Month 6 Day 31
Jane turned off her computer screen, pulled the memory chip and tossed it in her desk. Leaning back, she rubbed her tired eyes. Nice to know I still have friends among the Academy faculty. I see why Bugalu told me to look up MacDowell’s grades. Highest marks in her class, but... she still got assigned to tugs. Because administration decided she was a trouble-maker.
Does Bugalu know they had that opinion? Wait, of course he knows; he was a witness in most of the incidents her first 2 years, one who insisted MacDowell was not the problem, as did Matt MacDowell, her brother. During her 3rd year, when those 2 were no longer on campus, the complaints against her doubled, and the complaining party was Cadet Baker. That’s a common name; I’ve probably never met him. But he was involved in all complaints against MacDowell. Usually the complainer, sometimes a witness against her.
Her final year, no complaints. None. Either her final year’s discipline record has been wiped, or Baker wasn’t there, and she got along with everybody else.
Jane almost dozed off but forced her eyes to open. Based on these Academy grades, and the statements of Abdulla and Takor, I’m inclined to believe MacDowell knowledgeable. But she can’t think around Smythe. It happens. New people often find it difficult to talk to one officer or another.
She wants to take - and pass - her test tomorrow. Jane glanced at the time display. Scratch that, it’s today. And she’s on duty, so let’s get this done before I fall asleep.
Jane punched a number into the intercom and waited for an answer from the other end. She thought she heard a muffled, “What?”
Sounds like he answered in his sleep. “Smythe?”
“In bed,” the man answered. “Night.”
“Smitty!” Jane pushed out before he could disconnect.
He gave a short, wordless cry, and she could imagine him suddenly sitting up in his dark bedroom. “Who’s there?
“Smitty, it’s Jane,” she answered. “Come here, I need you.”
“Jane?” he repeated. “You want me... in your quarters?”
Jane stared at the intercom speaker in surprise. Black space, what is he thinking? What kind of dream did I interrupt? “My office. Use the hall door. And before you come, put some clothes on.”
“Can’t it wait until morning?”
“No. I won’t be able to sleep until I’ve got this resolved. And if I can’t sleep, somebody will keep me company. That somebody is you. Get up here. I’ll make coffee.”
His sigh trailed off into a groan. “Yes, captain.”
Jane broke the connection before she heard any of the under-his-breath complaining she was sure he would do all the way to her doorway. Emitting her own deep sigh, she got up and set the pot to brew, then sat down again to wait.
The hall door bzzed, startling Jane awake. “Come in,” she said, and the partition opened to let Smitty step inside.
His uniform was clean and unwrinkled, his hair combed, but the dark smudges under his eyes said he was barely awake. “You look almost as bad as I feel,” he stated, then bit his lower lip. “Sorry, Jane.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She forced herself to stand up and got the 2 biggest mugs she could find in the ‘refreshment area’, filled them with black coffee and returned. She was dismayed to see he was seated, but handed him a mug and sat down behind her desk.
Smitty held his mug near his mouth, blowing the steam away, eager to cool it enough to drink. After a long moment, he took a quick sip. “What’s this about, captain?”
Jane took a longer sip, then had to breath open-mouthed to cool her mouth and throat. “Tomorrow’s the day- no, that’s wrong. Today’s the last official day of MacDowell’s probation.”
Smitty frowned. “I know that.“
She held up a hand to stop him. “You’ve already given her another month. But she doesn’t want it, wants to pass the test before the record shows she needed ‘extra time’. And I can’t blame her.”
“She’s asked me to have someone else proctor the test, since she can’t think if you’re around. I know that’s not how you do things, but you haven’t managed to pry her out of that stage yet, so I figure it might be time to try something different.”
“I’m going to proctor the test. Right now. You’ll be here, able to hear every word, but she won’t know it. Now, I’d like to get some sleep tonight, and no doubt you’d like to return to your bed as quickly as possible, so take your coffee and go sit in Blossum’s area. With the lights off, and if you sit still and listen, MacDowell won’t know you’re there.”
For a moment, Smitty stared at her, as if he wasn’t sure he understood what she meant. He took a slow drink of his coffee and asked, “This is why you needed me here?”
“It seems the simplest way to solve the problem,” she stated firmly. “Now go on, move over there so I can bring her in.”
With his forehead wrinkled, Smitty stiffled a yawn and took his mug of coffee around the corner, into the dark alcove. “Say something in your normal voice, so I know I can hear you,” he requested.
“Are you ready?” she asked, resisting the urge to raise her voice.
“Just a moment, I’m trying to get the chair into the corner without bumping into anything.”
“Turn the light on while you do that, and then turn it off.”
“Ahhh, can’t remember where the switch is. Okay, I’m in the corner and sitting down. I can’t see your desk.”
“Then MacDowell won’t be able to see you,” Jane stated.
“I suppose not,” he returned.
Jane stood up. “Stay quiet. I’ll go get her. And don’t fall asleep, or I’ll personally approve her promotion.” He didn’t answer, so she assumed he was following instructions to be quiet. She walked to the door to the bridge, which opened for her.
In the next episode:
Jane stopped, surprised to see 2 men standing behind MacDowell at the communications console.