All four of them peered down into the hold with heart-stopping anticipation. Laid out inside the tomb-like component of the brutally scorched white shuttle was a thirty year old woman in an orange launch and entry suit. Beyond the steaming glass dome helmet her eyelids were closed. As they watched, her lids began to flicker like a faint radio distress signal.
"Shouldn't we take the helmet off?" Lister whispered.
"Is it safe?" Rimmer said urgently, suddenly looking up at Kryten.
"Oh, yes, I think so Sir. She has been in the holding bay for twenty-four hours. She should be acclimatized now." Kryten twisted off the with mechanical delicacy. It clicked, and a hissing noise escaped the neck plate. Kryten and Rimmer supported her upper back as they lifted off the helmet. The woman at first seemed peaceful, but as she breathed in, her forehead became troubled as if in a bad dream. Gradually, her eyes opened. As she looked up, four strange faces met her eyes. On her right hand side stood a man wearing a black leather cap, and closer to her stood a man with an H on his forehead. Squinted with perplexity she turned to her left. A flamboyantly dressed man with prominent canine teeth stared at her. Next to her head stood the the oddest one of the four. A metallic covered man with a rather squished, creamy faun colored head looked hopefully at her.
"I knew I never should have joined NASA!" she sighed in discomfort, covering her face with her left hand.
"She seems very weak, Sir," Kryten said in a very concerned tone, turning to Lister, "I think she needs to be taken to the medical bay."
Before Lister had a chance to answer, the woman struggled to prop herself up on her forearms. "Where am I? Who are you?"
"I'm Dave Lister. And you're on a mining ship in outer-space," he said enthusiastically.
"Since when does Great Britain have a space program?"
"Hi babe! You can call me tiger." Cat interrupted.
"Why are you dressed like Liberace?"
"Hello, I'm Kryten. I am a series 4000 mechanoid. Mr. Cat here is a humanoid descended from a cat."
Cat flashed his teeth at the woman.
"This is Mr. Lister, of course. And here is Mr. Arnold Rimmer. He is a hologram."
"He's dead." Lister said with more seriousness than he's ever used before on this subject.
"A hologram? But a hologram is an image created by light," she said disbelieving. And as she reached out to Rimmer, her fingers touched the front of his uniform and she added, "how can I touch him?"
"I'm composed of hard light?"
"I don't understand." she said drawing her hand away as she looked into his eyes.
Rimmer stared back, unable to explain. She laid back down wearily with a soft groan and closed her eyes.
"She really does look pale Sir."
"Yes, you should take her to the medical bay."
"Very well, Mr. Rimmer."
Kryten wheeled the woman down to the rambling metal corridor as the remaining three figures stared anxiously after the moving extraterrestrial casket.
"I have revived her with intravenous nourishment and a synaptic enhancer* and she seems to be doing well."
"How long do'ya think she's been in space?" Lister said to Kryten as the walked together.
"I don't know for sure. It could have been hundreds of years. But I won't know until I've run more tests."
"Could I go and see her?"
"Well, yes. If you could keep watch over her, Mr. Lister Sir, while I prepare some solid food." Kryten said as he walked away from Lister.
"Oh, Kryten," Lister called over his shoulder, "What's her name?"
"Flight Engineer Susan Putnam."
Lister walked in to see Susan slightly propped up looking at him. He saluted in a quasi-humorous fashion. "Reporting for duty Flight Engineer Susan Putnam, SIR!"
"Can I come in?"
"Yeah, go ahead." Lister pulled up a metal chair and sat next to the bed and folded his hands.
"I don't know what to say. We've never had another human on board."
"So it's just you and the robot - I mean Kryten - and the - "
"Cat, yes; and Rimmer?"
"And he's dead?"
"Like a charred Poppadom."
"That's terrible." Susan said casting her head down.
"Serves him right." Lister chuckled.
Susan looked up rather shocked.
"Well, I'm sorry I shouldn't have said that. But he's a complete smeg-head!"
"What's that?" she said with slightly disgusted suspicion.
"You have a lot to learn."
Lister had given Susan a complete rundown of the radiation leak, Rimmer's history and supposed neglect of the drive plate, Cat's evolution, Kryten's origin, and his own history before she finally passed out of pure mental overload. His vigil over her had lasted at least an hour before Lister had realized she was no longer conscious. As he left to find Kryten, he failed to notice Rimmer loitering in the corridor outside. When Rimmer was quite certain Lister was well out of sight Rimmer crept in. It was some minutes before she came to to discover Lister was no longer there.
"Oh, it's you. Hello."
"How are you feeling?"
"Still groggy of course. How long have you been sitting there?"
"Ten minutes I suppose."
After an awkward pause, she said, "I'm still trying to wrap my head around this - so you are really dead then?"
"Yes. The computer simulation of myself is projected by a light bee from inside my form."
"How..." Susan whispered unable to finish her question.
Rimmer reached inside himself and extracted light bee* and it dropped to the floor.
With a sharp gasp Susan clapped her hand to her mouth. A second later, Rimmer was re-materializing. He stood up with a slight smile of satisfaction at having shocked her.
"Don't ever do that again!"
Rimmer was taken aback by her affectionate anger. He sat down not knowing exactly what to say. "I'm sorry, I'm must be out of touch with reality. I forgot how shocking it can be to witness."
"That's alright." she said trying to smile.
"But how can I feel light? Is it an illusion or something?"
"No, I used to be soft light, so people could put their hand through me. But then we met this alien, named Legion... well actually he was four people at once... anyway. This alien gave me a new light bee* that makes my projection solid-"
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt, but I don't think I have the energy to grasp that kind of science just now."
Rimmer was about to speak again, but Susan changed the subject.
"So what do you guys do around here to keep from going insane?"
"Invent as many games as possible. We've actually gotten pretty creative at that. Mostly we just try to annoy eachother. That's really what I'm here for. The computer chose me to become a hologram because Lister hated me. Still does."
"Oh, I'm sure he can't hate you. You probably have been through a lot together on your travels. You must have a kind of bond."
"Well, yes," Rimmer started, becoming pompous again, "They all look up to me. I am the highest rank on ship. They call me Ace."
"I find that hard to believe."
Rimmer couldn't help but be taken aback by her frankness. "Lister's been talking against me then."
"Well, no. But you did say he hated you."
Before Rimmer could answer, Kryten came clunking in. "Mr. Rimmer, I must insist that you let Miss Putnam get her rest. We don't want a repeat of Lemming Sunday*, do we sir?"
"What's Lemming Sunday?
Rimmer cleared his throat loudly and got up. "Well," he said, "I'd better get going." Kryten set a steaming tray down in front of Susan.
"Oh, goodbye," Susan said cheerfully, "See you later, Technician Rimmer."
"Arnold," Rimmer said in a tone that could only be described as tender.
Susan looked up. "Arnold." She gave him a weak, yet genuine smile.
Suddenly Rimmer felt human. He looked at her for a split second and then turned away. Susan watched him walk out of the room. As the echo of his hologramic boots died away, Susan asked Kryten, "So what's Lemming Sunday?"
Continued in next Chapter...
[Anything with * is not my idea.]