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TRANSMUTATION

written by Rob Burriss

AUTHOR'S NOTE
Transmutation is my longest story so far. This tale is set during series seven (although why Rimmer AND Kochanski are both in it is a mystery: it just seemed to be the best way to write the story). In it you'll find action, adventure and a lot of CAT PEOPLE!

CYBER BAT'S MESSAGE
Oh well, who really gives a smeg about continuality! The fact it's got CAT PEOPLE in it is a bonus!!
<..>


A fresh lash of sparks coursed across the cockpit, spattering against the consoles, and a fierce explosion caught the Cat on his arm and sent him reeling back onto the steel deck.

Lister wrestled with the co-pilot's joystick as the drive computer gave him full control, and his klaxon fuddled mind attempted to concentrate on the read-outs. He glanced through the fog momentarily at the immobile Cat.

"Is he O.K?"

Kryten left his station and scrabbled the yard or so to the Cat.

"It's bad, Sir. There are over twenty singe marks on his left sleeve. His jacket's burned away through to the shirt sleeve in places, and I'm quite sure the shoulder pad will require replacing." Kryten looked up. "He could be out for hours."

"That's all we need," grimaced Lister, his arms taut and his knuckles white against the joystick. "Under attack by a simulogelf cruiser, deep in a simulogelf controlled asteroid belt, with no pilot and a navigation officer - or, more correctly, a navigation technician - who insists upon cowering beneath the scanner table during battles".

An energy bolt boomed into Starbug's port stern, and the ship and crew alike reeled to the side. They regained themselves.

"As if that sheet of Plexiglas is going to protect him when this bucket of rust is finally reduced to its component atoms." Rimmer continued his cowering unabashed.

"Kryten! Back to your station!" Shouted Kochanski over the hard drone of shorting circuits. The mechanoid complied, and struggled to climb back into his seat from where he began to monitor the huge fighter which continued to loom above them like a dark cloud. His eyes flashed to another monitor, and from there onto the damage report screen.

"Sirs, Ma'am, it appears that we have some good news and some bad news."

"Out with it, Kryten, we haven't got time for messin' around."

"Well, the bad news is that due to that last hit the time-drive is malfunctioning, and we're about to make an involuntary trip to Earth just over three million years in the past."

"At least we'll be able to get away from this damn simulogelf cruiser." Cried Lister optimistically over the whistle of shorting circuits.

"Also," Kryten continued, "the engines have overloaded and the ship will be self-destructing in a little under one minute."

"And there's some good news?!"

"Well, due to the time dilation which will occur when the malfunctioning time drive fires: which will be in" - Kryten checked his internal chronometer - "fifteen seconds, your supper will be ready thirty minutes before I expected; all the excitement of mackerel makonwalla, at half the recommended cooking time!"

The joke was lost on all present.

"Right," Kochanski said, standing up and beginning to initiate the evacuation protocols on the rear wall station; "it looks like we're abandoning ship, then."

Lister released the joystick and got up. He slung the Cat over his shoulder and dragged himself over the rubble of broken machinery strewn about the deck, flung down by the complaining con' stations. Kryten pulled the time drive from out of its nook above the drive panel, and joined Kochanski in collecting the protesting Rimmer from under the scanner table. They clanged open the rear door of the mid-section and the three of them stumbled down the stairwell to the cargo bay. Lister followed, his load slowing him down, and just managed to pass down onto the gantry stairway before the time-drive, slung over Kryten's shoulder, exploded into a blue static bolt, which roared over the ship from bow to stern. The fabric of space jerked and everything seemed to shift a little one way and then back again. The blue haze in Lister's eyes was just subsiding when Starbug's view screen imploded - the air was whipped out of the cockpit and the mid-section and the gantry latchway slammed shut just inches behind Lister's back, sealing him safely away from the scouring vacuum.


Outside, a thick, steel cable snaked about, whipping the hulls of the Starbug and the simulogelf cruiser. The crampon line detached from Starbug's port engine housing, leaving a shiny scar, and retracted back into the cruiser. They'd been followed back.


"Krissie, Kryten, wait!" Lister cried out to his shipmates as the ceiling above him collapsed, sending him skittering sown the steps, over the Cat, and into the escape pod launching bay. He rubbed his bruised head and crawled groggily over the deck, glass crunching and cracking beneath his knees and elbows, feeling about for the Cat's body. He saw Kryten bundle Rimmer and Krissie into one of the pods halfway down the launching corridor, before the mechanoid himself clambered in. Lister groped around, found the Cat, stood up and staggered drunkenly towards the pod, dragging the Cat behind him.

Kryten realised for the first time that there was something wrong, and poked his head back into the corridor. Chronometer check; 15 seconds before the ship was reduced to the equivalent of 500 tonnes of Duplo bricks. He hopped out of the pod in which he had stashed Kochanski and Rimmer and waddled hurriedly down the corridor. He reached Lister and the Cat, pushed from their bodies the larger fragments of debris, and picked them up under each arm.

The ship began to judder violently, and then to spin as it entered the Earth's atmosphere. The mechanoid yanked the now unconscious Lister and the likewise Cat into the nearest pod, and fell back into it himself, sending the time drive scudding across the bulkhead.

The drive computer automatically bolted the hatches, skimming Kryten's floundering feet by inches, and launched the entire complement of pods with six seconds left before 'Kaboom!' As the platoon of escape pods screamed towards the surface of the planet, the 'Bug flared up in the night sky and became the aforementioned collection of extra-large Lego blocks.

When the Cat People left Red Dwarf in their Arks, they did not leave unprepared. The Arks were but primitive metal boxes, but inside them were the most sophisticated technologies the Cats had procured from Red Dwarf during their lengthy stay. The unfortunate thing was, the Cat People were far too stupid to be able to operate anything but the most simple of gadgets. However, despite this lack of innate intelligence, the surviving tribe of Cat People did finally manage to reach Earth, some four million years after they had set off.

The unfortunate thing was that there was no one there to play with. The human race, and even the feline inhabitants, had all passed away long ago. They'd discovered Earth a little too late: the party had finished before they'd even arrived.

One day, though (they had continued to orbit the Earth for 200 years, not really having much of a back up plan) they discovered a small device floating in space, drifting around the Earth on an orbit similar to their own. Luckily for them when they brought it on board, it was a pretty simple gadget to operate. With a few pushes of a few buttons, the Cat People travelled back in time, more than seven million years.


King Leo sat back in his huge throne in his huge throne-room, gazing lazily at the swirling patterns of light projected onto the polished marble floor by the flood of sunlight pouring through the stained glass ceiling. His attention was only momentarily averted when a small and meek clerk entered the room discreetly, but pretty much without subtlety, through the twenty feet high solid-gold double-doors. He ambled quickly and clumsily up to his King and reported to him the findings of the stargazers, before making a small suggestion. King Leo listened with as little attention as necessary to take in the gist of the report, before agreeing half-heartedly to the proposal and tossing the small man a small fish from the ornate jar beside his throne. The small clerk seemed pleased at this gesture of appreciation and hurried (more quickly and more clumsily than before) out of the room, his long incisors glinting red and then green in the tinted sunlight from above as they peeked over his lips in a grin.

The clerk moved excitedly out of the palace - already chewing on the fish - and across the ornamental lawns, past the giant freshwater and salt water aquariums, through a clump of palm trees and up to the hangar. A huge man was leaning against the open hangar doors, picking at his teeth with the point of a knife. He, like the King, also hardly noticed the approaching clerk, and only showed a small level of acknowledgment after the man had circled his ankles for a reasonable length of time and dropped the remaining portion of fish near his feet.

"We've detected several objects falling from the sky towards the East coast," the clerk began to the large man "and we suspect that they may be escape pods from a transport vessel. I have discussed with His Majesty the possibility that these pods might contain survivors, and he has agreed that it would be good idea to bring some of these survivors to the palace, to amuse him and his court."

The clerk noticed the expression upon the face of the huge man, a blank expression that seemed to enquire about his own part in this particular charge. "Of course, His Majesty has agreed to pay you handsomely for the task of retrieving some survivors, and has already ordered me to increase your pay by twenty Phiche and fifteen clothing coupons per month."

The large man stood thinking about it for a while, obviously stalling for an increase in his terms. The clerk buckled. "C'mon, Kraze! I'll try and wangle you some more Sex-Time, O.K? Is that enough? PULEEESE!!!" The clerk begged. Kraze nodded his head almost imperceptibly whilst sheathing his knife in a leather scabbard which hung from his belt. He bent to pick up the fish piece from the floor and disappeared inside the hangar.

After a few minutes a dark blue craft lifted up out of the hangar in a wave of red dust and cruised off towards the East of the island, just as the pods stopped falling from the sky and smashed their way into the sea, one by one, along a fifty mile stretch of shore.


The pod bobbled on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. It was shaped like a huge wrought-iron thimble, and was rusty and worn. The pod floated like an iceberg, so nine tenths of its cylinder lay submerged beneath the surface. Inside, Lister regained consciousness and sat back against the bulkhead. He looked up and around. The pod was dark and he could barely make out the ceiling where the sole entry/exit hatch was located, as the pod was much taller than it was wide. He blinked several times and rubbed his puffed up eyes, the sting of the acrid smoke from the burning 'Bug still itching beneath his lids. He looked up again. The Cat and Kryten stood before him, perched upon a crate, trying to prise open the hatch in the rounded ceiling of the pod. The six-inch thick steel plate creaked outwards, and a mech-head peered out of the latchway.

"There's an Island not more than a kilometre to the west, Sirs." Kryten reported, before retracting his head and regarding his crewmates. "Unfortunately, there is no way to reach it. The pod's propulsion systems are waterlogged, you two can't swim and I'm not waterproof."

"Well, what the hell happened to Officer BB and Goalpost Head?" Squealed the Cat, stepping down from the crate. Lister stood up on the bobbing deck and consulted the navicomp.

"All six pods have landed in a rough line along this stretch of coastline, about fifty miles long. The thing is..." Lister paused, rechecking a readout.

"What is it, Sir?" Kryten joined Lister at the console.

"The navicomp doesn't recognise this coastline at all. According to this readout, we're on a coastline that doesn't exist anywhere in the solar system, at any time, let alone on Earth. What's the time-drive done? When and where has it taken us?"

A roar overhead stopped the contemplation midway. Huge waves began to lick up over the pod. Brine crashed through the still open hatch and the Cat struggled to close it before they drowned. A flash of light flashed its light and then...

The bobbing stopped...

the sound stopped...

The three remained immobile.

"What the hell is going on?" Muttered the Cat without moving his lips. Something clambered quickly onto the top of the pod. The latch was opened with a creak and a wide shaft of neon-white light fell in.

"The King requests an audience with you." Spoke a voice, and as their eyes grew accustomed to the light, Kryten then the Cat and finally Lister started to make out the silhouette of the head and shoulders of the man who had addressed them. He was so big his form almost filled the opening and blocked out the fluorescent light from above. The huge man dipped his arm into the pod and pulled out Lister, the Cat and Kryten all at once, and set them down on the deck of his own ship, where the pod now stood in a spreading puddle of brine.

"Peculiar," remarked Kryten. "This ship appears to have the cargo bay layout of a JMC Blue Midget." Kraze gritted his teeth and exhaled. He was going to have to waste valuable energy explaining to these pathetic creatures.

"I am Captain Kraze, Duke of Shirts, and yes, this is a Blue Midget transport craft. You were transported here from the sea." He then added, by means of explanation, "I would normally have waited for you to come to me, but I detected that your propulsion systems were off-line." Kraze spoke with his back turned to his three guests, walking towards the gantry steps, which Kryten noticed had been replaced by an escalator.

"I can't thank you enough, Sir," Kryten said to Kraze, "we would surely have met a watery grave if not for your intervention." The man didn't acknowledge Kryten's thanks. "I, uh, don't suppose you noticed any other pods, Sir? It's just that two other members of our crew also abandoned ship, and I..." Kryten was cut short by the raised voice of his host.

"I have been asked to bring the King some survivors of the touchdown, and that is what I intend to do." Lister barged past Kryten, intending to continue the questioning himself, fearing that the mechanoid's 'beat-about-the-bush' approach to problem solving might only succeed in smegging off the huge man even further.

"What about our shipmates?! Why the smeg aren't we out there rescuing them too? Their pod will be waterlogged too; they might drown!!"

"That would mean more work." Stated Kraze calmly. "I have some survivors so I have fulfilled my objective. It would make no sense to waste energy, fuel and time in rescuing further survivors when there is no profit in it." He stepped off the escalator and upped his pace. He moved through the mid-section into the cockpit leaving Lister goldfishing. The Cat and Kryten followed on behind him, feeling helpless. They walked up to the cockpit doorway, but Kraze studiously ignored them so they remained in the mid-section. Kryten took the opportunity to lean over to Lister.

"Sir. I believe that man is of the order Felis Sapiens."

"Cats?" Replied Lister at a whisper.

"Yes, Sir. Judging by Mr. Kraze's dental bequeathment, his personality and his particularly groovy clothing which Mr. Cat seems to be in silent awe of, I believe so." He paused for a second. "I could use the psi-scan to examine his genitals if you remain unconvinced, Sir."

"No, that's O.K., Kryten." Lister had a plan. He figured that they could get the help of the King when they met, simply by referring to one of his own more notable credentials...


"We're going to die, we're going to DIE!!!" Rimmer scrambled around the pod in a mad panic.

"Get a hold of yourself, Rimmer!" Kochanski ordered, and when she saw that Rimmer showed no sign of complying, she planted a hard and loud slap on his right cheek. Rimmer stopped scrambling and looked at her, mouth agape in surprise.

"It's a court spatial worthy offence to strike a superior technician!"

"Superior technician?" She cocked her head forwards. "What do you think I am? An experimental lab' animal?"

"Am I not correct in saying that I am the highest ranking technician on board this vessel?"

"Yeah, but..."

"...And highest ranking means that all others are below me...?"

"Yes it does, but..."

"So by your own admission I am the highest ranking person here, and you are of inferior rank to me?"

"Was that what I said?" Kochanski shook her head, possibly hoping that the information would sort it self out in there somehow.

"Are you a technician?" Began Rimmer again.

"No." Kochanski replied positively, determined to keep track this time.

"And I am?"

"Yes."

"I am the highest ranking technician aren't I?"

"Yes, you are..."

"And you're not?"

"No, I'm not..."

"O.K., so we're in agreement!" Rimmer beamed. He turned to the supply cabinet, opened it, and took out a long length of nylon cord. "Here you go, 'o-highest-ranking-of-all-lab'-mice'; you can tow the pod the thousand metres to that island over to the west."

Kochanski remained unmoved, still trying to sort out the verbal conundrum

Rimmer had dealt her. "Come on, then," Rimmer coaxed, "get into your bikini and get swimming. And that's an order!" This command lark was good fun. Rimmer laughed mentally at an old extract from his year eight report card he'd always remembered. Bull Heinman had written it:

'ARNOLD HAS NO LEADERSHIP ABILITIES WHATSOEVER.'

What a load of smeg! He was a born leader if ever one was born, and one day he'd prove it. He turned to see that Kochanski was just about to take off her jacket and he was just about to wet his pants with excitement, when a flash of light flashed its light and then...

The pod stopped bobbing...

There were no sounds...

Rimmer and Kochanski remained still...

After a couple of seconds, Kochanski pulled her jacket back over her shoulders and put her ear to the pod's bulkhead. Rimmer sighed. So near yet so far. Something clambered quickly onto the top of the pod, and the latch was opened with a creak. Fierce light shone in and the pair had to squint in order to make out anything, but they were sure that they could see something. Someone.

"The captains will see you." Rimmer and Kochanski crouched back in terror. It was a gelf. It coughed something in Kinitawoweese to a colleague on the deck of his own ship. The unseen Kinitawowi grunted a reply and began ramming the pod - probably with his head - until it flipped over and CLANGED onto the deck. The gelf dragged Rimmer and Kochanski out of the fallen pod and stood them up. "Pay your respects," he began, as the door on the other side of the transportation bay hummed open, "to your captains." Two figures stepped into the room. Kochanski couldn't fight the impulse to look over even though she sensed it was slightly dangerous to do so before told to.

Simulant. Gelf. Kochanski flicked her eyes upwards at the ceiling of the bay. A long banner rippled in the breeze of the air vents. Painted on its red background was a strand of DNA interweaved with a printed circuit board copper track pattern; the logo of the simulogelf alliance. They must have followed them back in time, probably by attaching themselves to the 'Bug. Smeg; this could get nasty.

"I said pay your respects!!!" The first gelf yelled, and then fired his electro-harpoon at Rimmer's hologrammatic groin which sparked and buzzed and then regained its former image. Yup, thought Kochanski, it had got nasty.

"Christ! Thank God!" Rimmer clutched himself. "I thought 'Little Arn' was a gonna for a second there!"

Kochanski flashed him a look.

"Uh, when I say 'Little Arn' I mean it in a kind of affectionate nicknamy kind of way, not a thingy, y'know sort of kind of way, O.K?" Rimmer turned away from Kochanski to the first gelf, who was re-aiming his pistol. Rimmer fell to the floor with greater speed than a member of the KKK leaving Harlem, and began fanning the approaching captains with both hands, in worship. The simulant captain stopped in front of him. His white synthetic skin writhed like a barrelful of slugs, and Kochanski could see quite clearly where bits of it about his face hung off exposing his metal skull. He was a good six-and-a-half feet tall and smelt strongly of greasy hair and hot rubber.

"Ah, new slaves. Splendid! Suit them up and get them to work on the astrostrippers; immediately." Said the simulent captain, before placing his arm about his fleshy, corpulent gelf counterpart, who took a sideways glance over Kochanski's body and they moved back towards the latchway. The first two gelfs grabbed Rimmer and Kochanski and yanked them back onto the transportation pad from which the pod had been toppled. One of them garbled a command in Kinitawoweese and in a twist of blue the group rematerialised in a compact airlock. The gelfs slid down a portion of the bulkhead to reveal a row of five astrostrippers, two of which they pulled down and dropped on the deck.

"Your first task will involve minor external repairs to the ship's hull. These astrostrippers had been retrofitted to carry out basic welding procedures. If we are unsatisfied with your work, you will both die." And with that, the gelfs strapped Rimmer and Kochanski in, chained them to the hull, and kicked them out into space.


A whole day had passed since Lister, Cat and Kryten had arrived on the island. They had spent a very comfortable evening, morning and afternoon with their host already, and the effects of Lister's plan had yet to materialise. He had been completely unable to persuade the King to rescue Rimmer and Kochanski even after multiple attempts, and so now he was trying a different approach.

"Don't tell me, don't tell me!" pleaded Lister, indicating that he needed telling.

Suddenly, and in a moment of inspiration that some might call an epiphany had it not been for the context, Lister realised he did know. "Wait, it's that princess one again. What's her name? Fadd! Yeah, that's her name."

The curtain parted and King Leo's daughter emerged looking slightly embarrassed, and the whole court laughed and clapped encouragement for Lister. The King joined in and smiled broadly. He seemed much more excitable now than he had appeared to his clerk the day before, and was enjoying the little get together he had assembling for the members of his court. His guests were certainly putting on a fine show. However, they would not stop pleading for his help in some trivial manner which seemed to be of extreme importance to them, and this was the only thing that was spoiling his otherwise fine day.

"You are good at this game, David. How can you tell who is behind the curtain by viewing only their bottom?" Lister was teaching King Leo to play a new game. The King liked games very much, and Lister's plan to soften up the King by introducing him to several new ones had gone very well so far. Since their meeting the King and him had been getting on pretty well, and their relationship had pretty much skyrocketed when the King had found out that Lister was God. However, that had been yesterday, and already Lister was growing anxious as to whether the King would ever begin to even think about rescuing Rimmer and Kochanski.

He'd made a nice gesture by refuelling and repairing their pod and then presenting it to Lister, polished and gleaming, right in the middle of the wide throne room's deep red carpet, which was where it had remained ever since. It seemed impolite to point out to the King that the pod was not built for, and was not capable of, achieving orbit; it simply didn't have the power to escape the Earth's gravitational pull. However, Lister had a sneaking feeling that the King intended to keep the pod, anyway, as some sort of a monument commemorating the arrival of God. It certainly looked more like an elaborate and commanding sculpture now than an old JMC escape pod after it had been buffed and burnished, and stood tall and proud on the carpet like some sort of a phallic symbol of the King's power and self-defined potency.

Lister stopped thinking about how the King's mind worked as his musings always led him to believe that the man sitting next to him was almost entirely motivated by food, sex, sleep or simply a complete desire to bask in the glory of his own existence. He instead asked the King about the possibility of retrieving the other pods from the sea and rescuing Rimmer and Kochanski, but the King yawned and ignored him as he had done a dozen times before. His plan, he thought, wasn't going precisely as he had hoped. Lister decided to bring it up again later.


Rimmer and Kochanski were resting.

They had finished their fifteen hour long repair shift an hour ago. When they'd been thrown into their cell - one of hundreds that they had seen on their way there, each full of dying, diseased and downtrodden holograms, gelfs and mechanoids - a simulent guard had brought them a meal each. Rimmer had given his to Kochanski, not needing it for himself. Kochanski had been quite impressed with the way that Rimmer had sat himself in a particularly dark corner and concealed his 'H' with his hair in order to con the guard into thinking he was a living human, and so obtaining extra food for her. Sure, she had needed that food, but she never would have thought that Rimmer would risk his own life just to make hers slightly more bearable. It was just totally out of character.

The cell door chu-chunged open and a streak of light crept in followed by the silhouette of a particularly obese gelf. The black outline of the guard stood there for a short while, Kochanski and Rimmer staring up at it with pale faces. After only a few seconds the gelf had flooded the room with a sharp smell of stale sweat.

"Female." He addressed Kochanski, who blinked at the rotund form of the gelf, unused to the light. "Captain Khakakkaght requests the pleasure of your company."

His voice was cold and raspy, like a coarse file scratching over ice. "He also requests that you wear this." The gelf opened his fist to reveal a small, black G-string made of single strands of thread. Kochanski examined the minuscule garment.

"Don't you have one in red?"

The gelf's smug grin dissolved and was replaced by a look of fierce anger. He grabbed Kochanski by the arm and turned back to the doorway. Rimmer cowered in the corner. Kochanski managed to struggle to turn towards him, as if to ask for help, but immediately looked away. Rimmer knew why she had looked away so soon. It was because she knew that he wasn't going to help. And that hurt Rimmer a lot. What hurt more, though, was that in himself he knew that he wasn't going to help. He saw the gelf's grip on Kristine's wrist tighten, and the resulting expression of pain register on her face.

Then Rimmer decided something. It was less of a decision and more of a realisation, but either way, the result was the same. Rimmer decided, or realised, that he was wrong. He was going to show himself that he was wrong. He leapt up and suddenly found himself pinning the gelf against the wall.

"Never touch her like that again!" He was yelling, banging the guard against the wall. "Never!" He pulled the trigger of the gelf's holstered electo-harpoon rifle and sent a neon bolt into the right boot of his adversary. The gelf jumped up and down, cursing in Kinitawoweese. Rimmer let fly an immensely fierce right hook and followed it up with a flying head butt. The gelf slithered down the cell wall, a large 'H' imprinted deeply across his forehead, and Rimmer kicked him out of the cell.


CYBER BATíS MESSAGE
Ohhh this is good. I canít wait to see what happens next!
<..>

Go and visit the Authorís web site Ė THE PICKLED JAR.