Disclaimer: I still don't own Red Dwarf or any of its characters

Disclaimer: I still don't own Red Dwarf or any of its characters.

Chapter Twenty-four

Lister's subconscious was trying to convince him that it had all been a very bad dream. There were no such things as Timlars, he wasn't on their ship, his arm had always remained intact, he had never met a Kochanski from another dimension, and most importantly, Rimmer had never gone off to become Ace. For a moment his mind relished this idea. It put him at peace with himself and the world.

Then reality checked in.

He remembered all the times he had tried to convince himself that the drive plate accident was just a dream, yet every day he had woke up to the same empty Red Dwarf, still forced to fulfill his role as the last human alive. The same voice that had brought him back then was bringing him back now. He didn't have to like reality, but he did have to face it.

He opened his eyes.

Everyone else was awake and blocking his view of the button. He pulled himself off the ground and went over to them. Their solemn eyes met his and they let him inside the circle.

Nirvana cradled Rimmer's head in her arms, slowly rocking him back and forth. Lister couldn't believe it. He was still alive. Small streaks of electricity flared up on his image every now and then, but he was still alive. Barely. Nirvana looked up at Lister.

"His light bee can't switch off the hard-light, so we can't get to it," she explained absently. "We have to get him back to the Enlightenment. It's the only way to save his life."

"Well what are we waitin' for? Let's go!"

"I'm afraid we can't, sir," said Kryten.

"Why the hell not?"

"The power is completely down, save for life support. The doors have all been fused shut," he paused then added, "and they are much too thick to break down, so don't get any ideas involving my head."

"No, there has to be a way!" Lister waved his arms frantically. Kochanski tried to calm him down, but he just broke away. "There is no way he is goin' out like this. Not after all the smeg we've been through. We are finding a way to get him there, and we are finding it NOW."

A.J. snapped his fingers and pulled his collar. "Diane, can you hear me?"

"Yes! Oh thank God you're all right! What happened, what's going on--"

"No time to explain. Have you got the teleporter working?"

"I'm sorry, it's still only short range. Why?"

"It's Ace." His voice broke. "I'm afraid it's pretty bad. We need to get him to the Enlightenment as soon as possible." In an instant they found themselves onboard Starbug. Diane's voice remained incredibly calm. "That's it for the teleporter. The rest you'll have to do on your own." She paused. "Good luck," she said quietly, then signed off.

Lister was already in the cockpit and arming the lasers. By the time the rest of them shuffled in he had blown the shuttle doors open. By the time they were ready to take off, Starbug was already in the air. They flashed out of the docking bay and zoomed after the Enlightenment. Behind them, the Wildfire blasted through as well and followed them at a close distance.

The landing procedure seemed to take forever and a day. Everyone's fingernails got decidedly shorter as the seconds ticked by. Kochanski looked back at Nirvana, who still rocked Rimmer in the next room. Nirvana looked up at her, and Kochanski could tell by the expression on her face that he was getting worse.

Finally the ship touched down, and everyone was out the door before the steam had begun to clear. Lister plowed people out of the way as they ran down the corridor. He didn't want to waste a single second waiting for someone to move, especially among this crew.

"Lister, will you calm down?" Kochanski said from behind him, but Lister kept running and clearing the way. She was amazed to see how concerned he was for a man he supposedly detested with every ounce of his being. A smile replaced the urgent gape her mouth had formed as she increased her speed to keep up with the others. They reached the room a few moments later and set Rimmer down on the table.

Nirvana grabbed the two assistants nearby and explained the situation to them. They frowned. "Commander, he is not a member of our crew."

"What difference does that make?! He needs help!"

"Paragraph Eight, section G of our mission statement clearly states that we are not allowed to repair any hologram who is not of our ship's complement." They heard a kch-kch!, and looked to see Lister pointing a bazookoid at them.

"I'll tell you where to stick your paragraphs," he said between gritted teeth. "Now fix him."

They sighed. "All right, but this is going on your permanent record, Ms. Crane."

Nirvana turned to the others. "I'll have to ask you all to leave. We'll need as much space as we can get."

"No way, I'm stayin'", said Lister.

Kochanski put her hand on Lister's shoulder. "Dave, please. You're not helping him by getting in the way. Let them work. They know what they're doing."

He hesitated a moment longer, then slumped out the door. It shut tightly behind them, and they got comfortable in case it would be a long wait.

Cat walked over to Lister and put a consoling hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, bud. I'm sure he'll be okay."

"Yeah? What if he won't?"

"Well, you can use that projection gizmo as a paper weight!"

Lister glared at him. "Cat, don't ever go into counseling, ok?"

Suddenly they became aware that they were being frowned upon. They turned and noticed a man standing not four feet from them, a look of bored disgust on his face. For some reason, it seemed familiar.

"Don't I know you?" asked Lister.

"Oh good, you still know how to speak," the man said. "I was beginning to wonder if you had de-evolved."

Recognition spread over Lister's face. "Oh yeah, I remember you. Commander Bunks or somethin', right?"

"That's Binks." He shuddered as he looked them over. "What *are* you doing here?"

"Wouldn't you like to know."

"Never mind. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to scrub your tainted air space off me before it settles in." He walked off.

"Hey, that offer to put you on the receiving end of a holowhip still stands," Lister called after him. Binks quickened his pace.

Nirvana ran out of the room. "Lister, you'd better come quick."

They all ran back inside and braced themselves for the worst. It came in an amazingly small package. On the table before them lay a charred light bee, completely still and devoid of activity. The light from the examination lamp picked up the jarred edges of the once smooth casing, while a full shadow spread out over the entire table.

They all looked at each other instead of slowing things down with words. A silent vote was held and was decided unanimously: it just wasn't fair.

Lister turned to Kryten. "Know what the worst thing is, Kryten? I still feel guilty about getting rid of his things."

"What do you mean you got rid of my things?!"

Lister grinned and turned around. Rimmer stood behind him, sporting his usual look of annoyance. "All of my things? Everything? Lister, how could you do something like--"

Lister ran up and met him with a fierce hug, cutting him off. Rimmer was stunned beyond words. He was even more surprised when his own arms answered the hug themselves.

"Then who's that?" asked Cat, pointing to the black light bee.

"Oh that?" one of the assistants said. "That's just one of the prototypes we made when we first started trying to control hard-light. It got a bit fried. Now we just use it as a paper weight."

Cat smiled smugly and turned to Lister. "See? Somebody's got his head on straight."

Epilogue

Diane entered the final calculations. "There. We're all set to go, Ace."

"Thanks Diane, I'll be right up." He switched the communicator off and turned around. "Now you're sure about this?"

"Absolutely," said Rimmer, shaking his hand. "It's your turn, A.J. Good luck to you."

A.J. smiled. "Thanks."

Rimmer hoisted himself up the ladder and looked in the cockpit. "And as for you, take care of him, ok?"

Diane smiled. "Will do, although he's going to have to work pretty damn hard to fill your shoes. You were one of the best Aces ever, you know."

He did a double take. "Really?"

"Really. Take care of yourself, Arn." He smiled and jumped down as Diane wiped a "tear" from her eye. "I'm going to miss that one," she said to herself. Then she remembered that she wouldn't really be "losing" him, just getting a new one. "Then again, I always like the newbies," she chuckled, and waited for AJ to come inside.

AJ looked around and called, "Kochanski? Are you ready?"

"Yes, I'll be right there. I just have to say good-bye." She looked at Lister. "I'm not going to make the same mistake twice."

"Kris." He gave her a quick hug. "Take care, all right?"

"I will. I suppose now I'll drive Dave nuts telling him all about *you*." He chuckled, and they gave each other fond looks. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, flashed her famous pinball smile, and ran off to catch A.J. Lister sighed and walked over to the others.

"Are you going to be ok, sir?" asked Kryten.

"Yeah. She was never happy here. She's goin' back to where she belongs. It shouldn't be any other way."

The Wildfire roared to life, and A.J. saluted them. "Don't worry, Lister. I'll see she gets there safe and sound. Fellas, smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast." The ship lifted off the ground and everyone waved good-bye. Within seconds it was out of sight.

Rimmer turned to Nirvana. "I guess we'd better get going too. Are you sure you won't come with us?"

"I can't," she said sadly. "My light bee works off the ship's generator. If I get out of range, my image will automatically shut down. But don't worry. I'm close to developing a device that will let me leave, and as soon as that happens..." She winked at him. He smiled back.

"Oh! Before I forget!" She pulled a small object out of the bag she was carrying and handed it to him.

"What's this?"

"Something to remember me by."

He tore the paper and it opened to reveal her music box. He lifted the lid and smiled as he recognized the melody. "_Someone to Watch Over Me_. This is my song!"

She smiled. "It's mine too."

They hugged until the sensation was planted in their memories, then broke away. He ran back to Starbug and joined the others in the cockpit.

"All set, sir?"

Rimmer nodded. "Let's go." Starbug lifted off and left the Enlightenment behind. Soon Holly appeared on the monitors.

"You're back, eh?" he asked. "Did my distraction work?"

"Holly, it worked like a charm," said Rimmer.

"So what happened to those Timlar dudes?" asked Cat.

"Their ship is completely dead, sir," Kryten answered him. "I don't think they'll be giving us trouble anytime soon."

They all looked at each other, knowing their luck in the past. "Erm, let's just get back to the `Dwarf, ok?" Lister suggested. They all nodded.



Four weary Dwarfers emerged from Starbug onto the landing gantry and made their way inside. A skutter stopped Kryten in his tracks and handed him a note.

"What?" He read it and frowned. "Oh dear."

"What is it, Kryts?" asked Lister.

"I've got to go, sir. The washing machines have just entered the strike because I've left one of your socks sitting inside them all day. What is this world coming to?" He scurried off, leaving the rest of them shaking their heads.

"Lister?" asked Rimmer.

"Yeah?"

"What's all this about you getting rid of my things?"

"We had to, man. Starbug was carryin' too much weight. We could hardly steer her anymore."

"So you got rid of MY things?"

"Hey, it wasn't just *your* stuff. We all had to sacrifice things! I myself threw out all the remaining pot noodle supply!" They walked into their quarters and Cat sat down on Rimmer's bunk.

"Oh, big smegging deal, you don't even like pot noodles! All my things. I can't believe you got rid of ALL my things."

"Rimmer, it was only stuff on Starbug. Anything that was HERE is still there!"

"All my shoe trees? My clipboards? My Reggie Wilson CDs?"

"Yeah, those were the first to go," said Cat from behind them. "Now will you two please shut up? I'm tryin' to sleep!"

"Lister, you are NOT smoking in here," said Rimmer as Lister got his lighter out.

"Oh come on, just one?"

"Why, so I can inhale one cig's worth of second hand smoke? I think not, m'laddo. Now about my Risk journal..."

"Sirs!" Kryten marched in carrying a small bottle in his hand. "Who put this in the cupboard? How many times do I have to tell you? Salad cream goes in the fridge!!"

"Kryten, nobody cares about salad cream!"

"Hey hey hey!" Cat shouted above all of them. "I am here, and I am tryin' to sleep! I've missed out on all my naps and I need to make up some serious snooze time! Shut up!"

Holly grinned as the arguments continued to roll. "Yup, things are back to normal." He decided that now wasn't the best time to let them know about the ion storm that was headed towards them, and blinked off the screen.

The End