It was a dark and stormy night; the meteors came at them in torrents, except at occasional intervals when the SS Infinitum was buffered by the silhouetted shape of an orbiting moon or some large piece of debris as it sped far beyond the limits of the known universe, its single headlight fiercely agitated like a scanty candle flame alone in its mission to pierce the enveloping black void of space and time.
Pyros’s face appeared momentarily in the ship’s main porthole as he lit a match and watched it burn down halfway to his finger. Lyra leaned over to blow it out. “Don’t waste them,” she said. “They’re antiques.”
Pyros binned the match and muttered something that was obscured by a clunk and a judder, as if the ship had hiccuped. Then all was quiet again.
“What the hell was that?” said Lyra.
“Beats me,” said Pyros, using one finger to steer past an oncoming meteor.
Antonio looked up from his book, another of the relics the crew weren’t supposed to be handling. Then again, they weren’t supposed to have come this far off the map. Here be infinity.
“That, my friends, was our ship passing through a continuum,” said Antonio.
“Dammit,” said Lyra. “How long is the loop?”
“That’s just it,” said Antonio, marking his page. “Could be a long loop where we never even reach the end in our lifetimes. Could be a neverending repetition of only a few… seconds.” He was distracted by the ticking of his antique wristwatch, which was slowing like the final breaths of a faithful dog.
“Very helpful,” said Lyra. “Have you worked out how to tell the time on that thing yet?”
Antonio pretended he hadn’t heard.
Pyros dodged the next meteor by steering with his knees. They were getting easier. In fact, instead of hurtling at them, the meteors now floated toward the scout ship like water boatmen swimming through porridge.
“It’s brightening up,” said Pyros. “I’m sticking her on autopilot.”
Antonio shook his head to himself. He scrutinised his watch again. The hand was now hovering over twelve, vibrating furiously as if it were straining to drag the crew, the scout ship, and all of creation along with it into the future.
Antonio beckoned Pyros over to a dark corner of the cockpit. He plucked the matchbook from his shipmate’s breast pocket and flipped it open. All ten matches were in there, lined up present and correct like a miniature army of redheads on parade day.
“Does this mean… it’s resetting already?” said Pyros, glancing out a side porthole to see a meteor suspended in its tracks like a bauble hung from a Christmas tree.
Pyros snatched his matchbook and lurched back to his seat like a drunken sailor returning from shore leave just in time to see his ship disappearing over the horizon. Lyra was seated beside him, her glassy stare following the ship’s headlight into the frozen sea of meteors.
“You know I’ve always loved you, Lyra,” blurted Pyros.
But Pyros was drowned out again by another clunk and judder, as if the ship had been given a heimlich manoeuvre. Then all was quiet again.
“That’s it then,” said Lyra resignedly. “Antonio, tell us a tale to pass the time.”
Antonio cleared his throat, opened his book to the dog-eared page, and as the second hand of his wristwatch reanimated, his tale began:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the meteors came at them in torrents, except at occasional intervals when the SS Infinitum was buffered by the silhouetted shape of an orbiting moon or some large piece of debris as it sped far beyond the limits of the known universe…”
BIO: After dabbling in sport journalism, Van Zeller has moved into more creative writing, favouring sci-fi and fantasy. If you’re reading this bio, it means someone out there liked this one. Find the rest of my published work at www.vanzeller.wordpress.com.