Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Test 4

Unexpected Results
Month 4, Day 30
1959 Hrs

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.”
“But why-“
“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.
“Maybe that’s-“
“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?
“Mr Smythe?”
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?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Across the Room

Month 4, Day 30
Ivy Wilson
0810 Hrs

Ivy glanced across the room at MacGregor and Smythe. How long are they going to be here? I hope they don’t distract Mac. She knows her stuff, but if they break her concentration, she could lose her confidence. And she doesn’t need that today!
“I could almost think he’s here to spy on her,” Abdulla mumbled.
Startled, Ivy sent another glance their way, saw the 2 men move to the Attakke game table. Good. Off to the side, so maybe she won’t realize they’re here. Mac has a touch of tunnel vision, sometimes.
Mac entered, still in uniform, growling in her native tongue. “Watch your language!” Ivy automatically called across the room.
The redhead stopped short. “You speak Gaelund?” She continued walking.
Ivy grinned. Silly girl. The tone gave it away. “No, but from the tone of your voice, you obviously weren’t saying what a great day it is.” Looking thoughtful, Mac sat down, started growling again, then laughed. “Mac, really!” Ivy chided.
A red curl bounced out of the topknot as Mac shook her head. “That was a comment about it being a beautiful day. And you’re right, it sounded ridiculous!”
"Of course," Abdulla stated. "Don't you remember Tones and Inflections class from freshman year?"
"I guess I never thought of applying it off the job."
"For me, it’s become second nature. Before we get started, obviously something is upsetting you. Want to tell us about it so you won't be distracted? Evans and Adams again?”
“They were their usual obnoxious selves,” Mac stated. “But the reason for this bad mood is the letter I just got from ma.”
“Bad news?”
“Depends who you ask, I guess. My sister-in-law is in the family way. Again.”
That’s bad news? My family would rejoice.
“I thought they told you that 2 months ago,” Abdulla stated.
“Three months,” Mac corrected. “That was Sally, Kevin’s wife. This time, it’s Elizabeth, Derrick’s wife.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Their youngest is practically 5! I was sure they were done making babies!”
“Because they waited 5 years?” Wilson asked.
“I doubt it’s that simple,” Abdulla muttered.
“MacDowells don’t wait between babies,” Mac stated. “When their latest is about a year old, you start expecting the announcement for the next one. Their youngest is rarely as old as 3 before the next is on the way. But Derrick’s my oldest brother. They’ve already got a good-sized brood, and at their age, I thought they were done.”
“So it’s a surprise, but why be upset?”
“Because she’s expected to produce a hand-crafted baby outfit for each mother-to-be in her family, and get it to her before the baby arrives,” Abdulla explained. “Mac, I thought you had that under control, that you had a couple in storage with your mother.”
Mac nodded. “That was the plan. She’s got 2 of mine in storage, but that only gives me a short breather before I’ve got to do more, with so many sisters-in-law. I started one as soon as I heard about Sally. Unfortunately, I’ve lost it. Haven’t had time to figure out where or when. Now Lizzie, which leaves me no buffer. At a time when I was expecting to hear that Katie needed one!”
“Katie,” Ivy repeated. I knew she had a large family, but I’ve never heard her sling names around before. Just Matt, and he’s dead.
“Michael’s wife. If she follows schedule, I’ll be notified of her impending motherhood in the next-“ she did some calculations on her fingers “-2 to 3 weeks.”
“Oh, it’s a complicated thing I’ve concocted over the years.” Mac stood up and headed for the dispenser. “Surprisingly accurate,” she added as she punched in her request. “I may not be the brightest apple on the tree, but I know how to figure out a woman’s breeding schedule. Especially my own... sisters’.” Her drink in hand, she came back and sat down again. “What are we studying today? Want to start with Podidas?”
“Wait, what are you going to do about the baby outfits?” Abdulla asked.
“Nothing, right now. I’ve got at least 9 months. Well, 3, because shipping will probably take 6. And if I’m a little late, what’s Pa going to do, send me to my room?” She smiled at the thought. “Anyway, I’ll pass the test tonight, and then get started on that problem.”

“I like your confidence,” Abdulla told her. “But not Podidas. Tell me what Kodalis receivers do.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gentle Nudge

Month 4, Day 30
0809 Hours

Drake swirled the last of his coffee in his cup as they sat in the large rec room. "Why are we here?"
Smitty sighed in frustration. "I was hoping someone would be playing Atakke. It's an exciting game to watch."
Drake looked around the rec room, but the only other people present were Abdulla and Wilson, sitting at Mac's usual table, talking quietly. Wonder if he realizes- He turned back to the engineer. "It's early for the midnight people to be ready for games. From the looks of it, it's early for anybody to be here. But there's no reason why you and I can't try the game ourselves."
Smitty looked shocked. "It's a complicated game!"
"More complicated than engines? Or human bio-chemistry?" Drake asked, getting up. "Come on, before anybody shows up. We'll set it on 'easy' and try the first level. Maybe we're naturals."
Smitty sighed but came with him. "I'm never a natural. I'm always miserably poor at anything I'm doing for the first time. I always look like a fool."
"Then let's get that first time over before anybody comes in. Blue or yellow?"
Shortly after they started the game, Mac entered the room, growling in her native tongue. "Watch your language!" Wilson called to her.
Mac stopped in surprise. "You speak Gaelic?"
"No," Wilson answered. "But you obviously weren't saying what a great day it is."
Mac sat down opposite her two friends, started growling again, and then laughed.
"Mac, really!" Wilson chided.
The redhead’s laughter abated. "That last was a comment on it being a beautiful day, using the tone of voice you didn't like. You're right, it sounded ridiculous!"
"Of course it did," Abdulla stated. "Don't you remember your Tones and Inflections class from freshman year?"
"I guess I never thought of applying it off the job."
"There'll come a time when it will be... second nature. Now, before we get started, you obviously have something that's upsetting you. Want to tell us about it so you won't be distracted?"
After that, it was harder to hear what the ladies said. Like I thought, they're here to help her study for tonight's test. Hope they remember to leave her time for sleeping. And that those pills actually work so that she can sleep.
Drake turned his thoughts to the action of the game, which was fast-paced and complicated. Smitty - as he had expected - was absolutely miserable at it, although he was concentrating fiercely. At one point, Drake hazarded a glance at the engineer, who seemed to be concentrating so hard, trying to figure out what to do, that his reactions were slow. Smitty groaned as his major player in the game was killed. He had 7 seconds to choose a replacement.
“Why don’t you ask her out?” Drake asked softly
“Who?” Smitty returned, and had another player die during his distraction. “Blast!”
Why is he so stubborn? “Whichever woman has you tied in knots these days.”
“She’s a subordinate.” It was said so quietly, no one else could have heard it, even if anybody had been watching them.
At least he’s not protesting complete ignorance. “That doesn’t have to stop you. It can be done, if you’re careful.”
He could feel the engineer’s eyes boring into him as the game continued without direction. “Sounds like the voice of experience.”
Careful! Admit nothing! Why did I even start this conversation? “You just lost 3 men, Smitty.”
Across the room, Mac got up and headed for the dispenser. “Surprisingly accurate,” she said as she punched in her request. “I may not be the brightest apple on the tree, but I know how to figure out a woman’s breeding schedule. Especially my own.”
Startled by the topic of the women’s conversation, Drake moved a secondary player directly into the line of fire. “Space!”
Mac took her drink back to the table and the rest of the ladies’ conversation was quiet. Drake fought to recover from his loss in the game, but Smitty seemed unable to make his decisions quickly enough, and his entire team was systematically killed. “Okay, we were both pretty bad, but the first game is done. Care to play a second time?” Drake asked.
“Not now.” Smitty wiped his face on his sleeve. “Aren’t days off supposed to be relaxing?”
I’m not sure it’s the game that has him so tense. “Well, a change of pace, at least. Here’s an idea. Let’s hit the hot tub. That should be relaxing.”
“Fine. Whatever,” Smitty agreed, and turned for the door.

I think I need a talk with Mac, find out what the ladies were talking about. There’s no ‘breeding’ on a Fleet ship, so what was that about knowing her own breeding cycle? After her test tonight, I’ll see if she’s got strange ideas that need corrected.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Engineering Joke

Month 4, Day 20
1925 Hours

Time had gotten away from Smitty as he finished the missing reports for the captain. When Lt Wilson came on duty and found him still there, she had brought a tray from the mess hall, and then helped him finish up. Otherwise, he'd still be there, his mind wandering more than staying focused. A hot shower and an early bed was what he needed.
He turned the corner, headed for his quarters, but stopped when he saw the redhead sitting on the floor ahead. What's she doing here? At least she's awake. She isn't - she can't be waiting for me! Is she?
A door opened, and MacGreg stepped into the corridor, stopped in shock as water drenched him. "What in space-?"
Colleen laughed and climbed to her feet. "Happy Birthday, Mac!"
MacGreg wiped his face, then flicked droplets off his fingers. "Glad you didn't have any skunk oil left. But it’s not my birthday."
She stared at him with wide eyes of mock shock as a smile played with her mouth. "It's not? Then I'll have to find a better gift for when it is!"
MacGreg gave her a sharp look. "Now that I think about it, this, uh... gift... will do fine." She smiled as she closed the distance between them and gave him a brief hug, despite the wetness. "Okay, what's the real reason for this... shower?"
"I needed a laugh. And the look on your face! Thank you, Mac."
"Glad to help," the physician replied. "But you usually turn to Bugalu for things like that."
She scrunched her nose briefly. "I picked on him last time. Anyway, I was going to study with Ivy today and supposedly sleep this evening, so he's on a date. My plans got messed up, but I'm trying not to keep him from concentrating on Beth this time."
"Beth? Temple? My Beth?"
You’d think he was jealous of-
"You don't own her, Mac."
"No," MacGreg agreed at once. "Of course not. So your plans for the day got rearranged. How did you sleep?"
"Same as usual. More not asleep than being asleep. But I tried! I had to; Captain threatened to make it an order!"
"I heard about that. And I need to work harder on curing your insomnia. Those are my orders. Since we're both free this evening, let's discuss possibilities."
"Sorry, Mac, I can't. I had to cancel my time with Ivy, but I found someone to help me study this evening. First, I really need to clean up this mess. Somebody's left water on the floor, and I don't want anybody to slip and fall. Then I've got to-" She tipped her head back to study the corridor ceiling. "-figure out how to get that down."
Smitty tore his gaze off the girl's damp form and up to the ceiling, where a modified MN27 hovered above the doctor's doorway. "What in Black Space-!"
"Oh, dear!" Colleen whirled around and stared at him. Smitty was surprised how close he had gotten. There were only a few feet between them.
MacGreg turned. "Evening, Smitty. Didn't see you at supper. Mac just dumped the old bucket of water on me from over the door. Although, I don't see where the bucket went. Mac, I’ll lift you up to get that thing."
He'd love to get his hands on her! Smitty jumped up and grabbed the mini-grav unit with one hand. His mass bore the unit downward easily, and he shut it off, then studied the contraption at leisure. "Who taught you how to do this?"
"No one."
He gave her a disbelieving glance. She's not engineering.
Her face went pink. "I mean, um, well... no one."
Maybe she learned on a previous assignment.
"It looks complicated," MacGreg stated.
"Not really," Smitty returned, and handed the doctor various pieces as he took the thing apart. "An antigrav unit to get it above your door, a balloon to hold the water. Sensor to react when the door opens, tape to hold it together, and a tack to break the balloon. Simple, actually." I'm surprised no one's dreamed it up before this. I can expect a rash of these, once she tells them about this... joke. He hardly dared to look at her. "You won't do this again, Colleen."
"Umm, okay." She sounded distracted.
"I knew it was risky, getting one of his friends involved," she told the AmerInd brave. She doesn't always do things alone. "And you will not tell anyone else how to do it, either." She didn't respond this time, just stared at him. Like she did when she first came aboard. Space, let's not think about that! "Understood?" His voice was unaccountably hoarse.
"Of course she does," MacGreg stated. "Balloon explains the lack of a bucket. Mac, make sure no one slips on this water. I'll get a towel." MacGreg entered his quarters, leaving them alone.
Smitty couldn't help but return her stare. She is so beautiful. If she slipped on the water, I'd be happy to catch her. "Take her to bed," Captain Burke ordered him. "Oh, yes," he agreed readily.
"What?" Colleen asked.
"Bed," he reminded her.
"Oh." Silence returned.
What am I thinking? She's not for me! "I mean, did you sleep today?"
She blushed. "I tried."
Somebody interrupted her, I suppose. "The captain intended for you to sleep," he reminded her. "She practically ordered it."
"You can't order a person to sleep," MacGreg stated, having returned in dry clothing. "That's like ordering someone not to think about elephants. They immediately do. Likewise, when you order someone to get some sleep, they develop a bad case of insomnia." MacGreg handed a towel to the girl, who started mopping up the water. MacGreg stepped back, out of her way. "So you had to recruit someone to help you study tonight. Who did you get?"
"Steph and Russ."
"Who?" Smitty asked. She shortens everybody's name. I don't remember putting a Stevenson or Russell on that list I gave her.
She glanced up briefly. "Stephanie Freyer and Russ Xylander."
"I didn't realize you let men help you study," MacGreg stated. "Other than Bugalu and me."
"Russ has never asked me out. Now that I know why, we get along fine."
Smitty had already moved past Xylander, who was an adequate choice but hadn't been on the list because Abdulla had specified no males. "Freyer is only a technician. Of engineering."
Colleen's face, what little Smitty could see of it, went pink.
"It's a new thing Abdulla's trying," MacGreg responded. "Tag team questioning. All the helper - or helpers - need to do is read the question that the computer displays. Mac answers, the computer grades it. Pretty much like a standard probationary test, I would think."
Sounds like a good idea. If she gets used to taking the blasted test-
"Let's hope it works," Colleen breathed as she stood up, the damp towel in hand.
"It will," MacGreg stated.
If it works, she passes her test, and she'll be here indefinitely, making my life unbearable. If it doesn't work, she's gone, making my life unbearable.
MacGreg took the towel and gently turned the girl away. "Go study. But come to sick bay as soon as you get off tomorrow, so I can take another stab at your insomnia."
"Stab it, drown it, choke it. Anything to get rid of it," she stated as she moved off.
MacGreg chuckled. "That's the spirit!" He turned to consider Smitty. "Why can't you cut her a break? She's killing herself trying to pass your blasted probational test."
"It's not my test!" Smitty protested. "It's a Fleet regulation that she pass a test."
"A test," MacGreg repeated. "One presumes a communications test, since that's her field. Not a test with questions even Abdulla can't answer. Not a test that dips into engineering and who knows what else, but a test on communications, of the amount that one would expect a new lieutenant to know!"
"That's the kind of test I expect her to pass!" Smitty insisted.
"Are you sure? Because the last time I helped her study, the computer gave her a 99%. And Abdulla says her program grades harder than the actual test program."
"Abdulla never should have gotten involved."
"She's the senior communications lieutenant, she's supposed to be involved if a junior needs some help."
"I meant, she shouldn’t have gotten involved emotionally."
"Oh." MacGreg paused for half a breath. "Yeah, those things can get messy, emotions." He took a deep breath. "Look, if you want me to play table tennis, I decline. I'm on my way to the library for a fresh book. I want a quiet evening of reading and an early night for a change. Perhaps another time."

Smitty resisted the urge to argue as the doctor walked away. An early night is what I want, too. And I surely have a technical journal I could read. Or re-read. He turned and went to his own quarters.