Month 5, Day 11
By the time Smitty returned to Engineering, he was angry; angry at himself for letting any woman distract him so badly, angry at the Fleet for having such idiotic rules, angry at the universe for putting him in such a situation. The first person he saw when he entered was Ensign Jones, who had Harris involved in conversation, probably a highly suggestive one, knowing Jones, and despite the difference in their rank. But the name he barked out as he headed for his office was, “Harris!”
By the time he entered his office, she was only a step behind him. “Did you need me, sir?”
Need her! Is she asking- No, of course not. She knows better than that. She just isn’t sure why I bellowed for her. And I did bellow, let my anger show. But I’m on duty, and - like alcohol - getting rid of my anger will have to wait. He turned to face her, mentally shoving his ire to the back of his mind. He took a deep breath, let it out, and asked, “Was Ensign Jones bothering you with some unwanted attention?”
The question startled her. “What?” A twinkle in her eyes revealed amusement. “I know how to handle Jones. I do a lot of dating, but I don’t make arrangements for them when I’m on duty.”
He tried hard not to show his surprise. Over the years, he had seen her in the company of many different men off-shift. If she dates every night - or nearly so - and she doesn’t make arrangements for them during her shift, then when does she? Never mind, I don’t need to know. “It’s my duty to be aware of any harassment that might... happen,” he explained lamely.
“I know that, sir. And I appreciate the... concern. I admit, it took a while to get that message through to Jones, but he eventually understood. Men are all alike.”
A touch of anger escaped confinement, followed by the realization that all these years, that must be the way she thought of him. He turned to sit at his desk, realized the tool belt was in his way, and stood back up to remove it.
“Is that all you needed, sir?”
“No!” He blushed, realizing he’d barked again, lay the tool belt on his desk and sat down. “I understand Ensign Jones can make a pest of himself with the ladies,” he said, and remembered a particular incident. “When she first came aboard, I had to stop Co- Lt MacDowell from hitting Jones. So instead of talking to him about harassing females, I had to talk to her about being violent.”
“I heard about that. And I’ve seen her pumping iron in the gym. She could have done some real damage, if you hadn’t stopped her. Nobody realized that at the time, of course. And most men still don’t, because all they see is the shape and the face.” She went quiet for a moment, and then softly offered, “Well, not you, sir.”
What is she saying? That I can’t appreciate a fantastic body and a beautiful face? I can! And I do! He raised his head to snap at her, but stopped before the words left his mouth. She waited uncomfortably throughout the silence, while he stumbled through his mind for something to say. “If you know how to handle Jones, perhaps you should explain it to your roommate,” he finally mumbled.
“I hardly ever see her,” Harris stated. “And when I do, at least one of us is already busy. Opposing shifts.”
“Yes, well...” For some reason, the contents of their liquor cabinet kept coming to his mind. “Tell me, have you seen any indication that your roommate might be... alcoholic?”
Harris’ jaw dropped in shock. “Mac? I’ve never seen her take a drink! Sir.”
“But you hardly ever see her,” he reminded her.
“Yes, that’s true,” she admitted. “But after shore leave, she put 3 bottles of whiskey in the cabinet, and they’ve been there ever since. Unopened.”
Have I misjudged Colleen? I hardly ever do, but these days... “Not any more. Your roommate was-“
The office door opened to admit Peron. “Excuse me, Mr Smythe. I assume you fixed the computer and it can be turned back on?”
“What-“ Smitty suddenly remembered why he had gone to Colleen’s quarters in the first place. “No,” he grumbled. “Leave it off. For now.”
“I... don’t understand.”
Smitty sighed, picked his words carefully. “Lt MacDowell was asleep. It was hard to work around her when she was asleep at the desk. Despite my efforts not to disturb her, she woke up. I tried to explain that her glass had fallen over when she fell asleep, and the liquid had seeped into the computer station, but the conversation went... sideways.”
“That’s fairly common with that girl,” Peron stated.
“What?” Smitty demanded. Has he been seeing her behind my back, too?
Peron suddenly seemed uncertain of himself. “Uh, Wilson has been helping her study, and says that has to be on her guard every minute, or before she knows it, they’ll be deep in conversation about Kordalis receivers, Purvis units, and other things.”
“She’s in communications. She needs to know about K-receivers and P-units.”
“Not Borisky K-receivers or Schomberg P-units,” Peron returned. “She needs to pass communications before she tackles engineering.”
“True,” Smitty agreed quietly.
Peron relaxed. “Well, I’ll send somebody to fix the computer.”
“No!” Both of his underlings looked at him in surprise. Just the memory of the woman’s green lace lingerie made him sweat. “She was quite... shocked to find me - to find a man - in her room when she woke up. And quite right, too. I was just getting ready to send Harris to take care of it.” He picked up the tool belt and handed it to her.
She took it reluctantly. “Me, sir?”
That’s right, Harris isn’t the best with computers. But a short is a short, when it comes down to it.
“She can’t be alarmed to see her own roommate, if she should wake up,” Peron stated.
“Just clean the liquid out of the body, and test the connections for any lingering shorts,” Smitty instructed. “Now, unless there’s something else, I need to get back to this paperwork.” As the others started to leave, he added, “Harris, report to me when you’re done.”