Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A New Solution

Month 6 Day 16
1217 Hours

Bugalu carried a lunch tray into sick bay, but slowed and stopped at the sound of raised voices coming from the patient ward. He recognized both voices, but they were muffled just enough that he wasn’t sure what they were saying.

Two nurses working at their station looked up at him. Monroe gave him her usual smile and ‘I’m ready’ look, but Karu’s greeting was more specific. “Please, go right in, Bugs. Maybe they’ll stop fighting.”

“Don’t call me that,” he stated absently. He walked across the lobby, put the tray on the counter. “What are they fighting about?”

Karu glanced at the wall that muffled the voices and shrugged. “She wants to be released. He wants her to sleep. He’s even threatened to sedate her.”

“I was hoping she’d be awake now, that she might have taken a nap following this morning’s negotiations,” Bugalu stated, and glanced at the tray he’d brought. “Thought we could eat together.”

“She had a nap,” Karu confirmed. “Think it lasted 5 or 6 minutes. They’ve been arguing since. Apparently, the restraints no longer help.”

“I saw him put the restraints on her this morning, when we brought her back from the mess hall. I thought she was joking about escaping, but if he’s been using restraints...” He shook his head in incomprehension.

“Actually, until today, she’s been an amenable patient,” Karu stated. “She complained of boredom yesterday, but that’s understandable. She’s not the kind to sit still. No, the restraints are to help her sleep.”

“How does being tied to the bed help anyone sleep?”

“I don’t understand it, but apparently, every time she falls asleep - for a couple minutes - she has a nightmare - which she can never remember, afterwards - and wakes up. Violently. MacGregor didn’t want her falling out of bed, so he put restraints on her. And for 2 days, more or less, she’d get up to 45 minutes of sleep before the nightmare would wake her.”

“I’ve never known Mac to have nightmares,” Bugalu muttered.

Karu canted her head to one side. “Are you that familiar with her sleeping patterns, Bugsy?”

Walked right into that one, didn’t I? “No,” he denied, and gave her a lop-sided smile. “But if she had complained of nightmares, her brother would have told me.”

“Her brother?”

“My roommate at the Academy. That’s how I met Mac. And please don’t call me Bugsy.”

Karu gave him a small frown. “Mac calls you that all the time.”

“Mac gives everybody a nickname. And nobody can get her to stop using it, no matter how much it irritates them. Least of all me.” He turned his head, realizing the wardroom had fallen silent. “Sounds like they’re done arguing, so I’ll go in.”

“Maybe he finally sedated her,” Monroe suggested.

“You know she doesn’t want that,” Karu told the blond.

Monroe seemed unconcerned. “Since when does the patient dictate their medical treatment?”

In the patient ward, MacGregor stood beside Mac’s bed, watching the display board over her head. He glanced around as Bugalu put the tray of food on the bedside table. “How is it you always manage to arrive just as she’s fallen asleep?”

“Beats me, doc. But it’s disappointing. I came to have lunch with her.”

“I thought you had brought a lot of food. Well, pull up a chair and wait. This will only take a couple minutes.”

“What do you mean?”

“Her blood pressure’s up, breathing and heart rate erratic. My guess is she’s already having that blasted nightmare, whatever it is.”

Bugalu watched her face instead of the display. “Poor Mac. No more spots, but she looks as bad as I’ve ever seen her.” He wrapped his hand around hers and bent over. “Wish I could help you, Mac,” he whispered, and placed a brotherly kiss on her forehead before he straightened up. Somehow, her face looked more relaxed.

“What did you do?” MacGregor asked.

“What’s wrong?”

“Her blood pressure, heart rate, breathing... all headed for normal sleep. That’s what the restraints used to do for her. Course it didn’t last long, but a 45-minute nap is better than a 4-minute nap. I saw the kiss on the forehead, but what did you say to her? If you don’t mind telling me.”

“Just that I wished I could help her,” Bugalu answered. “And - if it makes any difference - I’m still holding her hand.”

“You were holding her hand when you brought her down here this morning,” MacGregor remembered.

Bugalu grimaced. “More like she had a death grip on mine. The idea then was to keep her from punching Tall Bear.”

“Right. He got a black eye the last time. And Tall Bear’s the proverbial gentleman. She really doesn’t trust men, does she?”

“No. Well, relatives, I guess.”

“Can you stick around? After you and Tall Bear left this morning, she slept an hour and a half. That’s the approximate length of a sleep cycle, so if she could just get a half dozen naps that long, she’d be in a lot better condition.”

“It’s my lunch break. I can’t stay that long.”

“I’m not suggesting it. You held her hand for what, less than 10 minutes this morning?”

“Yeah, about that, counting trying to pry my hand out of her grip.”

“Ten minutes or less, and then she slept 1 and a half hours. Another 10 minutes now might do the same.” He looked around and brought over a chair for Bugalu to sit in. “You told her you wanted to help.”

“Helping Mac is not usually this simple,” Bugalu told him, and sat down. “Good thing I brought sandwiches. Easier to eat with one hand. I’ll stay until I have to report back, okay?”

“Sounds great,” MacGregor replied. “Let me know when you leave. I’d like to compare ratio of hand-holding to amount of sleep.”

Bugalu grunted. “Now we’re an experiment?”

“The better to help me figure out how to help her,” MacGregor replied.

The helmsman smiled and shook his head. “You’re the doc, Doc.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Making Progress (Part 4)

Month 6 Day 16
Capt Jane Burke
0721 Hours

“Because she hadn’t had shore leave in 4 years. The only leave she’d had after the Academy was funeral leave for her brother, who was lost on the Flame. And believe me, funeral leave is not the same as a shore leave.”

“Why would she be denied shore leave if not as discipline?”

How can such an intelligent man have such trouble with this concept? I suppose if he’s been thinking of her comments as meaning one thing, it could be hard to twist them around and see them differently. “Because somebody was making her life hard. Trying to make her to do what he wanted.”

“Regulations state-“

“Regulations state that an officer does not coerce a subordinate to share his or her bed, but from what I’ve heard about 2 of her former captains, that behavior is a daily occurrence, or nearly so. And her 3rd captain’s reputation isn’t much better.”

Smitty lowered his head to think about that. “You make them sound like a string of... Winthrops.”

“There are too many Winthrops in this Fleet,” she stated. “And if a woman refuses an officer’s advances, they find ways to punish her. Frequently, the woman gets a reputation as a discipline problem.”

“That’s barbaric!”

“I agree. Everybody thinks that kind of sexism has been removed from our society, but they’re wrong. It’s gone into hiding and then reappeared, repeatedly, for centuries.”

His deep frown indicated he was trying to adjust his thinking. It isn’t easy to change a first impression, but I hope he can. Smitty prides himself on giving a new crew member a chance. A couple with files far worse than MacDowell’s are now among the best in their field because of him. And others with sparkling clean files didn’t last 3 months. Smitty looks for more than knowledge and skill.

“Captain, if what you’ve said is true, then why would she... invite me to...”

“I don’t know; I don’t know exactly what she said, how she said it. Maybe she figured that was normal, and she’d better get with the program.” Now she frowned, as another memory came to her. “Or maybe you misunderstood. Maybe she was trying to ascertain if you would make that request, like previous superiors.”

“I would never-“

“She didn’t know you, Smitty.” Probably still doesn’t. “All she knew when she got here was that you were her new commanding officer. Based on what had happened before... Look, she admitted when she first got aboard that she wasn’t afraid of other male crew members. But she was definitely afraid of you.”

The engineer sat back in his chair for several minutes while emotions swarmed across his face. In the meantime, the bridge door opened and Abdulla stopped short. “Oh! Sorry, captain, but today’s negotiation topics just arrived. I didn’t realize Mr Smythe was still here.”

“Bring them,” Jane instructed, and accepted the small chip, inserted it into her desk.

“Lieutenant,” Smitty said as the woman turned to leave, “I have a question for you.”

She gave him a cautious smile. “Giving me a pop quiz, Mr Smythe?”

His face froze and panic appeared in his eyes. What does that mean? “I- I’m reconsidering what you’ve been telling me for months. About Colleen not doing well on her tests. Is it because... she’s afraid of me?” The last of his question came out ragged.

Abdulla considered it carefully. “I’m not sure. Frankly, I never figured out why she can’t think with you around; but I saw it with my own eyes. As soon as she knows you’re there, her mind goes completely blank. I thought she might feel... inadequate to work for someone as well known as you, but doesn’t usually last... In short, sir, I can’t say, but that’s as good an explanation as any I’ve come up with.”

Smitty groaned and turned his face to the floor again.

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Jane told the other woman. “Let me know when the negotiators arrive.”

“Yes, captain.”

Alone again, Smitty raised his head about half way, but didn’t look at Jane. “If I had any inkling, I’d have reassured her immediately.”

“When somebody thinks you’re going to behave one way, telling them you won’t is not usually the way to convince them.”

“Then I don’t know what to do, captain.”

“Call me Jane,” she told him, then realized he had never called her by name alone. “Or Burke. This conversation is off the record. We’re just 2 friends, trying to figure out a problem. As for what to do, start by talking to her.”

He blinked at the suggestion, swallowed. “About what? I mean, if she can’t think...”

“Something besides work. Family news from home, politics, the weather...”

“Captain, I’ve got no one back home to send me any news. I refuse to discuss politics. And... we’re in space. There is no weather.”

“We’re orbiting a planet where she has friends, and it has weather. Just... pick a subject. Ask her about her brother, her family. Your favorite place on the Academy campus. What’s her favorite activity on shore- No, not that one.”

“Definitely not that one,” he agreed and sighed. “Well, when she’s released from sick bay.”

“No, now,” she corrected. “Well, not this minute; hopefully she’s asleep. But today. Just casual conversation. And tomorrow, maybe even twice a day. The more she sees you not acting like previous superiors, the sooner she’ll calm down. And I still want you to give her another month to pass probation, because she’s got precious little time to calm down. Even with another month. An extra month can be one thing you talk to her about.”

He almost looked as if she had just sentenced him to life on Hades. He gave a short, grim nod and stood. “Is that all, captain?”

Jane, she almost corrected. “We ‘negotiate’ from 1000 to 1100 hours, and again from 1400 to 1500 hours. Try to find her awake some other time.”

“Yes, captain.”

When he left, Jane turned on the desk screen to look over today’s negotiating topics. Fishing, hunting, mineral rights? They must not realize those rights belong to the natives - or colonists - of the planet. I suppose that means this will be a tough negotiating session.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Making Progress (Part 3)

Month 6 Day 16
Capt Jane Burke
0721 Hours

Jane took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she rubbed her eyes. “I want you to give her another month to pass.”

He raised his head, his brow furrowed in confusion. “She’s... already had 5 months.”

True. By 5 months, either he’s tossed them out and requested a replacement, or he’s accepted them onto his team. So if he truly doesn’t believe she has potential, then why is she still here? Jane composed herself, put her hands together on the desk. “Smitty, I think she might, just might have potential. Now, let me explain my thoughts. Back when she first came aboard, you began your initial assessment-“

“She couldn’t answer the first question.”

“True, but you told me later that should not have been the first question. Maybe it’s the one you ask last, I don’t know-”

“I don’t usually ask that question of brand new junior lieutenants,” Smitty stated, his face red.

“Oh.” No wonder he was so shocked by the answer. “Okay. But, not knowing the answer, she found the answer-”

“She wouldn’t have found the answer. She must have found the formula and figured out the answer.”

Even better! “I see. She did that, and brought you the answer. How long did that take her?”

“I... I... didn’t really keep track. 20 minutes, maybe?”

“How long does it usually take someone to figure out the answer?”

“I... couldn’t say,” he responded. “At the Academy, some of my classmates took hours with that formula.”

He asked her an engineering question? And when she brought him the answer in a matter of minutes, he didn’t immediately declare she had passed probation? What is wrong with him? Jane swallowed. “That sounds like a tough question. Which she handled like a pro, not a brand new junior lieutenant.”


“Just think about it, and we’ll go on. After that, she began to study. Any idea when she started?”

“That same day. By the end of shift, Abdulla had prepared a review tape for her.”

Good! I was afraid- “So she didn’t waste any time refreshing her knowledge. I find that a good sign.”

“But it hasn’t done her any good! I know she’s been studying. I’ve seen her at it! She’s enlisted the aid of several co-workers. I even gave her a list of those I thought could help her, but she still can’t pass!”

Jane raised a finger to stop him. “Let’s deal with that inability to think in a moment. You agree she’s been studying-”

“A lot,” he added.


“There’s times I’ve wondered when she sleeps. Or if she sleeps. And if she’s having trouble sleeping now, when she’s half sedated and deathly ill, I guess I have my answer; she doesn’t!”

“She certainly wasn’t getting much opportunity, even before Kolla... arrived,” Jane reminded him. “With the Verasis Flu rampaging through the crew, she was working double shifts - or more - for several days before Abdulla came back to work. I never heard any complaint from her. In fact, Bugalu commented on her hours, and her response was a cheerful, ‘Well, it keeps me out of trouble!’ At the time, I thought it refreshing to have someone on the bridge who wasn’t growling with exhaustion.”

“But she was exhausted,” Smitty protested. “Even before the flu. I could see that myself.”

“Then she didn’t let it get the best of her,” Jane pushed. “Even when she got called back to make repairs, after Abdulla’s accident, she got here in good time, her mind was working. And she couldn’t have gotten more than a couple minutes of sleep, if that. That’s the kind of crew member I like. One who’ll do what’s necessary for the good of the ship.”

Smitty sighed. “Yes, Captain. Her attitude is a point in her favor. But it doesn’t do any good if she can’t-”

“Do you remember what she said when the negotiators arrived?” Jane broke in. “You were half asleep yourself, so maybe you don’t. But once she realized she was expected to do something, she looked for a way to do it. What she came up with was to ask you to leave. Because she doesn’t think well when you’re around. Do you remember that?”

“Ahh, not really. But Abdulla’s said something similar to me. About Colleen.”

Not MacDowell; Colleen. Interesting. “Others have had that problem when they arrived. Even Wilson, I recall. Chang... I think you had coffee with him 6 times during his 2nd month aboard, trying to get his tongue loosened.”

Smitty closed his eyes, his mouth drawn down. “Don’t remind me. That was the longest month of my entire life.”

“Yes, it would be,” she said quietly, remembering the changed dynamics of the bridge crew on Abdulla’s days off, when Chang sat at communications. “Have you ever just sat down and talked to the girl?”

He jerked back, face red again. “No!” His eyes slightly glazed and darted around all corners of the office, as if to make sure they were alone. Or hunting a place to hide. “Not... deliberately! I mean-” He stopped and tried to gather his thoughts. They were still slow coming out. “We... She... bumped into me one night. A bit... ah, tipsy. Well, it was shore leave. We talked. For a minute or two. But not about... not about... work.”

Smitty, not talk about work? That’s gotta be a first. Still, if they did talk, that’s something. “Maybe you should do it again.”

“I... won’t,” he whispered, with desperation in both his eyes and his voice.

Don’t think I’ve ever seen him this uncomfortable before. If not work, there’s not much he would introduce as a topic. But once one is broached, he can usually- Oh. “Did she... say something that-” I’ve never tried to say this delicately to him before. I don’t generally discuss sex with any of my crew. “Wish I knew what she said,” she muttered, her thoughts turned inward. Could she have said something about her previous supervisors? Doesn’t seem likely; such treatment would have made him angry at them, not uncomfortable around her. Wait, what’s he saying?

“...As invited me to... take advantage of her,” Smitty choked out.

“Which you promptly refused.” That may be what he heard, but is that what she meant? If he was already tipsy-

He raised his head, his chin hard and eyes flashing. “She’s a subordinate!” he bit out.

“Yes. That’s why I assumed you refused, even if you were tipsy. Because that relationship- that official relationship- actually means something to you.” She sighed, leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling as she considered how to proceed. “Smitty, did you ever look at MacDowell’s record?” Probably not. He likes to make up his own mind.

“I don’t hold a person’s previous... problems, if they had any, against them. I give them a chance. I’ve only glanced at it.”

She gave another sigh. “You wouldn’t have seen anything with a glance. I had to dig down into the sub-sub-sub-references, hunt up medical records, time-keeping records, supply records... And then piece them all together.”

“That’s a lot of work for a discipline problem,” Smitty stated. “With her record, how she got a promotion, let alone transferred to us, is beyond my understanding.”

Yes, that’s what a quick glance would have shown. “Because she wasn’t a discipline problem,” Jane answered. “But her record makes it look like she was. Remember how surprised she was to get shore leave? She didn’t want to let go of the tablet that held the form, afraid hers would be canceled.”

“That did seem strange,” he agreed. “But you told me to give her all 3 days!”

“Because she hadn’t had shore leave in 4 years. The only leave she’d ever had after the Academy was funeral leave for her brother, who was lost on the Flame. And believe me, funeral leave is not the same as shore leave.”