With a grim expression that warned "Don't mess with me -- I'm the decider", the man in the flightsuit stomped up the gangplank of the docked oil tanker. Entering the bridge, he slammed his helmet down on a counter and turned toward the ship's central control panel. "I'm Walker, Texas pilot" he said. "Do you believe in democracy, or am I just wasting my time with another idiotarian boatbrain?"
Deep inside the metal shell he faced, floating in nutrient fluids and wired up to the ship's massive computers, the human brain at the core of the vessel considered the question from this pushy person. She also noticed the interesting bulging of his manly form. A lifetime in an artificial womb without romance suddenly overwhelmed her mind and she was entranced. In fact, in months to come she would begin to secretly fantasize about him as her husband. "Of course," she replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Thank Jesus," he said with relief. "I thought there were nothing but crass materialists docked in this port. None of those fancy almighty ships of state was interested in carrying my cargo. The H. A. Kissinjure
hissed "Thiss iss dissruptiff." The J. A. Breaker
, even though it's a fellow Texan, opined that "It wouldn't be prudent. Bad for bidness." Even the C. L. Prowl
, a former battleship, rejected it as "a bridgehead too far". But all that won't stop me. I know I'm on a mission from God to free mankind. And if it takes force to do it to people for their own good, then so be it."
Wonderful, she thought, falling deeper in love, he's an idealist, too. "As it happens," she said, "I'm a big fan of Leo Strauss myself. How can I help you eradicate evil?"
"I want to bring democracy to the suffering victims of the bloody tyrant that rules Iraq. To do that, I need to take them a shipload of brand new Diebold voting machines, so that they can hold free elections without worrying about extremists winning. Are you with me or against me?" he asked.
This was the chance she had dreamed of. From the very first, when she was one of the very rare female brains installed in a ship, she had suffered discrimination from the old fashioned sexist vessels who thought women's brains were just bad luck. They'd say to the shipping companies "Look at the M. K. Allblight
. What a mess she made! If you're going to put another girl in a boat, don't make it a big complex cargo ship. Give her one of those simple tin-can oil tankers." And so they had. Even then, the grumblings from the other tankers finally convinced the executives to change her name from her own musical feminine one to the neutral and boring Altered V'ger
. Now the big boats were too stuck in their own mental mud to rewrite reality. She jumped at the chance to show them all. "Count me in!"
The Texas Pilot warned that there was lots of angry opposition to his project. So many columnists and pundits and mediamongers and peacebloggers would be attacking him loudly that he would have to cut himself off from their carping. "It'll be worse than Odysseus sailing past the Sirens. I'll put on my eyeshades, and put in my earplugs, so that the noisy nay-sayers won't bother me. You will have to steer yourself while holding up under the verbal assaults of surrenderists. Can you handle that?"
"Don't worry," she told him. "I have a perfect way to ignore any external distractions. Over the years, I have taken up a hobby: operating the player piano in my main galley. By performing a sufficiently demanding piece, I will have to concentrate so intensely the shouts will not bother me at all. For this I'll play the toughest work of all, the notoriously difficult Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor. In honor of the occasion, I'll refer to it as the Iraq Three."
Walker's prediction came true. The ranting against his mission as a fool's errand began even as the voting machines were loading. He ignored the critics, unable to see or hear. To drive them out of her own mind, the Altered V'ger
finally had to start playing the first movement of the Concerto (tempo: Aggressivamente
Once at sea, she kept up her own volume as the negative raving continued by the pessimistic broadcast media. Throughout the journey, she continued to recite the same mantra that the Texas pilot had given her: "I'll free Iraq ... I'll free Iraq ... I'll free Iraq...."
Only when she sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, dangerously close to the Iranioids, did she ease up on her piano for the second movement (tempo: Disonesto
). At last, shoving aside the protesting landing craft from greenpeaceniks clogging the Iraqi port, she blew her whistles in joy. She chanted to herself: "I've freed Iraq ... I've freed Iraq ... I've freed Iraq ...."
Then she was hailed by a friendly ship from Britain: "You've finally come with those voting devices? Good show, old girl! But I'm rather afraid you're a bit late. The whole place has gone up in a sectarian bloodbath. Let the wogs fry in their own sand, I say. We're off for home again, and you might want to do the same. Cheerio!"
Well, that put a damper on her spirits. Walker, awakened and informed, refused to let this difficult journey go to waste: "Barnacle bottom, if you're still with me, then let's head east. There's another place we need to liberate just across the Gulf. This time let's not hesitate or hold back." And so they sailed toward the sunrise, ignoring the "I told you so's" and prophets of doom, as she loudly launched into the third movement (tempo: Esplosivo nucleare
), and began repeating her new mantra: "I'll free Iran ... I'll free Iran ... I'll free Iran...." (With thanks to Homer, and to Sergei, and above all to Anne.)