Nice long chapter to finish things up with.
Kryten stood tending to the laundry in the cabin that evening, as Blue Midget circled slowly around moon number fourteen, its scanners running through the usual empty checks. The ship's lights were dimmed as they always were at night, the better to cater to the circadian rhythms of a human crew. This didn't much matter to the mechanoid, and usually not to the Cat, but for once the feline seemed fit to sleep the whole night through. He'd only woken up for an hour or so at dinner time to bathe and eat, after which he went straight back to his bunk. It was set in the wall with a curtain to cover it, and it wasn't terribly comfortable, but after the day he'd just had, Cat felt that sleeping on air couldn't be more wonderful.
As the Midget had no dryer on board, Kryten had strung up a network of washing lines, his own spider's web on which to stick wet clothes to have the juice sucked out of them. While he hung up dress shirts, trousers, and smartly patterned cravats, he did his second best thing after cleaning: worrying.
The next morning would mark the fifth day since they'd set out on their search, and the seventh since Starbug had left Red Dwarf on a false alarm. Even without black holes to worry about, Kryten knew that almost anything could have happened to his masters. Space was a big, scary place.
He wasn't sure what he'd do when once they'd finished their search route. Probably dump the horrible truth in his recycle bin and search the same sector over and over again. What if he was gone? He did like Mr. Lister so. He was nice to him, and he was so very messy. Kryten couldn't bear the thought of going on operating out his life on Red Dwarf without him. He'd have the Cat to look after, of course, but it just wouldn't be the same. Cat was too independent, too self-centered, and stingy with his affection, whereas Lister thrived on social interaction. Besides, without his favorite human to impress, all of his hard work on vanity would be wasted.
Not that he was sure the work was getting him anywhere. Kryten had given up trying to admire his own face, because there was no denying that there wasn't anything to admire about it, and he'd been so embarrassed by what happened with Glenn that self-flattery seemed silly now. How did the Cat make it look so easy? Did he have off days? Days he had to pretend to admire himself? Days when he didn't quite believe his own boasts? Not from the looks of it.
Kryten took down one of Cat's shirts that had finished drying. It was sulfurous orange silk, and it glimmered with delicate sequins the same color. There was a human saying that went 'clothes make the man', which seemed strange to him, because as far as he knew, intercourse between a man's parents was what made a man. Maybe they just forgot the rest of the sentence, and it went 'clothes make the man look good' or something like that. Maybe clothes could make a mechanoid, too.
Kryten glanced nervously over at the curtain that covered the Cat's bunk. He was surely fast asleep, as he had been for hours. Kryten figured that if he was going to do go through with this, he shouldn't put it off. He put the shirt on, turning circles a few times as he struggled to get both arms in the sleeves. He stood before a mirror to assess the result. It wasn't entirely as pleasing as he thought it might be. The shirt was made for a much slimmer occupant than himself, and he could still see all his boxy angles pushing through the material. Still, the change of color was refreshing, and the sequins could serve to distract onlookers from his other downfalls.
Perhaps if he could get the shirt buttoned up the front, it would look better. As Kryten bent forward to start, he heard an ominous tearing sound. He straightened up, horrified, twisted around and looked back in the mirror to see what had happened. The seams had popped wide open at the back of the shoulders. He couldn't resist letting out a squeak of fear. What had he done? The Cat would be furious when he found out about this! And after such a trying day! He'd never let him touch his laundry again!
There came a yawn from the bunk, driving Kryten to new heights of panic. He peeled the shirt off as if it were on fire, making the tears even worse. The Responsible Mechanoid Thing To Do would be to tell Cat the truth and make profuse apologies, followed by groveling. Kryten didn't feel like being responsible, he felt like disposing of the evidence. He bundled up the ruined garment and stuffed it in the first place he could think of, the fridge.
Cat moved the curtain aside and unfolded himself from the bunk space. He rubbed his eyes as he ducked beneath the wash lines. "Hey, bud."
"Good evening, sir!" Kryten replied a mite too loudly. He seized a laundry basket and fiddled with the clothes inside, trying to look innocently busy. "How are you feeling?"
"Kinda better," Cat said, stretching. "Actually I think I was having a bad dream there. Some dog made off with my pants and was chewing them all up."
"Ha, ha, it's funny what nonsense the old brain cooks up while you're sleeping," Kryten forced on a smile. He was tossing the laundry in the basket now like it was a salad.
Cat shrugged and moved for the fridge, but the mechanoid leapt to bar his way. "What are you doing, Ice-cube Head? I'm trying to get a midnight snack here."
"Oh," Kryten blustered, "There- there's no need to exert yourself, sir, I'll get it for you."
"All I want is a glass of milk."
Kryten glanced down and caught sight of a slip of fabric poking out from the bottom of the refrigerator door. "No, no, no, please, I want to serve it to you in bed. Just my little way of saying thank you and, and, I love you."
"Okay..." the sleepy feline consented, and returned to sit on the edge of his bunk, facing the cabin. This wouldn't do at all for Kryten.
"If you could...just get in and close the curtain, sir," he said. "I want to surprise you."
"What's surprising about milk?"
"If I told you it wouldn't be a surprise. Go on, now."
Cat rolled his eyes and retreated fully into the alcove. Kryten waited a while after he'd closed the curtain, to make sure there was no peeking going on. Then he opened the fridge a crack to get the milk out and nearly had a system failure. A not-so-tightly-closed jar of pickles had fallen over on Cat's shirt, soaking it in dill-tinged vinegar. Guiltily, he wadded the fabric up and shoved it further to the back. He didn't have time to deal with it now.
When Kryten swept aside the bed curtain, he was all smiles. "Surprise!" He offered up a tall glass of cold milk on a platter, brimming with froth, with a little paper umbrella and a curly plastic straw in it.
"Wow," Cat said unconvincingly. He propped himself up on his pillows to drink.
"See how the umbrella has teeny weeny flamingoes painted on it...?" Kryten attempted to point out.
"Yeah, that's great." He rolled the umbrella around the inside of the glass with his finger. "Hey, listen, we really gotta get started on those flying lessons tomorrow, first thing after breakfast, shower, hair and make-up."
"Sir? I thought we agreed to wait on that."
"And look at what happened today. If it hadn't been for Holly, you woulda been dead." That was a frightening thought by any means- somebody's life in Holly's proverbial hands. "What was at the bottom of those holes anyway?"
"Most of the information the psi-scan picked up became corrupted, but I was able to recover some. It looked like they were pieces of some super-compacted material, probably fallen there as meteorites."
"Well, I don't know what the hell you're talking about, and that's my point. Who knows when the next thing I don't know what you're talking about is gonna happen? I can't have you dying on me before I get my flying lessons."
Cat's argument was a logical one, for once, Kryten had to admit. He knew he couldn't beat around the bush anymore. "I suppose it would do you good to know the basics, at least."
"That's great, because I have the perfect outfit planned out for it. I'm gonna need some fresh pressed slacks, my snake-skin boots, and that silk dress shirt with the orange sequins." The milk gurgled through the straw as he sucked the last of it up, then he handed the glass back. "Get that all set out for me, would you bud?"
"Yes, of course, sir. Sweet dreams." Kryten tucked the Cat in and drew the curtain on him. He faced the refrigerator reluctantly.
He had sewing to do.
Kryten sat nervously in the cockpit the next morning, watching Cat pour himself into the pilot's chair. He'd worked on the shirt all night long. Initial frenzied attempts to scrub out the pickle juice only resulted in sequins coming loose and falling off. After that, he had to proceed more gently, steadily pricking away with needle and thread straight through until the morning. He just hoped that his careful labors would go unnoticed.
Cat rolled his shoulders and smoothed his lapels down. The mechanoid drew in a sharp breath when he saw him bend his head down to sniff at the fabric. "Are you using a new Clean-O scent?" he asked. "I like it. It's kinda sharp and crisp."
"Yes, it is, isn't it?" Kryten answered, relieved. "All the better for an attentive learning mind-set." Blue Midget sat parked on the moon they'd just been orbiting, shut down cold, ready for the fundamental lesson in how to start up and take off. He remembered being terrified the first time he'd done it, but the Cat was all eagerness. "Now, in order to bring the ship online, you need to depress the large blue button while turning the key in the ignition."
Cat did, and the instruments on the console blossomed to life. "This is easy. Turn the ship on, use the make-everything-go-whirry-and-blinky button." He turned the key further in the ignition, and the engines came on.
"Sir, please don't get ahead of yourself!" Kryten protested. "I haven't taught you how to turn the engines on yet."
"And how would you do it?"
"Well, basically the same way, but let's please move on. Now, before you can engage the thrusters, you have to change gear from park to fly."
Gear shifts were complicated, as the gear box had more than one setting at each slot, which was designated according to which peddle you were pushing at the time. It probably didn't help that it was also three million years old, and the shaft would often stick. Cat was confused at first, then he discovered that it was helpful to look at it as only so much fancy foot-work, and fancy foot-work was his thing. "Step, step, step, drive," he sang to himself. "Step, step, step, second gear! Step, step, step, fly!"
"If you would go through all of them one more time, sir, so I can see that you really know what you're doing," Kryten said. He was a little annoyed that it hadn't taken the Cat much longer to get the hang of things. "You do seem to have at least a vague grasp of this. Now, this lever here turns on the thrusters."
Cat, bouncing in his seat with anticipation, flipped the lever. It added another layer of noise to the rumbling of the engines. Kryten continued his instructions. "Now you push the wheel up very, very, gentleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey!" Cat yanked the wheel shaft all the way up, not the least bit gently, and Blue Midget leapt to obey, rocketing skywards at a fantastic rate. Both passengers were plastered down into their seats until he let up on the pressure, and the ship decelerated to float slowly about a mile up from the surface of the moon.
The feline turned a toothy grin on his teacher. "That was great!"
"That was extremely reckless!" Kryten cried. "If you can't fly safely, I'll be forced to ask you not to fly at all."
"Calm down, Eraser Head, this is the easy part. It just moves whatever way you move the wheel, right?" To demonstrate, he pulled the wheel back, slowly this time, and Blue Midget drifted backwards through the air. He pushed forward and down, and the ship traveled the same direction.
"That may appear to be the case, but there are more complexities and subtleties than first meet the eye. For example, exiting a planet's gravitational field requires much more power, for which you need to divert the ship's energy to the thrusters."
"I need to what?"
"Press the highest button on that panel of buttons there."
"The get-me-outta-here button?" Cat dubbed it as he pressed it, and the thrusters kicked into high power. He sent Blue Midget forward and up, and left the moon behind easily. Out in empty space, he turned the thrusters back down and performed a few gentle slaloms, accustoming himself to the feel of the ship. It didn't take long before he sped up again, trying to test his limits.
Kryten clutched the sides of his seat. "Please slow down, this can't be safe!"
"No way, man, I think I got this. It isn't as hard as you keep saying." Cat flew the ship into a group of asteroids, skipping through them as if he'd been born flying. It was like the ship had become an extension of himself, and it took on a grace and nimbleness that Kryten never would have thought it could. It was amazing, and thoroughly disheartening. He could barely get out of the landing bay on his first try.
One of Cat's turns brought them heading straight for a particularly large asteroid. Kryten kept expecting him to turn away, but seconds were passing without any such move occurring. "Sir, you're going to get us both killed!" He clapped his hands over his eyes, not wanting to witness the moment he'd be splattered across the giant rock. At the last second, Cat peeled away and curled around the asteroid in a series of perfect corkscrews.
After finishing the maneuver, Cat clapped the mechanoid on his shoulder, causing him to jump in his seat. "Haha! You should have seen your face, buddy!" He slowed the ship up to sit back and bask in the praise that was sure to follow.
Kryten stood up. "Mr. Cat, that was..." astounding? "extremely unsafe! You're, you're..." a prodigy? "absolutely reckless and completely unmanageable! I can't believe you..." learned so quickly? "put us in such danger! I'm afraid I must put a stop to this."
Cat was baffled. "What'd I do wrong?"
"You...well, you clearly...I only think it's best..." Kryten dithered.
Cat looked over at him through eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You don't want me to fly," he realized. "What for?"
Kryten collapsed into his seat. "It's true, sir, I don't! Oh, it's so awful of me. It's just that, well, you're already so good at everything! You can sing and dance and be confident, and dress well, and look at mirrors all day long. And knowing how to fly was my special skill."
"Come on, bud, that's not true." Cat wasn't quite sure what to make of the upset robot who was spilling his guts all over the place, except maybe to try and get him to stop. "You're plenty good at doing work and cleaning stuff."
"That might be true, but it's only part of my programming. All mechanoids are made that way, but none of them pilot spacecraft. I'm not sure Mr. Lister would like me anymore if I wasn't different."
"Well, I don't have that problem, everybody loves me. It's okay to be jealous, I get that all the time."
Kryten looked up at him. "I'm jealous? Do you really think so?"
"Bud, you're greener than a blade of grass on the Jolly Green Giant's front lawn. Don't worry, it's only natural."
"Oh, sir! Thank you!" Kryten cried. Jealousy! It wasn't part of his programming at all, yet here it was, and he didn't even have to work to get it. "I can't wait to tell Mr. Lister. This is wonderful! I'm jealous of you!"
Cat pulled his arm back and smoothed down his sleeve. "Yeah, that sounds great...I think. So, does this mean I can still fly the ship? Because if not, you're gonna have one angry kitty on board."
If he was going to keep his newfound envy fresh, Kryten supposed that the more flying the Cat did, the better. "Certainly, sir. I imagine that you, too, may be seeking approval by being able to handle spacecraft. After all, nobody takes your other abilities very seriously."
Cat snorted. "First of all, I do not do any of that Chicken Soup for the Feline Soul stuff, so you'd better cut it out. Secondly, that's just stupid. Thirdly, is it just me, or does it smell like curry around here?"
"Er, not particularly, sir..." Kryten was a little worried. He did have a few vindaloos in tins packed in the fridge for Mr. Lister, if and when they found him. He just hoped the odor hadn't somehow permeated the Cat's shirt along with the pickle juice.
Cat sniffed the air carefully. "No, it's a curry kinda smell, and sort of...smoky?" His nose wrinkled. "Blegh, dog food!"
"You know I wouldn't bring any dog food on board when I'm perfectly aware of how sensitive you are. I think you must be smelling things."
"I don't imagine smells. If it's not coming from in here, it must be coming from out there." There was something nigglingly familiar lurking just at the edges of Cat's smell range. It wasn't just the curry and dog food, it was the collection of rank scents that made up a particular exhaust, the tang of hot metal and burnt rubber that was unique to a certain engine. He flew the Midget ahead slowly, trying to get a fix on it.
"Sir, it's impossible for you to be smelling anything outside of the ship. Shall I teach you how to switch between manual and autopilot?"
"Will you shut up? I'm trying to concentrate over here," Cat snapped.
Kryten rolled his eyes and fell silent, figuring that the feline would have to give it up sooner or later. The elusive scent lead Cat back to the moon they'd just been at, which he bypassed, and on to the white-shrouded planet the moon circled around. He cross-checked the scanners against his nose, but they were all coming up empty. "That can't be right!" he complained. "I'm taking her down."
The ship entered a world of winds hard at work tossing snow in all directions. With sleet hissing against the windshield and gusts pushing the Midget off course, Cat was hard-pressed just to keep control, let alone pin-point a smell source. "Sir, this is getting too dangerous!" Kryten shouted over the weather. "There's nothing here, we should leave!"
Cat was about to agree. Even if he was right, he didn't feel like risking his beautiful life for a pair of worthless, ungrateful monkeys. Then he saw something, a flash of green amongst the endless white. "There! I found them! Aaaaoooooww, yeah! They're over there!" Blue Midget shot forward, clawing its way out of the storm they were in to circle around Starbug.
"It is them!" Kryten cried. He didn't know whether to be anxious or overjoyed. The Bug didn't look like it was in very good shape, judging from the scrapes and dents visible on whatever parts of the hull weren't buried in snow. They could very well have just discovered a cold green tomb. The mechanoid adjusted the scanners, trying to get them to work, desperate to find out what the situation was. The scope came up empty two more times, then finally got a fix on the wreck.
It listed two occupants, one organic, one electronic, perfectly alive and fully functioning, respectively.
Cat landed Blue Midget as close to Starbug as the planet's harsh terrain would allow, and immediately headed for his wardrobe, bemoaning the fact that he hardly had any clothes on board with which to knock together an arctic-style rescue outfit. Now that all this searching business was done with, he couldn't wait to get back to Red Dwarf and his endless racks of clothes.
Getting back home as quickly as possible was completely the point of trying so hard to find those monkeys in the first place, he reflected, as he sorted through his deeply inadequate selection of shoes. Inadequate and unshiny! Why hadn't he buffed them in the last two days? It was probably just because he'd been busy. It certainly wasn't because he'd been worrying- that would put wrinkles in his marvelous forehead.
Cat finally finished dressing and headed through the cabin, where Kryten was packing up the emergency supplies. "Come on, buddy, get a move on!" He called as he made his first cuban-heeled footprint in the snow outside. "This outfit will only stay fashionable for so long. Oh, and I call the driver's seat on the way back. Speaking of flying, now you get to teach me how to do it in Starbug, too!"
Kryten thought he might put that lesson off for a bit- there was only so much Cat he could handle in one week. As he finished up lashing the supplies to the sledge, the full length dress mirrors echoed four more of him around the cabin, but he was content not to look back at them. Now that he knew that jealousy was capable of blooming in his diodes, vanity seemed redudant. He supposed that there were some flaws that he would never be able to get the hang of.
As he was making the last checks around the cabin to see if he was missing anything in the way of rescue gear, Kryten came upon a pair of fuzzy pink earmuffs in a cabinet. He reached for them, then dismissed the idea as silly. He was a mechanoid, he didn't need earmuffs. Well, maybe he could be just a tiny bit vain, every now and then. There wouldn't be anything wrong with that, right?
Kryten put the earmuffs on and dragged the sledge out into the cold, ready to rescue his master in style.
I almost hate to finish this story, it was so much fun to write! Love etc. to my reviewers, HarryPotterTNGfan, TiaKisu, Butterflygirl113, michael bitter, and Suzie. Your support is well appreciated.