Numero quattro of the Pickled series. Tells the tale of when Cap. Hollister was a spotty youth who sold donuts for a living, and how he managed to clamber up the echelons of command.
Dennis jammed the last carton of ice cream onto the bottom shelf of his trolley and straightened up with a sigh. He pulled a dog-eared notebook out of his inside jacket pocket, flicked through it to about halfway, and took a pencil from behind his ear. He began the monotonous task of checking off every item on the trolley for the stocktaking records. All two hundred and sixty eight items.
This was just one in a series of many monotonous tasks that blended into one another to form one, whole monotonous night. A night which could be placed in a series with many other monotonous nights to make up what was Dennis's monotonous working life. His working life was, however, many times less dull than his recreation time: although if you'd informed him of this directly he would have replied with a most threatening scowl.
Dennis spent his working time at night selling refreshments to burnt out astros in a cinema on a mining ship in the darkest depths of the middle of nowhere. He spent his working time during the day pushing his exact same trolley into every office on the command decks, selling refreshments to stuck-up officers for their enjoyment during lunch and snack periods. He pushed his trolley this way and that for eleven hours every day, often for seven days every week.
But Dennis had a goal, a place to go, and that elevated him above everyone else who shared an equally dull and seemingly dead-end occupation. He was working to save up for three years tuition fees at the Space Corps College, on the Jovian satellite of Callisto. During the few hours left to him every day in between and after work, he revised solidly all the topics necessary for a good captain who wanted to run his ship well. Command procedures, staff organisation methods, warfare tactics and countless other things, too. Only problem was, he was Dennis The Donut Boy. It was like an SAT student revising degree level quantum physics: he was just getting too ahead of himself, and like an SAT student reading quantum physics, he didn't take very much of his studies in.
The same sort of thing could have been said about his choice of work. His best bet would have been to get a job cleaning windows, bagging groceries or serving coffee actually on Callisto, so he could have studied while he worked. Instead, he had applied for a job on a spaceship, deluding himself that 'Donut Boy in Space' would sound more impressive to a Space Corps College selection committee than 'Donut Boy on Land'. It was a bit like a guy trying to prise his way into an executive position at Microsoft or ICI by applying for a job there as a security guard.
Perhaps you're getting the picture. Dennis lived and breathed to be a Space Corps captain. He was very eager, and he couldn't wait. It didn't matter to him that he only had four GCSEs; all below grade 'E'. It perturbed him not that he couldn't even spell 'Crystalline Turbine Drive'. The fact that he didn't know the difference between port and starboard was not something he saw as a hindrance. So long as he studied hard, one day he would get there.
But he wouldn't. After three of what had now become five years on board the mining ship, he'd applied to the College on Callisto and they'd told him rather matter-of-factly that he simply didn't meet their entrance requirements.
He was three stone over their weight cut-off point. He was too heavy. So, positive as ever, he'd resolved then and there to go on a diet. The College told him there wasn't much point because if it came down to it, he was too stupid to get in anyway. In all honesty, if he'd been as thin as a beanpole they'd still have told him to sod off.
So for the past two years Dennis had been carrying on as normal. Working at night, working during the day, and somehow managing to fit in five hours of revision, everyday for over seven hundred days. Still harbouring that dream of one day becoming a Space Corps captain. It was the only thing that kept him going. Dennis ticked off the last 'Frutee Cone' on his list, replaced the pad in his pocket and the pencil behind his ear, and sighed once more before pushing the trolley between the drapes and down the ramp into the cinema aisles.
'I should be in those offices,' he told himself. 'I should be the guy who buys a cheese and onion buttie and a banana yoghurt every morning and says "see ya tomorrow, Dennis the Donut Boy," in that utterly patronising way. I should be that commander who puts his hand up to silence me every time I come to his door, because he's doing something so important he simply can't be interrupted. When do I ever find myself doing something, which simply can't be interrupted? Never, that's when.'
Dennis wheeled his trolley away from the commander's office door and trundled down the long corridor towards the captain's office. He held his ID card up to the two guards at the security point who waved him on, and he turned the corner into the room. The captain flicked his eyes up to see who it was and then flicked them back down onto his paperwork when he saw it was only Dennis. Dennis waited.
This often happened. The captain had to finish something off before he could pay attention to Dennis. Dennis waited for a few more minutes. And a few more. And a few more. He stood there, in silence, for fifteen whole minutes. This was too much. It was unbelievable: who did the captain think he was? Well, the captain, obviously. However, that didn't give him the right to be so rude! Just because Dennis was a Donut Boy didn't mean he didn't have places to go, schedules to keep and deadlines to meet. It was so unfair! If Dennis had been captain he would have just bought his bag of smoky bacon crisps, his can of coke and his blueberry muffin, and then he would have handed over the cash and told the Donut Boy 'thank you' and 'you're dismissed'. It needn't take more than thirty seconds. But the captain had kept him waiting there like some sort of servant for a quarter of an hour!
And after fifteen minutes, the captain got up out of his office chair, said: "excuse me for a minute, Dennis," and left the room. Dennis was furious. How had this complete Gimp ever become captain?! Who had he impressed enough to be promoted time, after time, after time, and then to be given his own command?
Dennis stood still for a second and then decided to speed up the proceedings as far as he could by getting the captain's food ready before he got back. He selected the customary bag of crisps, muffin and can of coke and placed them in a neat triangle on a part of the desk that didn't seem to busy. And then he saw it.
Half covered by a stack of papers, next to the captain's 'Ganymede Holiday Inn' souvenir mug, was a small computer disk. On that small disk were printed the words:
CAPTAIN'S CREW EVALUATIONS, MISSION LOG AND COMMAND REPORT.
A thought occurred to Dennis. That disk could be very useful. Maybe he was too heavy, and maybe he was too dumb, but if he had that disk he would have all the stuff he needed right in the palm of his hand. He could learn how to command; he could suck up to every officer on the ship; he could be the guy who everyone on the ship knew was destined for better things. He snatched the disk up off the desk and put it in his pocket. No, that was stupid: if he took it, it would be missed. He reluctantly removed the disk from his pocket and dropped it back onto the desk. This was even worse than before! This was beyond unfair!
Not only did he have to wait on the captain like some sort of nothing, he also had to sit idly by and watch his one chance of making it dissolve before his very eyes. Like a famine-stricken thirld-worlder with a can of beans and no can opener. Like a kleptomaniac who finds a two-tonne lump of gold in the street, and can't bloody move it. Like a lottery player who knows the winning numbers, but can't travel a lousy half an hour into the past to get them actually printed on a ticket. These were the sort of things that obstructed people all the time: no kitchen utensils; no handy forklift truck; no time machine - and no disk copier.
A disk copier! That was it! He could copy the disk on the captain's computer - take one and leave the other! It was genius. But he had to act fast. How long would the captain be away? Dennis checked his watch. The good ol' cap' had been gone for a minute and a half - he wouldn't be back for a little while longer. Not unless he'd developed a politeness gene in the last few moments.
Dennis dropped his muffins and skipped round the desk. He grabbed the disk again, opening its casing and fumbling it into the computer disk drive. He turned on the computer. There passed a few silent seconds while the machine rotated into life. What if the captain came back now? There would be no way Dennis could explain this. What could he say? 'Sorry, Sir, the confidential report disk jumped into the drive and I was just trying to get it out.' That wouldn't work. He selected the COPY icon on the screen.
"COPY TO WHERE?" Said the computer rather loudly and sarcastically, and Dennis scrabbled at the volume knob to stop it saying anything else that might alert someone to the fact that the Donut Boy was stealing highly classified information. He stopped to think. Copy to where! He didn't have another disk. Panic tore through him: he was going to appear on 'Solar System's Dumbest Criminals'!
Dennis flung open the desk drawers, pushing papers left and right, rummaging about for an elusive blank disk. Then he heard a sound outside. A voice. Then another. He felt a disk case with the tip if his finger, and pulled it out from under a pile of plastic wallets. It was blank. More voices. A bit of muffled laughter. It was the captain! He must be joking with the guards. Dennis froze: this was it. He was caught.
Wait, though. The captain was still talking. Dennis might still have time. He had to try. If he waited now he would definitely be caught: if he hurried up there was a slight chance he wouldn't. It was like when you see a bus you want to catch at a stop way up the road, and you think to yourself 'I'm not going to run for it, because even if I do I won't get there before it pulls off, and if that happens, I'll look like an utter tit,' but you walk slowly towards the bus stop with an eye to catching the next one. The bus doesn't pull off, though, but you keep walking and telling yourself 'it'll go in a second, it'll go in a second', but it doesn't and by now you could have caught it if you'd run in the first place, and you get closer and closer and it still hasn't gone, so you think 'what the hell' and start running and just as you do it farts black smoke in your face and speeds off.
And now, just because you didn't hurry in the first place, you have to wait an hour for the next bus and you look a tit. So I suppose the moral of the story is that time spent worrying is time that could be spent doing. Or that time spent looking like a tit is time you could be spending worrying, although the first one is probably the most pertinent here. Dennis jammed the blank disk into the second drive and hit COPY again. The computer began to duplicate the files. Then the voices outside stopped, and Dennis knew that the speakers had said goodbye. The monitor flashed repeatedly:
Footsteps clicked down the corridor.
Closer and closer, and now the captain was right outside the door. Dennis held his breath. And then, as if decreed by God himself, there came a blessing from heaven and the chiming of a dozen silver pieces falling to the ground rung in Dennis's ears. The captain had dropped his money! Dennis heard him stooping to pick it up. The computer finished its cycle. Dennis ejected the disks and threw the original back into its casing, flinging it at the desk. He switched off the computer. The captain rounded the door, counting the coins in his hand. Dennis span round the desk, the copied disk still in his hand, and stood behind his trolley.
The captain looked up at Dennis. Then he looked at his desk. Then he looked back at Dennis. A bead a sweat trickled its way down Dennis's back. What was it? Did the captain know? The drawer! He'd forgotten to close the drawer!. Dennis looked at the desk in panic - no, the drawer was closed. What, then?
"You've already got my food ready, Dennis. That was good of you. I am in a rush, as you can probably appreciate, so that was very good of you." So he had seen the food on the desk, that was it. He didn't know! Dennis let out the air he'd been holding in his lungs.
"That's two dollarpounds sixty-five, right, Dennis?" Continued the captain, and held out a handful of small coins. Dennis reached out to receive the money: and saw the disk was still in his palm. He thought fast.
"Er, no, Sir. It's gone down. New policy down at 'M' block. That'll be just two fifty, please."
"Oh, that's good, isn't it." The captain muttered half to himself, and removed the necessary amount from the number of coins in his hand. Dennis looked down at the trolley and jammed the disk in a convenient cream cake. The captain held out his hand again, and Dennis shot his up to meet it, taking the coins and then dropping them into his change bag.
"Thank you, captain. I'll see you again tomorrow." And with that Dennis left the room.
After eight full years hard blackmailing and general sucking up Dennis finally reached the rank of commander. He sat at his desk all day, buying Donuts from the guy who had used to be commander, and returning to his original fighting weight that he had enjoyed before his crash diet. Dennis had gone out of his way to demote the commander frequently every Christmas for the last eight years, much to the dismay of the poor soul who couldn't fathom out what he was doing wrong. The ship had a new captain by then. The old one, the one Dennis had stolen the reports from, had been made an admiral long ago. In fact, Dennis was one of the few officers who had been on board for more than five years. The disk was, by now, pretty much useless. There was nobody to bribe, nobody to blackmail, and the sucking up material was completely gone. It took another three years of hard work before Dennis finally came up for promotion again, and this time he had earned it.
He changed his name one final time to completely erase the past, becoming Frank Hollister, and was reassigned to a battered old mining ship called the Red Dwarf. Yes, he was too big, and yes, he was too dumb. But Dennis the Donut Boy had made it in the end. He was a captain at last.