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.

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