Space Madness: Episode XXI
WHILE YOU WERE OUT
Harvey and Polk stood over the Captain’s unconscious body, still curled up in a fetal position on the floor of the bridge.
“Should we wake him up?” Harvey asked, not knowing how to accomplish such a task.
“Nah, he’ll wake up eventually.”
“Shouldn’t we at least take him down to the Med Bay? You know, put him on one of those tables that monitors his vital signs?”
Polk thought about this. The Med Bay was a tiny room with a chair and a computer console for the doctor and a coffin sized tube for the patient to lie in. Polk shuddered at the thought of waking up in there. “I don’t think either of us have the requisite medical training.”
Harvey poked the Captain’s body. No response.
Polk began to pace back and forth. “If we’re going to make it back home, it’s not going to be Captain Paps that gets us there.”
Harvey gave Polk a confused look. “Why not?”
Polk shot an even more confused look back at Harvey. “You’re joking, right?” The earnest, naive face of the navigator suggested he wasn’t. “Captain Paps has never had control of this ship. Quite the opposite I think. Do you want to know why he’s out cold on the floor right now?”
Harvey poked Paps’ body again.
“That fleet out there was sending signals to his brain. The signs were all there, plain as day. The way he was always talking to himself, how he seemed to be looking at someone else whenever he was talking to you…”
“I thought that was just me. I’ve never been much of a conversationalist, you know. I find myself talking and then people either wander off or start talking about something else before I can…”
Polk pressed on, determined not to get sidetracked by Harvey’s lack of conversational skill. “That fleet has been in constant contact with Captain Paps. Ever since we left Orion. He probably didn’t even know it was them. But they show up here, get completely wiped out while they were still connected, and it fried his brain.”
Harvey opened his mouth to speak.
Polk continued. “The ship was on some mission of its own. None of use had any control over any of the systems. Every once in a while it decided to actually let us know what it was up to.”
Harvey raised his finger to indicate that he had an idea.
Polk continued. “No, our best shot is The Worm. She has the access to the computer, she can even give some commands. Paps isn’t the captain now, and he won’t be going forward. How can he be the captain when his own ship won’t follow his orders?”
Harvey was about to voice his disapproval of what Polk was suggesting. He inhaled loudly and prepared to say something forceful.
Polk continued. “Leave him here, or take him to the Med Bay, I don’t care. I’m going down to the engine room. Let me know if anything happens up here.”
Polk walked off the bridge in a hurry. Just after the door shut behind him, Harvey muttered nervously to himself. “But I don’t want to mutiny.”
Down in the engine room, The Worm had regained consciousness. She checked to see that all her appendages were still intact. They were. She was lying back in a reclining chair that Polk had slapped together some months before. She felt more comfortable than she ought to, considering the circumstances. Though something felt missing. She was still hooked up to the ship’s computer, tethered to the sphere in the wall. The sphere was somehow less active than it had been in the past.
That was it.
The chatter was gone. The voices, the codes, the instructions, all gone. She tried to contact someone, to tell her what to do. Part of her knew what to do: fire up the engines and get the hell out of here. She could do it. She could take control.
A message came in. She didn’t recognize it. It would take some time to decode. “Uh-oh, that’s not one of ours.”
Polk had just walked in, carrying a cup of water and a tray of food that probably still tasted like Dr. Capitate. It was better than starving, but not much better. “What’s not one of ours?”
“I think… I think we’ve just been contacted by the Remotes. I’m working out what the message says right now.”
Polk placed the tray on a small table beside the reclining chair. He had built that table from the floor panels in his quarters. “There aren’t too many things they would want to tell us. Can you find a way to get the engines under control before you find out?”
The Worm went stiff and stared at the wall. “Processing…”
She relaxed her body and turned her head toward Polk. He could never get used to the way she transitioned from robot to human with such frequency. “Richard, I have control of the engines. The others, they stopped giving me instructions and now the system recognizes me as the ranking officer.”
Polk excitedly leaped into the air. “Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving!”
The engines began to hum. The ship veered starboard as sharp as it could. The internal gravity couldn’t keep up with the acceleration and The Worm’s chair started sliding across the engine room floor, knocking her food tray off the table.
The Worm was reveling in her newfound power over the ship. She smiled for the first time in eons. “We’re off. By my calculations we should be back at Orion in sixteen months.”
Polk raced over to the intercom and mashed his fingers over all the buttons. “Are you reading this, Harvey? We are going home! YEEEEEEEEEE-HAAAAAAAAAH!!”
Harvey’s voice crackled over the channel. “Great news, sir. I felt the turn up here. The Captain’s body rolled all the way over to my station.”
In an instant, The Worm shifted moods. “Um, Richard? I think we’ve got a problem.”
Polk’s eyes bulged out of his sockets in disbelief. He should have known the other shoe would drop at some point. “Oh, no. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare say it. We are THIS close to making it home…”
“We’re being followed.”
Paps awoke on the floor of the bridge, underneath Harvey’s console. His head was still throbbing from whatever it was that happened. It felt like a bomb went off inside his skull. At least Hal was nowhere to be seen, which was a plus. He looked around and found Harvey staring at the main viewer. It appeared to be the image of a grey wall, though it might have been simply turned off.
“Harvey, what’s our situation?”
Harvey turned around nervously and scratched the back of his neck. “Well.. the good news is we regained full control of the ship.”
This good news felt like a pair of sledgehammers pounding against his temples. He hated to think what the bad news was going to feel like. “What’s the bad news?”
“Spit it out, Harvey.”
“It’s not going to do us any good to have control since we’ve been… captured.”
“Captured, this ship caught us from behind and sort of… swallowed us. You’re looking at the inside of it right now.”
Paps attempted to stand up straight. He failed, and had to lean on Harvey’s console. The console beeped when his hand fell against it, causing sharp pains to shoot down the back of his neck. Paps had never been in so much pain.
“Good, wake me when something terrible happens.” Paps collapsed into Harvey’s chair in order to let his consciousness focus on more important things.