Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all –
"It was a nice idea for the kids around Christmas," Captain Fox grumbled from behind him, "but it will bring the Crown troops after us if they hear it."
"And by the way: we are heading for Easter, Doc," Gooseman added. He stood at the door with his back towards his teammates, securing their theft of Crown data with his watch over the corridor outside. "Even I know that."
"Silence, please. The doctor is operati–"
"Silence isn't the problem. It's more the lack of silence..." the ST specified. "And you better hurry," he growled, suddenly atypically serious. "We're about to have company."
A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon –
"Obviously not," Zachary concluded dryly, checking the files in his inbox. "When do you think you'll be done, Doc?"
"Hopefully soon..." Hartford looked in concentration at the dancing holographic display above his CDU. "It must be the automated sound playback. Somehow there's a connection with the background music player that I hadn't noticed before, and–"
"Doc," Zachary smiled grimly, "please spare me the details. I don't get any of it. I just want to know when you'll be able to do your job without torturing our ears."
"Hey, it's a nice song!"
"Not after two months." The captain shook his head. "And it's sticking in my mind." He lowered his voice. "I'm sick of 'Jingle bells.'" Everyone in the room turned towards him. He sighed and shrugged. "I'm just a human being."
"And you're stirring your coffee in the rhythm of 'Jingle Bells,'" Niko snickered.
Zachary dropped his teaspoon as if it was glowing red hot.
"Ok..." Doc bit his lip in concentration. "I'm done." With a theatrical gesture, he restarted his CDU, and
.HGIELS NEPO ESROH-ENO A NI
EDIR OT SI TI NUF TAHW HO –
,YAW EHT LLA ELGNIJ
SLLEB ELGNIJ, SLLEB –
thundered as an infernal noise through the room. Niko screamed and pressed her hands over her ears. Zachary covered his ears, too. Goose reached for his blasters, and only Doc's hasty reduction of his CDU's volume saved it from being burned to slag. Doc sighed deeply and grinned apologetically at his teammates. "I'm sorry, folks."
Zachary shoved his hand through his hair. "At least it wasn't 'Jingle Bells.'"
"It was!" Goose snickered. "Backwards."
"It was 'Jingle Bells,' Zach. In reverse play," Niko clarified.
"That's impossible." Doc snorted. "Nothing like that could happen with my hardware–"
"Hrmpf. GV, acoustic reverse play of the last sounds out of the CDU, moderate volume," Zachary ordered.
– bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
"Impossible?" The Captain asked ironically with his brows raised questioningly at Doc. "Doesn't seem so."
"No buts, Doc. Solve the problem." In a voice bearing slight hints of despair, Zach added: "I can't stand another mission with this song playing whenever you do something."
"Yes, Doc." Goose leaned back in his seat and put his hands over his heart in a mocking gesture. "Please... save us from 'Jingle Bells.'"
Niko at the desk next to him giggled.
"Hey! If all of you are done making fun of me, you might notice that I actually solved the problem!" Doc flourished his CDU with the gesture of a showmaster assistant on Tri-D. "As you can hear – or rather, not hear – it's working soundlessly!"
Zachary sighed. "Finally." He turned back to his report on their last mission.
"Great." Goose swiveled round in his chair. "What was wrong?"
"You wouldn't understand even if I made the effort to tell you, my Goose man." Doc stared in full concentration at the holographic display rotating above his CDU... And no way am I going to confess that I didn't solved anything, just deactivated the sound device... If only the system messages shown in the display were written in a larger font.
"Phew. At least I'm almost done– What?!!" Zachary jerked back from his desk, causing all of them to look at him in alarm. Again. He whirled round. "Doc! What am I supposed to make of this?!" Zach pointed angrily at Pixel, dancing soundlessly above the pad that held his report and causing single letters on the displayed page to blip in a different color than the rest of the text.
"Pixel! In here! Immediately!" Doc commanded his program. With no result. He hurried to his captain's desk. "I'm sorry, Zach. There's something wrong–"
"I already noticed that," Fox said in a frighteningly calm voice. "And–"
"Why are single letters in your text suddenly being highlighted?" Niko, looking over Zach's shoulder, asked him.
"I didn't highlight anything. That was this sparkle." He looked, frowning, at his report, read the blinking letters aloud in order... "A–d-a-y–o-r–t-w-o–a-g-o–- DOC!!!" This time he actually did shout.
"I thought 'Jingle Bells' was over with," Niko said carefully.
"You didn't listen carefully, Niko," Goose grinned. "'Jingle Bells' aloud was over with. This is 'Jingle Bells' soundless."
"Oh, shut up!" Doc snapped at him. "You stay in there!" He ordered Pixel after he successfully caught the program with his CDU.
Zachary returned to his desk and corrected his report's appearance on the display. He scanned briefly through it, typed a final note and saved it. "Okay. I'm taking this to the commander. Personally. I'll be back in about an hour. And by then you've better have solved that problem, Lieutenant Hartford." He stalked out of the room.
I shouldn't have lost my temper. Zachary sighed inwardly. His discussion with Walsh of the events of the last mission had taken longer than he'd expected. At least Doc had had enough time to find out what was wrong with his equipment. Zach shook his head, opened the door, and was welcomed by...
– seated by my side;
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot,
We ran into a drifted bank
And there we got –
"Oh no, not again!" Doc screamed at his desk in frustration. Goose and Niko were nowhere to be seen.
Fox took in breath to indicate his arrival, but Doc erased the sound, while muttering to himself:
"...that can't be... that's impossible... So, there's the subroutine that calls the speakers... and it is called by... Ha! Finally!" Doc marked an entry in the active program list and hit the key to confirm the uninstall command. "No background music player means no background music!" The holographic display rotating above the CDU began to blur, and suddenly where it had been clear with floating green glowing letters it was azure blue with brilliant white, jaggy text large enough that even Zach could read it from his place at the door:
FATAL SYSTEM ERROR PROGRAM UNKNOWN CAUSED UNKNOWN ERROR AT MEMORY LOCATION UNKNOWN IN MODULE UNKNOWN
"Holy shit! I'm BeSODed!!!"
The azure holographic display slowly opened at the top. Program sparkles scurried out of it as it unfolded, its tips sinking down along the sides till it flapped across the backs of Doc's hands. Zach thought, it looked like the opened flower of a big, empty, blue banana peel with program sparkles dancing above it like stamen. Unfortunately, they weren't stamen. More unfortunately, the overlaid sound device deactivation command seemed to be disabled, too.
=Hey!!! What did you do to our home?! Doc, I'm going to miss the byt'a'roller final game!= Pathfinder squirked and flashed violently.
=You ruined my date!= Lifeline flashed furiously and sent out a couple of sparks. =The tech mainframe central AI will never–,= the sparkle changed its color from light green to the deep red of shame as it interrupted itself, =again!=
=Oh, Lifey, put a lid on it! I can't stand another one of your tales about exchanging electrons with that arrogant bastard of–= The light-green sparkle slammed into the light-red one and caused something that looked like small fireworks in a rainbow of colors.
Pathfinder ruffled its holographic appearance in front of Doc's face. =You better get that fixed soon, Doccie,= he squirked in a threatening voice, =Or the real events of last Saturday night with Sergeant Levine – Sergeant Lolita Levine – are going to be posted on every mailing list my friend, the mainframe AI, can find!= The sparkle beeped, flashed, danced shortly around the two struggling other sparkles, and added, disgusted: =And for Heaven's sake, break up the ladies!=
And to top it all, Pixel bumped off Doc's cheeks beeping an all-too-familiar song:
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun –