The alarm was silent. The space station’s mood lighting gently changed from green to red. On the upper deck, Captain Morgensen sighed and reached for a computer console. Ever since the latest updates to the station’s software, the alarm lights had gone red more often. She even found herself missing the old air raid howler. At least, she thought, it knew when to make a fuss.
On the desk next to her, Corporal Dra’aen let out a reptilian hiss and muttered: ‘Why don’t they have an amber one? A blocked sink is hardly worth going to full military alert over.‘
‘Is that what it is?‘ Morgensen said, trying to sound formal. Protocol dictated it. There had, she remembered, been studies into the most efficient ways to relay information in emergency situations. Fortunately though, her friends in the admiralty hadn’t seen fit to bless her with a scientific observation team. Yet.
‘Probably, cap’n.‘ Dra’aen’s beady eyes darted across a couple of screens, before settling on a tiny text box. Focusing it to full magnification, he sent it to Morgensen’s screen. She tried to glance at it nonchalantly, but even five years of rigourous training couldn’t disguise the look of utter fury that flashed in her eyes.
‘Another… update… is available?‘ She stuttered. ‘That’s what this alarm is all about? I dread to think what the software does when a battle-cruiser shows up.‘
‘I can look it up in the manual, cap’n.‘ Dra’aen hissed. He’d expected Morgensen to shake her head dismissively, but she just stared at him expectantly. Exhaling, he pulled up another text box and scanned it.
Finally, he croaked: ‘Saturn’s moons! I don’t believe it! There’s nothing but legalese here. All I can really tell you right now cap’n is that the Intergalactic Software Consolidation will probably win the inevitable compensation case after we’re blasted to smithereens by a pulse torpedo.‘
Suddenly, the soothing sound of wind chimes echoed through the air. A recorded voice said: ‘You have one new video message.‘
‘I’m not interested in buying anything right now!‘ Morgensen spat.
The recorded voice just repeated itself. Morgensen let it do this four times before finally saying: ‘Fine. Play message. But, if this is another adver…‘
The scowling, jowly face of Admiral Salter appeared on the monitor. Without even pausing, he bellowed. ‘Morgensen! What is the meaning of this?‘
‘Not only did it take you thirty seconds to reply to a critical command message, but your station has been awaiting crucial software updates for the past seven point five minutes! I trust you have a good expanation for recklessly endangering your civilian crew in such a manner.‘
‘I set updates to manual, sir.‘ Morgensen said, feeling icy fear spread through her chest. ‘If.. If I may speak freely, sir, I can explain.‘
Admiral Salter frowned and nodded. Morgensen said: ‘Sir, the station actually used to… work. When there was an urgent message on the comms, it was actually an urgent message. When the alarms went off, it actually meant something. When my crew needed to use the computers, they could run finished programs that took up only three or four exabytes and didn’t crash every two hours. When…‘
‘Enough!‘ Salter’s fist slammed into his desk. Taking a second to compose himself, he said: ‘Count yourself lucky, captain. If I had my way, you’d be drummed out of the fleet for that treasonous outburst. But..‘ His voice oozed reluctance ‘… the Intergalactic Software Consolidation has been monitoring all station-to-ship communications for research purposes today.‘
‘They’ve been… spying… on us, sir?‘ Morgenson stuttered.
‘Market research, captain!‘ Salter barked. ‘They’ve assured us that no-one but a few student technicians will be listening in. They were even kind enough to keep in touch whilst doing it. And that is why…‘ He made an expression like he’d just swallowed some bad nutrition pills ‘… I have to promote you.‘
‘Promote me? Did I hear you correctly, sir?‘
‘Don’t make me repeat myself, captain! For the high-depth user data you have just submitted, you are hereby promoted to Battle Captain. The Fearless will be docking shortly to hand over command. Looks like you’ll be seeing some action again. Don’t screw it up this time. Salter out.‘ The screen went blank.
Morgensen just stared into space, a concerned frown on her face. Finally, Dra’aen whispered: ‘Aren’t you… happy… cap’n?‘
She let out a sigh: ‘No, I’m terrified. I’ve just remembered that our docking systems were fully automated after the… last… software update.‘