Universal Shift: Part Three

Turned out we’d actually gone back quite far.

Reg got the buttons for seconds and minutes mixed up on the belt. Or Clive’s ‘the belt’s sentient’ theory was right and the thing had finally had enough of us buggering about.

Either way, we tried to keep our nerve as we walked towards the lifeboats. Reg and I had our rifles in-hand, Clive between us, holding his hands together behind his back as if he was cuffed. The problem was Trisha. We didn’t know if, at this point, she was meant to also be in the brig or not.

So she gave me her rifle to sling over my back. She walked a little behind us, just smiling at anyone we passed and trying not to look too weird.

In hindsight, anyone passing us could have wondered what was going on.

The emptiness of the engine room still annoyed me, but then the thing ran with relatively few people milling around now anyway; too many times in the past someone got possessed or had a grudge and tampered with the systems. Limited the crew’s access to it just made sense.

In fact, thinking about it, we were the ones who had most successfully tampered with them. I wondered if anyone on the bridge was wondering why they suddenly were heading in odd directions where we jumped in time.

As we walked, I tried to shake a strange feeling I had. All this was far too much for me to process, and a lot of it simply shouldn’t have happened, let alone made any kind of sense. I wondered if anyone on the bridge was wondering why the ship was suddenly heading in odd directions as a result of our jumps in time and engine rigging. Perhaps, to each new version of them after each jump, everything was just as it always had been.

My head hurt, trying to understand it all. I instinctively tightened my grip on the rifle, paranoia taking over.

We finally reached the lifeboats. The guard in charge at the door eyed us suspiciously. We told him we were transporting the prisoner.

“Really? I’ve not heard anything.”

Clive cleared his throat. “It’s true though.”

The guard nodded.

Clive smiled. “You should all go and treat yourselves to an ice cream.”

The guard returned his smile. “You’re absolutely right.” He turned to his three squaddies. “Chaps.”

And with that we were alone, heading towards the lifeboats.

Something twigged as I realised why I’d been feeling uneasy. I turned to Clive. “That’s how you managed to keep the engine room clear, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “And stop the guards on the way here being too nosey, yes. Needs must, ” he said with a shrug. “I could use a cup of tea and a sit down now, though. That was hard work.”

“Is that why I feel… Strange?” asked Reg. I was glad I wasn’t the only one.

“I’m afraid so. It’s just because I’ve been concentrating on it so hard and you’ve been standing so close to me. It’ll pass.”

Finally clear of the last of the guards, we moved deeper into the hangar. The lifeboats were actually reasonably substantial. They could sustain entire platoons for weeks at a time, travel at speeds nearly as quick as the starship, and… well… a group of four would have relatively little to worry about.

The only slight issue was they were so frigging ugly. A large bubble-shaped habitation module sat upon two large, long legs that jutted out a long way to the front and back, and raised it high into the air. Someone once said they were based on an ancient boat called a catamaran, just taller.

For my part, I just wanted to – for once – try and escape somewhere while looking cool. Not today.

We headed inside the ship nearest the hangar’s main opening into space, just as an alarm went off.

We scrambled to prep our new ride. “Won’t they be able to disable this thing remotely?” I said, punching navigation buttons. Trisha was

Trisha had taken the pilot’s seat for herself. She yanked a fistful of wires out from under the controls. “Not anymore.”

Clive was in the life support systems seat. “Sorry about the alarm. I got too far away from the guards. They must have realised what I’d done.”

Reg, after a moment, sprang up from the co-pilot’s spot. “I’ll just be a tick.”

“Where are you going?” asked Trisha.

“I’m going to buy us some time.” And he was gone again.

“You know… For a man with a time machine, he’s waited a long time to use that line…” I wondered out loud.

Clive smiled. “He used it several times when he was rescuing you and Trisha in the labyrinth, but you don’t remember. He’s been waiting since then.”

Reg reappeared. “Let’s go.” He said as he strapped himself in.

Through the window, we could see a platoon of troops file into the dock, alongside the Captain.

I squinted at them. “When did we get real soliders? I thought the Captain just used us lot for things like this.”

Trisha mashed a couple of buttons, somehow managing to raise the shields, disengage the docking maglock and swing the ship around at the same time. “It actually matters, now. No point using the expendable crew.”

“We had trained troops all along?!”

Everyone turned to look at me and yelled “Yes.” I realised the biggest dummy on the ship wasn’t Reg – it was me.

I sat back in my seat and sighed. “F*** this ship.”

I don’t think any of us felt any remorse as we blasted out of the hangar, the shields deflecting all their small arms fire.

I tapped some buttons on the console in front of me, checking star charts. “S** t, what about the starship’s weapons?” I instinctively looked over at Reg; weapons would be controlled from his seat.

He was leaning back in his chair, his feet up on controls. “Don’t worry,” he said with a dismissive flick of a hand. He was worryingly calm.

He projected a video image onto one corner of the ship’s windscreen. It was a shot behind us; the huge starship we’d left behind gradually shrinking away.

It wasn’t shrinking fast enough, though. In fact, it still loomed very large. One of the main cannons started glowing as it charged. We all braced ourselves.

Nobody said anything. At least we had tried to get away.

There was a flash. The ship disappeared.

Reg smiled.

“Where’d they go?” I asked, suspecting I already knew the answer.

“I left the belt on the floor, set to a timer. They’re back in the past now.”

Clive nodded. “And past Reg – or rather, one of your duplicates – will find the belt…”

Reg grinned. “- Become future Reg who can warn us about the awkwardness.”

Trisha and I shared a look.

“That doesn’t make any f***ing sense,” she sneered.

“No. You made all that up,” I chimed in.

Clive nodded. “Well… You never know. Stranger things have happened.”

I rolled my eyes. “Like that belt being sentient?”

Reg squirmed. “Oh good grief, don’t say that. I’ll feel bad abandoning it with them on the ship, now.”

Trisha checked a few readouts. “But you won’t feel bad about throwing an entire crew into the past?”

He thought for a couple of moments. “Nah. Sod ‘em.”

A red light started blinking on Trisha’s console.

“Uh… Guys? They managed to get a distress call out. They broadcast our identities before they time traveled.”

Clive sighed, deep in thought. “Or they issued the warrants for our arrest wherever they ended up…”

Trisha tapped something else on her screen. “S**t, yeah. You’re right – they were issued seven years ago. We’re among the most wanted criminals in the universe by now.” She kept reading. “Well… Most elusive, at least… Actually – our official categorisation by now is ‘minor annoyance’. We’re only so high on the list because nobody found us after a failed mutiny. Seems we haven’t actually done much since the warrants were issued. I guess because we weren’t actually here. But, yeah – we’re some of the most wanted criminals in the universe, now.”

We all looked at Reg. “What? You all wanted me to get rid of that belt.”

A couple of seconds’ horrible silence followed.

Trisha tapped her console. “And it’ll only be a matter of time before they find the belt, analyse it, and we end up with an entire time-travelling fleet after us.”

Reg was still staring at the ceiling. “Oh. S**t.”

“Can’t be any worse than when they managed to go back in time by sling-shotting around the sun or whatever it was,” I added. Perhaps unhelpfully. “Anyway – if the belt really was sentient, maybe it liked reg. Maybe it won’t co-operate with them. Maybe we can put all of this out of our minds, stop worrying about time travel completely, get a clean start and just move on with our lives.”

Reg scratched his chin, thoughtfully. “Anyway – if the belt really was sentient, maybe it liked me. Maybe it won’t co-operate with them. Maybe we can put all of this out of our minds, stop worrying about time travel completely, get a clean start and just move on with our lives.”

Silence.

“We could have a totally new set of adventures, without any time travel.”

Silence.

“They might be fun.”

Silence.

“Right?”

Nobody believed him.

Clive inhaled deeply. “Well… It can’t be all bad.” We looked at him. “Seven years on the most wanted list and we’ve made it this far.”

Trisha glared at him. “Technically in the same spot we were seven years ago which is actually the spot we were in a few minutes ago, only now we’re in a different universe because Reg sent our angry Captain and his ship so far back they were able to change the entire course of history, thereby not actually solving our problem, merely moving it around a bit?”

Clive smiled. “That’s right.”

I slumped forward and let my forehead hit the console in front of me.

The End…. For Now.

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