Month 6, Day 11
Capt Jane Burke
Jane winced at the noise produced by the engineers - Abdulla was the only communications personnel involved - as they re-created a web of wiring and parts between the communications and engineering consoles. She stared at the chronometer until the fuzziness coalesced into numbers. Less than half an hour to day shift. Wonder if there’s anybody for me to turn the bridge over to. She toggled the intercom on her arm chair.
“Sick bay,” a voice responded.
She kept her voice calm and soft. “I know everybody is busy down there, but I did ask for someone to come to the bridge, just in case. We can’t be certain what’s going to happen.”
“Yes, Captain. Peg- Davis is on her way up. Oleander, who wrote this? This can’t be right. I’m surprised she’s not already there, captain.”
The lift between science and weapons opened, and Davis emerged. “She just arrived. Thank you.” Jane broke the connection just as an argument broke out among engineers. This has not been a smooth effort. If it was any less smooth, they would have come to blows.
“You can’t put a B1223 there!” Adams declared.
“Adams, don’t argue,” Wilson returned, not even raising her eyes from the sketch she held in one hand.
Dr Davis reached Jane’s side. “Anybody new been released?” Jane asked quietly.
“The B1223’s output would be garbage to the F382 you’ve got coming next! And we’re the same rank, Wilson, so don’t order me around!”
“The drawing says that’s where it goes,” Wilson stated coldly.
Davis’ voice was a whisper, comparatively. “Captain, everyone who gets released is instructed to report here for assignment. Is... that not correct any longer?”
“It must be a mistake!”Adams declared.
“Just attach it, Adams,” Abdulla instructed. “And before you get irate, I’m senior to both you and Ivy!”
“Can’t make the next grade, huh, Abbie?” Evans had turned away from the helm and grinned as he added his barbed query.
“Mr. Evans, you’re assigned to the helm,” Jane stated. “That qualifies you to participate in the discussion between engineering and communication personnel.”
He seemed surprised to see her still on the bridge. “Ah... yes, captain.” He turned back to his station.
Jane hoped her input might put out the flames of disagreement. “In that case, give me a stimulant,” she whispered to Davis. “A little stronger than the last one. When we get more of the crew able to work, we’ll figure out a better way to assign them, but for now, that arrangement stands.”
“I can’t recommend a third stimulant, captain,” Davis whispered as she readied the requested dose.
The engineering conversation had continued in lower voices, until, “What did you say?”
Jane turned to see Adams glaring at a chubby engineering tech. What did she say? Guess I can’t listen to two conversations at the same time.
“She said it’s not a B1223 anymore,” Abdulla told him. “And if you’d look at it, you’d see she’s right! It’s been modified!”
“Communications don’t use B1223’s, so how would you know?” Adams asked.
“Mr Adams,” Jane broke in, “Lt Abdulla could as easily work in engineering as communications. In fact, she’s been asked if she wanted to transfer - retaining her rank and seniority - but she’s happy where she is. Perhaps you should take another look at that... whatever... in your hand.”
Fuming, the engineer looked at the unit again. His forehead wrinkled, then he turned to the tech and asked, “How did you know?” He was much quieter, as if he didn’t want his voice to carry.
The tech shrugged. “Everything I’ve attached has been modified.”
“They’ve all been modified,” Abdulla stated.
“I hope I get a chance to study this arrangement,” Wilson told her. “The modifications are fascinating, but putting them all together is... I haven’t figured that out, but it looks impressive!”
Adams returned to work, but commented, “Considering that MacDowell did this, it will probably blow up before it even gets turned on.” Wilson, Abdulla, and even the tech glared at him. “Well, she doesn’t know anything. Everybody knows that.”
Abdulla responded in her native tongue as she worked. When she finished speaking, the tech added, “Don’t know what you said, but I agree 110%.”
Wilson grinned at the youngster and handed her another piece, showed her the sketch, and pointed out where/how it should go.
Where’s Smitty? Why hasn’t he & that redhead arrived yet? Jane glanced at the project, rather than the workers. Who knows how far they’ve gotten with putting it back together? Maybe he hasn’t even been able to find her, let alone convince her to-
The lift between communications and engineering opened, and Smitty stumbled onto the bridge, his face and hands covered in yellow spots. He looks ghastly. Was only a matter of time before he came down with the flu. Do I order him to sick bay now, or wait for him to collapse? Probably have to wait, if there’s work to be done.
An Amerind yeoman had emerged right after the chief engineer, and Jane could see the absolutely white face of a woman still on the lift. That woman put a hand out to stop the door from closing and stared at the group of people re-building the nonsensical contraption. She raised her other hand to chug the contents of a liquor bottle.
Jane’s face stiffened, but she didn’t frown. I know MacDowell’s a heavy drinker, but this isn’t the time...
The redhead - pink highlights in her curls, that’s new - slowly emerged from the lift as Smitty and the yeoman carefully made their way through the tangle of wires, with help from the workers. Smitty fell into the seat at engineering.
“Hello, Mac.” Wilson smiled at the redhead. “When this is over, you’ve got to teach me all about this... thing.”
When MacDowell didn’t respond, Abdulla muttered, “She might not be able to hear us, Ivy, don’t take it personal. And keep a safe distance; she’s packing a big electrical charge.”
“Six feet,” Smitty clarified. “Minimum distance.”
MacDowell looked at what each member of the ‘team’ was doing, then shooed them away with a strange mix of hand movements; one hand had the palm facing them, as if sliding crumbs off a table, and the other palm faced herself, fingers pointed down and moving out and up, rather like an old-fashioned broom Jane had seen once.
“Move,” the yeoman ‘translated’.
“Time to turn it over,” Wilson stated. “Thank you for your help, people. Mr Smythe, which of us would you like to take over the day shift in Engineering?”
“You,” he croaked, and managed to pull his gaze from the redhead. “Adams, be prepared for C shift, if I haven’t found anybody else by then. Take these others with you and divvy them up. Right now, they’re all the engineers we’ve got.”
Wilson hadn’t thought to ask Jane, nor had Smitty, and Jane let the arrangements stand.
“Okay.” Wilson handed the sketch to Smythe. “Leave your tools on the floor, where Mac can find them, and we’ll use the starboard lift.”
Within moments, the engineers left the bridge, Abdulla had backed up as far as the science console, and MacDowell had stepped forward to inspect the work that had been done. Relative silence fell over the bridge as the redhead did her inspection, occasionally changing the pattern of wiring connected to one of her modified pieces.
“Captain, something’s going on with the moon colony,” Moor reported.
“What?” Jane demanded, turning her chair to face him. Got so caught up in this thing with MacDowell, I nearly forgot the planet, the moon colony, and the people who live here. They must realize by now one of their people is missing. If one of them is. How many times have we orbited the planet, gone past that moon?
“I’m not certain,” Moor replied. “There’s several... what appear to be communication dishes. Most are aimed at the planet, which seems normal. But one of them is tracking us.”
“A weapon?” We were just going to take a quick look at this planet, something to keep up the morale of those who can work.
“Hard to tell. Like I said, they look like communication dishes. Why would they aim weapons at their home planet? Or only one weapon at us?”
“Good questions.” Are they trying to communicate? We can’t, our equipment is currently holding one of them. Wait... if their transportation takes place at the same wavelength that we communicate... “Evans, start blinking our exterior lights.”
“What?” The surprised helmsman turned to face her.
Jane tried hard to keep her temper. Why did I ever think he was ready... Later. “Take control of the docking lights, identification beacons, anything on the exterior of the ship that emits in the electromagnetic-”
“Would a synchronized one-two pattern serve the purpose, captain?” Abdulla asked from the science console.
“Yes. Vary the wavelengths as much as you can. We have no idea what frequencies they might see, hear or otherwise sense.”
Abdulla made 3 or 4 more adjustments and returned the console to Takor. “Done, captain.”
From the science console! That’s innovative. “Thank you, lieutenant. Keep me informed, Moor.” Jane turned her attention back to the redhead.
Smitty sat with his elbow on the engineering console, propping up his head. Dr Davis stood behind him, frowning at the screen of the medical reader she held near his back. His eyes are drooping, but he’s following every move MacDowell makes, utterly fascinated by what she’s doing. He probably doesn’t realize Davis is there.
MacDowell talked to herself as she worked, although no sound was heard. Jane caught movement in the corner of her eye and saw that Abdulla had an old-fashioned hand-held translator and had inched forward as she worked the controls. Abdulla took another step, and MacDowell abruptly moved back. Surprised, Abdulla realized how close she’d gotten, and stepped away.
That redhead looked like death warmed over when she got here, but now she’s alert and... downright lively.
MacDowell pointed to the translator and raised her fist sharply, her thumb aimed into the air. “Volume?” Abdulla muttered. “Raising the volume won’t do any good; there’s nothing for it to hear.”
MacDowell repeated the signal, and Abdulla shrugged in confusion. The redhead then alternately flexed and curled her hand as she moved it through the air. Abdulla shook her head and muttered, “This would be a good time to know a common sign language.”
“Waves,” the yeoman stated.
“Ocean waves,” Smitty said softly. “Cool, calm- Oh, I think I’m sea sick!” Davis hurriedly gave him a shot, and his body relaxed, his illness forgotten. “She keeps pointing to the translator, lieutenant. It’s got to have something to do with that.”
“I know that.” Abdulla’s response was little sharp.
By now, the redhead had given up on those signs, and repeatedly made fists, palms upward. Abdulla muttered to herself, still uncertain what the redhead wanted.
Takor’s yeoman surged forward, pulled the translator from Abdulla and tossed it. The redhead caught it, grinned, and began manipulating the controls, all the while talking. She still could not be heard. After a moment, MacDowell grabbed a tool from the floor, popped the unit open, and began making adjustments inside.
“Hey!” Smitty protested, at last realizing what she was doing. She didn’t respond, and he began muttering. “Suddenly, she can’t stop modifying everything!” Raising his voice, he told her, “I hope you can remember how to put that back the way it was.”
MacDowell suddenly stopped and stared for half a moment at the machine she held. With a grin, she said something, and the machine squawked: “Xguurblat is féidir liom.” While the machine droned, she looked up to see how they reacted. “ ‘Xguurblat’ is an unknown language. ‘Is feidir lion’ is Gaelunder for ‘I can.’ ”
“Did she just answer me?” Smitty wondered. “I didn’t hear a word she said, but apparently that machine did.” He hunched one shoulder and irritably exclaimed, “Whoever’s making that noise, cut it out!”
Now Jane heard it, too; a high-pitched whine that... warbled, for lack of a better word to describe it. MacDowell forgot the old translator she held, her eyes focused relentlessly on a point behind Jane’s chair.