The red lights started flashing as an alarm tore through the ship.
“Man the battle stations! Man the battle stations!”
Like everyone else, I raced through the corridor to my assigned spot. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the big, flashy gun controls. No, I had to watch the power units didn’t overheat from all the laser fire, shield damage and maneuvering.
But, at least all of the lowest ranked engineers on the ship had to do it. Even if it was little more than watching a bunch of bar charts dance around in the dark.
Trisha slid into her seat next to me. She’d only been on the ship about a month, and I’d not really spoken ot her much, but she had a reputation for being a bit scary.
“What’s going on?” I asked as the alarm continued.
“You know those alien ambassadors we were meant to be negotiating with?”
“We’re fighting them.”
Clearly, the Captain had worked his magic again.
The alarm continued, filling what would otherwise have been a prolonged silence while we waited for the rest of the team to show up.
“Does that annoy you?” I asked.
“What, the alarm? Yeah, a bit. I mean, why can’t we just have a normal, panicked sound instead of a voice droning on in a loop?”
“No, no – I meant the “manning” the battle stations bit. Should it not be “gender-neutral” the battle stations?”
Trisha looked at me as if I’d grown another head. “Oh, I don’t know – as long as someone’s here and we’re all doing our job I think it’s fine.” She looked around at the empty seats to punctuate her point.
I grimaced and nodded. There had been a lot of trouble on the ship recently about the treatment of female crew members. Trisha had been involved in trying to band the women together a bit to stop the ship being run quite so much like an old boys’ club. Long story short, they wanted more respect and less revealing uniforms. Fair enough, really.
She squinted at a read-out on her monitor as the other engineers gradually slunk into the room, seemingly not in the same flap as Trisha and I were. “I mean, I appreciate you asking. But if you still have to ask, there’s still a problem, you know? It’s still drawing attention to me being a woman. If we’re equal, you wouldn’t have to ask.”
Reg flopping into his chair interrupted me before I could reply.
“Jesus, she getting her knickers in a twist over this ‘manning’ thing?”
Trisha sighed. I mouthed an apology. Reg had been all huffy since I made sure we sent his future self home. But then, I suppose anyone would be. It was like saying goodbye to a twin.
Saying that, his macho posturing was new. Denial, I assumed, over what happened with the Captain.
“Does it annoy you or what?” Reg leaned in, yelling obnoxiously.
Trisha rolled her eyes. “No. It’s fine. Can we just get on with our jobs, please?”
The ship rocked. I noticed a couple of minor spikes on the units I was monitoring, but nothing untoward. The bigger issue was the fact that the room gave us absolutely no indication of what was going on outside. No data, no running commentary, no windows… nothing. It was basically just us, all seven or so, locked in a room with each of us watching power outputs of a very specific set of components.
An awkward silence crept in again. Reg shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “What could it be instead of manning? Staffing?”
Trisha leaned into her radio. “Monitor station six. Watch the output on line twelve.”
“Personing? Person the battlestations?”
Trisha turned to him. “Please, Reg, Please shut up.”
Reg made a sarcastic, high-pitched “oooooh” noise. “I’m just trying to do my bit for the ’cause’.” He even gave her air quotes.
“Alright – You know what would be good for the cause? Letting me get on with my bloody job.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sure.”
“And stop leaving notes on the bulletin board calling for the crew to vote on holding a wet t-shirt contest.”
“How did you know that was me?”
“There’s only one Reg on the ship.”
“Yeah, well there were two.” I could feel Reg glare at the back of my head.
I turned to face Trisha, having called in another minor spike while they bickered. “His future self popped in for a visit. Nothing major, but the bulletin board thing could have been either one of them acting all macho to compensate for feelings he has for a crewmate. A male one.”
“Shut up Paul!” Reg snapped.
Trisha giggled. “Oh is that all? Well, don’t fight it!” She laid a hand on his knee that was somewhere between affectionate and patronising, in the way friends might tease each other. “Remeber, we accept you.”
He squirmed away from her. “**** off.”
“Oh come on, Reg. Don’ be like that. I did actually mean it.”
He made a strange huffing noise.
Trisha shook her head with a smile, “Sheesh. Who needs aliens, eh? We’re all so screwed up ourselves. Enough problems at home, eh?”
Nobody answered. The red alarm light was still flashing, but the ship was still and the power fluctuations stopped. We all knew this was the part of the fight where the Captain was either taunting his opponent, trying to buy some time or force their surrender. It depended what mood he was in, more than anything.
Trisha made a low humming noise in the lull. “Should we even be out here, as a species, when none of us are very good at doing a little inner soul searching and accepting what we find. I mean – are we really ready to explore the rest of the universe when so many of us feel so insecure?”
Another blast rocked the ship, answering her question on our behalf.
“Are we mature enough?” I chipped in, half in a philosophical daze, half painfully aware that if there was any justice in the universe this woman would be running this team one day. I wanted first dibs on any promotions she gave out.
“Exactly!” She barked a report of a power spike into her radio with breathless efficiency.
Reg turned back to Trisha “Oh God, will you please drop this tired “arse-kicking, take-no-****, girl in space routine, please?”
“Whatever… Oh, hey! I bet you’ve got a tragic backstory to explain it all. You lot always do. What’s your deal? Tortured as a child? Betrayed and left for dead? Something really gross and sad? Wait! I’ve got it!” He actually pointed at her. It was hard to watch. “Can’t have a baby? Am I right?”
My jaw dropped. That was bad, even for him. “Reg! What the-”
Trisha held out a hand to shut me up. She took a deep breath.
“Reg. I understand that you may be going through… things… at the moment, and that might make you want to lash out a bit. I understand, so – this once – I will let what you just said slide. But let me be clear – I may be a no-nonsense woman working on a spaceship, but I do not need some sob story to explain the fact that I’m good at my job. Got that? Just accept the fact that I can handle these things – probably better than you, looking at your monitor – and move on. I had a loving home as a child, I worked hard, I’m clever, and believe it or not I’m one of the silent majority of people on this ship who are actually reasonably competent – that’s why you never hear about me.”
Someone else in the room let out a tiny “Oh!” as realisation dawned.
Mercifully Trisha didn’t notice. She was focused on Reg. The fact that she hadn’t actually raised her voice and just explained everything so matter-of-factly just made it all the more terrifying. “Now, like I said; I appreciate that you might not be feeling quite like your normal self currently. So I will let that one pass. But please understand – if you pull anything like that and make crass assumptions about me ever again I will ****ing destroy you in a ****ing heartbeat. Am I clear?”
Reg stared at her with big, terrified eyes. He nodded slowly.
“Good. Now, shall we get back to work?”
He nodded again. “S-sorry.”
“Apology accepted. I hope we can move past this and behave like professionals. Speaking of which – please, please, call in line eight before we all die.”
Reg’s monitor was going ballistic with all sorts of dangerous power spikes, especially around line eight. We must have been taking a barrage on his side.
The rest of us should probably have been doing something, but we were all too absorbed by watching Reg fumble with his radio and stammer the report. We were staring, open-mouthed.
Trisha was busy examining her screen.
We kept staring.
She didn’t look up. “What?”
We all scrambled to turn back to our monitors and do our bit in the fight.
Though the fight in here was way more interesting.