Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After the Party

Month 6 Day 25
2357 Hours

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.”

“Yes, captain.”

S’thyme’s translator whispered, “I’m glad she’s not talking to me,” only to be shushed by Kolla’s translator.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Facing the Problem (Part 2)

Month 6 Day 16
1317 Hours

“This doesn’t seem... appropriate.”

A frown line appeared between her eyebrows, but she nodded in understanding. “That we’re alone.”

“No. I... we seem too... intimate. Like this.” She abruptly released him. Remembering her past supervisors, he added, “I don’t normally put my hands on a crew woman.”

Her eyes flew open. “None of them?”

“No, I-” His face flushed. There was that nurse last shore leave. And there are times when I do touch crew women; to get their attention, pull them from harm’s way... any number of reasons.

“That’s too bad,” Colleen murmured, and pink flags colored her cheeks. “Or sad.”

He couldn’t respond. He leaned back, eager to go. How did I get into this mess?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean- Do you have to go?”

“No.” Why the blazes did I say that? “But you’re supposed to rest.”

Colleen adjusted her position on the bed, then the cold pack. “It’ll be hard to relax knowing Winthrop can walk in at any time.”

Smitty reached for her shoulder, stopped and self-consciously let it hang again. “He won’t be back.” Not today, probably. We don’t usually have to protect patients from the security chief, but we should have some means of doing it. “The nurses will keep a closer eye on things.”

“I know, but... I’d prefer a door I could lock!” She glanced at the doorway. “Something I could do myself, rather than rely on others.” She crossed her arms to hug herself, her hands rubbing her arms.

Exactly as if- “Are you cold?”

“Yeah.” One corner of her mouth curled. “Cold packs do that. I put up with it.”

I could warm her up. Captain wants me friendly- “Stop that!”

She jerked, startled by his command. “I don’t have control over shivering.”

He took a step away. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

“There isn’t anybody else here.”

Temple hurried in, stopped to study them. “I was afraid Winthrop had-” She gave each of them another look. “Did I hear you two arguing?”

“It was a misunderstanding.” Smitty didn’t want to dwell on it.

Temple sighed. “Mac, it’s not  good when a communications officer keeps misunderstanding.”

Colleen’s face hardened, then she considered the head nurse. “Are you trying to pick a fight?”

Temple opened her mouth, paused. “I think I am,” she agreed. “But it isn’t you I want to yell at.”

“I can’t remember you ever yelling at anyone,” Smitty told her.

“Of course not,” Temple returned. “I have to remain professional, even if she doesn’t know what the word means.” She moved forward. “We should probably take that cold pack off for a few minutes, or you’ll turn blue.”

“Thank you,” Colleen sighed as the nurse removed the item and laid it on the next bed. “I don’t think blue would suit me.”

“You’d look-“ Beautiful whatever your color. Smitty didn’t finish the original thought, changed the comment to, “quite respectable in blue.”

“Medicine?,” she assumed he meant. “No thanks.”

“Science is a blue uniform,” Temple pointed out. “Lots of different sciences.”

“I like the way I am,” Colleen stated, but her demeanor was uncertain.

Temple bit her upper lip. “I’m sorry. About the cold pack temperature. I’ve got a problem I can’t resolve, but I shouldn’t take it out on others.”

Smitty cleared his throat. “Frustration makes it hard to control your emotions.”

“I have heard you yell a time or two. Heard that you had, at least,” Temple told him with a half smile.

“Mostly, that’s to get their attention. I can’t teach them anything if they don’t pay attention.”

“Maybe that’s why I can’t get through to her,” Beth muttered and headed for the door, tossed back over her shoulder, “You’ve got about 20 minutes before negotiations, Mac.”

Smitty found the redhead sitting up, one hand gingerly rubbing her rib cage. “No more restraints,” she muttered.

“I should let you rest,” he stated.

She looked up. “Can I ask a question?”

Have I been here long enough? Probably not to suit the captain. It’s just a question, Smitty. “Sure.” He waited while she thought, her brow furrowed in confusion, but he wasn’t particularly patient today. “What’s your question?”

“What? Oh.” Her eyes focused and her face flushed. She looked around the room. “I thought... I mean, I figured... There ought to be a way to keep illness from spreading through the entire ship.”

Not exactly a question. Why not ask MacGregor? He’s always around her. I suppose she thinks I know everything about this ship. I don’t do much with that except- He cleared his throat. “The designers tried. There’s filters and sanitizers the air runs through, but they aren’t perfect. And each doorway in sickbay has a field that can be turned on. Doesn’t keep people and things from going through, but it does a decent job killing germs. The ones on the outside, anyway. But by the time someone feels bad enough to see a doctor, they’ve been contagious for 2 or 3 days, and other people have caught it.”

“Oh. I wasn’t aware of the door fields.”

“I don’t imagine it was mentioned in any of your classes.” They were only theory when I took classes, and she’s not really an engineer.

Now she canted her head to one side. “How does the field tell a germ to be killed from... anything else? I mean, don’t we all have beneficial organisms that live in and on us?”

This is not a subject I would have broached. It barely touches on engineering, in my mind. The subject won’t last long, but it seems safe. Wish I had a place to sit and a cup of coffee, maybe a- He noticed a chair next to her bed, and a partially eaten tray of food on the bedside table. Tea instead of coffee, and it’s iced, but it’ll wash down the sandwich. “I, uh, didn’t get any lunch. Do you mind if I finish yours?”

“Lunch?” She looked at the tray with its stacked dirty dishes, an untouched sandwich and a piece of cake. “Go ahead.”

“Thanks.” He sat down and took a bite, washed it down. “Where were we? Oh, the medical safety fields on the sickbay doorways.”

“And how they know the difference-“

“Between good and bad organisms.” He nodded, put another bite into his belly and leaned half an inch towards her, his gaze on the doorway. “I have no idea.”


“They tried to explain it, when I first inspected the ship, but their explanation was 10% engineering, and the rest was medicine, biochemistry and who knows what else. Subjects I’m not knowledgeable about.” She fell silent, her gaze riveted on the doorway.

Smitty ate the rest of the sandwich, would have preferred the tea be hot, and wasn’t sure what to make of the cake. It’s not pineapple up-side-down cake, but it’s good. I don’t remember Anna ever making this before.


“Yes?” He stacked the empty utensils on the tray.

“That wasn’t the question I wanted to ask.”

I’ve heard that before. Hope it’s not too silly. “Then what was your question?”

She pulled her gaze off the doorway, twisted to look at him. “Why did you shave off your beard? You looked good in it. I mean, not that you-” She swallowed and turned away. “Never mind. It’s too personal.”

Yes, definitely starting to get personal. But the question... “I don’t find the question personal,” he stated. “Only confusing, because I’ve never had a beard.”

“You haven’t? Oh, blast!” She threw herself against the mattress. “I thought I was confused before Kolla got into my head! Now I’ve got her memories as well as mine! And I’m not doing so good sorting them.”

“You mistook me for Kolla’s husband?” Smitty asked.

“Not ‘mistook’. I know there’s 2 of, um, you. But when I hear one name, I’m not sure the face in my mind is the right one. I’m such a mess!” She twisted on her bed to look at the chronometer. “They’ll be here in a couple minutes; I don’t have time to make notes. If I can take notes on that library console, now that I’m cut off from reference materials.”

“Notes on which of us is which?”

“What?” She untwisted, again felt her ribs. “Definitely bruised,” she muttered, returned to his question. “I hope my brain will eventually sort things out. Maybe with sleep. If I ever get any. You know, when we were together, Kolla said their transport machines have to be able to read the, the... I don’t know if there’s an English word for it, nor exactly what it is. It might have something to do with DNA. Apparently, every person’s qorjah is different, and their transport machines have to see that difference. Otherwise, it might pick up 2 people, and not re-assemble them correctly. Or as 2.”

“That’s a harrowing thought,” Smitty stated, trying not to picture the results.

“Yeah. Petrified me, while she treated the transport beam like, like... radio waves! Well, it is. Like them. Kind of. Anyway, if those doorway fields tell the difference between good and bad organisms, maybe we could incorporate just a little of the transport beam technology into them!”

“To do what?” Send the germs into space? They do no harm onboard once they’re dead.

“To keep people out.”

“Why would we do that?”

She faced him and whispered, “Winthrop!”

“Oh.” It might keep a woman safe from him. He frowned. “They’re not strong enough to-“

“Oh, we can’t kill him,” she agreed, rolling to her back again. “Pretty certain the Fleet wouldn’t approve. We’d have it give a different response. Some kind of alarm, I suppose.”

“I should have known,” MacGregor stated sourly from the doorway. “I let you in for a short visit, Smitty, and you’re still here, talking shop!”

Noticing a trio behind the doctor, Smitty hastily stood. “We discussed how that flu took over the entire ship, and the scrubbers couldn’t keep it in check.”

“I got side-tracked,” Colleen stated. “Went off on a weird fantasy tangent. Probably fantasy. Hard to be sure. I’ve still got Kolla’s memories, which seem like they’re mine.”

Kolla grinned. “Me too!”

“Well, you have negotiations,” Smitty said and started for the door.

“Who took the cold pack off?” MacGregor asked, moving forward. “And when?”

“Temple, 20 minutes ago,” Colleen answered.

“Well, it goes on again now.”

Smitty nodded to Kolla. When she came up for negotiations, her husband spent the time in Smitty’s office, where they swapped engineering stories.

The captain stopped him. “Looks like your first visit went well.” He made a face at how it had started, which she noticed. “You don’t agree?”

“Winthrop was here when I arrived,” he answered. “Nobody knew he was here, including Colleen.”

“Then your timing was impeccable,” Jane returned. “It can’t have hurt your standing that you saved her, so to speak.”

“Again,” he muttered, remembering another time he had interrupted Winthrop’s plans. “But-“

“I know. You aren’t looking for hero worship.”

Not what was on my mind. Oh, well. “Too many of ‘em feel that way when they get here. Makes it hard to develop a working relationship with them.”

“I agree. What’s with the cold pack? She didn’t have it this morning.”

“Winthrop, uh, Colleen tried to sit up, but the restraints held her, bruised her ribs.”

“Is that possible?”

“She’s a heavy worlder,” MacGregor said as he joined them. “Dense muscles, and lots of blood vessels. Bruises are practically an every day event for her.”

“But the restraints-“

“She stretched the top one,” Smitty revealed, and turned to MacGregor. “If it needs replaced, let me know.”

“I won’t use them anymore,” MacGregor stated. “From her wince, she could have bone bruises. Wish I’d thought of that before it happened.”

“How will you get her to sleep?” Jane wondered. “Sedate her?”

“I’ve been doing some research. I think I have an idea. Let’s hope it works.”

“I need to get to engineering,” Smitty stated, and turned away.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Facing the Problem (Part 1)

Month 6 Day 16
1317 Hours

Smitty entered sick bay reluctantly. He’d skipped lunch, hadn’t wanted to talk with Jane, nor have MacGregor discover his ‘assignment’. Why in space is the captain involved? She usually lets me make my own decision. I didn’t want lunch anyway. My stomach’s not happy.

Only Temple and another nurse were visible. Temple opened a cupboard and 2 packages fell out. “Karu, I told you girls to re-organize these shelves.”

“We did. All shifts. We took one unit each.”

“Well, this section is a mess,” Temple stated. “Figure out who was supposed to do it, please.”

No need to bother them. He slipped into the ward room, stopped short. What’s he doing here?

The Chief Security Officer stood beside the occupied bed, blocking Smitty’s view of the patient. He spoke quietly, but Smitty heard him. “Aboard a few months, and you already know the ship’s dark holes and secret passageways. My men never knew where you were until they stumbled into you. And then you beat them to a standstill. We should talk about that.” His hand caressed the shape of her leg.

Her leg jerked, but restraints didn’t let it go far. Smitty heard ragged breathing, and a hopeless little call for ‘Matt’. Who-? He was suddenly sure the girl was sleeping. “Get away from her!” he growled. He strode across the room, pushed the other man away, placed himself in front of the bed.

Winthrop regained his balance and scowled. “This is none of your business, Smythe.”

“It is my business,” Smitty contradicted. “She’s mine.” Winthrop gave him a suspicious look, and Smitty realized how he had phrased it.

“Your lover?” Winthrop wondered. “I knew that when Tall Bear kept finding her in your quarters.”

“My subordinate,” Smitty clarified. “She’s in sick bay for a reason, so leave her alone.”

“It’s a friendly visit,” Winthrop stated. “She never said I wasn’t welcome.”

“She’s asleep!” Smitty shot back. “If you’d asked before you barged in, you’d know she wasn’t receiving visitors.”

From the doorway, Beth coldly said, “This patient can have friends visit only if she’s awake. ‘Friends’ doesn’t include you.“

“Smythe is included? Even when she’s asleep?”

“He’s her commanding officer,” Beth responded. “It’s expected he’d check on her.”

“Get out, Winthrop.” MacGregor appeared behind Beth. “Don’t come back. You’re invading my territory.”

“I keep remembering that Ms MacDowell outwitted and out-fought two of my best men. But she hasn’t passed her probationary test. Maybe she should transfer to security.”

Not while I’m alive!

Winthrop grinned, and Smitty flushed, realizing he had spoken aloud. “Be careful what you wish for, Smythe.” Winthrop finally left.

Smitty took a deep breath. Behind him, Colleen uttered a long, “Noooo.” He turned to her as the others approached. He didn’t know how she could still be asleep after that, but it didn’t look restful. Her head jerked as her face contorted. “No!”

“Blast Winthrop. He ruined my experiment,” MacGregor muttered.

“Experiment?” Smitty queried.

“Thought I’d found a way to help her sleep,” MacGregor said. “But she’s having that nightmare again, and probably-“

“Matt!” Colleen bolted upwards, but the restraints slammed her back onto the bed. Tears streamed down her face.

“I didn’t know the restraints would stretch,” Beth stated.

“They don’t.” Smitty lifted the top restraint at least an inch above the girl. “Usually.”

“That’ll be a bruise,” MacGregor surmised. “Beth, get a cold pack.” Beth left.

Colleen took a shuddering breath and raised one hand to feel the restraint belt across her torso. “What happened?”

“Your nightmare,” MacGregor told her.

“No. A nightmare, yes, but not that one. This time, I felt... unsafe... filthy... couldn’t breathe. I needed help, but I couldn’t find...”

“Matt?” Smitty offered.

Her eyes popped open to look at him, then shut tight again. “Yes.”

Okay, she’s got another boy friend, besides Bugalu. And MacGregor. Smitty cleared his throat. “What’s his last name? I’ll send him round for a visit.”

Pain twisted her face, and tears resumed, leaving Smitty confused. MacGregor explained, “Matt’s her brother. He was assigned to the Flame when it was... lost.”

“I’m sorry. I... didn’t make the connection.” Because I only glanced at her file!

“Where’s Bugs?” Colleen’s voice squeaked. “He was here, right?”

MacGregor’s eyebrows rose. “I didn’t think you knew he was here. That was his lunch break, he had to go back to his station.”

“I miss him.” She could barely be heard. She swallowed. “It’s almost time for negotiations?”

“Getting there,” MacGregor told her. “I’d hoped you’d sleep through it, but Winthrop ruined your nap.”

“Winthrop! Oww!” She had tried to sit up, was stopped again by the restraints.

Smitty took hold of her shoulders to hold her down. “You’re going to hurt yourself!”

“She doesn’t need these.” MacGregor released the bands around her body and legs.

“Why let Winthrop in?” Colleen demanded. “I didn’t want to see him. Even if I’d been awake!”

“I didn’t,” MacGregor started in self-defense.

Temple returned with a 2-foot wrap that exuded long curling tendrils of condensation. “Winthrop snuck in. But Mr Smythe arrived and chased him out.” She placed the cold pack over Colleen’s ribcage.

Colleen’s eyes got huge, and she started spouting words Smitty didn’t know. Don’t think that’s Gaelic. Or even just one language. She started stuttering, and wrapped shaky hands around his wrists as her eyes closed tight. Surprised he still held her shoulders, Smitty started to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go.

“I- I really- don’t handle- cold- well,” Colleen stammered.

“What did you set it for?” MacGregor asked Temple.

Temple looked confused, then concerned. “Minus 5! I couldn’t find any already cooled, and-”

“I didn’t want her frozen.” MacGregor adjusted the control. “Mac, that should be a reasonable temperature. I was trying to avoid you getting a big bruise across your ribs.”

“Too late.” After a deep breath, Colleen gave Temple a mock glare. “Betty, I owe you a dirty trick for trying to freeze me.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Temple protested. “And my name is not Betty.”

“You are Betty until I get payback.”

Temple stared at the younger woman. “You won’t put a smelly concoction in my shower like with Bugalu, will you?”

“No,” Colleen stated as her lips curled into a smug smile. “I don’t have any more of that. I’ll think up something special.”

“I’d better ask Bugalu what I can expect,” Temple stated to herself.

“It’ll be a couple days before she’s out of here,” MacGregor stated. “At least.”

“Plenty of time for her to concoct something nasty,” Temple returned, and left.

“Mac-” MacGregor began.

“She’s safe,” Colleen told him. “I was trying to wake her up. She’s been out of it lately.”

MacGregor paused to think. “You’re right. Let’s hope it works. How’s that cold pack feel?”

“I’ll live.” She let go of one of Smitty’s wrists to adjust the cold pack’s position and closed her eyes.

After a long moment, MacGregor whispered, “She’s lucky you came in, Smitty.”

“I...” Smitty searched for something to say. “She’s lost her brother. Does she have any sisters?”

“No sisters,” Colleen answered, eyes still closed. “7 other brothers. How many do you have?”

Jane didn’t say she’d ask questions back! He kept his answer brief. “One sister, one brother. 4 nieces and 3 nephews.”

MacGregor lowered his voice even more. “Don’t ask about her family. She’s got unresolved issues with them.”

“No, I-“ She stopped. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

“We’ll keep a closer eye on your door, to avoid unwanted visitors,” MacGregor stated. “I have research to do. Try to rest until negotiations, okay?”

“Sure. I’m only half frozen; it’ll be easy to relax.”

“Yeah,” With a final glance at Smitty, MacGregor left.

Now what do I talk about? Not her family. Not work. What else is there?

“Do you-“ Colleen started, but didn’t finish.

“Go on,” he urged. Why keep her eyes closed? She obviously knows I’m here.

“No, it’s a stupid question.”

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” I say that a lot, but some new people have asked real doozies. Still, better than those who don’t ask and should.

She swallowed. “Do you, ah, make a habit of saving women from Winthrop?”

“Not as a habit, but I do when I know he’s bothering someone.” He patted her shoulder reassuringly, realized he still held her shoulder, with her hand wrapped around his wrist. Embarrassment crawled up his neck. “I... This doesn’t seem... appropriate.”

She frowned, but nodded. “That we’re alone.”