Month 6, Day 1
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.