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.

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