The problem started, as usual, when our holographic shipboard catgirl filled my personal head to the brim with fuller’s earth in a botched attempt to improve its functionality.
Okay, I lied about the “as usual” part. She’d never the feg done that before. For your reference, here’s how the scene played out.
Me (entering head, wearily): LOLcat, what are you doing in my john?
LOLcat (spinning around): O! Hai!
Me: Yes. Hi. Look, I realize you’re technically part of the October‘s computer system and can technically be anywhere you want, but just for the sake of my personal sanity could you please vacate your projection out of the john while I am OH MY FEGGING LORD WHAT DID YOU JUST DO.
Me (sputtering, incoherent): Youja. Youja. Uh! Uh!
LOLcat (proudly): I fixed ur toilet!
Me: YOU HAVE FILLED MY SANFAC WITH PARTICULATED CLAY MATTER.
LOLcat: Now u can bury poop!
Me: Great! Yes! You know, I was just thinking, last time I was using my personal sanfac, how much better it would be if I were FORCED TO MANUALLY BURY MY OWN WASTE IN IT.
LOLcat: I has granted ur wishez!
Me (squeezing eyes shut, turning to go): Feggit. I’m gonna use Alan’s. CLEAN THIS UP! ALL THIS! SCOOP WHATEVER THE HELL YOU JUST PUT MY JOHN OUT OF IT! CLEAN! CLEAN!
LOLcat: Kleen. I has.
Me (storming off, muttering): …stupid fegging LOLcatgirl…
LOLcat (calling after me): K! THXBAI!
I am the ranking — and by “ranking”, I mean to say “only” — computech on this vessel, and it would be well within the confines of both my skill and my job description to shut that damn magnetic catgirl hologram down for good. Every time I am tempted, however, three things stay my hand.
One. I can converse with the October‘s computer in its native tongue to command it to obey my whims. Any of the remaining poor sods aboard are forced to interface with the computer through LOLcat, and the computer handles pretty much everything that isn’t directly hardwired into the controls of the bridge or the infirmary. Meaning that everything from taking inventory of our remaining flexible carbon stores to nudging the heat in your quarters up a smidge has to be routed through either me or through LOLcat. In the interest in keeping myself on a marginally sane workload, it makes sense to keep her around.
Two. She is pretty hot, y’know. In that old classic Japanese nekochanny way. I mean, if you can shut off the part of your brain that is utterly repelled by the overwhelming force of her personal moronicity, you might actually enjoy looking at her. I. Might actually enjoy looking at her. And I do. So I guess I’m good at shutting off that part of my brain. Look, I can’t help it if I’m the only other person aboard besides Captain Bansemir who has something approaching a reasonable sex drive, okay?
And… three. And this is the worrying thing. I told myself not to shut her off. In the strongest of all possible terms. I’ve got the video saved and everything. Through the flickers and distortion, I can tell that there’s a person there, me. Staring into the open vid-com port in my room. And he’s telling me that for the love of all things holy, do not shut off the holocat. No matter what. No matter why. And this strange person’s voice rises and falls in a mix of pleading and panic and then there is some sort of… I don’t know, a spark shower or something, and he turns — I turn — to look at something behind me and then the log goes instantly and utterly black.
I don’t remember making the log. The datestamp is corrupt, so I can’t tell when it was. All I know is that Engineer Third Class Jacob Oh wants me to keep the LOLcat around. So I do. Because I’m him. And I’m pretty sure I had a good reason.
* * *
The October is a Hercules-class ascender, or so the blueprints claim. On his first EVA after the… incident, Alan viewed the name of the ship enameled directly onto the hull, so we’re pretty sure of her christening. She is currently passing through a patch of radio-dead space on a pair of hundred-foot wide magnetic rails that extend backward and forward to the limits of our sensor range. We have been traveling through this patch of space for as long as any of us can remember, which is to say, a matter of months. The computer’s charts are useless; the astrogation data reflects an entirely different celestial profile than the one that surrounds us. We have no idea where we are. We only know that someone has been here before; after all, somebody had to lay the rails.
I guess what I’m saying is… you know that part in the opening of those science fiction serials where the guy with the deep voice solemnly declares what the ship’s mission is, so you know the sort of thing you’re going to be watching? I can’t give you that. I got nothing. So you’re just going to have to deal with a little ambiguity on that front.
‘Cause lord knows, all the rest of us have to.
* * *
Alan’s in his quarters, as I expected him to be. The bunkrooms on the October are perforce pretty roomy, since each one of us beds down in a room meant to sleep ten, or twenty, if one presumes standard naval bunksharing. Some of us — me — have left the quarters pretty much as they must have appeared when the October was a fully-functioning vessel. Some of us — Alan — had some different ideas.
I push aside the bead curtain separating Alan’s cabin proper from the little impromptu foyer he had set up. Alan is doing pullups on a mounted bar near the center of his room. The light is dim and the smell of incense is heavy in the air.
I take a moment, hoping he’ll notice me without me having to say anything. While I wait, I steal a quick glance around at the wall-mounted displays of Old African tribal masks, the flat glass cases with the onyx figurines in them, the great stone Chinese temple-dog statue he found on his last excursion down to the Labyrinth. Alan is something of a collector. He’s also quite mad. But that’s more the norm than the exception for the lot of us.
When Alan fails to respond to my presence after the first minute or so, I casually clear my throat. He looks down at me, his face brightens, and he drops to the floor. “Jacob!” he says, going to put his arm around me chummily, which I reluctantly allow. “How goes? Everything all ship-shape down in the computer core?”
“Fine, thanks, Alan,” I say. “Look, I’m sorry to bother you –”
“No!” interrupts Alan. “No trouble at all! Just in the middle of my little constitutional, and then I was going down to the range to have a little practice with Mister Bunny.” He pats the fluffy little mass in his omnipresent hip holster. Alan Tengrew has the most deadly personal sidearm of any of the remaining crew, the Captain included, which leads us to believe that he was once either a high-ranking security chief or else something of a maniac. Its appearance is deceptive: the business part of Mister Bunny is a smooth little rounded rectangle, just slightly larger than the size of a man’s palm. Innocuous enough, but if you were to train Mister Bunny at the wall and keep firing for about three minutes straight, you’d probably breach the exterior hull, and since crew quarters are near the central axis of the ship, that really is saying something. It is called “Mister Bunny” because Alan insists on covering this singularly nasty piece of work in a fluffy little bunny costume all its own; he constructed it out of a slipper. Alan is a strange man, but actually somewhat less dangerous than many of the others, and I guess that makes him as close a thing I’ve got to having a friend on-board.
“I don’t really want to interrupt your business,” I say, “but my head is out of commission, and I really need to use yours, if you don’t mind.”
“Ah,” says Alan, nodding and smiling grimly. “Filled it full of cat litter, did she?”
“Yes,” I say, my voice falling. “Why? Did she–”
“To the brim, laddie,” says Alan, cheerfully. “I’ve been using this opportunity to practice my bladder-control skills. I’ve long believed that a human should have one hundred percent tippy-top control of all his biophysical functions, renal system included. I look upon this little mishap as a golden opportunity to exercise this one particular facet.”
“I can’t believe this,” I say. “She’s gone completely batty.”
“Mm,” says Alan, thoughtfully. “Well, there are public heads on athletic and recreational, and I pass right by there on the way to the range. If you’d like to come with me, we can make time for a pit stop.”
“What are the odds,” I say, “that the LOLcat has left THAT one alone?”
Alan strokes his tiny little wispy moustache in a thoughtful fashion. “You may have a point. How bad do you have to go?”
“It’s not critical. I mean, if I have to go, I’ll go into fuller’s earth. But I’d rather not get into the habit, if you know what I mean.”
Alan nods. “I think I do,” he says. “So how do we proceed here?”
I frown. “Depending on how busy LOLcat’s been, the clay may have gummed up the works. I’ve got her scooping mine out but we may need some kind of executive mandate to get the whole system back on-line.”
“Ah,” says Alan. “Off to talk to the captain, then?”
I sigh. “I guess I have to. Feel like tagging along? I could use the clout, and she seems to like you.”
“Right,” says Alan, crossing to and opening a slick panel covering one of his many recessed garment racks. “Just have to get myself presentable here.” He telescopes the rack and ponders his selection for a while before coming away with a mandarin-print silk dressing gown. Most of the rest of us still wear the standard uniforms of whatever military or para-military organization we presumably belong to, but Alan always elects to proceed with sartorial flair, and I can’t deny that the effect is impressive, if unorthodox. Apparently satisfied, he swicks the rack back into its recessed compartment, applies a little bit of styling gel to his hair, checks the position of Mister Bunny at his hip, and turns to me in confirmation. “Set,” he says.
“Awright,” I say. “Let’s go see the captain.” And the two of us pass through the bead curtain, en route to the corridor and thence to the peoplemover station beyond.
“Goddamn it do I have to pee,” I say.