Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Short Break

Month 6, Day 5
1905 Hours

When the door to his quarters opened, Smitty looked up from his computer screen. Tired and pale, MacGregor gave him a lop-sided smile. “I’ve escaped from Sick Bay for a couple hours; let’s play some pool.”
“You look like you need a nap,” Smitty observed.
“Naw. I catnap in my office, between patients. Right now, I need something entertaining.”
“Alright.” Smitty turned his terminal off. It’s been getting hectic, keeping a more-or-less full crew on duty for all shifts, with more and more crew members getting sick. As rough as it’s been for the rest of us, I can’t imagine how bad it is for the medical personnel.
Only one of the pool tables was in use, but MacGregor made a beeline for it. “Mind if we join you? Not sure I’ve got time for a full game of my own.”
Her pool cue clattered to the table as the redhead whirled and threw her arms around the doctor’s neck for a tight embrace. “Mac! I’ve missed you!”
Briefly, the doctor held her close, his face buried in her curls, then he withdrew to study her face. “You look worse than I do. You been getting any sleep?”
She shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
“You don’t get used to sleep deprivation,” he told her. “As exhausted as you’ve been, I expected you to land in sick bay with the first wave of illness.”
She sent a seductive look his way. “Not me. I drink so much, my blood is antiseptic.” She handed him her pool cue. “I was aiming for the 7, but if you’re really good, you could try for the 5.”
Anna chortled on the other side of the game table. “Drake’s not that good at pool. “What about you, Smitty? Show her how to put that 5 away.”
Green eyes looked his way in sudden panic. “Smit!” the redhead breathed in alarm. “I... didn’t see you!”
Of course not. She only had eyes for MacGregor. He felt a touch on his arm, and turned his head to find Anna standing beside him, offering her cue. “Mac’s a natural at this game, but needs more competition than I can give her,” she stated.
He took a look at the table. She’s right, the 7’s a middlin’ shot, the 5 more difficult. I’d have to bounce the cue ball off the 15 and the 11, and tap only the edge of the 5, letting it roll down along the bumper. And just the right force, or everything goes haywire. This kind of shot takes math more than anything else. He chose a position, mentally reviewed his calculations, and shot. Then he held his breath.
“Well done!” came a soft exclamation as the 5 dropped into the pocket.
“It’s a matter of balancing the force needed for the final target with-” He stopped as the smell of lilacs filled his nostrils, and he realized the warmth on his shoulder was probably not Anna’s hand. He stood, felt a confusing mixture of relief and chagrin when the redhead moved away. “It... takes practice,” he offered lamely.
Colleen grimaced. “Something I haven’t done, lately.”
“Likewise,” he agreed without thinking.
Somebody’s communicator beeped. “Blast!” MacGregor swore, raising his hand.
“Not yours,” Anna told him, and raised her own. “Humara.”
“Ferguson’s headed for Sick Bay.”
She sighed. “Well, hold things together. I’ll be there soon to see how things are going.”
“I thought Ferguson was days,” the doctor commented.
“Normally,” she agreed. “What staff I’ve got left has all been working long hours, and he and I have been working 12-hour shifts. Are any of my people approaching well, Drake? Otherwise, I may soon have to put peanut butter and bread out as meals for the foreseeable future.”
“Some who got sick early may be released tomorrow or the next day. Not sure who that includes. Now, if I’m going to play, let’s get going. Smitty took Mac’s turn, so that puts them on the same team. Looks like it’s you and me, Anna. Now, let’s see, what do I want to try for? Maybe the 2.”
“If you’re on my team, go for a stripe,” Anna told him. “Mac has solids.”
“Oh, right. Okay, the 10.”
Another beep, and they all looked at their wrist. It was Smitty’s this time. “Smythe.”
“Clines is down.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ll get someone there as soon as I can.” He turned to put the pool cue on the table, his thoughts turning to crew members. “Blast, Abdulla still sick, and now Clines. That leaves Chun, I suppose.”
“He’s asleep,” Colleen said. “I’ll go.”
How does she know? “What makes you think he’s asleep?”
She shrugged. “He sleeps immediately after duty. Says it keeps him on track, or something. He’s hard to listen to. But he’s asleep, and there’s no reason to wake him. Just give me 5 minutes to throw on a uniform.”
“You already worked extra this morning when Chun was late. He didn’t work a full shift, so-“ His wrist beeped again. “Smythe.”
“Chun is in sick bay,” Temple’s voice told him before the connection went dead.
“Oh, black space,” he muttered, and gave a nod to the redhead. “I’ll get someone there to relieve you as soon as I can,” he promised.
“No hurry,” she told him grimly. “I can get through until morning. I’s not like I’d sleep or do anything important.” She walked off, her hips moving seductively.
Smitty managed to turn back, to find MacGregor and Anna in a deep embrace. He couldn’t even wait until one girl friend left! “This is hardly the place for that.”
The doctor reluctantly broke the hug. “There wasn’t anybody here but Mac, and she won’t say anything.”
“I’d better go check on the kitchen,” Anna stated. “Good to hear there might be an end to this, Drake. At this point, I’d take a technician, if they were well.”
“Those who haven’t succumbed yet will, probably soon. And that includes you two. Just because we’re officers doesn’t mean we’re immune.”
“You know how to cheer a person up!” Anna groused, then grinned. “Check my medical record again, Drake. I had Stetson’s Measles as a baby. They say that makes me immune to several illnesses, including Verasis Flu. See you two later.” She also left.
“Hmm,” Drake voiced thoughtfully. “That’ll take some research; I’ve never heard of Stetson’s Measles.”
Smitty picked up the pool cues to put them away. “You didn’t get much of a break,” he observed.
Surprisingly, MacGregor smiled. “I got 2 hugs. Those are more refreshing than a game of pool.” He stared at Smitty coldly. “You might remember that the next time you see Mac. She’s reaching the end of her endurance, and now you’re relying on her. It wouldn’t kill you to give her a hug.”
Smitty stiffened in shock. “That wouldn’t be appropriate!”
“To space with what’s appropriate. You’ve ridden her mercilessly since she got here, been downright unpleasant, from what I’ve heard. Bend a little; let her at least know that her efforts during this crisis are appreciated! It’s the least you could do!” He took a calming breath and turned for the door. “Three new patients in the last 5 minutes. That I know of. I’d better get back.”

A hug! Maybe it is the least I could do. But is it the least that I would do?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Off The Record

Month 6, Day 1
Capt Jane Burke
1814 Hours

To the casual eye, Lt Bugalu didn’t hesitate to step into Takor’s quarters. But Jane’s was not a casual eye. He’s nervous. Wonders why he’s here. That I told him to come here, to avoid the rumors that might result from his coming to my quarters isn’t lost on him. That I appear to be alone makes him wonder - a little - if those rumors wouldn’t have been true. Sorry to disappoint him, but... Would he be disappointed? Stop it, Jane. Shore leave is coming.
“Have a seat.” She indicated the chair opposite the couch. He took the proffered chair without comment. Takor entered from the bedroom area as Jane paused. Bugalu relaxed half an inch further into the chair.
“Takor, I asked Bugalu here for an off-the-record conversation. Do you understand that term?”
“That he may speak freely, without fear of being insulting.”
Close. “More than that. I want to discuss rules I know not everybody follows. I am gathering information. I want complete honesty, and I will not use anything he tells me for any kind of disciplinary action. On the other hand, I don’t expect anything said here to be repeated elsewhere. Is that clear to both of you?”
Bugalu nodded. Takor hunched one shoulder in the Scission version of a nod.
“Let’s start with the rule against fraternization.” That caught Bugalu off-guard.
“Ironic,” the helmsman muttered. “With Mac aboard, I’ve cut back on that.”
Jane smiled. “I’m not interested in your activities, but since you brought her up, I’ll start with MacDowell.” That definitely has his attention. “When she first came aboard, a study of her record implied previous superiors had expectations she refused to fulfill. Do you have any knowledge of that?”
He frowned and muttered, “If she weren’t Gaelund, she might have been raped. But since she is Gaelund, she had enough physical strength to avoid it.”
“Is that what she says?”
“No. She doesn’t talk about it. A word here and there. Knowing her as well as I do, that’s enough for me to figure out what she’s had to put up with.
“Is she used to having sex with her superiors?” It’s good he’s sitting down. Even so, he nearly fell off his chair.
“No!” he barked, and took a deep breath. “Not Mac. Her previous captains were rough on her because they wanted to wear her down. If she’d agreed to sex, they’d have let up on her.”
She wasn’t their first victim, and if she won’t report it, won’t be their last. “Then she doesn’t make a habit of having sex with superiors?”
“Mac doesn’t make a habit of having sex with anyone.”
“You seem sure of that.”
“I know Mac. She adopted me as a brother back at the Academy.”
Even brothers don’t always know their sister as well as they think they do. “Then let’s move to Smythe.” I’ve never seen his brow furrow so deeply. Well, I can hardly believe I’m broaching this subject, myself. “As the captain, I seldom hear rumors concerning who is dating whom. By the time a person reaches Smythe’s rank, it’s hoped they’ve learned to be discreet. Plus, Smythe loathes rumors, so he’d avoid generating any. Still... Have you heard about him... seeing anyone?”
“Didn’t used to.”
“That implies things have changed.”
“Hmm, 3 or 4 months ago, there was a rumor, but no one knew who. If you discount Monroe’s claims that they’re lovers, which anyone with intelligence does. Those rumors petered out, but not before-“ His nose wrinkled in distaste. “Once, he went to Engineering and had Ivy - Lt Wilson, the evening supervisor - leave with him. People wondered about that.”
Mental note: Who is Monroe, and where does she fit in this? I do remember Ivy Wilson; Smitty’s spoken well of her. “People thought they were having sex?”
He gave a sour grin. “Enough did to cause Ivy embarrassment for days. What they really did was go to the gym to put variable gravity on one of the treadmills. But apparently, the gym was too busy, so they did it later.”
“Variable gravity on a treadmill,” she muttered. It sounds vaguely familiar. “Why would they do that?”
“It was suggested by Dr MacGregor,” Takor inserted. “MacDowell enjoys the variable-gravity weight station, and the doctor felt a treadmill with that capability would be good for her.”
“Mac loves it,” Bugalu stated. “Uses it every day.”
“Well, back to the subject. Does Smythe date subordinates or not?”
The negro shrugged. “I have no proof either way. He says no. I’ve never thought him the type who would.”
Is that the core of the Smitty’s problem? She cleared her throat. “Do you remember during dinner, we were talking about vivid dreams?”
“I remember.”
“Smythe had one last night that he thought was real. Shook him up rather badly.” She sank further into the sofa, not sure how he would react to her next question. “Can you imagine that MacDowell entered Smythe’s bedroom last night and asked him for sex?”
Bugalu stared at her with huge eyes for a time, then he swallowed, and shook his head in non-comprehension. “She did?” His tone said he didn’t quite believe it, but...
“He convinced himself it was a dream. Apparently, it started just like a dream he’d had before, so he decided it was a dream this time, too. Except... here it gets quite confused. He may have been the one who suggested sex, because he assumed that was what she was there for.” Again, she waited for his reaction.
It didn’t take so long this time. “Smythe dreams about Mac?”
Jane hesitated. That’s not what I wanted him to focus on. But he’s not stupid. “That’s what it sounds like, isn’t it? Does she dream about him?”
“She’d have to sleep, in order to dream.”
“That’s what she said. Then you mentioned daydreams.”
He grimaced. “I don’t know what else to call it. She’s not asleep, so she isn’t dreaming. But she definitely isn’t thinking about the subject at hand. I suspect it’s why she can’t pass her test. Because she can’t keep her mind on the questions.”
Takor shifted in its chair, tail flexing side to side. “That would be consistent with my observations of the last 2 tests.”
I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Just because the mixture is a Sciss sex pheromone, doesn’t mean that’s what she’s exuding during those tests. “Any idea where her thoughts are at?”
Arms on his knees, Bugalu leaned forward and stared at the floor. “She can’t concentrate whenever he’s around. If she knows he’s there. If she was any other woman, I’d guess-” His mouth tightened. “But she’s Mac, so that’s not possible.” He shook his head and spread his hands in defeat. “Still, it’s the only thing I can think of. So if I have to guess, I’d say she’s fantasizing about kissing him.”
“Kissing?” Is that a euphemism? “I told you, I’m not planning any discipline.”
“It’s just conjecture, anyway. I can’t get her to talk about it; I’ve tried. And if she won’t talk to me, she won’t talk to anyone.”
“But... by ‘kissing’, you mean ‘sex,’ right?”
“No,” he answered at once.
“Because she hasn’t got a clue what that involves. Because she was brain-washed by her father to believe it completely unacceptable. Because how could she get past the kissing stage of a fantasy when she has no idea what comes next?”
“How can she not know?” Takor asked. “The reproductive instincts-“
“Instincts are fine,” Bugalu broke in. “If you let them, they’ll take you all the way. But Mac’s father tried to drill those instincts out of her, so hers are pretty faulty. And her knowledge is non-existent.”
“But if previous supervisors tried to get her-“ Jane stopped, tried to figure out how to phrase her question.
“She’s not stupid,” the helmsman returned. “She knows sex exists. She just doesn’t know what it involves. Her father insisted no man could touch her, so she doesn’t allow it.”
The two lieutenants were scrunched together into a transport pod, their arms wrapped around each other. “She lets you touch her,” Jane pointed out.
He smirked. “I am not a man; I’m her adopted brother. And before you ask, she’s adopted MacGregor as an uncle. But even though she was asleep, she gave Tall Bear a black eye, and he swears he wasn’t getting personal.”
“Interesting,” Jane muttered. “Perhaps you can explain this, then. We found her asleep on the lift, and she didn’t react when Smythe touched her. No, let me correct that. His touch was becoming quite personal, and all she did was snuggle closer.”
She had stunned him again. “Way to go, Smythe,” he muttered to himself. “I was beginning to think Abdulla might be right, that he doesn’t like Mac.”
Something else to look into. It’s one thing to avoid her when he can; it’s something else to give the impression he doesn’t like her. “She was asleep in both instances, but she hit Tall Bear, and not Smythe. Sounds like it should have been the other way around.”
“Oh, she likes Tall Bear. I think she’d adopt him as another brother, but that isn’t what he wants. But if she’s day-dreaming about Smythe-“
“How would she know who is touching her while she is asleep?” Takor asked.
“That I can’t explain,” Bugalu responded.
The room was silent for a moment, until the helmsman said, “I’m not sure why we’re discussing this. Even if Smythe could get over Mac being a subordinate, even if Mac could somehow break her father’s brain-washing... They’d still be breaking regs, and you’d have to discipline them.”
Jane mulled that over. “The way I’ve disciplined you?”
His head jerked up. “We weren’t discussing me.”
“No, but you don’t seem to pay attention to a woman’s rank when you ask her out. Thankfully, I haven’t received any complaints about your behavior, and I’ve never noticed it influencing your professional decisions.”
“So...” He hesitated. “If they stayed within those boundaries, you’d let them... date?”
“I seldom hear rumors about who is dating whom,” she repeated demurely.
He gave a short nod, exhaled noisily. “It’s a moot point, anyway. She’s only got a month left of probation, and she’s given up.”
“So, she hits a bump in the road, and she gives up? Why would I want that type of person on my ship? Even if she does know her field, which I’ve heard she does know.”
Bugalu frowned. “You underestimate the size of that bump.”
“What do you mean?”
“If Mr Smythe had acted toward her like all those previous supervisors did, she would never give up, never did give up. Their behavior made her more determined not to let them win. In a weird way, she was thumbing her nose at her father. He told her to stay home, and she signed up for the Fleet.”
“I’m not sure I understand. She doesn’t want to stay?”
“She wants to stay. But this time, getting to stay pits her against her father’s wishes, not with them. Assuming that she’s been fantasizing about Smythe. Papa would not approve, so that part of her brain tells her to get away from him. She wasn’t interested in previous supervisors, so the two pieces of her brain could work together.”
Jane shook her head. “Sounds very complicated.”
“Humans are complicated,” Takor remarked.
“Especially Mac,” Bugalu added.
And now that Smythe is squarely facing this situation, I imagine he’s of two minds, also.
“Was there anything else?” Bugalu asked.
Jane looked up, wished she’d brought a beer with her. Or at least a mug of coffee. “How often do you think we could join you two for supper?”
His eyes were large again. “Like tonight? There’s not enough room for 5 to sit comfortably at one of those tables.”
“Actually, I intend for 2 of us to be uncomfortable.”
“Right now, neither of them is thinking clearly. My thought is, if they actually spend some time with each other, maybe they’ll calm down.” One way or another.
Bugalu looked uncertain. “You could be playing with fire.”
“You can’t protect her forever.”
“Are you sure she’s the only one who would get burned?”
No, now that he mentions it, I’m not. “It’s my job to make decisions. I thought once a week might not set too many tongues wagging, but I was hoping to shove those 2 together a lot more often than that.”
“There’s other activities,” he stated. “Although, lately, all she’s done is duty and study. And exercise.”
“Exercise? In the gym, I assume.”
“Yeah. She lifts weights under Gaelund gravity, so it takes Ferguson or Tall Bear to be her spotter. If she’s really given up, she might choose other pastimes. I can keep you informed.”
“Sounds good. Thank you for this meeting, lieutenant. The conversation has been enlightening.”
He took the cue and stood. “Yellow Dog always seems to know where Mac is. But I’ll do my best not to let you down.”

“I appreciate that.” Jane sat in silent contemplation for a half hour after Bugalu’s departure before she headed for her own quarters. I hope I know what I’m doing. Blast, I need a drink.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dinner Conversation

Month 6, Day 1
1656 Hrs
Mac propped her head on one hand while she prodded her oatmeal with the spoon in her other hand. Bugalu swallowed the last of his first taco. “Did you get any sleep today?”
She didn’t bother to look up. “No.” At the sound of his heavy sigh, she looked up, showing blood-shot eyes in a white face. “I tried, Bugs. I was in my bed by 0830, and I didn’t get up until 1555, but I didn’t sleep. Didn’t fall out of bed once. I just tossed and turned all day. Night. Whatever.”
“You can’t keep this up, Mac,” he told her. How long has it been since she’s gotten a decent night’s sleep?
“I won’t have to much longer,” she responded, returning her gaze to her oatmeal. “This is the beginning of my 6th month, after all.”
Sounds like she’s given up. Which isn’t like her. Any time Matt said she couldn’t do something, she did it anyway. Of course, she wasn’t as screwed up in the head at the Academy as now. Well, maybe a different kind of screwed up.
“May we join you?” Captain Burke had arrived at their table with her usual entourage. Burke sat down on his left without waiting for a response, while the Doc did the same on his right.
That left Smythe standing behind Mac, looking uncomfortable. “I’ll go-“ The engineer started to turn.
“Nonsense! There’s plenty of room.” The captain pulled a chair from the next table, placed it at the corner between her and Mac. “Just sit down.”
Was that an order? Sounded like one. Doesn’t give him any room to protest. Nor room to sit, really, since she isn’t moving over.
After Mac scooted over, Smythe to insert himself at the table. He started to eat, despite the close quarters, but the second time his arm bumped against Mac’s, they both gave up and simply sat, staring at their trays.
“You don’t look well, Ms MacDowell,” the captain stated. “Are you succumbing to the flu, like so many others?”
“Not yet,” Mac muttered.
“I’m sure that’s a relief for you, Smitty, to have one communications officer still able to function.”
“Of course,” Smythe responded woodenly, his voice even softer than Mac’s.
“But if you aren’t catching the flu, what’s got you so pale?”
Bugalu couldn’t see much of Mac’s face, but what little he did see started to turn bright pink. “She says she couldn’t sleep today,” Bugalu answered for her.
“Oh, insomnia,” the captain acknowledged. “That’s not good. Something must be bothering you. We have a psychiatrist on board, if you think-“
“No.” Mac shook her head. “I don’t need that.”
“One never knows, a few sessions might be beneficial,” said the man in the blue medical uniform. Bugalu’s head swiveled to see that it wasn’t MacGregor sitting at the table, it was-
“Dr Fong,” the captain named him. “Have you met our newest communications officer, Colleen MacDowell?”
“I haven’t had the pleasure,” the psychiatrist replied, and offered his hand to Mac.
Mac turned her gaze from Fong’s face to his hand, stared at it until Smitty hissed, “You’re being rude, C- lieutenant.”
Mac shot a quick look of fear and regret at the engineer, then shoved her hand at the psychiatrist. After one hurried pump of a handshake, she jerked her hand away, slamming her elbow into Smythe’s arm. As he grabbed for the painful appendage, Mac whirled and apologized profusely, her face the reddest Bugalu had ever seen it. Finally, Mac turned forward again. “I should go,” she whispered, grabbing her tray to stand.
“No,” Captain Burke responded.
That was definitely a veiled order. Mac stayed in her seat and folded her arms, presumably to keep from hitting anybody.
The captain went on calmly. “The fact is - as I understand it - not getting enough sleep makes a person even more susceptible to illness. So this is hardly the time for anyone to have insomnia, and yet, here it is, on my ship. It makes me feel a bit... helpless.”
“Understandable,” Dr Fong stated.
“It isn’t just you, Ms MacDowell. I heard that somebody else had trouble sleeping last night, too. I didn’t think anything of it; thought it probably normal for 1 person out of more than 400 to have that difficulty. But 2 on the same day? That almost sounds like the beginning of a 2nd epidemic.”
Fong shook his head. “There’s no evidence that insomnia is contagious.”
“Good,” the captain returned. “Then it must be coincidence. Still, I can’t help but wonder who that other person was. Maybe that person could use a session with you, Dr Fong, if something is bothering them.” She took a bite of her sandwich and chewed it. “Now it’s going to drive me crazy, if I can’t remember who.” She sipped her glass of tea. “Was it you, Lt Bugalu? Did you have trouble sleeping?”
“Not me,” he denied, surprised that the captain’s steel-trap mind could not remember a name.
“Well, it will come to me, eventually,” the captain stated. “Dr Fong, I’ve read that some people have dreams that they actually think are real. I’ve never had that problem, but is it possible, and if so, why would they have that experience?”
“It is possible,” Fong replied. “Although it doesn’t happen often. Not that’s been reported, anyway. The theory is that the dream concerns something that person wants very badly, but they don’t feel they can have it, or do it, in real life. If their desire grows strong enough, their mind accepts the dream as real, as a way of fulfilling that wish.”
“Aren’t they confused, to wake up and find they didn’t do it, after all?”
“Yes. Sometimes, the dreamer insists the dream was real, and feels lost in a world that doesn’t accept that. Some need extensive psychoanalyzing. Happily, that is a very extreme case of a rare happenstance.”
“I could wish it wasn’t so rare,” Mac stated quietly. “Maybe I could dream that I passed my exam.”
“But you wouldn’t have actually done so,” Dr Fong reminded her.
“I know. But... a girl can dream,” she muttered.
“A dream like that could give a person the confidence to do it for real,” the captain stated. “Right, Smitty?”
The engineer looked up, startled. “What?”
“We were discussing dreams, especially those that seem real at the time. Have you ever had a dream you would have sworn had actually happened?”
“Yes,” he answered without thinking, then seemed uncomfortable. “But upon reflection, I realized it wasn’t possible.”
“According to Dr Fong, if the dream seemed real, it involved something you badly wanted to happen. Knowing you, you were probably rebuilding the engines.”
“No, it involved a wom-“ He stopped, his face red.
“Whoa, that’s enough information,” Burke said with a smile. “Hang in there, Smitty. Shore leave is coming.” She took another sip of tea. “What about you, MacDowell? Are your dreams giving you problems?”
“I’d have to be asleep to dream,” Mac replied.
“Not necessarily,” Bugalu refuted, staring at her. “Sometimes daydreams cause more trouble than the sleeping variety.”
“She’s losing sleep because of daydreams?” Burke asked.
“She could lose a lot more than sleep because of daydreams,” Bugalu stated firmly.
Mac’s frown said she knew what he was talking about, even if the others didn’t. Once again, she gripped the edges of her tray, but instead of rising, she looked to the captain. “Captain, I really should go study.”
Burke glanced at her uneaten meal, then nodded. “Far be it from me to discourage a youngster from learning her field.”
Mac stood, but hesitated, her entire body trembling. “Mr Smythe.” Even her voice was vibrating, and was so soft, it could hardly be heard.
“What?” he croaked, picking up his coffee.
“When I... asked that question last night-“
The engineer choked on his coffee; Burke started pounding his back. Alarmed, Mac hurried away.
What was that about?
Smythe declared hoarsely, “It can’t have been real! She wasn’t late for duty!”
Confused, Fong began to mop up spewed coffee with his napkin.
“What did she ask you last night?” Burke asked with a final thump.
Smythe shook his head. “Best not to open that can of worms.”
Fong’s communicator beeped, and he raised it to his face. “Fong.”
“Sorry to interrupt your meal,” MacGregor’s voice came over the tiny speaker. “We need you in sick bay.”
“On my way,” the psychiatrist returned. He tossed his wet napkin onto his tray, inclined his head to the captain and was gone.
“I have work to do,” Smythe muttered, and stood.
“It’s your day off,” Burke reminded him. “And you’ve already made sure C shift is covered.”
“Then I’d like to go read.”
“Of course,” the captain agreed, and the engineer scurried off before she could change her mind.
Now what? Do I excuse myself, too? Burke continued eating, as if having supper with her helmsman were normal. If she makes a big deal out of it, everybody will notice, and rumors will probably start. Bugalu began his pie.
“I understand you’re close to MacDowell,” Burke stated as she finished her soup.
“Like an older brother.” He half expected she wouldn’t believe him.
“So I’ve heard.” She didn’t have any dessert on her tray, but picked up her tea for a sip. “I’d like to speak with you. Off the record.” I don’t remember the last time we spoke off the record. Shortly after I arrived? “But not here,” Burke decided, putting her tea down. “Come to Mr Takor’s quarters in an hour.” This gets stranger and stranger. Burke placed her napkin on her tray. “What an interesting conversation tonight. We’ll have to do this again.”

Bugalu watched her unhurried exit as he finished his pie. Do it again? Why did we do it to begin with? All that talk about dreams that seem real. Most of them seem real, when you’re in the middle of them. And what question did Mac ask Smythe during her test that mention of it caught him so off-guard today? I’ll have to ask Mac. He finished his glass of water and stood. I wonder what captain wants to talk about.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Month 6, Day 1
Chef Anna Hamara
1344 Hours

Anna put the last of the pies in the oven, set the timer, and walked over to the pale technician at the washer. “Are you holding up, Clark?”
The youngster gave her a lop-sided attempt at a smile. “I’ve been better.”
“You shouldn’t be here. You might infect the entire crew.”
“Where do you think I caught it? Anyway, isn’t the entire crew expected to catch it?”
True. “How are the dishes coming?”
“Unless Ferguson’s hiding some, this is the last. Mostly pans from the line.”
“Good work. If-“ Anna paused and corrected herself. “When you can’t take anymore, just let one of us know you’re leaving.”
“Chef, your staff is at half-strength now.”
“I appreciate your loyalty, but you also have to take care of yourself.”
“The line’s clean,” Ferguson reported, stepping into the kitchen from the dining hall. Without orders, he got a huge pot down from the rack, threw in some water, spices and two chickens from the frig, then set it to cooking on the burner next to the slightly smaller pot that was already simmering.
“I have broth cooking for sick bay,” Anna pointed out, surprised he hadn’t seen it.
“Eckleson from fabrication says Dr McGregor ordered the multi-purpose room converted into a sick bay ward. Considering how many people I’ve seen today looking white, I’m not sure one pot will be enough. We can always freeze it until it’s needed.”
“Good thinking.” She turned to the other tech, who was wiping down the main work table. “Gales, get 6 chickens from the freezer and put them in the frig to thaw.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She considered the few people she had left; Ferguson, 2 techs - one of them currently on an errand - and 2 ensigns. She clapped her hands for their attention. “Okay, forget what I had planned for the next meal. We don’t have the man-power. We need to simplify our meal plans and cut back how much we prepare, but be prepared to quickly produce more. Any ideas?”
Her staff was surprised, still getting accustomed to a chef who didn’t hide in her office. Ensign Pena finally spoke. “Tacos are simple.”
Have I ever put them on the menu in the past 2 years? Anna reviewed the necessary ingredients. “Simple, but we don’t have shells.” I hate to squash the first suggestion.
“We have plenty of the raw ingredients for them,” Pena returned. “They were the first thing I learned to cook.”
“Do they take a lot of work?” Clark asked.
“No. I learned this recipe when I was 5!”
“Okay,” Anna told her. “But you may have to stay late to teach the next shift.”
“If we make too much,” Pena added, “the extra hamburger can be chili tomorrow, and the shells broken into chips.”
“That’s thinking ahead,” Anna said with a smile. “What else?”
“We could make soup from some of this broth,” Ferguson suggested. “And sandwiches. One type per day, like ham and cheese, but different every day.”
“That’s enough for supper and lunch. What about those wanting breakfast?”
“Scrambled eggs.” Ensign Jang suggested. “Much easier than cooking them individually.”
“Good. That’s a protein, so we won’t do a breakfast meat. But the potatoes that are cooked for breakfast require more work than I think we can handle right now.”
“My mother puts vegetables in scrambled eggs,” Clark offered. “Corn. Peas. Even beans or carrots. Whatever she has a can of.”
“That would allow some variety from day to day, too.” Anna beamed. “And oatmeal for a 2nd choice. Thank you, people. I’ll remember to pick your brains more often. Ferguson, get things organized back here, and... better start another pot of broth. I’ll wipe down the tables out front.” She grabbed a clean damp cloth.
“Watch out for Mr Smythe,” Ferguson warned her. “He’s in a foul mood today.”
She turned back in confusion. “Why is he here at this time of day?”
“Since he’s not in uniform, I’d guess it’s his day off. He’s been sitting out there since just after 10.”
“He never knew what to do with himself if he couldn’t work,” Anna muttered, and started for the dining room.
Smitty was the only person in the dining hall, sitting at a corner table that had was pushed into the corner so that only one empty side was available, and that chair was missing. His shoulders were slumped in... boredom, probably.
Anna systematically wiped tables and put the furniture back into its normal arrangement. Eventually, that work brought her near the corner table, though she wasn’t sure what to say to him. She couldn’t volunteer to keep him company; it wasn’t her day off.
“I should resign,” he muttered.
“And give up the work you love?” she exclaimed. His back stiffened, and she returned to wiping the closest table. “If you think having 2 days off a week is bad, wait until you have all 8 off, with nothing to do.” She looked up, helpful suggestions in mind, but his look of forlorn misery made her stop. She pulled the errant chair to his table and sat down. “You’re not bored, you’re- What’s wrong?”
His head down, his hands fidgeted with the cup of coffee. His mouth opened twice, but no words came out, until - finally - “I’m the worst excuse for an officer ever.”
“Don’t be silly. Winthrop claims that distinction. You are a knight in shining armor, compared to him.”
His agitation caused oily-topped coffee to slop out of his cup, and he cast a furtive glance at her from under his eyebrows. “Don’t be so sure.”
“I’ve known you a long time, and-“
“These days, I don’t even know myself,” he answered.
I was like this. Pushed everybody away, felt sorry for myself. No wonder everybody left me to my own devices, if I was this impossible. Smitty tried the longest to cheer me up, but I wouldn’t let him. Hope he’s not as deeply entrenched in ‘woe is me’ as I was. Maybe a change of subject. “How did the redhead do on her probationary? That was last night, wasn’t it?”
If looks could kill, his coffee was dead 9 times over. “She failed.”
Ferguson had been sure... “That was 6 for her, wasn’t it?”
He sat bolt upright and stared at her in shock. “I did not!” His face turned red and his gaze slid away from her. “I... don’t think so.” His coloring drained and he shook his head as he lowered it again. “I don’t know.”
What is he talking about? He isn’t making any sense. “You don’t know what?”
“If we had sex,” he whispered.
He shouldn’t be confused about that, not with that redhead. She glanced around to make sure they were still alone, then leaned forward. “How can you not know whether or not you had sex?” It was hard to keep her voice low.
“Because she wasn’t there!”
Then what is he confused about? And why act so guilty? “Then it seems pretty certain that you didn’t have sex.”
“I mean... I don’t think she was there. I thought it was a dream. But it seemed so real! Maybe it was real. Then it returned to the same old dream, so she wasn’t.” He sighed in relief. “Nothing happened.” But he didn’t look up, and his brow furrowed again. “If nothing happened, if she wasn’t there, then why did she start to mention it when I got to the bridge this morning?”
He is definitely in a tizzy. I think we’re still talking about the redhead, although I’m not sure how we got from her test to last night’s dream. And I don’t dare ask for specifics. But if I don’t, how can I guide this conversation? “It was a... wet dream?”
He gave one short nod. “That one always is, even if I don’t... give in. She was more plain-spoken last night than usual. But I sent her away, I swear I did! She had to get to her duty station, and... But she didn’t go. Yet, I have no record of her being late for duty.”
“You’ve had this dream before. When? Is there a pattern?”
“After I’ve seen her. I’ll have it again tonight, I know!”
“This isn’t that big a ship. Don’t you see her nearly every day?”
“I try not to.” He did look up now. “Anna, I actively try not to be around her! It’s the only way to keep my sanity!”
That’s got to make it hard to be an effective superior. Oh! He is her superior! Otherwise, he wouldn’t be in this quandary. He could - discreetly - woo her into his bed, and get this lust out of his system. But he’s too much of an officer to even consider doing that with an underling. What’s different this time?
“Smitty, shore leave is coming,” she pointed out, without any hope he’d accept this suggestion. He canted his head slightly in confusion. She leaned closer. “If you want her this badly, get together as civilians during shore leave!”
His head jerked back. He looked insulted. “I will not!”
No, didn’t think so.
“Shore leave comes after her probation ends.” His gaze lowered once again to his beverage. “If she doesn’t pass, she’d be-“ he cleared his throat, “-moving on. To another assignment.”
“In which case, once she steps off ship, she’d not be your underling.” He’s actually considering that! But I know him. He’ll say she’d still be a lower rank in the same field, and dismiss the idea. Try a different angle, Anna, and hurry it up! “You wouldn’t do anything if she wasn’t interested, I know that.”
His face fell into glumness. “Scared to death of me, for some reason. I haven’t laid a hand on her! When she asked if I was the same as previous superiors - whose expectations were perfectly clear! - I curtly told her that wasn’t acceptable on the Fireball!” He paused, then went back to his original subject. “If she wasn’t there, if it really was just a dream, why did she remind me of it this morning? It doesn’t make sense.”
No, it doesn’t. “What exactly did she say?”
“She said, ‘About last night-‘. And then I stopped her. I couldn’t have the entire bridge know she came to my quarters last night!”
If it was a dream, that wasn’t what she was talking about. “Perhaps she was trying to say something about her test.”
He grimaced. “That went as poorly as they all have. Half the questions were ones she answered last month, and then Takor interrupted the procedure, so I couldn’t even splice-“ He stopped, looked up in alarm.
Anna smiled. “This is me, Smitty. You couldn’t do what?”
He swallowed and looked around the room. “I couldn’t splice her answers to two tests together to give her a passing grade. There weren’t enough questions, different questions, to get to a passing grade.”
Not regulation, but it sounds like something he might do. “So you actually want her to pass her probation?”
His eyebrows drew together as he gave her a bleak look. “I’m spaced if she does, and spaced if she doesn’t.”
“Smitty, is she interested in you?”
“She’s got... other men. Doesn’t need me. Even if she’s asked me-“
“Asked you what?” Anna urged.
“For sex.”
“In your dream?”
“And last shore leave. Called it R&R, like her previous superiors did. When she refused, she was kept on ship during all the shore leaves, so-“ He considered his coffee once more. “I may have been the one to suggest sex,” he admitted.
“Last shore leave?”
“No, I still had will power then. Last night, when she came to-“
“That was a dream,” she reminded him.
“Oh. Yes. We established that, didn’t we?”
A timer sounded in the kitchen. “My pies.” Anna stood up.
“I got it!” Ferguson called out.
Smitty placed a hand on her arm. “Sorry to burden you with my problems, Anna. It’s good to have someone to talk to. How long until lunch? I’m hungry.”
Anna patted his shoulder. “Smitty, you missed lunch. We’re working on supper. But there’s pie or cake, if you want a snack.”
“Supper? Well, at least most of the day is over,” he muttered, and raised the cup to his mouth. “Blast, that’s stone cold!”
Anna finished the dining room and went back to the kitchen, her thoughts in a whirl. So, Smitty’s gone from turning her down to suggesting sex himself, even if only in his dream. Was the girl testing him, so soon after she came aboard? Could be. He’s really got it bad. I’ve never seen him so preoccupied, he’s forgotten to drink his coffee, not even when he’s working. This could get nasty, especially if MacDowell isn’t interested.
How can I possibly go to the girl and ask what her feelings are? I doubt she sees me as a confident. Jane knows her officers are people, and how to turn a blind eye, but won’t if one of them complains. Left me and Michael alone, until he started-. Smitty would never be like that. Wonder what she thinks of Smitty with Colleen. Does she know what he’s going through?
“Chef, I think the lettuce has surrendered.”
“What?” She looked up into Ferguson’s smiling eyes.
“You’ve been staring at that head of lettuce with the knife poised above it for several minutes.”

She glanced around the kitchen. Everybody was working. The lettuce, she decided, could wait. “I need to... consult somebody. I’ll be back shortly.” She went out the kitchen’s back door and headed for the bridge.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Theory

Month 6, Day 1
Capt Jane Burke
0756 Hrs

Jane was a little surprised to see Takor on the bridge when she arrived. However, she had already received a snarled ‘no’ when she asked Smythe over breakfast whether MacDowell had passed last night. Takor had been sure she would, so perhaps it was trying to ascertain what it was about the chief engineer that kept the girl from remembering what everybody else said she knew. After seeing Smythe’s mood that morning, Jane hadn’t asked for details, but perhaps Takor could fill her in before it went to bed.
Jane sat in her command chair and slowly rotated, watching all the various shift change procedures taking place. Abdulla looked abnormally pale, and it was the redhead who seemed to be actually doing the shift-change procedure for communications as the women talked, but Jane didn’t give it much thought until she heard Abdulla demand, “How can you be so stubborn?” And then, “Mr Smythe! Would you please tell Mac- Dowell that I am here for my shift - as much of it as I can manage - so she can leave?”
Smythe had not been coming to the bridge in the mornings, so Jane was surprised to hear his name used. A glance toward the lift revealed Smitty staring at the communications officers, his own face white except for two bright red flags on his cheeks. He stepped toward them on wooden legs.
Abdulla said something, but Jane couldn’t tell if Smitty heard her. Then the redhead opened her mouth, but only got out 3 words before the engineer help up a hand to stop her. “Not another word,” he said. “Is the change of shift procedure completed?”
“Yes,” Abdulla stated, while the redhead-
Takor suddenly bolted away from the communications console. The lizoid didn’t even hesitate as it grabbed Jane’s arm, and hurried her toward her ready room. “I must speak with you!” it exclaimed, its voice thick and labored.
“But-“ Jane started to protest, then marveled at the alien’s strength, to force-march her across the bridge with hardly any effort.
They entered her office and Takor released her arm as the door closed behind them. She watched as the alien staggered across the room to lean against the bulkhead and breathe deeply. Blossom sat at her desk in the corner, her eyes wide as she stared at the Sciss. Jane sat at her desk, remained silent until Takor began to regain its composure. “What is this about?”
Takor’s head fins - normally kept folded along its skull - fluttered for a moment in embarrassment. “You asked me once if anyone aboard could... arouse me. Sexually.”
Okay, not something we would discuss on the bridge. Nor do we need witnesses. “Blossom, take a break,” Jane instructed.
“Captain?” her yeoman protested.
Jane turned to face her. “This is a personal discussion, yeoman. I would not let anybody listen if you wanted to discuss this type of subject. I won’t treat Mr Takor any differently.”
Blossom frowned, but stood up. “Yes, captain.” She paused at the door for a quick look back, as Takor staggered to a chair. Its uncertain footing seemed to reassure the younger woman, and she left.
Jane turned back to the Sciss. “It seems an unusual question for me to ask you, but if you say I did, then I must have.”
Takor riffled its upper lip, then changed its response to a slow human-like nod. “At the time, I did not believe it possible. I have been assigned here a good amount of time, and there had never been any indication...” It paused to smooth down its head fins with both hands, something Jane hadn’t seen it do since it had first arrived. “It now appears I may have been... mistaken.”
Jane leaned forward. “Are you saying that someone has-“
“Not one somebody,” it interrupted. “However, the combination of two... of a particular two somebodies... appears to produce pheromones sufficiently close to those of my own species so as to-“ Takor took another deep breath and its head fins fluttered restlessly.
Jane knew what pheromones were. Supposedly, humans produced them, but she had never personally been aware of them. A piece of her had doubted their existence, at least in humans. “Let me see if I understand. No one human has the ability to arouse you. But when a particular pair of humans is in your vicinity, you do become aroused. Is that correct?”
There’s been plenty of reports about Sciss pheromones, so I guess humans have them, too. “Even if they are not aroused?”
Takor hesitated. “I am not a good judge of human arousal.”
No, I don’t imagine so. “Okay, which-“ Do I really want to ask? There are a lot of possible answers that I do not want to hear. Of course, I wouldn’t have any proof; there’s nothing in Fleet regulations about a couple producing sexual pheromones. Still, I hate being blind-sided. “Which pair?”
“Lt Cmdr Smythe and Lt MacDowell.”
Jane winced. I should have known. Her behavior when she came aboard, his behavior during our review of new crew members... I didn’t want it to happen, so I turned a blind eye. This can only spell trouble for one or both of them. “I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you, to have to endure that olfactory assault during her tests.”
“I have not endured it well,” Takor responded. “Both times I attended the test, I cut it short by ordering the females out, to remove the mixed pheromones. But I was not sure which pair of humans was the source of my... response until this morning. It would have been unseemly to order anyone off the bridge, yet I had a most urgent need to remove myself from the... stimuli. Therefore, I left.”
And drug me across the bridge like so much baggage. I can’t really blame it. The alternative of staying there would have been... a big mess. Would it have attacked one of them? And if so, which one? “Do the Sciss have a word for rape? Do you know what it means?”
“I have had the word explained to me. It was a difficult concept. We do not have it on Sciss, since each responds to the other equally.”
So, no answers to that question. “Never mind. Are you recovered? Calm?”
Takor’s head canted to one side and a blunt claw manipulated a fin to get it to cover the ear flap. “Yes. The pheromones are not present here.”
“Good. Thank you for your report. Do not plan to attend any more testing sessions of Ms MacDowell.”
“She has not passed,” it stated.
Which might be because it prematurely ended the tests, twice. “I know. I will have to find some answers, but finding them will not involve you.”
“Very well. I will return to my normal routine tomorrow.” The lizoid rose and left.
Jane headed back for the bridge, stopped when she saw Smitty talking to the day bridge engineer. “Smitty, this is your day off. What are you doing here?” And why did it take me so long to remember that this is his day off?
Startled, the man looked up. “I... lost several of my crew to this... illness, captain. I thought it best to be sure all the necessary positions are covered.”
“Very well. You can have half an hour to do that. After that, get out of uniform and have some fun.”
The engineer frowned. “Yes, captain.”
Changing her mind, Jane returned to her ready room. I have a lot of thinking to do. Something I had hoped wouldn’t happen is on the verge of boiling over. How do I nip it in- well, it’s no longer in the bud stage.
Do I let her fail, get busted in rank and sent back to- probably back to tugs, if not dismissed altogether. That’s not fair.
Black space, other senior officers have spouses! How did they manage it? Got married when they were younger, I suspect. And what makes me think these two have any such intentions? Maybe all they have between them is lust!

I hate these kinds of problems.