You know what this is all about. You've seen the explanation offered in Tikka To Ride that 'explains' the interval between series' six and seven. Here, perhaps, is an alternative account...
Deep Space didn't just get given that name arbitrarily. Deep Space worked extremely hard to earn its name. There had always been regular space, of course, but, somehow, 'space' just didn't quite cut it. That's not to take anything away from space, which is fine, in its own way; it's just, when you're talking about vast, mind-numbing, soul-shockingly gargantuan expanses of cold, atmosphere-less, desolate, lonely nothingness, 'space' just starts to lose its appeal.
Deep Space, generally speaking, is a maverick animal. Deep Space doesn't hold parties. It exists alone, undisturbed, and empty. Generally speaking, that is. Certain parts of Deep Space, however, after having worked so long and so hard to earn their respect, end up seeing a disturbing amount of activity.
One particular stretch of Deep Space, a stretch roughly three million, two hundred and seven years - as the particle drifts - from what used to be planet Earth, had already seen far too much activity for its own liking, and was about to see yet more…
A squat, green, bulbous ship, somewhat resembling a mutant garden insect, arced gracefully against the backdrop of uncountable star systems. A short way behind it, an identical ship hung motionlessly, as if it were a sullen twin watching its sister escape the spider's web in which it had just become entangled.
Within the second ship's cockpit bubble, four figures sat quietly, a small vacuum of silence in the midst of chattering electronic equipment and a background throb of engines. Sobriety was something that the one-time crew of the Jupiter Mining Corporation ship 'Red Dwarf' was generally unfamiliar with, Dave Lister in particular. At that moment however, his eyes stared, unseeing, at his console displays and he toyed absently with a loose dreadlock.
Behind him, sitting at his customary navigation console, Rimmer's hard-light head drooped, as did Kryten's mechanical one. Even Cat, sat up front at the helm beside Lister, hadn't combed his hair or whined for a nap-break in the past fifteen minutes.
"I knew it would be a mistake to see the future," Kryten spoke up, his voice leaden. "Now our whole lives will be coloured by the fact that we're gonna end up becoming people we despise."
The meeting with their future selves, who at this moment piloted the twin Starbug that drifted nearby, had not gone well, not well at all. After being petitioned for a meeting, Kryten had agreed to receive their doppelgangers providing that the others remained in the upper decks so as not to interfere in their own destinies. Lister, ever conscious of the grave consequences of meddling in temporal causality, had quickly rigged up a camera allowing himself, Rimmer and the Cat to spy upon their future incarnations. It hadn't taken the Dwarfers long to discover that the visitors represented a disturbingly horrific parody of their own values and ideals. The request to help their future selves continue their amoral, freeloading lifestyle hadn't, therefore, been well received, and the future crew had been tactfully shown to the airlock door by the business end of a mark six "Splatter and Forget" bazookoid.
Rimmer glanced over at Kryten, however, before he could respond to the mechanoid's assessment a soft double-beep issued from the panel in front of him, and he swung his eyes back to determine it's source.
"Threat warning:" Rimmer informed the others, surprisingly calmly. "Vessel off the stern, they've got a missile lock on us."
Lister half turned in his seat. "Our future selves are attacking us..!" He said, his voice rising in disbelief.
"They're nuts!" Cat fired Starbug's thrusters. His desperate eyes vainly searched the empty space in front of them as Starbug sluggishly pulled itself forwards.
Despite the evasive efforts of the Dwarfers, the opening volley from the future crew found its target unerringly and impacted upon Starbug's sturdy flank. Within the craft, the previous mood of lethargy was now a distant memory. Shaken from the violent impact of their attacker's missile, the Dwarfers locked their concentration to their respective displays in an attempt to make some sense of their situation.
"Direct hit! The gyroscope's out!" Cat reported, wrenching the suddenly treacle-mired control yoke almost ineffectually.
Without needing to consciously initiate the search, a sub-processor nestled deep within the electronic block of Kryten brain trundled a request into the gigabytes of library information the mechanoid had spent much of his recent time amassing. Passing the massed ranks of '101 Serving Suggestions for the Fussy Eater', 'The A-Z of Sheet Folding' and 'The Advanced Kitchen Cleaning Encyclopaedia', all of which would have had their individual uses under only slightly different circumstances, the data request stopped at the index tagged 'Military Tactics, 1850-2149, Volume XXVI'. It extracted a small piece of data, and flung itself back into one of Kryten's primary processors.
"They're trying to disable us!" Kryten suddenly exclaimed, a little unsure of how exactly he had acquired this somewhat obvious assessment.
Rimmer, not for the first time, ignored the mechanoid and instead reported "Another lock!" He struggling to comprehend the gibberish which the navigation console was flashing up for his benefit. Rimmer reflected, also not for the first time, that perhaps there were reasons after all why he consistently failed the Astronavigation exam.
A sound resembling a flatulent budgie intruded upon the barely organised chaos. "Incoming message..." Lister offered in translation, and punched buttons on his console.
A monitor screen resolved to a picture of the Future Rimmer. The old man's fleshy jowls and bushy, grey-haired eyebrows and moustache, all perched on what was essentially Rimmer's cosmetically challenged face, made something of a comical visage.
"Gentlemen," the older Rimmer began, his voice sounding metallic through the communication channel's speaker units, "we have no intention of being deprived of the opulence and luxury the Time Drive provides. Either you give us access to the data we require, or be prepared to be blasted out of the sky..."
"But if you kill us then you'll cease to exist!" Kryten countered, enormously relieved that he'd digested Starbug's entire database of Temporal Metaphysics texts only weeks earlier.
The wrinkled Rimmer sneered out of the monitor screen. "Better that than be forced to live like you," he said contemptuously, "like rats trapped together... marooned in Deep Space." Pausing, he leaned forward toward the camera pickup. "Your answer: thirty seconds..."
The video image flickered and vanished and the channel closed, leaving the threat hanging in the air like the after-odour of one of Lister's all-night curry orgies.
Cat's eyes flitted between his crewmates anxiously. "So what do we do?" He prompted.
A pause. Planets were born. Stars died. No one spoke.
Abruptly, Rimmer glanced over at Kryten. "Have we got any chance of winning?" He asked.
"Their craft is greatly upgraded," Kryten spoke clearly and without hesitation, holding Rimmer's gaze. "We have no chance whatsoever."
Rimmer digested this. His first reaction, naturally, upon hearing the words of his future incarnation was to strap himself into his seat while Starbug blasted into space as if the massed legions of the nine levels of Hell were at their heels, or, failing that, to cower under the scanner table until the bad men went away. Rimmer wasn't a proud man. However, even he caught the note of finality in Kryten's words: no way out. The proverbial rock and hard place. 'Well', Rimmer thought, 'what the smeg?'
His mouth then found itself delivering a phrase it had never, ever, been called upon to utter before.
"Then I say 'fight'," Rimmer stated, with certainty.
Kryten automatically kicked off a diagnostic check of his aural systems. In milliseconds, the check confirmed that his ears were, really, operating properly, which left only one impossible option.
"Mr Rimmer?" Kryten asked.
"Better dead than smeg," Rimmer told them, almost cheerfully. "Yeesss!" Lister exulted. He'd had pretty much the same thought himself - there was no way this collection of smegheaded geriatrics were going to push him around. To have it confirmed by Rimmer of all people, however, was something you just didn't stop to question.
"Cat?" Lister glanced to his right.
"Better dead than sofa sized butt," Cat grumbled. He still hadn't quite gotten over the sight of his flabby, futuristic buttocks. The entire Red Dwarf could have been parked in that crease!
"Better anything than that toupee..." Kryten shuddered at the memory.
'This is it', thought Lister, nervous excitement gripping him. "Shields up," he called, punching buttons on the weapons console. "Arming lasers!"
"Bringing her around..." Cat announced, skilfully compensating for the subdued response of the ship.
Kryten worked feverishly at the logistics console. "Target acquired," he called to Lister, transferring the targeting data to the weapons console.
"Locking on..." Lister held the last syllable as he aligned Starbug's still-unfamiliar laser targeting system - a gift from the rogue simulants they'd encountered some months back. "Firing!"
A white beam burst forth from the laser unit slung low under the belly of Starbug's cockpit bubble and flung itself towards the future crew's ship. The beam left an angry black scar along the craft's flank until it passed over a thruster unit which exploded messily; a soundless cloud of flame and debris blossoming from the side of the ship, quickly swallowed by the surrounding vacuum. The laser, its charge expended, cut off its beam.
"Direct hit, starboard thrusters," Kryten reported. "Nice shooting, sir!"
"Bringing her around for dessert!" Cat laughed.
Rimmer wasn't so jubilant, however. "Threat warning!" He called, the icy finger of panic jabbing itself into his belly-button. "They've got a lock-on..."
Lister heard him, but knew they had neither the time nor manoeuvrability to do anything about it. They'd seized the moment, now they just had to hold on to it.
"I'm going for the main fuel tanks..." Lister informed Kryten, and the mechanoid began grappling with the necessary calculations. His maths co-processors, having been designed primarily to calculate the optimum trajectory for spraying lavatory-cleaning fluid, groaned in protest.
"They're in your sights!" Kryten said after a moment's computation, patching the data through to Lister's targeting computer.
"Locked on... Fire--"
Lister didn't finish the word. As his lips prepared to form the closing 'ing' - his finger a hair's breadth from touching the laser firing switch - the shot from the future crew found it's mark, impacting upon the underside of Starbug and ripping into its primary computer cores.
Thirty-two milliseconds later, the weapons control console, already in the final stages of it's firing procedure, went into feedback loop; a build-up of power that grew and grew with nowhere to discharge until, as Lister's vocal cords tightened around his final syllable, the entire panel detonated in a concentrated burst of fiery sparks, red-hot metal and flaming electrical components. The deadly blast threw Lister's body out of it's seat and on to the floor between Kryten and Rimmer.
"Mr Lister!" Kryten cried, leaping from his seat to crouch beside Lister and gently pressing his fingers to the side of the man's neck.
"Is he okay!?" The Cat asked, his attention torn between wrestling with the increasing unresponsive controls and looking to see what had happened to his… well… for want of a better word, 'friend'.
Kryten looked up numbly. "He's... dead, sir..." he heard himself say.
Rimmer heard the words clearly enough, but somehow he couldn't see how they applied to the present situation. A sudden chill made him shiver. Lister had been thrown to the ground, that was all. What was the melodramatic bog-bot drivelling about? Obviously trying to make jokes. Yes, that was it.
An urgent flashing from console in front of Rimmer distracted him. He glanced down, and his heart flipped over like a pancake in a frying pan. "The hull's gonna go," he blurted. "We'll all be dead in a minute."
Perhaps using his words as a gruesome cue, Starbug's ruined electronic subsystems, which up to this point had been busy attempting to re-route their transmission pathways through the remaining major cockpit systems, concentrated their attention on Cat's pilot's controls. The archaic JMC control software began pushing power through the controls, power which abruptly bottlenecked at the broken gyroscope and found itself with nowhere to go. The inevitable happened.
Cat had barely torn his stunned gaze away from Lister's body before the world around him suddenly seemed to turn white. Melted circuitry and hot shards of the control console blew out from the concentrated energy concussion explosion, blasting Cat backwards to sprawl over Kryten's stand-up panel.
"Cat!" Rimmer shouted, his mind reeling, and Kryten leaned forward and placed his fingers over the feline's pulse point.
"Dead..." the mechanoid said, and sat down heavily. Rimmer's mind suddenly stopped its self-defensive merry-go-round and decided to give his brain a chance, leaving him facing cold, hard, facts. Lister and the Cat were dead; dead and gone. Those doddering old bastards from the future had wiped them out! Rimmer felt his chest and throat tighten, confused and unfamiliar of the emotion causing it, and glanced over at Kryten.
The mechanoid's eyes widened slightly, and he turned to look at Rimmer.
"But there may be a -" Kryten began intently, but that was as far as he got.
The crew of the mirror Starbug had launched another missile at their younger selves, but as events transpired, it really didn't matter. The control software that had mistakenly sent power through Cat's damaged helm controls - the same software that had seen the class-2 Starbugs recalled from active service - this time attempted to form an energy circuit through the two remaining major stations in the cockpit. The complex, delicate equipment in the logistics wall-console behind Kryten's head overloaded and exploded in an angry burst of fire, and a counteractive implosive compression slammed Kryten's head back into the wrecked controls. Kryten slumped backwards, lifeless.
"Kryten..." Rimmer gripped the corner of his own station, his hard-light fingers leaving furrows in the composite metal. "Kryten!"
Rimmer, in soul-consuming shock, scrambled over to the mechanoid and grasped his shoulders, unable or unwilling to accept the truth.
"There may be a what?" He pressed, ignoring the mechanoid's closed eyes and the dead weight of his body shell. "A way out of this? Is that what you were gonna say?? Speak, Kryten!" Rimmer stammered. "How can we change what's happening!?"
Through his despair, something hit Rimmer. His heart clenched into a lead fist and, expressionless, he gently released Kryten's shoulders. Rimmer turned and stumbled from the blasted cockpit and into the mid-section, and his eyes picked out Lister's bazookoid. He grabbed the heavy weapon as if it were weightless, kicked open the hatch in the side wall and charged forward. The bazookoid, held horizontally by Rimmer, jammed against the hatchway and brought the hologram to an abrupt halt. Angrily, he span the unit ninety degrees and barrelled down to Starbug's lower levels.
Through corridors he ran, the tortured ship shuddering and tearing itself apart around him. A corridor section collapsed and a huge bulkhead crashed down onto his hardlight back, but Rimmer was oblivious to the pain; one thought blotting out all consciousness: he must reach the Time Drive.
Suddenly, he found himself standing in front of it. Rimmer raised the bazookoid. Loaded. Fired.
Incandescent light blasted from the ruptured drive, and at the exact same time, seen from space, a streak of red fire launched from the twin Starbug ploughed into the Dwarfers' battered ship.
With the impact of that final missile, no resistance remained. Starbug lost its fragile grip on coherency and detonated utterly, with an explosion that matched a thousand Death Stars. When the debris cleared, and the light faded, Starbug was gone. There was no indication that there was ever anything there...
It was another overcast day at the South Pier at Blackpool. The wind was slightly chilly and, this being late March, the beach was more or less deserted. A few hundred yards along the beach from the salted beams of the Pier, however, were two people; one male, one female.
The man was youngish, perhaps mid to late twenties, and was sprawled out on the grey sand on his back, apparently asleep. He wore black army boots and grey socks, knee-length Bermuda shorts sporting a design certain to induce vomiting after prolonged exposure, and an unbuttoned, grey shirt adorned with two coloured insignia and panels which read 'Second Technician' and 'A J Rimmer'. His hair was a tightly curled afro cropped short over his scalp and tied into long dreads which splayed out over the sand under his head. A thin cigarette protruded delicately from his right ear.
Presently, the man awoke, his eyelids fluttering up and down like a pair of faulty roller blinds. He winced as sunlight hit his eyes, filtered as it was through the clouds and chemical quagmire overhead, and made hard work of raising himself up onto his elbows.
"What the…" He began, and paused. Something definitely didn't feel right. His mind was a jumble of half-remembered sounds and images, the most prominent of which was an ear-splitting bang and a blinding flash of light.
"What the smeggin' 'ell is going on!" He said, scrambling to his feet.
The woman, standing ten meters or so closer to the shoreline, turned and looked at him. "Dave?" She asked. Her voice sounded puzzled, but her face cleared. "Come and look at the sea, Dave," she said then, stretching out a beckoning arm.
"Kris…" Lister breathed. He stared, first up the beach, then down it, and finally back at the woman in front of him. She was dressed in black cycling shorts and an oversized white T-shirt. Dark hair brushed the tops of her shoulders and thin black sunglasses perched on top of her small nose. A smile lit her face, reminding Lister of the glow of a pinball table when a bonus game is won.
A sudden image flashed before Lister's eyes, an image of a squat, green, bug-like craft arcing through space, a white beam straking it, and the brief flash of a small explosion. The image vanished and left him staring at Kristine Kochanski.
"Kris," he began, but another image bounced across his consciousness, blotting out sound and vision of the moment and replacing them with the ear-splitting bang and the blinding flash of light… then… nothing. A stab of panic lanced through Lister, and he involuntarily checked for the presence of his dreads with one hand and his wedding tackle with the other. Satisfied that both were present and apparently undisturbed, he made his way slowly down the beach towards his former girlfriend.
Kochanski leaned against the rail that ran along the clear Plexiglas safety screen that kept the water away from the public and watched Lister as he approached.
"You okay?" She asked, and placed a hand on his brow.
Lister ignored the question. "Where are we, Kris?" He said, realising as he spoke that he knew full well where he was.
Kochanski looked at him curiously. "It's Blackpool, of course," she said, confirming what Lister already knew. "Don't you remember? You skipped off school one Easter with your mates and lost your return train fare gambling in the arcades."
"Yeah", Lister replied, his mind chattering silent complaints. "But, wait… I was fifteen then, I didn't even know you! What the smeg are you doing here?"
"I'm not here," Kochanski said happily, apparently unconcerned about the incongruity. "Isn't it great?"
She smiled again, and turned to look out to sea. Without thinking, Lister raised a finger to point out the flaws in her statement, but his mouth froze as his brain suddenly caught up with events, waving the mental equivalent of a little white flag.
Lister was still working his jaw ineffectually when, about fifteen meters along the beach, a hole roughly seven feet tall by three wide opened in thin air and disgorged four figures. It didn't help in the slightest that Lister recognised three of them.
To be continued...