Month 4, Day 30
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.”