Universal Shift: Part One

Reg came in and flopped into the nearest chair. I was still down on the floor, leaning against the wall next to Clive’s cell. Trisha had moved over to the desk and sat reading an e-zine with her feet up.

It had only been half an hour or so since Reg left to speak to the Captain about whatever had happened between them on the Dead Planet.

Trisha gave him a sideways glance, barely interrupting her reading. “Well? How’d it go?”

He gave a huge, theatrical sigh.

“That well, eh?” I murmured.

“It’s going to be so awkward…” Reg said through his hands as he pressed his palms into his eyes.

I wondered if there was any point in asking Clive what Reg was thinking.

“Not really,” said Clive. Everyone turned to look at him. “Sorry. Paul was just wondering if there was any point in asking me what Reg was thinking.”

I rolled my eyes as Reg fired an indignant glare at me. “Oh thanks, Paul. Considerate. I’d have thought it was pretty bleedin’ obvious what I was thinking, you bloody idiot.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Sorry.”

An unbearable silence took over. I fought the urge to pry into what was said, knowing that it was a private thing between Reg and the Captain.

“So what now?” I asked, to no-one in particular.

“Well, Reg could always steal his time machine back and go into the past to tell you how awkward that conversation will be,” offered Clive.

I turned to him. “What good would that do? We know we won’t listen.”

Clive shrugged. “At least we’d get to see how this all plays out from the other Reg’s point of view. That might be fun.”

“Yeah, or it’ll get stupidly complicated and nobody’ll be able to keep up,” mumbled Trisha, flicking between e-pages.

“No, it will be fine. And will help avoid a paradox quite nicely.”

I shook my head. “I thought we’d decided to ignore them. Besides, he doesn’t have to do it right now. We know future Reg goes back at some point – we don’t know what point. As long as it’s at some point, we’ll be fine, right? You know… some point before he dies. We’ll get round to it-

Trisha finally looked up, grinning, “- and some point!”

I nodded, a little too eager. “Yeah!”

She let her face fall to illustrate how stupid she thought I was being. “Remind me never to get you to explain anything to me ever again,” and she went back to her reading.

“You see my point though, right?” I glanced around for some kind of confirmation or reassurance from Reg or Clive.

Clive nodded slowly.

Reg looked decidedly less convinced. “Maybe I should just lie low for a while. I mean… how awkward can it be?”

* * *

Very, very awkward, as it turned out.

The thing about long-term missions into deep space that nobody ever really talks about is that, ironically enough, everyone talks to everyone. That, and the fact that boredom makes just about everyone try it on with everyone all the time.

Anyway, rumours spread like wildfire. And it wasn’t long before word got out about Reg and the Captain. Reg found himself getting more and more ostracised for more and more reasons, almost none of which were accurate.

I did my bit to defend him as best I could. I’m sure Trisha did, too. Probably. At one point I asked Clive if he could just manipulate the crew’s minds to make all this blow over, but he refused. At first he vaguely said it was against his code – whatever that meant. Then he simply said, “Never underestimate the power of collective stupidity and boredom. My powers cannot undo what they have created.”

I think he was just being lazy.

Anyway, the bigger problem was that the rumour mill was starting to undermine the Captain’s command, too. Which, on the surface, wasn’t a huge issue as there were only a handful of people who had any respect for that maniac still – but it did cause problems still.

The worst was when the ship’s navigator got caught pulling a face behind the Captain when he was on a video link with a high-ranking regional governor. OK, so that was relatively minor, but still it was only a short step from that to disobeying commands in a battle.

Trisha was still gunning for promotion, but the Captain was getting distracted. He was ignoring her work and using the fact she was a woman to make overt advances towards her – presumably to try and dispel any “rumours” about him and Reg on their trip.

Naturally, she was less than pleased with that and spent four days in the brig, in the cell next to Clive’s, after giving the Captain a black eye and breaking two of his ribs. He maintained it was a long, drawn out “fight” and that Trisha fought dirty – she maintained that she simply kicked the crap out of him until he cried like a little girl.

It was while Trisha was incarcerated that Reg and I were put on guard duty again. I reported for duty, and saw Trisha in her cell. She told me what happened.

I crossed my arms. “Geeez… Are you sure that was entirely necessary?”

She gave me a cold, hard stare. “Have you ever been forced to wear a skirt to work, ‘peaches’?” She managed to load an impressive amount of venom into the word.

“No…”

“Then shut up.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Even behind the forcefield I found her weirdly scary. I made a mental note to try to avoid annoying her.

Reg stormed in, late. “Right, I’ve had enough. Enough. We’re putting a stop to this.” He pointed at Clive without giving anyone a chance to say anything. “You. You’ve been angling for me to get hold of this time machine thing again for ages. Why?”

“I want out.”

“Done.” He pointed at Trisha. “Better working conditions?”

“Yes, please.”

“Done.” He pointed at me.

And froze.

I thought. I thought hard.

Possibly for a little too long.

“Nowhere else to be?” I offered.

“Fine. And I want this awkwardness to stop.” He pointed at Clive again. “You sounded like you had a plan.”

“Yeah. I think it’s time we were less Star Trek and more Firefly.”

Reg thought for a moment. “I don’t know what either of those things are. But we need to pull a heist.”

Clive smiled. “Near enough.”

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