If there’s one thing I like about the vast, frozen hellhole I live in it’s that things are generally pretty simple. I don’t have to pretend I fully understand how bank accounts work or act like I get the rules of G-Soccer anymore. I don’t have to go through the public embarrassment of manually entering keywords into search engines. I hated doing that. It was a clear giveaway to any nosy onlookers that I was one of the useless chaff of modern society. Nobody trusted a guy who couldn’t connect to ANNET’s servers.
In fact, I think I might just be the smartest guy left on the planet, though if I’m honest there’s not much competition. I found a working laser laser pointer last week and got Pilot to spend around three hours chasing the dot. Captain caught me and I was sure I was going to face some bizarre retribution for messing with Captainia’s most loyal servant. Instead, our glorious ruler just started egging Pilot on. Apparently, little red dots are “DIREST ENEMIES OF THE STATE OF CAPTAINIA!”. Who’d have guessed?
But there’s one thing I still don’t get in this dramatically simplified world. Who, or what, exactly, is Captain?
There’s not too much else to think about out here. There’s a few other tricky issues for sure, such as “how much longer will we be able to find relatively safe food?” and “it sure sucks that my only radiation-shielded boxers chafe a little,” but before too long my mind always returns to the Captain question.
Anyone could be below that mask and billowing cloak. A man, a woman, a stunning and talented awards-nominated actress, three giant wasteland bugs standing on each other’s oozing carapaces...
Somewhere along the line Captain scored one of those fancy couture gas masks that they sold to wealthy wasteland tourists. Along with purple lenses that shine like polished gemstones, it’s got a souped-up voice modulator and a perpetual subtle smile. I’ve never figured out how they designed a mask to seem so cheerful. Unfortunately, the modulator hasn’t held up to our hostile environment as well as the Captain has. I can’t tell how much voice distortion it actually adds. It could be that the weird, cheesy accent is just a setting the modulator got stuck on. Not that it would be too surprising if that is the authentic voice of Captainia’s fearless leader.
I’ve never really wanted to broach the subject directly. Captain doesn’t always take questions very well, and I don’t want to have to spend a month polishing ice-encrusted pavement with a toothbrush due to my “IMPERTINENT INQUESTS” again anytime soon.
I tried to get Pilot to help me out. If anyone knew something, it would be him.
…It went about as well as could be expected.
Pilot got really excited when I showed an interest in “our Lady and Savior”, and for a few moments I had hope. He started babbling about “THE MOST WONDERIFIC CAPTAIN, TRANSCENDENT OF ALL THINGS!”
After a few migraine-inducing and unhelpful hours of exuberant Baptist-style preaching about Captain I had to interrupt: “Yeah, look I get it—above all things, lord of the entire crappy planet, yep. Just give me a GENDER.”
Pilot just stared implacably from behind opaque green lenses. I got the sense he was pouting about being interrupted. I tried to frame my question in some way that he’d like enough to answer.
“Is Captain the King of Captainia, or Queen?”
“ZEE CAPTAIN IS ZEE CAPTAIN! ZEE IS ONLY ZEERSELF, AND ZEE CLIMBS OVER YOUR PALTRY DIVISIVE NOUNAGE.”
I sighed, ready to give up. Any real information was buried beneath layers of neurosis and delusion. I’d feel bad for Pilot if he didn’t throw me around like a ragdoll whenever he felt the Captain favored me over him. The guy is scary strong.
Since there’s no one left alive to judge me, I might as well admit to sneaking around after Captain later that day, hoping my companion would have to swap out masks to change filters or maybe even take the coat off for a second... What? It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do!
I don’t know why I’m so defensive about this. Manners don’t really apply when society consists of three grubby people, less than half of whom would be considered sane. Besides, the G-Directorate courts ruled privacy an “ARCHAIC NOTION COUNTER TO THE GREATER GOOD” decades before things went bad. I was only being a Good citizen.
Still, I know got too far into trying to figure this out because of what happened last night. I’ll never forget what my radiation-marinated brain concocted while I tried to sleep. What I saw when the mask finally came off in my dream was horrible beyond words.
I woke up screaming, and of course Pilot came scurrying over.
“IS THE DIRECTORATE TICKLING YOUR BRAINSPACES WITH TASTY SLEEP ADVENTURES? MY BROKEN TIARA DOESN’T GIVE ME ANY GOOD ONES ANYMORE! NOW I JUST GET BOTHERSOME ERROR MESSAGES, FLOPPING ALL OVER MY EYES!”
“No, that was not a good dream.” I squinted at Pilot through my googles. “People don’t scream after good dreams… you do understand that, right?”
Pilot didn’t answer, but leaned in with childlike curiosity.
“WAS THERE EXPLODING PINEAPPLES?”
I didn’t bother asking why that was the worst nightmare he could think of.
“No, worse. It was…” I started to answer, forcing myself to say it.
“…Early-2000s memes. Why won’t they just go away!?”
“NEVER FEAR, SNIPSTER! CAPTAIN WILL PROTECT YOU WITH ZEER ENDLESS POWERS OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP,” Pilot told me beamingly.
“Oh, would you give it a rest—wait, what was that?” At last, I felt a realization slowly dawning on me.
“Never fear. Captain will protect you with ZEER endless powers of”—
“—Zeer!” I exclaimed. All this time, I’d thought Pilot was imitating Captain’s accent, or maybe just struggling with English in general. Suddenly I got it. He’d found his own surprisingly straightforward answer to the Captain’s gender issue. Finally my brain clicked. Since I couldn't apply he or she to Captain... Zee was a zee. Obviously!
“Maybe you do have more than three working neurons rattling around in there,” I told Pilot.
Now I had only ancient memes and my boxers to ponder.