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The Adventures of Beer Keg of Science! (Cover)

Chapter 23

The Adventures of the Beer Keg of Science!
[]

Aboard NMS Beer Keg of Science![]


Main Bridge, NMS Beer Keg of Science!
Interstellar Space, 3 LY from Stettin System, 21 September 3158

{“THIRTY SECONDS TO JUMP”}

“Confirm SDS AI auto-rewake settings.” Lea announced.

From his console, Bob Howard responded, “Confirmed for 5 seconds post-jump.”

“Very good.”

{“TEN SECONDS TO JUMP”}

{“This is the XO.  All Hands, brace for hyperspace jump.”}

Lea smiled, trying to show confidence.  “See you all 15 light-years from here…”



D̸̢̘̖̩̮̟̙̭̪̬̦̉͌̐̆͐͐̌̍̔̊̽͌́͐̊̾I̶̢̛̛̞̻̜̜̮͔͇͖̥̪͐͛̔̅̽̉̒̅͐̈͋̽̕͝͝S̸̢̙̤̰̰̜͌̀͆͒́̄̈̽̀́̐͌̏́̀̌̕͜Č̵̡̺͖̜̯̣̪̗̲͇̗̦͈̪̈́͊̅͒̾̐̉͛̆̎̌͝O̸̧̢̡͈͙͕͚͈̮̣͇̾́̀̉̄̇͐̄̔̔̒͐̕̚͝N̶̡̢̛̯̟̰̣̻̥̘͚̟̜̱̏̋͐̅̔̄͗̃̄̉͐̒̅̏̐͜͝T̶̮̜̥̪̫̉̐̈́͑̇̇̇̔̃̅͊̉͗̕̚͠I̸̗̋̈́̐̓͠Ń̷̢̢̧̻͕̱̼̖̲̱̜͈͓̝̬̹̩̀̈́̑̿̔̈́U̴̟̦̿́̒̋I̷̫͓̯̺͍̯̦̹̱̓T̴̹̳̫̹̩͎͎̣͈͚̆͗͠Y̶̛̛͚͙͍̞̯̝͔͔͚̯͈̫̫̬̤̭͑̀͑̀͒͂̓́̃͂̏̓̋͛̕




Endless White Void.  Time Indeterminate.


Lea found herself in an unfamiliar setting.  Around her was nothing but emptiness, but not in the dark void between stars sense, but endlessly, uniformly, blandly white.  There was light, but no sign of where the light was coming from, and as she looked around, she saw she cast no shadows.

Nor, for that matter, did the others with her.  To her left were two of the officers under her command, Dominique “Mo” O’Brien-Howard, and her husband, Bob.  To her right stood Michael Rozhenko, her tactical officer.

In front of them was a desk.  But, not a desk.  It looked, for lack of a better term, like the electromechanical contraption that might result if you asked a dieselpunk madman to try to create a desktop computer based on description alone.

Behind the desk-that-wasn’t sat an ancient-looking, bald, cadaverously thin man in a dated business suit and tie.  Lea didn’t recognize him, but something about him set her at unease, from his measured bearing, precise movement of his eyes, skin like old, worn parchment, and unsettling presence.  Mo, meanwhile, gasped angrily in recognition, and his appearance was definitely in keeping with the extradimensional being Bob Howard called “Mr. Angleton.”

Seated on molded shadow, the only in the room, far away from the figure at the desk, at unease, though, was a being Lea recognized all too well.  Wearing an impeccably-tailored charcoal suit, with a snow-white blouse underneath was a being who took the elfin features Lea herself bore to their unearthly, inhuman conclusion: Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness.

”Oh shit.” Lea briefly thought.

The third figure she recognized not at all.  His outfit, which stood out the most, was mostly blue, with red-and white highlights, and a bright white five-pointed star on his chest.  The being appeared a typical human male, perhaps late-30s, with a face that was clean shaven, a large, wide nose, dark hair, and pale skin, though a more natural hue, and not the inhumanly-pale skin of the Sidhe queen.  He sat in a simple chair, the back flipped around, with his gloved hand resting upon it, the other balled up at his hip.

“So,” the being spoke, dark amusement creeping into his tone, “you meddled with quantum instabilities and ended up here.  You screwed up.  You know this wasn’t what you were trying to do, and the question is, what do you do now?”

“Dammit, Q…” her tactical officer snarled.

“I’m going to have to stop you right there.  I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to use that micro-brain of yours, and really think about it, Rozhenko.  You’ve never met me before.  How did you know who I am?” the being, this “Q” sneered.  With that, he snapped his fingers, and in a flash of light, the chair was gone, and the being was…different.  Older, perhaps seventy.  Hair grey, as was his neatly-trimmed van dyke beard.  He now wore a black suit, its jacket unbuttoned, and white shirt underneath, different enough in cut to not appear to be outright copying Queen Mab or Angleton, but definitely in the proximity thereof.

Michael barely hesitated.  “Another me from another universe.  One where you and I have met.  Unfortunately.”  He glowered at this Q, but took no other action.

“Indeed.  Nicely done, Rozhenko.  There’s hope for you yet.”, said Q

“Must you antagonize them, Q?” Mr. Angleton croaked.

“Oh, relax, Eater of Souls.  Unlike you two, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet our ‘guests’ earlier.”

“Commander Rozhenko,” Lea asked, “if you would be so kind as to introduce us?”

“This is Q, Captain.  As in the letter ‘Q’.  He’s a member of a group called the Q Continuum, beings of unmeasurable power and unmeasurable trouble.”

Q considered that for a moment, “True, I suppose, from your limited viewpoints.  I assure you, though, Hestonya, that everything I did was to help humanity, and teach them much-needed lessons.  Those lessons may have hurt at times, but the alternatives would have hurt far worse.”

“Indeed.” Mab interjected, nodding slightly.  “The most important lessons are often the most painful.”

“So, what lesson is this meant to teach us?” Lea asked.

Q laughed.  “Oh, no, no, no, Hestonya, I’m asking the questions.  I’m not just going to hand you the answer.  Let’s start with an easy question, though, shall we?  How did you get here this time?”

“Quenya, Q?” she replied.

“Well, Mon Capitane hardly seems appropriate, does it?” the nearly omnipotent being replied.  Next to her, Rozhenko groaned.

“It might help,” Lea noted, “if we had a clearer picture where here is.  When we jumped into Stettin, we experienced what seemed like lives in other universes, with lingering memories afterwards.  But everyone, for the most part, experienced different universes, with a couple of exceptions.  My science officer and sysop both appeared to be linked to your universe, Mr. Angleton.” she said, gesturing to the extradimensional entity bound into a wizened human form.  “We also found Mister Rozhenko here and my executive officer appear to have experienced the same universe at two different points in time.  Which brings me to my next question: where is the rest of my crew?”

“Oh, they’re fine, Lea. In fact, your dear XO is babysitting while we have this lovely chat.  Do you prefer ‘Lea’?” Q asked, “or do you insist on ‘Leanansidhe’?”

“You will not refer to her as such, Q.” Mab said pointedly.

“Fine, fine, Mab my dear.” Q agreed. “I’ll stick to calling Hestonya by the diminutive of her name.  I note that I do not do this as a favor to you, and thus you are not in my debt, but merely to save myself time.  I would not dream of putting you in my debt.”

From behind his Memex, Angleton just huffed in amusement.  “To answer your question, Captain, this is a place between.”

“Between what?” Bob asked.

“Yes.  And between ‘when’, and ‘where’ and ‘why’ as well.” Angleton agreed, smiling.

“You’re between universes at the moment, I’m afraid.” Q continued.  “Right now, you’re in a kind of, call it an elastic spacetime that binds the universes together.  Not Outside the cluster of universes that makes up the multiverse.  That would be all kinds of unfortunate.”

“The borders of my domain.  But close to the Outside.” Mab added.  “Too close.  What did I tell you, child, when you visited my Court?”

“You referred to hyperspace jump drives as dangerous” Lea answered respectfully, “and you warned me to beware the Outer Gates, though you didn’t have time to explain what that meant before the jump ended and we returned to our universe.”

“Do you understand now?” Q asked.

Mo interrupted before Lea could respond.  “Outside…as in outside all the universes, and whatever this place is.  But, wouldn’t that just be another place like this?”

“It is not.” Mab said with finality.

Q continued.  “It’s a place of chaos, disorder, madness…”

“Discord.” Mab interjected, smiling.

“Very funny,” Q said, annoyed.  “And, no.  The Q are a product of our universe.  The Outside, though, is not bound by the common laws of our universes.”

“Its denizens are even worse.  Best to keep them on the other side of the Gates, and throw away the key.” Angleton said dryly.

“We must be close to your universes, though.” Lea thought out loud.

“Oh?” an amused Q asked. “Why would you say that?”

”He’s testing my patience,” Lea thought, “…and my understanding.” she suddenly realized.

Lea thought to her last encounter, and those of her crew, and carefully responded.  “Whatever pulled the Stettin system from another universe into ours, and presumably displaced our Stettin, weakened the barriers between universes.  Assuming for the moment, that it didn’t come from any of your own universes. You must all be on the borders of weaknesses in your own universes.”

“Yes, but I’m nowhere near Stettin in my universe.” Angleton observed. “I was back on Earth…after a fashion.”

“This is part of my domain.” Mab added.

Everyone turned to Q.  “Well, don’t look at me.  I wasn’t anywhere near my universe’s Stettin at the time.  But how did you misfits manage to make it worse jumping the second time?”

“I don’t know.” Lea admitted.  “We were careful.  We thought we’d understood what went wrong, and how to compensate for it, using what we’d learned at Stettin.  We’d thought the danger had passed.”

“I warned you about your hyperspace drives. Yet you thought there was no danger at all?” Mab asked sharply.

“No, Queen Mab.  Our first jump made clear there was a danger at Stettin,” Lea explained.  “but we’ve been using jump drives for the last thousand years of history of our universe without any indication that there are these kinds of widespread dangers.  That doesn’t mean things can’t change, and an incursion of an entire star system would certainly count as change, but we thought we’d accounted for that, using what we’d learned.”

“Maybe that’s the problem.” Bob mused.  “Maybe modifying our jump equations to take into account the distortions to space-time and the quantum fluctuations made things worse, and pushed us farther out of our universe. Like we were riding the wave instead of fighting it.”

“Nicely done, Mister Howard.” Angleton said.  “Even this variation of you continues to demonstrate adequacy.  Now, do you see the danger?”

Bob nodded, “We may have shot ourselves right out of our universe permanently.

“Or at least made it take longer for us to rubber band back to our universe.” Mo noted.

Lea frowned.  “We might jump farther than expected.  That’s happened to JumpShips before, and our drive was originally rated for 30 light-years.”

“So, which is it, Lea?” Q asked, his voice dripping with contempt.  “How badly did you and your crew screw this one up?  Are you stranded here forever?  Will you bounce back a week late?  A month?  A century?  Will you find yourself catapulted across the galaxy, hopelessly lost?”

“Wait.” Lea said flatly, holding up her hand, as if to hold them in place.

“Wait?” Mab asked dryly.

“Why are we here? With the three of you?” Lea asked.  “Multiverse, right?  But that’s twice now that we’ve had this happen mid-jump, where time seems to stretch out for us, and we find ourselves talking with beings another variation of us is linked to in another universe.  But, there’s a problem with that.”

“And what problem would that be?” Q asked.

“Like I said, it was different universes for each of us, for the most part.” she continued.  “Except, this jump, at least for the four of us. We’re interacting with beings from those same universes, and in the case of Bob, Mo and I, the same beings.  Why?”

“All those questions.” Q mused, “You find yourself wondering that.  Quite the mystery, isn’t it?  Maybe this variation of you just resonates strongest with this variation of us.  Maybe we simply like visiting with you, Lea.  Or maybe, somewhere, there’s an idiot with a typewriter.  So to speak.”  Smiling, Q stretched his arms out wide.  “It’s a good question, Lea.  The right question.  But, I can’t answer it for you, I’m afraid.  You’ll have to learn that on your own.”


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