This story is set during series VIII. The mate of the original polymorph from series three has been 'improved' by the nanobots, and the Canaries have been sent out to deal with it. Unfortunately, the posse has been split up - who will save the day?
Kryten ran the projection again and watched the shapes swirl and the text flash by on the dim screen, while Lister paced up and down in the shadows.
It was about two-thirty AM and Lister was dog-tired. He reached one end of the medilab and turned around to continue his pacing. He rubbed his tired sagging face with his rough knuckles and wiped the sleep from his eyes, before realising that he'd reached the other end of the room and he turned around again. Kryten hunched over the keyboard and typed in a series of numbers which sent the projection into its second phase. A double helix of DNA span onto the screen and several arrows pointed out the important segments. Kryten glanced over his shoulder for a second and Lister became aware of how distracting his pacing must be. He stopped walking and stood solemnly in the centre of the room. Seconds later he began tapping his feet impatiently on the floor, the rubber soles of his boots thwacking out a monotonous beat on the steel deck. Kryten almost exploded with anger; he was very tense.
He tried to concentrate more on the projection and found himself tapping involuntarily on the 'enter' key, as a small child would on the button at a set of traffic lights. After a long second, three large figures blipped on to the screen. A nine, a second nine, and a seven.
Lister exhaled forlornly and thrust his head emphatically into his open hands, clasping his skull tightly as if in an attempt to pierce the bone. Kryten span round in his seat.
"99.7% probability, Sir." His statement was unnecessary: They both knew Lister had seen the conclusion to the projection. The statement had been more of an affirmation than a report. Kryten had run the projection four times in the past fifteen minutes, the computer reporting each time a probability of 99.n%, this most recent result being the highest and therefore most conclusive so far. Lister released his head and held his hands up to show that he conceded.
"The evidence is incontrovertible, Sir." Kryten's attempt at reconciliation went unresponded to, so he repeated; "99.7%", nervously. Lister began pacing again. Kryten could understand that Lister was scared. Probably quite nervous, too. Although his android emotions were fairly primitive and his ability to empathise with others fairly limited, he was able to sufficiently ascertain the predominant emotional climate of his surroundings quite well using simple common sense, He knew Mr. Lister would most certainly be very frightened: he would have to be stupid not to be, reflected Kryten, as the previous encounters they had experienced with polymorphs had tended to be extremely uncomfortable and disconcerting to say the least.
Kryten was quite sure that this further factor, confirmed by the projection he had only just run using the medilab computer to analyse the creature's genome, was one of the main reasons for Mr. Lister's discomfort appearing as severe as it did.
Kryten's guilt chip went into overload: it had been he who had broken the news to Mr. Lister and so he did feel partially responsible for the result of the projection. The three figures continued to flash on and off the screen incessantly like some small group of traitors eager to show Kryten up for his failure to alter the truth. The truth that he medilab's ultra-advanced computer had looked for, discovered, and flaunted on its monitor screen like some sort of a cruel joke. 99.7%!? It was almost as though the computer was mocking them. As if it were saying 'I'm quite, quite sure that I'm correct, but I could very well be mistaken,' knowing full well that it wasn't.
99.7%!?? Kryten thought it was possible the computer was trying to give the impression of certainty without implying the offhandedness and perhaps narrowness of mind the a report of 100% might have suggested. Kryten dismissed all of these notions as soon as they entered his CPU: the medilab computer could be neither conceited nor arrogant, nor could it be motivated by the need to impress or to patronise others - it was an analytical scientific device, it wasn't sentient.
But, thought Kryten, turning back to the monitor to face the winking figures, there was a 99.7% chance that something else was...
The polymorph was the mate of the very first polymorph the Red Dwarf posse had encountered. After the death of its partner it found somewhere comfortable and lay, curled up and alone, in the bowels of the vessel and had stayed there ever since, weak from wont of food. Nourished only by an instinctive desire for revenge.
When the nanobots had come across the 'morph, they did what they did best. They fixed it. They improved it. They located the animal's only flaw and rectified it. They made the polymorph sentient. Now the beast didn't need to be driven half-comprehensible instincts, because thanks to the nanobots it had it's wits, its intelligence and its burning hat and passionate rage towards the ones who had killed its mate. Now it was perfect, and now it was ready to strike!
Rimmer tried to open his eyes. The lids were sticky and seemed to be fixed together by some sort of crust. He felt like he had conjunctivitis. He found that his head was loosely fixed down when he tried to raise it to look sideways into the gloom. No. It was too dark, anyway. He rested his crown back on the aluminium table. He could hear the Cat's regular breathing beside him. He must be either asleep or unconscious.
Where were they? What were they doing here? Then he remembered. His soul froze and the colour drained completely out of his face. The pupils of his eyes shrank back until only tiny pinpricks, as if retreating back into his skull, and his limbs became heavy and numb. What was he going to do? What could he do? Oh, no. Oh, no, no NO.
And then, from out of the gloominess strode a figure. Its outstretched arm morphed into a sharp and grotesque instrument, shiny and straight and it plunged this with an emphatic flourish into Rimmer's hard-light torso. The hologram arched his back and yelled out in spittle-laced agony. Plumes of scarlet gushed from the gory holographic wound before the polymorph located and deactivated the light bee, silencing Rimmer's thrashings.
The Cat woke up, and the polymorph strode away.
"What about Cat, Kochanski and Rimmer?" Hissed Lister through gritted teeth.
"We must remain calm, Sir. We will do them no good by panicking."
Lister continued his rantings for a few seconds more before once again silently giving in to Kryten's rationality, and dropping exhausted into a nearby chair. And suddenly, in a moment of silence, a spare light bee rose up off the console table and the medilab computer began the hologram boot-up sequence. Kryten, noticing it first, jumped to his feet and signalled to Lister to get up. He backed off towards the doorway. Lister stood. The light bee hovered there, three feet from the ground, and a human form started to shimmer into existence around it.
"Rimmer?" Started Lister incredulously.
Kryten jabbed quickly at a nearby keypad, accessing the hologram projection suite job list.
"No, his personality has been deactivated. It must be the polymorph!" Kryten looked up at the hologram which was whirling into its final stage of generation. "We'd better go, Sir." He edged out of the door and began tapping in a door lock encryption code. Lister ejected the computer slug containing the medicomp's analysis and moved warily over to Kryten.
"Hurry, Sir!" Shouted Kryten, pulling Lister out of the doorway. "The generation process is over!". Rimmer turned to face them, his features contorted with anger. Kryten jabbed in the final sequence of digits. The hologram ran at them. The door shummed shut and Rimmer's body flung itself against the alloy plate ineffectually. From behind the door, Lister could still hear Rimmer's fists pounding at the metal and his voice screeching incomprehensible threats. It's not Rimmer, he told himself, pushing the computer slug into his trouser pocket. He followed Kryten down the corridor, leaving the thumps of the puppet hologram to die into the distance.
She angled her head this way and that, pushing up on the gritty top surface of the tube with the back of her head to get a better view round the room. What she was looking for she wasn't really sure. Dave and Kryten had told her that a polymorph could change its form so that it resembled any object. Nevertheless, she was determined to at least pay slight attention to her surroundings: after all, it couldn't hurt to at least check if the room she was about to enter contained an 'armour plated killing machine'. It seemed to make more sense than walking straight in with a silly grin on your face.
She satisfied herself that the room was, or appeared to be, clear of the polymorph, and inched back to dislodge the grate. She dangled her head out of the hole in the drive room ceiling, took a final look around, and lowered herself to the floor. Her feet padded onto the surface quietly: she'd taken of her shoes. It wasn't normal practise for Space Corps officers, or even Canaries, to take off their boots in combat situations, but Kochanski had seen it done in a Golden Harvest kung fu movie and had thought it looked cool.
She set her backpack down upon the drive console gingerly, and pressed the activation switch on her Holly watch. The computer's face fizzed onto the nearest monitor and he looked around with a slight expression of confusion on his face. "What are we doing here?" He asked, eyeing the empty room. Then he stared directly at Kochanski. "Ohhh! Captain Hollister is going to be mad with you! You're still on probation: you aren't allowed up here!" He paused for a second, looked around the room again, and his face dropped. "Is Captain Hollister here?" He stuttered. "Does he know about me? You'd better get out of here quickly before he catches us because he's liable to delete me and then you'll…"
"Slow down, Holly, I need your help. There's been a bit of a problem on board today and I can't sort it out by myself." Kochanski started from the beginning, and told Holly everything.
"Righty ho, you bunch of reprobates!" Began Ackerman from his standing point at the top of the Tank's entrance hall steps. Hands on hips and looking down his sharp nose at the group of inmates which comprised the Red Dwarf's crack commando team, 'The Canaries', he wondered what it had been that had led him there. The yellow suited morons stood to relaxed attentions higgledy-piggledy about the hall and smiled inanely up at him.
How unfair that he had become the warden of a temporary prison facility on board an ancient old rust-bucket of a mining ship, on a never-ending voyage into the immeasurable fathoms of deep space, with quarters that smelled inexplicably of fried king prawn, when with his qualifications he could probably have become an instructor at the Callisto cadet college, or even entered active duty as a ship commander. Why was he three million years away from Earth briefing a pack of illiterate, in-bred no-hopers when with a few months extra training he might have become a member of the Space Corps special service or even an SCM?
He took a quick, calming breath and continued.
"Your mission this afternoon," he addressed the rabble, "is to locate and kill a highly dangerous genetically-engineered-life-form which Holly has detected upon this very vessel. You should try, if you possibly can, to do this without killing yourselves. I've had quite enough of some of your kamikaze-tactics, thank you. And that means you, Kill Crazy." Kill Crazy shrugged up at Ackerman as if he didn't know what he was talking about, and then shared a moronic grin with Big Meat and Baxter. "So, is that clear enough for everyone?" He waited tensely for some smart bugger to say 'no', even though Ackerman knew the briefing couldn't possibly be any clearer. Surprisingly this know-it-all-bastard didn't pipe up. This cheered Ackerman up immensely as at least one of the group members always attempted this annoying and puerile interruption, and it was thoroughly refreshing not to have to endure it today. However, he then realised that the reason for this lapse was that the mens' attention had been distracted by Rimmer, who had fainted and was now lying sprawled across the floor. "Get him up, Listeeerrr," ordered Ackerman tiredly, making his weariness apparent by his drawing out of the last syllable of the sentence.
Two of the Canaries helped Lister to prop up Rimmer and Ackerman tried to continue.
"So much is the trust that Captain Hollister has for his Canaries that he has decided to leave the entire operation in your more than competant hands." He held out his hands out and smiled in mock generosity. "The rest of the crew will be evacuating ship while you lot dispose of the beast. Thanks a lot, see you all soon, have a nice time, bring me back a souvenir. Byeee!"
And with that Ackerman concluded his speech and left the gantry, disappearing into a turbolift, leaving the Canaries to their task.
Go and visit the Author’s web site – THE PICKLE JAR.