Month 6 Day 16
“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.