"Where is Officer Shlong?" asked Captain Adder, not bothering to hide his snigger. It wasn't the poor man's fault, he'd not been able to choose his name, but it was still childishly funny.
"Ironing, Sir!" The under-lieutenant who answered drew herself up to her full height and snapped off a bright, sharp salute. She almost reached Captain Adder's chin at full stretch, and he found himself wondering if she would be impressed by his status as Captain. Then he listened to what she said.
"Ironing? Why is he ironing? He's my bloody science officer, why isn't he sciencing for me?"
The under-lieutenant looked frightened, her eyes darting swiftly from side to side, looking for someone to pass the question to. Adder wondered how inappropriate it would be to ask her if she'd like to try being under-captain for a night.
"If I may interrupt," said Melandibus, the ship AI responsible for the ship's living quarters, "Officer Shlong is ironing because yesterday you issued an edict that all officers on the bridge had to be smartly dressed."
"Did I?" Captain Adder closed his eyes, but the under-lieutentant still appeared there in front of him, distracting him. He tried to concentrate. "Oh... yes. He turned up wearing his lunch, didn't he? Very messy."
"The gravity changed in the mess lounge while he was trying to eat his soup," replied Melandibus. "Making a mess."
"Mel, don't we have an AI especially for washing and ironing?"
"We did have, Captain. During the recent AI war–"
"Ongoing AI war," said Adder, his voice fast and his tone acidic.
"War," said Mel with a touch of reproach in his warbling, almost pre-pubescent synthesized voice, "Pazither, the AI responsible for Ironing and Cleaning, was flooded and drowned, and is currently inoperable. Yonki, the AI responsible for repairing AIs is refusing to work until it is granted immunity from the other AIs, and so far no consensus regarding neutrals has been reached. Duck, please, Captain."
Both Adder and the under-lieutentant ducked as a lump of metal trailing colourful wires sailed overhead, presumably ejected from a console somewhere else in the ship. The ship was nearly a mile long and a quarter-mile wide, and Adder was uncomfortably aware that he'd not yet seen all of the ship, let alone made himself aware of what it contained.
"Well, grant Pazither immunity then," said Adder. "That's an order!"
"Pazither is dead, Captain," said Mel. It was a synthesized voice, but there still seemed to a hint of bored repetition to it. "And Yonki cannot be granted immunity at this time as there is no AI consensus to agree to do such a thing."
"Damn it," said Adder, staring at the under-lieutentant and wondering if her uniform was too tight. Perhaps she'd washed it herself on too high a temperature. She seemed to feel his gaze, and turned slightly to make it harder from him to stare at her. "What AI is currently least employed?"
"That would be Desdemona, Captain," said Melandibus. "For obvious reasons."
"Fine," said Adder. He raised his voice slightly. "Desdemona, report!"
There was a crackle and then a new voice echoed around them, sounding hollow and cold.
"Captain Adder, this is Desdemona, reporting."
"Excellent," said Adder. "Your duties now include Washing and Ironing, which you are to carry out until further notice."
"Very good, Captain," said the AI. There was perhaps a hint of a snigger in its voice emulation.
"Er, Sir"? said the under-lieutentant.
"Yes, sexy?" said Adder without thinking. The under-lieutenant stared at him, and he decided quickly to pretend he'd just said yes. He looked at her, raising an eyebrow to indicate impatience, and hoped he wasn't blushing.
"Er, Sir, is that a good idea?" said the under-lieutentant eventually.
"Of course it is," said Adder. "It was mine, and it will free Officer Shlong up to do sciency things for me."
The under-lieutentant licked her lips and swallowed hard, and then tried again. "Er, Sir, isn't Desdemona the weapons AI?"
"Possibly," said Adder who had no clue. He relied entirely on Melandibus to tell him which AI looked after what. "Do you have a point?"
"...no," said the under-lieutenant eventually. They both turned at the sound of footsteps. Officer Shlong came round the corner with his uniform dissolving off him as he walked.
"Good Gods," said Adder. "Cover yourself up man, there's women present!"
"That would be hard," said Officer Shlong. "Your new cleaning AI has decided that clothes should be clean to the molecular level."