Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Shared Knowledge

Month 6 Day 31
1732 Hours

As they got their meals, Mac asked, “MacG, could you join us? Since I’ve got you both here, there’s something I’d like to say.”

That’s odd. Mac usually ‘goes with the flow’. If MacGregor joined us without an invite, she’d be fine with it. If he sat someplace else, she’d be fine with that, too, would tell him some other time. So what does she want to tell us?

Mac led them to a corner table as far from the crowd as she could get. She pulled the table away from one wall, and Bugalu grabbed a chair from nearby for her. “Thanks,” Mac said and sat with her back to the wall. That behavior usually means someone’s pestered her. Which doesn’t make sense, since she spent the afternoon with Kolla. She wasn’t paranoid when I found them.

MacGregor set his tray on the table but didn’t sit. “Normally, I’d happily join you,” the doctor stated. “But not today. I keep thinking I’ve forgotten to do something. From the glare the captain’s giving me, I’d better go find out what I’ve done. Or haven’t done. Another time?”

Mac tried to keep her disappointment hidden. “Of course.” After MacGregor picked up his tray and left, she told Bugalu, “You may have to fill him in. I don’t know if I can say this a second time.” Then she sat, staring at her food. Her mouth opened occasionally, but shut again without any words emerging.

Bugalu placed his hand lightly over her balled fist. “Mac?”

She glanced at him, returned her gaze to her plate as her face flushed. “Guess I know why you never talked about this, despite all my pestering, Bugs.” She returned to silence. He could feel her hand quiver. “I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

Bugalu leaned forward. “We don’t have to talk right now,” he whispered. “It can wait until we’re at your place.”

“If I put it off, I might never say it,” she responded.

“Then spit it out and we’ll deal with it.”

She nodded and glanced around. “Remember how you found us this afternoon? Kolla and me?”

Bugalu nodded. “Like my sisters when they were discussing boys.”

“That’s what we were doing,” Mac stated, staring down at her plate.

What - exactly - does she mean? “Things like ‘George is so cute, but Bob is gross’? That kind of talk?”

She glanced around again, her face bright red. “No. Kolla just got married. And nobody had explained to her what to expect. After the ceremony.”

Mac’s mother wasn’t allowed to explain it to her. Was this the blind leading the blind? “Could you help her?”

She gave a brief grimace of irritation. “Sometimes, Yukosk society sounds like Gaelunde,” Mac responded, and reached for the salt shaker. “Kolla was told her mother was... what was that word?... ‘without self-esteem’. And didn’t know which man had given her a child. Which sounds stupid, phrased like that. Like a man hands an infant to a woman.” She put the salt down. “She had no idea what would happen when they were alone. She decided she should let me know... the mechanics. She assumed I was as un-informed as she was. Well, less informed, because she’s been through it few times by now. She says it wasn’t bad, but it sounds awful.”

Bugalu lowered his voice another notch. “Most women like it.”

Mac’s fork quivered above her green beans, and she hissed, “It sounds like… Bob.”

“Bob?” Who’s Bob? That can’t be S’thyme’s first name. Can it?

“George is cute, but Bob is gross,” she repeated.

“Oh.” Bugalu considered what she’d said. “If all she told you was the mechanics, that could sound… weird. I guess. If she had explained the emotions… but you might not have paid attention to that, because it’s so far outside your experience. Sorry, but you still don’t know everything about sex.”

She raised her red face far enough to give him a sour look through her eyelashes. “I imagine not, but this was a chance I couldn’t skip. And she needed to talk.”

“The emotions are the important part.” Bugalu smiled and raised his voice to a more normal tone. “I figured you’d study the mechanics on your own. Like every other subject that caught your imagination.”

Her head came up, her brow wrinkled with confusion. “How?” Her face drained as she realized others could have heard her.

“The same way you studied everything else,” he returned. “With books.”

“Really?” she squeaked, and considered the possibility. “I should visit the library.”

“Hey, Shorty.” Tall Bear stood a respectable distance away with a tray of food.

“Hey, Tall-ey,” Mac responded.

“Hope I’m not intruding,” the AmerInd stated.

“Nope,” Mac said. “Join us, we’re all done planning the secret birthday party.”

Bugalu smiled. Trying to give us a reason for whispering so intensely. Not bad, until someone realizes - eventually - that such party hasn’t happened.

TB sat down and studied Mac’s face. “What’s the final decision, Short Stuff? You coming or going?”

Mac didn’t show any surprise. “Well, Tall Drink, after much consideration, I guess I’ll stick around for a while.”

“Good. Wasn’t sure, after you faced off with Smythe last night.”

“You heard about that?” Mac asked uncertainly.

“The whole ship has heard by now,” Bugalu told her.

TB stated, “Can’t imagine what was going through your mind.”

Mac pushed her potatoes around her plate. “Smit... wasn’t using the rules I expected.”

“Yeah, that’s bad, when they change the rules and don’t tell you,” TB agreed. “Who’s the birthday party for?”

“We don’t know,” Bugalu inserted. “That’s the secret.”

Mac laughed. “Exactly!”

TB shook his head and moved on. “How you feeling? You look a ton better, but... not well rested.”

Mac grimaced. “Don’t tell the docs, but I’m napping, not regular sleep. 4 hours in the morning, then I meet Kolla for lunch and she hands me over to Bugsy when he gets off. Then another 4 hour nap before I go on duty.”

“You haven’t been signaling me to meet you for lunch,” TB stated quietly.

“Oh, blast! Knew I was forgetting something! Sorry, Bear, but I eat when I get off duty, after my first nap, before my 2nd nap, and before I go on duty. I haven’t been eating during my mid-shift break.” She glanced around and lowered her voice. “I go to the observation deck and try to relax.”

“I don’t like that,” Bugalu decided. “You should get a full night’s sleep. Now that you don’t have to study all the time, I wish you’d get to a ‘normal’ schedule.”

“I know,” Mac agreed. “I overslept today and was half an hour late meeting Kolla. And 4 meals a day... I’m going to balloon! But, when we leave Yukosk in another week or... 10 days? I’ve lost track. After that, I can sleep the day shift, eat only 3 meals. And get to the gym. Dog can probably run 2 laps around the ship for every 1 of mine these days.”

“She misses you,” TB stated. “She’s planning a day together for you 2 next shore leave.”

“Sounds good.” Mac tried to stifle a yawn. “Makes me tired just thinking about it,” she stated, and climbed to her feet. “My next nap is calling, Bugs. Good to see you, Bear.”

They watched her leave. “Is she really going to sleep?” TB asked. “Or is she headed for the library?”

“I don’t think she’s desperate for answers this minute, and the library will still be there after we leave Yukosk,” Bugalu answered. “She tries to get enough sleep, but her schedule is weird right now.” I’ll check on her later. “How long have you 2 been having lunch together?” And how did he talk her into it?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Month 6 Day 31
1702 Hours

Mac hadn’t been home. She wasn’t in the library, either. Bugalu stood in the doorway and looked all around, but saw nobody at any of the tables. She said they’d be here if she wasn’t sleeping. So where is she? Think, Bugalu. Where would they go, if she forgot I’d look for her here?

Eventually, he became aware of whispers. Is that Gaelunder? It wasn’t easy to follow the faint sounds to a source; the shelves of computer chips bounced the words into a meandering trail. But he came to a table beyond the shelves, where the two redheads sat together. He waited until Kolla stopped speaking, and both women giggled. “Here you are!” he greeted.

Kolla cringed and reached for her personal translator. Mac adjusted the speaker in her own ear. “I told you we’d be here,” she chided softly, her face pink.

Remembering they had been whispering, Bugalu lowered his voice. “You didn’t say you’d be behind all the computer chips.”

“It’s easier to not be interrupted back here,” Mac answered.

“I’m sorry for interrupting, but you wanted me to find you.”

Mac smiled. “You aren’t interrupting. We had... veered onto a tangent.”

Kolla giggled, and foreign words emerged from her translator. Mac tweaked the woman’s controls. “Kolla, you adjusted the sound level, but you didn’t change it out of Yukosk.”

“-d when I can’t see the controls,” was the end of Kolla’s next statement.

“It takes practice, like everything.” Mac answered. “You’ll figure it out.”

“What did she say?” Bugalu asked. “In her own language.”

Kolla gave him a coy, secretive glance. “I said, ‘it might be unimportant and a tangent to us, but it is vitally important and the main subject to men.”

Well, that makes it as clear as a nebula. Before Bugalu could say anything else, Kolla turned in the direction of the library entrance. She fumbled with her translator, cupped her hand over it and said something to the shelves of chips. Mac told the computers to save their work, then turned off the screens.

S’thyme found his way to them, pulled his wife close for a kiss. Mac leaned against the table to wait. She looked uncomfortable, so Bugalu smiled and mouthed, “Newlyweds.” at her. Mac’s face turned pink, and her gaze drifted.

The couple broke apart, and S’thyme studied Bugalu. “Coline, is this your boy friend?”

Surprised, Bugalu automatically said, “No.”

“She’s adopted,” Kolla stated softly. “He’s her brother.”

“You have so much in common,” S’thyme told his wife.

Kolla gave a brief grimace. “I never got adopted.”

“I almost envy you,” Mac inserted. “I had 8 brothers, all older than me, who saw me as a pest. The youngest, Matt, went to the academy, where he met Bugalu, this guy. Then I went to the Academy. By himself, Matt couldn’t keep me from finding trouble. With 8 brothers protecting me back home, I didn’t know how to avoid it. Luckily, Bugalu became an unofficial brother. He taught both of us ‘wild Gaelunders’ how to behave in a civilized society.”

S’thyme studied both of them for a moment. “What is a gaylanda?”

“A person from the planet Gaelunde,” Mac answered. “Didn’t we go through this, Kolla?”

“Before we separated, it was how you thought of yourself. I thought it was your… tribe.”

“I thought you were human,” S’thyme stated.

“I am,” Mac replied. “About a hundred years ago, a group of humans from Earth started a colony on Gaelunde.”

“She makes it sound so easy,” S’thyme told his wife.

“It wasn’t,” Mac retorted. “Gaelunde is larger than Earth, and the first couple generations were short-lived, even with Earth’s help. If I hadn’t been born there, I don’t know if I’d have been brave enough to be a colonist.”

“S’thyme dreams of a colony on the next planet,” Kolla explained.

“I’m sure the Fleet could give you some information on the various problems our colonies have faced,” Bugalu stated.

S’thyme nodded. “I’ll look into that, thank you. Right now, I want some time with my wife before tonight’s party.” S’thyme took his wife’s hand and started to turn away.

“Lunch tomorrow?” Kolla asked Mac.

“Of course.”

After the Yukosk couple left, Bugalu asked, “You enjoy being with her, don’t you?”

“We are sooo-oo much alike. The 2 of us remind me of any 2 of my brothers.”

“Sounds like you’ve found a sister to adopt.”

Mac froze for a moment. “I’m not sure how to behave with a sister.”

“You worry too much,” he told her. “If you like her, you have things in common and you can talk about anything, then try it. When I heard you 2 whispering and giggling, it reminded me of my sisters.”

“It did?”

“Yeah. They always stopped when I came around, because they were talking about boys.”

She gave him a sharp look. “They didn’t want you to know they were talking about boys?”

“They didn’t want me to know which boys they were talking about. I didn’t want them knowing which girl I currently liked, either, so it was fair. You and Kolla are working on a project? And shall we get supper?”

Mac headed for the exit. “We’re trying to modify the scanners in the sick bay doorways. Kolla knows more biochemistry than I do, but it’s Yukosk biochemistry. I could learn – I picked up a smattering when we needed to get separated. But it’s not a subject I find interesting, so it would take time. More time than we’ve got. I could ask Beth to join us. But Beth is day shift, so we’d have to do this on C shift, and Kolla has a celebration party every night. Maybe Mags. She’s C shift.”

Mags? I don’t know any nurses called Mags. What did Mac shorten? Maguire? Do I know any Maguires? “Who is Mags?”

Mac lifted one corner of her mouth. “Dr Davis.”

“You call Dr Davis ‘Mags’?”

“Not to her face. Yet. Do you think she’d object?”

Bugalu considered that as they got into line in the messhall. “I don’t know her well enough to guess how she’d react.”

“Who?” Dr MacGregor asked as he got in line behind them. “Bugalu, there’s a woman aboard you don’t know well enough to know how she would react? To what?”

“Dr Davis on C shift,” Mac responded. “Bugs doesn’t know how she would react if I call her ‘Mags’. Which, if she joins Kolla and me on our project, I will do, sooner or later.”

“Why do you need a doctor for an engineering project?”

“We’re trying to modify some Yukosk technology. Well, blend it with some of ours. Theirs has a biochemistry basis, so we need someone with a strong knowledge of human biochemistry. And Mags – Dr Davis – hopefully would be available during the latter half of B shift.”

MacGregor smiled. “Perfect. She’s very interested in xeno-biochemistry. As for calling her ‘Mags’, don’t do it while you’re a patient. But as co-workers on a project… I don’t think she’d object. Too much. If she did, would it do her any good?”

Mac frowned. “If she got mad, I’d attempt to use her real name.”

“You never did that for me!” Bugalu pointed out.

“Or me,” MacGregor chimed in.

Mac chuckled. “For you guys, I’m supposed to be a pest!”

She called me Bugs long before she accepted me as a brother. Probably the same for MacGregor. But it won’t do us any good to point that out.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cause for Celebration

Month 6 Day 31
0755 Hours
Lt Abdulla

When Abdulla exited the lift and entered the bridge, she was surprised by Mac’s huge, enthusiastic smile. I don’t think I’ve seen Mac’s full smile since her first month aboard. It’s very good to see it again.

“Good morning, Abs!” Mac greeted warmly as she approached communications.

Abdulla gave her a mock frown as she began the shift-change check of the equipment. “I don’t suppose it’ll do me any good to tell you for the thousandth time that I don’t like being called that.”

Mac shrugged her left shoulder, then her face took on a mock stern look, and her voice moved half a tone higher in pitch. “I know! You just can’t get through to that Mac! She never listens! Why, I’ve heard it said that Bugs doesn’t like being called Bugsy, either. But he’s given up trying to change that wretched, inconsiderate habit of hers.” Mac’s broad smile flashed again and her voice returned to normal. “Maybe you should get used to it.”

Abdulla shook her head and changed the subject. “I heard a rumor that you passed probation. Congratulations. You must have had better luck without me being there. Did I… unconsciously add to your stress level?”

Mac considered the question, but didn’t answer directly. “Have you seen Bugs this morning?”

That change of subject might mean I hit a nerve of some sort. “Should be on the next lift, I imagine. You know how crowded they get at shift change.”

“That’s why I usually take a back route.”

She knows a route to get here using Jeffrey tubes and maintenance passages? I suppose it can be done, I just never bothered to think about it. “Lt. MacDowell, you are relieved.”

“Thanks. Just in time,” Mac said and surged out of her seat to throw her arms around Bugalu as he walked by. “I passed, Bugs!” she said quietly but with joyful enthusiasm.

“Let me breathe!” he requested hoarsely.

Mac immediately loosened her hug, which let him suck air into his lungs. “Sorry. I forgot, in my excitement.”

“I don’t think you broke any ribs.” He smiled and slipped his arms around her shoulders. “But you didn’t need to tell me that; I was there. Still, I’m surprised by your joyfulness this morning. That wasn’t your reaction at the time. I distinctly remember your utter lack of appreciation for the reason for the movie being interrupted.”

Her nose wrinkled in disgust. “That was nonsense! That wasn’t a proper test!” Her smile returned. “I took the test on duty last night, and I passed! Smit even said my answers ‘caught his attention’.”

Abdulla stared at the friends in surprise. On duty? Smythe would have been asleep! Should have been, anyway. Abdulla saw the lift door open yet again, and Mr Smythe stopped short to give the 2 friends a frowning glare. The captain, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to them and walked over to sit in her command chair. And that isn’t the reaction I would expect from the captain upon seeing a couple embracing on the bridge, either. What is going on?

“I knew you could do it,” Bugalu told his friend.

Smythe finally walked forward, uttered, “Not here and not now, lieutenants,” as he walked past them. Mac reluctantly released the daytime helmsman.

“After my shift?” Bugalu whispered. He had only partially released her; he still held her hands.

“Sure,” Mac agreed. “I might be sleeping. Or if I’m not home, check the library. Kolla wants lunch, and we might get carried away exploring some idea or another.”

“Sit down, Mr Evans, you haven’t been relieved,” the captain instructed sharply.

“But Captain-“ The captain must have given Evans one of her looks, because he didn’t pursue his protest. Instead, he returned to his seat at the helm.

“Gotta go.” Bugalu let go of Mac. “I’ll find you.” He headed for the helm, where Evans waited impatiently. Mac turned to leave.

“Captain, here’s my morning report,” Smythe stated.

“Thank you, Mr Smythe, for being so prompt.” Capt Burke’s response was louder than she usually spoke, and she immediately added, “Congratulations, Lt MacDowell.” Mac stopped moving forward and turned around, her green eyes round with surprise. The captain twisted in her chair to smile at the redhead. “I don’t remember if I said it last night, so welcome to the crew of the Fireball.”

Mac seemed uncertain how to react. “Th- Thank you, captain.” The captain turned away, and Mac’s full smile emerged once again. Her hands formed a few movements in Abdulla’s direction before she whirled and bolted through the closing lift doors.

Abdulla’s mind sorted and eventually translated those hand movements. She chuckled, then slapped a hand over her mouth to keep the chuckle inside. She glanced at Smythe, who stood near the engineering console, his gaze on the closed lift. He walked over to communications. “What were those hand signals, lieutenant?”

“It’s an ancient Amerind sign language, sir. Yellow Dog uses it quite a bit, and I’ve seen Tall Bear use it, too, now that there’s somebody else aboard who knows it. Mac knows it better than I do, but I’m fairly certain she told me I’m stuck with her now.”

“Stuck,” he muttered. “Yes, I guess we all are.” Smythe took a step away, told her over his shoulder, “I’ll be in engineering.”

Abdulla stared as he left the bridge. He usually says that to the captain, not me. And Evans was rebuked for attempting to hurry Bugalu’s taking the helm? What a morning this has turned out to be. And no wonder Mac was so full of joy this morning. ‘Maybe you should get used to it,’ she remembered the redhead saying to her. Abdulla’s smile faltered. Well, maybe I should. That’s how she treats all her friends. It’s only people she doesn’t like who she calls by their full name. But no one else gets to call me that!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Personally Involved (Part 3)

Month 6 Day 31
0145 Hours
Capt Burke

“Impress?” Smitty repeated. “Who said you have to impress me?”

The girl flushed, but Jane wasn’t sure if that meant uncertainty or embarrassment.

MacDowell lowered her face to stare at the floor. “Capt Nash of the Bartholomew. When he heard the assignment I wanted, he gave a sour grin and said he’d sign the paperwork, but it wouldn’t matter, because once I failed to impress Mr Smythe, I’d be sent back to a tug.”

“Sounds like Nash,” Jane stated, and turned to Smitty. “When she came on board, did you explain what you expect from a new lieutenant?”

“Of course I-” He stopped and thought for a moment. With a grimace, he admitted, “I may have forgotten.” Splotches of color grew on his cheeks. “There’s no excuse for my lapse, of course. I apologize, captain.”

“Don’t apologize to me,” Jane told him. “Apologize to her!”

“Oh. Yes.” He walked closer, facing the girl. “I apologize, lieutenant. I should have explained what I expected from you.”

“You made it plain enough,” MacDowell stated coldly. “I haven’t managed to satisfy you yet.”

“How could you possibly know what he expected if he didn’t tell you?” Jane asked. “That’s like giving a test without even telling the student what subject it covers.”

“I got the general idea with the first question he asked.”

“I shouldn’t have asked that.” Smitty cleared his throat, his face pink. “I believe it was asked when I was on probation for my current rank. It’s definitely not something I normally ask a new lieutenant.”

“Then why did you chew me out when I took too long to find the answer?”
I remember that day. He was genuinely surprised by the question he had asked. So how could he…“You chewed her out?” Jane asked.

Smitty put his mug on the corner of Jane’s desk, his cheeks darkening to red. With a glance at the girl, he slipped his hands behind his back. “It’s, uh, standard practice for me,” he stated blandly, either to both or neither of them. “I want my people to be on their toes, not so self-satisfied they don’t notice anything. Lieutenant, I apologize again. That was several hours later, and by then, I had forgotten what question I had asked.”

For someone who wants his people on their toes, he certainly seems to have been forgetful or preoccupied that particular day. How often does that happen? Maybe I should have Duck look him over. “So, if I understand this, her first day aboard, you unthinkingly asked her an impossible question for someone of her experience, then you chewed her out for not having the answer on the tip of her tongue.”

Smitty gave Jane a mournful glance. “I'm afraid so.”
Jane had trouble keeping her temper, but thought he might understand what he had done if he received a mild rebuke in front of the girl. “Between you and Nash, it's no wonder she didn't have any confidence and couldn’t answer your questions when you tried to administer a test!”

His face red, Smitty stared at the floor. “You're right, captain, of course. If I'd been more... sensitive, I would have realized what was wrong a long time ago.”

“And I could have impressed you!” the redhead stated. “I didn’t really believe anything Nash said, but... I couldn't do anything well enough, after day 1.”

“My fault entirely,” he muttered, still staring at the floor. He took a deep breath and raised his head, but not quite far enough to look at the girl. “I told you hours ago that you'd passed probation, but you didn't like my reason. Since you've now answered most of the test questions in far more detail than the computer expected, will you accept that you've passed?”

“If I'd answered those questions that way the first time you tested me, -”

“I'm not easily impressed,” he answered before she finished her question. He raised his face to look at her. “But what I usually get are the standard answers. I think tonight’s answers would have certainly gotten my attention.”

MacDowell nodded, then grimaced. “Back then, I would have given the standard answers. That was kind of drilled into me at the Academy. And I hadn't met Kolla yet.”
Jane took a drink of her coffee and something Smitty had said finally got through to her tired brain. “Wait a minute. You told MacDowell hours ago that she passed probation? Why didn't you tell me? Why did we go through this when I really wanted to sleep?”

“It would have been in my morning report,” he answered. “As for your plan, you never told me why I was coming to your office. Once I got here, you laid it out and got it started before I could-” He stopped, his gaze flicking to MacDowell.

“Yes, I didn't want to waste time arguing about it,” Jane admitted.

“And, since Colleen hadn't wanted to accept my earlier statement about passing, I thought if she could answer the questions for you, that should settle the matter.”

“Except, I didn't finish the test,” MacDowell stated.

“Yes, you have,” Smitty said quickly. “Every remaining question on that version of the test is a question you've answered correctly during past tests. Face it, Colleen, you've passed probation and are now a member of this crew.”

“Welcome aboard, Lt MacDowell,” Jane told her with a broad smile.

“Thank you, captain. And... uh... Smit. May I return to my post, before Ad- Lt Adams fries the circuits or something?”

“Why would he do that?” Smitty asked.
“I had him relieve her so she could take the test,” Jane explained. “Yes, lieutenant, you’re dismissed. Tell Adams for me that he is free to return to engineering, and that I have full confidence you will be able to repair communications yourself, should that be necessary.”

“Thank you, captain.” The redhead turned and walked out, back to the bridge.

Smitty watched the door long after it closed behind the girl, a half smile on his mouth. Has it dawned on him - again - that she's a beautiful woman? I hope not. We just got her to halfway trust him. What did she say to him when she came aboard? Something about them not needing to be at war? Don't remember his answer, but it sounded cold and half angry. She finished her coffee and stood up, ready to call it a day. “Smitty, I'd like you to keep an eye on Adams.”

“Both eyes,” he agreed musically.

She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “I said Adams, not MacDowell!”
“What?” He turned to face her, turned again to follow her into the hall. “What have you suddenly got against Adams?”
“He and Evans were standing at communications when I went out to get MacDowell. Evans is my problem; I’ll deal with him. I asked Adams if there was a problem with communications, and he implied there was. But MacDowell said she was listening to Yukoskian radio stations to learn more of their language.” She pushed the button to call for the lift.

Smitty scowled. “That doesn't seem feasible. She'd have to find a new station every 3-4 minutes.”

Jane stared at him in dismay and disapproval. After all he’s put her through, he still wants to discount anything she says. “I suspect that's more enjoyable than listening to 2 fools trying to impress her with their version of 'lady-killing'.”

“Then why have him come up to relieve her? He should have stayed in engineering and sent an ensign.” The lift door opened, and they both got in. “Deck 3, north,” he instructed.
“You aren't listening,” Jane told him. “Or maybe you're still asleep. Adams was already on the bridge when I walked out. Since he was there – and didn't have a good reason for it – I put him to work.”

“Serves him right for being away from engineering without good reason,” Smitty decided.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Personally Involved (Part 2)

Month 6 Day 31
0145 Hours
Capt Burke

Jane stood up. “Stay quiet. I’ll go get her. And don’t fall asleep, or I’ll personally approve her promotion.” He didn’t answer, so she assumed he was following instructions to be quiet. She walked to the door to the bridge, which opened for her.

Jane stopped, surprised to see 2 men standing behind MacDowell at the communications console. The men were talking and laughing, while the redhead worked. “Lt Evans,” Jane greeted as she moved forward. “If communications has a problem, I would expect Lt Adams to handle it without your supervision.”

Red-faced, Evans turned, muttered, “Yes, captain,” and headed for the helm.

That left Adams slack-jawed and looking guilty. “What problem with communications have you been called up to solve, Mr Adams?”

“Ahh. Mac- Lt MacDowell hasn’t told me yet,” he stated.

“Lt MacDowell?” Jane asked.

The girl looked around and was surprised to see Jane on the bridge when she should have been in bed. “Captain, is there a problem?” She pulled a small speaker from the ear closest to the captain.

The speaker is traditionally worn in the other ear, although every person assigned here has a pair of them. She could be wearing both, which would indicate she didn’t care to listen to the 2 men standing behind her. “I assume Lt Adams is here to solve a problem with the communications equipment that you could not fix.”

MacDowell made a short, rude noise. “Communications is working perfectly, captain. I’ve been listening to Yukosk radio stations, learning more of their language.”

Most would just let the translator do the work at this point. And since these people speak and hear at a frequency we can’t speak or hear, that makes sense. But MacDowell still wants to study their language. “There isn’t any problem with communications, Mr Adams.”

“Ahhhh...” He obviously does not have any acceptable reason to be here.

“Still, it’s good that you’re here. Adams, relieve MacDowell at communications. I need to see her in my office.”

“Me?” Adams asked in disbelief. “At communications?”

Jane gave the engineer a cool stare. “You have been cross-trained on the equipment, right?”

“Yes, captain, but... it’s been a while.”

“Try to remember how it’s done,” she instructed. “Come along, MacDowell.” Assuming the girl would follow, Jane walked back to her office and paused next to her desk for a slurp of coffee. Good, I can't see Smitty. I don't hear any snores, so I hope that means he's still awake. She turned and smiled at the redhead. “Would you like some coffee? I just made it.”

MacDowell stood in front of the closed door, looking uncertain, and slowly removed the speaker from her other ear. “No, thank you, captain. I never acquired a taste for it.” She took a step forward. “Have I... done something wrong?”

“Not that I know of,” Jane replied. “But you did ask me something this morning... I mean, yesterday, since it’s past midnight. And I finally have an answer for you. Go ahead, sit down. We might as well be comfortable.” Jane sat, and the girl followed her example.

“I- I’m sorry, Captain. I had a... an upsetting evening before I came on duty, and I don’t remember what I asked.”

What did Bugalu do? Not my business. Unless she lodges a complaint. “You wanted to take your test tomorrow. I mean, today. So I’ve decided to give it to you. If you’re ready, we can do it now.”

The redhead gave a lop-sided smile. “A pop quiz? Why not? Lots of people have quizzed me, trying to figure out how I can be so stupid that I haven’t passed yet.”

“I don’t think you’re stupid,” Jane stated as she turned on her computer screen and called up the test.

“Thank you, captain, but-“

“Banish thoughts like that,” Jane instructed. “They are not your friends. Such thoughts erode your confidence, which makes you second-guess what you’re about to say. And that becomes a self-defeating cycle.”

“Bugs... Uh, Bugalu told me something similar a few days ago.”

“Good. I hope you listened. Let’s get started, shall we?” She read the first question. MacDowell’s answer started almost before Jane finished reading. The answer hit all the marks the computer expected, and the redhead added extra details. Sure hope Smitty’s awake and hearing this. Jane read the next question, and again MacDowell’s answer had more details than the computer expected. Several more questions were answered in similar fashion. If Smitty gave extra credit, she’d have more than 100% correct on each question. Jane covered a yawn and looked up when the girl stopped speaking in mid-sentence.

“Sorry, captain.” MacDowell’s cheeks were pink. “I’ve been answering as if Kolla were asking these things. I mean, we all learned the same technology, but she didn’t. I go into far more detail when I explain something to her. It’s kind of like talking to Takor, except I seldom talk technology with him anymore. The Sciss family dynamics, society, religion... those are all so different from human versions. Even after 6 months, I feel I’ve just scratched the surface of learning about them. Anyway, I’ll try to stick to the details the computer looks for, and we’ll get done faster.”

A deep voice came from the darkness around the corner. “No need. I’ve heard enough.”

MacDowell stiffened, her face white. Her eyes looked past Jane and when those eyes grew large, Jane knew Smitty had emerged from the darkness. “Smit!” MacDowell was so shocked, there was hardly any sound to her utterance.

Jane whirled her chair around, saw Smitty refilling his mug. “What did I tell you would happen if you didn’t stay quiet?”

“You don’t have to personally approve her promotion. She’s passed probation.”

The girl jumped to her feet, her face almost matching her hair and uniform. “I told you no!” she hissed at the chief engineer.

“You can’t tell me no now, Colleen. You’ve got the captain involved in this.”

“The captain is not- Wait.” The redhead looked at Jane. “You were ready to approve my promotion? Why?”

“Because you have skill, knowledge and talent. It isn’t fair to hold you back just because there’s one man on this ship you can’t talk to.”

“But he’s the one that matters! He’s the one I have to impress!”

“Impress?” Smitty repeated. “Who said you have to impress me?”

The girl flushed, but Jane wasn’t sure if that meant uncertainty or embarrassment.

Next Time:
MacDowell lowered her face to stare at the floor. “Capt Nash of the Bartholomew. When he heard the assignment I wanted, he gave me a sour grin and said he’d sign the paperwork, but it wouldn’t matter, because once I failed to impress Mr Smythe, I’d be sent back to a tug.”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Personally Involved (Part 1)

Month 6 Day 31
0145 Hours
Capt Burke

Jane turned off her computer screen, pulled the memory chip and tossed it in her desk. Leaning back, she rubbed her tired eyes. Nice to know I still have friends among the Academy faculty. I see why Bugalu told me to look up MacDowell’s grades. Highest marks in her class, but... she still got assigned to tugs. Because administration decided she was a trouble-maker.

Does Bugalu know they had that opinion? Wait, of course he knows; he was a witness in most of the incidents her first 2 years, one who insisted MacDowell was not the problem, as did Matt MacDowell, her brother. During her 3rd year, when those 2 were no longer on campus, the complaints against her doubled, and the complaining party was Cadet Baker. That’s a common name; I’ve probably never met him. But he was involved in all complaints against MacDowell. Usually the complainer, sometimes a witness against her.

Her final year, no complaints. None. Either her final year’s discipline record has been wiped, or Baker wasn’t there, and she got along with everybody else.

Jane almost dozed off but forced her eyes to open. Based on these Academy grades, and the statements of Abdulla and Takor, I’m inclined to believe MacDowell knowledgeable. But she can’t think around Smythe. It happens. New people often find it difficult to talk to one officer or another.

She wants to take - and pass - her test tomorrow. Jane glanced at the time display. Scratch that, it’s today. And she’s on duty, so let’s get this done before I fall asleep.

Jane punched a number into the intercom and waited for an answer from the other end. She thought she heard a muffled, “What?”

Sounds like he answered in his sleep. “Smythe?”

“In bed,” the man answered. “Night.”

“Smitty!” Jane pushed out before he could disconnect.

He gave a short, wordless cry, and she could imagine him suddenly sitting up in his dark bedroom. “Who’s there?

“Smitty, it’s Jane,” she answered. “Come here, I need you.”

“Jane?” he repeated. “You want me... in your quarters?”

Jane stared at the intercom speaker in surprise. Black space, what is he thinking? What kind of dream did I interrupt? “My office. Use the hall door. And before you come, put some clothes on.”

“Can’t it wait until morning?”

“No. I won’t be able to sleep until I’ve got this resolved. And if I can’t sleep, somebody will keep me company. That somebody is you. Get up here. I’ll make coffee.”

His sigh trailed off into a groan. “Yes, captain.”

Jane broke the connection before she heard any of the under-his-breath complaining she was sure he would do all the way to her doorway. Emitting her own deep sigh, she got up and set the pot to brew, then sat down again to wait.

The hall door bzzed, startling Jane awake. “Come in,” she said, and the partition opened to let Smitty step inside.

His uniform was clean and unwrinkled, his hair combed, but the dark smudges under his eyes said he was barely awake. “You look almost as bad as I feel,” he stated, then bit his lower lip. “Sorry, Jane.”

“Don’t worry about it.” She forced herself to stand up and got the 2 biggest mugs she could find in the ‘refreshment area’, filled them with black coffee and returned. She was dismayed to see he was seated, but handed him a mug and sat down behind her desk.

Smitty held his mug near his mouth, blowing the steam away, eager to cool it enough to drink. After a long moment, he took a quick sip. “What’s this about, captain?”

Jane took a longer sip, then had to breath open-mouthed to cool her mouth and throat. “Tomorrow’s the day- no, that’s wrong. Today’s the last official day of MacDowell’s probation.”

Smitty frowned. “I know that.“

She held up a hand to stop him. “You’ve already given her another month. But she doesn’t want it, wants to pass the test before the record shows she needed ‘extra time’. And I can’t blame her.”


“She’s asked me to have someone else proctor the test, since she can’t think if you’re around. I know that’s not how you do things, but you haven’t managed to pry her out of that stage yet, so I figure it might be time to try something different.”


I’m going to proctor the test. Right now. You’ll be here, able to hear every word, but she won’t know it. Now, I’d like to get some sleep tonight, and no doubt you’d like to return to your bed as quickly as possible, so take your coffee and go sit in Blossum’s area. With the lights off, and if you sit still and listen, MacDowell won’t know you’re there.”

For a moment, Smitty stared at her, as if he wasn’t sure he understood what she meant. He took a slow drink of his coffee and asked, “This is why you needed me here?”

“It seems the simplest way to solve the problem,” she stated firmly. “Now go on, move over there so I can bring her in.”

With his forehead wrinkled, Smitty stiffled a yawn and took his mug of coffee around the corner, into the dark alcove. “Say something in your normal voice, so I know I can hear you,” he requested.

“Are you ready?” she asked, resisting the urge to raise her voice.

“Just a moment, I’m trying to get the chair into the corner without bumping into anything.”

“Turn the light on while you do that, and then turn it off.”

“Ahhh, can’t remember where the switch is. Okay, I’m in the corner and sitting down. I can’t see your desk.”

“Then MacDowell won’t be able to see you,” Jane stated.

“I suppose not,” he returned.

Jane stood up. “Stay quiet. I’ll go get her. And don’t fall asleep, or I’ll personally approve her promotion.” He didn’t answer, so she assumed he was following instructions to be quiet. She walked to the door to the bridge, which opened for her.

In the next episode:

Jane stopped, surprised to see 2 men standing behind MacDowell at the communications console.