Place: Aboard the Brimstone, in far orbit around Horvath Station
Some things passed around as "common knowledge" are a bit spurious. Other things are simply lies. Mac found that out the hard way en route to Horvath Station. Demons, so common knowledge said, didn't need sleep. Until that run, Mac had kept right on believing it. Captain Shax slept when he felt like it but could go days without when he had to and didn't seem to suffer.
Since Horvath was a relatively new station and the Brimstone had never had business there, this would be her first docking there to deliver extra insulators for their hydrogen oxidation tanks. Problem was that Horvath was largely a research station, built by and for, largely, engineers, scientists and accountants. Their ponderous docking regulation manuals and forms reflected this.
No. Strike that. Their manuals were arcane tomes of eldritch mutterings. Just awful.
By the ninth day, Shax still wasn't finished and he had them hold the Brimstone outside approach lanes since they wouldn't be cleared for approach without all the proper documents. Mac found him in the galley on probably his seven hundredth cup of coffee as he stared blankly at his display.
"Cap? You all right?"
Shax lifted his head, blinking bloodshot eyes at Mac and, Mother of Earth, that was disturbing to see the red cracks in a demon's black eyes. "Sorrel wine tiles."
"Pardon?" Mac came to sit across from him, more disturbed by the moment.
"I…" Shax shook his head slowly. "Caption sea verity."
"Maybe you need a rest, Cap."
Shax waved a frustrated hand at his screen. "Orange! Twelve manic!"
"I know you want to get it done but I don't think you can right now." Mac stood and hit the ship's comm on the wall. "Ness? Come get your demon. I think the Horvath manuals broke him."
Not ten seconds later, deck boots pounded down the corridor and Ness caromed around the corner into the galley. "He's worse?"
Mac waved a hand at their barely functional captain. "He's not making sense anymore. And he's not looking his normal dapper self."
Ness didn't ask any more questions. He simply hoisted a protesting Shax from the bench and carried him away. Five minutes later, he returned. "He's sleeping. Ms. Ivana put him out for his own good. I've never seen anything like that."
"Sleep deprivation and caffeine poisoning, maybe." Mac sipped his own coffee. "Don't suppose you have his access codes? Maybe he's far enough along that we can finish for him."
"I don't." Ness frowned. "I don't think it ever occurred to him to give them to me. Maybe Verin does."
Since the ship wasn't moving, Verin was able to join them and together they squirreled into Shax's files where the Horvath forms crouched in an ominous pack of bureaucratic nightmare. It only took opening the first few files to see why their captain had been taking so long to finish and why he'd nearly collapsed in a puddle of exhausted frustration. There was the docking permit, of course. That was normal. But there was also an application for the docking permit and an application to apply for the application of the docking permit. There were cargo and lading forms, ship registration separate from the docking permit, ship spec forms separate from those and on and on.
"Do these fuckers not want their cargo delivered?" Verin growled.
"Looks like most of this is initial contact stuff, Ver," Mac said as he scrolled through all the files. "After this first time, we're probably down to four or five forms. Instead of however many this is."
Corny joined them as Mac searched through form after form, then Leopold galumphed in soon after. Mac had to admit, Shax had managed an amazing amount of work in nine days considering some of the forms required dockmaster verifications from last ports of call and other officials. As far as Mac could tell, only two forms were incomplete—the ship specs and the crew manifest.
"Poor Cap." Mac cringed as he scrolled through the specs form. This was obviously where their captain's brain had given out. Shax had typed "lightning" in the box for propulsion type and "head cheese" for the interstellar drive model. Mac corrected those and moved on to the rest of the form. They wanted…what?
"Corny, hit the comm for me, would you? Get Heck up here."
A minute or so later, the trotting of muffle hooves came from the corridor—Heckle in his friction socks.
"Oh!" Heckled stopped in the doorway, wide-eyed and searching the gathered faces. "Did I miss the start of a meeting?"
"No, Heck. Just need your help." Mac waved the imp over to come sit on his knee.
"Mine?" Heckle squeaked as he wriggled into place.
"Yes, yours." Mac gave him a gentle poke. "This damnable form wants to know the configuration of our supplies."
"I don't…how do I tell it that?"
"You help me tell it that." Mac showed him the choices for supply holds, showing different numbers of aisles and stacks. Heckle picked the one that matched his supplies and then began happily rattling off what was in each stack and how much.
That went well for a bit until Mac hit a snag. "Um. Huh. Don't suppose you know the volumetric weight on each of your stacks?"
Heckle slumped in a crestfallen way. "I don't. I'm sorry. Is that a thing I should know?"
"Probably not. Ms. Ivana?"
Ship comm chirped and their AI purred, "You rang, tall dark and hung?"
"Give away all my secrets, why don't you," Mac said with a chuckle. "Volumetric weights on Heck's supply stacks? You must be helping with the load balancing, right?"
"Oh, I do, hon. Our little imp sweetie's a joy to work with. You need them all?"
With Ms. Ivana's help, even that was done in short order. That only left the crew manifest, which was far more detailed than any Mac had ever seen. Of course it was. Name, ship rank, height and weight, date of birth, place of origin, species. They did all right, checking with Ms. Ivana on some of Captain Shax's vitals since he wasn't available, until they got to Leopold.
Leopold Goldner, Mac typed in the name box. "Um. Leo? Are you demon or angel?"
"Neither one of those. I'm a genetic construct. Also a hedgehog," Leopold said in a puzzled tone.
"Right. But that's not a choice. I have to pick from the choices here."
"I suppose we'll have to say demon," Ness stroked Leopold's spines gently. "Since your Papa Shax is one and I was fallen before your, ah, birth. Though I don't know your actual birthday. I'm a terrible father, I'm sorry."
Leopold leaned against him with a peep. "We can guess on that. I'm not entirely sure. Since I was new then."
Between them, they came up with an approximate birthday and Mac listed him as a crew dependent since "apprentice thief" wasn't in the long list of choices. There was some argument about how to list Rosa, Maximillian and Nicodemus. In the end, they had to go under Livestock and Domestics since they would need official identification before being listed as crew on a docking manifest. The last thing they needed was for the forms to be rejected on a technicality.
They finished up, Mac shut everything down and the crew drifted off to whatever they'd been doing before the document crisis. Several hours later, Mac was back in the galley having dinner with Ness and Heckle when Shax strode in looking marginally better.
"Well. That was a bit of a dirty trick, Ms. Ivana but I do feel more chipper." He clapped his hands together. "Now to finish those thrice blasted, sadistic forms."
Shax nibbled on the dinner Ivana sent out for him while he checked through the documents, his expression more and more puzzled by the moment. "Did I finish these? I don't recall finishing them. Huh. Well, everything looks in order. Just need to sign and send them off."
Mac exchanged a glance with Ness, whose eyebrows were climbing up his forehead.
"Ha! Done, you pencil-pushing, nitpicking bastards!" Shax laughed in slightly hysterical triumph. "Thought you could defeat me with all of your repetitive nonsense. Persistence is my middle name. Or would be if I had one."
Should we tell him? Ness mouthed to Mac.
No. Would break his heart. Mac responded with a shake of his head.
For a few moments, there was silence in the galley, broken only by the sounds of eating. Then Shax's messaging pinged on his still open screen. When he opened it, visible to everyone at the table on his holo screen, the message from Horvath Docking Control read, Please resubmit forms using approved font.
In all his years on various ships, Mac had never seen the ship's captain break down and cry over forms before.