Month 5, Day 20
Dr Drake MacGregor
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.