'Z'dayak -- Steve Z'dayak!' Steve enunciated firmly into his communications mike, an image of girl a smirking at his contrived pronunciation wormed through his mind as he waited for a response. Sure enough the girl's tone attested to the amusement she's gleaned during the few seconds she'd stolen to, not quite effectively, quell her chuckling.
'Ehem yes Mr. -- Zed - ay - aher -ak! -- we're waiting for your clearance to the enter the outer traffic control zone. If you can hold your present pattern, we'll give you clearance shortly, control out'.
'Bitch!' Steve Zodiac wasn't sure if he closed his mike in time to mask his petulance as he threw his headset at the console, 'it's Captain Zodiac - you fucking cow!'.
'Now now, you know that military designations are optional for civilian flight control, Captain -- Z'dayak,' said Venus as she stepped into the flight deck. Steve didn't have to turn to witness the smirk on his female colleague's face. The fact that she'd caught him out pronouncing the name he'd been baptised with would certainly have accentuated that expression which seemed to be permanently stamped onto her fizog.
'What is it?' he inquired, he kept his face turned towards the flight console with faux attentiveness.
'Oh I've just come to ask Robert if he'd like to watch a movie in the leisure suit, we are holding for flight control -- aren't we?' Venus made it perfectly clear she was aware that Steve's apparent preoccupation with the flight controls was a pantomime.
'MOVIE -- MOVIE!' Robert piped as he sat in the copilot's chair.
'I need the robot here, clearance will be through in a few minutes!'
'Captain, with all due respect...' does anyone use that phrase, thought Steve, when they have an ounce of respect for the person they're addressing, '...according to Space Patrol guidelines, Robert...' she pronounced the name with deliberate emphasis '...should be afforded the same working practices as human crew members, to ensure optimum effectiveness. He's been on the flight deck for four hours, which mean he's due for a twenty minute break'. Yeah twenty minutes with which you do what together, thought Steve, watch a movie? Venus's and Robert's relationship was a source of constant ire to Steve, Robert was a true Robot, a synthetic human of sorts but with a rather limited personality, a limitation imposed by the current state of the art of robotics. The state of that art though, was advanced enough to endow Robert with the full complement of human physical characteristics.
'I've been here six hours!'.
'Yes Captain, I'm aware rank does come with certain commitments,' said Venus 'but I really must insist, we don't want to make an issue out of this -- do we?'.
'ISSUE -- ISSUE, DON'T WANT TO MAKE ISSUE!' Robert bleeped, somehow I don't think that'll be a problem, thought Steve.
Steve festered inwardly at Venus's veiled threat, his reprimand for his conduct with her predecessor had already put a break on his career. He was stuck on this rust bucket XL5, known by the name Fireball by the rest of Space Patrol, an ironic reference to its reputation as being the slowest ship in the fleet. He was going to put his foot down this time though. 'No -- we're not going to make an issue out of this, he's needed on the flight deck. Regulations give me prerogative to override scheduled breaks when there's a clear imperative for a crew member to remain at his station'.
'REMAIN AT STATION!' Steve thought he could detect a hint of disappointment in Robert's metallic synthesized drone, 'REMAIN AT STATION!' Randy bastard.
'Fireball, Fireball, Fireball XL5' the communicator rattled with the voice of the female flight controller, abruptly interrupting the discourse.
Steve fumbled for his headset, 'What?' he barked into his mike a he placed it on his head, then his gathered his composure quickly, 'Er, Xl5, Xl5, Xl5 -- responding, control'.
'Please observe voice communications protocol, Fireball'.
'The call sign's Xl5 control' Steve was eager to reciprocate the supercilious tone.
Undeterred the faceless controller continued, 'We have a delay here -- FIREBALL, you need to hold for another two hours, can you acknowledge?'.
'Roger -- two hours delay,' he said with a grunt that betrayed his exasperation.
'Thank you Fireball, control out'.
'So -- no imperative then, Robert's free to come with me,' Venus smirked.
'FREE TO COME -- FREE TO COME,' yeah I bet you are.
'Yes -- you go, just leave me here' Robert jumped from his his flight seat with something too akin to eagerness for Steve's comfort, then they left the flight deck together. 'Have fun,' he uttered when he felt sure they were out of earshot.
'Two hours,' Steve moaned to himself, 'two hours of staring into bloody blackness, why did they make the observation canopies on these bloody flight decks so huge? what the bloody hell is there to look at. That bloody robot better be back here in twenty minutes,' he said as he checked the chronograph on the flight control panel. He started to absent mindedly strum his fingers on the instrument panel, as he did so he accidentally flipped the cover of the main retro switch, 'Oh bugger!'. He folded his arms and sat silently for a few moments, then lapsed into daydream.
To pass the time on such occasions, Steve had fostered a elaborate but a rather unimaginative fantasy life. He was Colonel Zodiac and no one laughed at his name in his world. Somewhat incongruously for someone of such advanced rank, he was still an acting Space Patrol pilot, an inconsistency he never bothered to reconcile. Instead of exercising his imagination to explore The Lost Planet of Nubile Nymphomaniacs, he'd concern his meandering thoughts with petty revenge on those who frustrated him or drew his envy in reality. Venus was a compliant ingénue, attentive to his every word, Matt his able chief engineer, a myopic scatterbrain, Robert a grotesque android constructed from waste perspex and yoghurt cartons. This time though, the inadequacies that plagued his reality permeated his subconscious and the strings he'd tug to manipulate the characters of his fantasy coalesced into a physical form. His characters turned into marionettes and inside his mind he couldn't stem the transformation, it continued until his entire world was populated exclusively with caricatures hopping around on strings. When he looked into his fantasy world mirror and saw the comically furtive eyes of a puppet staring back at him, his fantasy concluded abruptly.
Startled by this exit from his fantasy world, he tried to think of something to take his mind off the experience and pass the time. Then it occurred to him that he could review the Space Patrol bulletins, the last thing he normally choose to occupy himself, although he was supposed to attend to that task daily. 'Let me see,' he said as he thumbed through the bulletins on his clipboard, 'new procedures for engine maintenance, Oh I'll have to tell Matt about that. Nutritional guidelines, blah blah, Oh what's this -- product warning for XK2ooo robot personnel'. After a few moments reading Steve flipped on the internal communication switch, 'Venus, call the flight deck please'.
Moments later Venus's voiced broke in over the communications system, 'Yes!' she didn't sound too pleased.
'Look, I don't need Robert here for an hour or so, tell him to take an extended break, Oh and by the way, I've released the lockout on the zero g facility for the leisure suite'. Steve knew the prospect of zero g gymnastics would ensure that Venus and Robert availed themselves of that facility, his face broke into a wicked smile.
ITEM 9 PRODUCT WARNING XK2000 ROBOT PERSONNEL
As a result of a notification from the manufacturer, Cyberdrone Systems Inc. The following additional operational parameters for the XK2000 robot have been set:
1. The XK2000 should at no time be operated in zero g environment, doing so can seriously compromise the XK2000's operational effectiveness.
2. Crew members, should refrain from certain: recreational practices in the presence of the XK2000 while there is a risk of encountering a zero g environment.
Failure to comply with the above will seriously compromise the fabric of the unit's dermal component, causing the chemical bonds of a constituent of that component to break down. Subsequent to component failure the unit's skin will revert to a gelatinous form. While this fault does not represent a hazard to crew members, several units have already failed in this manner and crew members report that the adhesive properties of the consequent gelatinous mass are such that it will adhere to human skin with a bond of indeterminate but substantial strength. This bond can not be safely broken until the skin's decomposition is complete, a process that takes approximately four days. This failure is accompanied by a strong odour, similar to that of decomposing herring.
ITEM 10 XK KIPPER
The following directive has been issued by the Space Patrol working practices committee:
1. The use of the, Term, "XK Kipper" in relation to crew members...