Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pop Quiz

Month 5 Day 21
0123 Hours

Eventually, Takor realized that sleep would not visit tonight. It happened to every Scissan from to time. “Sleep over,” it uttered. As the lights came on, and the temperature began to rise, it climbed from the nest in the corner of the bedroom and moved to the closet. It is my own fault. The captain asked me to look into this matter and report back, and I have failed to make that report. I cannot make the report until I have adequately investigated. With the scissan equivalent of a sigh, it climbed into a fresh uniform and made its way to the bridge.

“Leave me alone,” it heard as the lift door opened.

“Bet that’s not what you told Old Man MacGregor, is it?” was the reply. “I can’t believe you were in one of Capac’s poker games, and nobody woke me up for it!”

“What I do on my own time is not your concern.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not on your time now. You’re on duty, and those files you have on your screen are not part of your work.”

“I’m studying.”

“How do you get such special treatment? Nobody gets to study on duty! Yet here you are, supposedly doing it, and none of the officers bat an eye at it!”

“Because Mr Smythe has given permission,” Takor stated, stepping in the direction of the communications console.

Lt Evans had been leaning on the equipment, facing Lt MacDowell, but now whirled to face the newcomer. Its eyes grew large. “Mr Takor,” the helmsman greeted. “To what do we owe this visit?”

The Scissan hesitated, not sure it understood the question. “Lt MacDowell.”

“Yes, sir?” It turned its chair to regard the lizoid.

“You are a communications officer. I find myself in need of your assistance in this communications endeavor.”

“What comm- Oh! Um, Lt Evans wants to know why you’re here, at a time when you would normally be safely asleep, and he wouldn’t have to worry about any higher officers making unexpected visits.”

“MacDowell!” Evans snapped.

The red lieutenant maintained its attention on Takor as it continued. “However, he carefully phrased the question to sound polite, because you are a higher rank than he is.”

Evans’ face had become a ruddy color that seemed an indicator of several different types of human emotion. Takor did not think it necessary to discover which emotion had hold of the helmsman. Nor did it feel it necessary to explain itself to the lower rank, since Lt Evans was not the reason for its visit. “I have come for you, Lieutenant.”

With a slight jerk of its body, Evans’ eyes grew even larger, and most of the ruddy color drained from its face. “Me?”

“No,” Takor corrected. “Lt MacDowell, I have questions for you.”

Lt Evans took a visible breath and its eyes returned to their normal size. “Ah! Well. By all means, I’ll let you two converse,” it stated, and hurriedly returned to its own station, on the other side of the bridge.

Lt MacDowell also took a deep breath and closed its eyes briefly before turning back to its equipment. “Thank you,” it muttered quietly. Takor was uncertain what would be a proper response, since it did not remember doing the red human a favor. It wasn’t even sure it was intended to hear the comment.

The Scissan glanced at the communications screen and noticed several files open, all regarding communications equipment or proper communication protocols. By the time Takor pulled a spare chair from the science console, those files had been minimized, replaced by a coded message that green eyes barely looked at before slender fingers began to work the controls. That message disappeared and was replaced by another, which she treated in the same way. “Some mail has come in,” MacDowell explained as Takor sat down. Her gaze never left the screen, and her fingers seldom paused. “What questions do you have, Mr Takor?”

“Perhaps I should reconsider my timing. I had not anticipated you would be busy.”

“Don’t worry about it,” MacDowell instructed as its lips curled into a human smile. “Mail doesn’t take much thought. I just make sure each piece came through uncorrupted, get it stored properly, and shunt a notice to whoever is the recipient. After 5 months, I almost think I can do this in my sleep. If I had to. Anyway, if I encounter a problem, I can always excuse myself from our conversation for a moment. Right?”

Again, Takor wasn’t sure how to respond, but before it could decide, MacDowell continued speaking. “In any case, I’d much rather talk with you than endure Evans. I haven’t seen much of you lately, so I’m wondering what kind of questions would have gotten you up in the middle of the night to get answers.”

As Takor watched the human work, as gathered words together. The coded messages ended, and the study files returned to the screen. “I am confused by the contradiction between Lt Abdullah’s opinion of your knowledge and your apparent inability to pass your probational test.”

The human exhaled audibly. “Yeah, a lot of people are confused by that.”

“I thought we might begin our conversation by you giving me a description of the alignment sequence of a Hakitan harmonizer.”

MacDowell’s head slowly turned to look straight at it. The human’s mouth widened into a grin that showed flat, white teeth as human fingers reached out, found the proper control without looking, and closed the study files. “You want to give me a pop quiz? Well, why not? You’re practically the only person aboard who hasn’t. Hakitan harmonizer. There’s two in use, so- No, I’m sorry, the Fireball has 3; it’s the tugs that only have 2. And it doesn’t matter which one needs it, because the alignment sequence is the same for all of them. Okay, I’ll start with once you’ve obtained access to the harmonizer, because opening a panel is the same as any other panel. Or did you want me to list which panels give access to the Hakitan harmonizers?” A faint beep emitted from the earpiece brought the lieutenant’s attention back to the equipment. More mail had arrived, and MacDowell processed it, even as it went on with the explanation. The description was clear, concise and omitted no steps in the procedure. “Now, did you want a list of those panels?”

“Another time, perhaps,” Takor replied. That was a good beginning. If this is an example of its knowledge, one understands Lt Abdullah’s frustration. However, 1 question is not enough to fully test one’s ability. “Perhaps you would now be kind enough to explain the function of a Kangaroo connector.”

MacDowell smiled as she reached the end of that spate of mail. “One of the more interesting names for a piece of equipment.”

“How so?”

“I always assumed the name came from the guy who invented it, like so many equipment names do. Then Bugs- somebody told me there was no Mr Kangaroo, that a kangaroo was a type of hopping mammal back on Earth. I had to go to the library and look it up before I believed him. Anyway, most connectors simply allow electricity to continue its passage unhindered. But the kangaroo connector only appears to do that...”

It didn’t take Takor long to realize that ‘quizzing’ MacDowell was a much more pleasant way to spend the night than laying in the darkness, waiting for sleep to visit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Month 5, Day 20
Dr Drake MacGregor
1857 Hours

Mac gave a huge sigh of relief as soon as Capac’s door closed behind them. Drake looked her way. “You okay?”
“I can’t believe I did that,” she breathed.
“I couldn’t believe you agreed to play. What got into you?”
“Fortunately, no one did,” she stated, and glanced forward and backward in the corridor. “Look, I’m feeling kind of naked. Is there a privacy room nearby so I can put my pants on?”
Naked! If she had on tights, she’d be as fully clothed as in uniform. More, really, since that shirt doesn’t show any cleavage. But vulnerable... yeah, I can understand that, after what she’s gone through in the last hour. He glanced around to get his bearings. “This deck is mostly quarters. No privacy rooms, but there is a small rec room a couple doors ahead. Doubt if there’s anybody there.”
“Rec room?” She looked at the corridor again, now that some of the panic had drained away. “This looks like... Well, all these corridors look alike.” She picked up her pace a little, and they were soon stepping into the small rec room where the upper limbs of several trees reached up from the arboretum on the deck below. “Oh, this place!” she exclaimed as they stepped inside.
“You’ve been here before?” he asked.
“I used to study here,” she revealed, dropping her shoes to the floor. “The light was good, there’s a computer console over there. I never saw anybody in here. And I found the presence, the smell of growing things... comforting.” She placed the bagged bottle on the nearest table and pulled her coveralls off her shoulder.
“Sounds ideal.”
“I thought so,” she agreed, but gave a little shudder. “Until Winthrop found me.” She turned a chair at angles to the table and sat down, stuck one leg into her coveralls.
“What rotten luck,” he stated.
She continued putting her coveralls on. “I wasn’t sure I’d get away without decking him. And since he’s Security, I wasn’t sure that would be easy. I was just getting ready to try it anyway when Smit walked in and hurried me off for a pop quiz.”
“Pop quiz? That doesn’t sound like Smitty’s usual style.”
She stood up, started working her arms into the coverall’s sleeves. “Maybe that’s why he changed his mind. Happily, he changed it after we got out of here.”
“That sounds more like Smitty,” Drake stated, stepping over to the dispenser. He requested a cup of coffee. “A pop quiz was his excuse for removing you from Winthrop’s clutches. Like a knight rescuing a damsel in distress.”
She paused in her efforts to get dressed. “A guy like that is usually more popular with the ladies.”
A movement caught Drake’s eye as he turned back with his coffee. There’s somebody here after all, hidden by the trees. I won’t mention it, or she’ll get embarrassed. If she does find out about them, I’ll pretend I didn’t realize they were there. “He plays by the book. Most of the women aboard are his underlings. Also, not his peer by rank. Two ‘official’ reasons for him not to see them as women.”
“Oh,” she said softly, and continued to struggle with her clothing, her thoughts apparently elsewhere.
After a long moment, Drake reached out to help, intending to pull the front of the coverall’s neck to help the sleeve slide up her arm, but she quickly stepped away. “I thought you needed help.”
“I’m sorry,” she returned. “Old habits. Not to mention brain washing.”
“Speaking of brain washing, there was a moment when I thought you were going to kiss Bugalu. What was that about?”
She grunted, finally got her coveralls on and zipped. “I was being perverse,” she admitted, her face going red. “Monroe made such a big deal out of Bugsy and me being lovers... I’m used to people thinking that, but she tried so hard to show me up, using my own supposed lover. And he’d made such a stink about me concentrating on the game, that I got miffed when he didn’t seem equally dedicated to-“ She sighed. “To saving me from my bad decision. I tried to get his attention off Monroe and onto me. That was so easy, I got... swept away. When I realized I was headed for a... place he doesn’t want us to be, I barked at him to focus on the game.”
Drake sipped his coffee. Is it Bugalu who doesn’t want them to be lovers? Or it the mutual agreement he says it is? He shook his head. “Playing with fire, Mac.”
“I know.”
“You really are going to ruin his social life, you keep acting like that.”
She retrieved her shoes, sat down again to put them on. “It’ll straighten out soon enough, once I’m gone.” That was little more than a whisper.
“Gone. Where are you going?”
She looked up briefly, her eyes bleak. “I don’t know. Where do people get sent when they can’t pass probational? Will I be dismissed from the fleet? Sent back to a tug, a lower rank?”
Drake stared. Is this why she’s been in such a foul mood? She’s given up? “You haven’t completely failed, yet,” he pointed out.
She glared at him. “I’ve failed four times! Even if I know the answer, even if I can find it in my mind, I can’t get it said! Not when it matters!”
Definitely touchy on the subject. Not that I can blame her. She has tried, stupendously hard. Gets a 100% day after day when she’s studying, but continually fails when Smitty asks the questions. And like she says, that’s when it counts. He sat down opposite her. “Look, I don’t know why that happens. Have you always had problems taking tests? If it’s nerves, I could give you something to help you relax for the test.”
“No, I haven’t. Used to ace them all in school. Pa started making little digs about how women couldn’t understand math like a man could, and I faltered, complained math was hard, and that seemed to make him happy, so I kept complaining. But I started acing math tests, again.” She paused to think. “I still complain about math.”
“So we’re back to square one.”
“Yes,” she agreed, squiggling her foot into the 2nd shoe. She pushed the bag of whiskey across the table. “Thanks for bringing this, Mac. Capac tried to give me a beer! Can you imagine?”
“Go ahead and keep it,” he suggested.
“I can’t.”
“Why not? Shore leave is over a month away.”
“Is it? I hadn’t heard. Haven’t paid any attention. I assume that will be when I get transferred off.”
“You can’t give up,” he told her, and pushed the bag back. “So keep this. If you insist, you can pay me back after shore leave.”
And she pushed it his way. “I can’t keep it! I already have almost 3 full bottles in my liquor cabinet. If I take that, I’d have to finish one tonight!”
“Don’t you work tonight?”
He took the bottle as his mind went back to the end of their last shore leave, and the massive amount of de-intoxicant he had had to give her. And that time she got drunk after failing her test. Bugalu had 2 empty bottles of her brand on his living room floor, and Smitty had another, which he claimed to have found right outside her quarters. “How many- No, I don’t want to know.”
“Thank you,” she stated simply. “Ready to take me home?”
Your home,” he clarified.
“Yes,” she agreed, going pink. “I hope you’ll be a gentleman and behave.”
“That’s another thing. Given your background, up-bringing, and what you’d just been through, you told Bugalu to stay at the game, but you walked out with me.”
“Oh. Yes. Well, it had only been a few minutes since I had... almost kissed Bugalu. I didn’t want to fan that... But I didn’t want to leave alone, in case someone followed me. I wanted somebody of rank, in case the follower was Peron. I hoped you were in control of your... urges.” She looked directly at him with those bright green eyes. “Someone once said men can control their urges, even if they pretend they can’t.”
Cheeky girl. Glad to know she remembers what I say, despite her father’s brain washing. “I’ll behave.” He smiled, and stood up. “What are you planning for the rest of your evening?”
She stood and headed for the door. “Going to bed.”
Now?” Drake asked as he followed her.
“Why not now?” she asked. The rec room door closed behind them.
“Because you’ve only got 3 hours!” Woops. The subject of sleep again. She got pissed when I tried to talk about sleeping habits this afternoon, and we’re talking about it again.
But Mac didn’t seem mad, just spread her lips in a grin that had nothing to do with humor as they reached the lift. “I have a fool-proof method to get up in time. It hasn’t failed me yet.” She stepped onto the empty lift and gave it instructions before he could follow. “Good night, Mac.”

Thought she wanted me to walk her to her place? But her actions are as plain as if Jane told me, ‘Dismissed’. “Good night,” he said through the closing door. Maybe she doesn’t trust of my behavior after all.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Capac’s Game

Month 5, Day 20
1857 Hours

As the last few minutes ticked by before the game was to start, the door opened yet again, admitting Tall Bear and Ferguson. Both frowned as they looked at the crowd gathered in Capac’s living room, then strode over to where Bugalu sat on the sofa. “How could you let her agree to this?” Tall Bear asked.
Bugalu glared at the AmerInd. No, it’s not his fault. He shrugged in frustration. “She’s cranky. Wouldn’t listen.”
“She’s been cranky lately,” Bear agreed.
“Maybe she’s tired of seeing you every lunch,” Ferguson muttered.
“I don’t think so. When she isn’t cranky, she thanks me for creating a no-hassle place for her in the middle of her shift. Anyway, knowing her, it doesn’t make sense for her to be at one of these games.”
“She doesn’t know the rules,” Bugalu told him.
Tall Bear turned his gaze to seek out the host, chatting with others a few feet away. “Is that true, Capac? You didn’t tell Mac the rules of your poker game?”
Capac turned to face him, tried not to look uncomfortable. “Everybody knows the rules.”
Bear’s stare became calculating. “Even the captain?”
Capac swallowed. “Well, I haven’t personally-“
The door opened again, and Mac walked in, stopped short at sight of the crowd, irritation plain on her face. Meanwhile, the men all stared at her. To them, it probably seems like she’s only wearing a pair of coveralls, but I’ve seen that shirt before, and it matches her skin color. Not sure why she bought it, but- I hope she’s got that shirt on.
Catching sight of Capac, Mac shoved her way over to him. “Capac, it doesn’t take this many people to play a game of poker.”
Capac smiled nervously, white teeth flashing in his brown face. “Most of them want to watch.”
“Watch?” she repeated, and looked around again. She scowled when she caught sight of Bugalu, and pointedly turned her back to him.
Yes, I’m here, Mac. Right now, you’re wondering what about this game you don’t understand, but you’re too miffed at me to ask. You’ll thank me later. Or be thankful, even if you don’t say it. Sometimes, brothers get taken for granted. Bugalu stood between the two body builders. “I’m not sure how to get her out of this,” he admitted in a whisper.
Ferguson responded. “She won’t stay, once she learns the rules.”
“If she weren’t so stubborn,” Bugalu agreed. “But she sees it as having made a promise, so backing out won’t be an option.”
“We’re here to help,” Bear muttered. “But if somebody else wins-”
“Whatever happens, she can’t wind up in the brig,” Bugalu returned.
“Right,” Ferguson agreed.
Mac considered the table with eight chairs, as well as what and who was behind each chair. “Capac, is this draw or stud?”
“Is anything wild?”
“Jokers,” the Peruvian answered. “Just jokers.”
“Is there anywhere in particular you want me-?”
“In my bed,” someone uttered, loud enough that everyone heard it.
Mac turned red, which revealed the shirt under her coveralls. “-to sit?” she finished.
“Wherever you like,” Capac responded.
Mac pulled out the closest chair, and several men rushed to the table. Bugalu was moved forward by the two big men. “You’re in my chair,” Bear told Ryan, who had the seat on Mac’s left.
“Out!” Ferguson pulled Jones from the chair on Mac’s right, then shoved Bugalu into it. Bear had resorted to the same tactics, removing Ryan to claim that seat.
“Hey!” Ryan objected. “I told Capac I was going to play! You guys didn’t!”
“Didn’t get a chance,” Bear responded, while Ferguson took the seat next to Bugalu. “If anybody has a problem, we can talk later, but we’re playing.”
Bugalu glanced at the other four men at the table; Zaire, Peron, Capac and... he couldn’t remember the man’s name, but he was from physics. All of them know their math. And Mac always complained Poker involved too much math. “Mac, I have to-”
She turned to Tall Bear. “Poker’s a white man’s game, Tall. Are you any good at it?”
“I do okay.” He looked past her to Bugalu.
“She’s not talking, not listening to me. I said she was cranky.” Mac whirled around, eyes flashing, her mouth open to object, then she closed her mouth tight and faced forward. She is really mad. If we weren’t caught up in this nonsense, I’d pick a fight and get the air cleared between us.
“Oh, my, I didn’t realize these games were quite this popular!”
Monroe had entered Capac’s quarters, and was now posing just inside the door. Having made her entrance, she walked to the table. “Capac, I heard you were hosting a game, and I thought I might join it.”
“Maybe you need more tables,” Mac suggested.
Monroe turned her blue eyes in Mac’s direction. “Oh, are you here? I didn’t notice you.”
“Capac, get up,” Bugalu ordered. “Liz is playing.”
The navigator was horrified. “But I’m the host. I always play.”
“Be a gentleman,” Ferguson said, “and let Liz play.”
“Have a seat, Monroe,” Tall Bear suggested, his dark eyes staring at Capac.
“Thank you, boys,” the blond purred as she took the chair Capac reluctantly vacated. She smiled at Bugalu. “I expected another date, Bugalu.” Her gaze veered to Mac. “But I hear you’ve been... extra busy. Maybe you should have her move in.”
Mac jerked at the suggestion, and her chair grated back an inch. “Move in!”
“Well, it would be more private than your quarters,” Monroe explained. “No Della walking in at the end of her shift.”
Confused, Mac turned to Bugalu. Confusion wins over anger. Temporarily, at least. “She means my days off, when I spend them at your place.”
Mac rolled her eyes. “Oh, that. You two always wake me when she gets home, with all that talking.”
Somewhere in the crowd, Ryan asked, “You bother to talk to Della?”
That explains why he isn’t the great success with women he believes he is. Well, can’t put this off forever. The sooner we start, the sooner it ends. He picked up the deck of cards and started shuffling. “Mac, we can still do something else.”
Her eyebrows drew together in renewed anger. “Just deal.”
He sighed. “Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.” He started dealing the cards, ignoring her thoughtful look.
Mac glanced at the table as she rearranged her cards. “How do we ante up? Where are the chips?”
“The fact that you’re at the table, ready to play, is your ante,” Capac told her. She frowned in confusion, but didn’t ask for more clarification.
Mac discarded four of the cards in her hands, and accepted replacements. After considering the additions, she grimaced. “I fold.”
“You can’t,” half a dozen men told her.
Surprised, she asked, “Why not?”
“It’s the nature of this game,” Bugalu told her. “Being ready to play is your ante, but you have to play the hand out. Each hand has a winner and a loser, and they can’t figure out your score if you don’t finish.” Bugalu collected the discards, added them to the unused cards, and shuffled. “You get one more draw,” he told her.
She sighed, picked up her cards and discarded 4 again. She hardly looked at her replacement cards before Peron stated, “I suspect I win this hand,” and laid down a hand that included 3 aces.
“That beats me,” Monroe declared, laying down a hand full of small numbers. The other men put down their hands, and none were better than Peron’s, nor worse than Monroe’s.
Bugalu held his breath as Mac put down her cards. Her hand was as bad as he’d feared. “Looks like Liz and I both lose.”
“No,” Zaire answered. “Monroe has a ten high card. Mac doesn’t even have that.”
“Fine, I lose.” Mac gathered the cards together to shuffle, then looked up, surprised that everybody was staring at her. “Now what?”
“You haven’t done it yet,” Peron observed.
“Done what?”
Peron grinned. “This is strip poker.”
Cards went flying. Mac whirled to face Bugalu. “You knew all along!”
“I tried to tell you,” he returned, his own voice raised. “But you wouldn’t listen!”
She muttered in Gaelic as she turned back to the table. The scattered cards were removed, and Capac set another deck in front of her. She grabbed his shirt and pulled him close. “You’ll pay for this, Capac.”
The Peruvian swallowed. “But everybody knows my games are strip poker.”
I didn’t,” she snapped, and pushed him away. “Get me a drink,” she instructed as she stood up. After removing her shoes, she briefly showed the footwear to Peron and sat down to shuffle. When Capac placed a brown bottle on the table, she cocked her head, trying to read the label. “What’s that?”
“Peruvian beer. You wanted a drink.”
“Yeah, but I don’t drink beer.” She returned to shuffling.
Bugalu gave the bottle back to the navigator. “She wants whiskey.”
“I don’t have any whiskey.”
“Here.” An arm appeared between Mac and Tall Bear holding a silver cloth bag that obviously held a bottle.
“I don’t think that’s your brand, Shorty,” Bear muttered.
“Brand doesn’t matter,” she replied, gently taking the offering. “Although there are a couple I drink only as a last resort.” She slowly lowered the bag from around the bottle, and stared at the embossed silver label. “Wow. This brand demands a glass.”
“Get the lady a glass, Capac,” Peron instructed. “Make it a big one.”
“Who-“ Mac began, turning in her chair, and stared at MacGregor, who stood behind her. Her face paled. “Et tu, Brute?”
Doc shook his head. “You told me alcohol helps you concentrate. When I heard you were playing poker, I thought you might need that. Even if you’re mad at me.”
“How many people are you mad at?” Tall Bear asked her.
She sighed. “The world. The universe.” Capac placed a water glass in front of her, and she opened the bottle. Bugalu watched, worried she might repeat the Horseless Carriage, but she poured less than a finger. Then she capped the bottle, slipped the cloth back up around it, and placed it on the floor before she sipped from the glass. “Thanks, Mac,” she tossed behind her, and rolled her shoulders before she began to deal.
“Can you focus now?” Bugalu asked her.
“I’m still mad at you.”
“I don’t care. We’ll talk about it later. Right now, play like you mean it.”
“You’re telling me what to do again.”
As Bugalu searched for words that might get through her anger, Bear softly said, “Please, Shorty, don’t wind up in the brig.”
She hesitated in dealing the cards. “You’re a lieutenant. You’re not in charge of security.”
“That’s right.”
“I’ve been so busy studying, I haven’t memorized the crew roster. Who’s head of security?”
“Definitely got to play like I mean it,” she muttered, and finished dealing.
Whether it was the realization that she’d be expected to strip, the alcohol, or the potential of landing in Winthrop’s home court, Mac was now paying attention. Monroe, on the other hand, seemed to try to lose. With the next two hands, Monroe removed her shoes and tunic. The men may have come to watch Mac lose her clothing, but having a woman almost as attractive in nothing but underwear made it hard for most of them to concentrate. When Peron dealt, Mac won the hand, Tall Bear lost. Instead of removing his shoes, the AmerInd removed his shirt. Mac choked on her sip of whiskey until Bear patted her on the back. That brought her close to his broad chest, and she abruptly turned to face Bugalu. As her red face began to fade, Bugalu saw beads of sweat on her forehead. Mac really is growing up.
Leaning forward, Doc muttered, “Thought you didn’t notice such things.”
She grimaced. “I’m my father’s daughter, but I’m not dead!”
“Glad to hear it,” Tall Bear told her with a smile, and turned back to the table. “Liz, it’s your turn to deal.”
Why couldn’t he have removed his shoes? Mac isn’t dead, and she is growing up, and now her concentration is shot. This is bad. She lost that hand. Absolutely white, Mac finished the liquid in her glass before she stood to remove her coveralls. Bugalu refused to watch - We don’t need lust complicating our relationship - but was aware of how slowly those coveralls came off. Probably seems like a strip-tease to everybody else. But she’s doing it so slowly because she wants so much not to do it at all. Maybe that’ll teach her to keep her mind on what she’s doing.
Eventually, the coveralls were off, and Mac sat down abruptly. Her shirt reached her upper thighs, so she was almost as dressed as she would have been in uniform.
“MacDowell,” Peron stated softly, his eyes glinting. “You’re mine tonight.”
“Peron,” Doc stated, claiming the officer’s attention. “Does the captain know you’re trying to get an underling into your bed?”
Peron grinned in response. “Does she know that you’re blatantly watching a direct underling lose at strip poker?” He indicated the blond nurse sitting beside him, who smiled invitingly at the Doc.
“Oh. Monroe. Checkmate,” Doc muttered. Monroe’s smile became a pasted-on thing, and her eyes flashed with anger.
While the cards were shuffled and dealt, Mac poured herself another half finger of whiskey. “I get the feeling I still don’t know all the rules of this game,” she whispered.
“The purpose of the game is to match a man and woman for sex.”
“Yeah, Peron made that pretty obvious. But how, exactly, does it do it?”
“It’s the last hand,” Bugalu told her. “The hand where somebody loses their last piece of clothing. The winner of that hand gets to claim the loser’s... affection for the rest of the shift.”
She picked up her first card while looking around the table. “Six to two. What happens if the winner and loser are the same gender?”
Surprised, Capac said, “It’s never come up. The women always lose.”
One corner of Mac’s mouth tipped upward. “Other women didn’t have my teachers.” She studied her hand. She sounds confident. Probably what she’s going for.
“I’ve been thinking,” Monroe suddenly stated. “It doesn’t seem like Mac’s been here before. I wonder if she’s here because she’s tired of you, Bugalu. She seemed pretty shocked by the idea of moving in.” Monroe leaned forward to enhance his view of her barely-contained breasts. “And she doesn’t seem eager to have you lose your clothing.”
“Me?” Mac asked, never taking her eyes from her cards. “I’ve got 8 brothers, Monroe. Bugs hasn’t got anything they don’t have.”
“Well, dearie, based on your reactions, that would imply that Tall Bear does have something your brothers don’t have.”
“He does,” Mac replied without hesitation.
“I do?” Bear asked. “What?”
“Visible muscles.” Mac regarded his face thoughtfully. “And a really nice tan.” She turned back to her cards. “Gaelunders don’t tan; we just grow more freckles until we look like we’ve got measles.”
“How many cards, Ferguson?” the dealer asked, returning attention to the game.
With this hand, Monroe lost her bra, which seemed to delight her. Now, that’s a strip-tease. The room’s temperature has raised 10 degrees, at least. She’s having the time of her life, with every man’s attention.
Tossing her lacy bra to the crowd, Monroe didn’t sit down immediately, but leaned across the table to get her face as close to Bugalu’s as she could. “You know, if she is tired of you, I’d be happy to take her place.”
Bugalu pondered several answers, from denying that kind of relationship with Mac to impolitely informing Monroe he wasn’t interested.
“What?” he responded, but still couldn’t decide how to answer Monroe.
Slim fingers took hold of his jaw, and his head was forcibly turned until his gaze landed on Mac’s green eyes. She flashed him a grin. “Remember shore leave? What we did?”
Nothing about shore leave struck him as particularly memorable, except- “We went dancing.”
“Before that,” she told him.
He drew a blank. “Day 2, I was aboard.”
“Before that.”
“You played pool and had another argument,” Capak offered.
Mac cast a milli-second glare at the Peruvian. “Before that,” she urged Bugalu.
“You went shopping with some of the ladies.”
“Before that.”
There wasn’t much shore leave before that. “You went shopping while I waited.”
After that. We were walking and saw this cute little place. We went inside and spent 3 delightful hours-“
Phybu! And she blasted near beat me!
“You remember, don’t you?” He nodded. She leaned so close their noses almost touched. “Do you know how I got so good at that?” He shook his head, as much as her fingers would let him. She gave him a sweet smile, but her voice had a touch of harshness. “I learned to concentrate! If I have to focus on this game, then you do, too. Otherwise, Peron might wind up with you in his bed!”
“You’ll never convince me those two are just friends,” someone stated.
“Yeah, you could see steam rising off them. His days as a free man are limited.”
“You did that on purpose,” he accused. “When that gets around, you’ll make a serious dent in my social life.”
Mac smiled at her cards. “Thought I already had.” The smile faded, as did her voice. “Doesn’t look like I’ll be here much longer, anyway.”
Bugalu picked up his cards. Okay, that’s her problem today. Not that Doc called her in for a physical, or that I told him how badly she sleeps. She went through a lot to get here, but she’s given up on making the grade. And there’s no reason for it! Abdulla and Ivy both say she knows her stuff. And now that she’s in my life - again - I don’t want her gone. It’s bad enough only getting to share letters with my real family.
“Focus, Bugs,” she muttered.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya,” he returned, and shoved thoughts of her imminent dismissal away.
Time drug as 7 players concentrated on getting the best hand they could. Monroe spent her time posing, which made concentration more difficult for 6 players. But finally, the men started laying down their hands.
The physicist had 2 pair, jacks & eights; Ferguson had a 7-high straight. Bugalu felt lucky with a full house of jacks and tens, but Tall Bear’s full house of queens and fives beat him. Zaire had an eight-high straight, and Peron triumphantly revealed four aces.
Monroe tossed in her cards - again small numbers - and turned to face Peron fully as she stood to remove her panties. “Guess you’ve won me, sir.”
“No. He hasn’t,” Mac stated clearly, and put down her first card; the ten of clubs. One by one, she put down the jack, queen, and king of clubs. She paused before revealing the last card.
“She can’t have a royal flush,” someone muttered. “Peron had all the aces.”
“Ace of clubs,” Mac announced, and put down a joker. “I won this hand. And since the loser lost her last article of clothing, this game is over.”
Monroe angrily declared, “I don’t do women!”
“Good, because I don’t want you,” Mac returned and scooted her chair back to rummage under the table. “The game is over, so I get to leave.” Her tone said she would not allow anyone to contradict her. “Blast, where is my other shoe? Oh, here it is.” She stood up with her shoes in one hand and the whiskey in the other.
Bugalu started to get up, but her wrist on his shoulder pushed him down. “No, don’t let me interfere with your social life, Bugsy. Play another game. Maybe you’ll win Liz. I feel like I’m forgetting something.”
“Coveralls,” Doc told her, and draped that article over her shoulder. “Am I forgiven for daring to worry about your health?”
She grimaced. “I suppose, as long as you don’t do it again!”
“I absolutely will not do it again,” he stated.
“Men always make promises they can’t keep.” She regarded Peron. “As it turns out, I am not yours tonight. Nor any other night.” She briefly touched Tall Bear’s bare shoulder with the back of one hand. “Thanks, Bear, Ferg.”
“Lunch?” Tall Bear asked.
“Of course.” She turned back to Doc. “Escort me out, Unc?”
“Happy to,” he agreed, and they started for the door.
Halfway there, Mac stopped. “Capac!” The navigator jumped at the call. “You’re still going to pay,” she told him and left.
“She’s spicy,” Peron stated.
“What was that about?” Ferguson asked Bugalu. “She won the hand, and it was like a switch suddenly reversed inside her.”
“Relief,” he answered briefly. She didn’t think she was going to get out of here without things getting nasty. I wasn’t too sure of it, either. “Suddenly, I don’t feel like poker. Think I’ll hit the hot tub.”
“I’m going to call it a night,” Ferguson decided.

“I got things to do.” Tall Bear stood, and they left, each going his own way once outside.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Unanswered Questions

Month 5, Day 20
Capt Jane Burke
1632 Hours

Conversation was definitely missing from this evening’s meal. Takor had excused itself in favor of ‘number crunching’, which she suspected was its favorite pastime. Both Duck and Smitty were unusually quiet, absorbed in their own thoughts. Smitty had become that way more and more often, and there were times when Duck was, too, usually anniversaries of important dates of his former marriage, though he would deny that connection. It was, however, unusual that both men were uncommunicative at the same time. She didn’t like it.
From the corner of her eye, Jane saw Bugalu and his redhead join Capac a few tables away, and she turned her head an inch for a better look. She looks upset. She is most mornings at the end of her shift, but surely she’s had time to calm down by now.
Come to think of it... She kept her voice quiet. “Smitty, has that redhead passed her probationary yet?”
His fork stopped stabbing cauliflower florets, but he didn’t look up. “No.”
He didn’t elaborate, eventually continued attacking his vegetable. I suppose that explains her new on-duty habit. Which Evans reported this morning, for the third time in a week. I said I’d investigate, and I have; she’s doing a better job now than she did before she developed this habit. It’s unorthodox. Even unheard-of. But surely she wouldn’t do it without- “When did you tell her she could study on duty?”
Smitty froze, stared at his plate of food. He cleared his throat. “Yes. I did.”
Then she is not doing the completely unheard-of without his approval. Still- She tapped his hand as it clutched his coffee cup, but kept her voice soft. “Try to pay attention, Smitty, I didn’t ask you if you had given her permission, I asked when.”
He’s the only one that matters!” the redhead declared, poking the air with her fork to punctuate her point. “If I don’t pass his test, I don’t pass! Period!”
After the excitement from the other table died down, Smitty mumbled, “That’s why.”
Which still isn’t the question I asked. It’s not usually this hard to get his attention.
“Stop telling me what to do!”
Jane automatically looked; Bugalu had his hands up in a conciliatory position. Everybody’s looking. She turned back to her companions. Except these two. Drake is in his own world, his bread half buttered, and Smitty... is still staring at his plate. But he’s not eating. From the tremor in his fork, he’s about as tense as a man can get. I haven’t chewed him out. The only thing different is... that redhead’s temper. If she’s that angry now, before her shift even starts, what will she be like in the morning? And why would her mood affect him?
I felt pity for her, when she arrived, because she seemed infatuated with him. Thought he’d never realize she was female until she’d given up. Has that happened? She’s given up, he’s realized she’s female, and now-
“Who says I’m not interested?” the girl demanded. “Maybe it’s just what I need!” She suddenly stood up. “What time, Capac?” After the navigator answered, she snapped, “I’ll be there!”
Jane could hear the girl’s footsteps as she stormed out of the mess hall. The noise of the supper crowd returned to something resembling normal, except for an occasional voice bespeaking a place in some poker game.
Smitty took a shuddering breath, let his fork drop to his tray. “Excuse me,” he muttered. “I still have last month’s paperwork to finish.”
“No, you don’t,” she told him before he could get up.
He stopped, a pink spot in each cheek. “Then I’d better get started on this month’s,” he stated, and reached for his tray.
Jane grabbed his arm, one finger bent so that her carefully trimmed fingernail dug into him. She leaned forward to look him fully in the eyes. “Do I have your attention, Smitty?”
He swallowed. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Lt Evans has tried to report that redhead you don’t want to talk about for studying while on duty. It is such an unorthodox thing, I assumed she wouldn’t do it without your approval, but I haven’t gotten a straight answer out of you all night!”
“I did tell her she could, captain, when her computer needed repairs.” His eyes rounded. “But I told her not to let it effect her work!”
“Relax. If anything, it’s improved her stats. She’s so eager to get back to studying, she handles her work load even more quickly and efficiently. When did you tell her that?”
His face went stony, his discomfort betrayed only by the stray drop of perspiration running down his brow. “Umm, it’s been a week. Maybe two.”
“Hasn’t her computer been fixed and returned to her by now?”
“I’m not sure. I could check, if you like.”
He normally knows the status of every repair ever scheduled. “Please do,” she instructed, and let go to return to her supper.
Smitty hesitated. “Captain, I was thinking... even if her computer has been repaired... that I’d continue to let her study on duty. As long as it hasn’t adversely effected her work.” She turned to regard him, and he went on. “I’ve never had a... subordinate take this long to pass probational!”
Yes, he usually cracks their shell long before now. But I didn’t think the redhead had a shell to crack. And there’s been some he hasn’t kept, but it didn’t take 6 months to get rid of them, either. “Edwards,” she reminded him. “Lewis. White. Ba-”
“Name them all, if you want, captain. They were not Fireball material!”
Interesting. “You think the redhead is?”
He didn’t answer right away, and his gaze started to fall, but he pulled it back up. “Others think she is. So I’ve got to give her every chance. Don’t you think?”
This is strange. He’s never relied on anybody else’s opinion about a new person. Wish I knew what’s in that engineering brain of his. “Okay, Smitty.” He gave a short nod, but she wasn’t sure he was entirely happy with her answer. And there didn’t seem to be any reason for him to leave, since he’d barely eaten half his meal, but he did it anyway.
Jane gave another look at Duck - still ruminating - sighed, and continued with her own meal.
Duck suddenly finished buttering his bread. “I won’t really know anything until tomorrow,” he muttered. He looked at the two empty chairs at the table. “You said Takor had something else to do, but I could have sworn Smitty came in with us.”
“Duck, you’ve been in your own little world. Smitty’s left already.”
“Have I?” the physician asked, taking a sip of coffee. “Guess that explains why this is cold.”
“Something I should know about, Duck?”
“Why should we both lose sleep tonight?”
Sure, that comment will let me sleep. “Talk to me about that redhead. MacDowell.”
“Now what’s she done?”
“Argued with Lt Bugalu.”
Duck winced. “He did warn me,” he muttered.
“Who warned you, and about what?”
“Bugalu warned me not to order her to sick bay for a physical. But I couldn’t get her there without making it an order.”
“I’m aware of your patient/physician confidentiality,” Jane stated. “However, as her commanding officer, I wonder if there’s a medical reason why she hasn’t passed her test.”
Duck shook his head as he cut his meatloaf into pieces. “There’s nothing that a few nights of good sleep wouldn’t fix.”
“And why can’t she sleep? This has become a chronic problem, one I expected you to solve some time ago.”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “She says bad dreams toss her out of bed. My guess? Possibly she doesn’t feel safe. Or something. Not a conscious fear, something seated pretty deep. Kind of out of my depth, but I did suggest she have a few sessions with Dr Fong. I don’t think she was in a mood to listen.”
“Is she suited for duty?” Hard to imagine she isn’t, after seeing how quick and efficient she is with her work.
Duck looked up, stared at her for some time. “I think if you take that away from her, she might fall completely apart. Because no matter how little she might sleep, she always arrives for duty on time, and somehow manages to be alert the entire shift.”
“Is that what she told you?”
“That’s what the ship’s records told me.”
Good man. “Well, perhaps she just needs some light-hearted entertainment.”
“Yeah, I told her that, too.”
“Then she listened more than you thought. She was perturbed with Bugalu, but seemed eager to join Capac’s poker game tonight.”
“Good.” He took a drink of his coffee, and suddenly choked. “Poker game! Capac’s poker game?”
“Ye-es,” she confirmed uncertainly, surprised by his sudden alarm.
Duck turned to stare at the chronometer on the wall. “I wonder when that happens?” he muttered.
“Nineteen hundred,” she answered. “Why? What’s so special about a poker game?”
“That gives me some time,” he stated, and returned to his food. “Capac’s games are-” He stopped and thought a moment. “Mac was mad at Bugalu when she decided to join the game?”
“That’s what it sounded like from here.”
Duck frowned. “So she wouldn’t listen, if he tried to explain. Guess it’s up to me.”
Jane’s patience was growing thin, her voice had an edge to it when she asked, “What about Capac’s poker game?”
“Captain-” Duck sighed. “That isn’t something you want to know about.”
Her jaw tightened. “Something you don’t think MacDowell needs to be involved in? But you’ll handle the problem?”
He slowly gave a nod. “Yes.”

She grimaced and tossed her napkin onto her tray. “Okay, then.” She got up and left. How can he believe I don’t know? I might have to reconsider my ‘blind eye’ decision, if Capac is going to rope in people who don’t know what’s going on.