'This is the end,' said an old man.
'Aww, why does it have to end there?' replied one of the younger listeners.
'With every story,' began the old man, 'there must be a beginning and an end. Real life, of course, doesn't work like that. Whether there is a happy or sad ending in real life, is a matter of perspective. But when you're telling a story, like I am to you now, I need to introduce the story, like I did when I told you about the man who didn’t quite feel comfortable about his name, about how he fell through the floor after a confrontation with a sports man. Now what did that tell us about that man?'
There was a mass shrugging of shoulders from the dozens of people in the stuffy old room. 'That he can't stay in one place?' said a more mature member of the group.
'Well, yes, I suppose it does,' laughed the old storyteller. 'But more than that, he is a man without boundaries. Not even in control of his own life. I mean, is he a ghost? Is he even human? And what about the ending as I have told it...?'
'Did it have to be so tragic, though?' said a little girl.
'Sadly, the events surrounding this story are tragic. But I tell you them as they were passed on to me. When these events happened, oh so long ago, do you think the CMV Firestorm crew expected to have to fight on their own, for so long after the death of so many of its crew? That they would be drifting in time and space for so long? I was one of the fortunate to see the CMV Firestorm finally dock again on Earth...'
'But when... you know... he died.... I mean, why did they carry on?' said another member of the audience.
'Who knows? All I do know is that they were strong. Now I am tired. I will rest for a while and tell you another story tomorrow.' The storyteller got up off his chair and went towards his resting area....
'Fire!' said the lead gunner of the CMV Firestorm.
'We can't, sir! It's jamming,' replied another gunner. 'There's just too many of them!'
The battle had raged for hours. Many of the support ships had been destroyed in the opening encounter, but the Firestorm had held off for a long time. It had initially battered its way out of the dock, but its time-shifting mechanism had been disabled strategically, so it was forced to fight on the run.
For living organisms, the Blieg were fast. They were used to travelling in space. Ironically, it was when influenced by gravity that they were at their slowest. They had left several severe dents on the hull and had almost broken through the substantial hull.
On the bridge, all was quiet. There were two Terry Horowitzes: one had been born and lived a life that affected little outside his own world; the other had influenced the universe millions of years in the future. And yet they were the same man. The former considered the latter as he looked at him. Alternative time lines. Different possibilities. It was not good for one's mental health, that much was certain. 'They're after us, aren't they?' The bridge crew suddenly turned towards the former Terry Horowitz. 'I mean, me and the other me. If I went and gave myself up, you'd still have a Terry Horowitz left to save the Universe.'
Talia ran towards her Terry. 'No, Terry, it doesn't work like that. We can't lose either of you. The universe wouldn't exist without you... I couldn't exist without you.'
The other Terry looked at his less successful counterpart and said nothing. He was deep in thought, considering his part in this. The Universe had some reason to revive him. But he didn't know what it was yet.
Suddenly, Corporal Boach ran on to the bridge and exclaimed, 'They've broken through! We just can't cope....'
Talia stood up. 'I've got to go down there,' she said. But before she went, Recma stopped her. 'You're needed here. I'll stop them.'
'But...' she started.
'You need to get our cargo to safety. I'll plug the holes.' And with that, Recma took a group of men, including Corporal Boach. Talia went straight to a station and started working.
A bitter, evil man, twisted, not so cowardly as he had once been, was pulling things together. Norman was ready to make his final move and kill Terry Horowitz. 'Focus now,' he said. And with that thought, the power that he wielded through his mind and through the Blieg hive mind, he pulled a man through to his domain. But then another followed....
'Terry!' cried Talia as two men disappeared. 'We have to find them!'
Recma had killed at least twelve Blieg, but even with the comparative few that had gotten through the breach in the Firestorm's defences, there was still a vast army of Blieg waiting. Boach had been lucky — he'd been next to Recma, who had taken the bulk of the Blieg, but had managed to take one Blieg down with his new weapon, of which he had little understanding. Suddenly a Blieg grabbed him, and he thought that was the end.
He was a little annoyed. He didn't like the idea of dying. In fact, he wasn't at all keen on it. His old mate Screwy from school had always told him not to fart when he died because it would make him look stupid. Why he thought of that now he had no idea. Sadly, his bodily functions were beyond his control at the moment. Then, suddenly, the creature looked down at him... or at least, Boach thought that it looked down at him with what looked like a jaw attached to an arm. It decided not to kill him. And with a flash he was no longer on the ship but in a chamber in another place. He was chained up by the Blieg and then left alone. Karl Boach was just bewildered, and then he looked around and saw other people from different times. He knew what this was. He'd heard in the papers about what scientists from his time did. They collected samples. Karl Boach was now a sample. 'Well, I guess this is better than dying....'
'Don't be fooled, lad,' said a man from another time. 'They’re going to keep us alive until they can experiment on us. I've fought these buggers before. They'll skin us alive, and then test us so they can learn from us. Then you'll die a painful death.'
Boach nodded. 'That sounds about right. Oh well... bugger.'
In the same complex, two Terry Horowitzes surprised a man called Norman. 'Two of you? What is this?'
The bearded Terry Horowitz stood up and spoke. 'I am Terry Horowitz of the stories that you heard about. I am the Terry Horowitz who drove the Blieg back originally. I am the Terry Horowitz who lost his wife and children to descendants of the Blieg, and I shouldn't exist. And I am the one who will destroy this bubble in space and time.'
Norman smirked and laughed, albeit unconvincingly. 'How will you do this?'
'By taking myself by the hand, and believing in myself.'
It occurred to Terry — our Terry — that he had not had any contact with his counterpart, but did not think what this would mean to the universe, two Terrys existing at the same time. Before he realised it, his counter part had grabbed him by the hand. He suddenly felt a fire, and power rushed through him that he had never felt before. The whole room shook, and both of them were alight as if on fire....
On the bridge of the CMV Firestorm, a space station appeared from nowhere. A ghostly voiced echoed through the communications system. 'Fire on it.'
Immediately, Talia gave the order to fire. But the weapons system was down. 'What?!' screamed Talia. 'Recma, we have to get the weapons system online.' Recma replied that he would get right on to it.
The defences of the base went down. Karl Boach suddenly found all the electronic systems that had restrained himself and the other 'specimens' open. With that, they all looked at each other. 'What are we waiting for?' said Boach. 'Let's get out of here.'
They all ran out, dozens of them. Then, as Karl was running, he got a sudden urge to go back and check something. He ran towards the bridge.
The two Terry Horowitzes were now locked together, unable to move due to the sheer force they were having on the universe. Norman, however, was slowly coming to his senses. 'I will not let you end this.'
He reached for his lance. The blaze of light from the two Terry Horowitzes began to merge and they began to become one person. And still the ripples through time and space were merging.
Norman, however, had the hive mind of the Blieg behind him. With sheer force of will he stood and looked, with pure evil in his heart. 'Die. Die now!' he said, and he skewered the merged Terry Horowitz in the heart.
Karl Boach ran in and suddenly saw the merged Terry Horowitz explode. He was holding his rifle, which had been collected as a specimen.
Norman was laughing manically. Then he saw Corporal Karl Boach, but he recognised him.
'You... you're that tramp... that laughing tramp,' said the confused but happy Norman.
It only took one 19th-century bullet in the end. Corporal Karl Boach fired and ended it all. The Blieg pulled back, unfocused, confused. No leader.
Norman collapsed to the group, a bullet to the head. 'Okay, whatever. I'm the tramp, but you're dead,' smirked Boach grimly. Suddenly, the consoles around Boach suddenly started to explode. 'But I'd better get out of here!'
Boach was barely aware of who Terry Horowitz was. But figured that his disappearance wasn't good. An explosion behind him threw him to the ground. He could see a window to space. He'd never seen space like this; the stars seemed so much brighter. Would Boach die now? As the smoke appeared around him, he looked out of the window and saw a space ship fire at him. He braced himself for death. 'Ah, bugger.'
As the space station creaked, the world around him changed, and once again he got the feeling he was moving through space. When he opened his eyes again, he was on the bridge of the CMV Firestorm.
'So why was Terry Horowitz's story the 168th greatest in the universe, storyteller?' asked a confident little boy.
'I've finished that story, son,' said the storyteller.
'But it's so interesting. Why 168?' said the boy again. The rest of the group showed similar interest to know the answer.
'Well, okay. Have you ever heard of the story The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?' asked the story teller.
Some nodded enthusiastically; some vaguely murmured something about hearing about it.
'Well, it's true. Every word. And one of the central themes of it was there was this machine called Deep Thought. And its purpose was to find the answer to life, the universe and everything. And the answer was 42.' There were murmurs of confusion, but the storyteller shushed them. 'Well, 42, of course, made no sense — partly because no one knew the question. Well, 168 is a multiple of 42. Now, there are 4 points to the equation of everything right. Well, 42 is at each of those points. Now, if the story was listed at 168, then it would always be in a loop.'
'But that makes no...' started a young man.
'Sense? Of course not. I'm not a scientist, I'm a storyteller. Like I said, I just tell you what I was told. Can we move on?'
On the bridge of CMV Firestorm, there were very few people left alive. Ten, in fact. Revo Recma had died just after getting the weapons back online. Boach had been transmatted along with two other 'specimens' in time before the station blew up. The Blieg had gone. Beiphlat just stared in to space and Talia was inconsolable. Her love had died. Only Aelric and Erthgi seemed moderately happy, if a little confused. The vast majority of the crew had died in explosions in the main part of the ship, after the ship had decompressed temporarily.
The ship just stood still. Suddenly, Erthgi's staff started flashing. Beiphlat looked at it, and smiled grimly. 'Let's start putting the universe back together.' The ship in the void slowly lurched forward, and work started on its impossible mission.
Terry Horowitz and the CMV Firestorm will return....