Only the Bad

Summary: After Red Dwarf's destruction, Lister finds himself back on Starbug. Or perhaps 'on' is the wrong word… Slight AU

Fandom: Red Dwarf

Pairing: Very, very faintly implied, not-even-there-unless-you're-as-slash-obsessed-as-me Lister/Cat, hints of past Lister/Kochanski

Warnings: Swearing and implied m/m

Disclaimer: I own all eight seasons on DVD and a scale-model of Starbug. The characters, however, have yet to submit to my evil will…

Author's Notes: Written for the brainsinajar challenge on livejournal – check it out, there's some great stuff on there.

If anyone had asked a young David Lister what he wanted to do with his life, he would have said that he didn't care, as long as there was plenty of curry and beer. Well now, at the age of twenty-eight, he didn't even have that. Because he was - in every applicable sense of the word - dead.

'Course, it wasn't as bad as all that. Cat had saved some of the holographic projection disks from the disintegrating Red Dwarf, and luckily his had been among them - his personality and physical appearance were all stored on disk. The problem had arisen from the fact that with the destruction of their mother ship, they had lost the ship's computer. Poor Holly was gone for good. Then someone - he'd stake a fortune on Rimmer, the selfish bastard - had decided they couldn't cope without a ship's computer. So instead of being brought back as a hologram like he should have been, Lister was now Holly Mark smegging Two with Cat and Rimmer serving as crew.

Bastards.

Death wasn't such a big deal in their culture. All members of the Space Corps had their personalities and memories backed up regularly on disk, so when they died they could be brought back as an image made of light and a computer-generated recreation of their personality. Lister had been quite looking forward to it - now that Legion's hard-light drive had overcome the sensory feedback problem, he could even touch things in a hologram state. Touch was important to someone like Lister.

He knew all this in an instant, memory circuits bringing understanding in a flash of light. He tapped into the black box for recordings of what had happened between his human 'death' and his awakening as Starbug's computer. The video feedback filled his vision.

"Mr. Lister sir! We have to go! Mr. Rimmer and the Cat are already on board!" Kryten said desperately. The panicky android fluttered around the airlock, waiting for his human 'master' to follow. Lister saw himself hesitating on the gantry. He willed himself to go on, to get out of there, but it didn't happen. He turned to leave...

"I 'ave to go back for 'er!" he called over his shoulder; "I won' be long."

"Dammit, Lister, she's dead!" Rimmer bellowed over the intercom; "Get on board or I'm leaving without you!"

"You can't pilot that ship without me an' Cat," Lister heard himself shout back defiantly; "An' Cat won' let ya leave without me, will ya buddy?"

"Course I won't," Cat's voice came indignantly; "Just hurry up, monkey."

"Cheers, mate," Lister grinned cheekily at the cockpit and ran. Kryten tried to grab him but missed. And then the explosion painted everything in shades of fire and pain as the shielding on the drive plate finally gave way...

Lister, disembodied and floating in a blank darkness, still somehow flinched at the images blossoming across his vision. He saw Kryten; loyal, selfless Kryten reduced to so much scrap metal. But the worst part was witnessing his own death again. It shouldn't have been possible, but he could feel it. The crushing pain as the roof above him gave way, searing flames, and then the blinding white agony as the explosion hit him. It was over in moments...

He watched the rest of the recording numbly, then flicked it off.

Okay, so I'm a ship. Fair enough. Might as well try to get used to it. In theory, as the ship's computer, he should be able to take control of any of the ship's functions. Engines? Yep, there they were. Best not to mess with them - Cat was piloting. Same went for the navigation. He figured out most of the minor systems before moving on to more important things. Life support? Better leave that one alone.

The activity was calming. Despite being a self-confessed 'worthless space-bum', he had been the closest thing the ship had to a pilot or engineer for three years now. He was the one who had been saddled with keeping the ship functional and in one piece, and it was paying off now. He had known the systems passably well even as a human - as a computer-cum-ship they became seamlessly part of him. Why on Titan had Holly been so clueless?

Had he still been possessed of a mouth, Lister would have laughed. And that prodded another memory... he concentrated on the display screen in the cockpit. There was a camera behind it, if he remembered correctly from the time a run-in with a Simulant battleship had made it necessary to completely rewire that side of the cockpit. He found the activation codes for it and... We have visual!

He could see the cockpit, exactly as he remembered it. Cat was sitting in the pilot's seat, looking tired and faintly ill. Tellingly for the usually immaculately-groomed feline; his clothing was dishevelled, his black hair coming out of its obsessively styled perfection, and blood and grime marred his dark skin. Confused, Lister switched momentarily to the exterior monitors - yes, Red Dwarf's remains were still visible and Starbug was dodging wreckage. He couldn't have been out of it for long.

After a moment of confusion in which nothing seemed to work, Lister managed to convince the display screen it wanted to show his face: "Hey Cat, man, ya want me ta take over?"

Cat jumped at the sound and turned sharply to look at him. The delighted grin that dawned on his face was made predatory by his pointed teeth; "Heya buddy, looks like Grease-stain's plan worked after all. How ya doin'?"

Lister considered: "Apart from bein' dead?" he joked; "Yeah, pretty well. Reckon I got all the systems about figured out."

"Then you can drive, buddy, cause I need to have a shower and get changed. I'm a mess." With that he sauntered out of the cockpit, a rather bemused Lister staring after him.

Lister - or at least the display of him on the monitor - shook his head. To anyone who didn't know him well, Cat would have seemed completely unconcerned. But Lister was closer to Cat than to anyone else; he could tell when his feline co-pilot was upset and trying to hide it. He had seen Cat, bleeding and semi-conscious with his life hanging in the balance, fretting over the effect the blood would have on his clothes. To have not washed and changed the moment he got aboard...it was almost unthinkable. On screen Lister bit his lip, feeling suddenly guilty. He hadn't given a thought to how badly his 'death' - however temporary - would affect Cat.

He took over the navigation smoothly, finding it far easier now than when it had been necessary to work through the control panels. Even when he had been human, she had responded to his touch willingly - now he was part of the ship, the battered old crate handled better than he had ever known her to. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all...

Days passed - insofar as one could tell in space, anyway - and they settled into a routine. Although he still adamantly refused to come out and say it, several times Rimmer had come perilously close to admitting that Lister made a surprisingly efficient ship's computer. For his part, Lister was just glad that Cat was still around. Being alone with Rimmer would have driven him insane within a week. Of course, that wasn't to say he was entirely happy with the present situation. He missed simple things - curry...alcohol...sex... hell, even just human contact. All the things he hadn't appreciated until he'd lost them. Life's a bitch, and then you die. And discover death is even more of a bitch.

By degrees, he became more aware of the ship's functions. It was in the middle of a particularly boring watch that he noticed a thus-far neglected piece of peripheral hardware. One in which a computer could be said to have a physical presence...

"'Ey, Cat!" he sad, starling his feline pilot out of a shallow doze. Cat looked around, stretching languorously, and his gaze settled on the computer-generated image of Lister on the screen.

"What?"

"Fancy a few rounds on the Artificial Reality machine?"

Cat didn't answer, but he didn't have to - his eyes lit up with the sudden predatory grin that spread across his face, a familiar grin that in a past life had made Lister's stomach swoop as if he'd missed a step going downstairs. He watched as the cocky yet charming pilot of Starbug swaggered out of the door, yelling for Rimmer to come and take over the cockpit. Lister grinned. Dead or alive, he was still roaming space with his best mate and having a fan-smegging-tastic time to boot. As far as he was concerned, that was good enough.