Month 6, Day 10
Della climbed up a ladder into The Core with a stiff back, her lips pressed into a tight line. She jerked the multi-tester from its cabinet and slammed that small door shut. I can’t believe Smythe sent me to do this now! That he sent me! Any tech has enough brains to do this! And I’m on my third shift today! She took a deep breath and let her lips curl into the beginnings of a smile. So I hope I still have enough brains not to muck it up. I’m not Mac, after all. Hope he doesn’t expect all of us to start running on no sleep.
What does Smythe have against Mac? So she hasn’t passed probation; lots of us had trouble with that. Even Ivy. But why hasn’t she passed? Mac knows communications inside out. As long as Smythe isn’t around. Mac clams up as soon as Smythe is near. Won’t say why.
With a shake of her head that freed a wisp of hair from her bun, Della opened the first hatch. I’ll never get done if I don’t start. She began methodically testing every connection within the access hatch. When she was done, she closed that door, erased the out-of-date notation on the metal, and wrote her own initials and date.
Her eyes wandered down The Core into the darkness. The Fireball’s spine was a metal rod 5 feet in radius that ran the full length of the ship and served as foundation. Around that rod were 2 feet of wires and pipes, hidden behind access panels. The Core was an open space, where artificial gravity kept you on the ‘floor’ and your work was done over your head, but it was disorientating to have that floor slope around and also be above you. The artificial gravity field stopped at the access hatches, to avoid any dizziness from being pulled in two directions at once, so a person’s hands worked in null grav, which could leave them tingly.
But the reason Della didn’t like this assignment was because she was alone. The Core was open, but so long that you couldn’t see the other end. I’ve never liked Core duty. This place is spooky. Unless you’re on a date... But I’m not. Don’t remember when my last date was. And I’m not likely to have one for another... a week? Two? Now that is a really depressing thought.
She yawned, shook her head a couple times, trying to shake the fatigue from her brain. Well, much as I don’t want anybody to realize I don’t already work at my best speed, if I want to get this done, I’d better kick myself into high gear.
After a deep breath, she opened the next hatch and worked as fast as she could, hardly giving the tester time to register one connection before she moved it to the next. Finished with that hatch, she shuffled around the curvature of the core, finishing all the A1 hatches before sliding along to the A2 hatches. She didn’t need to look down; the floor was smooth except for the entrance holes like she had come through, and those had a substantial lip around them, so by shuffling, she’d avoid falling into one.
She was all the way into the F hatches when one of her feet briefly contacted something on the floor. She jerked back, eyes wide as she stared at the floor. An empty whiskey bottle slowly spun/rolled along the curved floor.
That’s Mac’s brand. Well, I can’t blame her; the last time she went to our quarters to sleep, we called her back to work. This floor isn’t exactly comfortable, but now I’ve got to look down, make sure I don’t kick her.
A glance down the Core didn’t reveal the redhead. Della’s gaze returned to the empty. This could have been here for days. She glanced at the old date on the hatches. Anytime in the last 5 weeks. Or it could have rolled all the way here from the tail of the ship. This will kill my speed! And she might not even be here! “Mac?” she called in her normal voice, and then a little louder. No answer. She shrugged, kicked the empty bottle as far down the Core as she could. I’ll dispose of it when I get done. She isn’t usually that careless with her empties. I can’t imagine where she keeps the extras, but she seems to have a never-ending supply. Well, back to work, as fast as possible.
Della had almost finished the H hatches when she caught an unexpected movement in the corner of her eye. Leaving that hatch only partially done, she took a couple steps to the side, to look around the ship’s spine.
Her roommate sat on the floor above her, arms propped on her raised knees, a nearly empty bottle dangling from the fingers of one hand by the neck. Her head moved, turning slightly left, and then slightly right, and her mouth moved, as if she were talking. Or... arguing with herself? Definitely not asleep. Why didn’t she answer me? Her hands moved, too. When the head turned to the left, her right hand made grand, sweeping gestures, like some people did when they were trying to make a point. When the head turned right, the left hand made much more subdued movements, pointing or maybe counting, which was more like Mac, but didn’t look effective, since that hand held the bottle.
Maybe she is asleep; her eyes are closed. Could she be sleep and arguing with herself? Well, why not? I swear she sleep-studies! Della smirked a little. Maybe she’s dreaming of telling Smythe off. What I’d give to hear her do it! She needs to stand up to him, at least a little. He does not want ‘yes men’ in his crew.
“If you were awake, I’d ask you to help me with this assignment. That would relieve the boredom and loneliness, plus I have no doubt you can do it even faster than I can. True, it’s not communications. Not all of it. But I know you, and you are a whiz with any kind of testing equipment.” And I bet the old man has never noticed.
Mac continued with her self argument as if Della wasn’t there, hadn’t said anything. With a sigh, Della decided to let her roommate sleep and turned back to her work. Something rolled under her foot, and she barely kept herself from falling, turned in time to see an empty whiskey bottle bump against Mac’s hip.
The redhead bolted to her feet while moving away from the bottle, and only stopped to look back once she was several yards away. Half of her looked relieved to see Della.
“Boy, you’re jumpy tonight,” Della stated. “I didn’t mean to wake you. Do you know security has been looking for you?” How can she not realize it, after all those announcements made all day? “If you’re up to it, Abdulla could really use your help on the bridge. No matter what she tries, she can’t get rid of that electrical charge.” She thought about that again. “No, never mind. He’s trying to help her, and he’s just as frustrated as she is, so it’s probably best if you stay away from the bridge.”
She took a good look at the woman who shared her quarters. The light in The Core was considered ‘sufficient’, but it made Mac look... odd. Her hair was lighter than Della remembered, almost pink. And her eyes were more lime than emerald. She took a step forward in concern. “Are you okay?”
Mac took a step back, and her mouth made exaggerated movements that looked like words, but Della didn’t hear anything. The redhead abruptly turned and ran down The Core, disappearing into the dimness of distance.
Mac was long gone before Della could collect her thoughts and find the nearest intercom.