Characters owned by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. With thanks to Cmar for beta reading this for me! All reviews welcome!
Chapter One - Testing Times
Rimmer looked up from his exam and peered around at the others in the room. He was surrounded by shadowy figures all scribbling on the paper. Some smegger was already asking for more paper!
Concentrate on the question.
Print your surname.
Right easy. Arnold.
Smeg! Cross that out and write in Rimmmer.
No! Too many 'm's"! Breathe deeply. Calm down. Rimmer started taking deep breaths until spots appeared in front of his eyes. Breathe normally! Breathe normally! He took in several gasping breaths and got the attention of the examiner at the front of the room.
He mouthed 'I'm fine' and looked down again. Right turn over the page… It couldn't be as bad as the practical he had just had. What was the question again? Oh yes… "You will be placed in a nuclear reactor and given a partial copy of the electrical layout. The electrical system has been tampered with. You have seventeen minutes to find the problem and correct it before the reactor melts down." Thank god it was a virtual simulator, if it was real he would have been glowing like a light bulb and Red Dwarf would have blown up and taken out three neighboring suns. Red cable, blue cable? What's the difference? Well quite a lot when it comes to nuclear reactors, he had to admit…
Anyway back to this exam. Turn over the page…. That's good, it has words in English on it. Last time he took it, it was in Swahili. It was just a small mistake on the front cover. "Tick your language." English, Swahili, there was only a few letters difference.
"1. Derive the Euler-Cauchy equations using only a straightedge and compass. Discuss in detail the role these equations had in mathematical analysis in Europe during the 1800s."
He checked the front cover again. Is this Swahili? Or some strange English dialect he didn't know, like cockney rhyming slang? Nope, definitely English.
Rimmer's jaw dropped on the table. This was impossible! Completely impossible! Don't panic, just look at the next question.
"2. Describe, using crayons where appropriate, the workings of the ion drive and its effect on the Pre-Neolithic society of Tasmania."
He rolled his eyes. Just look at the third question.
He rolled his eyes. Right, that's it. He clapped his hands together. "Off!" He shouted in his nasal tones. "Off!"
The examination room shimmered and faded around him and the stark metallic confines of Starbug appeared.
That was the fourth time he had taken the "Virtual Officer's Exam." And the fourth time he had failed. There must be something wrong with it though… The data must have got corrupted or something. The questions were impossible!
True he might be three million years from Earth and the nearest test centre but if he could pass it virtually...! He could be a virtual officer! And let's be honest, he was a virtual officer now. I mean who else was in charge?
Kryten? A cleaning droid, basically. He found out recently his head was the shape it was to clean toilets… He shuddered.
Lister? A man with the drive and determination of a dead slug. The only time he had seen him sprint was when he had run out of poppadoms.
And Cat? A man descended from cats. A man who slept five times a day and who spent the rest of the time preening himself.
No, his one drive was those elusive officer's pips. Unfortunately, being a man, he was refusing to ask directions; and so far his drive had led him into deep space with three people who would need an extra twenty IQ points to achieve the level of moron.
He squared his shoulders, still virtually pip free, and strode into the control centre of Star Bug…
A smell of stale curry assailed his nostrils and he could see a man was slouched at the pilot's seat trying to floss his teeth with a beer mat.
"How'd the exam go then, Rimmer? You were quicker than normal? Are you getting faster at writing 'I'm a fish' now?"
Rimmer gave him his grade three smile. The smile with a hint of menace and the look he reserved for the terminally stupid. Curiously, he used that all the time on Star Bug. "I was quick, Lister, because I was too good for the questions."
"What, you didn't answer them?"
Damn! Damn! Lister was such a smarty pants! "No, not at all. I think you'll find I answered them all correctly."
"Really…" Lister looked down at a small screen and a small smile appeared on his chubby face. "Really?"
Damn him to smeg! He was reading the report. "Well, I wasn't really trying…" He was floundering; he knew he was floundering.
"Let's see that, bud?" asked Cat, peering over his shoulder.
"What's that green bar there?"
"That's how many questions he needs to answer to pass."
"Why's there a bar that goes under that line?"
"That's how many Rimmer got this time…"
Lister screwed up his forehead in concentration. "How did you get a negative result? That's a new one, isn't it?" Lister looked at the text under the graph. "Did you not even spell your NAME right?"
"Very amusing, Listy, very amusing! I wasn't trying! Try to get that in your curry filled vacuum you have under your hat! It wasn't a real test! It's defective, it's broken. If it were a real test I would pass! I know I would pass! I just don't bother with virtual tests. I mean they aren't real! Why should I try in them? Who wants to pass a virtual exam?" Rimmer gave a huge, over inflated sigh. "Sadly, I'll probably never get another chance to take a real exam…"
Kryten clucked like a mother hen. "Now sir, that might not be entirely true…"
Rimmer's face screwed up and he talked to the animated toilet cleaner. "What do you mean, not entirely true?"
"Well sir, you know we've been picking up an SOS call for the past six days."
Rimmer shook his head. "I know, I know, that's why we left the small rouge one parked round that planetoid. We've run out of curry again! What a surprise! Wouldn't it be easier to convert Lister to a love of pastas than chase round half the galaxy every time he gets hungry?"
Lister shook. "I need my curry! I just need one last curry, man! I'm going cold turkey!"
"Lister, for you there is no such thing as one last curry… It might do the air conditioning some good to take you off the curry diet for a few weeks though. You know the air filters we have on board? They are designed to protect the crew from lethal mine gases like stythe, carbon monoxide and methane in quantities by the kiloton. They are supposed to have a lifetime's guarantee! We've had to replace them five times already!"
Lister shrugged. "So?"
"Since we left the ship."
"A day ago!"
Lister's chubby face smiled at Rimmer. "Brutal!"
Rimmer shook his head. "Anyway, what were you blathering about, Kryten?"
"The ship the signal is coming from, sir, is a Space Corp vessel. I've downloaded the files on it. It is basically a Space Corp test vessel for officers. It is a fully accredited Test Center for the Space Corp Astronavigation Officers."
"What's it doing out here?"
"Well, according to the computer records the cadet doing the last test on it accidentally opened the shields on it and irradiated the Space Cadet crew. Just before doing a sling shot maneuver round the sun. It has taken three million years just to slow down."
"My heart bleeds for the stupid little smegging officer. Oh, my parents own half of Space Corp, cadets."
Kryten's toothless mouth broke into a smile. "I can book you an exam on it, sir. The ship's on board computer has the authority to award you your pips. You could be an officer!"