A giant asteroid collides with Red Dwarf and the ship suffers extreme damage. The biggest problem, though, is that the rock has become lodged in the Dwarf's hull and it looks like a lifeform could be living on it... The Canaries are sent to investigate. Meanwhile, the Cat starts to worry about the contents of his underpants - Gajimbcitis makes use of the Cat storyline which was dropped from Season VII.
The final track on the album wound down and faded out, leaving the studio control room suddenly very quiet. The Cat was jostled from his light slumber by the abrupt cessation of the music, and, realising that the album had finished already, sobbed to himself pathetically before lurching up out of his seat and loping over to the CD player. He flipped the disc out of the machine and slipped a randomly selected new one into its place. After a longish pause during which he rubbed his throbbing back (and the rock fans on board the ship began to wonder what the smeg had happened to the music) he flicked the 'play' button, and the first tune whirred up. It was almost perfectly identical to the screechy guitar whippings that had been the trademark sound of the previous band. However, the Cat was far too busy feeling sorry for himself to notice.
He was vaguely aware that he should place the old disc back in its case and return it to the proper shelf, but the shooting pains flashing up his spine were so severe that he decided instead to throw the disc into the waste chute and collapse immediately back into his chair. This was hell! In just over forty minutes he'd have to heave his backside up off the chair once again to change the disc: once again. He would barely have recaptured his breath by then! It was like being tortured and if he only knew what his torturers wanted to know he'd have told them instantaneously.
Then, as he shifted in his seat, he noticed another pain: down in the depths of his oh-so fashionable underpants! A shrill, burning sting between his legs that overshadowed the ache in his twisted spine. He bent over in the chair, clutching himself, but thankfully the pain soon subsided to a dull ache and he was able to start thinking more consciously about his back again. No sooner had he settled back into the folds of his chair when an alarm began to sound. A loud one that it was hard to ignore and, thought the Cat to himself, would be practically impossible to sleep through. However, he tried to do so, and it was a good ten minutes later that he was roused from his shallow slumber by Lister, who was shaking him fiercely by the arms.
"Wake up! Wake the smeg up! We've got to get out of here!" Lister was yelling. "Hey, Guy! Watch the suit!" Yelped the Cat, whose first concern was always for the well being of his wardrobe.
Lister stepped back and tried to muster a little patience. "Cat. First of all, you are wearing your prisoner's uniform: it matters not one bit whether it gets creased. It isn't silver lamé. You do not have to worry." He took a deep breath. "Second of all, we are currently in the middle of a ship-wide crisis. A giant asteroid is hurtling towards us with an urgency usually only displayed by the contents of a laxative-user's bowels. Fortunately, the asteroid in question isn't big enough to destroy the ship, only to cause it some serious damage. The bad news is that the portion of the ship which is going to be crushed beyond repair by said asteroid is the portion of the ship in which we are currently situated. And if we do not move pronto we are definitely going to die... No. I do not want to hear one tiny thing about how much yoursmegging back is hurting: I had to take a considerable detour to come here to pick you up and I want to get out of here fast. So get up. Come on! We've only got a few minutes before we're so squashed that we look about as smeggy as the contents of a Blue Peter presenter's frying pan on a Shrove Tuesday! Let's go!"
Lister yanked the Cat up and dragged him out of the control room, through the deserted radio studios, and out into the corridors. People were flying through the passage at speed - but all in one direction: towards the shuttle-bus port. The hysterical crowd slowed them down, not to mention the Cat's constant self-pitiful moaning and pathetic requests for them to slow down because he thought he'd broken his back in at least eight places, but they soon reached the port after a ten minute jog. They bustled onto a shuttle-bus that had already started to move away, elbowing aside the more frantic members of the mob who were risking life and limb (not to mention breaking JMC rules of conduct) in attempting to board a moving bus.
The shuttle picked up speed and shot out of the station, leaving the danger zone behind. Lister sat back in his seat and sighed with relief. The juddering of the bus was just about to coax him into a well-deserved slumber when the Cat tapped him on the shoulder and started, once again, to complain about his back.
The Tank was the stone to the Red Dwarf's peach. No matter what nature decided to throw at the soft and malleable exterior, whatever resided within the hard centre would be safe from harm. The Cat gave Lister his leave at the Tank's tower elevators and made his way back to his cell, while Lister rode the lift to meet Rimmer at their room. He found his 'cellmate' engaged in a game of draughts with Bob.
"What are you doin'?" Asked Lister as he entered, before pulling himself up onto his bunk. "Haven't you heard about the meteor thing that's going to hit the ship? We've only got a couple of minutes to get strapped down!"
Rimmer looked up from his game. "All the more reason to finish this game. I've been playing this little goit" - he made a dismissive wave in Bob's direction - "for well over an hour now. It is the only time I have ever come close to beating the smarmy little smegger and I am not going to let a little impact warning or a minor shipquake get him off the hook." He resumed the game and squinted down at the board.
"Look, Rimmer. I know you've never actually been in any serious danger in your life, and in all fairness it's unlikely that you are now. But the fact remains that I have been on the receiving end of a fair number of comets, asteroids, meteors and the like during my time in deep space and I know well enough that it is better to be safe than sorry in these situations. So get up from that table, get into your bunk, and strap yourself in!"
Rimmer made another move, eliminating two of Bob's counters, before addressing this comment. "Listy. Need I remind you that we are in the safest possible part of the ship? Plus, there's just been a message from Captain Hollister on the intercom saying that there is no need to panic and that there is no danger whatsoever." Bob made a feeble move, leaving Rimmer open for attack once more.
"You don't believe that silly gimp, do ya?" Said Lister, pulling the straps across the bunk and over his body and then fastening them securely onto the other side. "C'mon, Rimmer, he's bound to say that. What else can he say? 'Sorry, everyone: we're all buggered. See you in Hell'?"
Rimmer moved again, this time eradicating a further two of Bob's counters. "Oh, Lister. You really are a smeghead, aren't you? I have every confidence in Captain Hollister, and every confidence in my own knowledge of astrophysics to be able to assure you that there is no way a meteor of the size of the one currently approaching us is capable of causing any damage to this ship whatsoever."
Bob muddled over where to move his last counter, made a wrong decision, and Rimmer, with a yell of triumph, flicked one of his own over it.
"Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!!!" He leaped out of his chair. "You have been beaten by a superior commander, my little skutteroo. Bow your head in shame to the Grand Master of draughts!" Rimmer turned to grin at Lister but was knocked of his feet.
His body was flung, so fast that it remained in a standing position, directly into the iron wall. It was almost as if he hadn't moved and that the wall had swung across to meet him, which, in a way, it probably had. His head contacted first, then his chest. The latter hit the computer monitor embedded in the wall with such force that its Plexiglas cover shattered completely, sending cracked shards of polished plastic over the entire room in a flurrying blizzard. The draught counters whipped off the table as if miniature clay pigeons, pelting Rimmer's rebounding body hard from behind before it slammed onto the floor. Bob, who had been nested on a chair on the other side of the table, was sent in the same direction. His chair, which had not been fastened to the deck, skidded with him until he hit the lip of the table, which unfortunately had been fastened to the deck, and the poor skutter was severed in two at the neck where the two items of furniture converged. His bisected body parts narrowly missed Rimmer's flailing torso, and ended up embedded in the wall nearby.
Lister, safely harnessed into his bunk, was jolted a little backwards and forwards, but the effects were thankfully lost on him. He was able to close his eyes during the ensuing shipquake and pretend he was enjoying an absurdly realistic ride at the annual Southport fair.
Outside the ship the giant asteroid, almost one mile in diameter, had made its initial impact into the Dwarf's hull. However, it possessed such a mass that it continued to burrow deep into the wound it had gauged in the ship's side. Those crew members who could do so, and had enough sense to realise they should, managed to strap themselves down as Lister had already done. Some were unfortunate enough to share in Rimmer's fate: hundreds of the less lucky members of the Red Dwarf crew were injured quite severely.
And then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, the shipquake wound down into a distant rumble and everything was calm. Rimmer groaned and clutched his chest. Bob's head emitted a startled series of whistles. Lister stretched down the bunk and unfastened the safety straps, trying to suppress a smirk, and then hopped down onto the deck.
"You all right, Rimmer?" He asked, nudging Rimmer's leg with his boot.
"Ouch." Said Rimmer. "My smegging chest! I think you' better get me a doctor."
Bob's motorised base fell out of the wall and landed on Rimmer's head, providing a welcome (and general) anaesthetic: he drifted into unconsciousness.
A side door screeched open and the entire group swivelled to look who it was. Ackerman usually made his entrance from above. But it wasn't Ackerman - it was Rimmer. Rimmer in a full body cast. His arms and torso were encased in solid plaster, from his hips right up to his neck, where his Adam's apple wavered nervously over the lip of the cast. His eyebrows were pushed down into a frown by a tight bandage that swathed his head, covering a still-visible lump where Bob had left his mark. From the back of the group a strangled snigger could be heard. Big Meat covered a wavery smile with his hand and examined his boots. Then Baxter let out a rumbling belly-laugh which echoed about the room, signalling it was 'OK' to express amusement, and the rest of the group followed suit. All except Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski who thought they had better keep quiet. Rimmer staggered under the weight of his cast towards the front row of the gathering. As he got in line, Ackerman entered and stood to attention at the top of the steps.
"Rimmer," whispered Lister under his breath, "I thought you were supposed to be in the Medical Unit."
"So did I! But apparently there's this rule that if a Canary job comes up you have to go on it, no matter how injured you are. It's to stop people trying to skive off the latest suicide mission. Jim Chandler from 'C' Tower says they once sent this guy on a mission even though he was in a coma: three men had to push him about in a bed on a ship infested with Polymorphs. Wasn't all bad, though: they ending up using him as a battering ram at one point."
Lister shook his head and looked up at Ackerman.
"Hello everybody!" The warden beamed. How did he manage to remain cheerful when he knew that he was about to impart news of the most heinous kind? How could he be so happy in such a dismal and depressing place? He reminded Lister of a Butlin's Redcoat.
Ackerman continued: "Well, Boys and Girls, today I have an extra special mission for you all."
"He makes it sound like a treat!" Muttered Kochanski.
"It can't have escaped everyone's attention that this morning the ship was hit by a little asteroid."
Rimmer only just managed to stop himself from shouting something rather sarcastic and not a little coarse.
"The science team up on 'A' deck seem to believe that there is a possibility the asteroid was a home to a life form. Apparently there were some articles found on the surface of the 'roid that indicate a rather advanced creature has been there and probably even lived there. Unfortunately, the science team was only able to make preliminary studies of the rock's surface and therefore hasn't discovered what the life form actually is. I want you lot to find out. The army will be split into five groups of six: three groups will check out the surface of the asteroid that is in contact with the ship, while the remaining two groups will be going on a little space walk to take a look at the side that is still in space." He stood silent and smiling for a couple of seconds. "Go on then, what are you all waiting for? Get out there and try not to get killed!"
The Canaries filed out of the hall and made their way to the turbolifts. As he was approaching the doorway, the Cat winced. His downstairs area was beginning to hurt again. After a couple of seconds the pain subsided slightly and he was able to stagger out behind everyone else.
"Hey, Buds: wait for me! Owww!"
"Look at that!" Said the Cat, and pointed to where the rock met the steel panels of the floor, walls and ceiling. Molten metal still dribbled down the walls; congealed steel had welded the rock to the ship. It was there for good.
"What a fluke!" Said Lister. "There was a giant asteroid embedded in the 'Dwarf for millions of years before the ship was finally restored to its former glory by the nanobots: only a couple of months later and 'SMASH'; there's another one in its place! Is this ship some sort of galactic magnet or somethin'?"
Kryten aimed his psi-scan at the rock. "Sirs, ma'am: According to these readings the rock is only about a foot thick at this particular point in the asteroid's surface. Beyond that there is a narrow passageway which seems to lead directly into its core."
"Can we get through into the passage?" Asked Lister.
Rimmer frowned. "A more important question might be 'Do we want to?'" "Course we do, Broom 'Ed!" Yelled Kill Crazy into Rimmer's ear. "The big monsters with all the tentacles're in there. How're we gonna get at 'em if we stay out 'ere?"
Kryten ignored Rimmer and Kill Crazy completely and addressed Lister: "I should think so, Sir. I believe I myself am strong enough to be able to punch through the thin crust into the passage."
"You can do that?" Asked Kochanski, clearly impressed.
"Yes, Ma'am. For some reason my creators decided to obey the convention that robots should be stronger than their human masters by equipping me with steel-fibre muscles powerful enough to smash up as much rock as comes my way. I'm probably even strong enough to tear Mr. Baxter away from his daily lard sandwich, Ma'am."
Lister stood to the side and gestured towards the rock. "OK, then, Krytes. Do it."
Kryten reared back and then, with a high-pitched yell that seemed totally out of character, he dived at the wall of rock fist-first. An explosion of dust and rock splinters clattered against the sides of the corridor and when the air finally cleared Kryten could be made out lodged into a crevice in the stone about six feet up like some sort of mechanical javelin. They heaved him out and a pile of debris tumbled down behind him onto the deck. They all looked up at the hole. It was barely two feet wide, but just about big enough for them all to squeeze through. Kryten led the way, heaving himself back up into the gap and pushing his legs down into the passageway. He let his arm down to Kochanski who also pulled herself into the hole, followed by the Cat and then Lister. Kill Crazy needed no help at all because he was so eager and practically vaulted up and inside. He was off like a shot down the passageway before anyone could stop him, presumably in search of some huge monsters to kill. Lister poked his head out of the gap and looked down at Rimmer who was still standing stock-still in the middle of the corridor.
"C'mon, Rimmer, man. Climb up. We've got to stick together."
"Stick together? We'll end up being squashed together if that passageway doesn't hold up!"
"It's perfectly safe, Sir!" Came Kryten's muffled voice from behind Lister.
Rimmer thought about it for a couple more seconds. "No. This is what always happens in movies! People go crawling through narrow passageways and when all the slavering monsters come along they're completely trapped. Haven't you ever seen Aliens?"
Lister sighed forlornly. "Oh please, Rimmer. You don't need that uniform do you? You're yellow enough as it is!"
"Listy! I wouldn't even fit! This cast is thicker in places than the Cat's skull!"
"You'll be OK. It isn't as cramped in here as it looks." Lister lied. "Besides, if you get stuck we can always give you a push."
Rimmer exhaled deeply through his nose, his breath making a whistling sound as it passed the lip of his cast. "Alright," he said finally, "but I'm not going in front. I want two of you in front of me and two behind. That way I'll be safe from even the biggest-jawed tunnel-scuttling monster." With help he managed to hoist himself up into the 'roid and began to scrabble awkwardly down the passageway with his fingers, a safe distance behind Lister and the Cat; the latter of whom Rimmer couldn't help noticing was poorly concealing a sense of distress, clearly associated in some way with his groin, which the Cat was clutching tightly as he scuffled along. Rimmer shrugged this off: the amount of crap he himself had already gone through in the last thirty years (or indeed the last thirty hours) meant that it was probably time for some other gimp to start suffering, too. He continued down the cramped passageway in silence.
The thing was, he hadn't counted on all these twists and turns and spiralling revolutions of the passageway. He was just starting to think that the passage could theoretically go on forever, spinning endlessly around the innards of the asteroid, when he smacked his forehead on an obstacle and collapsed forwards onto his belly. Very soon, though, he had picked himself back up onto his hands and knees - he was used to head trauma and a quick knock didn't bother him too much - and was examining the impediment. It appeared to be a metal barrier of some kind. He ran his hands over it. There was a sort of handle there. Without a pause to consider the consequences of his actions Kill Crazy pulled the handle, there was a sudden whoosh of air as if from a piston, and the metal disc clanked aside. He peered out of the hole the opening had revealed: no good. It was as bleak out there as it was in the passage. After a non-pause, which was devoid of any contemplative thought whatsoever, he decided to leap out into the unknown. Unfortunately, the hole out of which he dived was a good fifteen feet from the ground and Kill Crazy was sent spinning end over end several times before he pitched onto his back in a puddle of mud.
Groaning, he dragged himself up into a stooping position and staggered forwards into the murk. He squinted into the distance. There didn't seem much to make out, although he could definitely see a glinting surface above. Probably a high metallic ceiling reflecting what little light there was in the room.
"'Ello?" He whispered into the darkness.
"'Ello!" Came his voice in an echo.
"'Ello, 'llo, 'o," then silence. This must be a pretty big room. More of a hall. Maybe even bigger than that: he could feel a breeze on his cheek as he staggered ever onward, blindly, and that meant that the cavern was either big enough to have its own weather system or that it was equipped with an oxy-generation unit that was powering a fan nearby. Actually it was neither of these alternatives. Kill Crazy should have realised what it was. It was too hot to be a meteorological airstream, and too gentle to be the swirl from an OGU outlet. It was, in fact, the breath of another individual. The breath of a person or thing who was standing directly behind and to the left of Kill Crazy.
As soon as the realisation swept over him he flung himself to his right, but too late as the person, or whatever it was, grabbed him and lifted him into the air with alarming ease. Kill Crazy flicked his legs backwards and forwards, catching his assailant somewhere soft and painful, and was dropped onto the floor. He looked up and made out the faint silhouette of a very large figure doubled over. Still on the ground, Kill Crazy tried a random kick in the direction of the figure and this time connected with something hard and unyielding. The figure flicked backwards and there was a thump and a squelch as it collapsed backwards into the mud. Kill Crazy leaped to his feet and dived at the giant mass, landed on it with his full weight, and began pummelling its hairy head with both his fists.
This went on for an adrenalin-induced eternity before, with startling suddenness, a million lights flashed on simultaneously and blinded Kill Crazy. He lifted his now bloody hands to his eyes to shield out the white-hot brightness, but still the beams seared through his eyelids and set off a multitude of painful firecrackers in his skull. It was a good minute before he was able to open his eyes, and then only at a squint. The first thing he saw was the body of the person who had attacked him, on top of which he was still kneeling with his legs splayed. Its face was bloody and bruised, but there was no mistaking who - or, indeed, what - it was. The torn uniform gave it away. It was a Canary.
The string of flailing Canaries twisted over and over, grabbing at nothingness, hoping to find some purchase or even some indiscernible waft of air to beat against. They swung over and over twice like a gyrating human horsewhip before the unthinkably fortunate occurred and a whirling maelstrom of thick exhaust gases blurted out of a perfectly situated outlet pipe, sending the line back on themselves, reversing the spin. Within another one and a half rotations Big Meat, the last man on the line, was able to set off his harpoon gun - a long, barbed arrow plunged silently into the edge of the protruding asteroid. And held there.
The group yanked themselves back to the comparative safety of the hull, calmed suddenly as a baby is calmed by his mother's arms, and they mounted the surface of the asteroid. They reset their magno-pads to clasp the rock and continued along as if nothing had happened. Baxter led the way, still too fast, and it was a veritable miracle that the troop managed to reach an entrance to the asteroid some ten minutes later. It appeared to be a sort of circular metal hatchway. There was a lever there which could conceivably have operated as an opening mechanism, but rather than use it Baxter grunted to himself and ripped the hatch from the rock. A small breeze floated out of the hole. It was dark inside and most would have thought more than a little scary, but Baxter's curiosity was piqued and he dived instantaneously into the rather cramped passage, pulling the other five Canaries along whether they wanted to be or not.
"What's going on down there?" Screeched Rimmer from behind the Cat. He was becoming increasingly cranky.
"Nothin', man. Be quiet." Whispered Lister over his shoulder, and went back to his examination of the cavern. There seemed to be some sort of small village there that stretched out for about seven hundred metres into the distance. It was very basic. The small huts were made of piled up stones and a dark mortar of wet rock dust, and were built very close to one another. The streets were narrow and quite thick with mud in places. At every other corner there seemed to be a giant light bulb half buried in a wide plant pot, which threw up light at the bulging copper plated ceiling and walls, illuminating everything in a metallic-orange glow that was not unpleasant. Lister could see where the mud was thin on the ground in odd patches that the floor was plated in copper too.
"We've hit a bloody dead end, haven't we?" Remarked Rimmer flatly. "I knew we would. Now we'll have to crawl the entire way backwards on our hands and knees and I'll get stuck and have to end my days plugged here like some sort of giant human blood clot! I told you this would happen, but would anyone listen to me?"
Lister sighed and decided that it would be easier to act than explain. He struggled out of the tunnel like a larva emerging from a cocoon and allowed himself to drop onto the roof of a nearby hut, and from there onto the ground. The Cat poked his head out, took a sniff, and followed Lister. Rimmer seemed annoyed to find out that his prediction hadn't come true, but climbed down without a word: Kochanski and Kryten followed.
"What is this place?" Asked Kochanski, making verbal everyone's shared expression.
"Somethin' must live here." Replied Lister. "But what?"
"What's that?" Said Kryten, peering off into the distance. "Zoom mode: engage - there seems to be a crowd of people several hundred metres in that direction." He pointed into the middle distance between two huts.
The rest of the group looked too and could just make out the bustle of a number of people.
"Let's take a look," began Lister, but before he had even started to move off (even before Rimmer's mind had started to formulate an appropriate excuse to keep himself away from the unknown crowd) the Cat collapsed forward into the muck with a thick squelch.
"Cat, man!" Shouted Lister, falling into the mud beside him.
The Cat's forehead was knotted and he was holding his hands to his groin, his knuckles white.
"What is it?!" Rimmer yelped frantically.
"What - do - you - think?" Muttered the Cat through bared and clenched teeth. "It's my gajimbas! They feel like they're on fire!"
"What're we gonna do?" Said Lister, looking up at the others. "It'll take ages to get him back through the tunnel and up to the MU!"
"An emergency castration might be the only option!" Cried Kryten rather tactlessly, and the Cat attempted to feign recovery by struggling onto this feet, but only ending up falling back down into the mud. His cries were renewed, and echoed across the entire hall.
"Shut the smeg up!" Shouted Rimmer. "Someone might hear you!"
"Might hear you!"
"Ht hear you!"
Rimmer tried to clap his hands over his mouth (but couldn't because of his cast) and cursed himself: silently. It was no use though. They had been heard, and the crowd was already making its way over.
He strode too fast through a muddy street, unable to see more than two feet in front of his own face but far too stubborn to alter the tempo of his usual swift swagger. He took a left, two rights, bumped into a couple of low piles of what felt like pieces of rough stone, and then he saw it. A creature. It was very nearby - it had to be or he wouldn't have been able to make it out - but it hadn't seen him yet. It was staggering Quasimodo-like along the right hand side of the next road. Baxter tried to move as stealthily as his ample frame would allow and got to within grabbing distance of the creature. It was loping along, one arm on its back, and seemed to be dripping some sort of thick, oozy liquid onto the ground. Ugh.
As Baxter was thinking 'Ugh', though, the creature leaped of its feet and dived away, but it was not quick enough and Baxter was able grab it by its shoulders and hoist it high into the air. He was just about to fling it to the ground as hard as he could, when the creature seemed to shrug off its disability and started swinging his legs about frantically. A lucky shot caught Baxter in his round belly and without enough time to brace for the impact he was winded and forced to drop the creature to the ground. He clutched his belly and fought for a breath, but, just as he was lifting his head to suck in an ocean of air, something caught him with immeasurable force on the side of his head and he fell to the ground, severely stunned.
Before he could even start to think about getting up and returning a blow, the creature vaulted onto his chest, winded him again, and began hailing punches to his face. Baxter tasted blood in his mouth and felt the skin of his face cracking. A bright light flashed, the pain stopped, and he lost consciousness.
It was Baxter he'd knocked out! Oh dear. Kill Crazy may have been crazy but he wasn't stupid: when (or if) Baxter regained consciousness there could be little doubt as to the fate of Kill Crazy. On fair terms a rematch could end in only one result: Kill Crazy being reduced to a splatter of red gloop and a collection of shattered front teeth. He'd better get out of here before Baxter woke up.
He turned, got up, and made to sprint away as quickly as his back would allow. But he couldn't. There was something in the way. A giant mob. A crowd of people who were stoically blocking his path like a brick wall. They all looked down at him disdainfully.
"'Ello?" Tried Kill Crazy, not really expecting a similarly polite response.
The front-most man stepped forward, dropped the hood of his green robe, and spoke: "You have dared to disturb our sleep. That alone is unforgivable. But you have also come here and desecrated our home with your violent acts. Why?" The man's lips tweaked up at the edges as he made this enquiry, exposing two sharp and white eye-teeth.
Kill Crazy didn't really know what to say to this. 'Sorry' was the first word that came to mind, but it seemed a little insufficient so instead he remained silent. Luckily for him the man in the green robe didn't demand a reply. A loud cry from somewhere in the distance startled everyone, and the crowd rushed off to see what it was.
"Owwwww-www!" Bawled the Cat, still clutching his underpant-area. The crowd of green robed people - some two hundred in all - came to a stop beside him and the rest of the Red Dwarf posse. At first Lister was a bit concerned. These people looked frighteningly like religious zealots capable of quite unthinkable acts of violence against those deemed to be 'outsiders'. However, his fears were allayed when he saw the concern in the face of the lead man.
"Is he OK?" Asked the man, leaning over the Cat's stricken body.
"Er, no," replied Lister. "He's got a pain in his groin. We don't know what it is. It's probably a hernia or something."
The man beckoned forth a woman from the crowd. She approached Lister and the Cat, bent down, and to the Cat's great surprise began examining the area of his body that God had been so kind as to make extremely painful. Lister was unable to contain his jealousy. The only time he'd got even close to a situation like this was when he was fourteen and had strained his groin muscle doing some over-vigorous chin ups. A German doctor with hands made of ice and a rude sounding name (it might have been Krapper or Fieddler) had pulled down his pants and then ground his testicles together, apparently performing some sort of sophisticated medical test. Now the Cat was being molested rather gently by a beautiful, if presumably unqualified, female doctor. "Dear. It's quite serious," she said, straightening.
The Cat instantaneously dropped his smile and replaced it with a frown. After all, even the good fortune to be groped randomly by an extremely attractive young woman was slightly overshadowed by the possibility that he might die. What was he thinking: of course it wasn't!!
"I'm afraid he has gajimbacitis." Continued the woman in the straight and serious tone used only by doctors and funeral directors. "It is caused by extreme tension within the gajimbas, and there is only one known cure. Tell me: when did he last engage in any sexual activity?"
Lister thought about it. "Well, never. He's never really been around women his whole life, except Kriss here, but she'd never give him the time of day. The rest of the time he's been either cooped up in a men-only spaceship or in a men-only prison tower. Why?"
The doctor looked concerned. "Get him to theatre," she cried into the crowd. "I need to operate immediately!"
Two robed members of the crowd bustled forwards carrying a stretcher and the Cat was quickly lifted onto it and carried away, the doctor following behind. The commotion soon died down, and the man who appeared to be the leader of the group led Lister, Rimmer, Kochanski and Kryten away. They walked for a couple of hundred metres before they came to a sort of small town hall type building, which they entered. The four of them took a seat. The man offered everyone a drink and then settled down in a chair himself.
"So. I expect you are all wondering what this place is?"
"We were wondering, yes," said Rimmer, as if he were dealing with a person who thought it was perfectly normal to live in a village inside an asteroid cruising pell-mell through the galaxy.
"I ask this because I know who you are. You are crew members of the Red Dwarf, are you not?"
The group nodded slowly and rather nervously.
"Do not be alarmed. I know this because I too was once a crew member of that ship, of sorts. I lived for many years there. They were not spectacularly happy ones by any stretch of the imagination - the war was still raging for most of my time there - and it was only my devotion to religion that kept me at ease. When the war finally ended and the most devoted of our people were chosen to leave the Red Dwarf in the Arks, I was elected leader of our sect and captain of our ship."
"You mean you're all Cat People?" Said Rimmer, frowning with disbelief.
"That isn't what we like to call ourselves, but that would be an adequate descriptive, yes. We left the Red Dwarf in search of Fuchal and Bearth, hoping that Cloister would direct us. However, it was not long before our Ark crashed into this very asteroid and we were forced to abandon hope of ever reaching the promised land. We dug deep tunnels into the asteroid and hove this cavern out of the rock as a means of terraforming the asteroid. It was the only way to create a reasonably viable ecosystem in which we could survive: the natural gravity of the asteroid is so low that only a very thin atmosphere could have existed on the surface. We had to make a home here."
"So you've been here ever since?" Asked Lister, his hands clasping his chin and his elbows resting on his knees, clearly fascinated by the story.
"Yes," continued the leader of the Cat People. "That was many centuries ago. We spend most of our time inside our 'Domuits'" - he indicated one of the stone huts through a window - "in a state of semi-cryogenic hypnotic meditation. The technology that allowed this was modified from the stasis chambers on board Red Dwarf, blueprints for which we uncovered on the supply decks many years ago. It was during one of these suspended animation meditations, over the course of several decades, that I myself finally solved the Great Riddle of our belief system."
"How do you mean?" Asked Lister.
"After much musing in my deep hypnotic state, I worked out that the true intention of Cloister was not for us to wear red or blue hats at all, but to wear green ones." The man smiled, a slow and tired smile of gratification, the sort of smile a philosopher might adopt after discovering the meaning of life: his work is done.
Lister didn't really want to get into the fact that he was Cloister right now. It would only further complicate things. Anyway, the man and his small society seemed happy enough already. They had managed to bridge the gap between two separate belief systems, they had filled in an insuperable theological chasm: that was something to be happy about even when you were talking about the most pointless religion in the galaxy.
There was a hiatus. "What's happening to the Cat?" Asked Lister eventually.
"He has gajimbacitis. The doctor is operating."
"Well, what sort of a disease is that?"
"It isn't a disease. It is a condition. It is brought about by a prolonged period of celibacy and is quite common in our species: many of our chaste priests suffer chronically from it. If the operation is not performed promptly, the patient suffers the gonadal form of peritonitis."
Everyone looked baffled. Everyone except Kryten.
"His testicles explode?!" Said Kryten, astonished. Lister, Rimmer and Kochanski shared disgusted expressions.
"Well, that's a rather crude way of putting it, but accurate enough I suppose. I wouldn't worry though. The condition is quite easily treated after diagnosis." He checked his watch. "In fact, the treatment should be almost completed. If you'd like to accompany me back outside." He stood up and they all siphoned out of the small building and back onto the street.
Lister looked out over the village as the walked back to the crowd which was still massed in the street. What an odd place. How a group of people so small could thrive in such circumstances was beyond Lister completely. However, if an entire society could rally back from such a disaster as crash-landing on a barren, atmosphereless asteroid, and not just survive but actually flourish there, well, that gave Lister hope about the future of humankind. Perhaps the human race wasn't going to end up extinct after all. Maybe they would get back to Earth in the end.
The group joined up with the crowd, which was occupied watching Kill Crazy being chased around the village by a now conscious Baxter: the Cats' hoods were flung back as they laughed out loud at the sight, Kill Crazy flinging himself over huts and round corners, pitching into puddles of mud, Baxter bulldozing everything in his path and in hot pursuit.
Lister couldn't help laughing himself, and was just recovering from his hysteria as the Cat marched through the crowd and strode up to him, seemingly fit as a fiddle.
"So, you alright now?" He asked, looking the beaming Cat up and down.
"Sure am, Buddy!" The Cat twinkled.
There was a pause as everyone turned to watch Kill Crazy attempt to scrabble up a copper-plated wall, a cartoon sized expression of fear painted across his face. Baxter lunged at him, thumping his head on the metal plate, and Kill Crazy pelted off again, knees pumping.
"What happened in there?" Lister gestured towards the building the Cat had been stretchered into.
"I'll tell you one thing," the Cat leaned in conspiratorially. "That was the best 'operation' I have ever had, or probably everwill have. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find the biggest pizza on this ship, eat it, and then I'm going to have a well-deserved nap: and I don't want waking 'till next Autumn!"
The Cat bounded off, a spring most definitely in his step, leaving Lister thinking that this most definitely ranked as one of the weirdest Canary missions yet, and wishing that he had been the one who'd had gajimbacitis...
Go and visit the Author’s web site – THE PICKLED JAR.