Space Madness: Episode XI

THE WORST PLANETARY DEFENSE PLAN EVER

Paps sat in his holding cell with his face buried in his hands. He thought he could deal with waiting to learn his fate. After all, the vast majority of his time in space was spent waiting. This time, waiting was somehow unbearable. He felt hope for the first time in years the moment he stepped off his ship. Hope that he could rejoin the human race. Only that hope was quickly snatched away from him. His experiences had given the people of Orion reason to fear him, and out of that fear they isolated him, sentencing him to his own personal perpetual nightmare of…

“Stop moping, Captain!” Hal, the bit of insanity that kept Paps sane. No, not sane. On task, whatever task that may be, whoever’s task that may be, but definitely not sane.

“Sorry, Hal. Would you prefer if I jogged in place? The list of things to do while in a holding cell is not very long.”

The holding cell was only big enough for one person. Hal’s face was sticking out of the wall. “You won’t be in here much longer. Your friend the general seems like a reasonably smart fellow, for a human anyway. It won’t take him long to realize that your ship is useless without you in it. And he might even figure out how dangerous it can be without you in it.”

This was news to Paps. “Dangerous?”

Hal began to get excited. Paps instinctually braced himself for something absurdly horrible. “Oh, yes. You have been developing a mental link with your ship for quite some time now. So far it has been on an emotional, subconscious level. The ship can sense your emotions, and react accordingly. It’s quite likely that as this link grows, you will gain the ability to command the ship with your mind.”

Paps had hoped that all of the horrible things that happened to him on the ship would stop once he reached civilization again. He made a mental note to stop hoping for things. He groaned and put his face back into his hands.

The door to his holding cell unlocked from the outside. The door swung open, revealing General Salazar. “Come with me, Captain.”

Paps stood up slowly, grumbled and followed the general out the door. The General seemed more friendly than usual. Paps couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing, so he went ahead and assumed it was a bad thing. “You have news for me, General? Or am I going to be locked up in here indefinitely?”

The General lit a cigar. He seemed to do this for the express purpose of seeming thoughtful. This was not a thoughtful man, however. This was a man who made decisions instantly, with or without all available facts. The cigar smelled like pine. “I have news for you, Captain. We’re going to let you go back to your ship, and provide you with a crew.”

Paps waited for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t. “I don’t get it. Not that I’m ungrateful or anything. But you guys were so scared of me yesterday I thought I was going to be executed on the spot. Now you’ve got volunteers to go out into space with me?”

The General thoughtfully chomped on his cigar. “Well… they’re not exactly volunteers.”

They reached the briefing room. A small stack of personnel reports lay on the conference table. “You have to understand, space travel is not as glamorous as it was back in your day. Most people on the colony believe that you have to be flat-out crazy to venture off into deep space in the first place. You can imagine that people weren’t exactly lining up for a chance to go out to the middle of nowhere with a man who may or may not have eaten his previous crew.”

Paps nodded slowly. “Okay… so, what sort of people did you get?”

The scent of the General’s cigar turned into bacon. This signaled that he was nervous, though Paps didn’t know that. “Well, we did have one volunteer. Your new mental health specialist, Dr. Capitate.”

“Well, if I didn’t kill anyone before, that may change if she’s on board.”

General Salazar laughed a nervous laugh. “I assure you, she is much more agreeable when she is not conducting an interrogation.”

“Is she?”

“Well, less disagreeable, anyway.”

Paps looked at the stack of files sitting on the table. “And how did you get these others to tag along with me?”

“Read the personnel files, you’ll find out.”

“And when I get my crew, what do you want me to do?”

General Salazar extinguished his cigar. The smell of bacon made way for the smell of something unidentifiable, but vaguely pleasant. He sat down and leaned forward. “For the first month you will supervise a survey of all your ship’s advanced technology. Nothing will be removed, but we would like to be able to reproduce what we can.”

Paps was amused by this. Just two days ago his ship was going to be cannibalized. “That incident with your engineers spooked you, I see.”

The General kept talking. If he was angry, he didn’t show it. “I assume that you can stop your ship from electrocuting people if you wanted to.”

Paps wasn’t sure about this. On his journey back, the ship seemed to be the one giving the orders. It wasn’t Paps’ idea to go to the Remotes’ base and blow it up, the ship did that all on her own.

Hal hovered over Paps’ ear. “I would tell him yes, Captain. It would not be wise to let him know who is really in control. Besides, if he sticks to his word and nobody removes anything, or accidentally breaks anything, or scratches or scuffs anything, then I’m pretty sure nobody will get hurt.”

Paps felt completely out of control of the situation, which was the normal state of affairs for him. “Yes, of course.”

The General seemed pleased by this. “Good. During the course of the tech survey you will also get to meet and train your new crew. After the survey, you will help set up monitoring posts around the solar system, as well as automated defenses. Should an invasion come, you will be our first line of defense.”

Paps had listened to enough mission briefings in his time to know that the General was not giving him the whole story. “General, let’s cut the crap, shall we? You put up a good front, better than any CO I’ve ever had, but you can’t possibly like this plan. A crazy deep space captain and a crew dragged out from who knows where as the first line of defense for this whole system? Come on.”

Hal was getting agitated. “What he thinks doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get back on that ship by any means necessary!”

General Salazar dropped his pleasant veneer. “Okay, you got me. I hate this plan. If anybody but you could operate that ship, I would leave you rotting in that cell for the rest of your natural life. If we could salvage the weapons systems and place those on the automated weapons platforms, I would make that happen in a heartbeat. But you and that weird connection you have with your ship leave me no choice. So if these Remotes are the threat you say they are, and we have no chance of stopping them, then you are going to be the first to die. Now read your personnel reports.”

Paps was stunned, Hal was amused. “Well, I’m glad we got that straightened out.”

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5 Responses to “Space Madness: Episode XI”

  1. Thus raising the question of whether Cap’n Paps and Dr. Capitate will make the sign of the double-backed armadillo.

  2. With this story it can’t possibly be that simple.

  3. Ménage à trois including the ship?

  4. I haven’t got the details worked out yet, but a beheading may or may not be involved.

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