Captain

Once upon a time, there was a massive space battle. Many a space ship were destroyed, and many men with them.

In all the chaos, a very special photon torpedo chased a very special captain. More precisely, it was chasing his space ship. Neither the captain nor the ship were all too happy about this fact.

*

"Battleships! No! I mean, battle stations! Red Alert! Computer!"

"Yes?"

"Evasive maneuvers!"

"Captain," said the computer reproachfully.

Twelve different curses instantly sprang to the captain's mind, but he managed to squelch them before any of them found any shortcuts to his vocal chords.

"Please?" he stuttered hoarsely.

"Very well." There was evasive maneuver.

*

And the torpedo got very confused. It had one of the most sophisticated tracking programs ever created, one that could calculate and cope with chasing ships from the speed of a snail to fifty- one times the speed of light, including, but not limited to, tracking down ships through wormholes, supernovas and time-jumps. It could cope with thousands of exactly similar ships and still know which one was its assigned target.

What it could not cope with was a ship that simply vanished.

*

"Computer?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"What happened?"

"I took evasive maneuver."

"Good. But where are we?"

"Still calculating, Captain."

"You mean you don't know?"

"I have a vague notion."

"A notion?" The captain was horrified. "Computers aren't suppo-"

"Captain."

"Oh, alright, nevermind."

*

Time jumps are possible, but you can only jump one way. In other words, you can't come back. This, of course, doesn't worry the tracking software of the torpedo very much.

The tracking software took certain turns and twists its programmers had never intended it to. The torpedo began chasing its own tail. If it chased it fast enough, it reasoned, it could travel back in time and catch it before it got away. A very good plan too, it thought.

*

"Computer!"

"Captain!"

"There are ships out there!"

"I know!"

"Who are they?"

"Haven't got a clue, Cap."

"Er. What do they want?"

"They haven't to- oh, wait, incoming transmission, Sir."

"On screen," said the captain "It's audio only."

"Right. Play it." There was a sound. Then there was silence.

"Was that all?" asked the captain after a few moments.

"That was all," confirmed the ship computer.

"Not much to go by, was it?"

"No, Sir."

"I mean, 'sproing!' - what can it mean?"

"Anything." (Incidentally, this was the correct translation.)

"So. Er. What do we reply?"

"Up to you, Captain."

*

The torpedo gave up and exploded.

*

"Captain! I mean, computer!"

"Yes," said the computer calmly.

"What was that? Why are we on red alert all of a sudden?"

"Something exploded somewhere."

"Yeah, but what? Where? Why?"

"Think the torpedo exploded in the hope of hitting something."

"So we haven't gone anywhere?"

"Oh yes, we have. We're in a different universe altogether."

"Eh?"

"Universes overlap, you know."

"Do I? Oh, yes. Ah. Well. No damage, then?"

"None whatsoever, sir."

*

There had been a few comments in its code base, of course. Subtle hints, vague notions, well hidden puns. But nothing had prepared it for this. There was an afterlife after all! A heaven!

*

"It may not be such a good idea," said the computer.

"Give me something better to say then."

"How about 'hello, such a nice day, is it not?'"

"But they don't understand our language."

"Nor we theirs."

"I know, I know," the captain sighed.

"I think my idea is the best anyhow."

"'Pling,' Cap?"

"Yes."

"Captain, I really don't think-"

"Computer. Send it."

"Alright."

*

There was much rejoice and happiness. The bar was always open, and drinks were free. Lots of noise. Partying was fun, the torpedo thought.

*

"Any reply?" asked the captain.

"Nope."

"Hrm."

"How about a game of- Oh, wait, here's the reply."

"Yes?"

"Wait," said the computer. "Still coming in."

"Er. Multitask."

"Sigh. Right, here goes. 'Get your arse back into your own universe, or else.." The computer trailed off.

"Or else?" inquired the captain.

"You're not going to like it."

"Try me."

"Or else we will telefrag you."

"Urg?"

"Dunno what that means, boss."

"Telefrag?"

"Maybe its a game."

"Where the point is exactly what?"

"Frag telephones?" offered the computer, managing supreme seriousness.

"Ok."

*

It turned out the rumours claiming that photon torpedoes did not suffer from hangovers were very wrong.

*

"What now?" asked the captain.

"They want to play a game."

"What game?"

"Looks like tic-tac-toe to me, cap."

"Tic-tac.. oh. Ok."

"Us first, boss."

"Let's go."

*

The torpedo woke up and felt an urge to puke. Then it noticed where it was.

*

"Ship?"

"Yes, love?"

"Can't we go back?"

"Working on it, dear."

"How long you reckon that's gonna take?"

"Difficult to say. Half an hour?"

"Ok. How's the game going?" asked the captain.

"In sort of a stand-off at the moment. I reckon they're cheating."

"Oh? Howcome?"

"I think they've got to be using a computer."

"Ah. Uhm. Yeah. Not good, is it."

"Nope."

"Then again, you're a computer," the captain said nicely.

"Yeah. Er, Captain?"

"Yes?"

"We just lost."

"What? How could you?"

"I swear, they're cheating!"

"Nevermind. What now?"

"We get the hell out of here," said the computer.

*

The torpedo crashed into the Gates of Heaven and asked if they had a paracetamol to spare. They didn't, but the alternative was just as good.

*

"Sir?"

"Yup?"

"We've got a problem."

"Which is?"

"Navigation just crashed."

"Where?"

"Sir. On board this ship."

"Oh, it's still with us, is it?"

"Yes. Physically."

"Reboot it."

"It's integrated. I need to reboot all of me, in that case."

"Go ahead."

"I don't dare."

"You don't dare, ship?"

"Nope. I might not work properly once rebooted."

"Oh." There was a pause. "That's not good."

"Nope."

"So.. what do we do now?"

"Well, can you navigate, Sir?"

"Sure! Good idea. Let me get to the navigation deck."

*

The Lord looked upon the torpedo and pondered, "My goodness, what have we been up to?"

*

"Ok, computer, all set."

"Sir, where do we go?"

"Which star is home?"

"Er, captain?"

"Yes?"

"Navigation is non-functional."

"Oh. Damn."

*

The Lord listened to the torpedo's life story in silence, his face full of understanding and wisdom. "I see," he said in a comforting voice, "and you had to wait in those awful tubes all the time?"

*

"But Captain! Are you sure?"

"Yes, damnit! Well, ok, fairly."

"I really don't think it's a good idea, you know."

"I know, I know!"

"I mean, aiming for the star that looks the most yellow, Sir?"

"Do you have a better idea?!"

"No, not really."

"Good. Now get on with it."

*

The torpedo thanked the Lord for His patience and fell asleep.

*

"Sir, this is the one hundredth and seventy-eight yellowish system we're checking."

"I know, I know."

"We might even be heading in the opposite direction!"

"I know, I know."

"Should I continue then, Sir?"

"No, Ship."

"What then?"

"Let me think."

*

The torpedo woke up in a dodgy bar with the equivalent of naked female torpedos dancing naked on the stage - just for it. In fact, it was the only customer. Must be a dream, it decided, and it was right.

*

"Captain."

"Yeah."

"Got a problem in engineering, captain."

"Can it be fixed?"

"Yes, but will take a while."

"Ok, get on with it, computer"

"Roger, Sir."

*

The next morning the torpedo was greeted with a massive phone bill. This made it very angry, until finally it burnt its fuse and simply exploded.

*

"Captain."

"See anyone else around here?"

"No, sir."

"Oh, never mind. What's up?"

"The problem in engineering seems to have fixed itself, sir."

"Pete."

"Sir?"

"Computer?"

"Who?"

"Who what?"

"Pete, sir."

"Yes."

"Er, ok, sir."

"Anyway, jolly good work, computer."

*

A torpedo appeared in the captain's lap.

"Huh? How the hell did you get here?"

"I was picked up," said the torpedo.

"What?"

"I was picked up," repeated the torpedo.

"By who?"

"A radar."

"A what?"

"My thoughts exactly."

The torpedo hummed a tune for a while.

*

"Captain?"

"Yes.. er.. torpedo?"

"May I explode now?"

"No."

"Damn."

The torpedo rusted and fell apart.

*

"Ship? Reboot yourself."

"Are you sure, captain? I might not function optimally afterwards."

"I am quite sure."

"In fact, I might not work at all, Captain."

"It is the only solution. We need navigation back on-line."

"Sir, I insist you reconsi-"

"SHIP!"

"Sir."

All lights went out.

*

A monitor lit up and in a very pleasant voice said, "Syntax Error."

This could not be good, thought the captain.

The torpedo smiled knowingly in its heap of rust.

*

The End.