If anyone had been sleeping when the alarm went off...well that's unfortunate. A solid and resounding shriek rained hell on all ears involved in the sad affair. Which is to say that by the end of the night, pretty much everyone aboard the Swiss Roll would have a part in this wretched escapade.
At the moment, however, at the relatively early hour of 2300, only Jones, Kolowski, and Doe answered the alarm directly. They pounded down the corridors of D-Deck with about as much grace as a moose on Metabolife, which actually would be more than one would initially think. Breathless, with adrenal glands in overload, they arrived at junction D452, where the electronic holler had originated. They found three of their peers kneeling on the floor, staring at the bulkhead directly in front of them intently. Occasionally they would exchange a worried look with each other, then turn back to the wall with furrowed brows and pursed lips.
Jones managed a gasping, "Are you okay?" between breaths. He was an asthmatic little man with beady eyes and small hands. He tended to freak people out a smidge.
Brock Clearly turned, his lower lip sticking out and his eyes slightly misty. "No," he managed to wail before covering his eyes, demonstrating the dramatic flair of a middle school thespian. His short, baby-fat frame lent to the image quite well. Obviously he had set the alarm off.
The three standing glanced at each other - what could possibly be the matter with a bulkhead? "Um, Computer, cancel alarm," Doe ordered helpfully. Silence descended upon the corridor, as well as the rest of the ship. Everyone let out a breath in an audible gust. Without the electronic screaming everyone could hear it: the completely pitiful, totally ridiculous, and wholly bizarre mewling of a cat. Doe blinked. Being the most senior officer in the little group, she cleared her throat and ventured to ask. "Clearly? Is there a cat behind that bulkhead?"
Clearly shook his head mournfully. "No, ma'am," he said rather seriously, "it's a kitten."
Doe blew a raspberry at him. "Oh, well, that's completely different now isn't it?"
"Entirely," he nodded, and then realizing that he had missed the point completely, he jump to his feet. "My pet kitten, ma'am. She's been missing for days, and then I heard her! Meowing, right behind this bulkhead. I thought she was dead! But she's not." Clearly let out a pleased laugh. "It's a miracle, don't you think, ma'am?"
Jane Doe didn't think much of anything these days, choosing to let everything slide through her ears like greased roller-skates in order to maintain her faltering sanity. It was bad enough she was named after an unidentified corpse, worse she was on a spaceship named after a snack made by Little Debbie that kids carried in their lunch bags, and worse still that she was second-in-command of it. But now she was in the middle of one of those stupid kind of stories that made the 6 o'clock news when Earth hadn't bombed anyone that day. She'd hit rock bottom, that was for sure.
Meanwhile, Jones and Kolowski had managed to slink off and escape becoming sucked into what they were sure was going to become some kind of twisted event. The kind you had to retell to a new person every time a group got drunk together. Doe wished she were so lucky.
"Well, not a miracle, exactly, Brock." She chewed on her lower lip, not really wanting to ask." "Erm, forgetting why you'd even trip an alarm for a trapped cat, how exactly did he get in there?"
No one had an immediate answer for that. Clearly's cohorts, Charlie (who happened to be a woman) French (and was Yugoslavian, not French) and Liz Rivers finally ripped their attention away from the bulkhead long enough to stand and join the group, as it were. French spoke up first.
"I imagine ma'am, that Miss Fiznibbits managed to slip out of Mr. Clearly's quarters while he wasn't looking. From there it would have been easy to jump into an open junction or conduit that was under maintenance." French liked to play with her long, dyed black ponytail. At the moment, she was actually trying to pretend it was a cat jumping into an open junction. You may think that would be funny, but you'd be wrong, reader.
"Fiznibbits, huh?" Doe mused. "My neighbor had a dog by that name. He got hit by a mail truck."
"That's too bad, ma'am," Rivers said sympathetically.
"Oh, no, not really. He had typhoid fever or measles or something like that. They ended up putting him down." Everyone just sort of nodded, in solemn agreement that a diseased dog should be shot. Well, except for Clearly, who was growing a tad bit distraught.
"Um, ma'am?" he managed without any raising of his voice, "I think you're missing the point."
"Not at all, Mr. Clearly. I think what we need to do is clear enough."
Rivers nodded thoughtfully. "So we shoot the cat." Clearly's bloodshot eyes nearly popped out and fell on the floor right then and there.
Doe simply fixed Rivers with a stare she had learned from her grandmother (a chain-smoking old woman with no friends), and had perfected by practicing in the mirror nightly. It meant, "You're a dumbass." She got a lot of use out of it.
"No," she said pointedly. "We need to get the cat out from the bulkhead."
"And then shoot it," Rivers supplied.
Doe glanced around for something to jab in her eyes, while Clearly started hitting his head against the bulkhead until Miss Fiznibbits' shrieking from inside stopped him.
French coughed politely, but everyone ignored her, so she faked the dry-heaves instead. This, fortunately, was successful after only a few seconds.
"Yes?" Doe raised an eyebrow, glad nothing had actually been expelled from French's gastro-intestinal system.
"I can get some of my engineering team down here to get Miss Fiznibbits out. We'd do the least damage, what with knowing the ship's layout the best." Pausing, French added, "Better than security, at least." She shot a challenging look at Rivers, who wasn't even listening, but rather watching a nearby console flash green, then blue, then green, then blue...and then, just to shake things up, it flashed pink, and Rivers giggled madly.
It took Doe a moment to sort out what French had said and make sure it was all real. Too many reasonable things strung together were often hallucinations; Doe had learned that the hard way.
"Well, it sounds like a plan," she assented. While Clearly started hopping around singing, "Go Charlie, it's your birthday," Doe crossed her arms and sat herself determinedly on the floor, settling in for a long stay. "Clearly, go get me a muffin."
Muffins were all well and good, but Clearly stopped mid-prance as his mind played a quick game of Six Degrees of Separation: muffin...food...mess hall...people...officers...the captain! So he asked. "Ma'am, what about the captain?" Before Clearly had even finished, everyone had already froze. Not really in the pause-the-VCR sense, you understand. It was more like a soap opera take, because everyone still breathed and moved at least a little. The point is, apparently, no one had considered the captain. This probably would have been a good thing to consider, seeing as it was his ship. His warship, with big guns and torpedoes and hard-core laser beams.
Doe sighed heavily. Everyone turned to look at her for an answer with wide, dinner plate eyes. "Listen," she said, her voice so low everyone had to lean forward. "He's obviously slept through the alarm. We are NOT waking him up. He can read the report. Or, better yet, we'll pretend this never happened." She paused, took a deep breath and then delivered the last line as a scream, "He does not need to know that a GODDAMN KITTEN is on his spaceship!" Everyone jumped back a little. Clearly stumbled.
"Now get me my muffin, Clearly. And some carrot sticks." She smiled pleasantly. "Does anyone else want anything?"
It took a few minutes of course, but soon enough, a small crowd of engineers were gathered in the corridor, talking excitedly and waving various implements of reconstruction in their hands. Further away, a few security officers wandered about aimlessly, carrying implements of destruction in their hands. They weren't very happy, as they presently had nothing to shoot at. Doe, who was seated leaning up again the bulkhead opposite the one Miss Fiznibbits was residing in, considered tossing a carrot their way, just to give them something to do.
Rivers was sitting next to her, sipping a glass of iced tea. She seemed to think this was a good idea. "It's best to keep them occupied; it makes them feel special, you know." So Doe threw a carrot at two men standing together talking. They didn't see it bounce towards them and roll a ways. Doe found this a bit disappointing. "Huh," was all Rivers had to say. They turned their attention back to the excitement.
Actually, a number of people had shown up to watch the event. It had turned into a regular little show for everyone present. People were sitting on the floor, all lined up along the same bulkhead as Doe and Rivers, snacking or talking or just watching the engineers at work. Fifty-six people lived and worked on the Swiss Roll, and about 30 of those people were present with more coming and going as they pleased or as their schedules allowed. Not that they paid any attention to their schedules.
No one was actually quite sure what was going on, or what the engineers were doing. Truth be told, they weren't doing that much. Several engineers were scanning the bulkhead repeatedly and looking at the readings with interest. Others were looking at a layout of this particular junction - although they were actually looking at the layouts for D453, not D452. Some were just milling about, waiting for something to do. No one was actually trying to extricate the kitten, which was still meowing fiercely, with the spirit of, well, a kitten. In the midst of all this, French was having the time of her life, shouting orders above the clutter of voices, stalking about, snatching scanners out of people's hands, and interjecting a maniacal laugh every few minutes.
No one had seen the captain. It was perfectly feasible that he had slept through the entire episode, as Doe had suggested. The fact was, he was a sugar addict. No lie. He would go into fits of jelly bean chomping, and pop guzzling (he poured packets of granulated sugar into his glass). He would reach a tremendous high, go off and order the shooting of some alien vessels, and then crash, knocked out cold once the saccharine goodness had left his system. Doe liked to call those incidents divine providence at times like these.
Eventually some progress was made. Clearly, who had been pacing the corridor until security had started poking him with their rifle ends, was now talking directly to the bulkhead, hoping Miss Fiznibbits would understand him. She probably did, because she kept on meowing, perhaps more in protest than anything else. Three engineers moved in on the bulkhead, splicers flashing, ready for action. Clearly stumbled aside, something her was exceptionally good at.
It was at this time that three more crewmembers arrived. Two men and a woman, all of the same height, hair and eye color. Which was brown. Not their height, though. That was 5' 10". Incidentally, they all had the same last name as well, although they weren't twins or anything interesting like that. Just freaks. Really big freaks. They saw Doe sitting and immediately cut a path for her, freaks on a mission. "Ma'am," they said in unison.
"Masterson," she acknowledged. She liked using their name as a collective noun. It made her feel powerful.
"We're doing an article for the ship newspaper. The Swiss Roll Gazette. Can we get some quotes from you, ma'am?"
"I didn't even know we had a ship newspaper." Doe felt a little left out. She had gotten extremely good marks in English as a young girl, and would have liked to at least been asked to do the lunch menu or something.
"It's a new publication, ma'am. Just started it...oh..." the female Masterson checked her watch, and the first male answered, "twenty minutes ago."
"I see. Well, sure, then, ask away."
The second male Masterson started in on the hard-hitting stuff. Questions like, "What kind of kitten is Miss Fiznibbits?", "What's her sign?", and "Is she single?".
"She's a cat," Doe reminded him.
"Right. So do you think my cat Fred back home has a chance?"
"Hey." This came from the female Masterson and was addressed not just to Doe, but to the engineers as well. She raised her voice a bit before continuing, so everyone could hear her. "Couldn't you guys just open up the door right there and get her out?" Masterson was indicating a junction door - the type Miss Fiznibbits probably had originally jumped into. In fact, it very may well have been the exact one she had jumped into, as it was directly above her present location. Everyone just sort of stopped and stared at her. Doe gave Masterson one of her practiced stares, pointedly put a carrot stick between her teeth and snapped it. In the current silence, it made a resounding SNICKT! and answered Masterson's question quite well indeed.
"It was just an idea," Masterson shrugged. "Gawd." She wandered off a few feet to sulk. Doe shook her head and turned back to the other Masterson. She forgot which one.
And now, with the number of people in the corridor at a record 42, their numbers grew by one more.
In a rather nasal voice, the new arrival called out, "What the hell is this?" As it happens, the owner of the nasal voice was the captain. He was due in for an appearance, of course, and he didn't want to disappoint.
"Sir!" Doe jumped up, and promptly choked on a half-eaten carrot. The captain thumped her on the back a few times, until the offending orangey pulp came back up. "Sir, um, hey!" She coughed. "You should work on your entrance lines, Captain. 'What the hell is this' is a bit cliché."
The captain nodded. "You're probably right, Doe. Let me try that again." He cleared his throat, and worked up to a good bellow. "What in the name of moldy Swiss cheese are all you idiots doing here!"
"Oh, much better, sir."
Doe clasped her hands together and smiled as sweetly as she could. "We're trying to extricate a...creature that had became trapped behind one of the bulkheads."
"What kind of creature?"
"Oh, you know, a cat." Doe coughed and scratched behind her ear, trying to look as uninvolved as possible.
"A cat?" The captain blinked. "Who's cat?" he demanded. With the swiftness of first-grade tattlers, all fingers and eyes zoomed in on Clearly, who cowered masterfully.
The captain stalked over to Clearly, who looked ready to cry. Not that that was new or anything. He leaned right into the pet owner's face and started yelling all over again. "Who brings a cat onto a warship, huh? Does this look like fucking Star Trek to you, Mr. Clearly? Because you are SADLY mistaken! You interrupt my sleep for a goddamned CAT, Mr. Clearly? When we get that little bastard out, I am going to shove both it and you out of the nearest airlock!" He turned to Doe. "How was that?"
"Um, improving sir."
"Good." The captain straightened, pleased with himself.
Clearly managed to clear his throat. "Sir?"
The captain glared at him. It was obvious he got a lot of practice out of his glare. "What?"
"It's not a cat, sir." He sniffled, and wiped a little snot out from under his nose with his sleeve. "It's a kitten."
The captain looked startled. "A kitten, you say?" Clearly nodded, and wiped his nose again. "Well that's completely different now isn't it?"
"Entirely," Clearly agreed. Doe smacked her forehead with her hand hard enough that she saw stars, and even some of their planets, too.
Little did his crew know, Captain Franz Hausen had special place in his heart for kittens. Soft cuddly little friends...Hausen grinned. With a pump of his fist, he cried, "Let's get that kitten out of there!"
Everyone cheered and clapped, and with renewed spirit, the engineers moved in on the bulkhead. "Hey!" the captain interjected. "Can't you just open the junction door right there?" He pointed at junction D452's door with a stubby finger. Somewhere in the hall, Masterson screamed. Several crewmembers - the light bulb changing crew -unlatched it, reached down, and came back up with a mewling little tabby with green eyes. It crouched innocently and did its damnedest to look absolutely, positively precious. And did extremely well. They set it in Clearly's waiting hands, who's face was alight with juvenile joy and pure bliss.
"Aww," the group intoned en masse. The captain wiped a tear from his eye.
"Well, that's rather touching now, isn't it, sir?" Doe said, looking around for her carrot sticks.
"There's nothing better than a little kitten to hold, Doe. Don't forget that." The captain gave Doe a thump on the back and wandered off with a faint smile on his face. Doe blinked, and decided it was time for her to go to bed. Miss Fiznibbits meowed cutely at her as she walked by, weaving in and out of the crowd.
"Yeah, whatever. Hope you're happy." She kicked over Rivers' iced tea and tossed her head and she stalked down the corridor. Her boots squeaked slightly, as responding in their own way to the little kitty.
As the crowd dispersed, little Miss Fiznibbits curled up in her owner's hands and began to purr contentedly. It didn't take her long enough to fall asleep, and it's safe to say her answer to Doe probably would have been, "I'm just freakin' dandy now, thank you very much."