Month 6, Day 1
Chef Anna Hamara
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.”
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.
“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.