1928 words (7 minute read)

Auburn

This has certainly been no vacation in any sense of the word. I really wish that there was some way that I could pretend that I was enjoying myself, but really, I’m just ready to land. Maybe there will be more appreciation for my knowledge among the people who have already landed. Maybe someone there will laugh as I ramble on about the political and socioeconomic factors that lead to the creation of the Confederation. Maybe someone will share my opinion on the validity of the Oxford comma and want to share a drink with me as we talk about the strong French influence over the English language stemming from the French occupation of England for six hundred years.

Or maybe I’ll finally do what my English teacher told me to do when I was getting ready to graduate high school all those years ago: “Don’t be yourself. I mean, you can, but make sure that everyone knows that you are smart before you whip out the crazy.” This may be time to start fresh…

This department of the ship is always so hot. Being one of the mechanically inclined laborers, I found myself working down here with all of the machines. Humming. Clanging. Drumming. When I started this voyage, I was assigned a mentor to follow around but by now, he is just there to sign off on my work. I was lucky enough to be assigned Higgins, who is the Lead Petty Officer of this division. He has been working on this kind of machinery since he was my age and has been just working on perfecting his knowledge for the last fifteen or so years.

I have nearly finished all of my maintenances and I am just waiting on Higgins to sign off on it for me before I make my way back through the backways to the galley. It’s been another long day. I can see him down the passageway with Isaacson making their rounds. His tight cut silver hair made him stand out among the people in our division. He never had to duck under the pipes or through the doors which probably made him the butt of a lot of jokes judging by the way he seems to have a slight hitch in his step to gain an extra inch or two when he passes under the low overheads. His uniform looking pristine as always stands in pure contrast to the uniform of Isaacson who on top of being the unfortunate soul to follow Higgins with his checklist was also assigned to clean the waste dump today. He is struggling to keep up with Higgins swift walk even though he stands a good seven inches taller than him, granted he is impeded significantly by some of the lower hanging pipes.

“Good grief, Hobbes. What the hell is this?”

“Good day to you too, Higgins. What’s the problem?”

“Did you even look at the instructions on this work order? What were you doing? Are you in a hurry to get somewhere? It looks like we brought on kindergartners to work on our machines while bastards like you jackoff in the corner to memories of their mothers. What did you do?”

“Well, I only did what you taught me to do. I’m not sure what you are seeing wrong here.”

“So I taught you to bypass reading the instructions, is that it? What is the tension in this spring? And how much torque did you use on this bolt here? I swear I can see the metal bending like a slutty Catholic high school girl at an ex boyfriend’s seance.”

“So, I honestly don’t understand what that even means...but no, I torqued it as much as you said to and I didn’t even touch that spring.”

“Go read the PMS and get back here and do this job right, everything else looks good so far down here but if you aren’t reading the instructions on this I can only assume you didn’t read them on anything else. I will send Isaacson back down here in twenty minutes and you two will go through line by line doing repeat backs on each line of instruction if this isn’t fixed. On all of the PMs that you have done today, Hobbes. All of them.”

Remember when this was the farthest thing from a vacation? As Higgins was laying into me about who-knows-what, the dark specks in Isaacson’s hair are a little more apparent, as is the smell. I know exactly what happened but I really don’t want to imagine it. Maybe I’ll just revisit that mental image after my next “debriefing” from Higgins.

As the two of them pass by, the scent wafting away with them as they move on to the next poor solitary soul performing the preventative maintenance on some machine that doesn’t have any real conceivable effect on the way of life aboard our ship, I move back to Higgins’ desk. I guess I really should have taken the maintenance schedules where I can find the instructions on how to properly work on the equipment but he really never looked at them when I was training and I really didn’t feel like it was necessary most of the time. Maybe this time I need to double check my work. He didn’t seem too happy with it.

Just as I start making my way toward the back of the compartment, the walls around me start shaking, the sirens start blaring, and the lights begin flashing. Did we hit something? Did something hit us? I start racing down the passage to the central area of the compartment and wait for the division to show up. We have drilled for large collisions regularly, ceaselessly. I know my exact responsibilities once the location and severity is determined. It’s not long before everyone is lined up in rank, Higgins in front of us on the radio with someone at the front of the ship. I look around me and see the diversity of crew working back here. I only ever interact with mechanics so seeing all three sections here is not so common: the mechanics, the electricians, and the technicians. All of us playing important roles back here but all separate and better than the other two.

I can see who was asleep in their racks, hurriedly throwing on their clothes to get here. There are several who are covered in grease and, a few who, like Isaacson, have an unmistakeable odor to them. Higgins is shouting over the radio now. “All present and accounted for.” A few moments pass by and I can’t hear the response but I didn’t need to, Higgins turns around and yells at us.

“Alright, there was a foreign object that made impact with the hull of the ship near the front of the ship. The collision was large enough to send a shock through the ship and our orders are to check the readings on our equipment to ensure that there was no damage. If any is found, report it back here immediately before proceeding. You have five minutes.”

It appears that the same information was relayed to the electricians and the technicians as they swiftly go back to their work spaces and start looking over their equipment. As I go off down the p-way that I had arrived from, I see what I was looking for while waiting for the instructions. The auburn bun running back into the air conditioned office where they monitor reactor controls. It’s a shame that I only caught a brief glimpse. But in a situation with more important things at hand I’ll just have to try to catch her eye when we are mustered back here again.

I walk swiftly from machine to machine, checking for any anomalies in the pressure gages, strange thumping noises that could mean a piece of the equipment was loosened by the impact, or even worn belts...since that was part of the PM that I didn’t do in the first place when I confronted by Higgins. Turning off the equipment sometimes requires me to fit my hands in some tight, greased up areas, and I fully intend on wiping some sweat off my brow with these hands for a more impressive, hard working look.

After checking all of my equipment and being satisfied that I’ve dirtied my uniform to a level shy of obnoxious but a little more than would necessarily be likely just from performing routine maintenances, I hurry back to the muster to report back that all conditions are normal. And as I wait for the rest of the division to do the same, I wait, meanwhile, looking over the other two sections. The technicians for the most part seem to fit a mold. Mostly scrawny little fellas that can be found in dark corners playing card games with each other, prattling on about how much damage their cards are doing to the others. It’s difficult to stand being around them for more than a few minutes. But worse than the games and nerd jokes, they are smart and try to flaunt it. The person that will use a big word then stop mid-sentence and try to reword what they were saying as if they were talking to children. It’s in this group though that “Auburn Bun” works.

On the other side of them is the electricians. They don’t seem to be as clear cut as far as having a type. Some of them are definitely smaller with dainty fingers, which I suppose are useful for working with the wiring, but then there are the bulkier ones, who I suppose are helpful when working on the larger pieces of electrical equipment like the breakers that would need two technicians to operate or the batteries that are the size of several old fashioned car batteries. They may be a little bit more fun, a little bit smarter than the people I work with generally, but their idea of fun is to play catch with mechanics with charged up capacitors.

A capacitor works almost like a battery in the way that it will hold an electric charge temporarily so when one of the knuckle draggers I work with catches it, it will pop in their hand as the electricity zaps them. It’s funny to a point, but one thing that the electricians don’t get is that there is a line that they shouldn’t cross. So these jokes continue even after they cease being funny.

While looking around at the masses gathering again, it seems to me that everyone is reporting the same thing, nothing broken. Then I notice that Auburn Bun is making her way back too. I lift my sleeve to give my right cheek one last good rub to get some of the dark grease over my freckled face a manlier look and while lowering it back down to my side, I nonchalantly wave at her.

The usual response. Confusion, then the cold shoulder. It’s hard to start an inter office romance when you rarely see each other, and probably having never spoken a word to each other make it hard too. I guess maybe after all these months, it might help if I figure out her name.

Next Chapter: Follow Through