Let me tell you, escaping from persistent doors is far too exhausting of an activity. I got too far into trying to figure this out because when I reached the "POST OFFICE" and got my gun, I was far too tired to do anything with it against the door. I was in fact so exhausted that I sat on a gnarly, ancient couch and passed right out.
I’ll never forget what my radiation-marinated brain concocted while I slept. The door chased me even in my dreams, refusing to go away. At least, I realised that this was indeed a dream, as I was running away from it across green meadows covered in well-baked bread, rainbows and sunshine. I ran from the sunshine and from the meadows and eventually I was back where I started, beneath dark stormy skies, with yesterday's ruins surrounding me.
"LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU STUPID DOOR!" I screamed at it. The door silently hung in front of me.
"FINE! FINE! I see how it's going to be!" I walked towards the door, annoyance pushing away fear. "Is this what you want?" I seized the handle and turned the knob.
Captain stood within the doorway, purple lenses glittering.
"YOU!" I snarled and caught a hold of the mask. "HOW DARE YOU?!" I ripped the mask off Captain's face.
What I saw when the mask finally came off in my dream was horrible beyond words. Behind the mask was a gnarly smile, stretched in all directions, teeth too wide, an inhuman, grayscale face with beady white eyes.
<"DO YOU HAVE A ...PROBLEM?" The hideous smile spoke, taking the mask out of my shaking hands.
I woke up screaming and saw Pilot standing in front of me, holding what looked like a moldy, gray puffin toy. I looked at the puffin. Its blue, plastic eyes reflected my own face back at me.
I sighed deeply, relaxing.
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, considering the company. Pilot made sense now. He was just like a child, his mind clearly broken by whatever tragedies the end of the world gave him.
“IS THE GOODLYGEEK 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 goggles. “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!?”
I saw Pilot struggle with the concept of dates and memes. It was impossible to explain anything to his broken mind. Pilot cuddled the puffin, clearly unable to process anything "BEFORE CAPTAIN".
Personally, 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 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. That's when I found out that Pilot tied to to the couch while I slept.
. . .
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. At least 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.
Since there’s no one left alive to judge me, I might as well admit to sneaking around after Captain, 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.
“NEVER FEAR, SNIPSTER! CAPTAIN WILL PROTECT YOU WITH ZEER ENDLESS POWERS OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP,”
Pilot told me beamingly, interrupting my pondering about laws.
“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.
. . .
It took only 7 hours of hunger and 3 hours of "Praising Captain-ness” and I was finally free from couch prison.
Firstly, I consumed a few of yesteryear tuna cans to replenish my strength and then I went to complain at Captain about Pilot’s behavior.
I found Captain "searching for zee deep webs" in a nearby room.
"HELLO COMPUTER... I’D LIKE ONE FREE INTERNET PLEASE" Captain declared at a shattered computer screen. "MAYBE IF I TWIDDLE THESE WIRES..."
"YOU ARE AN IDIOT." I commented on the situation.
"WHAT? NO. WHY?" Captain rumbled back, rubbing two wires together in an attempt to make the long-dead computer come alive.
"LOOK." I picked up a broken cellphone. "TO ILLUSTRATE, I SHALL TAKE A PHOTO OF YOUR EPIC FAILURE WITH MY PHONE."
Captain beamed back a smile, giving me a thumbs up. My thick sarcasm obviously didn't reach zeer.
. . .
You'd think that Captain would have given up after realizing the computer was simply broken and that there was no way in hell there'd be a working "internet signal". Of course not! Captain grabbed the broken cellular out of my hand and started to call "THE MOST HIDEOUSLY OUTSOURCED TECH SUPPORT DEPARTMENT".
I stared at Captain's madness in bemusement.
The one sided conversation went as follows:
"HELLO? TECH SUPPORT?"
"DAMN IT! NOT ANOTHER BLOATED, VOICE-RECOGNIZER-ANSWERING AUTOMATION!"
"TWELFTH AND A HALF STREET. APARTMENT SEVENTY BEE"
(I think Captain invented our current residence address here)
"AUTHORIZED BY ME, CAPTAIN!"
"THE KING OF FRANCE!"
"ONE THOUSAND AD"
"TREE HUNDRED AND FOURTEY FOUR!"
"GOVERNESS OF ANTARCTICA!"
"JUST PUT ME THROUGH TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE ALREADY!"
"OH YOU HIDEOUS, BLASTED AUTOMATON!"
"NO, I DIDN'T WANT TO HOLD! NOOO!"
(here Captain shook enclosed fists at the sky and handed the phone back to me smugly)
"HOLD THIS FOR ME, MY DEAR. LET ME KNOW WHEN SOMEBODY ANSWERS."
As I took the shattered device from Captain's hand, I could have sworn that for a brief second I heard elevator music playing from the long-dead speaker.