Month 5, Day 20
Capt Jane Burke
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.