Far away, in a galaxy locally referred to as here, and a time commonly referred to as now, an unpredictable space station is experiencing an entirely predictable problem.
The station was equipped with all the latest gadgetry from it’s home planet in the Strepulis star-system, including Hyper-Spatial Launch Platforms, MegaDeath MkII Rocket Blasters, the latest range of highly durable and eminently rewatch-able Video Cassette Tapes and a Central Computational Spire that could out-compute most major planets. It was practically impenetrable by hostile forces, it’s crew of 600 were highly-trained in both defensive and offensive operations, and the detachable squadron of 150 Defta-Death Cruisers provided flexibility and manoeuvrability to any sort of military skirmish required of it, to the immediate and painful regret of any enemy or neutral, or sometimes friendly, forces that had the misfortune or lack of foresight to simply arrive in the same Galactic Quadrant as the behemoth station. So the problem was not one of firepower.
The crew itself were a semi-humanoid race in appearance, but vastly different in genetic makeup; their supple, silicon-based bodies were adaptable in any number of environments, and the various additional extras that Mother Nature, in her infinite and often perplexing wisdom had deigned to provide them with, meant they were immune to fire, asphyxiation and spontaneous combustion. Mother Nature, even more strangely, had chosen to equip the seemingly indestructible Strepulons with an indefatigable desire to murder, dominate, murder, control, and murder everything within their vicinity. They were fiercely loyal to their leader, whoever that happened to be at the time. At the moment it was a youngster by the name of 627-88, which translates roughly as Spawn of the Ravenous and Vanquisher of Bourbon. Since being squirted out of the Great Life Giving Fire of Strepulis Beta, 627-88 had harboured dreams of murdering superiors and assuming power for itself (the Strepulons are quin-gender, meaning archaic Homo Sapiens designations of male and female are meaningless and inconvenient – for the purpose of both objectivity and brevity, all members of the Strepulon race shall be referred to as it). Since coordinating a ruthless and effective coup and quietly disposing of the previous commander a few weeks ago, 627-88 had proved to be an effective, ambitious and capable leader, and a devoted servant of the Strepulon cause. So the problem was not one of loyalty.
The space station was well stocked; a vessel as aggressive and easily-provoked as this one was used to besieging and being besieged, and came thusly prepared. The stores contained a years supply of food for every crew member, while the seven on-board bars stocked enough alcohol to knock out the fabled Rastrabula Blogtroll of Severestemie, a horrifyingly voracious creature rumoured to be able to consume it’s own considerable weight in methylated spirits without feeling any ill-effect. So the problem was not one of starvation or dehydration.
At least, not directly.
The problem alluded to is not one of firepower, nor loyalty, nor starvation or dehydration, nor was it one of loneliness, lack of enemy targets or even poor hygiene. Neither is the problem one of impending doom, failure to comprehend the unflinchingly intimidating scale of the universe or the imminent attack of a deadly and hitherto unheard of nemesis. The problem, as you can see, is not one of the many unpredictable events that those sharp and analytical minds among you may have taken it upon yourself to envision for the poor Strepulons.
The problem is both predictable, simple, and unfortunately, all too common in the more civilised regions of the galaxy during this epoch.
In short, it is one of finances. Even shorter, someone forgot to pay the phone bill.
And so we find the gigantic Strepulon space station orbiting around a nondescript star in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri, all guns and gadgets, chomping at the bit to throw itself carelessly into the next skirmish, but unable to contact Strepulis Alpha for instructions and approval to attack the things it is designed to attack, which is everything. It’s Central Computational Spire, capable of transmitting a message to any device capable of receiving it anywhere in the known universe, sat silent, useless in the face of an empty account balance. Inside the Operative Bridge, the data banks and computer interfaces were all silent too. Attempts had been made to contact the telecom network company, but, predictably, on the one occasion you want to talk to them, they are unavailable. The Rocket Blasters and Hyper Spatial Launch Platforms also sat silent – not because they were out of funding, but because all the Strepulons required to operate them were in the bar.
Alone of the impressive arsenal of gadgetry on board, the Video Cassette Tapes and the seven bars were operating at maximum capacity. The telecom company had been unreachable for over a week, and the regular pattern of military decorum and clockwork regiment was already showing signs of descending into, maybe not anarchy, but distinct indifference. Strepulons were beginning to fall over other, comatose Strepulons in the hallways, and there was a thin film of dust over the interfaces, while the latrine was in dire need of a good scrubbing. The drink supply, orchestrated to provide ample merriment to a crew busy raiding, pillaging and generally keeping themselves occupied, was running low, and tensions were correspondingly high. This was not helped by the catalogue of Video Cassette Tapes, which had turned out to not have the variety and depth previously imagined, partly due to a lack of both supply and demand of the archaic technology, but mostly down to administrative cost-cutting initiatives. Two and a Half Men Season 9 was being rewatched for the third time already.
At this point, one might reasonably ask, where is 627-88, the leader who supposedly showed such verve, initiative and tenacity during the early weeks of its reign? The same 627-88 rumoured to have single-handedly dispatched a dozen ravenous Slashbanded Silagans in the siege of Silastremus IV? The same 627-88 who unflinchingly led a troop into the petrifying cavern of the dreaded Accountant and made it out alive? The same 627-88 who persuaded 30 members of its crew to give up their weeks rations of delicious Eisenberries on the grounds of moral integrity and charitable self-improvement?
Well, 627-88 is an alcoholic. The present situation had done little to soothe this condition, and had in fact, somewhat unexpectedly, exacerbated it. When not at the bar, 627-88 can invariably be found slumped over the telecommunications receiver, which it invariably keeps off the hook in case anybody calls and suggests it go back to work. In fact, were you sufficiently patient to get an intelligible sentence out of the now permanently unintelligible 627-88, it would probably assure you that this unfortunate incident was in fact the most fortunate incident of all of our entire lives, and that we should be grateful that it, 627-88, was as disorganised with bill payments as it had turned out to be, and that bourbon was delicious, and also something about disregarding previous comments, a few choice words about the state of the latrine, before tailing off into slightly more intelligible grunting and panting. The last time that 627-88 made it to the ship’s PA system without either falling over or forgetting why it was there, the following announcement was made:
“Following the unfortunate dis-, disappearance of our hic communications network, and therefore our hic purposese, and the subsequent lack of bourbon on board, I have hic made arrangements with the local Liquor Delivery Satellite operators hic who will… who will… Hang on a mo’… *Glug glug* Who will be hic arriving to-, tomorrow to deliver us several crates of bourbon in exchange for our central computer terminal hard drive, which I’m hic certain you’ll agree we won’t be needing any hic more. Thank you, have a pleasant hic beeeeeeep.”
As the opening credits for the season finale of Two and a Half Men rang around the crowded yet quiet bar for what seemed like the umpteenth time, and a misshapen, aged Charlie Sheen stumbled drunkenly into the shot, the Strepulon closest to one of the few active computer interfaces on the ship was alerted to something.
A visitor! Announced a small blinking green light petulantly. Petulance is not an emotion one usually associates with inanimate blinking lights, whatever their colour, but it is easy to imagine the lights on board the station becoming a little disheartened by their lack of usage, and this particular little green light, normally chipper and helpful, was feeling decidedly put-out by the whole affair.
After a brief struggle with gravity, the Strepulon summoned a comrade and together they staggered through the hallways in the general direction of the delivery berths, only getting lost once or twice on the way. One of them placed a hand on a seemingly random segment of wall, and looked a little perplexed. The wall wobbled uncertainly in front of the Strepulon, who slapped his palm against an identical segment of wall slightly to the left. Or maybe the right. Still nothing. A few feet further on it tried again, and this time it’s palm print glowed purple and a hatch slid open in front of them. They proceeded through two more hatchways in a similar manner en route to the dock, taking care to not bother with any of the standard security protocols on the way.
Waiting for them was a small, dingy yellow planet-hopper that contained a small, dingy yellow creature looking impatiently at the watch strapped around one of it’s many appendages. The ship had the words Highest Quality Intoxicating Beverages for the Highly Toxic printed in the local language on it’s starboard side. The creature did not. After a brief exchange of unpleasantries, the small ship and it’s dingy inhabitant raced back off into the inky blackness, leaving the Strepulons four large crates of liquor better off, and a powerful, dangerous, mind-bogglingly expensive and charmingly gift-wrapped hard-drive worse off. Back in the bar, the two Strepulons were greeted as heroes.
Due to a combination of laziness, poor coordination and a quite stunning level of drunkenness, it was decided that rather than distributing all the new liquid happiness evenly between the seven bars, the crates would be dragged into the spacious Operative Bridge for an impromptu soirée for the entire crew.
For about five minutes, this worked well. In the sixth minute, several bottles were accidentally smashed and an argument broke out. In the seventh minute, the argument forgotten, ancient Strepulon songs of home, warfare and drunkenness were ringing around the bridge. By the ninth minute, another argument had broken out over the lyrics of a particularly inspirational song about the importance of loathing thy neighbour. Ten minutes in and several more bottles were smashed, this time not accidentally. In the twelfth minute, 627-88 appeared proclaiming to have discovered the secrets of alchemy and demanding an entire crate of bourbon for itself as reward. It didn’t take long for this to strike a chord, and the crew split into distinct factions; one in support of 627-88 and alchemy, another in support of fair and equal distribution of liquor, and a third in support of a fourth group who at that moment needed all the support they could get just to stand up, and who were on the whole not particularly interested in the politics of it all. By the fifteenth minute, a veritable civil war had erupted, and limbs, bottles and insults were being flung carelessly about the bridge. In the twenty-first minute, everyone paused for a drinks break. Fighting resumed in the twenty-third minute, and during a particularly brutish scuffle next to the Hyper-Spatial Launch Platform, an irresponsible stray elbow pressed the Randomise & Go button.
Randomised Hyper-Space leaps, it should be stressed, are NOT a good idea. Death, destruction, wasted time and enormous bills for damages are commonplace. The dangers are both expensive and obvious, and indeed, many respected scientists and military strategists have voiced their views on the pointlessness and danger of such a button, but Galacta-Zoom Spaceships Inc. is now more powerful than any major government or scientific institution in the galaxy, and they insist it’s a profitable selling point, so it stays. Stories abound of the catastrophic consequences of randomised Hyper-Space leaps going wrong. This is one of them.
The Strepulon space station materialised in the inky blackness, made a brief attempt to right itself, gave it up as futile exercise and wronged itself instead. Inside the bridge, the leap across half the galaxy had put a damper on the party atmosphere. As the inhabitants picked themselves up from wherever the jolt had thrown them, some of the more alert ones attempted to ascertain where the leap had taken them. A few drunken jabs at the interfaces brought up an image of small blue-green planet directly in the path of the stations current erratic trajectory. The planet was known to the primitive life forms that inhabited it as Earth, and they were blissfully unaware of, well, of many things, but specifically they were unaware of the sudden appearance of a bloodthirsty and intoxicated group of mercenaries in their vicinity.
On board the Strepulon ship, after a brief disagreement about something vaguely to do with bourbon, it was decided that the crew would put their differences aside and invade the pathetic looking planet; hopefully they had a good stock of interesting foreign liquor. 627-88 gave the order for attack, and the ship lurched erratically in the direction of the country known, jokingly I assume, as the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. It missed.
Touching down uncertainly in Lithuania, the Strepulons poured out of the ship, armed to the teeth and surprisingly still somewhat in command of their basic motor functions. The furious arrival was followed by an aggressive and unsuccessful attempt to conquer and enslave a grasshopper, before the entire battalion, ship and all, was flattened by a passing mini-van. The inhabitants of Earth never discovered how close they were to being conquered by a band of drunken mini-murderers.
Moral of the story: Scale matters.