my nightmares were so bad, I landed on the floor.” She sighed. “Where’s Smit? I have to take the test, I’m ready for the test, let’s get it over with!”
“Sick bay?” Bugalu asked the physician.
“On what grounds?” Smitty demanded, and the girl jerked upright, her eyes wide and staring at him.
“Exhaustion,” MacGreg answered.
“Then stop monopolizing her, keeping her from her studies and sleep. It’s no wonder she hasn’t-“
“Us monopolize her?” the doctor argued back. “That’s a joke! You have her study 16 hours a day, and she works 8, so when is she supposed to sleep? Or eat, or have time off?”
“Don’t put the blame on me!” Smitty shot back. “I never told her-“
“Hands off!” They all turned to find the redhead facing the lizard science officer. “Oh, it’s you, Tak. Sorry.”
I suppose he heard us arguing and came to investigate. No doubt the captain will get a report about it.
“Are you prepared for this exam, MacDowell?” Takor asked.
“Yes. And I told you, call me Mac.”
“It is an adjustment, a difficult remembering which names to shorten.”
“Just decide who you want as a friend,” she returned. “Plus, keep in mind the formality of the situation. On the bridge, I’d never call you ‘Tak’.”
Abdulla approached, one eyebrow elevated. “Is there a reason for this crowd?”
Colleen grinned wryly. “Seems my test has become the focal point of people’s lives, Ab. Who would have thought?”
“What will they do for entertainment after you pass tonight?”
“Celebrate,” MacGreg answered at once.
“Make her take a nap,” Bugalu refuted.
“Even better,” MacGreg agreed. “We can celebrate tomorrow.”
The redhead smiled at her two lovers. “Thanks, guys. Your support means a lot.” She leaned toward the helmsman. “Is there such a thing as pineapple cake?”
“I’ll ask Anna myself,” MacGreg answered.
Her smile was dazzling when she turned to him. “Are you ready, Smit?”
He was scowling at the doctor, and tried to stop. “Come along,” he told her. Inside, he selected his usual chair and waited for the ladies to sit. He was surprised when the Scisson took a seat. “Mr Takor?”
“The captain asked me to sit in. A chance to learn, I believe. Do you object?”
What does Jane think I do at these exams? “No,” he answered tartly. Colleen’s only been here 4 months, and she’s got the whole ship turned against me. As the girl prepared to sit down, it seemed that - even with her fantastic figure - her uniform was not as form fitting as when she had first come aboard. “Have you lost weight, Colleen?”
She froze, which afforded him a dizzying view of her cleavage. “No,” she answered at last and sat down. “Why?”
He felt his face redden. “You might consider a tailoring appointment,” he muttered, and turned to find Abdulla’s mouth was taut as she pulled up the test on the computer. Now what have I done? From the corner of his eye, he saw the redhead consider her uniform, plucking at the cloth here and there.
“I need one,” Colleen agreed, and sighed. “Variable gravity.”
“That’s engineering and won’t be on the test,” he stated.
“Oh! I mean, what I meant was... I get harder workouts now that I can use my home gravity. So I haven’t lost any weight, but the muscles are even more compact.”
Her muscles look great.
Red-faced, Colleen lowered her gaze. “Thank you.”
Why is she- Blast, I’ve got to be careful not to say whatever comes to mind. He cleared his throat. “Let’s get started,” he suggested. “Might as well start with Podidas.”
“No,” Abdulla broke in. “If you’ll check the list of randomly generated questions displayed on your screen, Mr Smythe, you’ll notice none pertain to Podidas. Or perhaps I’m the one who hasn’t noticed it?”
Blast. I was sure she’d know that one by now. Well, I don’t have to follow the test questions the computer picked; if she gets stuck, I can come back to Podidas. He glanced at the first question displayed. Too specific. I’ll open up the parameters. “Explain the maintenance schedule for a Purvis unit.”
The redhead sat back, her brow creased by confusion. “Which one?”
“Any of them.”
Abdulla gave him a brief glare before she told her underling, “Try the Purvis unit connected to the Cuevas Reverberater.”
I thought she wanted me to go easier on the girl? “Any of them,” Smitty repeated testily. “If you can’t remember Cuevas, pick one.”
Colleen stared at him, glanced at Abdulla, then frowned at the tabletop. After another moment, she began her answer, having chosen the Cuevas-related unit. At least she’s trying. She’s getting words strung together and saying them, which is more than she’s been able to do in the past. I knew if anybody could get her straightened out, it would be Abdulla. Can’t imagine it’s been easy, working around Colleen’s boy friends! He frowned at that thought. Forcing her to spend evenings with them after she studies most of the day. Who do they think they are, making that kind of demand on her time?
Startled, he turned to Abdulla. “What?”
“Did something about her answer displease you?” she asked warily.
Is she done? I didn’t hear more than a sentence or two. “No,” he answered. “If that’s all she’s got to say, then let’s move on.” Colleen looked worried, Abdulla was trying not to frown. All I said was if she’s done, we’ll go on. What can possibly be wrong with that? He sighed at the illogic of women and looked at the next question. “Describe the alignment process for a Hakitan harmonizer.”
Colleen licked her lips and began.
Such lovely lips. How can I blame any man for wanting to spend time with such luscious lips? I wouldn’t mind spending time with her. A few hours. Days. Years. Space, I can’t think such things! I can’t spend time with her! Not a single moment! “Is that it?” he asked, and realized she had merely stopped for a breath. “No, I’m sorry. Go on.”
Colleen rubbed her white face with a shaky hand and continued.
Now I’ve done it. Shattered her confidence, looks like. And why? Because I let my mind wander. I can’t stay focused around her. You’d think by now I’d have myself under control. She’s not for me. I can’t have her.
And so it went. He asked questions, but didn’t hear the answers, for his mind kept wandering. He continually stared at the beautiful redhead, which only made her more nervous and uncertain, until finally... “I... I don’t know,” she admitted.
“Mac!” Abdulla exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, Ab. I just can’t think-“
“We went over that this morning!”
“I know! I mean, I’m sure we did. I remember thinking you guys were being thorough. But right now... I can’t think!”
Smitty ran a hand through his hair. “What’s her score?” he muttered as he turned to stare at the screen and her accumulated score for the evening. He was surprised. Much better than she’s ever done before. But not passing, yet. A careful look showed that answers for individual questions had started as excellent, but had deteriorated quickly. Abdulla hasn’t graded her outlandishly well. Glad to know she can be trusted. Maybe she doesn’t realize how little I’ve paid attention.
“Perhaps we could come back to that one,” Abdulla suggested.
“Yes,” he agreed at once. “Good idea.” He read off the next question.
“It’s no good!” Colleen groaned. “I can’t think!” Her face turned beet red. “Not about communications.” She hid her face with her hands. “May I be excused?”
She’s in the middle of a test! If she’s not thinking about that, what is she thinking about? If she doesn’t pass, she’ll be out of here, and my life will be unbearable. “Wait just a moment,” he told her, and reached out to touch her arm. “Colleen, you’re close! Much closer than you’ve been before. I can’t let you leave without one last attempt.”
Her hands lowered to reveal huge green eyes. “What?” Her voice was tight.
“If you just-“
“Leave.” The lizard’s voice reverberated around the room. They all turned to the Scisson, who sat stiffly, a strange glint in his eyes as he stared at the redhead. “Leave now.” His nostrils flared.
Never seen him act like that before. The women sat in uncertainty until Smitty waved them out. The science officer started to reach as they went past, and the women skittered out the door together.
Smitty watched the other officer for several minutes, hardly daring to breath. With his strength, he could kill me with hardly a thought, but if he has a problem, someone should be here to call for medical help. Or a security team. I don’t think he meant for me to leave. Not repeating it. Does he expect me to do something? If so, what?
Slowly, the Scisson began to relax. At long last, he took a deep breath and sat back. “I had not thought that possible.”
The freckle-scales on the alien’s face darkened, the Scisson version of blushing. “I was... aroused. It has never happened before.”
A virgin? Or whatever they call the inexperienced? “Never?”
“Not with humans,” he corrected. “The pheromones have never been present.”
“Those are chemicals, usually olfactory-“
“I know what they are,” Smitty said. “I don’t understand how they could have been present this time.” He was staring at Colleen. “Perhaps it was Colleen’s perfume,” he suggested. It can set my blood on fire.
“MacDowell’s superfluous odor has never effected me before,” it returned. “Nor has Lt Abdulla’s. Even the presence of both has not had that effect on me.”
When has he been seeing Colleen? Other than a brief encounter at shift change? That must be it. Both women would be on the bridge at shift change. “If not perfume, what could have-“
“I have no answer at this time. I will need to think about it at length.”
“Can you control it?” We don’t need another Winthrop!
“The... condition was so unexpected, I refused to believe it was happening, almost until I lost control. I will not ignore the warnings, should it occur again. I will leave the area before it can get a firm hold.”
I’ll tell the captain; she hates being out of the loop. But he seems pretty sure of himself. “Not to be nosey, but perhaps it’s just... time for you to take a mate? Some creatures have a mating cycle-“
“Ours is much the same as yours,” Takor returned. “We reach maturity, and can mate whenever conditions are right. Until now, the lack of others of my race on this ship meant that conditions were not right. Unlike humans, we do not - can not - mate for pleasure. Children would be involved.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “This is a disturbing puzzle. If you will excuse me, I will go to sick bay and ask Dr Davis to run tests in search of clues.”
“Good idea,” Smitty stated, and watched the lizard leave. Then he turned and stared at the test still on his screen. What a mess. I had hoped to coax a few more bits out of Colleen, enough to get her a passing grade, even if just barely. She’d know she was staying, then, and could relax. A few quiet conversations would surely let me bump up her grade over the next 2 months, and she’d have a decent grade when I sent my report to Headquarters. Instead, Takor’s biology goes haywire, and she’s left with another failing grade. Didn’t even get a chance to ask about Podidas. He turned off his station in frustration.
When he stood, he realized Abdulla had left her computer station on. He reached for the power switch and paused. I could still do that. Save this score and add next month’s score to it. It’s not the way I’m supposed to do it, so I can’t tell anybody. But I’ve... bent the rules before, and have no regrets. But I’d seen promise in those people, and truthfully, I haven’t seen any in Colleen, since I’ve been avoiding her. Abdulla does. And Wilson. They’ve helped her study, so they should know. Of course, if I pull up this test next month, already half scored, Abdulla will know what I’m doing. He didn’t know whether to smile or frown. She can hardly object.
Making his decision, he had the computer save the test and shut down. Raising his eyes from the screen, he caught sight of something under a spare chair along the wall. Walking over, he retrieved a ball of pale green yarn with a crochet hook still stuck in a delicate piece of needlework. Who left this here? And when? No telling how long it’s been here. Large enough for the cleaning bots to consider it ‘not trash’, and bland enough to be ignored by a casual glance. Well, now that I’ve found it, what do I do with it?