Month 6, Day 10
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”