The little black line sat quietly at the top of the blank page, taunting me. With each blink it fired my way it was daring me to start typing.
I took a deep breath.
Did I need sir? Captain? Of course, he was trying for Admiral now. “Soon to be Admiral” or “Admiral in waiting” might earn me some brownie points.
Not that he’d listen.
He might be running the ship, but Reg was pulling his strings. Had been ever since their little bromance started a few months back.
The two of them were starting to take the piss now. As if they weren’t already.
Now I was stuck trying to find the words to convey my annoyance at the situation.
It started when Reg got added to the team that explored the new words. Apparently, the Captain wanted his “favourite wingman” with him planetside. Hardly a surprise now that they both had matching “BROS 4 LIFE” tattoos.
“No more Engineering for me,” Reg had grinned. Suited me. Life expectancy for newbies on the Captain’s teams was measured in minutes, not years. I wished him luck while looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet.
Only it didn’t quite work out like that.
On their first trip down to a new planet, Reg found an ancient tablet. He said he was “looking to pilfer some well good swag,” and happened upon it. It described an ancient ritual in which some kind of mystical potions with wondrous properties would be created and combined, before being “baked at 200 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until golden brown”.
It was all prefaced by some instructions on how to turn this ritual into some kind of competitive game. Put simply – the best “cake” was used to appease this ancient civilisation’s vengeful Gods. Everyone else ate the other cakes and generally had a nice time.
Reg – with the Captain’s backing – thought this competition would make a great team building exercise. Which it might have done, until the Captain ordered everyone to take part and then set about doing everything in his power to rig the game so he’d win. Turned out the power he had meant he could actually do quite a lot to rig it.
Like everyone else, Reg was hard at work, practising his “baking”. The problem was that, unlike the rest of us, he was following the instructions before a couple of crucial lines were translated.
This meant that Reg almost managed to single-handedly do what countless enemies have failed to do; wipe out the ship’s crew.
Don’t get me wrong, he’d come close before, but all it took this time was some undercooked eggs and a pig-headed insistence that one of the key ingredients translated as “plutonium” rather than “sugar”.
Even once the final, fully-translated instructions had proven him wrong, he insisted his recipe had fully captured the “rustic charm of the planet on which we’d found the recipe.”
So I felt compelled to complain – but the person I needed to complain to had helped Reg pick out the right radioactive waste to drop into the mix.
Yep – the Captain no only made the competition mandatory, but helped Reg source the “secret ingredient” (sensing an opportunity to make his attempt seem great by comparison). He’d “encouraged” everyone to put their own spin on the ancient tablet’s “Viktoreea Sponj” recipe too, but issued orders forcing everyone to try only his and Reg’s. Everyone elses’ only got a look in if people vaguely fancied it.
So we had about 670 Victoria Sponges of varying quality. Two of them had to be split between all those people. One of them contained plutonium.
The Captain had done everything he could to try and stack the odds of winning this stupid contest in his favour. Exploiting Reg’s impetuous nature was one thing, but knowingly poisoning your crew seemed… extreme.
I briefly toyed with dropping a note to the Admiralty, but realised how dumb it sounded to essentially accuse the Captain and his newest mate of mutiny on the ship they ran. Especially when they’d used competitive baking as the tool. Mutiny probably wasn’t even the right word.
Still, there were some vague glimmers of hope.
The plutonium the Captain had sourced for Reg was actually inert. It still tasted lousy, but better than the Captain’s. It turned out some guy called Dave from Accounts won in the end, fair and square. Deservedly so, too – it was a good, light sponge with just the right amount of filling and it wasn’t too sweet. A worthy baking champion.
The number of Daves on the ship runs well into double figures, with several duplicate surnames. So there was a bit of confusion when the Captain simply announced the winner as “Dave” in a slightly miffed tone. About 25 people thought they’d won. Reg, grinning, yelled at him to use the recognised way of picking them out; Dave from Accounts, Dave from Catering, Dave 2 from Accounts etc. The Captain bellowed a furious response to Reg’s attempt at “top bants” that blamed him in no uncertain terms for cocking up a competition that was “in the bag”.
At least Reg felt sufficiently daft as he was laughed out of the Mess Hall as his part in this fiasco became apparent to everyone.
Still, a couple of people even liked my half-hearted attempt at “baking” a “caik” too. So that was good. Though it was one of hundreds of partly uneaten cakes that eventually had to be jettisoned into space. I wondered how many future visitors to this part of the universe would think it was a new asteroid belt or interesting anomaly, only to discover hundreds of Victoria Sponges hurtling towards their windscreen at warp factor 10 or whatever.
While the competition did throw up some positives, the Captain seemed to be losing his mind over it. He’d thrown a few people in the Brig for refusing to take part, bellowing “What else are we going to do between planets?” as they were carted away. He’d also ordered everyone to take part, but hadn’t made voting mandatory – the handful of people who did vote, voted for Dave from Accounts.
The whole situation was too close to getting out of hand. The Captain poisoning us to win a cake-baking contest? A contest that made us miss two distress signals and five new worlds to chart? That’s not normal behaviour, especially on an exploratory voyage into deep space.
But then I found myself wondering if I’d ever witnessed normal behaviour from him.
No. No I hadn’t.
Besides, what could I do about it this far into uncharted space? It wasn’t like the Admiralty could send another ship or a replacement captain to catch up to us.
And so, despite my misgivings, I’d sat at my terminal to send them a message explaining the situation. Chewing over a draft of the story in my mind, I could imagine their response;
“Well, did you think we’d risk sending a sane captain into that vast, bleak nothingness on a mission spanning several years?! No, we need all those guys here. You knew what you were signing up for, son. Best of luck.”
I sat staring at that little black line for another few moments, just in case I could find the right words to explain it all to them and ask for help. It kept blinking at me, each second making my situation sound more and more stupid.
Instead, the little black line kept blinking at me, each passing second making my situation sound more and more stupid.
I sighed, close down the screen and swore off cake for good.