Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Surprise Success

Month 6 Day 30
1743 Hours
Bugalu

“I had a strange dream this evening,” Mac said as they walked down the corridor.

“You finally remember what’s waking you up?”

“No, not my nightmare. A strange dream.”

“You want to talk about it?”

She hesitated. “Only if you don’t mind.”

I don’t remember us ever discussing dreams before. “Go ahead.”

“Della was getting ready for a date. And somebody asked her who she was seeing.”

“That would be me,” Bugalu stated.

“How could she have a date with you when you were helping me?”

“I meant I’m the one who asked her. That isn’t a dream, Mac. You heard us talking, that’s all.”

“Did I? I thought... That was definitely not my usual type of dream.”

“What is your usual type of dream?”

“I build things. But in another language.”

As they approached the theater, Bugalu absorbed what she’d said. “I’m not surprised,” he decided, and held the door open for her.

She selected a seat fairly near the screen. When Bugalu sat down, she asked, “What’s the movie?”

It matters? “I don’t remember the title. It’s a comedy.”

“Any monsters?”

“I don’t think so. Do you not feel like watching a comedy?”

“No. Comedy is fine. It’s just-” She glanced his way and lowered her voice. “I miss Matt.”

Bugalu raised the armrest from between them, placed his arm around her and leaned over to whisper. “Pretend he went to the bathroom.”

She scooted closer. “Suits me.”

“You finally on a date, MacDowell?” someone asked from behind them.

“Shut up, Adams,” Mac hissed. “I hear enough of your nonsense on duty.”

“I don’t take orders from you.”

Bugalu could feel how tense Mac was. He placed his hand over hers, which were already balled into fists, and turned to look at the intruder. “I believe the ‘senior’ on my rank predates yours,” he told Adams coldly. “Mac, how do you hear his nonsense on duty? You’re assigned to the bridge, and he’s... engineering.”

Still staring at the blank screen, she said, “He spends most of the shift on the bridge.”

The girl next to Adams suddenly sat forward. “Are you going to spend the entire evening flirting with another woman? I didn’t like it last time, and I won’t put up with it! Enjoy the movie.” She stood and started moving for the side aisle.

Adams moved after her. “Come on, Ondrea, don’t be like that. She’s a co-worker. We joke around like that.”

The lights snapped off and the screen suddenly showed a vividly colored title as music emerged from the speakers, drowning the voices of Adams and his date. Mac relaxed against Bugalu. Why does Adams spend so much time on the bridge? Something to talk about later. At least she hasn’t hit him yet. Pretty sure I would have heard about it if she had.

At the Academy, watching a movie was done in the dorm room that Matt and Bugalu shared, and it had always been some D-rated horror movie. Matt had finally realized that his father’s super protectiveness of Mac had warped her thinking. She’d almost bolted the first time Matt put an arm around her, and they had an intense whispered conversation. But she eventually relaxed and even occasionally hid her eyes against Matt.

A comedy didn’t offer moments for hiding her eyes, but she didn’t mind. The movie was so ridiculous, everybody was laughing. Bugalu hadn’t seen Mac this relaxed since she’d come aboard. Deep into the movie, he thought he heard someone call her name. But she didn’t react, so apparently he was wrong.

The movie abruptly stopped. The soundtrack ended in mid-sentence. The room lights brightened into twilight from utter darkness. He definitely heard Mr Smythe’s voice: “Lt MacDowell!”

Mac stiffened in shock, uttered several phrases under her breath and forced herself to stand up and face the door. “Yes, sir?”

Smythe stood just inside the door, and looked as stiff as Mac. “You’ve passed probation,” he stated.

A couple people offered congratulations, but most were stunned. Superior officers did not normally track down a subordinate on the eve of her last day of probation to tell her she had passed. Mac’s mouth hung open, her eyes were round and staring. Eventually, Bugalu stood up, wondering how to snap her out of her disbelief. “Mac?”

Smythe stared at him, started to turn away. “I’ll let you get back to the movie.”

How?” Mac demanded loudly, probably more loudly than she intended, because of her shock.

Smythe stopped and looked at her in surprise. “When I leave, the movie will start again.”

“No, not that!” She squeezed out of the row of seats to hurry up the middle aisle to face him. “How did I pass probation? You haven’t tested me yet this month!”

“You were tested far more than I would have done,” Smythe answered.

“By whom?”

Smythe took a deep breath, as if he was losing his patience with he. “By the situation you had with Kolla.”

Mac frowned. “You can’t use that! That wasn’t a test! That was a joint effort! And sheer desperation!”

If possible, Smythe stiffened even more, and Bugalu started up the aisle to pull Mac away, if need be. “I can use whatever test I feel does the job,” Smythe told her. “You’ve passed probation.”

Mac’s hands were again fists, and her body quivered with anger. Hyper-alert, Bugalu stood behind her, ready to do whatever he could to keep her from throwing a punch. “No!” she declared.

Smythe developed pink patches on his cheeks, and placed his hands behind his body. Bugalu wasn’t sure if the engineer was embarrassed or angry. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“That’s not the way to pass probation! I have to prove I know everything I’m supposed to know. To you! You weren’t there! You don’t know what Kolla did, or what I might have done! For all you know, Kolla had complete control of my body and did everything herself!”

Smythe shook his head. “No, you had some control. I know because you didn’t hit me.”

“Hit you!” Mac took a step back, right into Bugalu.

The helmsman wrapped his arms around her and lowered his head to whisper in her ear. “Don’t hit him now, or you’ll land in the brig. Winthrop’s territory.” She stood statue still as she absorbed that thought. Too still. “Breathe,” he told her, and she obeyed. “He says you’ve passed. That means you get to stay. Isn’t that what you wanted?” She gave a squeak of frustration, but relaxed a bit. “We’ll talk about this later, when half the ship isn’t listening. Right now, let’s finish watching the movie.” After a moment, Mac gave a stiff nod of her head. Bugalu loosened his grip and followed as she returned to their seats. Behind them, the theater door closed.

“It isn’t the way I wanted it to happen!” she whispered as the room darkened again. “I wanted to show him-“

“Then show him,” Bugalu returned. “The pressure is off. But he already thinks you’re capable, or he wouldn’t have passed you.”

She took a deep, shuddering breath and leaned her head against his shoulder as the movie started again. He could tell she was still upset, so he wrapped both arms around her and lay his head on top of hers. After a moment, he felt her arms reach around his torso. That’s a first. Even for movie night.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Almost Convinced

Month 6 Day 30
1828 Hours
Smitty

Smitty wandered the living room of the visitor suite. The only personal item he saw was a 6 inch holo-vid of the newlyweds during what must have been their wedding. The kiss near the end seemed too intimate for him to watch. He moved away, walked to the screen showing the planet they orbited.

They don’t think it’s too personal a moment. If I’m truthful, it makes me uncomfortable, because it makes me eager to take a particular redhead in my arms and give her a similar kiss. And I can’t do that.

“Good. You’re still here,” S’thyme said as he emerged from the bedroom.

“You asked me to stay,” Smitty stated as he turned around. S’thyme had changed into his gray dress uniform, and was fastening the front. “Isn’t Kolla going down tonight?”

“She takes her time getting ready. I can’t complain, because she’s always the best-looking woman there. Wherever ‘there’ is.”

“You may be biased on that point,” Smitty pointed out.

“Of course,” the other man agreed. “I fell for her the moment I saw her, and I spent a good deal of time trying to convince her to marry me and settle for life as a mother. Actually, she seemed rather empty-headed. She talked incessantly, and it sounded like nonsense.”

“I know the type. But that’s not your current opinion of her.”

“Definitely not.”

“What did she do to change your opinion?”

S’thyme’s smile flashed as he adjusted the jacket’s shoulders and sleeves. “She didn’t do anything different. I started listening. And I realized she was thinking out loud. It didn’t make sense because people think faster than they talk. So what she was describing wasn’t the entire explanation. When I made her slow down - which was hard for her to do - she had fascinating ideas. Engineering ideas. Ways to improve efficiency, tighten the transport beam so it would go further... Trying to list them would take all day.”

“Anybody can have ideas,” Smitty stated, but stopped before he added, ‘but were any of them good?’

“I suppose.” S’thyme watched the holo-vid fondly. “Have you ever fixed something, or re-calibrated something, for the 100th time, all the while wondering why somebody didn’t make it easier to get to, or not needing that much attention?”

Smitty gave a small snort. “All the time. Desk-top engineers!”

His gray version gave a wry smile. “Do you ever do anything about those items?”

“No. I don’t have time. Not to mention the ship wouldn’t be correct according to the manual, and all my subordinates would have to be trained on each thing I changed, as well as the way other ships have it.”

S’thyme nodded. “On one of our early dates, I complained about a piece of machinery that I had calibrated 3 times in 2 days. I found myself explaining exactly what that piece did. I didn’t want to spend the entire evening discussing this... irritant, so I changed the subject. When we were saying good night later, she suggested that I... well, rebuild the equipment, in essence, changing some of the items inside so it wouldn’t de-calibrate so easily. I puzzled over her suggestion for several days, finally decided it should work. Then I had the same reactions you just had. Finally, I contacted one of those ‘desk engineers’, and we discussed it. He wasn’t very interested, but a few days later, he’d built a prototype based on her suggestions and tested it. His boss called, wanted me to write up the changes so the entire office team could study it. I said I could, but it wasn’t my idea. When he asked who had the idea, I said, If I have my way, my future wife!”

“Oh, dear,” Kolla said as she entered the room in her dress uniform. “I apologize, Smythe. That’s been his favorite story this past year. I’m sure the entire planet has heard it by now.”

Smitty cleared his throat. “That’s when he asked you to marry him.”

“No,” she returned. “That’s when he had me transferred to his team, which meant we weren’t allowed to date.”

“I should have thought that through more thoroughly,” S’thyme stated sheepishly. “Should have married her and then had her transferred. Worst 14 weeks of my life. She hardly even talked to me!”

“I wasn’t happy you liked my ideas more than you liked me. You didn’t even ask if I wanted to transfer.”

“The way our dates were going-“

“You thought I’d eagerly marry you, give up my career, have a dozen kids and stay home with them.”

“Dozen?” Smitty repeated under his breath, shocked by the idea of so large a family.

“My dear, I gave up that notion when I realized what your babbling was about. Field engineers seldom get to improve our equipment. We don’t have time to figure out how. It might take a team years to figure out one improvement. But your mind figures them out as you eat your salad, it seems. I couldn’t let that talent go to waste, and-“

“And nobody would consider them as long as I was a mere technician,” she finished. “Yes, you’ve said that. I didn’t like it, but eventually admitted you were probably right.” She scrunched one side of her mouth. “I don’t know which of us is using the other more; me for letting you rush me to a higher rank, or you for making use of my ideas.”

“I think of it another way,” S’thyme stated, and slid his arms around her waist to gently pull her closer. “Not that we use each other, but that we love each other, want to help each other, and work wonderfully well together.”

“You sweet talker,” she murmured, and gave him a quick kiss. “Does that mean I might someday be listed first on one of those papers we write?”

“I always list you first,” S’thyme stated, and grimaced. “The editors change the order because I’m the higher rank. But, this latest paper will only list you and Coline as authors. After that, I’ll argue that your name should remain first.”

“Would they do it?”

“If not, I won’t put my name on the papers.”

“That’s not fair! You work on the prototype as hard as I do.”

“But you think things through so thoroughly that building a prototype is practically a game.” He broke off her protest with another kiss, and this one became quite passionate.

Smitty turned slightly, and his gaze landed on a smaller holo-vid he hadn’t noticed before. This one featured Kolla and Colleen standing together, grinning, talking, laughing and holding readers so the audience could see the screens.

“When are you going to help your Coline get some rank?” S’thyme asked.

Smitty gave him a sharp look. “We don’t ‘help’ subordinates get a promotion. They have to get it on their own.”

The newlyweds looked at each other for a moment. “If someone is suggested for a promotion, don’t you have the power to say yes or no?” Kolla asked.

“If they come to the Fireball with a new promotion, but I determine they are not suitable for this ship, I have them reassigned. That means they might not maintain that promotion. If I accept them, then they keep that new rank. If that’s what you mean.”

“You feel Kolleen is not suitable for this ship?” she continued.

Do I? I can’t even say. “She... can’t pass the oral examination,” Smitty replied.

The Yukoskians looked at each other again, and then S’thyme asked, “What is ‘oral examination’?”

“It’s to see how much she knows about her field. I ask a number of questions, one at a time, and she gives me the answer. At least, she’s supposed to.”

“Does she babble, instead of answering?”

“No. Her answers get slower and slower and less and less specific, until she can’t answer at all.”

“Very strange.”

“Especially when she knows so much,” Kolla added. “I get dizzy just thinking about the hundreds- thousands of pieces of equipment that her mind considered for each step I gave her, and then settled on the one she felt would be the easiest to... change.”

“You 2 did build a strange contraption.” Smitty smiled.

“Not me,” Kolla answered. “My husband says the mind can think faster than the mouth can talk, but her mind moves like lightening when it isn’t trying to explain to an invading alien mind. I explained what I needed for a step, she picked a piece of equipment and did... whatever she did to it. I wasn’t familiar with the equipment, the theory or use it normally had, nor any idea how to make it do what I needed it to do. That was her, plain and simple.”

Smitty froze, unable to speak, not sure he really understood what Kolla was saying.

S’thyme took Kolla’s elbow and urged her toward the door. “Come, my dear, or we’ll be late getting the humans to the surface. May I come to your office in the morning, S’mythe?”


Smitty had gotten used to the slight mispronunciation. He automatically followed them. “I look forward to it.” But right now, there’s something I need to study that I left in my office.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Having Hope

Month 6 Day 30
1625 Hours
Bugalu
    
Bugalu walked into Mac’s living room. “Mac?”

Della appeared in the doorway to the bedroom, an off-duty outfit in her hand. “She’s in here, Bugalu.”

He headed for the bedroom. “Sorry to interrupt, Della.”

“I’m getting used to it,” she stated. “But are you sure she still needs you? She’s been asleep ever since I—“

Mac abruptly sat up, uttering a squeak. “I’m here, Mac,” Bugsy told her calmly, and moved to the side of the redhead’s bed.

“Guess that answers that,” Della muttered, and unfastened her uniform.

Mac rubbed her face. “What time is it?”

“1630,” Bugs answered.

“Did you have supper?”

“I grabbed a bite,” he admitted.

“Good. Now go order a pizza so it’ll be ready after the movie.”

“What?”

Mac grinned and stifled a yawn. “Kolla and I finished sorting memories. We wrote the report the captain wanted. I also asked if Abdulla or Takor could administer my probation test tomorrow. If Smit isn’t there, I’ll be able to answer the questions and actually pass. Before my 6 months are over!”

“That’s great!” Bugalu responded. Although I don’t think Smythe will-

“I hope Smythe agrees to that,” Della stated as her boot hit the floor. “But he doesn’t usually. Unless he promoted the new lieutenant.”

“I’ve been told that,” Mac answered and rubbed her eyes. “But I had to ask. It will mean more to me if I pass the test before my probation is officially over!”

“I can understand that,” Della stated.

Mac stifled another yawn, and Bugalu frowned. “Here’s an idea. You sleep this evening, and we’ll see a movie in a couple days. Give me your hand.” She offered her hand, and taking it, he sat on the edge of her bed.

“I’ve been sleeping since noon,” she told him.

“Without me?” Della snickered, and he tossed over his shoulder, “You know what I meant, Della.”

“That isn’t what it sounded like,” Della returned.

Mac went on, “I’m getting better at it. I sleep half an hour at a stretch any more. I only have to imagine you’re holding my hand.”

“That is better,” he agreed. “So you’ve had some sleep.” She wants to be rewarded for getting her assignment done quickly, not to mention relaxing before she takes that test. "If we see the movie tonight, you’ll be tired for your shift.”

Mac rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s never happened before!”

Bugalu laughed. “Okay, we’ll see the movie. It starts at 2000 hours, so get another couple hours of sleep.”

“You promise to wake me?”

“Yes,” he stated. She lay down, and he straightened the blankets, still holding her hand.

“I didn’t know you and Mac were dating,” Della whispered. “I mean, you’ve been here every night this week, but she says you’re here to help her sleep.”

Bugalu frowned but didn’t face her. “Haven’t you ever gone to a movie with your brother?”

“Don’t have a brother.” Her response was muffled, as if she was pulling cloth over her head. “My sister and I fought too much to spend time together outside home. Relax, I’m teasing. I’m almost jealous of your relationship with my roommate.” She placed her hands on his shoulders from behind and whispered in his ear, “But then I’d miss the relationship we have.” She placed a kiss on his cheek and pulled away.

“Who are you seeing tonight?” Bugalu asked.

“LaPour.”

Surprised, Bugalu turned around just as Della fastened her dress closed. “LaPour asked you out?”

“Lots of guys do. Guess he’s not as committed to Ivy as she thinks.” She approached the mirror over her dresser to touch up her makeup.

“Well, have fun,” Bugalu told her.

“Plan on it,” she answered. After a moment, she added, “If I can convince him to take me into public, maybe I’ll see you at the movie. But remember, I’m on a date, not having family time.”

He heard the door to the corridor open and close, and knew she was gone. Ivy told me LaPour was getting serious, and she couldn’t see me anymore. Obviously, she doesn’t know he’s seeing Della. And I can’t tell her. She wouldn’t believe me. I like Ivy. A lot. But I’m not ready to get serious. I just wish Ivy knew the truth.

In the living room, the intercom buzzed. He ignored it until Mac mumbled, “I’m not home. I’m sleeping.” Amused, Bugalu gently released her hand and went to answer, giving the number of the room.

“Who is this?”

Bugalu stiffened, recognizing the tone of command, though he was sure he imagined the voice’s owner. “This is Lt Bugalu,” he responded.

“Oh. Good evening, lieutenant. Should I be surprised to find you there?”

Is it… the captain? I’m not sure. “I don’t see why you would be. I date Lt Harris, and M- Lt MacDowell is like a sister to me.”

“I see.” He heard a slight tone of amusement in her voice and was 99% sure he was speaking to the captain. “Very well, let me speak with her, please.”

Her? Which her? “I’m sorry, C—Uh, Lt Harris is on a date, and Lt MacDowell is sleeping.”

“Which again makes me wonder why you are there. Do you often spend time in your sister’s quarters when she’s asleep?”

“I have been lately,” he responded. “She sleeps longer… better if I hold her hand.”

“I thought she was over that,” the other person muttered.

“Not completely,” he answered. “Umm… Captain?”

“Yes? Oh, sorry, I didn’t identify myself, did I?” She sighed. “If she’s asleep, it will wait.”

“If it’s important, I could possibly wake her--”

“No, let her sleep. I don’t want her exhausted again. It doesn’t look good on her. On anyone, really.”

That’s the first time I’ve heard the captain comment on a crew member’s looks. Quick to apply it to everyone, but... Mac doesn’t need that complication. He swallowed but offered, “She expects me to wake her around 1900. She got some sleep before I arrived, and we’re going to the movie. I could have her call you-“

“Not that important,” the captain returned. “I wanted to talk about the paper she and Kolla sent me this morning. And the test she wants to take tomorrow.”

“Did Mr Smythe agree to it?” It was out before he realized he was asking.

“That hasn’t been decided.” After a moment, she asked, “You’re seeing the movie together? That sounds like a date, Mr Bugalu.”

“With any other woman, it probably would be. But with Mac, it’s… family time.”

“How long have you known her?”

“My junior year at the Academy. She was a freshman, my roommate’s little sister.”

“Tell me, how smart is she?”

The question startled him, and he glanced back at the bedroom, but there was no indication Mac was anything but asleep. “Smarter than me,” he said quietly. “Not in the ways of the universe, because of her up-bringing. Don’t take my word for it. Check out her grades from the Academy.”

“Those are not available to just anybody who wants them.”

“So I’ve heard. But you aren’t just ‘anybody’.”

There was a pause from the other end. “Thank you, Lt Bugalu, you’ve been helpful. I’ll catch Lt MacDowell when she reports for duty tonight. Enjoy your time together.”


“Thank you, captain.” Bugs went back to the bedroom and picked up Mac’s hand. She sighed and her body relaxed. With his free hand, Bugalu opened the top drawer of her bedside table and pulled out his reader.