Month 6 Day 26
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.
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.