The bridge of the October is a semicircular well-lit affair done up in tasteful cream tones accented by glowing control surfaces and the occasional red padded panel. Because Bansemir runs a fairly casual ship, the walls are decked out in traditional holiday decorations, because, well, y’know, it’s that time of year. Parrots, cardboard eye patches, papier-mâché treasure chests; you know the drill. Like the rest of the ship, the bridge is large enough to accommodate ten or more times its current crew complement of, well, six. It’s first watch, which means Norway’s at ops, while Kex is at comm. Rush, who was described to you earlier, is seated at the quartermaster’s post, grinning — as always — like a sonofabitch. The LOLcat makes four; despite the hardwired control panels, the computer interface maintains an active presence on the bridge at the captain’s request. As always, it is just slightly disconcerting to have left her behind at the tram station only to find her again in front of us. Her projection here is dressed in a crisp navy-and-gold uniform, just like any other member of the bridge crew (with the obvious exception of Norway, who even so has enameled his exterior panels with a similar shade of blue.) Fifth is Nemo; slouched, as usual, at helm, bangs in her eyes. I’m not even going to start in on her, because we could literally be here all day if I do.
Okay, I lied. I am going to start in on her. Just a little bit, because there is one thing I need to say about Nemo and that is that she will be mine someday.
That is all.
…Aaaand, the one thing that makes this idea of mine problematic is seated direct center, leaning jauntily against the armrest of the high seat like some cocky upstart monarch fresh off her first coup-d’etat. Her command uniform is buttoned tight, her oversized tactical boots are shined to a high gloss and her bars of rank are positively blinding. She wears a disruption cutlass at one hip and a heavy sidearm at the other. She is Juno Bansemir, Captain of the Hercules-Class Ascender October, and she is quite possibly the craziest one of us all.
She’s also Nemo’s mom. This is worrisome, on a number of levels.
“Engineer on bridge!” Captain Bansemir announces, as we approach. “Security chief on bridge!”
“With respect, Captain,” growls Mister Kex. “It is only strictly necessary to announce your own presence; furthermore, this is clearly a comm duty.”
“Oh, hush, Kex,” says the captain. “I’ll announce whomever I feel like.” She spins her chair about as we approach. “Jacob!” she says. “Alan!” She makes little kissing noises. “Mmmuh. Mmmuh. Happy Holidays! Avast, avast, yaar.”
Alan nods. “Scupper me with a hand-spike, else,” he says, cheerily. I do not respond in kind; as a Jehovah’s Witness, I do not celebrate major religious holidays, though if people really want to go around dressed with three-corner hats and fake hook-hands every September 19th, I am not going to stand against it. Live and let live, says I.
Captain Bansemir smiles broadly. “The two of you never come around here anymore. It’s so good to see you! Computer?”
“Pls can serve yu nau!” exclaims LOLcat.
“Lemonade for our guests.”
“O.K. yesh!” says LOLcat, who vanishes in the direction of the nearest synthesis station, over by Rush.
“Many thanks, Madam,” says Alan, gracefully, bowing his head.
“Sir,” I say, with a slight nod.
The captain pivots her chair slightly in my direction. “Do tell me all about what you’re doing down there in the computer room, Jacob,” she says. “I hardly ever see you nowadays! So busy busy, running around with that little pocket widget of yours. How is our data infrastructure doing?”
“It’s sound, Captain,” I say. “But–”
“Well, I should hope so,” she says. “Not that I had any real worries. Usually the holographic interface will start exhibiting signs of unusual behavior before anything goes really wrong down there.”
LOLcat returns and proudly hands us a couple of cheeseburgers.
“Thank you,” says Alan, accepting his.
“This isn’t lemonade,” I mention.
“No!” says LOLcat, beaming. “Iz cheezburger!”
“You were asked,” I say, “for lemonade.”
LOLcat screws up her face. “I iz certain,” she says, with fierce concentration, “Yu wantid cheezburger.”
“Computer,” I say, sternly. “Lemonade was requested of you, and that is what I want to see you producing.”
“Oh, don’t be a putz, Jacob,” tut-tuts the captain. “It’s all the same, nutritionally-speaking, after all.”
“It really is quite good,” says Alan, munching. “You might want to–”
My face prickles a little. “As I was about to mention,” I say, as the LOLcat slinks away toward the recycling port with my cheeseburger, muttering darkly all the way, “the data infrastructure is sound, but the default interface is showing some troubling signs of basic incompetence, and the first thing I’d like to request is some extra power cycles to run a series of diagnostics.”
“BRIDGE CAT IZ NOT INCOMPITINT!” says the LOLcat, scowling.
“Be nice, Jacob,” scolds Captain Bansemir.
“With respect, Captain,” I say. “We are talking about a functional part of the ship. We do not worry about being ‘nice’ to the power conduits if they start exhibiting sink effects. We pull them out and replace them. Now, for reasons somehow related to our current predicament, I do not think it wise to–”
I screw up my face a little.
Captain Bansemir leans forward. “Jacob?” she asks.
“I’m sorry,” I say, quickly. “I had this big long speech worked out, but the long and the short of it is that the LOLcat has backed up all the plumbing on the dormitory level, and I really have to pee right now. So I’m probably going to need a full system flush, but first, I really need to use the head.”
“You’re certain there’s a malfunction?” says the captain. “The sanitary facilities in my quarters are working fine.”
“Great!” I say, grinning anxiously. “Can I use them?”
Kex scowls at me and rises from his seat; he’s huge and square and the act of standing only serves to match his height to his width. “Insolent engineer!” he thunders. “You dare speak of sullying the captain’s sanitary facilities with your wastes?”
“It’s just not a good idea,” says the captain, in gentle and patronizing tones. “Mister Kex would probably kill you.”
“Humans,” huffs Norway from across the bridge, inclining his “head” to the noise of whirring gyroscopes. “Always so concerned with the technology of taking a dump.”
“Some of us do not have the luxury of wood shavings, Mister Norway,” says Rush.*
“Y’all ought to consider it,” Norway counters, jovially. “It’s tremendously freeing.”
“Oh my GOD I am not here for this,” says Nemo, slouching further into the helm station. “I am not experiencing this secondhand conversation right now. I am somewhere far away.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I say, quickly, Nemo’s offhand rebuke stinging in my gut. “Forget my using the executive head. Forget the diagnostic on the fegging LOLcat. She’s at least semi-functional.”
The LOLcat returns from the synthesis station bearing a frosted glass, which is filled to the brim with several thousand tiny, perfectly-replicated miniature cheeseburgers.
“Here is ur lemonade!” she says, presenting it to me. “I putz ice cube in it!”
I take it wordlessly; I do not remain wordless for long. “LEMONADE!” I exclaim. “LEMON JUICE! SUGAR SYRUP! WATER!”
The LOLcat looks at me, blankly. “You iz certain of this,” she says, furrowing her brow.
“You know,” the captain remarks, “if you do have to use the head, Jacob, you might want to think twice about drinking so much.”
“I DO NOT FEGGING CARE IF I GET LEMONADE I AM JUST TRYING TO GET THE COMPUTER TO FOLLOW A SIMPLE REQUEST,” I say, in what I think is a reasonable level of shouting. “Feggit,” I say, then. “Feg all of this. Captain, what I need RIGHT NOW is for you to authorize me a single power cycle so I can trigger a reset of the dormitory level sanfacs. Can you or can you not grant me this?”
Captain Bansemir leans back in her chair, tapping her lips with steepled fingers.
“Perhaps,” she says.
*Because this statement will make no sense whatsoever to you otherwise: the crewman we know as “Norway” is actually a giant automatronic anthropomorphoid Habitrail system inhabited by a single superintelligent rodent who controls all the servos and waldos and whatever the hell else via a wireless cybernetic uplink inserted directly into his brain. Got it? Good. I swear, there’s just not enough room in a narrative to cover all us whackjobs in sufficient detail…
*********MISTUR NORWAY CAN HAS ADORUBULNESS!!! li’l mousie!!! EAT HIM UP NUM NUM NUM –me