Dark Matter Cretins

The coffee cup felt reassuringly heavy in his hand.  Captain Xavier Holland turned it over in his hand for a moment, admiring its simplistic lines.

Sitting forward, he wound back – and heaved the cup as hard as he could.

A direct hit.  The cup clattered against Ensign Bran’s shoulder, making the man jerk and yelp.  “What the hell?” he burst out, spinning around to stare with injured eyes at his captain.
In response, Holland gestured up at the screen.  “Look at this!  This isn’t Atrayon Two!” he pointed out.  “I don’t know where your course took us, but it certainly isn’t the right location!”

“So you throw your coffee cup at me?” Bran asked, still confused.  “Look, it’s my first time up on the deck, navigating without the AI helping plot the course-”

“And I’ve told you, I don’t trust AIs!” Holland cut him off.  “Remember the Singularity Conflict of 2438?  For all we know, the original technovirus that started the whole mess could be lurking in our ship’s data banks, waiting to get us all killed!”

Ensign Bran glared down at the controls at his fingers, trying to keep his digits from twitching.  Right now, he wanted nothing more than to wrap them around Captain Xavier Holland’s neck and squeeze as tightly as he could manage.

Damn the pompous man!  Bran should have wondered why, despite the prestigious position opening on this Enterpriser-level flagship, no one had signed up to fill the spot.  Now, the reason was quickly becoming abundantly clear.

He glanced around at the other ship’s officers on the bridge, all of whom were carefully avoiding his gaze and keeping their eyes glued to their own instruments.  The captain’s outbursts could be legendary in ire and volume, but they generally blew through quickly.

A sudden beep dragged all eyes in the room over to Navigator Charles, who winced for a moment before recovering.  “Er, actually, it doesn’t look like it was Ensign Bran’s fault at all, if these readings are correct,” he spoke up hastily as he felt Holland’s eyes boring into his back.

“Explain yourself, Charles.”  Ensign Bran already recognized Holland’s ‘angry and barely keeping a lid on his rage’ tone.  Charles better have something good, he prayed.

“Well, um, yes.  Look at the screen here, Captain.”  Charles tapped several commands on his holoboard, and several large blotches appeared on the main screen above them.  “Those are dark matter accretions, incredibly dense and pulling us off course.  Those shouldn’t be here.”

“Really?”  Holland sounded distracted, at least.  “What could be causing those?”

“Um, I don’t really know, Captain.”  Charles cringed as he felt his captain’s glare refocus on his back.  “But we could send out some, er, probes, maybe gather more data?”

Bran sensed the captain wavering.  “This could be a major discovery to report back to Star Command,” he threw out, hoping to shift their leader’s decision.

For a moment, everyone held their breath as the captain considered.

Finally, he sat back in his chair in the middle of the deck.  “Do it,” he commanded importantly.  “Let’s see what’s going on here.  These ‘darn matter cretins’-”

“Dark matter accretions,” Bran heard Charles mutter angrily under his breath.

“-could be a danger to other ships, as well, if they can pull us off course.  We’ll alter our plan and investigate.  Ensign Bran, take us in – carefully.”

“Yes, Captain,” Bran replied on autopilot, turning back to his controls with a little sigh of relief.

Captain Xavier Holland ran his hand over his chin – a gesture that he thought made him seem wise and distinguished, although his crew privately considered that it just made him seem even more like an ass.  “Oh, and Ensign Bran, when you’re finished,” he called out.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Refill my coffee cup, that’s a good man.”

Bran bit at his tongue to prevent a reply from slipping out between his lips.  Fortunately, the ship’s kitchen happened to be right next to a bathroom, and, thanks to the temperature at which Holland preferred his coffee, he never seemed to notice any other “extra flavors.”

The ship’s engines fired, shifting the massive structure around to head towards the anomalous region of dark matter.

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