Notes: Takes place between Rimmerworld and Out Of Time.
Rimmer paused in the middle of his post-shift rounds and squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Smegging hell. He knew exactly what he would see when he popped his head in the door of the AR room. Lister, gyrating into nothing, his tongue out of his mouth and slithering in the air. The encounter with the Apocalypse virus had not cooled his love of AR sex one iota. The electrical drain his AR sexual escapades caused was immense, and Kryten had suggested rationing its use to conserve fuel. Rimmer had suggested pitching the thing out of the airlock, but he had been outvoted.
It was just as bad as he had internally predicted. Rimmer watched Lister moan and gyrate for a moment, then walked over to the AR console. He frowned. The program loaded was the Streets of Laredo game - and from what Rimmer remembered from the summary Lister had pulled up when they had loaded the characters into Krtyen's subconscious, it was a game without a sexual subplot. The bargirls were the only female characters, and they were minor, not programmed for interaction. Rimmer turned back to where Lister was groaning and grinding. What the smeg was he up to? Well, it did not matter. Lister must be over the week's quota. The polite thing to do would be to enter the game himself and tell Lister to exit; just yanking the leads to the bodily attachments out of the console was a fairly traumatic experience for the player.
Rimmer yanked the leads.
Lister yelped, staggering backwards. He grabbed the railing and pulled his helmet off. "Oi! What was that for?"
"Way past your quota, Listy," Rimmer said, smirking.
Lister shook his head as he pulled off his helmet and started in on the gloves and groinal attachment. "Eh, man, what do you expect? Dullsville. Nothin' ever happens. I gotta do something, or I'll go spare."
Rimmer folded his arms as he watched Lister struggle out of the groinal attachment. "Somehow, Listy, the rest of us seem to get by just fine. Even the Cat - and he is hardly the paragon of self-control."
Lister kicked off the boots and stepped off of the platform, picking up his own boots. "Yeah - Cat's never seen a real, live female, and you used to be Alexander the Great's chief eunuch." He started to stuff his feet into his boots. "Me, I've got drives. I need action, adventure..."
"...sex," Rimmer concluded. But he glanced over at the loaded game again. What the smeg had Lister been having sex with?
Lister shook his head. "Not just sex. That was cattle rustlin', that was." He would not meet Rimmer's eyes. "I'm goin' to bed," he said, quickly. "Try to sleep through to next month's smegging quota. Nothing ever happens around here..." his voice trailed off as he left the room.
Rimmer started to leave, but turned back to the game. What on Io had Lister been up to? Well, it would certainly harm nothing to just peek in at Lister's stopping point. Rimmer quirked his lips at the idea that Lister had been doing a little 'cattle rustlin'.' Oh, he would never hear the end of that! Rimmer re-attached the leads, put on the game interface devices, and restarted the game.
Lister yawned, scratched his crotch, and tried to stuff his face in the pillow. He had slept very badly; he laid the blame for that at Rimmer's abrupt ending of his AR game. Right mind-fuck, that was, and he was sure Rimmer had done it intentionally. Smeghead. It had given Lister strange, surreal nightmares, ones that woke him after only a few minutes and left him tossing tiredly in bed. Lister punched the pillow and flopped back into it, groaning as he realized he was very much awake. He resigned himself to a crappy night's sleep and slipped out of bed. He'd make up for it later. He pulled on his overalls, stepped into his boots, and stumbled up to the midsection, his bootlaces undone.
Cat sat in the cockpit. "Hey, mate," Lister said in response to Cat's hey-bud greeting, "where's Kryten? Rimmer?" Kryten might be off cleaning something, but when Rimmer wasn't sleeping, he was almost invariably in the vicinity of the midsection, ready to greet Lister with an unflattering comment on his intellect or personal hygiene.
"Goalpost head isn't doing so well." Cat shrugged. "For some reason, Kryten seemed to think this was a bad thing, so he's off doing something about it."
"Not doing so well? What happened?"
"What does Kryten think?"
"What do you know?" Lister asked, exasperated.
"That I don't care." Cat grinned, then turned back to the viewscreen.
Lister finally found Kryten and Rimmer in the AR room. Kryten was busy at a ship's console next to the AR console, and Rimmer was lying on the floor, wearing one set of AR gear.
"Hey, Krytes, what's up?" Lister asked, looking nervously at Rimmer.
Kryten did not look away from the monitor. "Somehow, the AR console has contracted a virus. It has infected Mister Rimmer's light bee. His program is now meshed with the AR program; I can't separate him from it without ripping his personality in two." Insofar as a jelly-rubber right-angle casting can look puzzled and irritated, Kryten's face looked puzzled and irritated. "I can't figure out how the console became infected! We haven't interfaced our computer systems with any others since the Armageddon virus. And this looks nothing like the Armageddon virus."
Kryten turned. "Yes?"
Lister scratched his nose, shifting from foot to foot. "Well, on that last derelict - well, I found this program disc in one of the techies' computers. It was labeled an AR hack, you see, and I just wanted to try it out..."
"An AR hack?" Kryten looked very patient, and Lister took hope from that.
"Yes. Well, it was, and it worked, and that."
"What did it do?"
"Well," Lister scratched his nose more fiercely, "doesn't matter, does it? It's just a matter of curing the virus, like you did with the last one, didn't you?"
"What did it do?" Kryten asked again, doggedly.
Lister sighed. "Well, it takes minor characters, like the bargirls in the Laredo games, and it makes them... interact... able. You know, like - you can get intimate with them, and all." Kryten turned back to the console, sighing. "Well, it's dull out here!" Lister snapped. "I'm a healthy man, me! I have me needs!" He shifted. "You can just cure the virus again, though, can't yeh?" He looked down at Rimmer, who lay on the ground, unmoving, unbreathing. Even though he did not have to breathe, he normally did so anyway, out of habit, and it was odd to see him not do so.
"I could," Kryten replied, "but I think it would make far more sense to simply delete the add-on, and any games you added it onto. Since it is, after all, a non-essential system," he added, pointedly.
"Oh, yeah, yeah. Sounds great. Do it." An appealingly simple solution, even if he did lose that rather fun plug-in. He was sure that Kryten would not tell Rimmer about the nature of the plug-in, so he'd be spared the ribbing on that side, as a bonus.
Kryten sighed. "It's not that simple, unfortunately. Mister Rimmer's personality is, as I mentioned, entwined with the AR program as a result of the virus. If we shut the AR console down, we will lose most of his personality, which will either kill him or reduce him to an even lower mental state than he inhabits currently."
Lister looked down at Rimmer's still form. "What can we do?"
Kryten stood back from the console, pondering. "I will have to enter the AR program and pull Mister Rimmer out, somehow." Kryten walked over to the unused sets of AR interaction accessories. Lister trotted over and grabbed Kryten's hand as he started to reach for a helmet.
"Neh, man, this is mine to take care of. I'm the one who brought the virus aboard. Besides," he quirked his mouth at Kryten in a crooked grin, "you really think he'd listen to you?"
Kryten looked at Lister, uncertainly. "The virus will have affected the program - and I don't know precisely how. It's a very complex virus."
"Well, it don't matter. I was able to get out of it just fine when I used it right before Rimmer. The hack wasn't designed to override the safeties, after all." He stepped out of his boots and started to put on the AR gear. "I'll give it a try. If I can't yank 'im out, we'll talk about trying something else, good? Good." Not waiting for Kryten's reply, Lister put on the helmet and snapped it into place.
Brett trotted into Laredo on the even-tempered black gelding he had won at his last round of poker. A good round, it had been; Lady Luck had smiled on him, and he had a good horse under him, a shiny new Colt revolver sharing his belt with his knives, and a packet of cash in his pocket. He smiled and tipped his hat at the ladies he passed as he trotted in. He made a beeline for the tavern; it was scaldingly hot, and he had a powerful thirst. He dismounted, tied the patient gelding to the hitching post, and strode into the tavern.
He took stock of the clientele out of the corners of his eyes as he strolled casually into the tavern. He had not been alive this long through carelessness. Three bargirls in colorful gowns were scattered to his left, fanning themselves with fancy lace fans; one of them sat with three dudes in ten-gallons and cotton shirts and one man in a sharp black suit. Cards were arranged in front of the men, and the man in the suit was dealing. Off to the right, a man who might be tall when standing up was instead splayed across a small table, a drink in his hand. A hefty woman stood behind the bar, her dress threatening to burst from its compression of her massive breasts. Brett moseyed up to the bar. "One shot of gulpin' whiskey, ma'am."
The woman's fat, stubby fingers were surprisingly swift and graceful as she flipped a dirty shotglass onto the bar, took a bottle from the shelves, and held it to her mouth to pull out the cork. She poured him a generous two fingers, replaced the cork and the bottle, and leaned forward, watching Brett. He tossed the shot back, not breaking eye contact. The shot went down like etching acid, but Brett was used to worse. He pushed the shot glass back, and the woman took it with a nod, duly impressed. "You can take yer whiskey, stranger. Not bad. I'm Lola. You?"
Brett could sense that the table of gamblers was listening in. "Brett Riverboat," he said, loudly. "Just passin' through, ma'am." He turned to put his back to the bar. The ten-gallon dudes pretended to be intent on their card game, but the one in the dark suit held his eye for a moment before turning his attention back to his cards.
"Jack Strapp, that one," Lola said, quietly. "He's one to keep an eye on. Doesn't take to strangers. Dwight, Don, Bill - they're pretty much harmless."
Brett turned his head to her and jerked his thumb at the drunk cowboy. "What about him?"
Lola raised her eyebrows. "That? That's Dan. Dangerous Dan, they used to call him - but Tessie there broke his heart, and he ain't never been the same since."
The name tickled the back of Brett's memory. "I used to ride with a Dangerous Dan. Dangerous Dan McGrew?"
Lola nodded. "That's the one. You his pal?"
Brett laughed. "I haven't seen him in years. Good one in a fight, but terrible with the cards and the ladies. We parted ways." Brett frowned. "State he's in, innit?"
Lola laughed, a long, hoarse laugh. "Tessie will do that to you!" A sultry alto joined in odd harmony, and Brett looked over to the other side of the tavern again. The girls and men had also turned to the source of the laugh - the woman in dark purple, with matching feathers in her hair. She lowered her fan to reveal a strikingly lovely face, pale and angular, with high cheekbones. She winked at Brett, then turned back to the card game.
The noise had awoken the drunkard, and he staggered to his feet and stumbled to the bar. Yep, Brett thought, that's the drink of milk he used to work with. Tall, skinny, in chaps and jeans that seemed out of place on a man who had never touched a cow in his life. He leaned on the bar. "Shome... more, Lola," he slurred.
"Now, you ain't got no more money left, and you know it," Lola snapped. "Go and sober up. Get over it. You get a week's drunk when you're dumped, and you've had your time." Dan gave her a sad look, then turned to Brett. His unsteady stare took the man in, and recognition filtered very slowly into him. "I... know you..."
Brett sighed. "Yeah, man, it's me, Brett." He grabbed Dan by the arm and lead him back to the table. Dan fell into the seat Brett guided him towards. "Hell, man, in a state like this over a woman? Come on, give it a rest."
"That is not terribly flattering to the woman, is it?" A sultry voice that matched the laugh Brett heard earlier sounded behind him. He turned, and found himself staring into the eyes of the woman pointed out to him as Tessie. She had huge, dark pupils, as if she had been using belladonna, and it gave her an oddly compelling appearance. "Entertain the possibility that she might be worth it," she purred.
Brett tipped his hat, for something to do with his hands. "Sure yeh are, ma'am."
She chortled and ran one slender finger down his cheek. Brett shivered at her cool touch. "Oh, I am, I am." She stepped back, not breaking eye contact. "Perhaps you'd like to see why, sometime." She turned, then, and walked back to the other end of the tavern, giving Brett a good view of her tight, round bottom as it poked at either side of her satin dress with every step. She sat down on a barstool, watching as the other men concluded their poker game and divvied up the winnings. The scrape of their chairs as they stood brought Brett back to reality, and he turned and sat as they left.
"You look like hell," he said to Dan.
"Shanks," Dan muttered into the table.
Brett sighed. He didn't owe Dan a damn thing. They had parted ways simply because Dan drove him nuts, with his whinging and his overly neat ways and his horrible singing - which made his grousing about Brett's harmonica playing all the more rich. He had been a useful asset when Brett's winning streak had not been appreciated by his opponents, but Brett was no mean hand with his knives, and after they had parted ways, Brett had done just fine by himself. He did not need the man, and he owed him nothing.
Dan sniffled his way through an unmanly sob. Brett sighed, and pulled a twenty out of his pocket.
"Here, man," he said, slapping it on the table. "Go across the street to the hotel. Get yerself a room. Sober up, forget the girl, go on to another town. This is just silly, this is."
Dan looked at the bill on the table in disbelief. He pulled himself to a sitting position and picked it up, looking at it from a number of angles. He then looked over at Brett, his eyes overflowing with drunken tears. Brett shook his head. "Go on, git." Dan staggered to his feet and stumbled out of the door.
Brett leaned back and sighed, feeling rather satisfied. He had done a good deed, and it had put him out very little. His serene mood lasted almost a full minute before it was interrupted by a commotion outside. Lola sighed, looking bored, but Brett leapt to his feet and trotted to the door. His friends had always told him his curiosity would be the end of him.
The tavern had a small raised porch with a railing. Jack stood on the ground in front of it, holding Dan up by his shirt, the back of his neck pressed against that railing. Dan was choking and sputtering. Jack's card-playing company stood slightly back, watching the show.
"Eh, what's going on, then?" Brett asked, loudly.
Jack looked up at Brett, his face thunderous. "Stupid jackass beaned up on my shoes. Just teaching him a few manners. Nothing you need to deal with, fancy boy."
Brett slipped a pearl-handled knife out of his right shirt sleeve and brandished it meaningfully. "I'd suggest you put him down, friend. He was just a little drunk. Meant no harm."
Jack let go, and Dan fell to the ground. "You want a fight, girlie? You have a fight." He pointed to the center of town. "High noon." He tipped his hat. "Lookin' forward to it." He and his friends jingled their way down the street.
Brett shook his head in irritation. It was just so much like Dan. The man could not cross the street without getting into trouble. Brett was not terribly worried about the potential shootout - he might not be the fastest gun in the west, but he could have a knife in Jack's shoulder before the man drew - but it was just the annoyance of it! Dan's stinking inability to simply accept an act of kindness and let it go at that. Brett stepped down and grabbed the gagging Dan by the arm. "Upsie," he grunted, hauling the arm over his shoulders. He and Dan made their way across the street to the hotel; Brett tipped Dan against the counter while he dug in his pockets for money, paying the dull, skinny clerk with the dirty fingernails for one room, one night.
Brett was out of breath by the time he got Dan up the stairs and into the bed. He sat on the hard wooden chair that was the only other furniture in the room, blowing deep breaths. "Hell," he grunted, as Dan started to breathe in a quiet, whiffly snore, "trouble just follows you like a lost puppy, doesn't it?" He settled back in his chair as he watched Dan sleep. He had less than an hour to go before noon, he judged, and he wanted to be relaxed.
Someone knocked at the door. "Brett?" Someone with a sexy alto voice. Brett looked at the sleeping Dan, stood, and quietly opened the door, slipping out of it and closing it behind him. Tessie raised her eyebrows.
Brett smiled. "Didn't want to wake up Dan, and all." Something about her stare made his IQ drop ten points. And he could feel exactly where they had dropped to.
"He's a silly, silly man," she said, with a smile. She leaned closer, and Brett could see just the faintest hint of hazel around her huge pupils. "But you," she purred, "do not seem to be a silly man." She pressed her lips to Brett's. He sighed and opened his mouth, putting his arms around to the small of her back, feeling whalebone ribs and metal eyelets and laces. He so preferred the feel of flesh - but concessions had to be made for a quick kiss in a stairwell, even if it turned into a less-than-quick kiss, tongues sliding over each other; even if it turned into something else, as she gently unbuttoned his trousers and knelt, putting her thin, warm lips over his erection, sliding those lips to the base without a hint of gagging, her tongue working over the shaft inside her mouth. Brett gasped, grasping the windowsill behind him, and tried to stifle his moans by biting his tongue. Her mouth was warm, her lips slid firmly and quickly over his shaft, and her hand tickled his testicles so delightfully that he came in short order, choking as a startlingly intense orgasm flooded him, leaving him weak and trembling in its wake.
Tessie tucked his now-flaccid penis back into his trousers and refastened them. She stood and kissed Brett gently on the lips. "Showtime, cowboy," she said, smiling. "Go and show them what you can do." She slinked down the stairs with an almost catlike grace.
Brett drew himself back up to his full height and took a deep breath. He patted his knives, making sure they were all in place, and started down the stairs. He felt oddly tired. It must have been the sex. Not the best idea, that; he'd have to be very alert to compensate. He left the hotel and walked to the center of the main road. Jack and his gang stood a good several meters away, also in the middle of the street. Townspeople lined the sides, and Tessie stood with them, waving at Brett with just her fingers as she caught his eye. A commotion behind him drew Brett's attention, and he noted that Dan had staggered out of the hotel; he stood, drunk as a skunk, his back to the hotel's outer wall. Enough of that; Brett had to pay close attention to Jack. He felt even more tired than he had when he left the hotel. Was it the heat?
"You ready, boy?" Jack asked, his hands over his guns.
Brett tried to reply, but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He tried to hover his hands over the knives at his belt, but his hands were slow and clumsy. Something was very, very wrong. But he had no time to consider what it might be before Jack pulled out his guns - quickly, but not quickly enough to beat Brett's knife reflexes. His normal knife reflexes. They were not there, somehow, or were bathed in molasses, and Brett had not even touched his knife handles when Jack's bullets went through his shoulder and his chest. Pain erupted from the holes, and he staggered backwards, falling to his knees. A cruel grin spread over Jack's face, and he and his three friends swaggered closer. "Not so swanky now, are we, boy?" he chuckled. Brett could make no reply. Smegging hell, he was in pain!
He wasn't Brett - he was Lister! Damn it, he was Lister, and there was a virus in this program, and he could not let it win. He fought with his unresponsive hands, making his right hand grab his Colt, making that numb hand pull it out, raising it, the pain in his shoulder causing his hand to tremble. Only one shot at this. Steady, Lister. He made his finger pull the trigger.
The smile disappeared from Tessie's face as a bloody hole appeared in her forehead. Not bad, Lister thought, considering I had been aiming for her chest.
Jack and his three goons blanched. "What the hell?" the one on the left shouted. "Hurtin' a woman?" He raised his gun. He had no chance to fire it, however, before a boot with a spur attached flashed next to him. The spur ripped through his wrist, sending blood flying in a bright red arc to splash over the other three men, and the goon dropped his gun with a howl. Dan, who had been on the other end of that spur, stepped forward and slammed his fist into the goon's face. Dan grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him into Jack and the second goon, then kicked the last one very hard in the crotch. Two more punches and another good kick ensured that the ones on the ground would stay there awhile.
Dan, looking as sober as if he had never touched a drink, stooped down and picked Brett up. "I've gotcha, bud," he muttered, trotting across to the hotel. The meager crowd parted, and he quickly walked up the stairs, depositing Brett on the bed. He pushed the other man down and cut away the bloodstained shirt with one of Brett's knives. He stopped, startled, when he saw the undamaged chest underneath.
Lister laughed. "It's all good now," he said. "Tessie was the virus, so as soon as I got rid of her, we was both back to normal." He took in Rimmer's bemused expression and sat up, taking Rimmer's face in both of his hands. "Oi, mate, do you remember who you are? Rimmer?"
Rimmer pulled his head out of Lister's hands, then shook it and sat on the bed next to Lister, his brow furrowed. "Tessie. I don't remember much..."
"Yes, but you know you're Rimmer?"
"Of course I smegging know I'm Rimmer!" Rimmer snapped. Lister laughed, long and hard. Somewhere between the freedom of the laughter and the oddly unRimmerish solicitousness the other man had just displayed, it seemed an utterly natural thing for him to lean forward and grab Rimmer's face in his hands again, and press his lips to the other man's. Rimmer did not seem to mind, either; he opened his mouth in response, running his hands over Lister's exposed chest. It might have seemed odd for Rimmer to be so unquestionably assenting, if Lister had been thinking, but it was the easiest thing in the world to reach across and grab Rimmer's jeans and the erection underneath, where the chaps did not cover, and stroke, and the way it made Rimmer moan into his mouth was quite exciting...
The world exploded into lights and sounds with no form, before re-solidifying into Starbug as Lister ripped off the helmet with a gasp. Beside him, Rimmer did likewise, and they both glared at Kryten, who stood next to the AR console with their leads in his hands.
"I apologize, sirs, but as soon as I saw the virus had let go of Mister Rimmer's personality, I thought it would be a good idea to get you two out of there right away."
"Virus?" asked Rimmer, dazed, as he pulled off the AR attachments.
"Yes, from the add-in Mister Lister found," Kryten said, disapproval seeping into his voice.
Rimmer dropped the last attachment and turned to Lister. "That... was a plug-in," he said, his voice flat.
Lister was confused for a moment, and it was just a long enough moment for Kryten to say, "Yes, and I don't think he'll be trying that one out again..." Rimmer's blank face turned to a glare, and he spun on his toe and strode out of the room.
"Rimmer! Wait!" Lister called out, desperately - but he was still attached to the AR apparatus, and by the time he extricated himself and ran after Rimmer, the hologram had locked himself very firmly in his room.
Rimmer lay in his bunk and shivered, looking at the ceiling. Bloody hack. Bloody smegging AR plug-in, for Lister to try for smegging fun. That, at least, explained his strange behavior in the program. He had gamely gone along with the story, trusting his impulses as he had trusted his abnormal fighting skills. Lister had no right... and worst of all, the hack had infected his light bee. He still felt acutely horny; he still wanted Lister. Smegging bloody hell.
He didn't trust that blasted bogbot to fix him. He would just... have to hope the virus was self-limiting. Keep that bastard as far from him as possible in the meantime. He tugged the blocky foam pillow from under his head and held it in his arms, chewing it as he tried to ignore the pounding at his door.