I pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and index finger. My head was already humming with that dull pain that always faded in when I was dealing with truly weapons-grade idiocy.
“Let me get this straight,” I murmured, already knowing the answer. “You thought that repairing a hyperdrive like this was a good idea?”
Reg looked the device up and down. “Yeah. What’s the problem?”
“You used tin foil and gum, Reg. That’s my problem.”
“So? It works doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, for the next seven minutes,” I pointed at a screen in the corner of the room. A collection of angry red characters flashed on it. A bar continued to rise ominously. “Then we’ll all die.”
“I don’t think you’re seeing the big picture here, Paul.”
I let my jaw hang, incredulous. “No, you know what? You’re completely right. What is the big picture here, exactly?”
Reg thought. He knew he’d overreached himself, but I could still see the cogs turning in his mind.
“Well?” I pushed, leaning against the device with my arms crossed. It was shaking violently.
Reg gave it some more thought. “Shut up, Paul.”
“Great. Thanks. Helpful.”
Reg had been insufferable ever since we got ‘our’ Reg back. Cosmic balance or whatever had been restored, sure, but if anything he was a worse engineer than he was before. And he used to be terrible.
I rummaged through the tools and spare parts to salvage what I needed. None of it was that hard to find. Even Reg could have handled it, if he’d wanted to.
It suddenly dawned on me. “You did this deliberately, didn’t you?”
His face fell. “Uh?”
“You wanted another ingenuity award. You knew exactly what you were doing.”
“No I didn’t.”
The dids and didn’ts were fired back and forth for another couple of minutes. Eventually, Reg gave in by throwing his hands in the air and letting out a dramatic “Ok, fine, yes. You got me. Well done.”
We had thirty seconds left. Now, in the movies, they’d have heroically set about putting things right, and managed it with barely any time left. In our case, we were pretty much finished – so I let myself spend 20 seconds berating Reg for being a complete dickhead, 10 seconds finishing the job.
It’s worth me pointing out how we’d have had some help too, but one of the officers had a surprise birthday celebration the night before. Most the ship was still asleep after taking the Captain up on his drinking challenge; drunken zero-g Twister. I was only up because Reg had burst into my room in his ‘panic’ and woken me up at 5am, presumably to witness his hyperdrive fixing miracle.
As the sirens died down, Reg got up from his knees, dusted himself off and stretched his back. “Honestly, it was under control – I was going to fix it with a few seconds left. I don’t see your problem.”
“You endangered everyone on this ship so you could get a poxy award! How can you not see my problem with that!?”
“The Captain does it literally every week!”
Rats. He had me there.
I took a deep breath. “Look, I’ve managed to laugh off a lot of your antics. Keeping bees in my locker. The smuggling. The organ harvesting. The time you somehow managed to get half a dozen male strippers to beam aboard and ‘surprise’ me for my birthday-”
“-You enjoyed that one, eh?”
“My birthday’s in July, not November. And I’m straight.”
Reg gave me a shocked look. “Are you?”
“Oh… I may have misjudged that one a bit then. Sorry.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Anyway, my point is you’ve gone too far this time.”
Reg started fiddling with an invisible something between his fingers as he slumped to the floor. He kept his back to the hyperdrive unit. “I just wanted to feel useful again. You don’t get it, Paul. That award was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m useless. Said so yourself often enough. That award finally made me feel like I was good at something. Like I was appreciated. And that meant a lot.”
He looked up at me, his eyes glassy with welling tears. “I just wanted to feel like that again.”
I sighed again, softer. Maybe I was being hard on him. I slid down to the ground next to him. “Look, Reg…” I realised I’d started speaking before I had the next bit planned. “You’re naturally enough of an idiot that you’ll pick up another Captain’s Ingenuity Award For Ingenuity in no time, I’m sure.”
It looked like he didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. Fortunately for me, he eventually chose the former. I’ve never been known for my comforting skills. In fact, I’d been all but banned from visiting people in Sick Bay. I went once, saw a steep drop on one guy’s chart and gave an – apparently – very audible whistle of disbelief. Turns out he was going to die, but had just come round from the anesthetic. The Doctor hadn’t spoken to him yet.
We sat there in silence on the engine room floor. Reg contemplating life after the high of winning his award. Me trying to work out how to tell Reg to stop nearly giving me a heart attack by playing silly buggers.
Something occurred to me. Hangovers or not, the alarm should have sent at least one person running. Besides to low hum of the engines, there was nothing but quiet and a bad feeling in my stomach. I looked around. “Where is everyone?”
The words echoed around the vast metallic space until nothing but terrifying silence filled the space they left behind.
To be continued…