Captain Rutabaga puffed on his digital pipe, pixelated holographic smoke coming out of the corner of his mouth as he exhaled. He looked down the darkened hallway of the derelict freighter, The Feelin’ Fine, listening for anything moving around.
Ensign Cauliflower pulled out his auto-axe, giving its pull-starter a few tugs before the engine rumbled to life. The blade began to chop on its own, and he pushed its lever all the way up from the turtle symbol to the rabbit in his nervousness. He turned to the captain with a grim look on his face.
Rutabaga turned to Cauliflower. “This mission is classified above Top Secret, all the way to Hidden Adult Magazine Stash Secret.” He passed Cauliflower a dossier, waiting as he pulled out the documents and looked at the pictures.
“These are just pictures of you in posing as early fifties pin-up girls.”
“The Feelin’ Fine was on a mission of peace, transporting my pictures to other human colonies. Once there, they were to be painted on the sides of starships in order to bolster troop morale. Help the boys remember what they were fighting for at home, you see. Just a few days into its trip, though, the crew jettisoned its cargo and stopped answering our transmissions. Soon after, a massive power draw was recorded in the ship’s Curium Core, stayed that way for four weeks, and then went dark.”
“What do you think happened to them, Sir?”
“That’s what we’re here to find out, Ensign. Lead the way.”
They made their way down the dark corridor, both of them trying not to jump as loud bangs echoed throughout the empty hall. The flickering emergency lights made it difficult to see, leaving Cauliflower’s heart racing when he stepped into something sticky and wet.
He revved his auto-axe to life, bringing its chopping action down on the substance at his feet as he roared. The blade tore through the substance at his feet, slamming away at it for a few moments before the Captain pulled the lever back down to the rabbit. Only then did Cauliflower see what was there.
“An empty pizza box?”
They took a few steps back, Captain Rutabaga sweeping a light over the hall. There were hundreds of the empty boxes littering the corridor, ancient pizza still oozing from corners that had been soaked through with grease. Empty pudding cups and soda cans sat among the discarded pies, a testament to the ruin of the good ship’s crew.
“Captain, is this…”
“I’m afraid so. Ensign, this mission is actually two levels above Top Secret, Fetish Movies You Hide In A Really Devious Spot Because If Your Friends Found Out They Would Quietly Find Reasons Never To See You Again Secret. On this ship were a stash of easily-cooked foods, but worse than that, there were video games, systems, and paddles to play them.”
Ensign Cauliflower shook his head. “But…but video games…”
“Exactly. The most addictive and caustic substance known to man, able to take a perfectly sensible person and turn them into a remorseless killing machine. The game equipment was hidden on the ship, and was supposed to be jettisoned into an exploding star without the crew’s knowledge, as only the heat of a supernova could possibly destroy the vile things. Apparently, someone found out.”
Captain Rutabaga leaned down, picking up an empty box of cookies, wiping a tear from his eye. He didn’t let the Ensign see it, instead pushing himself into the next chamber, the door grinding open on ungreased hinges. Looking inside, he had to stop himself from throwing up.
Each chair held an emaciated corpse in it, controller still in hand. A screen sent flickering light across each body, an avatar sitting collapsed on the battlefield of each television. Another, living avatar was crouching and standing over the bodies, muttering about the sexual orientation of the long-dead player.
Captain Rutabaga shook his head. “This is the fate that will befall all gamers.”
At the sound of his voice, all of the bodies turned to face him. In a moment of sheer horror, they cast off the layer of powdered cheese and chip crumbs that had fallen over them, rising to their feet and howling as they descended on the brave men.