*over the com*
‘Attention all decks, all stations. This is…Commander Matthews? Is this a dream? Are we dreaming within a dream? How can we know, for certain, if we are awake or asleep, when our dream world is just as convincing as our supposed awakened world? So this void, this…nightmare we are in…might not be real…but a dream…but who is the dreamer? Whose dream are we in? Am I even a real person or am I someone else’s construct? And what horrid, twisted mind could dream up such a nightmare for us? Who’s deranged mind could create this void we are slowly succumbing to? Am i the dreamer? Are you? And if not us, then who? And, can we escape? Escape the fate that is written for us? I…want to awaken. Wake up. Leave this dark nightmare. Maybe Davidson had the right idea? Knew something we don’t. Maybe there is only one way to escape the void. One obvious and extreme unavoidable answer that has been there all along…the inevitable. I, for one, want to wake up. I want to go home. To earth, to light, to love. Why can’t that be our dream? Our fate? And if I’m not the dream weaver, then I implore the one who is; WAKE UP! Please wake up. Release us from your nightmare. Matthews…out.’
*over the com*
‘Attention all decks, all stations, this is Captain Amity. Disregard that last communication and resume your normal duties and activities. Commander Matthews, report to my ready room. Immediately.’
Dunkhan comes to a close of his lengthy barrage of indoctrination into the confused, somewhat desperate and impressionable mind of the young officer on guard duty, Ensign Holly O’Brian. They stand, face to face in close proximity, only the force field separating them. They have been talking for hours throughout the night. O’Brian had, perhaps out of misguided morbid curiosity, questioned Dunkhan’s reasons for doing what he had done. But Dunkhan had sensed something more than just casual intrigue. A longing to understand and be connected to a grander scheme. She had explained that she had become disillusioned with the Space Core and the chain of command, and weary of the status-quo. She had a rebellious glint in her smouldering shale coloured eyes. He could tell, that much like he, she could potentially be a vessel, a channel for the void, and with the right guidance and teaching, she could become a disciple of the inevitable. A disciple of death.
‘So you see, Ensign, the inevitable is accessible to us all. Even you. When you realise that it was no accident that we ended up here, that the void summoned us here to do it’s bidding, however that manifests, then you will know fulfillment like never before. You can fill that empty hole in your life with meaning. All you have to do is let it in. Allow it to work through you.’
O’Brian looks down at her feet and nods.
‘But what about you?’ she asks, looking up and meeting Dunkhan’s gaze. ‘Is this what the void intended for you? To murder? To be incarcerated for the rest of our time here?’
‘And just how much time do you think we have here? All this, this bubble, this so called life will not last forever. Even our universe will face the inevitable. And when the last remaining remnants of the desolate universe evaporates and there is nothing left, nothing left to perish, then, even death will die, Ensign.’
‘Stop calling me that,’ O’Brian barks, and flicks a coil of auburn hair out of her face. ‘In this place, this void, it just seems so…irrelevant.’
‘You’re right, of course, O’Brian. Everything is irrelevant in this place. Except the inevitable. The ship has limited power. Our food and energy supplies will eventually run out. Those hypocrites,’ Dunkhan sneers, and slaps his hand against the force field in front of him. A shimmering blue light ripples across his white curls and reflects in his searing, peering pink eyes. ‘They will be grateful of the flesh when the last of the rations run out. They’ll be eating their dead, glad of my culinary skills. You don’t honestly think we will ever escape the void, do you? Escape the inevitable?’
‘We may not be able to escape the inevitable, but there is a chance that we can escape the void.’
‘Of course, the senior staff have to tell you that, otherwise there would be chaos. The hierarchy would dissolve. But the void won’t let us leave. The void and the inevitable are one and the same. And it will claim us all. It’s already begun. There is no going back now. No stopping the inertia of it. There’s no one on the ship strong enough to defeat the void. It is too powerful. An ancient behemoth has snared us and swallowed us all whole. All that is left is to be slowly consumed. So why wait? Why not do the void’s bidding?’
‘But how do I know what the void wants me to do?’
‘You will know. It’s nothing general. It will be specific and unique to you.’ Dunkhan’s mouth stretches into a slithery smile. ‘The void works in mysterious ways.’
O’Brian, with an inquisitive hypnotised glare in her eye, just slowly nods at Dunkhan. The doors to the brig whsssh open and the day-shift duty guard rushes in. He is distracted, straightening his uniform, and almost walks into O’Brian. He halts in his tracks.
‘I’m late, I know, I apologise,’ he says, and then confusedly looks to Dunkhan and then back to O’Brian.
‘Am I interrupting something here?’ he asks, raising an eyebrow.
O’Brian just glares at him and says nothing.
‘You know the Captain’s feelings about fraternizing with prisoners, Ensign.’
O’Brian takes an intimidating step towards her superior, invading his personal space.
‘You know the Captain’s feelings about officers turning up an hour late for their shift, Lieutenant.’
The Lieutenant just grumbles for a moment realising the stalemate.
‘Yes, well, we’ll just put this down to you being over-tired,’ he says, anxiously. ‘Perhaps some sleep will replenish your regard for your superiors?’
‘Perhaps. Perhaps not,’ O’Brian says, coldly, looking from one eye to the other. She brushes passed the Lieutenant and makes for the doors.
Trembling and dumbfounded, the Lieutenant just stares ahead. The brig doors whsssh open and O’Brian exits the room. The Lieutenant waits until they close again.
‘Dismissed,’ he says, throwing a quick glance at Dunkhan, who glances back looking like a hungry wolf transfixed on it’s prey.
‘What did you say to her?’ the Lieutenant asks.
Dunkhan hisses and slaps his hands against the force field, causing it to flash. The Lieutenant jumps a foot in the air, away from the cell. Dunkhan snickers into his terrified face.
‘You…you had better watch it!’ the Lieutenant blurts, shakily wagging a finger at Dunkhan, before timidly walking over to the console at the rear of the room.
Dunkhan, now wearing a puissant python like grin on his face, slowly edges backwards. He clasps his hands and sits down on his bed.
‘So, that’s myself, Prowse and now O’Brian. The void must be building an army.‘
He lies back on his bed, lazily watching the blue flicker of the force field.
‘You really do work in mysterious ways, don’t you?’ he calls out to the void.
The doors to the Captain’s ready room whsssh open and Matthews strides in. Amity is at her desk, PADD in hand, a cup of coffee in the other, pouring over a report.
‘You wanted to see me, Captain?’ Matthews says, approaching her desk. Amity’s eyes lock onto his.
‘Firstly, don’t do that, Mark,’ Amity sighs, sitting her coffee and the PADD down.
‘Don’t do what?’
‘Pretend that you don’t know why I’ve called you here.’
‘With all due respect, Ma’am, can we start this conversation again without you treating me like an eight year old who’s been called to the head master’s office?’
‘What the hell is going on with you, Mark?’ Amity says, rising out of her chair. ‘What was that shipwide communication all about?’
‘Nothing’s going on with me, Cal. For christ’s sake, I was reaching out, to the crew. Giving them something to ponder over.’
‘Yes, ponder over their Commander losing his mind.’
‘Oh please,’ Matthews scoffs and spins around, turning his back. He quickly spins back around to face Amity.
‘Don’t tell me you’re not feeling the pressure, Cal. I know you are. We all are. There’s not one of us on this ship who isn’t losing their mind in some way. The only exception being the Doctor because he’s constantly self medicated. He’s not so much losing his mind as…out of his mind. Well, the Doc and…Counselor Valda…’
‘Can we concentrate on you for the moment?’ Amity asks, placing her hands on the table top and leaning forward. Matthews shrugs. ‘I would hardly call it reaching out to the crew, Mark. It sounded more like a cry for help.’
‘Maybe it was?’ Matthews admits. ‘It’s this place.’
He walks over to the window and peers passed his weary reflection, out into the blackness for a moment.
‘Y’know, it amazes me that I’m surrounded by so many people, the crew, and yet I’ve never felt so alone in all my life. I feel like I am being emptied out. Becoming empty, like the void. Becoming the void.’
‘You know you can come to me, Mark. You don’t have to be alone.’
‘I miss love, Cal,’ Mark says, turning to face her. ‘I miss intimacy and caressing. Touch. Someone to hold. Someone to hold me. I can’t exactly come to you for that, can I?’
Amity just looks down at the floor.
‘I miss my wife,’ Matthews says, turning to face the void again. ‘I keep having the same nightmare. More than a nightmare, a vision. My wife by my graveside. She must think I am dead. The Space Core, they must think we are all dead. Maybe we are dead and this is some kind of purgatory. Or worse yet…’
‘I don’t think we can quite call it hell yet.’
‘That old religion, they used to depict hell as fire and brimstone. But maybe they got it all wrong. Maybe it’s this. Nothingness, but the slow degradation of sanity.’
‘I don’t think it was merely the details they got wrong, Mark. They just got it wrong. All of it.’
‘I’ve been thinking about what Jamieson said.’
‘Do you not feel like there is someone, or something, directing all this? Controlling us and watching us?’
‘Like who, Jamieson?’
‘God…the devil?’ Amity laughs, shaking her head. But then she understands the Jamieson connection. ‘Hang on, you mean the computer?’
Matthews turns back to her.
‘Consider what Jamieson reported. I’ve had my own suspicions about that damn computer for a while.’
‘Mark, we are straying into the realms of paranoid delusion here.’
‘Jamieson said he found a hidden room on the ship and spoke with a sentient intelligent life form; the computer.’
‘The computer is intelligent. But sentient?’
‘Oh, it’s intelligent alright. But not intelligent enough to miss a comet when it just happens to stray close by to the ship? And why is it when we ask about the collision, all we get from the computer is the silent treatment?’
‘The collision was more than likely an accident due to computer error. And the silent treatment can be explained as systems malfunction. Not computer sentience and malevolence.’
‘Computer error? The most powerful computer ever created? I’m telling you,’ Matthews says, walking back to the Captain’s desk. ‘It’s hiding something.’
‘You can’t say that for certain, and frankly, neither can Jamieson. Granted, Jamieson’s return to the ship is still a bit of a mystery and he has a fantastic story to boot, but you said so yourself in your communication, the line between reality and dreams can be blurred sometimes, particularly through stress or trauma.’
Matthews stares at Amity with an unconvinced strain on his face.
‘It brought us here, I know it.’
‘Okay, Mark,’ Amity says, shrugging and raising her hands. ‘Let’s entertain the idea that the computer is sentient. And it brought us here. To what end? And if it is engaged in some sinister plot and it is so malevolent, why would it spare Jamieson’s life? Why beam him back to the ship and let him tell the story of his encounter? Surely it would have been easier to kill him or let him die? Why doesn’t it just kill all of us?’
There is a silent pause.
‘Why doesn’t it just reveal itself?’ Amity adds.
‘Maybe it’s a test?’ Matthews answers. ‘It’s testing us.’
‘The computer is testing us? Mark, can you hear yourself?’
‘Maybe some secret and sick part of the science administration in the Space Core back on earth programmed, or asked, the computer to bring us here. To test how we react.’
‘This is getting more and more far-fetched.’
‘Maybe it’s working with someone on the ship?’
Amity just shakes her head.
‘No, think about it for a minute. Jamieson said that the walls of the hidden room he discovered were lined with display screens.’
Amity just shrugs.
‘Why would the computer need display screens?’ Matthews continues. ‘If it wanted to observe the crew it would just use the ship’s internal sensors or directly access the ship’s visual relays.’
Amity looks down at the floor. She huffs and rubs the back of her neck.
‘Mark, I want you to report to ship’s counselor, Leenda Valda. Schedule some time with her’.
Matthews looks outraged.
‘This is an order.’
‘Captain, I assure you, I may be feeling the pressure but I’m not crazy.’
‘No one is saying you are, Mark? I’m going to order the entire crew to see ship’s counselor. You’re not being singled out.’
‘And if I refuse?’ Matthews says, straightening his posture and pulling his shoulders back.
‘I don’t want to have to relieve you of duty. But, one way or the other, you will be speaking with the counselor.’
Matthews looks hurt.
‘I guess I have no choice then,’ he says, flatly.
‘Mark, I am trying to help you. But she can help you in a way I can’t.’
‘I don’t need that kind of help.’
Amity’s expression hardens but her eyes are sympathetic.
‘You are in denial,’ she says.
Matthews draws in an angry breath.
‘Okay, I’ll go see the damn counselor. But I’m also going to find that room and prove what Jamieson says he saw.’ Matthews heads for the doors. ‘I’ll face that damn computer and then we will see who is in denial.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ Amity asks, affronted.
Matthews halts as the doors whsssh open.
‘You say I’m in denial? When is your appointment with the counselor, Cal?’
Amity flutters her eyelids, taken aback.
‘I’m not in denial, Mark,’ she says, her eyes quickly glancing at the coffee cup on her desk and then back to Matthews. ‘I will know when it is time to see her. But that time is yet to come, so I will abstain from seeing the counselor for now.’
Matthews just lets out a disgruntled huff.
‘I thought as much,’ he says, nodding, and turns and exits the room.
The doors whsssh closed and Amity stands for a moment in a slight daze. She eventually lowers herself back down into her seat.
‘Bloody paranoid delusional psychosis,’ she says, shaking her head and opening her desk drawer. She lifts out a small flask and unscrews the lid. She pours another small measure of bourbon into her coffee, replaces the lid and stows the flask away into the drawer. She lifts the cup to her mouth.
‘Sentient computers and secret heinous plots,’ she scoffs, and takes a sip of her coffee, ‘and he says I’m the one in denial!?’