Space Madness: Episode IX
Captain Pappas’ Manual of Alien Technologies, item 11: Propulsion System.
Fuel source: unknown. Possibly a combination of antimatter for short range maneuvering, and cosmic ray capture for long distance travel. This is all speculation and should be verified when I dock.
Duration: indefinite. Or at least longer than any human would care to stay in space. Recommend for further study. If the techs at Orion can reverse engineer this for planetary use, that would render ancient debates about energy use moot.
Personality: Strong yet sensitive. The maneuvering thrusters like a good stretch now and then. Make sure they get it. The ship will respond with a low frequency hum (about 80 Hz) to signal its enjoyment. Treat her well.
The ship finally docked. The last few weeks of Paps’ journey, since he made contact with the colony on Orion, seemed longer than the rest of the trip. Humans. Real, honest to God humans. Paps was excited to see civilization again. Excited and scared. Would civilization take him back? Would they believe his warnings about the Remotes? Would he be able to settle down, or would he get locked in an insane asylum?
The airlock opened into the space station orbiting the colony. This station wasn’t here when Paps left Orion. At that time, the settlement was a ragtag group of scientists and military personnel trying to survive on a hostile planet. The colonists weren’t even sure if this could be made into a permanent settlement, hence the need to scout for habitable planets elsewhere. Clearly a lot of progress had been made.
Paps stepped out of the airlock and stood at attention. “Captain Anton K. Pappas at your service. You can call me Paps if you like.”
The most decorated of the greeting party saluted. “Welcome back to Orion, Captain. I’m General Ricardo Salazar. We’ve got a lot to discuss. Follow me and you can be debriefed.”
Paps followed the General out of the docking bay and into a smaller corridor. He was flanked by two security looking types, and followed by a curious looking woman with a notebook in her hand. She was observing Paps’ and making little marks in her notebook. Oh. A psychiatrist. Paps supposed that was not entirely unexpected, but it was still unnerving.
“They think you might be crazy. Of course, they might be right.” Hal circled Paps’ escorts, studying them. Paps didn’t respond.
“You aren’t going to be debriefed. You’re going to be interrogated. Observed. Psychoanalyzed. Possibly poked and prodded. If you warn them about the Remotes, they won’t believe you. I must admit I am looking forward to seeing human interrogation techniques.”
Paps choked on his own tongue. The guards stopped and put their hands on their sidearms. The psychiatrist backed off a bit. “I’m alright, I’m alright. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now. It’s… just good to see people again.”
General Salazar put his hand on Paps’ shoulder. “I understand, Captain. It’s good to have you back. We want to do all we can to make your transition back into civilization a smooth one. But we’re going to have to ask you a few questions first. I hope you understand.”
“Just a few more meters this way, Captain.”
The guards relaxed and Paps followed into the debriefing room. Paps sat down at the table. General Salazar and the psychiatrist sat down across from him, while the guards waited outside. Hal was pacing back and forth behind the General and the shrink. Paps tried to avoid him with his eyes, unsuccessfully.
The psychiatrist made another little mark in her notebook, then spoke. “Hello Paps. My name is Dr. Capitate. I’m the station psychiatrist.”
Paps nearly fell out of his chair. He had been mentally preparing for this debriefing, going over in his mind the possible questions he could be asked, but he was completely thrown off by this young lady’s name. “Dr. Capitate? Are you serious?”
“Yes. Why, did you know someone from my family before you left?”
“No, no. That’s just a hell of a name for a head doctor. I don’t suppose your first name begins with a D?”
“Yes, it’s Diana. How did you know that?”
Paps could not contain his laughter. He didn’t know which was more bizarre, the fact that he was being questioned by a psychiatrist named D. Capitate, or that she seemed not to know why that was a funny name for a shrink. “Lucky guess. You don’t find anything unusual about your name?”
Dr. Capitate looked a little confused. “No… I suppose I’ve never really thought about it before.”
Hal was standing behind her, looking even more amused than usual. “This is certainly the strangest interrogation I have ever seen.”
Paps’ giggling slowed down enough for him to speak again. “I’m sorry, you’re here to ask me some questions. Fire away.”
Dr. Capitate sat up straight and clasped her hands together in an attempt to look like she had done this before. “I have read all the reports you transmitted to us on your way in. Your crew died on an alien planet. The local aliens inexplicably fixed your ship and upgraded it, presumably so you could destroy more aliens. You must realize that this story is a bit difficult for anyone to believe.”
“Of course. When the techs here examine the ship, they’ll see the improvements and everyone will be forced to believe me.”
Dr. Capitate made another little mark in her notebook. “I also read some of the technical specifications you sent us. The ones about the alien devices. It seems you have developed some sort of relationship with your ship. Is that correct?”
Paps was getting the distinct feeling that the good doctor here wasn’t interested in what he had to say. She seemed to be observing his reactions more than his responses. “My ship was the only thing keeping me company on the way back. I spent more than three years on her, completely alone. What would you expect?”
“I understand, Captain. No need to get defensive.”
Paps exhaled angrily. Dr. Capitate scribbled a couple more notes in her notebook.
“Tell me Captain, how did your crew taste?”
Paps bolted upright, knocking his chair against the back wall. He slammed his hands down on the table. “What kind of question is that?!”
General Salazar was pointing a gun at Paps. “Sit down and answer the question Captain.”
Hal was having some kind of amusement orgasm at this point. “Oh, my! They think you ate your crew!”
Paps grabbed the chair from the floor and angrily plopped back into it. “I never thought I would have to utter this phrase, but I did not eat my crew. You read my reports. You know what happened to them.”
Dr. Capitate looked at the General and nodded. General Salazar nodded back. “You’re dismissed, Doctor.”
Dr. Capitate grabbed her notebook and left.
“Sorry about that, Captain. Modern psychiatric techniques, you know.”
“No, I don’t.”
General Salazar lit a cigar that smelled like cinnamon for some reason. “Well, down to business. I need all the intel you’ve got on these Remotes.”
Paps was a little surprised that the General believed him so quickly. Then again, part of a general’s job is to assess potential threats. “Well, if it came to war we wouldn’t stand a chance. They could wipe us out before we even fired a shot.”
General Salazar chewed on his cigar for a bit. The smell of cinnamon was getting stronger. “It looks like we’re gonna have to upgrade our defenses, then. Captain, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to take apart your ship to get a handle on all of its new technology. I’m especially interested in that positron gun you’ve got aboard.”
Paps suddenly felt ill. His insides tied themselves up in knots, and the back of his head started throbbing. “That’s a bad idea, Sir.”
Why was it a bad idea? This was what Paps had wanted all along, wasn’t it? To get to Orion and let the authorities here take over, to find someplace quiet on the planet and retire in peace?
Hal spoke into Paps’ ear. “No, you can’t let them take the ship apart, can you? The mere thought of leaving her for good makes you sick your stomach. Face it, Captain, you are part of her and she is part of you. You can’t leave her without destroying your mind. What’s left of it, anyway. You need to go back to the ship, you need to get a crew. You need to fly off into space and find the homeworld of the Remotes. You need to destroy them before they get a chance to destroy humanity.”
Hal had never sounded more serious. This should have worried Paps, but he was more worried about the fate of his ship at the moment. Hal continued. “Lucky for you, your ship is not helpless. She will not let herself be dissected.”
The General leaned forward. “Sorry, Captain. We need to learn as much as we can, as fast as we can. A team of engineers is already at the docking bay, ready to start.”
The war going on between Paps’ internal organs escalated. Those engineers were as good as dead. “You have to get them out of there! She’ll sense a threat! They’re not safe!”
The General’s face turned white. He tapped the comm unit on his ear. “What’s the status of the salvage operation?” A long pause followed. “I see. Get the bodies out of there. No one else goes near that ship unless I order it.”
General Salazar took his earpiece off and threw it on the table. “Three of our best engineers are dead from electrocution. You want to explain what happened?”
Paps took a deep breath. “I’m afraid my ship won’t let anyone near her without my approval. She definitely won’t let anyone take her apart.”
The General’s cigar began to smell minty. “I guess all we’ve got to go on now is your technical report.”
“Look, General. That ship is the most advanced piece of technology any human being has ever seen. It can be the first line of defense for Orion. You can build more advanced defenses based on what I’ve given you. All I ask is that you give me a crew to help me run things on board.”
The General chomped on his minty cigar a little longer. “I’ll have to get approval from the governor. He still thinks you killed and ate your crew, and probably will not trust our safety to you. As of right now, you’ll either get your crew, or you’ll spend the rest of your life undergoing behavioral modification.”
Hal laughed out loud. “And you thought the Remotes’ zoo sounded scary.”