Month 6 Day 10
Consultations with senior staff were usually held in a meeting room or her office. But these were not usual times, and there were few senior staff members in any condition to attend, so Jane had this meeting where most of them already were - on the bridge. Winthrop sat at the weapons console, although it was Tall Bear who stood ready to fire in defense of the ship, if that suddenly became necessary. Bugalu, still at the helm, was temporarily senior staff, with his supervisor in sick bay.
"Then she left," Lt Harris summed up. "I don't know where she went; I haven't seen her since."
After a brief pause, Jane asked, "Are you sure about her coloring? If the light wasn't very good-"
"It's good enough,” Smythe interrupted from inside the communications console. “It does no good to send people to check connections in The Core if they can’t see what they’re doing.” Something snapped. “Blast! What is that residue?”
“I have no idea,” Abdulla’s voice growled in irritation. “If Mac were here-“
“Well, she’s not,” Smythe bit back, and the two presumably returned to work.
Harris glanced in that direction and lowered her voice. “In that lighting, I would have expected her to look... well, darker. But she was lighter. Her hair was almost pink and her eyes were a medium green, instead of dark green.”
“Harris, you know we’ve been looking for her,” Winthrop stated. “And instead of letting us know immediately where she was, you let her get away! Made no move to apprehend her!”
“If my theory is correct,” Takor spoke up, “the altered coloring means Lt Mac is electrically charged once again. It could have been dangerous to touch her, or even to come close to her.”
“She kept her distance on her own,” Harris repeated. “Maybe she knows she’s electrically charged.”
“Perhaps she does,” Jane agreed.
“She’s not stupid,” Duck said hoarsely from his temporary seat at navigation.
Jane saw one of Duck’s hands start to tremble, and he pulled it close to his body. Is he having chills? How long before he’s a patient rather than a doctor?
“Harris.” Now Winthrop smiled, and even the ever-friendly Harris cringed at his attention. “It doesn’t sound like you were surprised to find her there. In The Core.”
Harris frowned, and Jane could almost hear her brain churning. “I found-“ Harris paused to clear her throat. “I’ve found Mac in lots of different places, places you wouldn’t think of finding an off-duty communications officer. So, no, I wasn’t.” She belatedly added the required, “Sir.”
“Then she’s been there before? Often, perhaps?”
A touch of panic appeared in Harris’ eyes. She doesn’t want to tell him where he might find her roommate.
“I can’t say how often she's been there, but I have heard of it. Fiala mentioned it, once. I forget who else might have said something.”
“It’s one of her hang-outs?” Winthrop pried.
Harris bit her lower lip. “I couldn’t say, sir. We’re roommates, but different shifts. Usually. We hardly ever see each other.”
“Sir.” Jane turned to Bugalu, who was handling navigation as well as helm. “At the Academy, that was the type of place she’d go to think. I mean, personal thinking. She always said ‘quiet’ wasn’t enough, she needed solitude.”
“That’s all, Harris,” Winthrop started. “You’re dis-“
“How long have you been on duty, Harris?” Jane interrupted. That’s not the first time Winthrop has assumed the right to order crew members around. I called this meeting, not him! I’ve got to get rid of him.
Now Harris really looked panicked, and she stared at the chronometer. Finally, “I, uh, was called to duty around midnight last night, Captain. This morning. Um-“
“I understand,” Jane stated. She’s been on duty over 20 hours, and can no longer do the math to figure out how long it’s been. “Smitty, can you spare Lt Harris for a nap and meal?”
“What?” His face peered through a hatch from the interior of communications. He looked at Jane, glanced at Harris, considered the technician at the engineering console. “How you holding up, Ivanohof?”
The junior tech jumped. “Oh, um. I’m fine, Mr Smythe. Although, I’ve never done duty on the bridge before.”
“Is there anybody down in Engineering?”
Ivanohof nodded. “Ensign Ling called an hour ago. Said she’d been released from Sick Bay and was reporting for duty, but she couldn’t find anybody down there to report to.”
“That’s right,” Smitty muttered. “I told Jones to do his puking in Sick Bay.” His head moved in disbelief. “I always thought half a crew was as skeleton as one could get.” He raised his voice. “Harris, if the captain’s done with you, get a nap and a meal. Come back when you can think.”
“Thank you, chief,” the young woman acknowledged.
“You heard the man,” Jane teased. “You’d better get out before he changes his mind. Dismissed.”
“Thank you, captain,” Harris replied, and left.
Winthrop turned his attention to Bugalu, and his manner was much more brusque than it had been with Harris. “Where else does she hang out?”
“What does it matter?” Duck grumped, his head propped in his hand, his elbow on the console in front of him. Jane could see the smudge of a red spot on his neck above his uniform collar. “She doesn’t look normal. She’s not acting normal. Why assume she’ll go to her normal places?”
“It's all we have!” Winthrop snapped. “All my people have been looking for her, what few I still have. I’m about to take volunteers. Harris is the only one who’s seen her. Apparently, she’s getting around the ship, but we don’t know how.”
“I do,” Smitty stated. He may have been speaking of something else to Abdulla, but Winthrop sneered.
“How?” the security chief demanded.
Something crackled, and Smitty appeared in a hatchway again, finger in his mouth. “She knows the service corridors nearly as good as I do.”
“Yeah,” Bugalu agreed. “Service corridor, access tube, any place she can squeeze through, she’d have learned her first month aboard.”
“Then let's go to Red Alert,” Winthrop stated. “Close all the airtights and let my men search one section thoroughly before they open the next one.”
That’s all we need, on top of everything else! Red Alert would shut down air flow, and that makeshift Sick Bay holds too many people to last long without any influx of air. It would take Security days, with only 3 or 4 able to work. If I tell Winthrop no, he’ll want to take volunteers, or draft people, and every other department is just as empty. “Why?” Jane asked. “Granted we have a communications officer who is not acting normal, but at this point, 95% of the crew fits that description. Red Alert is when we’ve identified a definite danger to the ship and her crew. MacDowell hasn't done anything that puts this ship at serious risk. If she has an electrical charge, that could be likened to the infection that’s made our people sick.”
“She was just found in The Core!” Winthrop objected.
“Where she was sitting and talking to herself,” Jane returned. “There's no indication she was there with nefarious intentions. In fact, that is something she’s done that is ‘normal’ for her - find solitude to facilitate thinking. No. Not Red Alert. And no volunteers, not right now. The entire ship is functioning with only a dozen people, Winthrop. Do what you can. Bugalu, what if we made an announcement that we only want her to go to Sick Bay and get checked out? Do you think that would work?”
Bugalu hesitated, then gave a meaningful look to Tall Bear. “Depends if she feels like listening. And who made the announcement, I guess.”
Yeah. After hours of telling people not to approach her, to alert security where she is so she can be apprehended, we suddenly start asking her to give herself up. Definitely can’t let Winthrop make that announcement!