Duty Shift

Love and Starships Chapter 3

Francis awoke to a high pitched whistling akin to air leaking out of a balloon. The low environmental light had begun to rise, alerting her that it was almost time to awake for her duty shift. She turned over away from the wall and to the center of the room. Skee was turned to face her, his eyes open and staring her down.

“Whoa!” She shouted, throwing the covers off herself and sitting up. The whistling stopped suddenly, and the alien blinked several times in quick succession before sitting up himself.

“Is there an emergency?” He said, looking about the room.

Francis stood up and stomped to the wall to hit the button for the main light. “No, just-”

“I’ve read that newly commissioned ships tend to discover anywhere between 15 to 85 minor to major malfunctions upon their first week in regular service, causing-”

“Hey, no.” Francis interrupted. She paced around for bit before waving her hand in front of Skee’s face. “You were just staring at me while I was sleeping.”

Skee straightened up upon the edge of his bed and blinked his vertical eyelids several times slowly. “Ah, forgive me. Sometimes my eyes stay open while I sleep.”

“Sounds uncomfortable.” Francis quipped and quickly turned away.

“I have a third, clear eyelid which keeps the membranes underneath moisturized. Also, it happens during the second stage of my sleep cycle.” The alien noted. “When I… dream, I guess is the word.”

Francis listened patiently while picking up the discarded socks and uniform off the floor. “…What were you dreaming about?” She asked.

Skee folded his long arms in front of his chest as if to think. “I awoke so suddenly, I think I forgot it. It is a flaw in Reedeen brains.”

Francis balled up the dirty clothes and shoved them into the synthesizer. “Recycle.” She ordered the computer. The uniform crumbled and disintegrated into the grate below the moleculizer. “Believe me, it happens just the same to us humans. They say we only remember five percent of the dreams we have throughout the night. Computer, synthesize uniform under specifications FA Arnold.”

“Accepted.” The circuits buzzed.

“Maybe one day we can talk about the dreams we actually remember.” Skee suggested.

Francis stood silently as the synthesizer reorganized the bunches of molecules into the uniform for her day. “Sure, I’m sure there’ll be time.”

The synthesizer finished its job with a low beep. Francis turned around with the fresh, slightly warm material in her hands. Skee was still sat upon the edge of the bed, his legs folded over each other atop the sheets. “I’m going to take a shower before I head off to eat breakfast.”

“Be my guest.” Skee said thoughtfully, as if using the phrase for the first time.

Francis stepped into the cramped room and shut the door behind her, giving one last glance outside to see if the alien would move. As silently as possible, she activated the lock and began pulling off her pajamas.

After a quicker-than-normal shower, she stepped back out and began getting dressed for the day. A brief look in the mirror revealed her hair lopsided. If I just push it into place, nobody will notice until I have time to properly pick it out.

After getting fully dressed, Francis quietly undid the lock and pushed the door open. Both beds had been made, and Skee was nowhere to be found. Exiting the room, she double checked again that he was in neither direction down the corridor.

Francis had memorized by now the route up to Recreation Deck B and the mess hall. The kitchen area was packed just as the night before, but the hunger of simply loading up on carbs during dinner caught up to her. Her haul included eggs, more Toronian bread rolls, and meat from a source of questionable origin. It smelled at least as if it had been cooked well past done to rid the product of any discernible taste or gaminess.

“Hey Frannie!” The loud voice called out as soon as Francis stepped into the dining hall. Rundle waved at her with his large arm stretching up above the crowd of people. As Francis approached the table, she caught sight of Trisha sitting across from the twins.

The strawberry blond leaned over to Francis as she sat down. “We were talking about how you might have dealt with your first night there with a strange alien.”

Francis loudly unpacked her utensils from their paper wrapper and set them on the table with a clatter. “He’s like…” She said, thinking.

“Let me guess…” Jundle peeped in. “He fell asleep promptly, and didn’t cause any trouble, right?” Rundle let out a loud guffaw and shoved more food into his mouth.

“Well, yeah, pretty much.” Francis admitted.

Trisha sighed and ran her long hair through her fingers. “Well, so much for that.”

“Really, though…” Francis reminisced. “He kind of reminds me of like… a dog. A puppy.”

Rundle mouthed the word ‘dog’ several times between ruminating the flavor of the meat he had also served himself with. “I think I can imagine such an animal. How so?”

“He’s just kind of… innocent, curious. He does this… thing, too.” Francis described, imitating how the alien would turn his head to the side back and forth.

“I don’t think many other races would prefer being compared to some hardly sapient earth species.” Jundle noted, her voice just loud enough over the din of the room.

“Hey, dogs are one of the more intellectual of animals found on Earth.” Francis said, jutting her fork at the female twin.

“I always thought that… dolphins and like, pigs were ranked higher than dogs.” Trisha interjected.

“Whatever.” Francis sighed before shoving down more of the eggs. “At least he doesn’t seem really like too much of a bad guy. How does tactical look to you two?” She said, pointing at Rundle and Jundle.

“Very state-of-the-art.” Rundle boasted. “The CO there says that they don’t expect many fire-fights, but they said like the idea of having a pair of Biloban twins working a station, for whatever reason.”

“You’re lucky that you have a deck commander that seems so amicable.” Trisha said, finishing the last few bites of her food. “Down in system integrity, I got little more than a gruff hello from any of the higher ups. What about you Francis, still down in the basement?”

“Ugh, I’ve got so much walking to do today.” Francis huffed. “I’m running traces on all the data lines in my area to make sure there’s no interruptions on the ship. At least I don’t have to partner up with anyone for a week or so.”

“Are you going to be able to find your way around, this time?” Trisha said, jutting a finger at her.

“Hopefully. I have a schematic I get to follow.” Francis muttered and pushed another large bite into her mouth. Between moving the fork between her mouth and the tray, she caught sight of the clocked display on the wall. “Heck, I’m late.”

Rundle glanced back at the same instrument and quietly stood. “Yup, seems we should be going soon.”

Francis stood up, frantically plopping her utensils and used napkin on the tray. “Later, everyone.” She said before retreating from the room.

Down in the second to lowest deck of the ship was core relay which served to track the motion of the entire craft and keep the relative stability for all members aboard, even in the vacuum of space. Francis ducked through the low passageways and around the channels holding the dense bundles of cables. Welp, I’m lost. Francis looked around the blocks of framework, having missed the a turn somewhere and entirely avoided the location of the relay.

She peered down again at the overwhelmingly unhelpful tablet that was supposed to guide her way. The screen referenced the same identical looking blocks around her. Turing the device upside down into an obviously wrong orientation allowed her to confirm that she was, indeed, lost.

I should know how to get out of here. Francis tapped away at the screen, changing the modes. The relay is sending information likely to the bridge, so if I… just find the polarity of the wires… they will lead me to it. The tablet churned an icon to taunt her as it adjusted to the frequency of the conduits. With a helpful beep, the screen flashed and brought up an image of the voyaging electrons in the structure below her. After a quick turn, she had aligned herself to the source of the particles.

Francis hunched low, eyes glued to the screen, causing her to step on the heel of another crew member who happened to be in the same space. “Hey, whoa!” The man jumped, banging his head loudly on one of the supports above.

“Ohmygosh!” Francis blurted out as the man began to fall backwards, narrowly catching himself on his hands. “I’m so sorry.”

The crewman leaned his head back at her and gazed into her eyes. He had thick dark hair, parted off to the side, and eyebrows to match, with a thin trail of blood running down between them. “Uh, I think-”

“You’re bleeding!” Francis interjected. She quickly pulled back and began stepping through the blocks to find her way to the emergency box she had seen before. To her surprise, heading straight outward toward the wall of the ship lead her there. With the medical supplies in hand, she retraced her steps to find the man sitting, holding his hand to his forehead to stop the blood from continuing farther down his face and into his stubbly beard.

“Oh okay, good.” He sneered. “I thought you were going to leave me for dead.”

“No, no, I’ve got you.” Francis tried to put him at ease while she fumbled with the package of gauze. The man pulled it out of her hand and placed it over the wound; a small cut just below his hairline.

“What’re you doing down here?” Francis shook her head, looking again for the relay.

“Likely the same as you.” The man offered, pointing to an instrument similar to Francis’s hanging to his belt.

“I thought I was supposed to be working alone down here…” Francis muttered, trailing off. Oh well, he’s nice to look at.

“Probably port side, then.” The man said. He pulled the gauze quickly off his forehead to examine the bleeding. “I was assigned to the starboard connections.”

“Still bleeding?” Francis winced, avoiding looking at the wound.

“Yeah, uh…” He said dismissively. “Got any hemostatic gel in there? That should stop it.”

Francis dug around in the pack and found the blue tube. “Yeah, but are you sure you just shouldn’t head up to medbay?”

The man grabbed the tube out of her hands and ripped the tip off with his teeth. From the tiny hole in the pouch, he squeezed a drop in his hand before rubbing it on the cut.

“Nah, do you know how far that is? Besides, doesn’t seem like you should be down here alone, uh…”

“Francis.” She offered her name.

The man smirked and rubbed the excess gel on the gauze. “Francis, really? Not Francine, or Francesca?”

“My friends call me Frannie, but I’m not really a fan.” Francis said, finally able to look into his wide, brown eyes.

“Wil.” The man offered shortly before stuffing the folded up gauze into his breast pocket.

Francis placed the messily repacked bag of medical supplies on the ground and picked the tablet up off the ground. “Well, you are right, Wil.” She confided. “Seems we were assigned to similar tasks. Port side it is.”

Wil stepped under the beam he had previously hit his head on and into the neighboring compartment where the ceiling had been raised to accommodate the relay and all the connecting conduits.

Oh, here we are. Francis thought to herself while staring at the big, humming device. “Port is…” She paused, looking back and forth and back down at the tablet.

“That way.” Wil directed, pointing back behind her.

“Thank you.” Francis nodded quickly and readjusted her hold on the tablet. “Here’s to… not finding any issues, am I right?”

Her words met Wil’s back as he continued, hunched over, towards the opposite side of the ship. Francis sighed and began to look for the first of the conduits marked on her schematic.

Francis’s shift ended uneventfully, and without seeing Wil another time. After exiting the lower decks, she hurriedly returned to her room and sat down on the edge of the bed next to the communication terminal. “Trisha Marson.” She spoke to the computer. The screen lit up with the text reading ‘connection in progress…’

“What, what?” The woman sat down in front of her own terminal, looking as if she had just gotten in herself. “What’s up, Frannie?”

“You’ll never believe who I just met.” Francis excitedly spoke into the screen.

“Another weird alien?” Trisha sighed. “Hold on, that… Skee, isn’t in the room with you, is he?”

“No, of course not.” Francis shook her head. “I met another human male today on my shift, working the same area.”

“Ohhhh.” The strawberry blond drew out her words, her eyebrows faking a gesture of surprise. “A human one this time.”

Francis nodded emphatically. “He is literally the definition of tall, dark, and handsome.”

Trisha feigned a yawn, placing her hand over her mouth. “Wow, did you talk to him?”

“Well…” Francis said, shifting her eyes. “I kinda surprised him and made him slam his head into a support.”


“I did help him after!”

“Did you get his room number, or even his name?”

“Wil.” Francis stated, sure of herself.

Trisha sat back away from the screen and crossed her arms. “Well, that’s one step. He’s in the same division as you too, so there’s extra chances to meet up. Anyway, I really need to take a shower, so… see you at dinner?”

“Yeah.” Francis concluded, and pushed on the panel to end the call.

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