Author's Notes: This story was a troublesome one as my inspiration fueled by Back to Earth wore off, but the news of a new series or two next year revved me up. My writer's block has been set aside (as far as this story is concerned). Hope you enjoy this one-off, which has been bothering me for six months.
That number didn't really mean anything in the abstracts.
But to Lister, that number had been beating him senseless for about the past three months.
Lister's thirty-first birthday had been three months ago, and whatever excitement he could ever feel about a birthday party went with it. No excitement over excellent or interesting presents. No excitement over chocolate birthday cake with vanilla ice cream. No excitement over putting a helium balloon to his mouth and inhaling, singing Alvin and the Chipmunks songs with the Cat.
No, for Lister, this was the beginning of the end.
Thirty had always been the cutoff year for him. He'd always feared his thirties.
He didn't understand why he was afraid of it.
Rimmer had entered his thirties about five or six years ago. He was handling it alright. In fact, being in his thirties was, to Lister, one of the bravest things Rimmer had ever done. He kept reasonably fit, he didn't smoke, he rarely drank, he didn't torture his tongue with the horrid spicy concoctions that could be created on a Saturday night, and he didn't listen to Rasta Billy Skank, the only rock musician whose albums came with a health warning.
Lister had hated the idea of turning thirty.
But now he was there. He was heading for beer-gut country. He was saddling up for gum disease and faulty eardrums.
But then again, he was already thirty-one, and no major catastrophes had occurred yet. In fact, things had been rather uneventful as of late, and he was glad for it.
Lister examined his life at the moment.
Right now, he was snug in his bunk, wrapped in a blanket, wearing a curry-stained T-shirt and boxer shorts. The room was empty, save for the obvious clutter. The old motorbike they'd found on the derelict, the SS Motor Cage, was sitting in the corner near the doors, waiting for a polish. He was going to fix that one day and tear up the cargo decks, but for now, there it sat.
Lister rolled his tongue around in his mouth. He hadn't been to brush his teeth for a little over two days now. He figured he was due for a good brushing of the teeth. Now feeling a bit better about the whole "age" issue, he leapt down from his bunk and padded across the floor in his socks. He pressed a button on the wall near the shower room and a sink with two toothbrushes slid out of the wall. He picked up the grimier-looking one and grabbed the toothpaste, squeezing a dollop of minty-blue fluoride on the brush.
As he did this, he heard the sound of the doors opening, and he turned and saw Kryten enter with a laundry basket.
"Good morning, Mr Lister, sir," the mech said cheerily. "Just bringing some fresh laundry."
"Cheers, man," Lister said, bringing the toothbrush to his mouth.
"Oh, giving your teeth a good scrubbing, eh, sir?"
"That's wonderful, sir. Mr Rimmer was just complaining about how he's had to wear a clothespin over his nose due to your snores supposedly releasing noxious fumes all night."
Lister rolled his eyes and leaned against the sink, watching himself intently in the mirror. He was just reflecting over the fact that he looked good for his age when it happened.
Kryten was just folding some laundry at the table when he noticed Lister had stopped brushing. Curious due to the lack of spitting, he looked over at the human at the sink. "Sir?" he asked.
Lister remained frozen at the sink, his eyes slowly widening. He started making some loud whining noises that made Kryten's panic circuits whirr in his head.
"Sir, what's wrong? Did you lose a tooth? Is your tongue reacting to the fluoride again? Do I need to get the sponge out?"
Lister shook his head.
"Sir, please, for the love of Windolene, spit!"
Lister dipped his head and spat out the remnants of his teeth cleaning before he looked at Kryten in the reflection on the mirror. "My back…," he managed to gasp out.
"Your back, sir?"
"My back! It's going out!" Lister yelled, grappling the edge of the sink.
Now concerned, Kryten waddled over, ignoring his CPU's commands to clean up the spittle. "Sir, come, I shall help you to your bunk."
"Kryten, I can barely walk," Lister gasped, unable to walk away as he slowly began to lower towards the floor.
"Lean on me, sir. I will share your burden."
Lister reached out for Kryten's shoulder, but he only succeeded in pulling the poor mech down, taking him off guard.
"Oop! Oh, goodness!"
Lister slithered through Kryten's grasp, gnashing his teeth as he fell.
"Sir! Hold on, sir! I've got you, sir!"
"Kryten, you've gotta – SON OF A BITCH!"
"Hold on, sir! Just grab onto my – Sir, bad touch! Oh!"
"Sorry, I just – GOD! SMEG, THAT HURTS!"
"SIR, REMAIN CALM, SIR! YOU MUST REMAIN CALM!"
"MY BACK IS MUTINYING ON ME, AND YOU WANT ME TO REMAIN CALM?"
"SIR, YOU'LL BE FINE! I'M TRAINED TO HANDLE SITUATIONS LIKE THIS!"
"THEN STOP YELLING AT ME!"
"I WILL WHEN YOU STOP YELLING AT ME, SIR!"
Needless to say, all this noise was attracting the attention of their fellow crewmates.
Rimmer and Kochanski skidded into the room to see what all the commotion was about. They found Lister leaning back over Kryten, who was bending slightly, trying to keep the human upright and in some form of motion.
They stared at this for a few moments before Rimmer finally faced Kochanski.
"Get the shotgun, Martha. The herd needs a thinnin'," he said in a Western drawl.
"Dave, are you alright?" Kochanski asked cautiously, trying not to laugh at the scene.
Lister suddenly gripped the side of the sink and pulled himself up, turning himself around a bit. "I'm fine!" he yelped.
Kryten fell to the floor thanks to the sudden movement, and he quickly scrambled upright again.
"Kryten, what the hell are you two doing in here?" Rimmer demanded.
"I'm afraid Mr Lister's –"
"I'm fine, Kryten! Really!"
Rimmer looked unconvinced. "You're fine?"
"So you were just trying to mess with Kryten for the hell of it?"
Lister squirmed slightly. "Er…?"
"Sir, is that true?" Kryten asked, looking rather hurt. "Sir, I was worried about you!"
Lister waved him off. "Look, guys, I'm fine. I'm…" He trailed off, staring straight ahead.
"You're what?" Kochanski asked.
Lister bit his lower lip, and his fingers gripped the sink tightly.
His knees buckled.
Rimmer rubbed the bridge of his nose, tired. "Kryten, what's wrong with him?"
"His back is hurt, sir," Kryten said quietly. "It's gone out."
"Oh my god, Dave, why would you want to ignore something like that?"
Lister's voice had suddenly gone very high-pitched. "I don't want to… I just… Help?"
Kochanski couldn't help but smirk. "Kryten, help him to his bunk."
"Right away, ma'am."
Kryten walked over to Lister and helped him to gently release his firm grip on the sink's edge, and then he proceeded in helping him along.
"Now let's take this slowly, sir," he said encouragingly.
"Smeg…," Lister hissed.
"One foot in front of the other, that's it."
Rimmer couldn't help but be amused. "It's like watching a toddler learn how to walk. Should someone get a video camera?"
"Smeg…off…Rimmer," Lister grunted.
"Yes, Rimmer, get his bunk ready," Kochanski said sternly.
Rimmer rolled his eyes but complied, pulling the blankets back on the bunk and cleared away the dirty clothes.
Slowly but surely, Kochanski and Kryten managed to help Lister towards his bunk, and after about thirty minutes of screaming, yelling, threats and prayers, they'd finally laid Lister out in his bunk, lying on his back.
Kryten tidied up his bunk slightly, putting some pillows under Lister's head. "There you are, sir. This should sustain you until you feel better."
"Kryten, it might be best if you brought the mobile Medi-Lab in here," Kochanski said. "We may need to take a closer look."
"Right away, ma'am."
Kryten exited the room hurriedly, his legs flailing in perfect robotic fashion.
"Do you need anything, Dave?" Kochanski asked.
"I want to be twenty-five again," Lister wailed, wiping the sweat from his brow.
"How about some tea?"
Kochanski smiled and left the room.
Rimmer glanced at Lister and then headed over towards the table to do some revision, pulling out his Astro-Navigation for Idiots book. He was just starting to scribble down some notes with his pen when he noticed Lister staring at him.
"What's with you?" he asked.
"What's with me?" Lister repeated incredulously. "Rimmer, my back's just gone out and all you can say is 'What's with you'?"
Rimmer sighed, realizing he wouldn't be getting very much revision done today. "What do you want me to say?"
"Something sympathetic would be nice."
"What do you want me to say, Lister? You spend most of your time sitting down anyway."
"Rimmer, it feels like two fat women are jack hammering their pointed shoes into my ribcage. I think there is a difference!"
At that moment, Cat swiveled into the room, spinning and singing cheerfully.
"Hey, buds! I feel great!"
Lister sighed heavily and lengthily.
"Hey, what's up with you, Monkey Boy?" Cat asked, looking him over.
"My back's gone out. I can't get up."
Cat looked Lister over, but he couldn't see the problem. "It looks fine to me. No broken bones, no lacerations… I think you're just faking it! You just want another excuse to lie around all day."
Lister glared at him.
"Cat, with a bad back, you just sort of know it when it happens," Rimmer explained.
"Really? I always thought that was sex."
"Guys, could you both go find something else to do?" Lister moaned. "Preferably something involving sharp, pointed objects."
Rimmer slammed his books shut and got to leave. "Fine, we know when we're not wanted," he said firmly, and he strode out the doors.
Cat watched him leave, and then set about looking at himself in the mirror, much to Lister's annoyance.
Rimmer came back and tapped Cat on the shoulder.
"We're not wanted," he explained.
Realizing, Cat tucked his mirror away and followed Rimmer out of the room.
Lister wallowed in his misery for a few minutes longer before he grew lonely again and looked around for someone to talk to.
The entire room was empty.
"Holly?" he called out to the screen in the wall.
But Holly didn't arrive.
"Could you at least put a film on?"
An all too irritating theme tune began to play.
"Smeg…," Lister muttered. "No, Hol. Not Manos: the Hands of Fate! Stop it!"
But the music continued playing, and Lister moaned in misery as he watched several minutes of field footage before any plot started up, only interrupted by a pathetically-executed police chase, that ended in the driver getting off with a warning.
Later that night, Lister continued to pout pitifully and stare at the ceiling of his bunk. The Spine From Hell was giving him less grief now, but he still had to lie around in bed, lest he anger some muscle and scream like a grandmother.
Kryten entered the room with trolley of food.
"Ah, how is your back, sir?" he asked pleasantly.
"It feels like it's trying to transfer to Timbuktu, but it has to get out of my back first," Lister replied curtly.
"I'm glad hear of some improvement at last. Supper, sir?" he continued, taking the lid off of a plate.
"Oh, cheers, man," Lister moaned. "I could murder a curry."
Kryten passed the plate up to him. "There you are, sir. Num, num!"
Lister reached down, trying to accept the plate, but he just couldn't bring it close enough from the angle he was at.
"You're gonna have to help me, Krytie," he moaned quietly.
"Oh, of course, sir," Kryten replied, eager to serve in a much more direct approach.
Getting out a stepladder, Kryten waddled up it with a fork in his hand and began to feed the curry to Lister, who lapped it up pitifully.
It was this scene, this scene of a mechanoid on a stepladder feeding a grown man with a bad back in the top bunk in a mining ship sleeping quarters, which was witnessed by Kochanski when she walked in.
Naturally, she was more than a little perturbed when she saw it.
Kryten registered her arrival ten seconds too late. He smiled perkily. "Good evening, Miss Kochanski, ma'am?" he said.
Lister groaned slightly, this time from aggravation. This was the last thing he needed.
"Kryten… What are you doing?" she asked slowly and tightly.
"I'm just feeding Mr Lister his dinner, ma'am. He was unable to bring it properly to his face at this angle."
"I see… Dave, how are you?"
"Getting better all the time," Lister replied, struggling to sit up a little more.
"Yes, ma'am?" the mechanoid asked, halfway through the process of getting a bit more meat with the fork.
"Why don't you do some laundry or something? I'll take care of things here."
"Are you certain, ma'am? I really don't mind doing this."
"I know you don't. Believe me, I know you don't. Trust me, I'll be fine."
"Very well, ma'am," Kryten sighed, stepping down and putting the ladder away. "I'll see you later, sir. Good evening."
"Yeah, see ya, Krytes," Lister sighed.
And with that, the mech was gone, and Kochanski was looking at him disparagingly.
"Feeling low, Helen Keller?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Lister scowled. "Why do you expect me to be able to brush an illness or physical deficiency aside like a cobweb?" he demanded. "I am in actual pain here. My back feels like it's trying to turn into a boomerang."
"That's too bad," Kochanski replied, moving the trolley closer to the bed.
"I feel like if I move, I'll suddenly be doing an impression of an intensely ticked off parakeet!"
"I weep for you," she said, dragging the stepladder back out.
"I haven't eaten since breakfast this morning! Holly made me watch a whole string of B-Movies, and not the good B-Movies either! The invisible monsters weren't even convincing!"
"Shall I get my violin for you?" she asked, climbing up the stepladder with the curry in hand.
"You know, you're really conservative. You act like men should be all burly and masculine all the time, but we can't! We've gotta take the odd breather and be wimps for a day, you know? If we did, we'd—"
"Shut up and eat," she said, jamming a forkful of curry into his mouth.
Lister chewed for a moment incredulously before swallowing. "You're gonna feed me?" he asked, bewildered.
"Only because Kryten feeding you looked ridiculous. At least this way you've got some dignity," she said dismissively.
She jammed another bit of curry into his mouth.
"Don't get used to this. I'm not going to be there every time you hurt yourself."
"Then where will you be?"
She glared at him and smeared some sauce on his forehead before jamming the next bit of meat in his mouth.
He just grinned cheekily.
But as he lay there and reflected on his current situation, lying in bed, while the others looked after him, and a beautiful woman fed him curry, he couldn't help but think to himself, maybe being thirty-one wasn't so bad.
Author's Notes: Okay, yeah, that was cheesy, but I needed to get the ending to come to me, and this seemed to be the best route. But hopefully this has geared me up for working on another epic fic, so stay tuned.