Monday, March 06, 2006

Curiosity and the Crimson

“We’ve got to get these cleared off!” said Roker frantically, vainly attempting to batter away the holographic Uncle Sam. His hands passed through it harmlessly, and it continued to bellow the benefits of a gambling addiction at him.

“I’m working on it,” Crimson hissed for the fifth time. “You didn’t get this upset when you were about to run out of air!”

“This is different,” the captain replied, flinching as he was forced to pass through a woman offering him special surgeries so that he could reach the console. His fingers were flying frantically over the virtual buttons. Screens of code flashed in the text box next to them.

Crimson narrowed her eyes and shook her head.

“Look, this is going to take hours, maybe days,” she said. “We’re going to have to do a full system re-set and download a new—”

“We don’t have days! We need to get to Roma station.”

“Why the sudden rush?”

But Roker didn’t reply.

“Look,” Crimson said bracingly, her tone softening somewhat as she studied the look of desperation on her captain’s face, “I’m just gonna go check on Cassie and then I’ll come back to help. Poor thing’s probably hiding in the ventilation again.”

He gave her an unreadable look.

“Er… yeah.”

Crimson vanished.

“Have you ever wondered how the QuickSweep finds so much hidden dust?” A model housewife beamed, showing her perfect white teeth.

“No,” Roker snapped, intent on his screens.

“I’ll show you! With this patented technology—”

“—a slightly damp cloth-” Roker muttered.

“—the QuickSweep catches particles invisible to the naked eye!”

“And I’d care about invisible, harmless particles why?” He deleted the woman’s file and she vanished in a puff of holographic dust. It was an extremely temporary solution—in moments, she was replaced by an advert for the Farty-Burp Kids.

“What’s black and blue and pukes all over?” a cartoon baby shrieked ecstatically.

Roker was about to snap at this program too—even lifting his gaze from the console to do it—when a sudden shriek from the back of the ship cut through the chaos.

“CASSIE!”

Crimson suddenly flashed onto console.

“Cassie!” she sobbed, distraught. “I can’t find her!”

“Did you check the underwear draw—?”

“I checked everywhere!” Crimson fretted, tears on her holographic cheeks. “She’s gone. I can’t imagine where she could—oh no!" She had turned stark blue, the hologram equivallent of white. "Brox! She must have wandered onto his ship!”

Roker grit his teeth.

“We need to get to Roma station,” he said grimly.

“We can’t! The nav computer is—!”

“To hell with the nav computer. Give me manual.”

Upset as she was, Crimson still paused at this.

“Wha… what?”

“Give me manual. We’re going to get our cat back.”

“But that’s suicide.”

He gave her a look that brooked no argument. Even the advertisements paused, not daring to speak to him for several seconds—suicides were bad for sales.

“Just do it.”

A control column, non-virtual, emerged from beneath the console with an electronic whine. Roker gripped it and settled into his chair.

“Engage.”

The engines growled, and the ship sped off. A hundred advertisements all began to chatter excitedly at once.