“Captain, sir, what trajectory shall we set for the Vessel?”
A stocky man of medium build turns from facing what looks like a Hollywood rendition of the side of a submarine. The walls are gadgets, controls, pieces of metal. ‘Bells and whistles’ emit from all over.
The man regards his questioner.
“Rogers? What the blast makes you think I’m the captain of this fine machine? It has been quite clearly stated that I am second in command, you vile twat. ‘Deputy’ is how you address me.”
The Deputy turns back around to face the absurdly vast wall of gizmos and widgets. He takes a puff of a larger-than-life cigar. Something buzzes, then whizzes; the latter is followed by a prompt whistle.
The two stare dumbfounded at the comically active wall of controls.
Rogers’ remains composed; his face, however, betrays a sort of confused incomprehension, as though a mathematical equation he’s performed a thousand times before in his head, for some reason, will not this time provide the expected answer.
“But ah, sir…it appears the former Captain has well—to put it plainly—lost his mind.”
“Lost his mind!?” The Deputy turns fiercely back to face Rogers. “Rogers, whatever do you mean the Captain has ‘lost his mind’? He was up there on the, uh, the deck or whatever it is, just minutes ago. Performing his, uh, usual tasks and such. Directing the Vessel and so forth.”
Rogers again twitches with the difficulty of having to explain something important to the Deputy.
“But sir, I can most definitely assure you that he has lost it. He no longer responds to the men; he keeps turning the direction wheel arbitrarily, with no nautical proficiency; he hasn’t eaten anything in days—“
Rogers interrupts his explanation, trails off into a demented murmur and then a shrug which informs the Deputy that the situation is rather ineffable.
The two pause, think a while.
“You mean to say…”, the Deputy thinks hard, “that the Captain overseeing this Vessel, its men and its course, has…drifted off with the fairies, Rogers?”
Rogers hesitates, then nods.
There is a long silence in which the Deputy meditates deeply, his face creased with concentration. Rogers remains at attention, as stiff and straight as the side of a geometrically perfect but abstract triangle. An occasional facial twitch expresses itself, however, corresponding to the visible deep thought of the Deputy.
Finally he speaks.
“Rogers. Do you mean to tell me that…that I am in charge of this…thing?”
“Rogers, forgive me for my naivety, but…how many men are on this here Vessel?”
Rogers mentally calculates, his lips counting the numbers in his head.
“And I am in charge of these fourty-nine mates?”
“…uh, ‘mates’, sir?”
The Deputy nods intensely. “Yes, Rogers, mates. It is a ship of some kind we’re on, isn’t it, with mates aboard it. No?”
Rogers shuffles his feet, watching them as he does so.
“Well-sir…to be quite honest with you, which I must now be seeing as you are the new Captain of the Vessel—I don’t really know what kind of vessel this is. I just worked for the Capta—“
The Deputy drew back in shock, a horrified grimace appearing on his face.
“You don’t actually know what we are aboard, Rogers!?”
Rogers’ face goes embarrassed-school-boy red; he shrugs, hopelessly. The Deputy shakes his head, a fearful expression replacing the grimace.
“By God, Rogers,” stroking his short grey beard. “This just won’t do!”
Some time passes in which the two men remain standing, dumbfounded, either thinking or pretending to think for a solution.
“Sir, I think it best if you go and see the Captain for yourself. Perhaps you can get some sense out of him.”
The Deputy nods in agreement, but remains standing as he is. He appears pensive.
A horn sounds from somewhere and the two glance awkwardly about, somewhat petrified after having established that they do know much at all of what’s going on.
The Deputy gathers himself.
“Rogers, I fear to ask this question, but I must. Our pride must be swept aside in these matters, for they are important to the lives of all fourty-eight men on this—“
“…Yes, all fourty-nine men on the Vessel.”
Rogers’ expression grows apologetic; the interruption concerned a rather trivial fact, in the context of the situation at hand.
The Deputy continues: “Anyhow, to the question at hand. Rogers, I must ask: do you at least know where the Vessel is headed, and to what purpose?”
Rogers’ eyes bulge and he lets out a long, thoughtful breath. He re-sports his calculating countenance. “Sir, with complete honesty, I must respond thus: I do not know either the direction or the purpose of the Vessel; all I know with certainty is that she is manned with fourty-nine hard-working mates, that she is a vessel, of some description, and that the captain of said vessel has misplaced his mind. Even, sir, if we were on some course previously, the madness of the Captain has surely, by now, steered us…off course.”
The Deputy stands strong, stoically accepting the somewhat humiliating and shattering statement. A long, drawn-out silence ensues, in which the men exchange dire glances.
“I will go and see the Captain, Rogers. Perhaps, in some way, I can extract some kind of information from his dissolved mind. Does he speak, still?”
“Yes, sir, the Captain speaks. But to apply reason to his raving utterances would, I imagine, be akin to translating the alien tongue of a savage.”
Huge plumes of smoke billow from the Deputy’s pipe.
“My God, Rogers; my God. What mess have we gotten ourselves into? I assume from your words that none of the mates know a thing of our situation, either, meaning that the Captain was the only one with any sound knowledge of the situation—and he is now a lunatic.”
Rogers’ troublesome expression affirms the Deputy’s assumption.
“From what you’ve said, our situation is roughly as follows: we are on a vessel with no knowledge of our purpose, our location, our surrounding—not even of exactly what the Vessel is itself. It is from this lacuna-plagued information that we must decide on a course of action.”
He sighs. The conclusion further troubles them both.
“I will go and see the Captain, Rogers. I have never been to the moon, no—not once; but I will try to make sense of that lunatic’s ramblings. It is our last hope. For if we fail, there will be nothing to work from; we will be wanderers, roaming somewhere, with no knowledge of anything much at all. Yes, Rogers. I will see the Captain.”
The controls on the wall of the Vessel squeak, whistle and pop. An engine of some kind rumbles in the background. The men depart the control room.