Disclaimer: Red Dwarf and all related characters and indicia belong to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and possibly to the Beeb, not to me. Really. If I had them, would I be doing this? I think not.
"What the smeg is that?"
It looked, Lister thought, like nothing so much as a banged-up T-95 Headhunter, the sort of small transport craft used around the shuttle bases for taxi service—only something seemed to have tried its damnedest to bite the ship in half. Kryten tapped out commands on the consoles, and a couple of wireframe models appeared on the screens, turning clockwise.
"It appears to be a derelict spacecraft, sirs," said the mechanoid, typing. "Just scanning—yes—reading no lifeforms at all aboard. Just space debris." He gave them a lipless grin.
Lister frowned and slouched back in his seat, popping the top off another can of Leopard. "Where'd it come from? We're three million years out in deep space...who around here is going to be flying shuttlecraft?"
"Are there any supplies on board, Kryten?" Rimmer was leaning against the Drive Room doorway, arms folded. "Not that it matters to me, of course, but certain persons who shall remain nameless used up the last of the X-cell batteries to run their robot goldfish." He gave Lister a pointed look, which was met with blank preoccupation.
"Er, re-scanning," said Kryten. Lister reached the end of his train of thought, got off, and stood on the platform for a moment.
"Hang on, man," he said. "What d'you want X-cell batteries for, Rimmer? Got a personal leisure object what needs some juice?"
Rimmer's nostrils flared. "Just what I'd expect, Listy, your mind's firmly in the gutter. I happen to require X-cells for a new totally top secret experiment that I'm experimenting with. Secretly."
"You," said Lister, crushing the can against his forehead, "are a smeghead, Rimmer. Well, Kryte? Got any good news?"
The mechanoid turned to them. "It's absolutely fascinating, sirs. Apparently the craft is registered to the Jupiter Mining Corporation. It's one of our own shuttlecraft, lost three million years ago when the crew got wiped out."
"Wait," said Lister. "So it was outside the Dwarf when the drive plate exploded, and it just drifted until now? What're the odds that we've come across it now?"
Holly's face appeared on the monitor screen. "Two hundred and sixty-three million to one, Dave."
Lister gave her a weary look. "Fanks, Hol. Well? Anything useful, or do we just chalk this up to the "would you believe this" file and go to bed?"
"The ship appears to contain some basic supplies," Kryten said. "The original manifest lists the entire second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on disc."
"Brutal," said Lister. "We go aboard."
Rimmer rolled his eyes. "Oh, well. I suppose I can put off my very important plans for tonight so that you can dribble over some puerile twenty-first century telly series featuring a stunningly beautiful blonde girl in tight leather pants. Really, I don't know why I bother with you, Listy, I really don't."
Lister woke up, clutching a pillow; he'd been in the middle of a particularly successful dream, and it took him a few minutes to realize that the pillow was not, in fact, who he thought it was. He shoved it aside and squinted at the clock, which read 3:14 AM.
"What the smeg...?" he asked, aloud, and then realized what had woken him. There was a soft, miserable noise coming from the lower bunk.
Lister rolled over and peered over the edge of the bunk, locks hanging almost to the floor, and made out the form of Rimmer curled in a knot facing the wall, shivering.
Lister raised an upside-down eyebrow. "Lights," he said, and Holly lit the sleeping quarters. Eyes squinched almost shut against the sudden illumination, Lister stared at his bunkmate. "Rimmer?" he said, after a while. "Rimmer, what the smeg is up with you?"
Rimmer didn't move; he was lying huddled against the back wall of the bunk, shoulders shaking. Every now and then he would emit a soft moan.
Lister rolled back onto his own bunk and scowled at the ceiling. He didn't particularly want to get up; in fact, what he really wanted was to wiggle his way back into the dream he'd been enjoying, but as long as Rimmer was whimpering like a recently-kicked puppy, that wasn't gonna happen. He heaved a long, put-upon sigh and vaulted out of the bunk.
"Rimmer, wake up," he said, loudly. "You're having a nightmare or something, man."
No response. He leaned over and cupped his hands around his mouth as a megaphone. "Wake up, you gimboid," he demanded.
Still no response. Okay, time to bring out the big guns. "Yo, Bonehead!"
Rimmer jerked awake and rolled over, gasping, eyes huge. Lister squinted at him: there must be something wrong with his lightbee or something, because he looked even paler than usual, and the shadows around his eyes looked bruised.
"What did you call me?" he rasped.
"Nothin'," said Lister. "You were having a nightmare, man. Woke me up out of a perfectly good dream."
Rimmer shivered and pulled the covers over himself more tightly. "Oh," he said. "Sorry."
Lister vaulted back up into his own bunk and told Holly to kill the lights. As he was drifting off, arms wrapped around Sarah Michelle Pillow, it vaguely occurred to him that it was completely against everything Rimmer stood for to apologize to him. Especially after "Bonehead."
Oh well, he thought drowsily. What the smeg.
"Yeeeeeoooooowwwww!" The Cat danced into the living quarters' dining room, resplendent in canary-yellow moire silk with black lapels. "Am I lookin' good, or am I lookin' good? Any more handsome and they'd have to raise me to sainthood!"
Lister looked up from his breakfast (five samosas, six extra-spicy poppadoms with unidentifiable red sauce, and a six-pack of Leopard) and grinned. "What're you so chuffed about, Cat?"
"I ain't seen goalpost-head once today! That's a personal record!"
Lister sat back, chewing. "Hey, you're right. He was still asleep when I got up, and that was about two in the afternoon. It's not like him."
"Hey, who cares?" The Cat moonwalked over to the food dispenser and demanded fish; he joined Lister at the table and began to chant his food-taunting ritual. Lister ate a samosa with a meditative air.
"No, think about it, man. He's normally up at ten, I mean, the crack of dawn. And he charges around the sleeping quarters making all the noise he possibly can and humming his stupid theme tune to himself before going off to find someone else to cheese off."
"So, he's decided to sleep in. So what?" The Cat flipped his salmon off the plate, caught it backhanded before it hit the floor, and growled at it. "Nothin' gets away from this cat, little fishie." He gave Lister an enormous white grin and sank his teeth into the fish with evident delight. Lister pushed away his empty plate and lit a cigarette, ignoring the uncharacteristic flicker of concern for the hologram.
"I'm going down the cinema," he said. "For once it'll be nice to watch me films without Rimmer sneering down me neck."
"Buddy, that is one image I did not need."
Kryten hummed the theme from Androids to himself as he minced along the hallways, hoovering the space dust that collected in the corners of bulkheads, polishing doorplates, occasionally allowing himself a pause to apply Jiffy Windo-Kleen to a particularly dirty rivet-head. Times like this, when he was alone with the surfaces and the cleaning materials, when all there was in the universe was him and his duty—well, these were the best times of Kryten's life.
He swept a feather-duster along the edges of the door to Lister and Rimmer's quarters before palming the door-lock open and stepping inside. He'd taken to doing his main cleaning rounds now, in the middle of the afternoon, because it was the main time when both Lister and Rimmer were likely to be elsewhere—not underfoot, not complaining that their boxer shorts shouldn't bend or that their collection of Napoleon's war diaries had been filed in alphabetic, rather than chronological, order. Which is why it came as some surprise to him when a weak voice from the lower bunk disturbed him mid-clean.
"Mr. Rimmer, sir?" he asked, getting up and retracting his groinal floor-waxer attachment. "Mr. Rimmer, is there anything the matter?"
Rimmer, still in bri-nylon pyjamas, was lying huddled on his side in his bunk. Hologramatic sweat sheened his face and throat. His eyes were dilated so far only a thin ring of hazel had escaped the black. He was shivering. Perhaps most telling, he no longer looked as if something unpleasant was trying to crawl up his nostrils; his normal expression had been replaced by one of weary pain.
Kryten tilted his head. "Mr. Rimmer, sir, are you feeling quite well?"
Sixty percent of Rimmer's typical look of petulant annoyance flickered across his features. "I'm just peachy, Kryten," he rasped. "What time is it?"
"Half past three in the afternoon, sir," said Kryten, his brow ridges furrowed. "Can I get you anything?"
Rimmer sat up, after a couple of attempts, and pulled a blanket round his shoulders. "You can tell me what the smeg was on that ship, Kryten. I feel like a mining juggernaut's run over me, and the stupid room won't stop going around....it's worse than the time Lister got me drunk and then downloaded eight months of his smegging memory into my core program, and that's including the triple fried-egg chilli chutney sandwich." He coughed, painfully. "Well? Go! Get scanning, you novelty-condom-headed lavatory attendant...."
Kryten watched as his eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped back to the pillows, let a few moments elapse, and turned to the monitor. "Holly? I believe we have a situation."
In the cinema, Lister was watching It's A Wonderful Life for the 40, 362th time and ingesting an obscenely large amount of popcorn. The film had got to the part where George Bailey is begging for a loan from the evil bespectacled bank man, and Lister was amusing himself by flicking popcorn husks at the screen every time the evil bespectacled bank man appeared. There was quite a large heap of husks below the screen.
"Well," the evil bespectacled bank man was saying, "do you have any collateral for this loan?"
"Any assets at all?"
"N---Dave? Sorry to cut in," said Holly, who had suddenly replaced Bedford Falls on the screen, "but we've got a bit of a problem."
"Oh, smeg off, Hol," Lister groaned. "I'm watching the film."
"It's Rimmer," said Holly, flatly. "He's caught something."
"He wha?" Lister swigged down the rest of his bottle of vintage port.
"He's got some sort of virus." Holly rolled her eyes.
"Oh, smeggin' 'ell," Lister spat, sitting up straight. "Not again! Tell me he's not gonna go completely and totally spare and start shooting us with hexvision and wearing an outfit straight out of Oklahoma, please, Hol!"
"Nah," said Holly. "Doesn't look like Lanstrom's holovirus."
Lister sagged a bit in relief. "What do we do?"
"We're thinking about that right now," Holly told him. He got up, tucking his popcorn under his arm, and headed back up to the living quarters with a resigned expression on his face.
Rimmer was awake, lying on one of the medical bay's couches, by the time Lister arrived. He looked like hell, worse than Lister had felt when he'd caught mutated pneumonia in the officers' quarters a couple years ago. Kryten had got Holly to produce a hologramatic flannel, which he was wringing in cold water and smoothing over Rimmer's forehead.
"Hey, man," said Lister, quietly. "How you feeling?"
"Smegging awful," Rimmer rasped. "This is all your fault, Lister. You just had to board that derelict yesterday, didn't you. Just had to expose the entire crew to god knows what horrible alien plagues." He coughed painfully. "Well done, Listy. Operation Make Rimmer Miserable is a complete success."
Lister sighed. "Look, Rimmer, man, the ship scanned clean. I wouldn't have gone aboard if there had been any reason to think it was dangerous."
Rimmer closed his eyes. "Just smeg off, Lister, okay? Just go away."
Lister shrugged. "Fine. I'll just go back to watching me film then, shall I."
"Sir," Kryten interjected. "Mr. Rimmer is delirious. He doesn't know what he's saying—"
"Yes I do," Rimmer said, without bothering to open his eyes.
"—both Holly and I have scanned the derelict ship for any signs of dangerous pathogens and come up completely empty, Mr. Lister, sir. There's no way we could have known."
Rimmer opened an eye and quickly shut it again. Lister shrugged. "Doesn't matter, does it? Hol, what do we know about Rimmer's virus?"
"Hang on," said the computer, sounding preoccupied. "I've finally got into the derelict's long-term storage files. It seems...." She trailed off.
"Yes? It seems what?" Rimmer demanded, sitting up with an effort.
"It seems the virus was made here," said Holly. "On Red Dwarf."