Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Dwarf.
In the cold depths of space, three million years from earth, in the abyss of nothing, where silence had lay for several centuries, something was not in its proper way.
There was a change in the natural balance of things in the whole sector. The anomaly lay in a twin star solar system with only two satellites, the others had been released from their elliptical orbits many hundreds of centuries ago. Over one of these cruised the fastest object for a hundred light years. Its crimson red hull was beginning to get fainter from the rays of a thousands suns long since gone. The white field on the cone shaped bow of the ship glistered in the face of these two powerful stars and the myriad of solar panels grasped all the light they could. The long red letters were the clearest parts of the ship, as they had most recently been re-painted by a large squadron of the ship’s service droids ordered to do so by one of the vessel’s inhabitants.
The last part of the R and the F was still un painted, and about 220 of the Class four service droids known as “Skutters” were wheeling out on a special ramp leading around certain areas of the ship.
The Jupiter Mining Corporation ship Red Dwarf was undergoing maintenance.
Inside the 9 miles long ship on Deck 128, the series 4000 service mechanoid Kryten was busy re-routing the circuitry of Terminal 11B-28 of the onboard computer. He was finding it somewhat difficult to concentrate on the task at hand due his programming which was insisting that he dust off the cables that had been gathering dust for little over three million years.
He was trying to circumvent it by reminding himself of the orders from his master, which was the only input that could override his main CPU programming.
Mr Arnold Judas Rimmer was three decks above, checking the CPU status of the Operating system, HOL Six Triple Zero. The massive computer had gone offline as the 34 000 terminals were checked and re-checked by the diagnosis system and then had massive energy surges run through every one of them. Only 257 had required manual maintenance and had been divided equally by the crewman in charge of terminal maintenance. In other words, Rimmer checked 37 of the terminals and Kryten 220.
Lister and the Cat were on Deck 524 checking the energy routing stations. Over 278 of the 1 200 had to be recalibrated manually from each service station.
Through continuous hard debating and talking over Lister had managed to convince the Cat to calibrate one station. And after thirty minutes of instructing him step by step again and then once further, he had given up and done it himself.
Over the last months, different small quirks such as small areas of the ship losing power for several hours and Holly sometimes not being able to hear or see you had gotten to their nerves and they had decided to do something about it. The smaller maintenance jobs could of course be easily done, but the more complex like power grid repairs needed concentration.
Therefore the crew had put the ship on a safe course and slowed down to only 10% of the normal speed. It had taken the crew over three weeks to read through Holly’s manual in order to put the ship’s systems in safe mode before they shut him down. They hoped that by rebooting him, they might be able to cure him from his computer senility.
But they were going to have to do that the last thing they did.
“This is technical team 1 leader to team 1, Kryten aren’t you done yet?”
“I’m sorry Mr Rimmer, I’m on number 184 now. Only 36 more to go.”
“Pathetic, I finished my half already. You really do work slow Kryten you know that?”
“Yes sir, I’m sorry sir.” Rimmer closed the radio link and prepared a smug speech about the Series 4000 mechanoid's efficiency for later.
“What a smeghead.” Kryten got somewhat surprised that his programming had allowed him to call Mr Rimmer a smeghead. Over the last few weeks he had grown increasingly aware of his etiquette protocols losing their influence on him. The first days he had lived in terror that he was experiencing the first signs of robot senility.
But after a complete self-diagnostic and changing to spare head 2, his file management program detected a virus.
The early stages of the virus re-directed several programs and severely crippled his etiquette protocols. He would have to re-boot once his duties were done. This had two big consequences; One, it allowed him to circumvent his etiquette and call Mr Rimmer a smeghead.
A huge victory in his battle over his program. However, the virus had caused another malfunction in his personality subroutines. Once his CPU had discovered the insult to Rimmer, his guilt chip would activate at 250% as per usual for insults to humans.
But seeing as Kryten’s etiquette protocols were screwed up he didn’t hesitate for a second to insult Mr Rimmer and this atrocity drove the guilt level up to 380%, and the virus caused it to spike at 500%.
This was more than enough to send the most well-confidence and well balanced human being to spend the rest of his life in a small padded room.
Right now, his guilt chip had dropped and was at a mere 286%, mainly due to a couple of burned flapjacks on Mr Lister’s breakfast tray.
He felt incredibly frustrated by his health and by Mr Rimmer’s remark regarding his work efficiency, which under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have given a second thought.
He scanned for the remains of the virus again but couldn’t find it so he returned to his work.
“So where are we?” Lister threw his dirty gloves on the table and sat down.
“Well, my team is already done with our duties, despite some very poor work ethics from most of the team members. All of Holly’s terminals are now working.” Kryten kept quiet, he had decided to remain so until he could get rid of the final parts of the virus.
“Alright, then all we have to do is replace the logical circuits and Hol is back!” Rimmer shook his head.
“What do we need him for? It’s not like he… you know, can do anything.” Kryten felt another surge of irrational emotions when Rimmer insulted a fellow electronic being.
“Sir, I believe you under estimate Holly’s usefulness onboard.”
“Oh please, he can’t even tell which country London is in. He’s as dumb as a member of the American congress, no worse; a French poet.”
“Sir, he controls every system onboard this ship! Without him, we wouldn’t even be able to move! We would be as dead in the water as the German Olympic swimming team!”
“Ohh bull, how hard can it be, we just push some buttons and the ship moves.”
“Sir! When you merely push some buttons, Holly has to ignite and align over 400 000 jet thrusters to precise measurements down to the very last nanosecond. Any miscalculations and Red Dwarf would end up a big mesh on one of those planets down there!” Kryten tried to calm down as his guilt chip was slowly building up to a slightly stabbing 271%.
“Like I said, how hard can it be?”
“Sir, you have failed the astro navigation exam over 20 times by now and every time you have set a new record low, by this rate it’s amazing that you know how to drive a car!” Guilt chip jumped up to an even 340% and Kryten tried to settle down but had to sit through a fifteen minute speech about the arrogance of mechanical lavatory utensils.
“Well, with that over and done with, let’s get going with those logical circuits! Come on, let’s do it and get the smeghead back online!” Lister stood up and Kryten raised his arm.
“Sir, I have been attacked by a computer virus and therefore request to go off-line while my anti-virus program removes all the virus remains from my CPU.”
Lister agreed and hurried out of there before Rimmer started a new speech.
"CPU Ident: S4000-2X4B 523P. Mechanoid Ident: Kryten. Mechanoid Status: Off-line, Diagnostic mode. Anti-virus program active. Anti-virus program running."
Lister got bored with the viewing screen and turned back to the bunk room. Rimmer was reading a book about Napoleon and the Cat was sleeping in Lister's bunk.
"I don't know why we still keep that git around, he looks like he got trapped with his head in a VCR!" Lister shook his head.
"Rimmer why are you such a smeghead? There's nothing wrong with Kryten, he does everything you ask for without ever complaining except that he's sick right now. You're lucky to have a friend like that. Face it Rimmer, you're lucky to have a friend at all!"
"Lister. Shut your ugly face you disgusting impersonation of a Picasso."
Lister gave up and walked out the door. He walked along the corridors which were undergoing a transformation, a hundred skutters were turning over floor boards and repairing circuitry, for the first time in over an eon, they were actually working. Lister carefully skipped over big gaps in the floors and dived to avoid an oncoming army of skutters, whizzing down the corridor.
The skutters were experiencing a new sensation. Their lives onboard Red Dwarf could have been the basis of a hundred Harvard essays in theoretical robot engineering and AI programming.
In the time before the accident their lives had meaning in the way they worked. They had performed differing maintenance operations with flawless efficiency.
After the accident, they had of course accepted new input from Holly, as per their programming. After a few decades, Holly had a big talk with them about their sometimes lacking punctuality.
After yet a few more decades, the skutters were starting to postpone their jobs. This must seem so innocent to any human, but to an electronic mind, even wasting one second to relax was the same as full, blown-out mutiny.
After almost a millennia, the very first signs of computer senility had begun to show on Holly, and the skutters had tried to mend their caretaker. But their knowledge of on-board systems only went so far.
It had been almost a million years before the skutters finally gave in and allowed the ship to deteriorate.
But now, their ancient program had been revived. At the first orders to get to work, they had ignored them and went back to playing checkers. But soon, as they begun to realise that the crew were serious about renovating, slowly, very slowly their programming that had laid dormant for so many of centuries begun to take control over them more and more. Eventually they had begun working by their side.
In little under half a day, they had gone from total indifference, and by now they were whizzing around the ship, worshiping the easy to screw in place pentagon screw bolt, and they would rather be turned into scrap metal than let skutter team Beta finish fine-tuning the oxygen regeneration units before they did!
Lister walked down the construction site that was the main service area for life support functions. He walked over a long steel bridge spanning a huge set of pipelines bringing fuel to the engine decks several miles behind him.
He stared out at the awesome sight of a part of a pumping network that would supply a normal size city with water. He drew a heavy sigh. Was there any meaning to it all?
Lister had gotten very concerned that he was turning into a faithful man, which was one of his biggest dreads.
He was wondering if there was any bigger meaning to it all out there.
He was almost ready to consider Rimmer's constant alien's attacks as a source for something deeper.
Little did he know...
The ship had almost passed the outer of the two stars, the name had been filled with luscious red colour and the outer areas were being painted equally by the ship's skutters at a speed that would have even surprised their designers.
On deck 671 three men stood before what at time of construction in 2227 had been the most sophisticated computer ever designed in a room which to this date had been sealed off to all personnel, Rimmer had protested and gone on about court martial when Lister opened the four locks on the door.
By the launch of Red Dwarf, the HOL Six Triple Zeros had been followed by the HOL Seven Triple Zero, and the very first beta versions of GORDON Eight Triple Zero.
And yet the Six Triple Zeros had managed to come out victorious on the market. Although equipped with lesser IQ than the newer models and a low resistance guard against system depravation over long periods of time, they were notoriously more popular than the other models.
The reason was that in the other computer designs, the programmers had failed to combine an independent decision taking AI with the interactive algorithms.
For example, the HOL Seven Triple Zeros were designed to be slightly less personal and enforce regulation with a stronger impact than the sometimes all too kind Six Thousands.
The Seven Triple Zeros became notorious as the worst slave drivers in the galaxy, and after two accounts of Seven Triple Zeros flushing a crew member out the airlock for minor infractions, they were all recalled.
The Gordons, on the other hand, was a desperate attempt to make up for lost money by the corporation that ran the triple zero series.
It was programmed for the better part of a year, twice the time as usual, but they wouldn't take any chances.
And still they failed.
The Gordons were made to be more understanding, going after the same kind of behaviour marks as the HOL Six Triple Zero program. But the ones that had made the Six thousand series had simply created a masterpiece and any attempt to mimic it ended up the way it should.
The Gordons were known to make ships come to a complete halt because the captain was sad over the distance to his girlfriend. In an act of sympathy, Gordon would turn around.
After one of the Gordons became so saddened by the accidental death of an onboard computer technician, it ran the ship straight into a sun, committing suicide and taking 4500 souls with it, the models were immediately recalled and the company received an unprecedented amount of lawsuits.
The HOL Six Triple Zeros remained in service and were upgraded constantly, even as far as into 2235, but in 2236 they were finally beaten on the most sold ship onboard computer of the year by the fruit of the ten year long project of QUEEG Five Double Zero.
And now the very last of these wonders of the Artificial Intelligence Age came about from its six weeks long sleep.
"HOL Six Triple Zero... Online
Memory bank #114... check
Memory update... complete
Checking subsystems status.
HOL MEM... Online
HOL Data... Online
HOL Dir... Online
HOL Visuals... Online
HOL Audio... Online
HOL Input Interpreter... Online
HOL Sensors... Online
HOL NAV... Online
HOL Diagnostic... Online
Subsystem status complete.
Activating HOL 6000 User Interface...
Audio/Visual Bank #3888 not responding
HOL Input unit #67 not responding
HOL Sensors sectors #12,42,233,234,235,236,1764 not responding
HOL 6000 User Interface... ready for input"
The crew waited as the moving lines of text disappeared and the bald, decapitated head once more filled the screen in the computer mainframe room. Lister slowly made his way up to the screen.
"Hol? Are you alright?" Holly rolled his eyes and stared at him.
"Dave... I... I feel really well... I really do..." The face looked puzzled, as if just recovering from a coma. He looked down on all the people in the room. His memory had suffered slight corruption during the reboot, but they were being recovered presently.
He recalled the Cat, Rimmer and Lister. There was a sting somewhere. His logical circuits had reacted to something. Something was off... In his old state it would have taken several seconds to make a note of it. How pathetic he thought to himself. In a matter of half a nanosecond he processed the input from his logical circuits, decided what action to take and executed it.
The signal returned to his independent logical processing unit and it authorised it, Holly made a scan with the internal sensors and found the access port which Kryten had used to reboot.
He immediately made a safe disk with all of Kryten's memories, ran a virus scan and obliterated the virus which had plagued him for the last weeks and then assigned a tiny section of his mind to watch over the mechanoid.
In the last nanosecond he had scanned the room, identified all the crewmen, reacted to Kryten's absence, scanned for him, found him and helped him.
What stunned him wasn't that it had taken only 0,87 nanoseconds, a reboot of such an old system as himself was bound to result in an increase of CPU speed, he could recall a time when Kryten's absence might have prompted a; "Where's Kryten?" after a few seconds.
What surprised him was that it was his own input. He had made the decision to find Kryten. At that moment, Holly realised he was no longer just a walking databank. He was once again a thinking, working computer, with the IQ of over six thousand.
And presently, his ship proximity alert sounded.
The doors hissed open and Kryten joined the others on the bridge.
”Sirs. “ Kryten nodded to Lister and Rimmer.
”Hey Kryters, how are you holdin up?” Lister leaned against the table and lit a cigarette.
”I’m fine thank you sir, much thanks to Holly. Holly, as a fellow electronic, welcome back online.”
Holly gave a faint smile. The series 4000 mechanoid was by pure chronology much more modern than him, but his programming was irreversibly stuck in routine. Strict pre-programmed directives, minimum independent decision making and only a limited IQ of 700.
But Holly did in no way pity Kryten, in fact he felt outmost respect for the mechanoid and in his book, he owed him big time. While reviewing the ship’s logs, he had discovered, to little surprise that almost 97% of the maintenance work done to his logical circuits were performed by Kryten. He owed him his existence.
Removing that virus from his hard drive had been far within his ability, but for Kryten, who was programmed only to perform cleaning and sanitary work duties to familiarize himself with the advanced computer theory of high speed logical relays was more than anyone could possibly expect, even with the self-adaptive CPU to RAM-board transfer rate and independent hard drive storage units. He would have to pay up to him.
”Thank you Kryten. It’s good to be back.”
”So, let’s see what’s on eh?” Lister grinned and turned on the monitor. A series of digits marked on a large grid network displayed, showing the three dimensions of the twin solar system they were in. In the middle was the big red marker which indicated Red Dwarf and a set of crescents enclosed the unidentified object which was about twenty centimetres to the right of Red Dwarf.
”It’s stuck in a decaying orbit about twenty thousand miles above the second planet in the system. It crept within range of my sensors sixteen minutes ago and disappeared fourteen minutes ago.” Holly commentated to his listening audience.
”So what is it? A ship?” Lister looked up at Holly, the comforting smile he had once known three millions years ago had returned with his IQ.
”The scans were inconclusive due to the high radiation levels in the atmosphere. But it was too small to be a ship, a probe or a pod of some sort seems more likely. I’ll know more once we get within sensor range. The object is orbiting fast, one revolution every 28th minute, suggesting an escape pod is more likely. It’ll re-enter sensor range in seven minutes.”
”Any debris fields in the area?” Kryten studied the numbers that constantly fed on the monitors all around him, although he understood what all of it meant, it was all worthless, Holly had already given them all the information he had.
”Nothing major, minor impact craters of irregular sizes detected on one of the moons less than fifty years old, sensors indicates titanium/dolomite alloys, and the age seems to co-incite with the decay of the UO’s trajectory, but nothing conclusive.”
”So what do we do?” Rimmer asked and cast a smugly glare at Kryten who he still hadn’t forgiven.
”In six minutes we’ll be in range, I’ll have more information then.”
”And until then?” Rimmer said impatiently. Holly pretended to think for a moment then said; “Chess?”
Lister was laying on the scanner scope counting grit in the roof, the cat was snoozing, Rimmer was sending instructions to the skutters still outside the ship and Kryten was playing chess with Holly.
Their method of playing chess was somewhat odd. It ascribed as follows:
First, Kryten made his move, which this time was pawn to D2. Then, Holly would anticipate every single possibility and flash a series of different ways he could win on the monitor and Kryten would forfeit, upon which they would thank each other for an enjoyable game. Kryten was currently about to decide his 25th first move in six minutes when Holly declared scanning range in 20 seconds.
All except the cat rushed to the screen and waited eagerly. Kryten read aloud from the screen as data began to come in.
”Composition, titanium/dolomite alloy, designed for short distance space travel and re-entry.”
”An escape pod!” Rimmer lit up. “Finally! Aliens!”
Holly shook his head in pity. “No Arnold. The pod is of unknown origin for the most part but internal scans detect a stasis booth which resembles the technology of Type T stasis chambers found in escape pods belonging to ships like the Scott’s Fitzgerald. It’s definitely of some connection to earth.”
”No definite lock but the stasis field is active in the pod.”
”That means someone could still be alive in there!” Lister got up from his chair in front of the monitor. “How long until it re-enters the atmosphere Hol?”
”Approximately three hours at current rate of deterioration, but it’s not a definite figure. The pod is too badly damaged to survive re-entry at the current trajectory and radiation makes targeting the grappling hooks to it impossible. The only possibility left is Starbug.”
They all took their seats in the cockpit. Rimmer was checking the radio frequencies while muttering. As usual, the cat and Rimmer had been the two who had objected to going. Rimmer said it was irresponsible, immature, dangerous and unnecessary. The cat said: “I’m eating!”
The had never the less gotten down to the hangar and were almost ready for takeoff with about 2 hours until the pod entered the planet’s atmosphere. Kryten reported boosters, retros and thrusters were all ready for flight, the cat looked at his own reflection in the mirror for a few minutes before he finally blasted out the down the hangar bay.
The coldness of space seemed to grasp the green ship the moment the hangar doors shut behind them. Lister could see the pale light from one of the distant stars and the dirty window pane illuminated in it. The harsh metallic orb vessel was so hostile compared to the comforting living areas of Red Dwarf.
The cold blue disc of the planet dead ahead grew larger and the even more duller moon had already passed by Lister’s window. The Cat was a slick driver and he rounded the moon excellently and the pod was now clearly seen against the contrast of the bright surface.
Starbug dropped down to the same altitude as the pod and Lister switched on the headlights. The grey cone shaped pod was nailed like a butterfly on a needle. At maximum speed Starbug was having difficulties keeping up. The pod had presumably been launched when the mothership was at full speed. The hull of the pod had been pounded by different forces of nature for the last half of a century. The radio relay antenna on the top of the small craft was missing, the debris down on the moon seemed to co-incite with the design of it.
Rimmer put on the transmitter and sent out a hailing sequence on all frequencies on all languages but the receiver had also been damaged.
”Kryten, can you give me a status report on the pod?” Lister aligned the retros and the ship started slowing down in its descent while talking to Kryten.
”Coming in now sir. Electrics down, life support down, backup generator at 32%, all radio equipment down, automatics down, only the stasis pod seems to function sir.”
Lister nodded. He watched the pod drift peacefully around the planet and turned to the cat.
”Cat man, can you dock with that thing?”
”Do birds go tweet tweet when you eat them? I’ll catch a hitch with it.” The ship jolted and broke from its course. It drew closer to the pod until the cat very gently positioned the ship in a stride above the small rescue vessel. Had anyone watched it they would surely have made a dirty joke about it.
Starbug’s retros put both the ships into a stable, slower orbit and inside Lister and the cat were suiting up in the airlock. Kryten was carrying medical equipment and his psi scanner.
Slowly the party walked down the belly of the engine section of the ship, the magnetic boots that held them in place didn’t like switching to titanium so Kryten fired of a crossbow he had carried with him. The harpoon anchored itself in the pod’s outer hull and the cat and Lister followed Kryten on his way over to the pod.
The psi scan revealed no atmosphere inside so Lister and the Cat got to work with the outer hatch with the circular saws. The hatch gave away after about three minutes and after a little nudge from Lister it floated away into space. Lister went in first, followed by Kryten and the Cat bringing up the rear. The inside of the ship wasn’t larger than Lister’s bunkroom, the air was teeming with specs of dust. Kryten scanned the area and stopped Lister in his tracks.
”Sir, organic matter. Over there.” He pointed across the room. Lister carefully walked past the control stations and stared at the corpse of the poor creature floating near the floor. The condensation on the still active empty stasis chamber glowed ghostly and cast a gloomy light on the whole pod. Inches from salvation, the final, lifesaving breath of air had been deprived from him.
Holly was having a great day. First off, he had come back to life and he had become a genius again. Second, he now had a whole bunch of toys to interest his great mind. The pod in the hangar was object for intense examination, as well as the heavily protected databanks. There were a lot of interesting things with the pod, such as mysterious inscriptions on the outside, indicating some form of ceremonial ship.
And then there was the perfectly preserved corpse in the medibay. The genetic makeup was definitely human of origin, but as with all Genetic Engineered LifeForms the exact genome manipulations and biological details were difficult to find out. Kryten was in the medibay examining the corpse superficially while the mediscanner was working under Holly’s supervision.
”The facial construction looks human enough, slightly stronger jaw and skull bone, ribs and abdomen have been strengthened and his legs are stronger, this sucker could probably jump higher than Mr Rimmer when someone asks him to pay the check.” Kryten finished his statement and kept looking at the scanner in his hand, the skin had been altered to absorb radiation and endure heat. According to Holly, his anti-body system was almost 100% better than a human’s. Cancer, anthrax, aids- this creature would be able to withstand them all.
It was the peak end of genetic manipulation technology, before the Earth’s governments had started creating them with flaws deliberately to control them. Holly filled in Kryten’s report.
”His body is altered in many other ways too. His stamina is beyond most humans, brain capacity increased by 5% and largely increased lifespan. This dude could probably go on living much longer than any human should. Just like Leonard Cohen.”
But something with him was off, Holly couldn’t find out what just yet but something was creating off the chart readings in his scans and messing up his final results. But presently his attention was directed elsewhere, whoever had encrypted the database had done a fine job and any humanoid attempting it would surely have been unsuccessful, but Holly had succeeded. Most of the databanks were encrypted in differing codes divided into fragments, it would take considerable time for Holly to decrypt enough to get any kind of information out of them, but there was one thing that was most interesting.
A non-encrypted file lay amidst the others, it was an image file, and what little information it contained did still give Holly the insight he needed.
Lister walked into the medibay, wet hair and in his bathrobe. He was followed by Rimmer
”So who’s our mystery guest then Kryten?” Kryten turned around and explained to them that he and Holly had been examining him and what they had found.
”We’ll know more when Holly decrypts the files sir.” Holly’s head appeared on the monitor and he turned to Lister and Rimmer.
”Where’s the cat?”
”He’s still in the radiation shower room.” Rimmer answered. “Why?”
”Kryten, can you open his shirt please.” Kryten did so and revealed the creature’s chest.
”What is that? He looks like he’s been to a convention for mosquito farmers.” Rimmer looked away in disgust at the man’s three pairs of nipples that were on his chest. Holly explained:
”This is what happens when a Homo Sapiens Genetically Engineered LifeForm has a child with a Felix Sapiens. Whoever this is, his parents were the same species as the Cat.”
Lister stared out the window in the bridge. Below him ran the monorail system on the outside of the hull, inside the ship it ran for an additional 29 miles.
He was thinking, thinking of what might lie ahead. The race of the Cat had left Red Dwarf, according to Holly less than 90 years before he emerged from stasis, after that, the only contact with this presumed extinct species had been the Cat, an old priest that had been left behind and died after ten minutes of conversation with Lister, and the occasaional skeleton they found somewhere on the ship, usually in the still contaminated areas of the ship.
The thought of meeting a new breed of the cats, though different in that they were GELF's, was a nice, and yet frightening thought. To the cat people, Lister, or "Cloister" was considered a god. Maybe they wouldn't be quite as strong atheists as the Cat was.
Rimmer was busy reading. He found the idea of another load of cats walking around the ship, preening themselves and doing their laundry by licking their clothes completely revolting.
Kryten was doing the laundry, and had little time to think of the cats.
Holly was still trying to break the encoded pod's databanks. He was getting very frustrated. These creatures were essentially the same as the Cat, although gentecially enhanced they remained cats, and they appearantely possessed the ability to defeat him when it came to encryption keys.
He was getting very cross and was thinking of focusing his attention on a nearby comet that was bleeping on his sensors when he cracked it and suddenly got access to over ninety thousands gigaquads of information.
The Cat was eating a chicken and couldn't care less about other cats, comets or Cloister.
Holly spent the better part of 2 seconds trying to find a piece of text that would explain the whole mess in an easy way. He finally found an eighth grade sunday kitty school book.
"The Holy Mother, saved by Cloister the Stupid, who was frozen in time, and who gaveth of his life that we might live. That's you Dave."
"No need to explain that bit Holly." Rimmer looked smug. Holly kept on reading.
"And Cloister gave to Frankenstein the sacred writing, saying, Those who have wisdom will know its meaning.' And it was written thus: Seven socks, one shirt, one pair of pants, a t-shirt. And for this, he was punished by the God of wisdom."
"Hang on hang on, I recognize the stuff about the laundry, you told me before, but who's the God of wisdom?"
"And He be the protector of all knowledge, the answers to all questions. And His name be taken from the wandering star in the halls of Sol. And it be; Halley."
"As in Halley's comet?" Rimmer looked puzzled.
"Yes Arnold, they misinterpeted it. It's supposed to be Holly."
"You're their God of wisdom?"
"Yes Arnold. And Halley spoke; In a million mansages and a million more, I will release Cloister, and he shall lead you to Fyushal, but only when you are ready, when you are more than you are now. For this to happen, you must leave the Red Vessel." Holly felt a streak of guilt. A vague memory of him telling the cats that he was tired of them, and that they should go on a trip somewhere round about a thousand years ago.
"YOU sent them on their crusade?" Lister stared at the face on the screen. Holly blushed.
"It wasn't me. It was the former version of me. Now I'm Holly Version 1.1, back, big and badassed!" Lister nodded and looked at him with a mix of disgust and surprise. Holly kept reading.
"When our people once return to the Great Red Vessel, we shall be lifted to Fyushal, in the heavenly body of the Great Vessel, Cloister shall re-awake from his ageless sleep. And with the second coming of Cloister, shall come the God of eternal life, of whom Halley has spoken in His prophesies. 'And ye shall know His form by the symbol of immortality He carries on his forhead."
"That's me!" Rimmer looked up. "I'm a god!"
"Yes Arnold. You are. And ye shall know Him by His name among the gods. And His name be: Bonehead." Rimmer's face dropped.
"Arnold..." No answer.
"Arnold, please..." No answer. Holly raised his volume by three notches, changed to a 3.8% more humble tone and called at the locked door again.
"Arnold, I am sorry... please come out." No answer.
"Arnold, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean anything by it!"
"YOU TOLD THEM MY NAME WAS BONEHEAD! YOU TOLD AN ENTIRE RACE OF CATS THAT THEIR GOD'S, THEIR GOD'S NAME WAS BONEHEAD! A WHOLE RACE HOLLY! A WHOLE SMEGGIN RACE OF PREENING, EGOCENTRIC, SELF-ABSORBED CATS WITH LESS BRAINS THAN LISTER HAVE CLEAN UNDERPANTS LOOKS UP TO ME AS THEIR GOD! AND BECAUSE OF YOU THEY THINK MY NAME IS BONEHEAD HOLLY!" Rimmer took a deep breath and sat down on the small chair in the closet after shouting at the door.
Holly shook his head and gave up. He looked up as Lister.
"Where's Rimmer Hol?"
"He's sulking in the closet Dave." Holly got interrupted by Rimmer from inside the small room;
"I'm not sulking! I'm protesting!" Lister looked at the door, then at Holly, then at the door again.
"Prostesting? Against what?" Holly answered quietly, almost miming;
"The Bonehead thing!" Lister held back a snigger and then walked up to the door.
"Listen Rimmer, you're a god! A god Rimmer! They think you are a god of immortality! How can you be displeased by the fact that you got a... bit of a non-flattering name? As far as we know the cats don't know what it means, they think it means immortality, can you get any higher as far as hierarchy-buisness concerns?" Rimmer remained quiet and Lister gave up.
"Never mind this, Holly? What's up?"
"Red Dwarf is accelerating towards 0.65 the speed of light on a direct course for the last known coordinates of the mothership of that pod, current speed is 0.23 the speed of light and climbing. Long-range scans have so far come up with nothing but we will soon enter the region they were in last. Hopefully that will give something."
"Great. Let me know if you find anything. I gotta go, Kryten wants me to teach him how to swear."
"Okay Dave." Holly followed Lister as he exited the room and returned his focus on the scanners.
Fred looked out his window, the differentely coloured fields intersected the large planet several times. He thought about his life and about his faith.
Ever since he was three years old, his meaning in life had been Cloister. Ever since that day his brother Barney died (both Freddy and Barney were named after the two most well-known comedians the cats knew of) he had had a calling, a sense of purpose to serve Cloister.
He pause in his track. He turned around and stared up at the big image of Cloister that spanned the whole back of the converted cargo bay. He had to nag the captain for several months to get him to empty the cargo deck to make room for him.
The friendly face of Cloister looked down on him, holding a large golden sausage and smiling benignly. He had merely to look at him and he felt right at peace again.
He was now in his late thirties, but very well-built. He had worked all his life, for it was a sin to be lazy.
The heavy metal doors opened far away in the gloomy hall and Fred's assistant stepped in.
"Padre, I am sorry if I disturbed you, but the captain requests your presence on the bridge."
Freddy looked at his most loyal friend for the last ten years. Bill was the sole religious man in a family of engineers, his brother Bull was working on the latest engine technology in the propulsion labs on deck nineteen.
"Thankyou Bill, I'll be with you in a minute!" He walked into his office and put on his sacred hat. His father's father had worn an old red cardboard hat, while this one was mereley a black silk cap with an embroidered silver arrow on.
It sometimes sadened him that the old hats were gone, but it simply too much of a hastle to wear them.
He and Bill walked the whole way to the bridge, ever since that elevator failure three months ago, Fred had decided it would be unwise to test the power of Cloister's will again.
It took them about ten minutes to get to the bridge. Inside the central command was disarray, people shouting things and small service droids whizzing around, repairing things or delivering notes. Most of the crewmember there greeted them when they entered.
The ship was beginning to shake and there was a surge of activity across the entire room, Fred dived down but was too late to catch a coffee cup before it smashed to the floor.
Immediately two small, black robots, no larger than one's thumb entered from somewhere behind him. They were small, round pods on legs, and they left as soon as they had come.
The four thousand or so nanobots they had released fixed the cup in just a matter of mikroseconds and then disappeard back into the pods. Bill was kind enough to bend down and place the cup on the table from which it came.
"Sorry about that father." They both looked up and Fred bowed slightly before Rom-Tom, the captain of The Webber.
"Not at all captain. You wished to see me."
"Yes I did." The captain smiled. He knew very well that Freddy already was several steps ahead of him, he always was. "And I think you've got a fair idea of what it is about. Am I right?" Fred smiled back like a child withholding a secret.
"We're changing course." Bill thought of how envious he was of Fred's superiour instincts, he had hardly noticed the thruster intake/outtake rates changing until now.
"Yes. And do you know to where?"
"We're going into orbit."
"And you want me to ask you why we are going into orbit."
"Yes!" Fred smiled again and made a delibarate pause before he continued.
"Captain Rom-Tom... why are we going into orbit?"
"We intend to use the planet's rotation to slingshot around."
"Around? Why?" The curiousness in Fred's voice was sinsere.
"We just recieved a re-layed transmission from the Rex. It's from high command. All ships must be re-assemble. We are going back to The Ark."
They were back in the chapel, Fred was staring out into the star field that lay ahead. The ship was already approaching lightspeed and soon the superlight drive would engage.
Return to The Ark. Why? He couldn't figure it out. He had been there only once, when he was five, to watch the last execution in the name of Cloister. When Frank was killed for fighting his right to change his name to Frankenstein. He was let out in a small escape pod to die a slow death.
He did not know what lay ahead, but he hoped he could be a part of it. If he was worthy.
He had never doubted his faith, he had always served Cloister in the best way he could, he had held ceremonies every tuesday since he was appointed Ship Parishioner eighteen years ago.
Presently he heard Bill cough politely behind him. He turned around.
"A bowl of milk for your thoughts Padre?" Freddy smiled back and sat down next to him on the bench.
"I was just thinking how there isn't much use for you and me old friend."
"What do you mean father?"
"Did you know that only half of all the ships in the fleet have Ship Parishioners? only three of them have chapels, and none of them are like this." He pointed to the grand hall they were in. "And there are no captains like Captain Rom-Tom left. Our people are forgetting about Cloister and his teachings. Every day I see new faces that never go to church on Tuesdays."
"But people still need their faith!"
"Do they? When was the last time you saw anyone reading the holy book? Or giving food to the less fortunate? Even other priests are loosing faith." Fred took a deep sigh and stared across the room out into space which blasted into a firework display of white stars as the super light drive was engaged.
"You and I are the last of His kind Bill. The last of His kind."
"Attention, attention. Long-range ship proximity alert, low-mass vessel approaching, five billion klicks and closing. All personnel report to drive room ASAP."
Lister and Rimmer dashed into the room with Kryten right behind them, the cat had walked there but still arrived before they did.
"What's going on Hol?" Lister checked the consoles but didn't bother really looking, it would be easier to try and look smart but let Holly explain it.
"A small object is approaching, it's mass is about nine tonnes, size is twelve feet, hull composition matches the cat escape pod but energy output is ten times less, insufficient to support the life of a single lifeform. I'm detecting heavy sensor and surveillance equipment though, there is a 97% probability of it being a probe. It has yet to scan us however." Holly finished speaking and extended all forward sensor arrays towards the steadily approaching object.
"We should stop it!" Rimmer nodded at the others.
"What? Why?" Lister turned to him and stared at him.
"For attempting to access classified information about a JMC Mining ship."
"What? Classified information? The whole ship's system specs are in the brochures they hand out in the JMC offices, anyone can get them!" Lister enjoyed actually know what he talked about.
Three months before he joined Red Dwarf, during all those lonely nights in the locker at Mimas he had ruffaged the streets for anything to pass the time. And apart from the occasional shampoo bottle, an instruction manual in chinese or two, his main source of reading material had been brochures. And the JMC one had been a topper, lots of cool techno-terms, lots of fancy 3d projection images and little simulations of gory accidents with non-JMC ships and asteroids colliding.
"I'm sorry Listy it's in the rulebook."
"No it's not Arnold."
"Yes it is Holly."
"No Arnold, it isn't in the rulebook, you just made it up."
"Shut your face Holly. It is in my rulebook, Arnold J. Rimmer's complete guide to caretaking a mining ship full of complete and utter bastards!" Rimmer sent a volley of saliva out towards the unsuspecting Lister and Cat as he was very careful with the aim of the "bastard" and marched off with a twitch of his head.
"What a smeeee... What a smeee-heeeaaaaa... What a smeeeeeeeeee-e-e-e-e-egg-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g..."
Lister lay his hand on Kryten and patted his shoulder.
"I was just about to say that Kryters." Holly's voice echoed out over the ship again, this time not in his vocal output speakers but in the main PA announcement system.
"Attention, unauthorized outside scan in progress, scanning repellent systems active."
"What's going on Hol?" Lister ran up to the consoles again to pretend to be useful.
"They're scanning us Dave, checking our weapons system, deck plans, power grids, navigation system, additional crafts, hangars, food supplies, oxygen tanks and the number of electrical sockets in the bathrooms." Holly was performing a million taska at once, most of them designed to stop the probe from scanning them, he did not enjoy someone hacking into his ship, it was the computer equivalence of sneak peeping on him while he was taking a shower. "I am unable to stop the intrusion upon our system Dave. My attempts have been futile."
"We are as watched as Sally Joe-Smith's bum through the keyhole in the shower room door after gymclass!" Kryten nodded quietly at the analogy and then continued his equally futile attempts to stop the scanning probe.
The probe remained static for three minutes before it had collected all the data it needed. It's main data processor activated and processed the data from the ship before it. It checked colour, size and mass.
It then continued with its programming and slowly turned around away from the ship. It slowly engaged its thrusters until it cleared the safety distance to the ship. To the surprise of the crew of Red Dwarf, it suddenly lit up the whole side of the ship's hull as it accelerated far into the borders of physical laws, closed up to lightspeed and in an explosion of physical impossibility disappeared from all sensory data at Holly's disposal.
The probe was already transmitting it's message to the cat ark. The message that would change all... forever...
The skutters were now putting the final coat of paint over the port side of the nose cone, in under two weeks had they re-painted half the ship, and soon the whole ship would look as sparkling as it had the first day it was launched. And so most of the skutters were now turning to the inside for some work instead, cleaning coridoors, fixing vending machines, fine tuning machinery all around the ship.
Holly watched over them, pleased to once again be the ruler of his kingdom, after so many years away from the throne. He watched them run up and down the little ramps with their special paint-extensions in their little claws, his cameras captured them in silouhett against the awe-inspiring sight of the deserted world below them, a world of rocks, deserts and little more. The small maintenance droids took no notice what so ever of what most men dreamt of seeing. They went about their work without even a glimpse at the worlds drifting by behind them.
Lister was going through his laundry. As the whole ship was getting cleaned, he thought why not do his laundry now. A few weeks back, Kryten had accidentally washed his special t-shirt and thereby removed the stain that looked just like a woman with three breasts. He had decided such an incident must not be repeated and therefore had assumed all his own laundry duties.
He picked up the first item, a t-shirt.
"Only three ketchup stains on this one, that's good for at least another two months." Next item, a pair of boxer shorts. He examined them, smelt them and then put them in the maybe-pile. Next; Another t-shirt. "Two stains on the front of unknown origin, six curry sauce stains in the back and nine months worth of dried in deodorant... maybe-pile."
He picked up a hawaii-shirt and checked it, a few stains including one that was turning slightly green, even though Lister was sure it had once been orange. He carefully smelt the shirt. He shrugged back, that odour could get rid of nostril hair!
"I'll give it another two weeks..."
Rimmer was, by force of his own statement, revising the first draft of Arnold J. Rimmer's complete guide to caretaking a mining ship full of complete and utter bastards!. He was quite happy with it too, having just selected which font to use for it, and also selected which picture of Red Dwarf to have on the front cover. He was almost getting ready to take a break from all this hard work when Kryten marched into his cabin.
"Ahh sir, how are you doing?" Rimmer took no notice of the mechanoid, seeing as he was still on his bad side.
"Too busy to talk huh? Well I'll just take out the old food tray here and I'll be on my way sir." Rimmer kept quiet. Kryten grabbed the empty food tray next to the lower bunk bed and headed out.
"Oh sir, by the way, I have just discovered an old batch of morris dancing videos in the cargo hold, I do believe it's one of the the collection DVDs you haven't seen. Perhaps I should go bring it up for you sir?" Rimmer kept quiet. Kryten waited for a response but when none came he kept going anyway.
"Have you seen the new coat of paint they're putting on the ship sir? The skutters have truly outdone themselves, maybe later on I can take you for a surveillance round in starbug sir?" Rimmer still treated the slightly desperate mechanoid.
"Or maybe we could take a tour of the ship so you can complain about the sloppy state the skutters have left everything in, or you could choose what colour to have in your corridor sir, I prefer the military grey, or the moon ocean grey, very depressing sir, or perhaps you'd like to..." Rimmer lept out of his chair
"WHY DO YOU KEEP BOTHERING ME YOU FILTHY METAL GIT BASTARD SORRY EXCUSE OF A TOILET CLEANING TOOL? WHY WON'T YOU STOP PESTERING ME WITH YOUR INCOHERENT BABBELING? WHY HAVE YOU DECIDED TO MAKE MY LIFE EVEN MORE OF A LIVING HELL? WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND I WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE? WHAT - DO - YOU - WANT?!!"
Kryten's lower lip slowly quivered as he composed himself to answer.
"Sir... we... we have to open a panel in your quarters to fix the power grid in this sector... it's behind your bunk... please don't hit me sir." Kryten covered behind the food tray quite pathetically. Rimmer was about to say something but changed his mind. He just marched out of the door carrying the first draft of his book while molling over a section about banning git mechanoids on all JMC ships in active service.
In the far outskirts of the solar system, another anamoly was growing. Twenty or so objects were penetrating deep into the system, just passing the first planet. On the opposite side, at a maximum distance lay their target. They had been searching for it ever since their ancestors left it for so many generations ago. And now there was nothing to stop them.
And so, the tweny cat ships kept heading for their destiny, all protected by the shadow of the mighty cat ark. The one ship in the fleet christened in the cat's own language.
The W'iskis... "The searcher".
What the hell was he gonna do?
He had gone over it again and again, molled it over in his head and he could come up with nothing closer to an answer than that question;
What in the holy hell name of Cloister was he gonna do?
He damned himself for reacting like this. He, Fred, a priest all his life, as devoted to his faith as a man could be, had been given the greatest assignment in his entire race's history!