Thursday, August 31, 2017

Captain’s Ruse

Month 6 Day 30
1125 Hours

Jane used her rank to open Smythe’s office door instead of asking to be admitted. Both men turned from their conversation. “I thought I’d find you 2 here. I’ve got something for you.” She handed a reader to her engineer. “It’s a paper that’s about to be submitted to one of those technical journals, Smitty. Tell me what you think of it.” She handed the other reader to S’thyme. “And I’m told this is a translation into the Yukoskian language and light-band. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

“Who wrote it?” Smitty asked. “And how did you get it? Papers aren’t usually available until they’re published.”

“I have sources,” she said with a crooked smile. “I’ll explain later. Right now, read.”

Both men turned their attention to their readers, and Jane leaned against the bulkhead to think. How do I convince Smitty to let somebody else administer MacDowell’s test? I appreciate her desire to pass probation before her original period is over, but the last I heard, she didn’t think she’d pass, even with an extra month. Still, it only took a few days for them to sort memories and write this paper. Her spirits seem to have improved immensely in that time.

“I don’t understand what this person is doing,” Smitty stated. “Only half of this makes sense, or rather, mentions equipment I know. And that’s if you ignore the chemistry thrown in.”

“Biochemistry,” S’thyme corrected, and regarded his look-alike. “I’m disappointed, my friend.”

“I never studied biochemistry,” Smitty stated defensively. “I only know some chemistry because of the crystals used in our engines. How much biochemistry do you know?”

“We have to understand how our transport beam works.” S’thyme put his reader on the desk. “This is the paper I suggested Kolla write, about what she and your Coline did in order to separate themselves.”

Smitty looked at the reader he held. “Well, in our society, papers like this express their intention in the first paragraph. If I’d had that information—”

Jane straightened in mock surprise. “What do you mean? Is that missing?” She pulled the reader from Smitty’s hand, flipped back to the start of the document. “I could have sworn I added it. Just a second.” She added the paragraph and handed the reader back. “I said the same thing when I first got this paper, and a few minutes later, this paragraph landed on my desk. See if it makes sense now.” She started for the door, stopped and looked back. “It’s lunch time. Let’s go together and discuss the paper once you’ve read it again.”

“I don’t need to read it again,” S’thyme stated. “The parts I understood were brilliant. Exactly what I’ve come to expect from my wife.”

“Well, I do,” Smitty admitted. “The lack of a stated purpose threw me for a loop, and then the equipment I didn’t know, the chem- uh, biochemistry thrown in… Give me a minute,” he asked as he started reading.

Jane returned, pulled her chief engineer to his feet. With her hand under his arm, he came willingly, his attention glued to the reader. S’thyme came also, his own reader in his hand.

On the lift, Smitty declared, “The CF354 can’t be used that way!” Good, he’s actually giving it a chance this time. “That’s not a modification, that’s a complete rebuild, but for what purpose?”

When they entered the messhall, Jane caught a glimpse of 2 redheads leaving, chatting like old friends. Jane turned to join the food line. MacDowell looks well rested, relaxed. Confident. The sorting must have worked.

S’thyme asked, “Do you suppose they’ve made anything with peanut butter today?”

Jane smiled. “You can always ask for a peanut butter sandwich.”

“Hey, S’thyme!” Anna greeted the man from the end of the serving line. “Be sure you get some of these peanut butter cookies! Made them for you and your bride!”

S’thyme grinned and nodded, but turned to Jane. “I thought Anna was a cooky.”

“She’s a cook,” Jane stated. “The head cook. A cookie is a small dessert. Or a snack. But there you go, something made with peanut butter.”

“She is very thoughtful. Now, what should I have for the main meal?”

Smitty pulled his eyes away from the reader to glance at the overhead menu. “Salisbury steak sounds good,” he stated. “I’ll have that.” He pulled his arm from Jane’s grasp.

Once they settled at a table, Smitty put the reader down. “Captain, S’thyme and I need to discuss this paper at some length. Yes, it mentions some of our equipment – actually, a large number of pieces of our equipment – but they are modified, re-wired and placed in such an odd arrangement that… I need to figure out what they would do, with all that done to them. And I need S’thyme’s input, because he understands the Yukoskian transport beam, which is apparently what she’s trying to replicate.”

“Not exactly,” S’thyme stated. “They were trying to build something that would pull my wife’s personality out of Coline and reunite it with her reconstituted body.”

Smitty frowned at his plate. “Well, she wouldn’t have gotten much help from Colleen. First, she’s communications, not engineering, and secondly, she hasn’t even passed communications.”

S’thyme replied with, “Yet Kolla says she wouldn’t have managed anything without Coline. Perhaps because they were 2 minds within 1 body. Kolla would explain 1 piece, just 1 step of what she needed to have happen, and before long, your Coline figured out how to modify something to do it. And she must have done that well, because it worked.”

“Yes, but—“ Smitty stopped and stiffly turned to face Jane. “Who wrote this paper?”

Well, that’s that. He’s figured it out.

“She said it was my wife,” S’thyme stated.

“Both ladies wrote it,” Jane admitted. “Kolla wrote in Yukoskian, MacDowell wrote in English, but the versions are exactly the same.”

“How could you—“

Jane interrupted Smitty’s tirade. “Both ladies each other’s memories. Kolla suggested they sort through their efforts to mesh the technologies, which they’ve done the last few days. I guess they wrote it down at the same time. I thought you’d be interested in seeing how it was done.”

No one spoke for a moment, until Smitty glanced at his look-alike and said, “Colleen kept asking about my beard.”

“She kept calling me ‘Smit’,” S’thyme stated. He took a bite of his Salisbury steak. “Very good. Thank you for the suggestion. Now, what is a CF354? What does it do, normally?”

“Oh, it’s a simple piece from engineering that’s used to steady a fluctuating electrical stream.”

How would MacDowell know anything about engineering? Tugs don’t cross-train. Jane ate, expecting Smitty would stop, once he realized MacDowell had modified a circuit from engineering. But apparently, he never made that realization, and the 2 men dove into a technical conversation that would probably last long past the end of her meal.

At least he’s discussing the paper in earnest, trying to figure out what was done, why, and how it worked. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, but at least it’s not the dismissal he first gave. I suppose that’s something. Now, I have a ship to run, even if we are just orbiting a friendly planet. I don’t think these men will realize I’ve left.

As Jane headed down the corridor for the lift, she saw Drake approaching. “Don’t sit with Smitty,” she warned as they passed.


She turned around briefly to explain. “He’s having a technical conversation with S’thyme.”

“Oh. Thanks for the warning.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Friends at a Distance

Month 6 Day 26
0629 Hrs

Bugalu hurried across the messhall and sat opposite Mac. “What are you doing here? You should be on the bridge.”

She looked up and considered him, her brow furrowed. “I had a party to attend last night,” She reminded him.

“You didn’t get back in time for your shift?”

She gave a one-shoulder shrug, a sign she was irritated. “Captain didn’t expect me to. Some ensign worked it.”

Normally, she’d know that ensign’s name and half of his or her life story. “How’d you sleep?”

Mac sighed and put her spoon down. Something is definitely bothering her. “I slept. Well, napped. The food they served last night looked fabulous, but didn’t taste right, so I didn’t eat much. When I got hungry, I got up.”

“Then eat,” he told her, and she took another spoonful of oatmeal. She came here to recapture our camaraderie from the Academy. We haven’t managed that, and it’s my fault. She needed me, but I didn’t make any time for her. Not like we did back then. He ate a bite of eggs and suggested, “How about a movie tonight? We haven’t done that since before the flu. We’re overdue.”

She raised her head again, tears in her eyes. Her gaze slid away from him, and she added some sweetener to her oatmeal. “I can’t.”

That held so much emotion in it. Yearning, because we are overdue. Regret, though she hasn’t explained. Anger because -  Well, we’re very overdue. Matt wouldn’t accept no. I won’t, either, after all she’s been through. “There’s plenty of time between our shifts.”

She shook her head. “I’ll be sleeping.”

Did she just add ‘I hope’ under her breath? “Sleep during B shift, like you used to,” he suggested.

“I can’t.”

Not as emotional this time, just a statement. But why is she suddenly using that phrase so much? “Why not?”

“I have something to do on B shift,” she answered.

“What’s more important than a movie and pizza?” He saw her eyebrows pull into a frown, though she was staring at her food. He put his hand over hers. “You’ve been under stress, Mac, since you got here. Even before that, I gather. You need to relax.”

She slowly pulled her hand out from under his, without looking at him. “I won’t... monopolize you.”

He stared at her, wondering why she was pulling away from him. I’m the only man aboard she trusts. Well, she half-way trusts Doc, but when she got here, the only person she knew was me. But I was too wrapped up in my own life to give her more than a couple minutes here and there. Before long, she was studying, and then studying and not sleeping. How has she monopolized me? I finally realized she needed me last week, when she could only sleep if I held her hand. I spent all my time in sick bay, doing that. She didn’t ask me to. I just did it. As I would for any of my sisters.

“Mac,” he said quietly. “You’ve been a very sick puppy.”

“I’m too old to be a puppy anymore.”

What did Uncle tell my dad? “Younger siblings never stop being a pesky puppy to their older siblings,” he returned. “When you were in sick bay, I realized how selfish I’ve been with my time. Let me make it up to you, starting tonight.”

She looked up, tears about to flow, but her voice barely reached his ears. “I’m going to fail probation. I can’t imagine where they’ll send me next. A tug, I suppose. Unless...” She squeezed her eyes shut and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. “Unless there’s an assignment that’s worse.”

“There’s still -“ He stopped talking to figure out how long she’d been aboard.

“This is day 26 of my 6th month,” she pointed out after a long moment.

I’ve been an idiot her entire 6 months! “So... you’ll be studying today?”

“Kind of. But not like usual. When Kolla and I had to figure out how to make our radio finish transporting her, our memories got mixed. When we separated, a copy of her memories stayed with me. But our technology isn’t the same, so I’ve got to sort every memory into ‘theirs’ and ‘ours’. If not, I can’t function as a communications officer, not even a technician.”

“Have you told anybody else about this?”

“It was noticed .I kept mistaking Smit and S’thyme. Last night, I said the wrong thing to somebody, once. So this is the assignment the captain gave me.”

“Sort your memories into ‘yours’ and ‘hers’? In 5 days?”

“3 weeks,” she corrected. “The celebration of our treaty will last that long, so we’ll be orbiting Yukosk until they end.”

“We won’t get to Ulseess for another month,” Bugalu realized.

“Right. Smit’s giving me another month of probation, to make up for this past month of... everything.”

Never heard of him doing that before! “That’s good-”

She shook her head and leaned forward to declare, “It doesn’t do me any good! I still can’t think around him, so I can’t give him the right answers. I got tongue-tied before, now I babble, possibly because of Kolla’s memories! It’s hopeless!”

“No, it’s not!” he refuted, realized people were staring at them, and lowered his voice. “Listen, Mac, because this is the absolute truth! You know your field! I bet you know a lot about engineering, ‘cause I always had to get my engineering books back from you when I needed to study. And I saw your grades; you must have been in the top 10% of communications.”

She rolled her eyes. “They don’t assign the top 10% to a tug!”

“They do if she started her freshman year with a drunken brawl that tore up the Horsedrawn Carriage,” he returned. “Especially if she kept getting into trouble.”

She sat back in her chair, stunned. “Baker?”

“Who else? I suspect he talked his friends into pestering and then reporting you, so that he wasn’t the only one.”

“My senior year was... quiet,” she muttered thoughtfully.

Makes sense, since Baker was a year ahead of her. With him not there to foment trouble, life would be much easier for her. He stretched his hand half-way across the table between them. “I’m sorry, Mac. If Matt and I had done a better job protecting you, you wouldn’t have landed on a tug. You could have gotten here a lot sooner, and without whatever shenanigans you had to pull to get here.”

She sat quietly, staring at her food, but probably not seeing it. Eventually she muttered, “I never had any problem passing probation before. Always aced the first exam. But Smit’s first question, on my first day, was... ugh!... super complicated! Destroyed my confidence.”

“Forget that question. Reach back and grab that confidence, you deserved it!”

She smiled at him and took hold of his offered hand. “Thank you, Bugsy. I don’t know if I can actually pass, at this late date -“

“You can,” he told her. “Just sort those memories. Is somebody helping you?”

“Yes.” She lifted her glass of juice for a drink.


Green eyes flashed to his face. “Kolla. She’s also got memories to sort.”

He grinned. “Guess that makes sense.”

“I’d better go,” she decided.

He smiled as she stood. “Um, about tonight...”

She stopped with her tray half-raised. “Bugsy, I work my shift tonight, and we’ll be sorting all day, so I have to sleep tonight.”

“I thought I’d drop by after my shift, just to see how the sorting went.”

“Oh. Okay. See you then.” She moved off with a spring in her step that she had shared with her brother, back at the Academy. Never realized she’d lost it, but it’s good to see it’s back.

Siblings usually grow apart as their lives go in different directions. They have to work at staying close. I should have worked a lot harder at it once she showed up. She wouldn’t still be on probation.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Meeting (Part 2)

Month 6 Day 26
0057 Hours
Captain Jane Burke

S’thyme chuckled. “Isn’t that how this started? A surprise as you orbited our planet?”

Jane smiled. “True. Hopefully, we avoid repeating that event.”

“Maybe you should-“

Jane looked up, but MacDowell had stopped talking. “Did you have a suggestion, Lt?”

The girl sighed. “The bridge felt… crowded, as we left and when we returned. And our activities no doubt distracted the bridge crew. Maybe another room could be used?”

“Good idea,” Jane decided. “I’ll have a conference room cleared out.” She turned to S’thyme and Kolla. “Will there be any problems transporting that many people?”

“No, but we’ll have to let the machine ‘taste’ each of them, since their qorjah is not in our storage memory,” Kolla answered.

“Taste?” Smitty repeated.

MacDowell sighed. “We would say ‘sample’ or ‘register’. But the translation comes out as ‘taste’. Tasting isn’t intrusive, and doesn’t hurt. But it is necessary for the people to be correctly… reconstructed at the destination.”

“With that many new qorjahs,” S’thyme stated, “we would take 3 or 4 at a time. We can make several trips.”

“Good,” Jane announced. “Smitty, I’d like you to be the lead officer tomorrow. Winthrop’s second, uh…”

“Tall Bear,” MacDowell offered.

“I’d like him to go with you, if he’s not busy. The Yukosk have some powerful alcohol.” She sat back in her chair. “Now, while we are here, S’thyme and Kolla will stay aboard. Except for the parties. Today starts their official honeymoon-“ Kolla blushed a soft gray in her cheeks while S’thyme took her hand and smiled. “So, let’s not pester them too much while they’re our guests.”

“Yes, captain.” Smitty sighed, obviously disappointed.

“Smitty, would you show S’thyme to guest quarters 8A2? I want a brief talk with the ladies.”

Smitty gave her a look of surprise, quickly hidden. “Of course, captain.”

Still expected me to chew him out for not talking with MacDowell. Not tonight, Smitty, but soon. I need to think first. Jane watched the men leave and the hall door close. “How have you dealt with these shared memories so far?”

Kolla shrugged. “I know which is my husband. As for others, when I see one, I see them both, if I’ve met both, but in different colors. I pick the one I'm with, and I know which name to use. As for technology, ours is as readily available as it was before I… invaded. I don’t have to search for it. Your technology… Large chunks are available, but I have to reason it out. Sometimes, that takes a while, because I’ll try to use my knowledge instead of the Fleet’s. It’s there, but it won’t ruin my career. Or be a problem. In fact, S’thyme wants me to go through what we did ‘on the fly’ and write a paper about it.”

Jane turned to the communications officer. “Lt?”

“I’ve been sleeping a lot,” MacDowell stated. “And thinking. Not about extra memories in my head, which is what I should have been thinking about. I don’t always make the best choices.”

“No one does,” Jane replied. “We live with them and try to do better the next time. Would that method Kolla described help you figure out which person is which?”

“I’ll try it,” MacDowell answered. “Except for the odd moment like I had tonight, it won’t be a problem in the long run. I’ve only got to get through 3 weeks. And I can – at last – tell the difference between Smit and Stym.”

“What did you call him?” Kolla asked.

“Stym,” MacDowell answered with a blush. “I shorten everybody’s name. It’s just… something I do.”

That explains the ‘cap’ she used on me earlier.

“I like it,” Kolla stated.

“What about the technologies?” Jane asked.

“Our experiences are different,” MacDowell said. “Perhaps because it was my body we shared. We used our knowledge of the technologies at the same time, to figure out how to make them mesh. Her memories were impressed into my mind, easy to call up. So easy, I move from one to the other without realizing it.” She lowered her gaze to the floor. “So another month won’t do me any good.”

“Don’t give up!” Kolla told her. “You haven’t tried. We’ve got 21 days! Well, 20 days. We’ll review what we did. That should give you an idea what’s yours and what’s mine.”

“You’re on your honeymoon!” MacDowell protested. “And you have parties to attend every day.”

“Oh, intimacy is fun, but we can’t do it all the time,” Kolla returned. “Besides, I know Stym, and he’ll be seeking out your Smit to discuss engineering. He can’t get enough of it.”

“I thought we couldn’t share our technologies.”

“Negotiations are done,” Jane reminded MacDowell. “Now we can share, if we give as much as we receive. That’s the way I understand it. Knowing Smythe – and I assume that lends me some understanding of S’thyme – each has a keen interest in the method of transportation the other knows.”

“Yes,” Kolla agreed. “As for us, we have already shared technology, out of dire necessity, and can examine it as much as we want.”

“I like the idea, but I won’t ask either of you to forego your duties, your fun, or your needs.” Jane faced MacDowell directly. “Like sleep.”

“Bugs would kill me,” the girl muttered.

Doesn’t sound like Bugalu. “I’d like for you to write out the process. I’m sure such a document would be of interest to both our peoples.”

MacDowell shrugged. “We might as well.”

Jane leaned forward. “But don’t tell Smythe and S’thyme. They’d want to join you, and possibly write up other things about the 2 technologies, and that might ruin the honeymoon.”

“We’ll say we’re sorting the double memories.”

“Yes.” Jane turned to MacDowell. “Would you show Kolla to guest quarters 8A2? That will give you a chance to discuss how to approach your task. And thank you both for your support this evening. The translation machines still don’t know all the local idioms.”

“I’ll input them in my spare time.” Kolla stood up.

“I’ve done what I could,” MacDowell said as they headed for the door. “But I can’t speak in your frequency.” The door closed behind them.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Meeting (Part 1)

Month 6 Day 26
0057 Hours
Captain Jane Burke

“Please, everyone take a seat.” Jane walked forward to her desk while sorting what to say and when, but as she turned, Takor’s appearance scattered her thoughts. “Takor, your gills are pink.”

Its gills - normally green like the rest of him and closed in air - were rosy and puffing, and the bones of its head crest softly clattered as they moved without pattern. I’ve never seen the crest do that.

MacDowell placed a hand on Takor’s shoulder. She spoke words full of sibilants, quickly. I thought she didn’t speak Sciss well? Takor responded, and with her brow furrowed in confusion, MacDowell asked Jane, “Too much peas?”

There weren’t any - Oh! “Sick bay!” Jane declared.

“I’ll take him,” both Smitty and MacDowell said, and each took hold of an arm.

“Sit!” Jane snapped. “I’ll call-“ She was interrupted by the tone that announced a visitor at the hall door. Jane stared in surprise. Who can possibly imagine I would be in my office this late?

The door slid open to reveal a copper-skinned woman in a loose caftan, her black hair in two long braids. I remember her, but not her name. After a brief bow, the tall woman entered and helped Takor to its feet. Without a word, the pair left.

The door closed, and MacDowell sighed in relief. “YD will get him there.”

“Y D?” Jane repeated, still drawing a blank on a name.

After a moment, Smitty cleared his throat. “Yellow Dog, Takor’s yeoman. You welcomed her aboard-“

Now I remember. A blond, a brunette and a redhead. “Yes. My mind was on other matters.” She pulled her thoughts together again.

“Is Takkore ill?” Kolla asked. “Doc Mac said he could eat the same foods as humans.”

“Yes, normally,” Jane assured her. “However, there are some foods that are too… rich for a Scissan. Takor loves the taste, but can’t digest a large quantity of them.”

Kolla stated, “Much of what was served is…rich. It depends what that means.” She grimaced. “Perhaps you should consult our nutritionists.”

“MacGregor can do that. Then we’ll all know what not to feed Scissans. They are normally logical and friendly, unless their metabolism is out of kilter.”

“Will they come here?” S’thyme asked. “Without any humans?”

“I can’t say. Most Fleet ships have human crews. Some – like us – have a Scissan aboard. The Sciss have smaller starships, smaller crews. But your translators know their language, so there shouldn’t be any problems, if any arrive.” Jane moved on. “I’m told you ladies share each other’s memories. Are you having any difficulty with that?”

MacDowell sighed. “I thought I was okay. But tonight, without thinking, I asked Zunabat how his Hortez were doing this year.”

Jane blinked. “His what?”

“Roses,” MacDowell responded. “Orchids. Well, neither one, of course, but it is a plant difficult to grow in captivity and thus a favorite among gardeners who love a challenge.”

She slipped into Kolla’s memories with one man out of the hundreds that were there? “You were no doubt happy to see a face that looked familiar,” Jane offered

MacDowell frowned. “I saw a lot of familiar faces. Mostly look-likes for co-workers or Academy students. And my grandmother. But I – Colleen – don’t know anybody who looks like Zunabat.”

Maybe I should have saved this topic for later. “One person out of… hundreds doesn’t indicate massive confusion in your mind. I’m hoping you don’t confuse our technology with Yukosk technology.”

“Oh.” MacDowell started to glance at Smitty, chose to stare at the floor. “Well, mostly, they work on different… wavelengths. Their technology took a few paths ours didn’t. And didn’t bother with some we followed. They mesh pretty easily.”

“As evidenced by what happened,” Kolla stated. “And how we managed to undo it easily, once we learned to communicate.”

“Easily?” Smitty muttered.

S’thyme answered. “It took generations of scientists to figure out our transport beam. Your radio was not part of our equipment. But in what - less than 2 days? - these 2 figured out how to make it work, using only variations of your equipment, none of ours. I knew my wife was smart, but… Zort!”

If only Smitty was equally impressed by MacDowell’s portion of that work.

“Captain?” Smitty stood up. “Might I address Lt MacDowell now?”

Trying to get back on my good side. If he’d done it in private, it would’ve sound like his idea, not mine, but it’s about time. Past time. Jane nodded.

Smitty didn’t look at MacDowell. “Lt, this ship has been in a state of… of… disarray… for a month or more. As the rest of the crew landed in sick bay, you filled the void without complaint. And when you eventually couldn’t, there were… situations we weren’t aware of, followed by… complications in your recovery. With the captain’s approval, I authorize another month of, uh, probation, to replace the last month, which has been so… chaotic.”

If Jane expected to see relief on MacDowell’s face, she was disappointed. There was moisture in the green eyes, but the redhead swallowed hard, her eyes bitterly cold. She muttered, “Thank you, Smit. Cap.” She stood and recovered her dress uniform cap from another chair. “Is there anything else you need me for, Cap? –tain?”

Jane sighed internally. I can’t blame her. After what she managed, while totally exhausted, and even if she did have Kolla’s help, I would have declared her probation done. I should have pressed Smitty to do that, not just give her another month. She gave a small cough. “Yes. Please sit down.” MacDowell sat. Jane went on. “Yukosk custom is for a successful negotiation to be celebrated at least as long as the negotiations lasted. The Council considers the negotiations started the moment the 2 ladies… merged. I have agreed to 21 nights of celebration, so we shall be here another 3 weeks.”

Smitty stared at her, then gave a short nod. “I’ll make arrangements to cover Colleen’s shifts-”

“No,” Jane stated. “Even before I knew Takor had over-indulged, I thought the Yukoskians should meet more of us.”

“Kolleen would like to get her life back to normal,” Kolla offered.

Jane smiled. “If I attend just 7 of your parties, I would no longer fit inside this uniform. So we’ll send up to 20 each night, with at least 1 senior officer. That won’t let everybody go, so we’ll make it a drawing. I’ll have my yeoman start the process. Those who want to attend a party can put their name in.”

“Ah… Winthrop-“ Smitty mentioned softly.

Won’t put his name in,” Jane stated flatly. “Could you assist Blossum with that project, Smitty? She can assign the groups, but somebody with rank should notify those who are going and their supervisors.”

“Yes, Captain. The engines are purring, and I don’t expect any surprises, certainly not while we’re just orbiting the planet.”

S’thyme chuckled. “Isn’t that how this started? A surprise as you orbited our planet?”

Jane smiled. “True. Hopefully, we avoid repeating that event.”