Month 6, Day 1
Capt Jane Burke
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?”
“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.