Seconds later, Jason ran out of the captain’s ready room, still screaming.
“Calm down, Jason,” Lt Weinberg said, “take a deep breath and tell me; slowly and clearly; what you saw.”
Poor, traumatised Jason did his best to calm down, but calming down just wasn’t in his nature. He was screaming and running around the bridge in a way that suggested he had imbibed an excessive amount of Spong7 – currently the most popular and the most potent of the so-called recreational drugs available aboard the Sir Prijs.
Eventually, he stopped screaming. He fainted.
“Someone else is going to have to go and look,” Joan Weinberg said, “but who?”
“What about Patsy the pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties?” Merry suggested.
“And flans,” Tarquin added, “don’t forget the flans.”
“Good thinking, prisoner Winstanley,” Lt Weinberg said, “she probably has more fibre in her little finger than in a whole box of bran flakes; even an economy one.”
“Can we drop the prisoner part, please?” Merry asked.
“We’ll see.” Joan picked up the shuttle intercom. “Patsy from the galley to the bridge, please,” she asked, “quick as you like.”
Moments later, Patsy the pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties paced in purposefully. “What is your pleasure, Lieutenant?”
“Totally irrelevant at the moment, Patsy; we’ll discuss that later. In the meantime, I’d like you to go into the Captain’s ready room, to where he and CFP Edna Bucket adjourned earlier, and report back on what caused that awful noise.”
“Yes. We heard that noise from three floors down in the galley,” Patsy said, “sounded like someone was having a fit.”
“Yah,” Tarquin agreed, “and a jolly tight one at that!”
Patsy marched toward the ready room and entered.
“Brave girl, that one,” Lt Weinberg said.
“Yah,” Tarquin agreed (always best to agree with the officer who has the keys to your manacles), adding, “scary, too.”
“Tell me about it!” Lt Weinberg said.
“Well,” Tarquin replied, “I generally find—”
“Shutup, prisoner!” the Lieutenant commanded, “just because I said ‘tell me about it’, doesn’t mean I want you to tell me about it.”
“What does it mean then?”
“It’s an expression. It means… oh, never mind.”
At that moment, Patsy the pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties paraded onto the bridge, laughing uncontrollably.
“Whatever’s the matter?” Lt Weinberg asked.
“Do they have independent gravity control in there?”
“Yes, they do. It’s controlled by that large lever in the middle of the room.”
“The one that looks rather like the sort they used in railway control boxes way back when?”
“Yes, I suppose it is similar. I still don’t see what’s so funny, though. What did you see?”
“I’m coming to that. It looks like they turned gravity off to give them more possibilities for their, shall we say, activities.”
“Edna told me that the captain often does that; heightens his pleasure, apparently.”
“Well, it certainly did this time.”
“It looks as though, while in free-float, someone’s foot knocked the lever, turning gravity back on again…”
“They fell, like a pair of conjoined twins, if you get my drift, and landed on top of the lever.”
“Ooh. That must have hurt.”
“Not for long, it didn’t, Lieutenant; they were both impaled on it.”
“Run through, as by a lance in a jousting contest. Both dead, I’m afraid”
“So why the laughter.”
“Can’t you see the irony of it? I fought hard for the CFP’s job; not that I wanted it, but I did fight well. That could well have been me there,” Patsy shuddered at the thought; not of being killed, but of being ‘joined’ with the captain, “and I was the one to find them.”
“So what happens now?” Joan Weinberg asked.
Patsy, in addition to being a purveyor of puff pastry, pies and pasties, and more than somewhat pugilistically inclined, had devoted much of her spare time to a study of the regulations governing the control and management of the Royal Space Regiment’s fleet of craft. “As second-in-command, Lieutenant, you assume the temporary rank and privileges of captain, until such time as Command appoints a replacement for the late, but not lamented, Captain van Winpell.”
“Gosh, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“We had,” Merry offered, “this was exactly what we had planned, although we hadn’t figured out the ‘how’. Very kind of them to do that for us.”
“Just one more thing, Captain Weinberg,” Patsy said.
“What’s that, Galley-maid?”
“Request permission to apply for the post of CFP, Ma’am.”