Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Simple Task

Month 5, Day 11
1426 Hours

The lift door opened, and he walked down the corridor to enter Quarters 42. Wondering which station to start with, he glanced at both, then froze as the door closed behind him.
Coleen was home, and asleep, but not in bed. Her arms and head rested on the desk; her red curls scattered across the area. She fell asleep studying. Poor girl. If perseverance and effort were all it took, she’d be there by now. “I really want to stay here. Just tell me what it’ll take... So what’s next, sex in your bed?” Of course, if audacity was the key, she’d have gotten there long ago.
Stop thinking such things. I’m here to do a job. She may have left her computer on. He stepped closer until an odor reached his nose. Whiskey? Another look at the desk revealed a half-empty bottle, while a glass lay on its side between the keyboard and computer. No wonder she fell asleep.
I can’t work with her sleeping right there. I’d wake her. Now, that’s tempting. Stop it, you idiot. Get a hold of yourself. More to the point, she’d be in my way, and a constant distraction. I’ll take her to bed. As lust flowed through his body, he clamped his teeth together. Put her to bed, he corrected.
He took a breath and willed his body to be calm before he stepped around the desk. He was used to seeing her in a red uniform, so the dark green lace she wore was a surprise. The smooth cream of her back emphasized the green. He swallowed. There was no hint of any clothing under the green lace. I can’t carry her when she’s like that and not succumb.
Somehow, he managed to pull his gaze away and scurry to the bedroom, where he grabbed a blanket off a bed. Returning to the living room, he hurriedly draped the blanket over her. Granny used to wear a blanket around the house, especially in winter. She called it a shawl, but it was a blanket. But Granny didn’t wear green- That’s enough. Just remember Granny, and let the rest of it go. Now get her out of your way and get your work done.
Having given himself a stiff talking to, his hands barely trembled as he bent to pick her up. All the right curves, and plenty of them. Startled by the errant memory, his grip faltered, and she slipped away, tumbled to the floor.
He watched in regret as she not only didn’t wake up, but rolled to her side, pulling the blanket over her and up to her chin. “No school, ma,” she mumbled. “Let me sleep.”
Things are never easy when they involve her. He knelt to make another attempt to pick her up, but paused, trying to forget the half-seen body he would soon be holding. Space, I need a drink. His gaze went to the bottle on the desk, but at this angle, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. A pool of pale liquid stretched from the over-turned glass to the computer base, where it had probably seeped inside.
Of all the blasted, idiotic things to let happen! “Colleen!” He shook her shoulder, no longer worried about her habitual lack of sleep. “Wake up! You’ve mucked up the computer!”
She sat up, but her open eyes were completely unfocused. “Not me, pa! I never touched it! Must have been one of the boys!” With a sigh of exhaustion, her eyes closed and she sank to the floor.
Pa? Ice slid down Smitty’s spine. She didn’t mean me. She was still asleep, dreaming of home. “Women can’t fix anything!” she exclaimed. Bugalu shrugged. “That’s how she was raised.” Is that her problem? A father’s cave-man mentality? He’s nowhere around, but if that’s how she was raised, I suppose some allowance has to be-
Her upper half was no longer hidden by the blanket, and he was off into a dream world of his own.
“Mr Smythe? Are you there yet?”
He almost snapped that he was busy, and the third party was not needed, but then he realized the voice had come over the intercom. All of engineering knows I came here. If I don’t answer, Peron might send someone to see what’s going on, and if that person saw her wearing... Oh, space. He raised an uncooperative arm to bring his wrist intercom toward his face. “Yes, I’m here.”
“Did you find the problem, sir? Do you need any help?”
Yes, definitely. Send somebody else, anybody else. Wait. And have that person find her practically naked? I don’t think so. “I’m... looking things over,” he managed to say, and refused to let his gaze return to the redhead. “I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, take the computers in this room off-line.”
He stayed where he was for another moment, trying to steel himself for embracing the woman long enough to get her to a bed. Even that no longer seemed like a good idea. Well, she’s not at the desk. If I can avoid stepping on her, and she stays covered, this might work. He fumbled blindly with the blanket edge, to pull it back over her top half. His hand brushed against smooth skin. Her nose? chin? something more intimate? He didn’t know, but he lurched to his feet, and searched his mind frantically for an opposing emotion as protection against her charms. He stared at the pool of liquid. “She’s made a mess of the computer,” he reminded himself.
“Not me, I-“ Her voice died away.
If she just stays asleep - and covered - then I might-
Suddenly, she was standing next to him, staring at him. “Oh, dear,” she breathed.
His head swiveled at the endearment, and his eyes started to lower for another peek of green lace. I don’t dare! He hurriedly bent to pluck the blanket from the floor, tossed it to her. “Cover yourself.” Grabbing the bottle from the desk, he started across the room, desperate to put some distance between them. I really need a drink!
“Smit?” came a tremulous query. “I... um...”
He stopped, the bottle halfway to his mouth. I’m on duty! How did I get into this mess? He recapped the bottle then slowly turned around. At least she’s covered. The blanket was pulled tightly around her. I can still see that she’s got a fantastic body.
“Um, why are you here?” she asked.
How long have I been staring at her? A simple task - a short in the computer -  and the fact that she’s here has me completely distracted. I should have been done long ago. What must Peron think? Everybody knows she sleeps days, if and when she sleeps. They must be wondering what’s taking so long. No, they aren’t. They’re sure they know. The rumors about me and Wilson were bad, but this will be 100 times worse. And not that far from the truth. If Peron hadn’t interrupted-
“Smit?” Her voice was so soft, he hardly heard her.
You’re a fool, Smitty. After this, the whole ship will know it. “There’s a short in your computer,” he stated. An idiot and a fool. Stop thinking with your hormones!
She looked confused. “Computer? No, it’s fine.”
He pulled his gaze off her, focused on the computer. Can’t she see it flickering? Well, not when she’s asleep, I guess. And definitely not now that it’s off. “Might have been when you fell asleep. But your drink spilled, and seeped inside.”
Her face blanched, and she whirled to face the desk in horror. Muttering in a language he didn’t know, she started to wipe at the puddle with the blanket.
He hastily looked away as she let go with one hand to make more of the blanket available. “Stop that!”
“But you said-“
“I told you earlier to cover yourself! I expected you to keep covered!”
“What?” She was confused again, and stared at him for a moment before she reluctantly peeked under the blanket at herself. “Oh!” She whirled and headed for-
“Where are you going?” he demanded. Idiot! It’s obvious!
She stopped and slowly turned around. Her face was red, and the blanket - now damp and mussed - was pulled so tightly around her that it seemed it must give up and rip into shreds. “I’m... I’m not dressed for company,” she said in a tiny voice.
“I’m not company!” he declared.
“You could. I mean... if you wanted.”
What’s she saying? That she’d welcome me as a guest, a... lover? He banished the thought. “I came to do a chore.” He approached the computer.
“I’m sorry I’ve caused problems, but I’ll take care of it.”
Take care of it! He stared at her in disbelief. She hasn’t even passed her communications test, let alone computers or engineering! Such a lovely face. Space, it’s hot in here. Got nothing to do with actual temperature, I bet. “Why are you here, Colleen?” he heard himself croak.
Her eyebrows pulled together in confusion yet again. “This is where I live.”
“I know that!” he declared. “I meant, why do you exist?”
Her face flushed as she struggled to say, “My parents love each other.”
A red-haired couple in the throes of sex- “No!” He thrust the mental vision away.
Her jaw tightened in anger. “You don’t know anything about them! I’m pretty sure Ma loves Pa, at least!”
“I didn’t mean that, either! Why are you on the Fireball?”
Her anger drained away, confusion was back. “I was transferred here,” she answered. Her eyes slid away from him in embarrassment. “Not that it was easy.”
Does that mean- “You requested the Fireball?”
“Umm...” She licked her delectable lips as she considered that question, and he had to pull his thoughts back to the here and now. “ ‘Demand’ might be a better word,” she admitted.
He was shocked. “You came here specifically to drive me crazy!”
That startled her. “What?”
Why can’t I keep my mouth shut! She didn’t know I existed before she arrived. She’s been driving me crazy, true. Now that she knows it, she’ll try harder. As if she needs to try!
“Bugs was here,” she stated simply.
His entire body turned to ice. Bugalu. That’s who she came to be with. If she flirts with me, it’s to soften me, get past probation. It’s nothing personal. She’s got no... feelings... for me. Having been pushed far beyond the point that any man should have to endure, he took a drink from the bottle in his hand. I should use a glass, or I’ll drink the entire bottle. He started for the liquor cabinet. No feelings for me at all.
“That’s the only brand I have, Smit,” she said.
“What?” He turned around, surprised she was still there.
“Of whiskey,” she stated. “That’s the only brand I have. If you want something else, Della has some, but I only have whiskey, and only that brand.”
Whiskey? He looked at the bottle. Oh, space. You’re on duty, Smitty. No time to get drunk. “I’m fine.” He recapped it. Better put this away; she sure doesn’t need any more. He opened the liquor cabinet. “I’ll have somebody-“ Wait a minute. On one side of the cabinet were single bottles of vodka, rum, and gin, with various levels of liquid. Those must be Harris’. On the other side were 2 unopened whiskeys. Of the same brand as I’m holding. That’s 3 bottles, all anyone’s allowed on ship. But I’m sure I found an empty of this brand outside these quarters that night she got drunk. That would have been 4. Too soon for her to get any from supplies, plus they don’t have this brand. “You must have laid in a supply on shore leave.”
“Of course.”
He placed the half-bottle beside its siblings. “How much?”
“I don’t remember the price I paid.”
How many have tried to play a game of innocence with me? Space, how many times did I play it with my superior, back when- “How many bottles did you get?”
“I’m only allowed 3 bottles of liquor at a time.”
So far, it’s a game. He closed the cabinet. “How many bottles did you buy?”
“Not as much as I’d wanted.”
She’s stubborn. “I see 2 and a half bottles in there now,” he stated.
“I’ve tried to be frugal.”
“Except when you fail probationals?” All the color drained from her face, and she leaned heavily against the desk. Why did I have to say that? It obviously distresses her. Or... is this more of the game? “MacGregor admitted you were drunk when you couldn’t report for duty. I already suspected it, because I’d found an empty bottle outside your door.”
She swallowed and barely uttered, “I have 2 and a half bottles.”
“The empty bottle I found was your brand.”
She took a deep breath and regained some composure. “Interesting. But I have 2 1/2 bottles.”
“Plus, you gave a bottle to Bugalu, just after shore leave.”
She gazed at him with a masterful look of confusion. “No, I didn’t.”
I know that’s a lie. “I caught you coming out of a jeffries tube with the bottle under your arm. You were on your way-“
“Oh, that. It wasn’t for Bugsy.”
Someone else? MacGreg? She wasn’t headed in the right direction. None of my business. Well, yes, it is, if it means- “Then you did bring more than 3 bottles on board.”
She studied him for a moment. “You said yourself, I have 2 1/2 bottles.”
She’s going to stick to that assertion. Knows better than to admit to anything I can’t prove. And I can’t prove it, because right now, she’s got less than 3 bottles. I can’t even prove there ever was a 4th bottle, because I don’t know who she gave it to. Without knowing that, I can’t prove she left the empty outside her quarters; it could have been... the other person. I don’t lose this game often.
“Go to bed,” he told her in resignation.
She stood up slowly, her face full of uncertainty. “Bed?”
How does she put so much invitation into 1 word? He cleared his throat and started for the door. “Get some rest. I’ll send... someone for the computer.”
“No need. I can-“
“You won’t!” he exclaimed, stopping short. “Go to- Get some rest! I’ll send a tech.” Green eyes blinked at him a couple times, and he turned to face her squarely across the room. I clean up my own messes. She didn’t acknowledge my instructions, so later she can claim she didn’t understand them. Sly little vixen, isn’t she? “Maybe you think you can wriggle around me, Colleen, but I’m watching you.”
She blinked again, then her face suddenly lit up. “You are? Good!”

He was shocked by her reaction. What does that mean? He turned and hurried from the room.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Just Another Day

Month 5, Day 11
1328 Hours
Smitty gulped down the rest of his coffee without tasting it, then reluctantly returned his attention to the computer screen. Never used to have trouble getting these blasted reports done, though paperwork isn’t my favorite part of the job. Jane’ll have my head, I keep this up. Maybe I should explain- Oh, yeah. Sorry my paperwork’s late, Captain, but I can’t concentrate because my minds’ full of lust for one of my subordinates. Yeah, that would go over fine.
At least she didn’t ask about Colleen’s test. I’d just as soon not hand her the same test 2 months running. Maybe she didn’t ask because she knows we didn’t finish. Blasted dreams. By the time my sleep-deprived brain remembered to tell her about Takor’s strange behavior, she already knew about it.
Now, there’s a double-standard. Jane’s perfectly calm about him getting aroused at Colleen’s test, but she’d read me the riot act if she knew how I felt about the girl.
“Mr Smythe?”
He looked up to glare at the speaker grate mounted next to his office door, then scanned the screens that displayed various views of engineering. Why is everybody standing around the power net display? “What is it?” he growled.
The door opened, revealing Harris. “Sorry to bother you, Mr Smythe, but Mr Peron would like you to join us. He says he’s never seen anything like this before.”
Peron rarely feels inclined to ask for assistance. “What’s the problem?” The prospect of a break from paperwork to do some actual engineering softened his mood.
Harris bit her lip. “There’s a... squiggle... in the power net.”
There’s a fine engineering term for you; squiggle. Wonder what she means by it. Surprising, really. Harris may not be the brightest, but she usually knows what term to use. He climbed to his feet. “Let’s have a look.” He walked out with her. “How long has it been there? How bad is it?”
His simple questions increased her nervousness. “Um. Ah. It wasn’t there when I went to lunch. I noticed it after I got back. And it doesn’t seem bad, but maybe that’s because it’s intermittent.”
“I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had it fixed, but it cropped up again.”
No, she probably can’t. She doesn’t keep track of details. “Any thoughts on this, Peron?” he asked the Argentinean as they joined the group at the display.
“I think it’s a short,” Peron responded. “But it doesn’t act like one, doesn’t look like one, and appears so randomly, I can’t get it isolated.” He pointed to the display’s upper left corner, where 1 of the lines writhed in slow motion for a second, and then settled into its normal path.
“Definitely a squiggle,” Smitty muttered. There is no official term to describe that. I’ll ask Harris to write a description, and help her finish the paper with an explanation of what caused it and how we fixed it. Once we do. Harris may have coined a new engineering term.
“You know what it is, Mr Smythe?” Peron asked.
“Nope.” One should never be embarrassed by a lack of knowledge when confronting the unknown. “Like you, I think it’s some kind of short. How often does it occur?”
“It varies,” Peron answered. “Anywhere from 5 seconds to 100.”
Definitely intermittent, too. That’s 2 points for Harris. And since she discovered it, “Harris, inform the ship that we need to deal with a technical difficulty, and their power needs may be shifted to the backup system.”
“Yes, sir.”
Smitty continued to study the display for several moments, letting the announcement sink into people’s awareness. “Okay, Harris, now I want you to-
“Sick Bay to Engineering,” came over the intercom.
Should have seen that coming. He touched the controls of the nearest intercom unit. “Engineering. Smythe here.”
“Smitty, what do you mean you’re switching us to back-up power?”
“MacGreg, are you in the middle of an operation?” he asked.
“No, but-“
“Do you have any patients on life-support?”
“Uh, no.”
“Even in those cases, you wouldn’t notice anything, because I know how to do it smoothly. Now kindly allow me to do my job.” He turned off the intercom. “Harris, put weapons on the back-up grid.” He waited as she completed the chore, but the main power grid developed a short-lived squiggle at the display’s bottom. “Move fabrication,” he instructed. And so it went, moving the various power users to the back-up system one by one, and then waiting to see if it effected the mysterious squiggle. For quite a long time, the squiggle continued to appear in the display at irregular intervals, at irregular positions, and even at irregular strengths.
This is getting disturbing. “Computers next.” That’s a misnomer. Even with ‘computers’ switched over to the back-up, most of the computer stations are still connected to the main power net.
“Squiggle on the backup net,” Peron stated.
It’s in the computers. That means- Wait a minute. He stared at the squiggle that had just appeared on the main power net display. “Switch computers back,” he instructed. Harris almost questioned his instructions, but chose not to. Everyone seemed to hold their breath, waiting to see what happened.
“Squiggle on the main power net,” Smitty observed, and then his eye was caught by another squiggle on the display. “Correction. Two squiggles.” Do I continue with slow and steady, or follow the apparent lead? “Switch everything except computers and miscellaneous.” Again they waited, then he turned his gaze to Peron. “I’ve still got squiggles on the main net,” Smitty stated.
“Back-up has been steady since you took computers back,” Peron replied.
It is a computer, though I still haven’t seen anything like it before. “Harris, move everything in the aft half of the ship to back-up.”
“Yes.” She’s wondering about the main computer banks down there. We all probably are. There’s few computer stations on those decks. “I still have squiggles.”
“Back-up is steady,” Peron returned.
So they continued, switching entire decks to the back-up system, until the squiggle moved to back-up when deck 4 was moved over. Now we’re getting somewhere. “Give deck 4 back to me, and just to be sure, put decks 1-3 on back-up.” He grunted. “I’ve got squiggles.”
“Back-up looks steady,” Peron reported.
Smitty had Harris move blocks of rooms to the back-up, and they finally had it pinned down. “It’s in room 42.”
“That’s my room!” Harris exclaimed softly.
Jones snickered. “Leave your curling iron on this morning, Della?”
“No!” she answered, then hesitated. “If I had, Mac would have turned it off.”
“Call me Mac,” came the woman’s voice. Flaming red hair, green eyes, white face with luscious lips, all the right curves and plenty of them. “You’re Colleen’s roommate,” Smitty realized.
“Yeah,” she confirmed, confused by his mention of that fact.
“I just... hadn’t made the connection,” he muttered. Nothing like letting everybody know she’s always on my mind. He turned and pulled a tool belt from the supply locker. “I’ll check it out.”
“Mr Smythe, there’s no need for you to do it,” Peron told him. “I know you’re busy. I can have Jones check it out.”
Not Jones! Smitty forced a smile. “I need a break from paperwork,” he stated. “All work and no play makes Smythe a grouchy man. It’ll just take a moment. The rest of you, get back to work.” He turned without waiting for any further protests and strode out, headed for the lift.
What am I doing? She’ll be there! Probably. Maybe not. But if she is, she’ll be asleep, since she hasn’t noticed any short. Wait, if she’s asleep, she’s not using the computer, which appears to be where the problem is. And Harris is on duty, so neither computer would be on. That is a puzzle.
Jane’s going to kill me over those reports.

The lift door opened, and he walked down the corridor to enter Quarters 42. Wondering which station to start with, he glanced at both, then froze as the door closed behind him.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Nightmare

Month 4, Day 30
2335 Hrs

“Isn’t it the cutest thing?” Abdulla asked her companions. Smitty approached them - Abdulla, Colleen and Takor - as they fussed over something one of them held. He couldn’t see what it was.
“Especially in the green outfit I made,” Colleen agreed. “I couldn’t have picked a better color.” She made ‘cootchey coo’ noises at the item, which Takor held, evidently.
“Thank you,” Takor told the ladies. “I am pleased with the results.”
Smitty reached the small group, and got a look at the focus of their attention - a small Scisson baby dressed in a pale green outfit and cap. “How did that happen?” he blurted out.
Takor looked up and responded. “The process is similar to that of your race. Or so I’ve been told.”
“It’s a fine specimen.” Abdulla let the tiny scisson tail wrap around her finger. “Like its parent.”
Uncomfortable in such unprecedented circumstances, Smitty tried to return to something more familiar. “We’d best get started. Are you ready for your test, Colleen?”
“Unnecessary,” Takor stated.
“She hasn’t passed probation yet,” Smitty reminded him.
“She has passed my test,” the alien returned.
Before he could snap that Takor was not in charge of communications, Abdulla exclaimed, “Oh, look! Now you can see its hair!”
Smitty had never heard of a Scisson having hair, so the comment made him take another look. The baby lizard’s claw had gotten caught in the crocheted hat and pulled it off, revealing that a halo of bright red curls covered its head.
Smitty sat bolt upright, breathing hard and sweating. No! It’s not possible. Humans and Scissons can’t- He took a deep breath, forced himself to calm down. It’s just the juxtaposition of tonight’s events; of finding Colleen is making a baby outfit right after Takor became aroused. I can understand my being aroused; just the sight of her makes my blood boil. But Takor isn’t human. Her fantastic curves don’t mean a thing to him. Or shouldn’t.
Dismissing the dream, and the thoughts that he felt explained it, he lay back down, rolled to face the bulkhead. She’s probably over there, spending the night with MacGreg. He frowned in the darkness. No, she’s with Bugalu. I saw her go into his quarters. He raised his head to punch his pillow and restlessly turned over, so his back was to the bulkhead. I’m an idiot. She’s on duty by now.
He was awakened by his bedroom door opening and the corridor light shining in. “What is it?” he asked, and opened sleep-blurred eyes to see a red uniform in the doorway. “Is there an emergency?”
She stepped forward, letting the door close. The last of the intruding light glinted among bright red curls. “I need some R&R.” He heard her uniform fall to the floor.
“I... can’t,” he managed to choke out.
“Bet you could,” she returned and started to lower herself into his bed.
Smitty woke again, to find his arms had lifted to welcome someone who wasn’t there. He scrubbed at his face and sat up. Okay, that does it. I’m not even going to try for any more sleep tonight.
He tossed his covers aside and sat on the side of his bed. I’ve read all my magazines. Practically memorized all my manuals. So what am I going to do? Standing, he pulled clothes from his closet and put them on blindly, not caring what they were.

Who in the old Academy gang do I owe a letter to? Stinky, for one. Oh, who cares if I owe them a letter or they owe me? At least writing letters is something to do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Abdulla’s Investigation

Month 4, Day 30
2049 Hrs

In the hallway, Abdulla and Mac looked at each other in mutual shock and confusion. “What’s going on?” Bugalu and MacGregor both asked.
“What just happened?” Abdulla asked the redhead.
Mac blinked. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen Tak act like that.”
Abdulla rolled her eyes. “I haven’t even begun to wonder about Takor! What happened to you? You were ready! You were the most ready for a test that I’ve ever seen a person be!”
Mac’s face went pink. “I... froze, I guess.”
“Oh, no,” MacGregor muttered, while Bugalu put a comforting hand on the Gaelunder’s shoulder.
Froze? Can’t blame her. First he distracts her by suggesting a tailoring session, then he comments about her muscles! Followed by all those cutting little remarks! ‘If you can’t remember that one, I’ll accept any of them,’ as if she’s a complete idiot! ‘If that’s all she has to say-,’ when her answer was absolutely thorough! ‘Are you done?’ when she’s only half way through the question. It’s no wonder she froze, but that doesn’t get her off probation! She looked at Bugalu. “Have you made any progress with this problem of hers?”
He grimaced. “It takes time.”
“Don’t blame him,” Mac stated. “I... I just couldn’t think.”
The girl had said that, just before- “About communications?”
Despite Smythe’s efforts, she started out fine. It was only later... “What were you thinking about?”
Mac’s eyes grew large, and her face went deep red. She grabbed Bugalu into a tight embrace, her face buried in his shirt.
“Not so tight,” he pleaded hoarsely.
Abdulla frowned. “I thought their relationship was too innocent to be believable.” She shifted her gaze to the doctor. “Just like the relationship you claim with her.”
“She’s my adopted niece,” MacGregor stated. “He’s her adopted brother. There’s no passion in that embrace.” He leaned forward and whispered, “She may have been thinking about a man, but it wasn’t either of us.” Seeing Abdulla’s uncertainty, he sighed. “Mac, talk to me about... oh, I don’t know... Podidas.”
She didn’t hesitate. “Podidas has a military hailing frequency of 60 megahertz. That’s what we would most likely use to hail them. The civilian hailing frequency is 16 megahertz. The Podidas language is derived from the Poston dialect of South Mars-“
“Blast!” Abdulla swore, interrupting the recital. “All right, Mac, we’re going to your quarters. We have to get this figured out and deal with it.”
“Della has a date,” Mac stated. “In our place.”
“Figures,” Bugalu muttered, and broke her grip on him to lead her down the corridor. “Come on, we’ll go to my place.” The group reached the lift, but they weren’t alone, so no one spoke until they got off. “Just what are you trying to do, Abdulla?”
They rounded the corner and entered his living room. “Try to figure out what Mac’s problem is,” Abdulla stated. “Then maybe we can figure out how to deal with it. But I can’t work blind, and she’s running out of time!”
“Sorry, Mac, but she’s right,” Bugalu said as he pulled her to the couch to sit down. “It’s men,” he stated, and Mac’s fists crunched handfuls of his shirt as they curled up. Her head was on his shoulder and her eyes were closed, as if she wouldn’t or couldn’t participate in this ‘meeting’.
“Men?” Abdulla repeated.
“Specifically-“ MacGregor began.
“That’s right, she’s not allowed normal relationships with men,” Abdulla remembered. “Her sexual tension must be horrendous.”
“Must be,” MacGregor agreed softly. “Especially-“
“Tell you what.” Abdulla sat at the desk. “Get un-brotherly with her.”
Abdulla smiled at Bugalu’s discomfit. “Kiss her. Let your hands roam. You do it so well.”
“She’s my sister!”
“Pretend she’s Ivy.”
“I’d rather not,” he declared.
She considered the pair on the couch. He’s sweating at the suggestion. Her eyes are open now, but she hasn’t moved away. She trusts him. Abdulla frowned at the thought. That doesn’t do me any good. She turned to MacGregor.
“She’s my niece,” he stated quickly.
“Coward,” she muttered, and stood up. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
Across the hall and down a few doors, Adams was surprised when she pulled him from his sleep. Seeing who she was, he very nearly pulled her into his bed, but she managed to get his finger bent the wrong way to get his attention. “What’s wrong with my place?” he asked as she pulled him along the corridor.
“Shut up,” she told him as they entered Bugalu’s living room.
MacGregor sat on the desk edge. “-unless you haven’t been-“
“Break it up, you 2,” Abdulla tossed at the couple on the couch as she let go of Adams and headed back to the desk seat. “Come on, Bugalu, move it.”
“Mac’s asleep,” he protested.
“Sleeps here, does she?” Adams asked, examining his finger. He glanced at the doctor. “Waiting your turn, MacGregor?”
“I said shut up!” Abdulla growled at him, and changed direction. “This is no time for Mac to sleep!” She pulled the helmsman to his feet, and the girl jerked awake rather than slide down the sofa back. “Sit,” she shoved the engineer onto the couch.
“Suits me,” Adams stated, and leered as he reached for the half-asleep redhead.
“Lay a hand on her, and it’ll get broken,” Bugalu stated.
Adams reluctantly pulled his hands back. “Why am I here?” he asked Abdulla.
“Adams,” Mac realized, and got to her feet.
“Sit!” Abdulla shoved her back down. “Tell me how to tune a kodalis receiver.”
Mac yawned, glared at the still-leering Adams, and answered the question.
No problem thinking about communications now. She turned to the helmsman and doctor. “Get out.”
“What did we do?” MacGregor asked.
“I live here!” Bugalu protested.
“You volunteered your quarters for this experiment,” she reminded him sweetly. “But with you 2 here, she doesn’t worry about Adams. So I can’t check my theory.”
“But Adams isn’t-“ MacGregor began.
“All right,” Bugalu decided. “We’ll go. Come on, Doc.” He paused at the doorway. “You’re on your own, Mac. We’ll be in the deck 7 recroom.”
As soon as they left, Adams leaned toward the redhead. “Never heard you were the kind who liked to watch, Abdulla, but Mac and I are going to have fun.”
“In your dreams.” Mac slid away from him.
“Every night.” He scooted closer.
“That would be a nightmare for me.” She slid further away.
“You haven’t actually tried it.” He followed.
She’ll reach the end of the couch soon. Tall Bear might have been a better choice; he can turn up the heat without trying, but I didn’t know where to find him. Adams will have to do. Abdulla headed for the desk. “Mac, describe the alignment procedure for a Purvis unit.”
“Back off, Adams.” Mac held the engineer away with a stiff arm, but having longer arms, he could still reach personal areas. “Are we talking brand new, or one that’s been in service for a while?” Her face might have been red from embarrassment or anger. Her voice said it was anger.
“Used,” Abdulla decided.
“Stop resisting.” Adams tried to wriggle closer, but Mac dug her fingertips into his bare chest for a better grip.
“After you remove it from service, jolt it 3 times, to remove any memories it might have.” Mac pushed the man away, stood and walked to the middle of the room. “Make sure the dial is on zero. If not, remove the dial, and put it back on so it is.” Ever persistent, Adams tried to slip his arms around her. Mac tossed him over her body. “Turn the dial 90 degrees to the right,” Mac went on, and pulled the surprised man to his feet. “Feed a 1-volt trickle in and see if the dial returns to zero. If not, move it to zero before shutting down the trickle.”
She’s not having any trouble answering. Maybe there’s no sexual tension after all. Abdulla sighed. “Mac.”
“Just a second.” The redhead twisted Adams’ arm behind him. “Now you- I said shut down the trickle, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Abdulla agreed.
“I thought I had.” She pushed the engineer toward the door. “Then you feed in 10 volts.” Abdulla hurried to follow as the pair stepped into the hallway. “-If you ever lay a hand on me again, Adams, I will break it!”
“Adams been bothering you, Short One?” came a gentle rumble; Tall Bear had just emerged from his quarters. Adams, sprawled on the floor, pouted but didn’t look injured.
“He’s trying, but he’s not as good at it as you,” the redhead stated, and returned to Abdulla. “When you feed in 10 volts, the dial should go 90 degrees left.”
“I wouldn’t deliberately bother you, Mac,” Bear stated softly.
“If that doesn’t happen,” Mac began, and glanced at the Amerind, momentarily distracted. “I never said you did it deliberately, Tall. You do it by being you.”
That was a spontaneous acknowledgement of his sexuality. Adams may not distract her, but she is definitely aware of Tall Bear, and that means-
“If the dial doesn’t go 90 degrees left, do a diagnostic,” Mac summed up, and grinned. “Or maybe just get a new one, because if it’s that screwed up, it won’t be easy to fix. Did I miss anything?”
“No,” Abdulla admitted. I was mistaken. Now what?
“Purvis units?” Both women turned to Mr Smythe, standing on the opposite side, next to Bugalu and MacGregor. “Sometimes you can’t just pluck a new one off the shelf. Sometimes you have to make do with what you’ve got. It’s usually a matter of a worn-out-“ He stopped, looking thoughtful. “Why don’t you tell me?”
What rotten timing. No, maybe this is good. Now she’s got her thoughts organized again, maybe I can convince him to consider this part of her test. If she just answers a couple more questions, she could pass. Not a great score, but she’d pass.
Mac’s face had gone white as she stared at her commanding officer. “That would be a... a worn-out... ah, ratio box gear.”
“Ratio gear box,” he corrected softly. “Completely mis-named, since it has no gears. But I actually meant inside that.”
Inside! What does he think she is, an engineer?
Mac’s face had gone even whiter as she stood, apparently frozen. “Inside the ratio gear box is a... is a...”
Is she going to answer? I’ve never gone over it with her! Maybe Ivy did, to satisfy Mac’s curiosity. But the question is far too advanced for a communications probation test! It’s more like... extra credit for some engineering test! If she does answer it, even half-way, I’ll push for an immediate end to this interminable probation!
“How would I know?” Mac exclaimed at long last. “Women can’t fix anything!” She ran into Bugalu’s quarters.
Abdulla stared after her as the door closed. She definitely heard it lock. “What was that about?”
“Papa strikes again,” came a bitter observation.
“I thought she’d him,” MacGregor observed.
“Might have, if she hadn’t suddenly remembered women can’t fix anything. Another dictate from her father.”
Smythe snorted. “Women are as capable as men! Some are more capable!”
“I agree,” Bugalu said. “But that’s not how she was raised.” He straightened away from the wall. “I’d better go calm her down.”
“I thought you 2 were going to the deck 7 recroom,” Abdulla stated.
“That’s what he said, but this was as far as we got,” MacGregor stated. He glanced at Adams, who was finally climbing to his feet. “Never expected Adams to come flying out, though.”
“I did,” Bugalu said. “Only I expected a more literal type of ‘flying’.”
“Do you need a doctor?” MacGregor asked Adams.
“My finger still hurts.”
“That was me, not Mac,” Abdulla reminded him. “Any bumps and bruises you have are well deserved. I don’t know how the women on midnight engineering put up with you.”
“There’s... only one on midnight engineering,” Smythe said, as if he had just realized it.
“Nobody thinks of Vogel as a woman,” Adams stated.
“Watch your mouth,” Tall Bear rumbled, before Smythe could speak.
“Anyway, Doc, about my finger-“
“I’m off duty,” MacGregor told him. “Go to sick bay.”
Affronted, Adams turned and walked toward his quarters, muttering.
“Are you done with Mac, Abdulla, or did you have more experiments?” Bugalu asked.
What’s the use? My theory doesn’t hold water. Adams didn’t affect her, even Tall Bear didn’t. When Smythe arrived, she reverted to her father’s caveman attitudes. As if Smythe would agree with those! “I give up. For tonight. I need to think about this.”
“Someone explain what’s going on.” Smythe folded his arms in frustration.
Abdulla’s attention landed on the green yarn he held. “Where did you find that?” she demanded, taking the needlework from him. “She’s been looking for it!”
“I don’t even know what it is!” he declared.
“A baby outfit,” Abdulla explained, giving it a critical examination. “Looks good, what little she’s got done. I saw her working on it - oh, weeks ago, but this morning, she couldn’t remember what she’d done with it. So where did you-“ She looked up, but Smythe had walked away, was already some distance away. I hadn’t even answered his question yet. Guess he wasn’t that interested.
“Baby outfit?” MacGregor asked.
“Sisters-in-law,’ Abdulla offered.
“Space, is she still doing that?” Bugalu took the crocheting from her. “Away from home 10 years, and she’s still following her father’s dictates.”
“Does seem strange, since she left to get away from him,” MacGregor stated, and Bugalu gave him a calculating look. “She opened up a little on shore leave,” MacGregor explained.
“It does seem customary in most tribes for other women to help an expectant mother prepare for her child,” Tall Bear offered.
“I can accept that,” Bugalu returned. “I’d have no problems if she could order a gift and have it delivered. But papa has decreed that it must be a hand-made baby outfit. The only good thing about it is that she finds crocheting relaxing. And under this much stress, she needs some relief.” He turned and headed for his bedroom door.
“She needs a nap before duty,” MacGregor reminded him.
“She’s probably already asleep,” Bugalu returned without stopping. “Computer, open the bedroom door of Quarters 57.”
“Voice matches,” the computer returned, and the door opened.
MacGregor turned to face Abdulla. “Now, as I was trying to explain, if my observations haven’t led me down the wrong path, it’s not all men who disrupt Mac’s thinking, it’s only one man. And it’s not me, and it’s not Bugalu.”
“And it’s not Adams nor Tall Bear,” she continued the list. “Then who?”
MacGregor opened his mouth, hesitated, and closed it. “On second thought, it’s not my secret to tell. Besides, I might be wrong, and then you’d be running down the wrong path.” With an apologetic smile, he headed for the lift.
“What were you trying to do, Abie?” Tall Bear asked.
It’s Abdulla! Although... somehow I don’t mind when Mac shortens it to ‘Ab’. “I was trying to figure out why Mac can’t pass her probation test. She knows the material!”
He cocked his head slightly. “Who asks the questions?”
“Mr Smythe. Why?”
Tall Bear grunted and mumbled, “Figures.” He turned away.
Abdulla quickly put a hand on his arm to stop him. “Bear, you sound like you know something.”
He hesitated. “I might. But she hasn’t confided in me, so I could be totally wrong.”
“At this point, I’ll take any clue you have. Mac is running out of time!”
He gave a short nod and turned to face her squarely. “Okay.”
When those brown eyes look at me, I just melt inside. I know he’s security, he’s a head taller than me, and I’ve seen how much he bench presses, but with him, I feel safe, secure, cherished... He’s the gentlest-
“Abie?” Tall Bear asked patiently.
Abdulla blinked. “What?”
He smiled. “Is that what Mac does? Get lost in her own thoughts and not even hear the question?”
She was embarrassed at having done it, let alone that he realized it. “No. Well, not at first. She did extremely well with the first question tonight, despite- After that, she made mistakes. A detail here and there, then more obvious ones, until she finally gave up, said she couldn’t think. About communications.”
“She loses focus. Where do her thoughts go?”
Abdulla sighed. “She wouldn’t say.”
He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Where did your mind go, a minute ago?”
“You. You haven’t asked me out in a while.”
“Would you like to go out tomorrow?”
“Dinner, movie and star gazing?”
“And your place?”
“We’d have to cut the star gazing short. Shall I pick you up at 1900?”
“Can you make it 1830?”

“For you, I will.” He straightened and resumed his normal voice. “Seems what you should do is figure out where Mac’s mind goes when she loses focus. And my bet is, it has something to do with how she was raised. From what Bugalu says, all Mac’s idiosyncrasies can be traced to her father’s over-the-top protection.”