Mythaxis

The Enormous Gun


Damon Harkness


I had no intention of publishing a one-act play when I started this magazine, but The Enormous Gun is sf, and amusing, so why not?

Scene: A huge room painted in battleship grey, very naval in appearance. The breech of a very large gun projects into the room. A control desk is centre left. There are various warning signs, covering matters as diverse as cautions against firing the gun by mistake, and penalties for using the toilet during action stations.

Enter Commander Elaine Fisher. She is an impressive early middle-aged woman, dressed in a Naval uniform with medal ribbons, a peaked cap and lots of gold braid. She steps up to the control console and presses her forefinger to the screen.

Computer (a mellifluous female voice, that speaks in a totally unruffled and deliberate manner throughout): Arsole.


Elaine: What? Did you say 'arsehole'?


Computer: Groblag funt. Arsole.


Elaine: Oh, dear. Wrong language... Um... Menu!


Computer: Groblag funt.


Elaine: (louder) MENU!


Computer: Groblag funt. (pause) Arsole.


Elaine: Same to you.


Computer: Groblag funt.


Elaine: (pressing a button on the console (every time she speaks to the Lieutenant, she presses the button)) Lieutenant White, are you there?


Lieutenant George White (a tinny voice over an intercom): Yes, Commander.


Computer: Groblag funt.


Lt. White: What did you say, Commander?


Elaine: That was the gun control, Lieutenant. It keeps talking in a foreign language and I can't get the menu up to change it to standard Anglic.


Lt. White: What is it saying?


Elaine: Sounds like 'groblag funt'.


Computer: Arsole.


Elaine: And 'arsehole'.


Lt. White: Oh, yes. The Centaurians were on shift just before you. Our chaps have been having a good laugh at that. 'Arsole' is Centauri for 'Ready', and that 'funt' thing means 'Please repeat'.


Elaine: Very funny, I'm sure, Lieutenant, but I am currently responsible for one of the largest artillery pieces in the galaxy, and I cannot control it in Centauri. How do I get the menu up and set it for Anglic?


Computer: Arsole.


Lt. White: Sorry, Commander. Just a minute... Sergeant Black thinks he knows the Centauri for 'Menu'.


Elaine: Good.


Computer: Arsole.


Elaine: Shut up.


Computer: Groblag funt.


Elaine: Hurry up, Lieutenant. This artillery battery is key to our defence against the aliens. We are stuck out here on this disgusting asteroid to defend the inner planets of the Solar System against invasion, and the controller doesn't even understand Anglic.


Lt. White: The thing is, this is a new version of the control software. Previously, it only worked in Anglic, but the ExtremelyTinySoft Corporation sent an update with all the Centauri vocabulary in it. The Centaurians were quite thrilled. So were the Altairians.


Elaine: Stop gabbling, Lieutenant, what's the Centauri for Menu?


Lt. White: Got it, Commander. Jim says it sounds like 'Peepee shitbag'. Try that.


Elaine: (quietly) 'Peepee shitbag'? Are these Centaurians winding us up?


Lt. White: Very possibly. They have a strange sense of humour.


Elaine: OK. Peepee shitbag!


Computer: Peepee shitbag: Sodaly futtock. Invalog fragpot. Armpit. Sock lagging. (pause) Rotanic limbo. Arsole.


Elaine: In Anglic, for heaven's sake!


Computer: Groblag funt. (pause) Peepee shitbag: Sodaly futtock. Invalog fragpot. Armpit. Sock lagging. (pause) Rotanic limbo. Arsole.


Elaine: Lieutenant? I seem to have found the menu, but I don't know which item is the language change.


Lt. White: Ah.. Hang on.


Alert Mechanism (a loud, urgent-sounding mechanical voice (think Dalek)): Luggage! Luggage! Parson frogyot haddaway sompom! Tammas erticol humpoy.


Elaine: Oh, God. Now we've got an alert. Hurry!


Lt. White: No, sorry, Commander, Jim isn't exactly fluent in Centauri. His vocabulary is limited to ordering food, drink and uh... certain other services. And a few endearments, apparently.


Elaine: Well, isn't there a Centaurian there?


Lt. White: No, Commander. The Centaurian tour of duty ended an hour ago, and they have all left the fort in an ion frigate. We are trying to contact them, but radio communications are flaky during the ion drive phase of acceleration, so it may be an hour or two.


Elaine: This is intolerable. There's an alert here and even that's in Centauri. Can I reboot this thing and start again?


Computer: Groblag funt. (pause) Peepee shitbag: Sodaly futtock. Invalog fragpot. Armpit. Sock lagging. (pause) Rotanic limbo. Arsole.


Alert Mechanism: Luggage! Luggage! Parson frogyot haddaway sompom! Tammas ragbucket humpoy.


Lt. White: That's it, of course, Commander. A reboot should do it! If you study the frame of the screen, you'll see a tiny hole at the bottom right. Just poke something in there and hold it for a second or two. Then you'll hear a bleep. That puts it in language detect mode. Just say something in Anglic and it'll start up, in Anglic this time.


Elaine: (peers at the screen, then pats her pockets, and looks around the room desperately. Takes out a pen and pokes at the framework, mutters.) Lieutenant! I haven't got anything small enough to go in the hole. Can you send someone down with a paper clip.


Lt. White: Ahhh... no can do, I'm afraid. During an alert, the door to the control chamber is time-locked to prevent desertion, remember. It opens if you happen to die, of course, but I don't suppose...


Elaine: Not yet. Oh, wait. There's a pin on my medal ribbons. (She removes the ribbons and pokes the hole.)


Computer: (long bleep)


Alert Mechanism: Luggage! Luggage! Parson frogyot haddaway sompom! Tammas lizardmum humpoy.


Computer: Braglat. Korpun summolpotril soup.


Elaine: Damn! It heard the alert so it's dropped back into Centauri.


Lt. White: That's OK. Just poke it again.


Elaine: (pokes the hole)


Computer: (long bleep)


Elaine: Menu!


Computer: Welcome. Insert installation disc.


Elaine: (Rummages around the desktop and finds a disc. Rams it into the computer.)


Computer: Right way around, please.


Elaine: (Pulls out the disc, turns it round. Rams it back into the computer, snarling.)


Computer: Menu: Language. Gun setup. Date and time. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Gun setup.


Computer: Automatic or manual.


Elaine: Ohhhh... automatic, I suppose.


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range eight minutes.


Computer: Please repeat.


Elaine: (shouting) Automatic!


Computer: Please specify automatic option number.


Elaine: Lieutenant! What's the automatic option number!


Lt. White: Oh, that! We haven't got around to automatics yet. We're still doing manual.


Elaine: Menu!


Computer: Menu: Language. Gun setup. Date and time. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Gun setup.


Computer: Automatic or manual.


Elaine: Manual.


Computer: Manual: Ammunition type. Spread definition. Identify incoming hostile. Fire. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Identify.


Computer: You must specify ammunition type.


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range seven minutes.


Computer: Please repeat. Manual: Ammunition type. Spread definition. Identify incoming hostile. Fire. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Ammunition type, then!


Computer: Ammunition type: Laser. Projectile. Dummy. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Projectile!


Computer: Projectile type: Single projectile. Cluster mines. Toasters. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Toasters!?


Computer: Toasters: Single slice or double slice. Exit. Choose an option. Ready. This joke was brought to you by Ernest Hubble, programmer at ExtremelyTinySoft Corporation. Enjoy.


Elaine: Ernest Hubble, you are for the high jump.


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range six minutes.


Computer: Please repeat. Toasters: Single slice or double slice. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Exit.


Computer: Projectile type: Single projectile. Cluster mines. Toasters. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: (interrupting) Cluster!


Computer: Cluster mines chosen.


Elaine: (interrupting) Exit!


Computer: Don't rush me like that. I'll get to it. Now, Manual: Ammunition type. Spread definition. Identify incoming hostile. Fire. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Identify! Identify!


Computer: Which?


Elaine: Identify!


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range five minutes.


Computer: You must first specify a spread definition.


Elaine: Lieutenant! What's a spread definition?


Lt. White: Search me, Commander. It's a new option. By the way, the rest of us are evacuating the fort now, in line with standing orders. If an incoming hostile spacecraft is less than five minutes away, only the gunnery officer of the day - that's you, Commander - stays at his post... or her post, as the case may be.


Elaine: (bravely) Very well, Lieutenant, carry on.


Lt. White: Aye, aye, sir. And all the guys send their best wishes and so on, of course.


Elaine: (sarcastically) I'm touched.


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range four minutes.


Elaine: Spread option.


Computer: Spread option: Normal. Gaussian. Poissonian. Rectangular. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Aren't Normal and Gaussian the same thing?


Computer: Search me. This is a new option.


Elaine: Normal, then.


Computer: Normal chosen. Spread option: Normal. Gaussian. Poissonian. Rectangular. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: This repetition wastes a lot of time.


Computer: Tell me about it. But then you wouldn't believe the number of idle cycles I have to go through just to wait for your responses. What's it to be?


Elaine: Exit.


Computer: Manual: Ammunition type. Spread definition. Identify incoming hostile. Fire. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Identify.


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range three minutes.


Computer: Approaching craft is of unknown type. Approaching craft does not respond to Interrogation Friend or Foe protocol. Recommendation: Destroy.


Elaine: (hesitates) Fire, then, I suppose.


Computer: Did you say 'Fire'? Please confirm.


Elaine: Fire.


Computer: I must ask you your private question, to confirm your identity.


Elaine: So ask.


Computer: Gobrat pokesto nuik yom boppomast?


Elaine: What?


Computer: Gobrat pokesto nuik yom boppomast?


Elaine: This is not my private question. It's one of the Centaurians'. Take my word for it. Just fire!


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range two minutes.


Computer: Gobrat pokesto nuik yom boppomast? ... Have a guess.


Elaine: I don't believe this shit!


Computer: Correct. 'Shit' is the correct answer.


Elaine: Ok. Good. Fire.


Computer: Firing.


(Loud explosion. The gun recoils into the room. Smoke puffs out. The lights dim and flicker. Small items fall off the desktop.)


Elaine: Good God. What was that? I thought these guns were silent, smokeless and recoilless in operation.


Computer: That is true. The side effects are an enhancement introduced recently by the ExtremelyTinySoft Corporation to increase the apparent power of the weapon. Silent, odourless, vibrationless operation is unimpressive, according to focus group feedback.


Elaine: I see. Damage report, please.


Computer: One moment... All systems working correctly.


Elaine: How about the incoming spacecraft?


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft detected! Range one minute.


Computer: Miss.


Elaine: We missed?


Computer: Missed, yes. Cluster mines cannot be deployed close to the asteroid, to avoid what we call 'friendly demolition'. You should have used lasers.


Elaine: Now you tell me. Manual!


Computer: Manual: Ammunition type. Spread definition. Identify incoming hostile. Fire. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Ammunition type!


Computer: Ammunition type: Laser. Projectile. Dummy. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Laser.


Computer: Laser selected. Manual: Ammunition type. Spread definition. Identify incoming hostile. Fire. Exit. Choose an option. Ready.


Elaine: Fire.


Computer: Target out of range.


Elaine: How can that be?


Computer: Targets behind the fort are out of range.


Alert Mechanism: Alert! Alert! Unidentified spacecraft has docked with fort! Action Stations! (A few Ahooga! Ahooga! noises here)


Unidentified Voice (when speaking Anglic, speaks with a foreign accent over the intercom): Rama! Rama! Spinfork dogwick loglog sucko.


Elaine: Identify yourself.


Voice (pause) Hello! Hello! Take me to your leader.


Elaine: Who the hell is this? As if I can't guess.


Voice: Very sorry. Commander Catcrap of the Centaurian Navy here. We came back because I just remembered that I left the control system in Centauri language mode. I hope it caused no trouble.


Elaine: Thank you, Commander. Nothing we couldn't handle.


Computer: Catcrap.


Date and time of last update 00:43 Mon 01 Jun 2009
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