Author: Alan Decker
“Penguins On the Brain”
by Alan Decker
“Captain’s Log. Stardate 48346.2. The Secondprize has spent the last three weeks charting an extremely barren section of space, and we’re all bored out of our skulls. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. We’ve seen nothing but stars for the whole time. No planets, no nebulae, not even an asteroid. I’m starting to wonder if I pissed off someone at headquarters, and they gave us this assignment as revenge. In any case, if this gets any duller, the whole crew of the Secondprize is going to slip into comas.”
Captain Alexander Rydell stared blankly at the star-filled viewscreen before him. He would swear that the image hadn’t changed for the last twenty days. He could feel his eye lids gaining weight as he struggled to stay awake. His bridge shift didn’t end for another four hours, and he was seriously starting to doubt that he’d still be conscious at the end of it.
From her position at the helm console, Ensign Larkin observed her colleagues. She did not feel the boredom that the monotony of their mission was causing in the others, but she could definitely see its effects. A small line of drool was falling from Captain Rydell’s lower lip to the floor. A sudden thud drew her attention to Ensign Emily Sullivan. She was slumped over her console, face down, and beginning to snore softly. At the rear of the bridge, Lieutenant Commander Jaroch was continuing the riveting game of Go Fish that he’d been playing with the ship’s computer for the last week and a half. As she continued her sweep of the bridge, Larkin could see Lieutenant Lisa Beck’s prostrate body on the floor behind the command chair. She’d brought a pillow from her quarters and gone right to sleep when her shift started. By the turbolift, a small penguin was observing the scene with what looked to Larkin like a look of amusement. She ran a quick diagnostic of her systems to make sure that her optical sensors were not malfunctioning. Everything was working fine. There was a penguin on the bridge. She stared at the small bird as it waddled toward Beck. Suddenly, it turned toward Larkin who continued to stare at it. A look of disbelief spread across its face. The two gazed at each other for about two minutes. Finally, the penguin waved its flipper at her. She returned the gesture.
A bit of movement to his left dragged Captain Rydell out of oblivion long enough for him to see what was going on. His helmsman was waving to something. He looked and saw nothing. He turned back to Larkin. She was still waving at empty space. Rydell knew that he was going to regret this, but he had to ask the question anyway.
“Ensign, what are you doing?”
“I am waving to the penguin, sir,” Larkin replied matter-of- factly. Rydell wanted to question her further about this, but his brain, which was bordering on jello at that moment, decided that this would require too much effort. He knew that some defect in the android’s programming had given her a minor obsession with penguins. This probably had something to do with that. Nothing to worry about. He’d just ignore it for the moment.
After he brief conversation with her captain, Ensign Larkin turned back to the penguin. It, however, had disappeared.
“Yes, Larkin,” Rydell mumbled.
“The penguin has disappeared.”
“I’m happy for it, Larkin.” He was starting to sink lower and lower in his chair. Seconds later, the penguin reappeared on the tactical console behind his command chair, and this time, it brought four of its friends.
“The penguins have returned.”
“Oh joy, where are they now?”
“Right behind you,” Larkin replied as the penguins all started flapping their flippers at her. She waved back hesitantly.
Rydell decided that he didn’t want to be a part of Larkin’s hallucinations anymore. With as close as her penguins were getting to him, they’d be dropping imaginary bird poop on him in a minute.
“Why don’t you go back to you’re quarters, Ensign?” Rydell suggested. “You can serve your guests sushi or ice cream or something.” Larkin suddenly realized something: Captain Rydell must not be seeing the penguins. She decided to test her hypothesis.
“Captain, do you see the penguins?” One suddenly appeared on the floor in front of Rydell’s chair and rolled by him on a tiny pair of roller skates.
“No, I don’t. Jaroch, do you see any penguins?”
“No, sir. Do you have any nines?”
“Go fish,” the computer replied.
“Do you see any penguins, Beck?” Rydell continued.
“Unnh…uuuuh…nuuu,” Beck mumbled.
“How about you, Ensign Sullivan?”
“I’ll take that as a no. Sorry, Larkin, you’re the only one seeing penguins. Now, just go back to your room and check your circuitry.”
“I’ve already run a diagnostic, and all my systems are functioning normally.”
“I don’t care. There are no penguins here, so something must be wrong with you.”
“But it was roller skating by you.”
“Go to your room, Ensign,” Rydell ordered.
“Yes, sir,” she replied as she walked slowly toward the turbolift. A penguin wearing sunglasses and clasping a cigar in its beak was waiting for her as the doors opened.
“Wanna a lift?” it asked gruffly.
“I am ignoring you,” Larkin replied. “You are just a glitch in my programming.”
“Too bad,” the penguin commented as it lowered its sunglasses.
“You’re pretty cute for a hunk of metal and wires.’
“I am constructed from a complex alloy of…” She stopped in mid-sentence. Her audience had disappeared. Slightly distressed, Larkin walked the rest of the way back to her quarters with her eyes closed. She knocked over two crewman and stomped on another’s foot breaking three of his toes, but she didn’t see any more penguins.
After a bit of sleep and some careful thought, Captain Rydell decided that Ensign Larkin had better have a talk with Counselor Webber. Claire didn’t usually handle machines, but Larkin swore that nothing was mechanically wrong with her. And if it was mental, Claire was the person to find it.
The next morning, Ensign Larkin was in Counselor Webber’s office discussing her visions.
“And then one was in the turbolift with me, and it talked.”
“What did it say?” Claire asked.
“It said that I was cute.”
“Ahh. Now then, Larkin, have you been feeling lonely lately?”
“I just thought that you might be creating these penguins to fulfill your needs for companionship.”
“That is definitely not the case, Counselor,” Larkin replied. Suddenly, a line of five penguins appeared and began dancing around Webber’s chair. “They’re here,” Larkin announced.
“What are they doing?”
“Forming a conga line, I believe.”
Captain Rydell found Counselor Webber’s report about Larkin very disturbing. The last thing he needed to deal with was a crazy android. He really only had one option. Larkin was going to have to be shut down, and Chief Engineer Scott Baird would have to disassemble and fix her.
Larkin was more disturbed by this news than Rydell was by the news of her condition. Unfortunately, she had to follow his orders. She reported to engineering that afternoon, so Commander Baird could shut her down. Captain Rydell was waiting there with Baird.
“I’m really sorry about this, Larkin,” Rydell said consolingly. “I don’t want to do this, but I’m trying to look after your welfare. This is just like me ordering someone to report to sickbay.”
“Except for the fact that Dr. Singer doesn’t usually take her patients apart piece by piece,” Larkin replied.
“I promise to be gentle,” Baird assured her.
“Shut her down, Commander,” Rydell ordered.
“I wouldn’t do that,” a voice commanded. Rydell and Baird looked around for its origin. “Down here,” the voice said. They looked down to the floor and spotted a penguin staring up at them.
It disappeared and reappeared an instant later on the work-station next to them.
“Uh… Captain,” Baird stammered. “That’s a…”
“Penguin,” Rydell finished.
“Actually, I am a Jernasi,” the bird replied. “Evidently, our race bears a resemblance to a creature from your homeworld. I extend greetings to you from our people.” Rydell quickly got over his astonishment and switched over into diplomacy mode.
“And I extend greetings to you on behalf of the United Federation of Planets.”
“Thank you, Captain Rydell. As your ensign can tell you, we have been observing you for the last day. Then, we scanned your computer records and decided that we must not be catching you at your best.”
“That’s the truth,” Rydell replied. “But why did you not want your presence known?”
“We had never encountered your kind before, and did not know how you would react to a different culture. We thought that it would be best to cloak ourselves so we could observe you before making contact. Unfortunately, we did not count on the fact that your android’s vision is far superior to your own. Much to our surprise, she was able to detect.”
“So you had to make us think she was crazy in order to keep your presence a secret,” Baird said.
“That is correct. We are sorry that it almost caused her dismantling.” The Jernasi turned to Larkin. “We hope that you can forgive us.”
“I am not capable of anger or holding a grudge,” she replied.
“Consider it forgotten.”
“Thank you. Now then, Captain, we will decloak our ship, and then we would like to discuss the possibility of joining your Federation.”
“Of course,” Rydell replied. “Just follow me up to our Observation Lounge, and we can talk.” Rydell and the Jernasi left the room discussing Jernasi cloaking technology and the benefits of consuming large amounts of raw fish.
“Well, it looks like you narrowly avoided becoming a pile of spare parts, Larkin,” Baird said as he put away his tools. “I just can’t believe that a race of intelligent penguins exists.”
“I just hope they do not have any enemies coming to look for them,” Larkin replied.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you really want to deal with a race of intelligent polar bears?”
“Good point,” Commander Baird replied laughing.