Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Another Look

Month 6 Day 10
2116 Hours

Smitty entered his quarters, stopped just inside the door. What a mess! Discs and papers were strewn across the desk, a chair was overturned, an open bottle rested against the bottom of the couch with a dark pool of whiskey surrounding it. One of my bottles, not hers.
He sighed and stepped into the bedroom, where a blanket lay on the floor, a boot beside it. He shook his head, tossed the blanket to the bed, put the boot in the closet, returned to the living room.
He set the chair upright, sat down to consider the computer screen. “Computer, reset to what was displayed before Lt Tall Bear looked at this screen.” His eyes automatically squinted as the screen brightened considerably. I wanted to see what she was looking at when they found her, but I can hardly see anything at all on this screen, the controls have been set so far from normal. I don’t remember Tall Bear mentioning that.
He reset the screen controls to something closer to 'normal' and glanced through the various files. Interesting. Not sure it makes sense. That file she started on her own isn’t using Gaelund. Definitely not Sciss. Just squiggles, to me. I’ll transfer these files to the bridge, and we can all take a stab at them together. As he reached to do that, his gaze landed on the lower border of the screen. These files are already being shared. With… Takor’s quarters? Takor’s on the bridge. Then who- I’d better find Tall Bear.
When Smitty left his room, a loud thump made him dash down the corridor in that direction. Outside Takor’s quarters, Ensign Ingersol was against the bulkhead but now slid unconscious to the floor. Smitty stopped short as Tall Bear backed out of the Scission’s room. The AmerInd was being shoved by a long ancient Scission weapon, which had a towel wrapped around the business end. The weapon's length meant that only as Tall Bear was pressed against the bulkhead did his assailant emerge, looking worried, but – for the moment – the master of the situation.
“Colleen!” Smitty blurted.
She didn’t respond, although Tall Bear flashed a palm in his direction, apparently to tell him not to interfere. The AmerInd’s gaze never left Colleen’s face. “Okay, Mac, I’m against the wall. You don’t want to hurt me, or you wouldn’t have padded the weapon. I can’t get you, but you can’t let go. Stalemate. Now what?”
Rather than answer, she took a drink from the bottle she held in one hand. That one’s her brand. I don’t know if Takor can tolerate alcohol.
Despite the earlier statement that Coleen was now deaf, Tall Bear continued to reason with her. “Come on, it’s me. The guy who makes sure you can eat lunch and study without being pestered, remember? There’s no need for us to be at odds. Just go to sick bay and let MacGregor check you out. It won’t take long; it’s plain you don’t have the flu.” Then he grunted. "Okay, you don't like that idea, but you don't need to shove a blunted weapon through my chest."
She finished the bottle's contents, reversed her hold on the neck and began to edge down the weapon toward him. Bear grabbed for her, and she jumped back. His hand didn’t get any closer than half a foot from her, but Smitty plainly saw a great black spark jump that gap. Tall Bear slumped to the floor. Colleen staggered, dropped the weapon and bottle, and sagged against the wall, breathing heavily.
Smitty stepped forward without thinking. “Colleen!”
Her head jerked up, as if she’d heard him. The pupils of her eyes roiled with shades of gray and green. A tear ran down her cheek. She reached out, as if to caress his face, and she spoke, but no sound came from her lips.
Smythe took another step. Her eyes darkened to pine, her hand snapped back and she slid away along the wall.
Tall Bear groaned, and Smitty looked at the 2 men on the floor. Colleen stopped to also look at the men, her lower lip caught between her teeth. She took half a step toward them, then stopped, misery and guilt plain on her face. She tossed a pleading look at Smitty, then turned and raced away.
Bear's right, she insulated the weapon to avoid shocking him, so she knows she’s electrically charged. Planned to use that bottle to knock him unconscious, so she didn’t realize how far that charge could jump. I think she heard me. And Bear’s groan. That was after the discharge. But I couldn’t hear what she said.
Smitty made sure Ingersol was breathing, then stepped to the nearest intercom. “Smythe to bridge.”
“Burke here,” the captain answered. He could hear her stifle a yawn. “What is it, Smitty?”
“I could use someone medical here on five, if there’s anyone available. They found Co- uh, MacDowell again. Ingersol’s unconscious, and Tall Bear’s semi-conscious.”
“I suppose she had returned to your quarters,” Winthrop sneered in the background.
“She was in Takor’s quarters,” Smitty returned icily. “Studying the same files she had open on my computer.”
“Since you only mentioned Ingersol and Tall Bear,” Jane stated, “I assume Lt MacDowell is no longer there.”
Smitty swallowed and glanced around. “No sign of her. She could be anywhere.”
“Good,” MacGregor breathed, barely heard by the engineer. “I’m on my way.”
“Are you sure, Duck?” Jane asked. “You look like last week’s spent fuel cell.”
“There’s no one else,” MacGregor returned.
“Try to find time for a nap,” the captain suggested. “Smitty, did you make any sense out of what MacDowell was… studying?”
“It’s a mishmash,” he answered. “It might help if I could make sense of her notes. I only recognized half the symbols she used, a kind of engineering shorthand." And when, exactly, did she learn that? "The other half is not Gaelund. The files are still open. Have Abdulla clone them to the bridge and you can see it yourself.”
“Great Spirit, what did she hit me with?” Tall Bear wondered as he tried to climb to his knees.
“Electricity,” Smitty answered. “I think. It jumped further than she expected it would, but didn’t seem to hinder her as much as it did you. And the bolt was black.”
“My entire arm is numb,” Tall Bear complained.
"Dr MacGregor is on his way," Jane stated across the intercom.

Yes, but telling him he looked like last week's spent fuel cell was pure flattery. "Stay where you are, Bear," Smitty suggested. "Ingersol's still unconscious, and we need to wait for MacGregor. Then I'll help you two-" Or rather, the 3 of them. "-get to sick bay.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Unhappy Report

Month 6 Day 10
Jane Burke
2109 Hrs

Winthrop stood next to Jane’s chair as they argued over the ship’s blueprint she had displayed on her personal screen. He’s admitted the current search isn’t likely to find the girl, but the only alternative he’ll consider is that he draft everybody, close all the airtights and conduct a ‘proper’ search. Completely ignoring the epidemic, the planet we’re orbiting and any reaction they might have to our presence. A security chief without flexible thinking is worse than no chief at all!
The intercom on Jane’s chair arm beeped. “Captain?” Tall Bear sounded breathless and somewhat confused.
Winthrop punched Jane’s reply button before she had a chance to. “Winthrop here. What is it, Bear?”
“Ahh,” Tall Bear stammered, probably surprised to be answered by his immediate boss rather than the captain. “We… found Mac. MacDowell. But she got away. She was on deck 5.”
“Her quarters are on four,” Winthrop pointed out sharply.
“Yes, sir,” the Amerind agreed calmly. “She wasn’t in her quarters.”
“Then where was she?” Winthrop demanded.
“She, uh… she was in Smythe’s quarters.”
Winthrop turned and glared at the communications console. “Smythe!”
Something sizzled and Smitty peered out of an open hatch again. “Now what?”
“Why was MacDowell in your quarters?”
“How would I know?” Smitty barked back. “She’s never been-“ He stopped suddenly and his cheeks went pink. “I’ve got work to do,” he stated and turned away.
“Perhaps you know her better than you pretend,” Winthrop remarked.
Smitty’s face returned to glare at the security chief. “What are you insinuating?”
“Enough!” Jane put enough bite in her voice to make even Winthrop pause. With a brief glare at him that she hoped might make him remember his place in the scheme of things, she punched the button on her intercom connection. “Lt Tall Bear, what did you find MacDowell doing in Mr Smythe’s quarters?”
“I don’t believe it!” Duck groused in disgust, and wrapped his blanket tighter around himself. Jane exchanged confused looks with Bugalu, who rolled his eyes and shrugged.
“Exactly what was she studying?” Takor asked.
“I haven’t had time to look. Just a second.” The connection stayed open, and she heard a groan in the background. “You okay, Ingersol?”
“Space, she packs a punch!” Ingersol moaned.
Duck looked up. “She hit him?”
Winthrop interrupted. “How did she get away? There’s two of you, and she’s just a short bit of a girl.”
Some days, I wish he wasn't my subordinate so I could show him just what 'girls' can do.
It took a moment for Tall Bear to answer. “We underestimated her. She used her whiskey- she used a number of things as weapons. Threw whiskey in Ingersol’s eyes. We chased her into the bedroom, where she tossed a blanket over us. Then- I thought she was kicking us, but I found one of Mr Smythe’s spare boots next to us after she’d left, so I figure she hit us with the boot on her hand.”
“No direct physical contact,” Takor muttered.
“It felt like she kicked us,” Ingersol commented.
“After her!” Winthrop commanded. “She can’t have gotten far!”
“Just a moment!” Jane barked and paused to adjust her tunic. I have had just about enough of Winthrop! “Have you discovered what MacDowell was studying?”
“Kind of,” Tall Bear replied. "She’s got several files open, including basic radio, communications, some on theoretical radio transportation, engineering…”
“Yes, yes, very interesting,” Winthrop broke in. “But it doesn’t tell us where she’s gone! Get after her!”
“Mr Winthrop!” Jane said loud enough to get the man’s attention. “Must I remind you of one of the first lessons taught to security cadets? ‘Know your enemy!’ I, for one, am not sure Lt MacDowell is our enemy, but even if it turns out that she is – especially if it turns out she is – then it behooves us to learn all we can about what she is doing, in order to figure out what she might plan to do!”
“We have to find her, disable her, and get her locked up!” Winthrop argued. “We already know what she’s up to! She’s out to sabotage this ship! She attacked Mr Takor, and now she’s attacked two of my men! She’s got to be-“
“Enough!” Jane roared, rising to her feat. “Mr Winthrop, I am taking charge in this matter! For now, you will take a seat at the Weapons console, and your only concern is being prepared to return fire, should I order you to do so! Am I understood?”
“Captain, I am Chief of Security! It’s my duty-“
“You are an officer on my ship, and your first duty is to follow my orders! If you can’t, I will relieve you of all duties and have you confined to your quarters!”
At long last, it seemed she had gotten through to him. The wild defiance in his eyes finally settled, although she thought she still saw a hint of sly conniving. He gave her a sloppy salute. “Aye, aye, captain.” He turned and walked to the weapons console.
Takor stepped closer and quietly stated, "I do not believe Ms McDowell attacked me. It seemed pure accident."
"I'm aware of that, Takor." Jane sat back down, realized the intercom connection was still open. “Tall Bear, is there anything else MacDowell was studying?”
“Uh, yeah. Surprised me, but she had a file open on human biology, and…”
“Birds and bees,” Drake muttered, and Bugalu gave him a startled look.
“   another file,” Tall Bear went on, “that looks like notes, calculations. But some of the words, symbols don’t look familiar. I don’t even think they’re Scission.”
“Gaelund?” Jane suggested.
“I’d have to see it,” both Abdulla and Bugalu stated.
“Hmm. Tall Bear, leave the computer as it is; I’ll send someone down to take a look. How is Ingersol doing?”
“I’m okay, captain.” Ingersol’s voice came from further away than Tall Bear’s. “I just needed to, uh, catch my breath.”
“Good. Try to pick up MacDowell’s trail. And please be more careful the next time you find her. You might try talking to her.”
“He did try,” Ingersol stated. “It didn’t do any good.”
“Really?” Jane returned. “I thought you got along with nearly everyone, Bear.”
“Mac and I get along fine,” Bear answered. “But talking didn’t work because she didn’t hear me. Not just what I said, but any noise we made.”
“Yeah, she was acting pretty deaf,” Ingersol added. “Didn’t know we were there until she actually saw us.”
“Mac’s… deaf?” Bugalu muttered in shock.
I understand. How can she function as a communications officer if she can’t hear?
Abdulla tried to brush off her uniform as she turned from communications. “I’ll go look at what Mac was doing.”
Bugalu stood. “Captain, I volunteer to see what Mac was doing. I know how she thinks. I have an overview of both engineering and communications, a couple courses of biology, and her brother was my Academy roommate, so I can recognize Gaelund.”
“Captain,” Smitty said, emerged from inside the equipment and approached her chair. “I’ll go,” he stated. “It’s my quarters, I have the knowledge, including the theoretical.”
“Biology?” Jane asked quietly.
“Captain,” he protested.
“And recognizing Gaelunder?”
“One of my instructors was Gaelund,” he returned. “I still exchange letters with him, and he still sometimes forgets to translate a word or two. I can’t speak it, but I can recognize it. Did I mention it’s my quarters?”
Jane smiled. “Go. See if you can make sense of it.”

“Thank you, captain.”