Month 6 Day 10
“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
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.