"Engineering, Roberta X speaking...."
"Is Big Tom working today?"
"Yeah, he's right here" I moved the handset away from my mouth, "Tom, it's for you--"
The voice in my ear protested, "I don't need to talk to him, just tell him his '42' is at the mailroom." And he hung up.
I repeated the message to Tom and asked, "What's a '42'?"
He grinned. "It's a secret."
C. Jay was at the desk next to me, deep in e-mail from some Earthside manufacturer who hadn't bothered to ansible out any service bulletins; he had a lot of catching up to do. "Somebody sent Tom The Answer to Everything."
In the corner at the Calibration bench, old-timer Gale Grinnell had some kind of data transcoder laid out in pieces and was poking through it was a 'scope. He looked up in annoyance. He served aboard Lupine when she was a warship and and thanks to various time-dilation effects ended up so far out of sync that he has never gone back home (by the calendar, he's well over 70; by his calendar, he's barely past 50) and he figures everyone else in Engineering is in a conspiracy to waste his time. He gave me a dark look and muttered between clenched teeth, "Probably a damn' stripper. Foolishness."
The boys rose to the bait. C. Jay, "Ooh, a stripper. '42' could be gooood. Or it could be bad."
Big Tom: "Yeah. It's probably her shoe size!"
Gale just grunted and went back to his scope-probing, while I endeavored not to blush.
Undaunted, C. Jay speculated onward, "Shoe size? 42? Oh, man, a clown stripper!"
Tom and I both expressed revulsion, but not for long. From The Chief's tiny office opening off the back of the Engineering Shop there came a determined and somewhat censorious throat-clearing. "Tom. That forty-two-inch monitor is for EVA monitor wall in the Environment & Physical Plant console room. They're in a rush to get it before the outside work really starts." He'd been moving as he talked and was at the hatch to his office by the last word, fixing all of us with a gimlet eye. "Seems they got too involved skylarking and one of the techs put an elbow through the old one. A-hem."
Tom headed out. The rest of us got back to work.
* * *