Month 6 Day 16
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.”