Month 6 Day 25
Sitting at the engineering console on the bridge, Smitty glanced around when the lift doors opened. Don’t be daft, Smitty. It’s only the midnight crew. The partiers won’t come from the lift.
Lt Xylander seemed surprised to see Smitty sitting on the bridge so late, but relieved Lt Garcia and sat down to start his shift without any comment. The surge of activity around him almost made Smitty get up, but he knew if he did, he would pace, and he didn’t want anyone to think he was nervous about... anything.
He didn’t know how much later it was when he heard Lt Evans ask, “Is that smoke? Does anybody else see that?”
Smitty whirled his chair around and saw 3 areas of blackness forming, coalescing... He smiled in relief, having seen this several times by now. “That, Mr Evans, is the way the locals travel through space.” I’ve never asked how far they can get with that beam. I’d think it only possible for relatively short distances. Hope I’ll have time to ask before we leave.
The blackness resolved itself into people. Smitty was happy to see that the 2 balls containing 2 people each appeared to have functioned correctly, but he wiped the smile from his face. Don’t need any loose lips wagging about nothing more than a smile.
Takor stood alone, wearing its dress uniform, which - other than being white - did not look much like the dress uniforms worn by the captain and Colleen. It stood silently, but Smitty couldn’t tell if it was as uncomfortable as its straight back implied.
“Wow!” the captain exclaimed, removing her hat. “That’s some way to travel! How far can it take you?”
“We’ve only used it between Yukosk and Nalo, our bigger moon,” S’thyme replied. The Yukosk wore bright gray, and the bearded man let go of Colleen’s hand to unfasten the jacket front and take a breath. “We are working to try to reach Qlon, the next planet out, but there is still much work to do.”
Colleen had been standing stiffly at S’thyme’s side when the beam had coalesced. As soon as the alien let go of her hand, she walked over to stand beside Takor.
“I wish we could be here to see you do that,” Capt Burke stated.
“I don’t recommend staying,” Kolla told her. “It could take us years to get ready for the first test. But now that we have a common radio frequency to communicate with each other, we will issue an invitation when it gets much closer.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Burke enthused. “I’ll be waiting. But in the meantime, don’t become strangers. In our culture, friends often send letters to each other. These are short communications where the sender tells the recipient what has been happening in his or her life since their last letter. And the recipient can reply with their own news.”
S’thyme seemed surprised. “This communication frequency is not intended for only formal communications? Between our government and yours?”
“Not specifically. One chan-uh, frequency is typically sufficient for several years of formal and informal communications. After a few years, as our member planets become familiar with your products, it’s likely more frequencies will be needed.”
Smitty let their conversation continue without listening to it. After that first strange conversation in sick bay, he hadn’t had much chance to follow up and have another with Colleen. Bugalu had taken to spending all his off time in sick bay with her, and Smitty hadn’t felt like intruding. What exactly is their relationship? He’s been spending almost all of the last week with her, but before that, he hadn’t made any changes in his... dating habits. His undivided attention seems to be what she needed, since MacGregor released her for duty tomorrow. Actually, today, since she had that celebration down on the planet, and it’s past midnight.
He glanced at Colleen where she stood next to Takor, took another look. She’s standing closer to Takor than I’ve seen a woman do. Most men won’t stand that close to it. It’s as big as Tall Bear and probably stronger.
Takor muttered something and Colleen’s green eyes glanced up at its face as a tiny smile found her lips. She muttered something in return, and Takor’s head crest riffled in amusement as Colleen’s smile widened a nano-inch. The captain’s conversation with the Yukoskians reached a pause, and Smitty heard Takor say, ”You spoke it very badly.”
“I haven’t had any time to practice,” Colleen stated, her smile gone. “I’m lucky I remember any words at all.”
“What are you 2 talking about?” Capt Burke asked. “Did I get something on my uniform?”
“Lt MacDowell told me a joke,” Takor answered. “The words were badly spoken, so I barely understood.”
“Oh. Maybe you should give the entire communications crew lessons in the next few weeks.”
Colleen turned an absolutely bland face towards the captain. “Captain. I know we’re behind schedule, but I didn’t think it would take that long to reach Ulseess.”
“No, it won’t, but-“ She stopped, and her face went rigid. “Mr Smythe didn’t tell you?”
Uh oh. Everybody on the bridge is listening, trying not to look like they are. On this trip, Ulseess is where we would leave anyone who did not pass probation, and Colleen expects to be one of those. Because I never made the time to... Smitty hastily stood. “Captain, I haven’t had a chance to tell her. Yet.”
Jane stared at him. “I see,” she finally said, and her tone said Smitty wasn’t going to wriggle out of this one. She gave the 4 people who had arrived with her a fragile smile. “Why don’t we go into my office for a moment? I believe we have things to discuss.” As she herded them all toward her office, her eyes bore into her chief engineer. “You too, Mr Smythe.”
S’thyme’s translator whispered, “I’m glad she’s not talking to me,” only to be shushed by Kolla’s translator.