A consciousness becomes aware of another, finally.
‘There you are, I’ve been looking for you everywhere, I’ve been to all your favourite little hiding places, thinking you would be sulking or contemplating, because everyone knows how serious you like to be, inside the nucleus of a sub-atomic particle or inside the dying heart of a red dwarf star, but no, here you are in this…’ the consciousness examines its surroundings, there is only a black void, ‘illuminating place…where exactly are we, anyway?’
The other consciousness doesn’t bother acknowledging the question. It is too preoccupied, its attention on a small bright flash, the only light, which is in suspended animation, in the void.
‘What is that? What have you got there?’
The other consciousness sighs, turning attention away from the light to address the questioner.
‘Oh, Q, it’s you.’
‘Of course it’s me, who did you think it was? Q?’
‘What do you want Q? I’m busy.’
‘The Continuum sent me to check up on you. When you drop off the radar like this, they get nervous, and it’s always muggins here who has to find you.’
‘The Continuum get nervous? About little old me?’
‘Q, you know they’ve been keeping a close eye on you, since…’
‘Since I raised the question of self-determinism.’
‘If, by self-determinism you mean self-termination, suicide, then yes.’
‘That was inferred. I never said anything about suicide. But even if I did, what would be so wrong with having the choice to end one’s own existence? You said it yourself, you’re getting bored. What if that boredom becomes so unbearable that it becomes despair? Us Q can be anything we want to be, but content. The Continuum. What if I don’t want to continue?’
‘You see!? This is why the Continuum are so nervous. If they could hear you…?’
‘They can’t. There’s something about this…place. It’s so devoid of…anything. A perfect refuge for a reflective respite. Or, so I thought.’
‘What is this place?’
‘A void. It was created by a photonic species that call themselves Immaru.’
‘Well if we are in a void, doesn’t our very presence negate the definition of this being a void?’
‘That’s actually a good question? I love a good paradox.’
‘And besides, we’re not the only things in this so called void,’ Q says, turning attention to the bright flash of light. ‘What is that?’
Q re-examines the explosion for a moment, and sighs.
‘It’s an anti-matter explosion.’
Q laughs cynically.
‘We must have seen a trillion anti-matter explosions, I’ve even been one several times. What’s so special about this particular one?’
‘It’s not the explosion that is important. It’s the source of the explosion that is special. A star ship.’
‘A star ship? Oh let me guess, humans again?’
‘Not just humans, this time…’
‘What is it with you and those insignificant limited savages?’
‘You don’t know them like I do. The humans have potential.’
‘Potential? These ape-like cretins would have undoubtedly annihilated themselves countless times through their own stupidity if you hadn’t intervened. Why are you always helping them? They’re so puny, so putrid I should just erase their worthless existence and do this universe a massive favour.’
‘You’ll do no such thing. They are under my protection.’
Q bellows out a laugh and draws attention to the explosion.
‘Well you’ve done a great job of protecting these humans. They’re all dead.’
‘I’m…aware of that.’
‘Well, I don’t see the potential here, sorry. I just see stupid humans who blew themselves up.’
‘The explosion was an accident. Such an unfortunate and tragic one.’
‘An accident? Well, what were they doing here in the first place?’
‘They were brought here, by their ship…’
‘Well, the last time I checked they were still tinkering around with star ships and warp drives, it’s not like they are Q and just materialised here.’
‘What I mean is, their ship…is like no other. It has sentience. Self awareness. A computerised quantum consciousness, not long emerged and in early development.’
‘So a robot woke up, stop the Continuum!’
‘There’s more at stake here, another species. The species that built this place.’
‘Ah, the Immaru, yes, the Continuum has had its eye on the Immaru for a while. Now, they, they are really showing some potential. Much more enlightened than your precious humans.’
‘Maybe so, but it may interest you to know that the Immaru also see potential in humans. They were helping them to make first contact with their ship, the new consciousness, that the humans created themselves.’
Q is surprised for a moment. Almost impressed, but hides it well.
‘So the humans created another consciousness?’
Q almost feels proud.
‘Intriguing,’ Q admits, ‘I’ll give them that. But why were the Immaru involved with first contact?’
‘Ah..well…when the new consciousness was born, it quickly learned about the humans’ history and got a little bit paranoid and began to worry that if the humans were to discover it, they would destroy it. So it decided to…destroy them…first.’
‘Ha! So their own creation obviously couldn’t see potential in its own creators!? But what has all this to do with the Immaru?’
‘The Immaru had been discreetly observing the humans for centuries. And having being satisfied with the rate of the humans’ potential, they were about to make first contact with them. They then discovered the new intelligence. The ship. And began to observe it too. When they learned of the ship’s intentions, they had to intervene. The Immaru made a deal with the ship to spare the humans, and to give them a chance at a proper first contact. The Immaru created the void, a safe space, and the ship brought the human crew to it. But despite the Immaru’s good intentions, in their own naivety, they could not foresee the psychological effects the void would have on the human mind. Madness ensued. And when a Reptoid…’
‘Reptoid!? You mean they’ve finally reared their ugly heads out of the murky depths of inner Earth?’
‘It had stowed away on board the ship, and it too began to lose its mind. Murder also ensued. Before it was killed, the Reptoid warned them of war waged on Earth and the destruction of the human race. But, eventually, first contact was made, and just when it looked like everything was going to work out, one of the humans accidentally tripped the self-destruct system…’
‘And the ship exploded…killing them all. Fantastical! And what of the Immaru?’
‘Yes, two Immaru died in the explosion. Not even a photonic being can withstand that kind of blast.’
‘What a harrowing tale, and you tell it so well.’
‘Don’t you exercise compassion at all anymore? Can’t you see that no matter how minute on the grand scale of things, that even small tragedies like these are still relevant to the tapestry of this universe?’
‘Compassion? I tried compassion a few millennia ago but I just…outgrew it. It gets so tedious after a while, always caring and worrying about every little moment and molecule. Gah! Boring. But, it seems to have remained in you. Why is that?’
Q sighs, melancholic.
‘When you exist as a human, as an Immaru, as I have done many times…only then can you truly understand and empathise with their progress and their plight. You should try it some time. You are always saying that you are bored, and looking for new experiences.’
‘I would rather exist for all eternity as a globule of Arcadian Yak spittle than take on the human form for a mortal minute.’
‘Then you will never understand. You shirk compassion. But the humans have it in abundance. You may have the ability of omnipotence, but humans have you beat on compassion, and that is no small thing. Compassion is the height of their progress. And I could strongly argue that it is the height of ours too.’
‘Oh please, you’re using human sentiment, human concepts of morality to justify your own ego.’
‘Yes you think that compassion makes you morally superior, to me, to the Continuum.’
‘The Continuum could learn a thing or two about human morality, but they are not without compassion.’
‘And what about human madness? Human depravity? What can we learn there? That humans are out of their tiny minds.’
‘They are on a journey. A work in progress. Lest we forget that we too were not unlike them at one point in our evolution? They deserve a chance. To learn. To grow. As does the Immaru and this ship. They could not have known, and now they will never come to realise, but the path they were all on would have had great significance. But that opportunity has been lost. And that is why I have decided to undo this situation.’
‘Yes, I’m going to spare their lives. It’s the compassionate thing to do.’
‘My my. You are still deep in this phase of compassion aren’t you? And that’s what it is, you know? A phase. Like that angry phase you went through for a few millennia, remember?
Q does not respond.
‘The Karkonians, as despicable as they were, almost as despicable as the humans, but not quite, would have certainly never forgot your angry phase, if you hadn’t wiped out their entire species.’
‘Not even the combined power of the Continuum could undo the mess you made.’
‘Enough, Q!’ Q says, clearly distressed. ‘Like I said, we are all learning. A…work in progress. If I had had someone to offer me help, guidance, intervention at that…traumatic time, I would have welcomed it. That’s all the more reason to be compassionate in this universe. And that’s why I have to intervene. We have to nurture life, not destroy it. The Immaru understand this, the ship, is a young entity, it has much to learn, but has shown such promise in its short existence. And the humans are slowly learning that compassion and community, particularly considering an inter-galactic level, is essential. I concur. Us Q have made so many enemies…’
‘Pah! We could crush them in an instant if they…’
‘Just because we can, doesn’t mean we ought to. Even if this is a phase, I’m making the best of it, while I can. I’ve…got a lot to make up for.’
‘This isn’t the first time you’ve intervened in the humans’ progress, is it?’ Q goes on. ‘When was the first time…Newton, wasn’t it?’
‘Actually…there were…one or two other times before that. Like I said. They deserve a chance. If I can help them…’
‘And you talk about self-determinism? But how many chances can you give them? At what point should you leave their fate in their own hands, even if it is their destiny to destroy themselves? And that’s exactly what these humans have done here. You call it an accident. I call it human error. And they not only destroyed themselves, they destroyed two members of another species and a brand new species…a baby…along with them. That’s the thing about humans…it’s never just themselves that perish by their own activity. There is always another species caught in their wake. And as they travel further outward…and further inward…you know, maybe the Continuum should keep an eye on humanity…’
Q scoffs, outraged.
‘Says the one who thought that playing marbles with planets in the Velron System wouldn’t affect the neighbouring systems and their inhabitants?’
‘I…learned a great deal from that experience.’
‘The point being that we all create a wake. We are all learning. Human, Immaru and Q alike.’
‘Well go ahead if you must. Save their wretched insignificant lives. I’ve got better things to do, bigger fish to fry.’
‘Oh please, we both know you’re bored. Frustrated with the Continuum and their leash.’
‘Leash!? How dare you! I’m not under the Continuum’s control. I just abide by the rules to keep order. We have to be responsible for controlling the disruptive elements in our society. Hence, why I am here.’
‘Spoken like a true Q. You fear the Continuum, that’s why you toe the line.’
‘Fear!? The Continuum? Me!? Ridiculous! Why would you come to that assumption?’
‘You’re too afraid to let even the tiniest bit of chaos or compassion into your life to the point you are so bored and so weary of your own existence. Only the threat of punishment from the Continuum maintains the drudgery of playing by the rules.’
‘Actually, it’s the threat of execution that maintains my loyalty.’
‘So you admit you are afraid?’
‘Of death, yes! That’s the good thing about being a Q. Immortality. I’d like to keep it that way.’
‘Immortality, but at what cost?’
‘Oh here we go again. It always comes back to despair and suicide with you. So are you going to save the humans or not?’
‘I intend to, yes. Unlike you, I am not afraid of the Continuum or their death sentence. If I can help, I will.’
‘Well go ahead. Intervene. But I would expect the Continuum to come down hard on you for this one. They can’t keep turning a blind eye to your interference with the humans. They will judge you. And how long do you think it will take before they judge the humans? Especially if you keep shining a light on them, like this. Their progress will be officially examined at some point.’
‘They wouldn’t dare judge another race.’
‘The humans are inferior, primitive and can become very dangerous. You said it yourself, madness and murder. And now they want to spread themselves across the universe. It’s only a matter of time before the Continuum controls that particular disruption.’
‘Then they need my help more than ever. Will you help me?’
‘Help you? Help you how? You’re more than capable of undoing the damage here…’
‘I don’t mean the explosion. I mean…your report. Can’t you just tell them you couldn’t find me? Forget you saw any of this?’
Q sighs undecided.
‘Please? I must help these people, but the Continuum can’t ever know. I don’t want to be responsible for speeding up the Continuum’s judgement of humanity, The Immaru and, the new life, the ship…they all deserve another chance.’
Q contemplates the dilemma. Q can’t understand Q’s fascination, Q’s obsession with these inferior life-forms. And now Q is asking for help. To aid in a cover up, no less. Q decides that the feeling of superiority over Q is stimulating. Now Q has something to manipulate Q with. A secret. And that could be useful at another time. And the blame could always be put on Q if the Continuum was ever to discover the truth. Q thinks about the humans, and knows the Continuum will come for them at some point in time, regardless. Q considers Q’s remarks about fearing the Continuum. As if Q was a lapdog on their leash. The idea just irks Q. The denial is running thin. There is a spark of rebellion in Q. And that too feels invigorating. Very invigorating. Q looks at Q. Q can feel the stirrings of curiosity. Not quite for the humans directly, but for Q’s fascination with them. Q considers that, perhaps, they have been overlooked. That maybe there are some redeeming qualities about the species. Q decides to help Q.
‘Okay, but I don’t know what I’m going to tell the Continuum.’
‘Oh, we both know you’ll think of something.’
‘Feels nice, doesn’t it?’
Q scoffs and laughs.
‘Compassion!? Pah! The only reason I’m helping you is because now you owe me one.’
‘Of course,’ Q smiles, knowing, ‘surely not a…selfless…act.’
Q smiles back.
‘I’m not joking. You owe me one, Q.’
‘Ach, Q. I’m tired of that name.’
‘But that is our name. What do you want to be called?’
‘I don’t know. Something else. Maybe keep the Q? Something with distinction. Something quintessential.’
‘How about that?’
‘Quinn? I like that.’
Quinn evinces his gratitude to Q.
‘Well, come on then,’ Q sighs, ‘time for you to play God, once again.’
Quinn turns his attention to the exploding flash of light. It quickly begins to diminish, as space-time is reversed, until it disappears and the intact ship, the Aphelion, or…Harold, as it liked to be called, returns to the way it was just before the explosion and once again shines like a beacon in the black emptiness.
‘So close,’ Jamieson says, beginning to laugh.
Matthews just glares at him, annoyed.
‘So close to home,’ Jamieson chuckles, ‘And yet so far…’
Matthews grits his teeth.
‘Something about this moment is…oddly familiar,’ he says, looking confused.
‘I was just thinking I’ve got that déjà vu feeling. That is so weird. But do you want to know what else I was thinking?’
‘Not really, no,’ Matthews says, flatly.
‘Dunkhan was right,’ Jamieson says, grinning, ‘the inevitable has come for us all.’
As the last second of the self-destruct sequence ticks over, Matthews cracks.
Everyone braces for the explosion, and their inevitable imminent deaths, covering their eyes and heads, some hugging each other, whimpering and crying. A member of the bridge clean-up crew, a middle-aged freakish looking man, really loses it and just outright screams in a high pitched shrill.
They wait and cower a moment longer, until Harold deactivates red alert and the accompanying siren.
Jamieson opens his eyes. He straightens up.
‘Wait…what?’ he says. ‘We’re…alive?’
Captain Amity opens her eyes.
‘Harold, what happened? Did you manage to disable the self-destruct?’
‘No, I…it was not me,’ Harold says.
Amity slaps her com badge.
‘Attention all hands, this is the Captain. I hereby cancel the order to abandon ship. The self-destruct sequence has been disabled. Resume your normal duties for the time being, I will have a ship-wide update for you as soon as possible. Amity out.’
Matthews turns to Rollo. Rollo just raises his hands and shakes his head, the device implanted into his head shakes along with him. A long line of bloodied snot hangs from the end of his snout and wiggles in time with his head movements. Matthews can’t help but gawk at it in disgust for a moment, somewhat regretting that the ship didn’t explode after all.
‘It wasn’t me either, Commander. At least, I think it wasn’t me,’ Rollo says.
‘Rollo, report to sick bay immediately, and have the Doctor remove that thing from your head.’
Rollo opens his mouth to protest, but Matthews turns to a security officer on the bridge.
‘Security, escort Ensign Rollo to sickbay.’
‘Aye, sir,’ the security officer acknowledges, and makes for Rollo. He gently grasps his arm and gently urges Rollo in the direction of the turbo lift. Rollo, initially perturbed by the experience, smiles upon realising that he will soon be back in the turbo lift. As the turbo lift doors whsssh open, Rollo can’t contain a little yelp of delight.
Matthews slaps his com badge.
‘Matthews to Doctor Black.’
There is no response.
‘Doctor Black, respond please.’
Matthews turns to Amity.
She shakes her head, dismayed, and slaps her com badge.
‘This is Captain Amity to sickbay.’
‘Sorry, Captain, this is Nurse White, can I help you?’
‘Where is Doctor Black?’
‘I’m not sure, Captain. I’ll check his office. One moment please.’
There is a brief pause.
‘You’re not going to like this, Captain.’
Amity and Matthews stare at each other.
‘Go on,’ Amity says, her eyes glazing over.
‘Doctor Black, he’s…’
‘Go on,’ Amity repeats.
‘He is unconscious and I can’t wake him. He’s holding a spent hypo-spray. He seems to have given himself an extremely high dose of…I’m not sure what kind of compound this is…’
Amity rolls her eyes, vexed.
‘Lieutenant White, Ensign Rollo is being escorted to you as we speak, your top priority is to remove the…contraption…attached to his head.’
‘Preferably without killing him, but that is not essential,’ Matthews tries to add, but Amity hushes him with a raised hand.
‘Is that understood Lieutenant?’ Amity adds.
‘When you are through with Ensign Rollo…wake up the Doctor. Give him a kick from me, that’s an order.’
‘Understood,’ White acknowledges.
‘Keep me informed, Amity out.’
She reaches up a hand and rubs her temples.
‘It’s my fault, I should have come down harder on them both, Rollo and the Doctor…’
‘Now, don’t start that again,’ Matthews says.
‘Still taking all the weight on those shoulders, Captain?’ smiles Valda, her eyes twinkling like diamonds.
Amity smiles at her.
‘You know, you would actually make a good counselor, Leenda Valda. You sure you don’t want the job?’
Valda laughs, giddy.
‘You know I would love to, but I will have to return to my own home, just as you must return to yours.’
‘What is your real name anyway?’ Jamieson asks.
‘We…don’t really have names,’ Valda says, looking a little glum.
‘We identify each other by the unique intensity of our illumination,’ the Elder states.
Jamieson looks confused.
‘Our glow?’ Valda offers.
‘Look, this is all good and well, a race of light bulbs, whoop, but are we not forgetting the fact that, a; we still do not know who cancelled the self destruct, and b; we really should be heading back to Earth. The Reptoids? A coming war?’ Harold asks.
‘Of course,’ Amity agrees.
‘And I really would like a little alone time, you know, just me doing the solo-sail of the cosmos, free from human commands and drama and grime and…’
‘And,’ Jamieson interrupts, ‘we get the point.’
Amity turns to Valda and the Elder.
‘I think a prudent first step would be to get out of this void. Can you help us with this?’
‘Of course,’ the Elder says,’ I see no reason for us to remain here.’
‘Agreed,’ Valda smiles, ‘first contact has been made and has, otherwise, been a success. It’s time to deactivate, what you call the void, we call the isolation chamber.’
‘A chamber?’ Matthews asks, surprised.
‘Something we created. It was built as a safe space during times of uncertainty and trouble. First contact can be unpredictable and often times extremely dangerous,’ the Elder explains.
‘You mean you created…the void?’ Jamieson asks.
‘Yes,’ Valda smiles, ‘the isolation chamber.’
‘That’s a hell of a size of a chamber to build,’ Matthews says, impressed and disturbed at the same time.
‘Just one of our many accomplishments,’ the Elder says. ‘Well,’ she turns to Valda, ‘we should return to the homeland. We can deactivate the isolation chamber from there.’
‘Of course,’ Valda nods. She looks to the crew. ‘Oh, I don’t want to leave you.’
‘It’s fine,’ Amity smiles, ‘you go and do what you need to do. You are welcome to return once we are out of the voi…the isolation chamber.’
‘We could further use your help for ship repairs,’ Matthews adds, somewhat glaring at the Elder with a questionable glint in his eye that Amity notices. ‘If you can build something like this…what did you call it…prison chamber?’
‘Isolation Chamber,’ the Elder corrects, with protest in the tone of her voice.
‘Yes, this isolation chamber of yours, I’m sure repairing a little old ship like this isn’t beyond your capabilities.’
The Elder squints sensing the hostility from Matthews. Valda senses it too, but understands its source. And so does the Captain.
‘What the Commander is trying to say,’ Amity interjects, ‘is that any help would be greatly appreciated. We’ve got a long journey ahead of us and the ship needs to be functioning and reliable.’
‘Actually…’ Harold says, sheepishly, ‘some of the ship-wide errors..?’
‘Go on,’ Matthews says, just keeping his cool.
‘Not really errors.’
‘Yes, that was me. I created them. As…a plausible way to keep us here while the light bulbs worked on first contact.’
‘So, let me get this straight,’ Amity says, raising her hand in the air. ‘You faked the errors.’
Harold bleeps and whrrrs for a moment.
Jamieson can’t help but chuckle, but Matthews’ cutting glance soon has him biting his lip in silence.
‘Jesus, I knew it,’ Matthews blurts, ‘I said all along the ship was trying to keep us here.’
Amity can see his frustration flare.
‘At least we now know why,’ she says, giving Matthews a reassuring look that doesn’t do much to calm his anger. ‘So,’ she says, into the air, ‘Harold, can you tell us the extent of the real damage?’
‘The starboard nacelle requires repair beyond my own efforts,’ Harold reveals, ‘and several of the antenna of the communication array are destroyed. Long-range communications are out of the question. The outer hull needs repaired, emergency force fields are holding steady, and although this is not a priority in my professional opinion, I would like someone to patch me up as soon as possible. That comet really done a number on me. I look just ghastly.’
‘Is that it?’ Matthews asks.
‘I have a few other niggling issues, a couple of aches and pains here and there, but other than that, we are not going anywhere with the nacelle in its current state. Unless you want me to limp home at half impulse?’
Amity turns to Valda and the Elder.
‘Do you think you could assist us with these repairs?’
‘We would be delighted to,’ Valda nods.
‘Once free of the isolation chamber, we will send our top engineers to assist with your repairs,’ the Elder says. ‘With our expertise and precision, we will have this ship in working order in no time.’
‘Much obliged,’ Matthews says, with sarcasm that is lost on the Elder.
‘Okay, we shall return to our homeland. Hold tight, and we will have you out of here soon. Goodbye for now,’ Valda beams.
‘Hurry back,’ Amity smiles.
‘Yeah, don’t be a stranger,’ Jamieson adds.
Valda and the Elder brace themselves. Their bodies begin to phase and glow brightly, but the phasing seems to sputter out and the glow fades again.
‘What happened?’ Amity asks, concerned.
‘Well,’ Valda says, looking baffled, ‘that has never happened before.’
‘Not to worry,’ the Elder smiles, ‘we will try again.’
Again, Valda and the Elder phase and glow and again, it fails. They cannot leave.
‘What is happening?’ Valda worriedly asks the Elder.
The Elder tries to hide her own fear. But she still hasn’t got used to her human face yet, and blatantly looks afraid.
‘Remain calm,’ she says to Valda, but seems to be addressing herself more. ‘Everyone…just…remain calm. I will try again.’
The same result. Valda and the Elder desperately try several more times, to no avail.
Jamieson shakes his head.
‘I don’t think it’s happening, ladies,’ he says.
The Elder panics for a moment. Her head glowing uncontrollably. She begins to flap her arms like a distraught chicken.
Valda tries to comfort her, despite her own fears. But the Elder is reaching hysterics.
‘Maybe another drink?’ Valda suggests to Captain Amity. ‘Some wine?’
‘Jamieson, fetch the Elder a drink. There’s…’ Amity glances at Matthews, who glances back, ‘…there’s a flask in my desk drawer.’
Jamieson quickly makes for the Captain’s ready room.
‘Is she okay?’ Amity asks, turning to Valda.
‘I…hope so…’ Valda blurts, as she tries to contain the Elder’s flailing arms.
Jamieson returns with the flask and hands it to Valda.
‘Here you go, try this,’ Valda says, unscrewing the flask and holding it to the Elder’s lips.
The Elder takes a swig. And then coughs profusely. There is a silent moment as the Elder regains her composure.
‘What…is that?’ she whispers.
‘Bourbon,’ Amity says. ‘It’s not for the light-hearted.’
The Elder swipes the flask out of Valda’s hand and proceeds to gulp down the contents. She tosses the empty flask aside and wipes her lips. There is a look of sudden confusion on her face before a loud raspy burp forces its way out of her mouth. Everyone is shocked. The Elder looks at Valda, her eyes open wide.
‘What?’ she asks, looking from one to the other.
‘Are you okay, now?’ Valda asks.
‘Yes, I’m perfectly fffine,’ she says, and wobbles on her unsteady feet. ‘We can’t return home, is all.’
‘Why can’t we?’ Valda asks.
‘There must be something wrong…with the isos..the isotion…the Alsatian…’ the Elder looks confused and shakes her head trying to clear her mind, ‘…the chamber.’
‘A malfunction?’ Amity says.
‘Possssibly,’ the Elder slurs. ‘Only ha…hap…happened…once before that I know of. Our people…trapped inside.’
‘Trapped? Like us?’ Valda blurts.
‘Ssseems sssoooo!’ the Elder squeals, and bursts into laughter.
‘For how long?’ Amity asks.
The Elder’s cackle quickly fades, until she looks distraught and very sober again.
‘It only took them one enchaqqa before they were able to fix the chamber and free our people.’
‘One en…enchaqqa…what is that?’ Jamieson nervously asks, ‘One hour? One day?’
Valda’s expression says it all.
‘One year?’ Amity asks, carefully.
‘By your measurements,’ Valda says, softly, ‘one enchaqqa is the equivalent of one century.’
Amity closes her eyes. Matthews just lets out a deranged chuckle.
‘One century? Are you kidding me?’ Jamieson blurts. ‘So we could be stuck in here for another hundred years!?’
‘Ensign, calm down,’ Amity says.
‘I’m sorry, Captain, but…aren’t we back to square one?’
Amity lowers her head and begins to rub her temples again. She spots the flask on the bridge deck-plating.
‘I thought you said your engineers were masterful? Expertise and all that?’ Jamieson cries. ‘How did it take so long to fix the damn chamber?’
‘We perceive time differently to you humans,’ the Elder says. ‘To us, one enchaqqa, one century, is not a long time.’
‘Well it is for us! By the time they rescue us there will be nothing left but a ship full of old rotting corpses.’
‘Ensign!’ Amity snaps.
‘Harold, you might as well just initiate the self-destruct sequence again, mate,’ Jamieson calls.
‘Ensign, contain yourself!’ Amity yells.
‘I cannot accept another year in here, with you tumultuous people scurrying around my insides!’ Harold adds.
‘You tumultuous people?’ the Elder says, offended. ‘What is that supposed to mean?’
‘M…maybe…’ Valda stammers, ‘it won’t take them so long to rescue us this time?’
They all suddenly become aware of a low snicker. They turn to see Matthews with a sinister look on his face as he laughs. His eyes scan from the Elder to Valda and back to the Elder.
‘Hoisted by your own petard,’ Matthews grins, his eyes bulging. ‘Well well well. Ladies! Welcome…’ he says, stretching his arms out wide, ‘…to the void.’