We're still with Tabitha, but she's better now. If you want to start from the beginning, go here.
Intruders chapter 2 scene 2
After a good night’s sleep, Tabitha felt much better. She was starting to get the hang of the gravity. She was hungry, having missed food the day before, and breakfast in the mess hall gave her a chance to meet two more of the crew. The Second Officer, Daniel Hoy, was the smallest man she had ever seen. She hadn’t noticed his size when she saw him on the bridge. About her height but slim, he had almond-shaped eyes and pale skin. Chambers introduced them.
‘Lieutenant-Commander Hoy is of Oriental descent and proud of his heritage.’ Chambers said. Hoy smiled and gave a little bow. ‘Because of that he’s learned ancient martial disciplines,’ Chambers continued, ‘so he's really useful in a fight because people don’t expect his style of combat.’
Hoy moved away and sat down to eat. Chambers introduced her to the other man with less enthusiasm.
‘This is Ensign Roy Stubbs, the assistant Engineer.’
Stubbs was a skinny, rough-looking young man, and she was taken aback when he winked at her. Chambers scowled at him.
‘Don’t take any notice, Enns. Ensign Stubbs doesn’t know how to speak to a lady.’
Stubbs stiffened, and then noticed Hoy watching them. He turned away and went to fetch his breakfast.
‘Come on,’ Chambers said. ‘Hurry and finish eating. It’s time for you to meet with Commander Holland.’
Holland’s cabin was at the rear of the main deck, with a corner screened off as an office. He reviewed her school records and asked her lots of questions about her studies. Then he assigned her to work in a different discipline each day, with a review after a week.
This is worse than school! She thought.
The first person Holland sent her to meet was Ensign Reuel who was going to show her the scanners.
Maybe he’s deliberately putting me with the alien, she thought, to see how I react.
‘Thank you, sir,’ she said, straight-faced, ‘I’ve been hoping to meet him. Is there anything I should know, not to cause offence?’
Holland looked impressed. ‘Yes, don’t ask him about his family. It’s a private matter for Altarians, they don’t talk about it.’
‘Yes, sir, thank you, sir.’
She saluted and made her way to Engineering to properly meet her very first alien. He was sitting at a console displaying schematics. As she greeted him, she quaked despite the air of confidence she tried to project. She needn’t have worried; Reuel was as kind and gentle as Chambers had said. He offered her his hand to shake, but it looked so frail she was afraid she might break it, so she just touched it with her fingers.
'I'm sorry about the handshake,' she said, 'I haven't got used to my increased strength yet.'
‘Thank you for your concern,’ he said. ‘Please sit down. Welcome to the Kestrel, I hope we shall be friends.’
‘That would be great,' she smiled. 'My first name is Tabitha. You can call me Tab if you like.’
‘Oh no, that would not be appropriate until we are much better acquainted. We are not so free with our privacy on Altair.’ He patted her hand. ‘But I am gratified at the offer.’
She pulled a face. ‘I’m so excited to be here, but I’m nervous I’ll mess up.’
‘Do not worry. The rules are simple - the senior officers tell you what to do and you do it, and in between, you study. It is the same for us all. Now, examine these schematics and see if you can find the places where we can calibrate the scanners.'
They worked through the schematics together, with Reuel explaining the parts she didn't understand. Later they took a break and Tabitha told Reuel the story of getting the call to work on Kestrel.
'It is good that Lieutenant Chambers is looking after you,' Reuel said. 'Perhaps it will take his mind off his new responsibilities.’
‘What new responsibilities?’
'He has just been promoted to helmsman. Our previous helmsman Grey Lanx was promoted to another ship, but there was no replacement available. The Captain made Chambers helmsman, but Chambers is not convinced, he does not think he is ready for it. We need to give him our encouragement. He is a qualified helmsman, but I believe there was a serious accident. I do not know the details.'
‘Thank you for telling me,' Tabitha said. She remembered she had seen Reuel before. 'I was in sick bay when you came to ask about Lieutenant Balitoth. Is there any news of him?’
Reuel’s cranial spines leaped up from his head, and he smiled.
‘Oh yes! The operation was a success! He must have time to recover, but he will be … fine.’
Ensign Stubbs was passing and heard the last remark.
‘Is that news of Balitoth?’ he said. ‘When will the old lizard be back with us then?’
Reuel stiffened. ‘It is inappropriate that you speak of him in that manner. Dr Robinson says he will monitor the situation and let me know, but not less than a week.’
‘Just friendly banter, no offense.’ Stubbs turned to Tabitha. ‘How are you settling in, Sweets?’
‘Fine,’ she said, looking away.
When Stubbs had gone, Reuel remarked, ‘Ah, another use of the word "fine".’
[Next week: Tabitha calls home and writes in her journal]
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