Rimmer laced the word with every bit of derision he had at his command - which was rather a lot. Cat grinned sheepishly, tongue flicking over his sharp upper teeth.
"Whups. Sorry, bud." Cat pursed his lips, then pushed back from the table, stood up, and started to swagger out of the room.
"Wait!" Rimmer barked. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Time for my midafternoon nap, alphabet-head. If I don't get my beauty sleep, I just won't be as beautiful." Cat patted his immaculately coiffed hair with a dazzling grin. Rimmer was undazzled.
"Get back here, tuna-breath. That dandruff can't have gone far. Help me find it!" Rimmer craned his neck and started to peer intently at the back of the microscope.
Cat wrinkled his nose. "Man, it was nasty enough to find that crud the first time around!"
Rimmer scanned the table behind the microscope, not noticing in the intensity of his search that he was now standing in the middle of the table. He suddenly pointed and shouted in triumph, "There it is! Right there! Stuck together with some of your snot!" He glanced up at Cat, whose expression was moving through a fascinating array of various states of disgust. "Get a slide and scrape it on!"
Cat sighed and picked up a slide from the box next to the microscope. He scraped the dandruff off of the table with a coverslip, and stuck it on the slide. He turned to Rimmer, who was hopping from foot to foot with uncontained excitement. "Buddy, you owe me. I mean, big time."
Lister poked his head inside of the door to the officers' mess. He frowned. No Cat. The feline never skipped his midafternoon nap. He had curled up in the pilot's seat once during an emergency landing. The conversation afterwards had been typical - "Hey, bud, if I get those unsightly dark circles under my eyes, I might as well be dead!" But Cat was not curled up on Lister's bunk, or on the table in their quarters, or on top of that nice warm coolant passage in the hallway. Lister sighed. "Holly?" he asked, turning towards the monitor in the corridor.
No answer. "Holly!" he yelled, loudly, a small eddy of panic starting to stir in his gut.
Holly's blond head appeared on the monitor. "Whot?" she asked, peevishly.
"Holly! Where's Cat?"
"Down 'ere. Now, do you mind? This is complicated business!"
"Interfacing with that computer on the research ship. Makin' Rimmer a body. Anything else you wanted to know that can't wait until I'm done 'ere?"
Oh, bloody smegging hell, Lister thought. He tore down the corridor towards the docking bay. Behind him, Holly rolled her eyes and blinked back out.
The sprint had turned into an easy lope long before he reached the other ship. He paused outside of the entrance to the cloning room, blowing heavily. Once he had some of his breath back, he walked in. The first thing he saw was Cat's back; he walked up to it and tapped the feline's shoulder.
"What," pant "the smeg," pant "is goin' on here?" pant pant
Cat pointed to the cramped area in front of the wall-sized cloning computer. "Goalpost-head wanted to recreate himself from his old dandruff. Silicone brain said he should make his bee part of the clone, or he wouldn't really be alive again. Then that whole business with the purple glowy thing happened again, and it's just been doing this for a while." Cat waved at the purple glowy thing. In the middle of it stood Rimmer. He appeared frozen, and was translucent; Lister could see his light bee faintly, and was startled to see that it was fragmenting, slowly, the fragments spinning around and moving towards the surface of Rimmer's body. Lister glanced over to the computer; Holly's head was superimposed over the complex pattern of flashing colored lights on the control panel. She appeared to be arguing with herself in a low mutter.
"Shu' it, Dave!" she snapped, and went back to muttering to herself. Lister sighed and glanced at Cat, who shrugged and started to preen himself in a small mirror that he whipped out of his breast pocket. Lister turned back to Rimmer. The metal fragments that had been his light bee were multiplying, and starting to stick to the surface of his body in clusters.
"Right!" Holly exclaimed suddenly, in a triumphant voice. "Got 'im!" The purple glow intensified for a moment, then disappeared, leaving a rather startled Rimmer standing, nude, in front of the computer. His expression started with startlement, and then slowly moved towards exhilaration as he reached out and touched the console under Holly's bored face. "I'm alive!" he gasped.
Lister shook his head. "Rimmer, whot the 'ell were you thinkin'? You shouldn't go screwin' around with yerself like that."
It was a measure of Rimmer's surprised delight, Lister noted, that he did not fire off a scathing response. "Lister! It worked! I'm alive!" He stepped towards them with a broad grin on his face.
Lister sighed. "Man, yeh just don't know, do yeh. Kryten is miserable bein' a human. He's startin' to talk about changin' back again. You can't just mess around with yourself like this and expect it all to work out hunky-dory." How could Rimmer stand there looking so pleased? Then it clicked - caught up in the thrill of tactile sensation for the first time in years, Rimmer just had not noticed. Yet.
"Listy - Kryten was a mechanoid to start with! Of course he can't stand being human! I was a human to start with - I'm back where I belong!"
"Rimmeh..." Lister spoke slowly and clearly, as if to a child, "yeh aren't human."
Rimmer gave him a quizzical look, and then followed Lister's eyes to look down at his own body. His eyes widened. He looked roughly like the same pale, lanky smeghead he had been while alive, but his right arm was metal up to his shoulder. The metal continued in a band down his right side, expanding slightly to cover his entire right leg. The metal was composed of uncountable small fragments that shifted in relation to each other in mind-numbing patterns as he moved. He had six nipples running in neat pairs down his chest. He frowned and touched the two long, sharp teeth that curved down from behind his upper lip. He jumped as soon as his fingers touched them, and then turned to Holly. "Holly! What the smeg is going on?"
"Welll..." she drawled, "there was a lot to integrate, wasn't there? Your dead self's dandruff, all of your personality and memories from the bee, the Cat genes from the mucus..."
"Whot, didn't you want that in there? I figured that's why you brought the dandruff in like that, swimming in snot. Well..." she gave an expression that would have matched a shrugging pair of shoulders perfectly, "it's done now."
Cat looked at the hybrid Rimmer with disgust. "Well, looks like my place as sexiest feline on the ship is in noooo danger."
Rimmer grimaced at the Cat, but lapsed back into a goofy grin as he felt his way along the walls of the ship. "It doesn't matter. I'm alive! I can feel! I have so much to do!"
"The first thing you should do..." Lister muttered. Rimmer turned to face him, one eyebrow lifted. "Get a jock strap." Lister pointed at Rimmer's dangling genitalia. Rimmer seemed to notice for the first time that he was standing there naked. His ears began to turn red. Lister and Cat folded their hands in front of them and grinned.
Rimmer juggled three pieces of fruit with his feet up on the table in their quarters. He had found a beige dress uniform that fit him reasonably well, and with the oddities of his body hidden, he looked almost like the old Rimmer again. With very large teeth. And an oddly shiny right hand that matched the strange collar that climbed the right side of his neck. Lister shook his head and turned back to his crossword. This was just wrong.
"Ah, what a day!" Rimmer crowed, tossing the fruit back into the bowl on the table. He put his hands behind his head and leaned back in the chair. He had spent most of the afternoon running around in the ship, stroking the decks and walls and furniture and Skutters with equal delight. He had sat down for an odd supper; the two newly organic lifeforms shared the table with the two continuing organic lifeforms. Kryten picked at his food, trying to talk himself into enjoying it. "Ah, charred bovine muscular tissue. We humans just love this, don't we!" It had put Lister right off of his curry. Rimmer paid no attention, and ate with the abandon of... well, of a man who has been dead and unable to eat for years. Lister couldn't help noticing that he had restrained himself from the orgy of consumption he had embarked upon when it was Lister's body that had to bear the consequences. Jackarse.
The crossword puzzle was starting to blur in front of Lister's eyes. He yawned and rubbed them. "Nighty-night time. If you want to run around bein' alive some more, you'll have to do it somewhere else." He pulled off his boots, tossed them aside as he stood, and hopped up onto the top tier of the bunk. Rimmer dropped the chair back on all four legs with a thunk and walked to the bunk. He leaned down and pulled his godawful pale blue pajamas out from under his pillow, and retired to the bathroom to change into them. Lister peeled off his own clothes and dropped them over the side of the bunk, stretching out in his long johns with a contented sigh and closing his eyes.
"Lister..." Rimmer's voice was very close to his ear. He cracked one eye open. The smegger still had that goofy bloody grin on his face.
"May I..." Rimmer's voice trailed off. He raised one hand and held it up near Lister's head. Lister shrugged; it was meant to indicate confusion, but Rimmer apparently took it to indicate acquiescence. He gently put his hand to Lister's hair, held it there for a moment, then giggled and hopped into his bunk below. Lister shook his head and closed his eyes again. What a strange bastard. But it had been a long, tiring day, and he had no time to ponder Rimmer's action before drifting into a very deep sleep indeed.
A strange sound - something like a soft thump, but with a muffled clatter on top of it - jerked Lister awake. He muttered a rude word to himself, and tried to drift back to sleep. But strange sounds continued to come from below, so he groaned and opened his eyes. A blurry figure was staggering towards the door; as he looked, it collapsed onto all fours, making that strange rattly thump that had woken him up. Lister frowned and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. They woke up and set about their job of focusing. The figure resolved into Rimmer, his metal side glowing feebly in the dim light. His godawful pajamas were in a heap next to the bunk; he must have fallen out of bed and torn them off.
"Rimmeh, man," Lister said in a sleep-hoarsened voice, "whot the smeg is goin' on?"
There was no answer. Rimmer got back on his feet and staggered towards the door, but collapsed against the wall next to it and slid to the ground.
"Rimmeh!" Sleepiness was slowly pulling back from Lister's consciousness, leaving increasing alarm in its wake. He scrambled down from his bunk and fumbled his way over to where Rimmer lay collapsed, pawing at his right side with his left arm and muttering to himself. "Hey, man, what's wrong?" Lister asked. He reached out and touched Rimmer on the chest, on the join between metal and flesh. Rimmer was warm and curiously damp, as if he had been sweating in his sleep. He jerked back from the touch, pushing himself upright against the wall, and then slowly started to collapse to the side. Lister stepped forward and grabbed him on the left side, pushing him upwards. Rimmer was strangely slick, and Lister was having difficulty holding the taller man upright. "Lights!" Lister called.
The lights in the cabin came on, and Lister sucked his breath in. The myriad small metal fragments that made up slightly less than half of Rimmer were starting to come undone. Some had fallen off, little trickles of blood oozing where they had been. All along the join with his skin, the metal was pulling back, leaving raw flesh in its wake. The slickness that Lister had taken for sweat was smeared over his torso, and over Lister's...
Lister jumped back in horror. His hands were streaked with bright red blood. Now unpropped, Rimmer slid back down to the floor again. He looked up at Lister, and his expression was somehow all the more frightening for being startled and indignant instead of horrified. He put a slender hand up to one of his long, curving feline teeth, and it came loose in his fingers. He jumped and dropped it on the ground, scuttling away from it in disgust. A keening sound was coming from his throat, and it was slowly getting louder.
"Holly!" Lister shouted in panic. "Holly!"
The computer's head appeared on the cabin monitor. "I don't get a minute's rest around here! Whot is it this time?"
Lister gestured to the twitching Rimmer. "Holly! What the 'ell is goin' on with Rimmer?"
Holly cocked her head and regarded the hybrid on the floor. "Hmmm. It looks like the graft didn't take. Not surprising, really; it's one thing to integrate an organic part that was designed to work with the metal from the beginning, like Kryten. It's quite another to jam a human and a light bee together." Her eyes narrowed. "The Cat genes probably aren't helping. He's breaking apart."
"Do something, Hol!" Lister squeaked. More metal squares dropped off of Rimmer, and the blood had turned from a trickle to a fairly robust leak. Even the smeggiest arsehole in the universe doesn't deserve this, Lister thought - and as Rimmer is the smeggiest arsehole in the universe, he must not deserve this.
"Right," she said with determination. "Give me a mo." Her face disappeared. Lister pulled the sheet off of Rimmer's bed and tore it into strips. He started to wrap them around Rimmer, tying them tightly to hold the metal in place. Rimmer put up no resistance; he was twitching as if from muscle spasms, muttering "Bloody hell... bloody smegging hell..." over and over again, like a mantra. Lister muttered, "It's OK, man... it's OK..." as a mantra of his own. He wasn't sure if he was assuring Rimmer or himself.
Holly's head reappeared. "It's all right. It's under control." Lister looked up at her. "I called Kryten up. He's bringing a mop."
"Holly!" Lister shouted. "We need to do something to help Rimmer, not just clean up after him!"
Holly sighed. "All right. Take him down to the cloning room. I'll try to reverse the process." Her head disappeared again.
Lister tried to pick Rimmer up, but the man was too bulky, and slippery with... Lister put his head under Rimmer's left arm, wrapped his right arm around Rimmer's waist, and dragged the man to his feet. "You'll have ta help me here, mate." Rimmer mumbled something incoherent, but he moved his feet in a way that generally propelled them out of the door and into the corridor. Lister dragged Rimmer down a few doors, and realized this was not going to work. "Yer too heavy, man. Can you walk?" Rimmer shook his head dazedly, and Lister noted with alarm that red stains were spreading over the crude sheet bandages. "Hold on a mo, man. I'll be right back." Lister eased Rimmer to the ground, and then ran back to the official briefing room. It tickled his fancy to keep his space-bike at the head of the table where Hollister used to conduct high-level meetings. He hopped on, fired it up, and putt-putted over to where he had left Rimmer. He stood and shook his head. Getting a second, taller passenger on a bike meant for one was not going to be easy. He played with a few positions, and settled for pulling Rimmer onto his lap with the man's head on his shoulder. Lister wrapped his left arm around Rimmer, leaving his right free to work the throttle. He grimaced. He had never gotten the hang of smooth clutchless shifting. He braced himself against the jolt and started moving.
As he screeched down the corridors leading to the docking bay, Rimmer started to mutter, his voice high-pitched and feverish. "One day... not even one day... smeg, not one day... I didn't swim... didn't polish my boots... didn't have sex..." Lister had to snigger. "Mate, everyone else is dead! Whot would you have had sex with?" But there was no answer, and Lister risked a glance at Rimmer's face. It was stark white, and did not look conscious. He gritted his teeth and drove on.
He stopped the bike in the clone room with a jerk that sent them tumbling off of opposite sides of the bike. Lister rolled to his feet and went around the bike. "C'mon, man, let's get you fixed up." Rimmer's eyes opened, and he haltingly lifted his right hand off of the ground. Lister grabbed for it, but the metal tiles around his forefinger slipped off in Lister's hand, leaving a finger of raw muscle peeling away from a metal bone. Rimmer looked at it dumbly. Lister re-swallowed the evening's curry and moved around behind Rimmer, grabbing him under the armpits. "Upsie-Rimsey. Come on, mate!" Somehow, the two of them got Rimmer to his feet and into the center of the room. Holly, who had been placidly watching this scene from the cloning computer, blinked, and a column of purple light stabbed down from the ceiling. Rimmer's weight disappeared, and Lister stepped back. Rimmer straightened to a rigid parade rest in the purple column. Holly muttered to herself, and then stated, in the deep male voice of the cloning computer, "Extraction begun." Rimmer's body began to glow. The uncountable metal bits lifted from his body and started to circle it. They spun faster and faster as his body faded into translucency. Holly continued to mutter to herself as the metal bits spun even faster, converging into a small ovoid shape in the middle of Rimmer's fading human form. Finally, the purple glow faded, and a small chunk of metal fell to the ground.
"Right!" said Holly. "Can I get some rest, or are you going to have another crisis in the middle of the night?"
Lister walked over to where the column had been, looking at Rimmer's re-formed light bee. "Cheers, Hol." She faded out from the cloning computer.
Lister kneeled and picked up the light bee. There would be a bit of cat snot and a flake of dandruff near it, he knew, but he didn't really care. He stood and held the bee in front of him. "Man..." he said, and sighed. "Rimmeh, man, you shoulda listened to good old Popeye. You are what you are. You're a smeghead and a hologram." As he turned the bee in his hand, some strange grooves glinted in the dim light. He looked more closely, turning the bee from side to side, and they resolved into letters.
Lister let a ghost of a smile play across his features. "Don't change. Really." He put his thumb on the On switch - then changed his mind. He put the bee in his chest pocket, then wiped his bloody hands on the legs of his long johns and got back on his space-bike. "Time to rest, man, " he told the bee. He fired up his bike and headed back to their quarters on the Dwarf - very much looking forward to washing his hands and going back to bed.
Lister paused on the way out and shut the door to the cloning room with an air of finality.