Thursday, April 30, 2015

Worker Bees / Strangeness

Worker Bees
Month 6 Day 10
Stephanie Freyer
1202 Hours

788 words

“Wow,” Bosiljevac said, rubbing his jaw. “She really packs a wallop.”
“She’s a heavy-worlder,” Stephanie told him without any sympathy. “You’re lucky she didn’t have any room to swing back here.”
“I knew she was a heavy worlder. Guess I didn’t think about what that meant.”
“Of course not.” She detached the connections for another burnt board. “You’re a man.”
“Let me guess. You think all men are evil.”
Did he forget the part where he was brought here to work? “No,” she contradicted, pulling that board out. “I like men fine. Except when they’re being stupid.”
“And what does that mean?”
She stared at the many boards in front of him that he had not even started to disconnect. Then she gave him a scornful look with one eyebrow raised. Eventually, he started working. “Mac didn’t even know your name,” she responded. “What made you think she’d welcome having your hands all over her?”
He shrugged. “All the guys have been talking about her, saying— I just thought I’d... seize the opportunity.”
“In other words, you didn’t think. Not with your brain.”
“Okay. I made a mistake.”
“It could have cost you your life. She pumps iron with Ferguson and Tall Bear, under her gravity! They have to alternate days, but she does it every day.”
Bosiljevac frowned. “Okay! You made your point!”
They worked in silence for a time, then Bosiljevac abruptly asked, “You been sick yet?”
“No. I’m not looking forward to it.”
“It’s bad. You won’t die, but you’ll wish you would, just to get things over with. At least, I did, and when they released me, they said I’d had a light case!”
Stephanie shivered at the thought, but didn’t respond.
“You know my name, right?” he asked.
She glanced at him and inched away, ostensibly to more easily reach more boards. “Yes, but we’re here to work, so keep your hands to yourself.”
He grimaced. “I was just thinking - with my brain - that after you’ve had these measles, and things start settling down, maybe we could see a movie together?”
“Measles? I thought it was a flu.”
“I don’t remember what the medicals called it. But everybody who has it is covered in red spots, so it’s measles to me.”
“Oh.” She glanced at him again. Other than his ‘seizing the opportunity’ with Mac, I haven’t heard anything unforgivable about him. “Maybe.”
Mac’s voice came softly floating up between charred relays and wires. “Now that you two have that settled, could you be quiet a minute? I’m trying to listen.”
“To what?” Bosiljevac asked.
A chuckle gurgled up through the soot-covered equipment. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t need silence.”
They continued to work without speaking, although their tools sometimes clinked against the equipment. There was muted conversation from the bridge proper, and Stephanie wondered if Mac had mistook that slight drone for something else. By now, she had cleared out enough burned boards to occasionally get a glimpse of the redhead through what remained of the communications equipment. Space, she looks completely worn out. Ironic that she can’t pass probation, but now she’s in charge of a complete rebuild. If that doesn’t- what’s that?
A slow whisper of a wheeze had begun, seemingly from within the equipment. “Mac, do you hear that?”
There was no answer. Peering through the blackened interior, she saw Mac’s white hand reach for a particular circuit board that was glowing blue. Through another piece of equipment, she saw the other hand push against a set of relays as the redhead stretched that last inch to grasp that board- Blueness swallowed both hands. “Mac?”
“Leave her alone,” Bosiljevac suggested. “She probably dozed off. Rumor says she hasn’t passed probation yet, and she’s been studying day and night- OW!” He stuck a finger into his mouth.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so. Guess I found some of that residue they warned us about.”
A wave of fatigue swept through Stephanie as she peered through the equipment, trying to see the redhead. All she saw was a glimpse of a white hand as the other woman left the console. She must be okay, then. She leaned her head against the equipment frame. How does she do it? She’s pulled several 24-hour shifts this past week; it’s the talk of the ship. But I’m only in the middle of my 2nd 8-hour shift, and all I want to do is sleep.
“I’m taking you to sick bay.”
Stephanie couldn’t open her eyes to look at him. “You’re the one who got zapped,” she muttered.
“But you’re the one who just broke out into a million red spots.”
“It’s about blasted time,” she mumbled, and fell into deep darkness.

Month 6 Day 10
1221 Hours

138 words

Takor’s head ruffle automatically stiffened and relaxed to shake off the insect that had bitten it. There are no insects aboard ship. The Sciss straightened in its chair and turned. Mac stood nearby, staring at her hand with wide eyes and a puckered forehead. Mac is whiter than normal. It- She seems confused. Surely she knows her own hand? “Lieutenant?” it queried. Receiving no answer, it rose to its feet.

Mac looked up sharply, suddenly afraid. Takor stepped toward her, wondering at her behavior. She backed up hurriedly, fell against the communications console, which set off a high-pitched squeal. Startled, she jumped forward, brushing one of Takor’s arms as it instinctively raised them to protect its ears. He saw black sparks shoot between them as they were forcefully thrown apart, but all he saw after that was blackness.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On Call

Month 6, Day 10
1139 Hours
Drake emerged from the lift again, stumbled to a halt in mid-stride and stared at the legs he had almost stepped on. Even as tired as he was, amusement flickered as he realized who was sprawled in front of the communications console, the upper half of his body inside the access panel. Drake assumed his angriest growl. “Must you sprawl on the floor, Smitty? I could have stepped on you!”
“Step over and be done with it,” Smitty snarled inside the blackened machinery. “I’m busy.”
Drake sighed. Everybody’s worn out and testy. I shouldn’t have tried to tease him. He stepped over Smitty’s legs, made his way to Jane’s side.
“How’s Abdulla?”
“She got quite an electrical shock. Strangely, there’s no permanent damage, so she should be fine, once she wakes up.”
“What was strange about it?” Jane asked.
She would ask. “It’s like the electrical charge entered her, didn’t find what it wanted, so it left again.” Yeah, nothing wrong with that explanation.
“Electricity doesn’t normally stay in the body.”
“No, but it usually does some damage. The amount of current in this ship’s equipment should have done a lot of damage. But other than rendering her unconscious, it did no more damage than... oh, 6 volts of static-e.”
“That’s good,” Jane decided. She noticed Smitty squirming free of the confining access opening, and Drake followed as she strode over while the engineer lay several charred circuit boards on the engineering console. “Prognosis, Mr Smythe?”
Smitty shook his head. “It’s fried. A massive overload. Circuitry’s fused. And there’s still considerable residual energy in the sub-space channels and communications computer circuitry.” He examined his finger-tips. “It’s a wonder I’m not covered in 3rd-degree burns.”
“In short, Jane-“ Drake’s voice was gravelly from fatigue, and he cleared his throat. “The radio isn’t working.”
Smitty glared at him. “That’s what I said!”
Drake started to respond, but the look Jane sent him cut him off. Right. She knows how heated an argument could get, if we let ourselves get started. “Can it be repaired, Smitty?” Jane asked. “How long?”
The engineer took a deep breath and ran a sooty hand through his hair. From the looks of it, it had been a while since that hair had been combed. “It’s a complete rebuild. Most of the parts are available from storage, but there’s bound to be some that will have to be fabricated.” His shoulders slumped. “That could take a while. I’m not even sure there’s anybody left in fabrication, right now.” He looked at Harris, as if expecting her to know, when he didn’t.
“Just 3 people,” Harris responded. “Ensign Vankyuk, Ensign Zimmers, and Tech Keathley.”
“How long will it take?” Jane repeated.
Smitty almost glared at her. “I don’t know, captain. “I’ve got nobody left in communications!”
Jane frowned, trying to wrap her brain around how impaired her crew was right now. Drake tried to remember when the various communications people were admitted to sick bay. Eventually, Harris stopped biting her lip and softly said, “Yes, you do.”
Smitty glared at his underling. “If you think-“
“Who’s left?” Jane interrupted, her gaze on Harris.
She gave an uncertain look at Smitty, then turned her gaze to the captain and raised her chin. “Some would say she’s the best aboard! Except for Mr Smythe, of course.”
“She’s been working double- and triple-shifts all week, so I won’t-“
“Triple shifts?” Jane muttered, stunned.
“You think I don’t know how much she’s been working?” Harris dared to argue with her boss. “Or that she just got off duty 4 hours ago, so chances are, she’s only had a few minutes of sleep?”
“All the more reason-”
“I’ve already sent for her.”
Smitty’s mouth snapped shut. Turning away, he opened the panel to the service corridor and disappeared behind the communications console.
Jane turned to the blond and softly said, “Lt, you should not use that tone with your commanding officer.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll apologize, but I’m tired of his-“ Harris closed her mouth.
“Lt, it’s best to get it said,” Jane told her.
Harris lowered her voice. “I’m tired of his attitude toward my roommate, who has tried her best to fit in!”
“Mac,” Drake offered. “Lt MacDowell.” He sighed. “Did you have to wake Mac, Harris?”
“Yes,” she responded glumly. “All of communications is in sick bay except for Mac and a freshman tech. And I couldn’t leave this big a job to a freshman tech!”
“This epidemic is getting downright inconvenient,” Jane muttered. “Call the freshman tech, too, whoever it is. This job needs more than one person.”
“I did. And I also called for Engineering Tech Freyer.” Harris sighed. “That just leaves 2 people down in engineering, but they aren’t rebuilding anything.”
“Sounds like you’ve done what you can,” Jane commented. “I’m sure Mr Smythe appreciates your extra effort.”
“Thank you, captain.”
Drake followed Jane to her chair, where she whispered, “The whole ship thinks Smitty isn’t giving MacDowell a fair shake.”
“She hasn’t passed probational,” Drake found himself saying. “He probably thinks if she’s as good as everybody else thinks she is, she’d have passed long ago.”
Jane gave a slow nod. “I haven’t been able to shove them together like I’d planned. I’d better go to plan B.”
Why was she trying to... “What’s plan B?”
Jane grimaced. “Let you know when I dream it up,” she muttered, and raised her voice. “Lopez, any movement from that moon base?”
“Nothing yet, sir.”
The lift opened and Mac emerged, stopped at the engineering console to examine the blackened circuit boards left there. Being a heavy worlder, Mac was small and strong, but right now, she seemed to sag inside her uniform, and looked almost frail. Red hair was confined in a tail high on her skull, but it fell in loose curls around her shoulders. That’s not a regulation hair style. He glanced at Jane, who also watched the young woman. “Not exactly in uniform,” he muttered.
“Exceptional times call for exceptions,” she responded. “We did just wake her up. If she can handle the job, I need her here.”
Harris took the circuit boards as Mac stifled a long yawn. “I’m guessing 82% of the components need to be replaced,” Harris stated, unaware or ignoring Smythe as he emerged from the service corridor. She held up one board. “This might still be good.”
Mac shook her head and reached for the boards. “I’ll bet not. It comes between these two, and both of them are completely fried.”
Surprised, Smitty asked, “What makes you say that?”
She traced a minute line on the board with a fingernail. “Because all the connections are melted, and half the-“ She stopped in mid-sentence, slowly turned to face him. “Smit!” It was hardly even a whisper.
“Go on,” he urged her.
“I- I-“
Jane tsked. “Lost her train of thought.”
“Looks like it,” Drake agreed.
Behind Smitty, 2 technicians stepped off the lift. Neither Mac nor Smitty seemed aware of them, until the female spoke; “Technician Freyer reporting, sir.”
He jumped and faced them. “Oh. Yes. Good. The communications console needs a total rebuild. There’s a residual charge, so be careful. I’ll handle the front, you two-” Jane loudly cleared her throat, and Smitty glanced in her direction. “I mean, Lt MacDowell’s in charge. Harris, I’m... I’ll be back.”
“Yes, sir.”
For a long moment after he left, Mac stared at the lift door. Harris finally stood and tapped the girl’s shoulder, startling her. “Don’t let him get to you, Mac.”
Mac blinked, her face pink, and looked to the technicians. “Hi, Steve.”
It was the female who smiled back. “Boss says you’re in charge, Mac. Lieutenant. I’ve never worked on a total communications console rebuild before, where do we start?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t had a chance to look at anything but these boards someone pulled. Be careful; I hear there’s a residual charge. Now, let’s step into the service corridor and see what’s what.” She herded them into the open service corridor.
“Looks like she’ll be fine,” Jane stated.
“I hope so,” Drake stated.
They heard a sharp sound, and the redhead emerged, brushing irritably - but ineffectually - at a sooty handprint on her uniform. “That’s not a good beginning,” Jane muttered.
Mac stepped to the engineering console and considered the tools Smitty had left there, unaware that the lift opened and Smitty stepped off. The engineer stopped, unable to tear his eyes off her curves. He scowled, possibly because of the sooty handprint.
Drake walked over to Mac, and noted she had tried to use make-up to hide the dark circles under her eyes. “I’ll get you a stimulant.”
She looked up. “I don’t need one.”
A waft of aroma reached him. He whispered, “Whiskey, Mac? Now?”
She shrugged with one shoulder. “I was trying to sleep.”
“And did you? Get any sleep?”
“A few minutes, here and there.” She picked up the packet of tools, and turned to him. “I have work to do. And I’m surprised to see you away from your patients.” She stepped over to communications and knelt, ready to climb into the open access panel, but froze, her gaze aimed at the lift.
Jane came up beside Drake. “What did you do to her?”
“Not me,” he muttered. “Talk to your Chief Engineer.”
“Hmm.” Jane considered the frozen redhead, then crouched down to the younger woman’s level. “Lieutenant.”
Drake stepped to the side, enough, he hoped, that he blocked Mac’s view of Smitty.
Green eyes turned to the captain, focused. “Captain! I was just getting started.”
“I know,” Jane stated softly. “As you tackle this work, I want you to realize that once you climb into that console, you are on your own. No one will watch over your shoulder, ask questions or second-guess you. No one will be in there with you.”
Mac blinked, mildly confused. “I understand that, captain.”
“Good. I have the utmost confidence in you.”
“That’s... good to hear,” Mac muttered, then ducked to insert her upper body into the console.
“She’s been drinking,” Jane whispered as she stood up.
“She was trying to sleep,” Drake reminded her. “Probably needed something to relax, but the call came earlier than she expected.”
“I hope she’s not too drunk.”
“She has an amazing tolerance for the stuff. If you want, I can get my scanner. Otherwise, I should get back to my patients. Which includes half of my team.”

As he headed for the lift, he heard Jane say, “Smitty, if your staff is down to two people in engineering, perhaps you should be there. Lt Harris seems to have things in hand here.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Just Listen

Month 6, Day 10
1041 Hours

Capt Burke had emerged from her office just as Bugalu’s hand had started for the intercom controls to let her know they were approaching the fourth planet, and she now sat silently in her chair as he concentrated on inserting the vessel into orbit. He had no difficulties; the planet had 3 moons, all at least a mile in diameter and all with stable orbits, with no tiny satellites for him to avoid. He slipped the Fireball into a low orbit, where they would circumnavigate the planet every 8 hours. “Orbit achieved, captain.”
“Well done, lieutenant,” the captain acknowledged. Bugalu dared to look up at the view screen, as she must have been doing, for she added, “It’s a pretty planet. Seems like the ones capable of supporting some type of life are. Even if that life is nothing like our own.”
“Preliminary scan indicates it is class M, Captain,” Takor offered. “Like Earth.”
“Which would make it only slightly uncomfortable for you, Takor,” she returned.
“Would you like a higher magnification, Captain?” Capac asked.
“Not yet,” she answered. “Let me enjoy this view for a few minutes.”
I agree. Right now, I just want to enjoy the view. The ship’s equipment can gather information while we enjoy the sight that looks so much like home.
“It has oceans,” the captain observed. “Although, I’m thinking there’s not quite as much water as on Earth.”
“Considerably less than Sciss,” Takor added.
“Yes. Somewhat more browns and tans, and quite a bit of the green has a hint of gray to it,” Burke went on. “But the clouds are fluffy and white, definitely water vapor clouds. Space, it looks so much like Earth and Sciss, I’ll be sorely disappointed if there isn’t some kind of life here.”
“I know that feeling,” Takor commented.
When it was originally assigned to the Fireball, Takor had been formal and stand-offish. Bugalu had tried to imagine what it would be like, to be the only member of one’s race aboard a ship full of aliens. Slowly - very slowly - it had begun to fit in better, due to the efforts of the captain and several senior officers. It’s changed since it first got here. Especially since it’s been hanging around Mac. Wonder how she ever got that started? If she wants to, Mac can make friends with anybody. And I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even know she can.
Bugalu pushed those thoughts away to check his equipment when the captain asked, “Found anything interesting, anybody?”
No one answered until Takor stated, “The readings are... unusual.”
“In what way?”
“The planet contains more copper and less iron than Earth. I see indications of both flora and fauna using these elements extensively. However -“ It paused, as if searching for the correct words to make itself understood. “The readings give me the impression that a number of the larger fauna species have blood based upon carbon.”
“I think you should take another look, Mr Takor,” Moor stated. “Carbon doesn’t make an effective base for blood.”
“Nature does not always select the most efficient method to get something done,” Takor stated. “On Earth, there are creatures with copper-based blood, is there not?”
“Copper is a more effective base for blood than carbon would be,” Moor shot back defensively.
“Gentlemen!” Burke broke in. “I realize we are all tired, we’ve all been working long hours, and we’re worried... about our own health, as well as that of our crew. However, we are here to observe what is, without disbelieving what we see simply because we haven’t seen it before. If nothing else, those silicon creatures on Penoc should have taught us all that! You did hear about them, right? Blood based on lithium, of all things!”
“Indeed I have,” Takor stated quietly.
Bugalu glanced at Moor, who was frowning. “I’m afraid I’ve fallen behind in reading my journals,” he finally offered, and turned back to the station he manned.
“Plants and animals, you said, Takor,” Burke reminded the Sciss. “Any sign of intelligence? Cities? Power plants? Modes of transportation?”
The tip of Takor’s tail flicked back and forth. Bugalu caught the movement in his peripheral vision, but wasn’t sure if it indicated anger, irritation, confusion or something completely different. “There are structures grouped together into... what one might call cities. Each accompanied by a large amount of electrical power, although the source of that power is not immediately apparent. I do not readily see any recognizable method of transportation. No roads.”
“That sounds note-worthy,” Burke stated. “Humans had roads long before they had electricity.
“We preferred waterways, but roads followed quickly after we discovered electricity, since water and electricity are not completely compatible,” Takor commented. “I do see water vessels, but they are too small for effective transportation. No air vessels, either.”
“Perhaps they are not high on the technology scale, despite using electricity,” the captain suggested.
“Wait.” Takor’s tail-tip snapped audibly as it studied the displays at its station. It made a soft, chittering sound - which Mac had said indicated intense concentration - as it made several adjustments to its controls. Finally, it looked up. “Captain, I find many of the same life form readings on the largest moon as in the cities.”
“On the moon?” Moor had turned from his own display again. “There isn’t enough atmosphere!”
“The life readings are concentrated in one area,” Takor went on. “And may be under the surface. It would appear to be a colony, yet the scanners have not located any space probes, satellites, nor anything associated with space travel.”
“That seems odd,” Burke stated. “Still, every species climbs the technology ladder in their own way, so we should keep an open mind. Also, we might not be the only ‘aliens’ to have found this system.”
I can almost hear her thoughts. Colonists, invaders, or observers? That’s what she’s wondering.
“Mr Lopez, I want constant surveillance on that moon,” Burke told the freshman ensign currently sitting at the weapons console.
“Should I modify our orbit?” Bugalu asked, ready to punch buttons on his console.
“What’s wrong with our orbit?” she asked sharply.
“Technically, nothing,” he responded. “But it will take us directly between the planet and moon. They can’t fail to see us.”
“Well, if we aren’t trying to hide, they can’t claim we’re spying. Leave it as is.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Abdulla, they have electricity. Have you found anything in the radio channels?”
“I’ve found something,” the younger woman reported. “But not in the usual radio frequencies. It has a pattern, but the language computer hasn’t deciphered any of it yet. It’s coming from the planet, aimed at the moon. Possibly a tight beam, because it’s getting clearer as we approach a point between them.”
“Lopez, any response from that moon base?”
“Not yet,” the youngster responded nervously.
“Music?” Abdulla muttered to herself.
“That sounds intriguing,” Burke decided. “Put it on audio, lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir.”
A cacophony of hums, crackles, squeals and wheezes filled the bridge. Bugalu listened intently. Yeah, there is something there, barely audible.
“Let me filter some of the noise,” Abdulla suggested. Squeals and static began to fade until a definite pattern could be distinguished; a double-beat-and-a-pause rhythm.
Bugalu’s back straightened. “It sounds like a... heartbeat.”
“It is similar to the audio manifestations of human cardiac rhythm,” Takor agreed.
Capt Burke opened her intercom. “Dr MacGregor?”
It took a moment for him to answer. “Yeah?”
He sounds exhausted. Haven’t seen him in days, and he looked bad, then. That short, clipped, unprofessional response to the captain’s call says it all.
“If you can pull yourself away from your patients, please come to the bridge for a moment.”
Usually, she’d order him, but right now, that’s make him angry as well as exhausted, testy and ready to argue. He’ll come just as quickly, this way, and might see it as a break, rather than an intrusion. Captain understands people well. And manipulates them even better.
For several moments, everyone listened to the profusion of sounds still emerging from the bridge speakers. With a frown, Capac leaned toward Bugalu and muttered, “I think it’s breathing!”
Startled, Bugalu concentrated on the background noises, and now that it had been suggested, the faint wheezing sounds did sound like slow, deliberate breathing.

Something exploded. Whirling, Bugalu saw Abdulla thrown to the floor, unconscious, at the feet of MacGregor as he emerged from the lift. In the sudden silence, it was Della Harris who pulled an extinguisher from beneath the engineering console and attacked the flames flickering from communications.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Challenges / Something To Do

Month 6, Day 5
2359 Hrs

Colleen was playing pool when Smitty finally found her. She wasn’t in uniform, but wore a pair of shorts that displayed shapely legs and emphasized the roundness of her rear as she bent over to take aim at a tricky shot. Smitty pulled his gaze off that delightful view and cleared his throat. “Colleen?”
She turned her head to look at him. “Dear?” she responded.
“Sorry to interrupt your game, but I’d like to talk to you,” he stated as his eyes glanced again at her derriere. She straightened up, turned to face him, and he raised his gaze to her green eyes. Somehow, he found his arms around her, her body pressed against his.
“That’s quite a cue stick you have,” she stated with a flirtatious smile.
“I haven’t got- oh.” There was a hardness between them that definitely belonged to him. Her arms slipped around his neck.
“Mmm, and a set of balls, too,” she stated, her fingers toying seductively with the hair on the back of his head. “What a coincidence. I’ve got a pocket you can sink one in.”
He grinned. “I’d like that.”
“Well, line up your shot,” she suggested, and he leaned forward to kiss her.
“Mr Smythe?”
“What happened to ‘Dear’?” he wondered as their lips approached each other.
“Mr Smythe, are you okay?”
Smitty opened his eyes and realized he was in his office, sitting at his desk, while Harris looked at him strangely. “Sorry.” He removed his hand from propping up his head. “Must have nodded off. Too old to pull long hours like this.” He blinked at his underling in confusion. “Is it day shift already? Surely I didn’t sleep that long!”
“No, it’s just after midnight,” Harris answered. “Ivy- Lt Wilson called me in when half of Adams’ shift called in sick. Adams isn’t well, either, but he won’t go to sick bay. Can’t blame him, because that would leave-“ She swallowed in sudden uncertainty. “That would leave me in charge.”
Smitty glanced at the display screens, plainly saw Adams sitting at a console, his head in his hands, looking like death warmed over. Speckled death, because flu spots had already spread to his face and hands. “Alright, I’ll go send him to sick bay,” he stated, climbing to his feet. “In the meantime, Harris, sit down and compile a list of all the engineering personnel who aren’t yet sick, right down to freshmen technicians. Communications, too. I’ve got to send someone to relieve Colleen in the morning.”
“Ivy already had a list for engineering, which I’ve updated,” she stated as she slid into the vacated seat. “Medical says one of our ensigns will likely be discharged tomorrow- I mean, later today. And two technicians tomorrow. I noted that, too, to put some hope in the list. It’ll just take a couple minutes to do communications, since there’s not as many in that specialty.”
Smitty glanced back on his way out, and marveled at the determined efficiency that had suddenly appeared in Harris. Never thought she might have that in her. Maybe I gave up on her too soon. I’ll keep a closer eye on her, when this is over.

Something to Do
Month 6, Day 10
0858 Hours

Captain Burke turned her command chair when the lift door opened, and used her fingers to hide her smile of relief from seeing Lt Abdulla emerge. Still looking peaked, Abdulla walked over and touched Lt MacDowell’s shoulder, startling her. “I’m here to relieve you, Mac.”
“Ab!” The redhead jumped up, ready to hug the other woman, but restrained herself. “It’s good to have you back, Abdulla.”
“I imagine so,” Abdulla said. “I understand you’ve been living at this post.”
“Well, it beats where you’ve been this past week.”
Jane turned away. We might get through this medical crisis after all, now that some of the earliest patients are reporting back to duty. We’re still short-handed, and will be for a while, but things are looking better.
At the helm, Lt Bugalu had started his second shift for the day, with hardly more than a bite to eat between. He’s been watching the redhead since I got here. Not with lust, like so many crew men. He’s worried about her. Like a big brother. “Lt MacDowell,” Jane called out.
The redhead straightened her back and turned from waiting for the lift. “Sir?”
She looks terrible, can barely keep her eyes open. Well, who can blame her, she has just about been living at her station. Jane stood and walked to the lift area. “Lieutenant, Your efforts this past week have been noted and are appreciated. Now that you’ve been relieved, I hope you immediately take the opportunity to get some sleep.”
Green eyes slid past her to glance at the helm. “Yes, sir, I do plan to try.” Her brow furrowed, eyes lost their focus, and her voice lowered to a mutter. “Maybe if I wrap myself tight in my blanket, like a cocoon, it might feel like someone is hold-” She stopped and glanced around, afraid she’d been overheard.
Jane pretended she hadn’t muttered. “Good. I hope you have sweet dreams.” As the lift door opened, Jane turned away to consider the overworked, mish-mash skeleton crew on the bridge. MacDowell looks like she’ll fall into her bed. Why, then, is Bugalu frowning? Surely she’s too exhausted to be bothered by sleeping difficulties? “How are we doing, Lt Bugalu?”
The negro turned back to his equipment. “We’re entering the system now. We could be in orbit any time today, sir. If we find anything we want to orbit.”
As early as that? Moor left his station to approach her. He usually spent his duty shift in his office, but with the current staff shortages, he was manning the bridge today. “Captain, are you sure this is a good idea? We are under quarantine,” he asked quietly.
“Yes, and we’re terribly short-handed,” she agreed, keeping her own voice soft. “We could just drift in space and do absolutely nothing until we’re back up to strength. But that would mean those who can work would have nothing to do. Except worry about getting sick. And be bored. Neither are good for the ship’s sanity or morale. This way, everybody has something to do, not too strenuous, but useful, because we will be gathering information about an unknown system. We will not touch anything. If there is intelligent life in this system, and they are sufficiently advanced, we might try to establish radio contact, but that is hardly a physical connection.”
“Alright,” Moor stated sourly. He didn’t seem convinced, but he went back to his post.
Jane walked toward the science station. “Takor, what have you got so far? How many planets are in this system, and are any of them remotely like Earth? Or Sciss, for that matter.”
“I see 8 planets,” Takor returned. “Or 9, if you count the largest moon of the 4th planet. It might be considered a binary pair, for the moon has a rudimentary atmosphere, though not enough to facilitate breathing. The 4th planet is slightly smaller than Sciss, slightly larger than Earth. Further information will become available as we get closer.”
“Atmosphere on that 4th planet?”
“It appears to be drier than Earth, but breathable.”
“That sounds very interesting,” Jane decided. “Bugalu, how long to reach the 4th planet?”
“About 3 hours, Captain.”
“Good, do it. I’ll be in my office. Alert me a quarter hour before orbit.”
“Aye, captain.”

Despite her helmsman’s fatigue, she heard a note of excitement in his voice. I was right not to delay exploring this system. The crew needs something to think about besides Verasis Flu. Satisfied, she left the bridge for her office.