Chapter 1: Impossible Affrays
It's lunchtime, and the mess hall is packed for once. A long morning has ensured that most of the inmates have made an effort to make it on time for the first lunch shift.
At the table nearest the main entrance sit Kristine Kochanski, Dave Lister, Arnold Rimmer, Kryten, the Cat, and Kill Crazy. Kill Crazy is a recent addition -- in a way - to this group of Dwarfers, most of whom have been together for a long time. As in, three million years long. Kill Crazy is the Cat's roommate, and though he's a homicidal maniac, the Cat seems to have befriended him. They sit together, laughing at something the Cat is playing with on his plate.
Even in the Brig, the Cat manages to keep on the cutting edge of 'cool'. His bland lavender jumpsuit, identical to the ones worn by nearly everyone else - for the choice is lavender or pink -- has had sequins sewn on it in a neat line along the arm and leg seams. Whether these are legal or not is unknown. His famous fanged smile may have gotten him a long way to having them overlooked, though - the flash of pearly whites against his dark skin alone would have been enough to blind any guard.
His long silky sable hair is hanging loose over his shoulders as he furtively glances around before producing a hairbrush and beginning to sleek it back to secure it with a beaded scrunchie. A wisp of hair falls into his eyes, obscuring the bright brown for a second, before the Cat purses his lips and blows upwards to move it. This failing, he pushes it back with a perfectly manicured fingernail.
Kill Crazy says something and they both laugh again, though nobody hears what they say, being occupied with their own conversations. The Cat finally succeeds in catching the errant lock and pulls on it, seeming to warn it not to stray again before he finally tucks it through the scrunchie with the rest of his hair.
Kill Crazy looks unhappily at his tray, poking a pile of pinkish mush with his fork. When it doesn't poke back, he tentatively forks up a mouthful and tries it. Blue eyes squinch shut in anticipation of something left over from last week's genetic experiments, and he's pleasantly surprised when his meal doesn't actually move.
'Is it food this time, bud?' the Cat asks.
'As close as we'll ever get,' Kill Crazy replies. The Cat pauses a second, then his sleek dark head bends over his tray and he starts eating. Kill Crazy's red hair is standing on end as usual as he keeps eating, trying not to think too hard about where this meal might have come from, or what it might have been. The menu chalked near the dispensing machine says 'BEEF STEW', but that's never gonna be true.
Opposite Kill Crazy sits Kryten. Being a mechanoid, he doesn't need to eat. He's sitting there, elbows on the table, angular plastic face in his angular plastic hands. The reason for his behaviour is evident as soon as you look at the top of his normally bald head -- the scraggly remnants of a blonde wig, glued there earlier by one of Baxter's cronies, refuses to come off. Kryten is, understandably, upset. The occasional sob-like sound comes from behind his hands, which are locked firmly over his face.
Kochanski's next to him, and she's not bothering with her meal just yet, being more interested in getting a response from her metallic roommate. She tosses her head, sighs, her medium-brown hair flying. Getting her small hand locked firmly round Kryten's right wrist, she starts to drag it off his face. One blue eye blinks balefully at her from the tiny gap she has created.
'Leave me alone.'
'Kryten, I just want to be sure you're okay.' So I'm not stuck with a sooking droid for the rest of the day, Kochanski adds in her head.
'I'm fine.' Every bit as truthful as the girl who sits in the corner of the schoolyard bawling every lunchtime. You know something's wrong, just not what it is. And there's never an easy way to get it out.
'Are you sure?' Kochanski's own eyes, lagoon-blue, are filled with concern. Not for the first time Kryten gets a vague idea of what Mr Lister must feel for her. When he simply nods and takes his hands away from his face, the better to start playing with the few remaining clumps of hair glued to his scalp, Kochanski turns back to her meal -- such as it is.
She's aware of the eyes on her, though.
The eyes in question are dark brown. Set in the middle of a slightly pudgy face made for smiling, but with no smile now, only a wistful, thoughtful expression. Lister sucks on his index finger, teeth biting lightly at the skin around the nail, staring outright at Kochanski. Kochanski knows. Kochanski doesn't care. She's flattered, sure, and in a way she's becoming quite attracted to this dimension's Lister -- she lost her own, but maybe that was fate.
Kryten catches Lister staring, and frowns. Kryten doesn't want Kochanski to take Lister away from him, even though he's known her for around a year and him for even longer and should know that, not only wouldn't Lister ditch a mate like that, but Kochanski wouldn't let him. Lister sees Kryten's frown. The wistful expression vanishes to be replaced by the half-irritated, half-resigned expression he always gets when Kryten starts on at him about this stuff. Tossing his dreadlocks back over one shoulder, Lister sets about dissecting his own meal.
As usual, Rimmer has already finished eating, and sits there drawing lines in the pool of gravy in the bottom of the foil tray with his fork. He too has been watching Lister drool over Kochanski, and he now sketches a '4' in the brown mess: Lister's initials above, Kochanski's below completes the image: D.L. 4 K.K.
Before he can erase it the Cat happens to turn around and see it. He looks puzzled for a second, then catches on and starts laughing. Kill Crazy cranes over to get a look, and he too cracks up. Rimmer hastily uses his spoon to erase the image, swirling it counter-clockwise through the brown slop the cooks euphemistically call gravy. Lister looks over, drawn by the Cat and Kill Crazy laughing, and catches the half-smile on Rimmer's face.
'What did you do?'
'Nothing,' Rimmer says. But the twinkle in his hazel eyes tells a different story. He ducks his head and tilts his tray, letting the brown liquid pool in a corner of the foil. Lister gives up and reaches over the table, messing up Rimmer's brown hair -- already messy - and getting flour in it from the top of his bread roll, which has powdered his hands.
Kochanski, meanwhile, has read what was going on from the look in the Cat's eyes, and looks at Rimmer. 'Are you being a slimy little ratbag again?' she asks. Rimmer nods, a bizarre cross between a guilty and a self-satisfied expression on his face.
A slow smile spreads across Kochanski's face. 'Then I think I'd better teach you a lesson,' she says. Kristine Kochanski in a cheeky mood is rare, and Lister and Rimmer just sit and gawp as she splits her roll in half, butters it thickly, then without warning throws half of it at Rimmer's head.
It impacts with his forehead, just above his right eyebrow. Butter goes everywhere -- into his eyelashes, clumping them together like a girl who's had a bad mascara day; into his hair, smearing shinily like a weird brand of hair gel; and of course onto his skin, smudging down his cheek as the chunk of bread slowly slides down his face and falls off with a soft splat into his empty tray.
For a second Rimmer pauses. Then the other half of the roll is flying at his face. He ducks, it misses, and goes on to hit someone across the lunchroom. But Rimmer pays this no attention, as he's too busy grabbing up the first bit of bread and flinging it back in Kochanski's direction. It clips the Navigation Officer's ear and hurtles on to slap wetly onto the back of Baxter's head.
'Ohh shit,' says Lister, having followed the flight path of this projectile. Rimmer dives for cover under the table. Baxter, without turning around, throws an opened carton of milk back over his shoulder. The milk - banana flavoured, insipid yellow crap -- seems to spray in slow motion all over the occupants of the Dwarfers' table, even dripping over the edge to catch Rimmer where he cowers half-under his chair.
Then it's on.
Pieces of potato, handfuls of beans, peas and corn, graceful splatters of beef gravy and beef lumps, they all fly everywhere. Rimmer gets up to wipe the milk away that is trickling under his collar, and gets hit full in the face by someone's foil tray. The Cat barely has time to laugh before he's caught with the plastic fork and knife that follow it.
There's a yell from the doorway. Warden Ackerman, with Warden 'Feral' Ferona right behind him. The mind and the muscle. The entire room freezes, save for Lister. With one intent in mind he scoops up a spoonful of mashed potato and slowly, deliberately, aims it.
The potato splatters. Right across Ackerman's eye. The real eye. Ackerman, blind, his glass eye staring, stumbles forward into the arms of Big Meat, a notoriously 'friendly' inmate. Big Meat lets off a chilling, back-of-the-throat growl that'd intimidate the MGM lion. Ackerman unstumbles and swipes the potato out of his eye with the back of one hand.
'WHO DID THAT?!'
Silence. Forty-nine pairs of eyes swivel to look at Lister. Lister looks down. Ackerman, still semi-blind, doesn't notice this, and folds his arms, waiting for a response. He tries to look daunting, but it's a little hard when a smear of mashed potato still decorates his cheek like blusher gone wrong.
The laughter starts somewhere over the back. A female laugh, high and genuinely amused. Ackerman opens his mouth to yell again, but the first laugh is quickly joined by another, and another. Soon the whole room is in convulsions -- the Cat and Kill Crazy are actually on the floor -- and even Ferona has cracked a smile at his superior's expense. Ackerman decides against further speaking and hastily backs out of the room, nearly tripping over Ferona on the way. He promises himself he will get revenge, though.
'Who started laughing?' Lister asks Kochanski, since it was one of the girls. Kochanski stands up and looks over to that corner of the room where the laughter started.
'Her name's Kerry Shayne. She lives three cells away from us, right Kryten?' The mechanoid nods, being engrossed in picking peas out of his 'hair'. 'She's always been a troublemaker -- some say it's the red hair. She's a fiery person, she likes to pick fights with the guards. She especially likes it when she can start something with one of the top nobs.' Kochanski nods sagely at herself and wipes some butter off her ear. 'Here, Dave -- you're not dirty enough.' She smears the butter down Lister's cheek and smiles winningly at him. Lister's heart melts and dribbles down his chest -- no, wait, maybe that's gravy.
'Please clear the mess hall, 12:00 shift. Please clear the mess hall.' The tinny voice comes over the Floor 13 PA system. The inmates start getting up, picking up jackets, bags, and in one of Baxter's cronies' case, one of his front teeth, punched out when he laughed at Baxter with gravy on his face. Everyone heads for the door, not wanting to still be around for the 12:30 shift to beat them up when they discover what's happened to the mess hall.
'Looks worse than when Pete the dinosaur vomited everywhere,' Lister comments as the Dwarfers head for the door.
'What would you know about that, you weren't there,' Rimmer says.
'I saw some of the leftover mess. When we were down in the cargo hold, remember?' Lister asks. 'Tryin' to sort all that mess back out...'
'Which you started!'
The argument continues as the Dwarfers head for the lift, intending to go to their various parole jobs, only to find out that because of the food fight, their parole privileges have been suspended for the rest of the day. Ackerman himself stands at the lift doorway that would let them out, a smarmy smile on his face as he turns them back. The look on his face as he regards Kochanski, who is blushing, seems to indicate he knows exactly who started the fight.
'Sorry, guys,' Kochanski says as they head back towards G Tower.
'Don't worry,' Lister says. They come to the corridor marked WOMEN'S WING, and Kryten begins to move down it. Lister gives Kochanski a sudden unexpected hug, rubbing her back gently. 'It's okay.'
'I'm not that worried,' Kochanski says, turning away to follow Kryten. The sudden explosion of laughter from the boyz alerts her that something's going on, and as she reaches up to touch her back Rimmer calls out, 'Well, you should be!' Then the four of them bolt. Her hand comes away with a giant smudge of gravy and potato. So that was what Dave was doing, she thinks.
Oh well. Never mind.
She has, after all, promised herself she will get revenge.
Chapter 2: Impossible Affrays
Kochanski's not impressed. She's been in the shower for twenty minutes so far -- and she hates showers -- and the gravy and potato tangling her long brown hair is refusing to come out. At least the gravy colour matches her hair. She can hear Kryten sniggering in the main part of their cell, and is seriously considering going out there, stark naked or not, and stuffing his head into the Waste Disposal Unit.
And she'd follow it up with Dave's.
When Lister patted her on the back earlier, probably just intending to smear her uniform with food, he got her hair as well. Shampoo won't work -- besides, it's that horrible 2-in-1 stuff that makes her hair dull. The soap won't do, since even if Kochanski hadn't been brought up believing that the eleventh commandment was 'Thou shalt not use common soap on thy hair', it's JMC standard issue, which is best suited to scouring saucepans.
It's probably fortunate in a way that their parole privileges have been suspended for the afternoon, because otherwise Kochanski would have to go out on her job with this gunk still in her hair, and that's not something she really wants to get stuck with, especially not if Kerry Shayne, the fiery redheaded troublemaker of the Women's Wing, is on the same laundry shift as her. Shayne doesn't hesitate to pick a likely victim, and if she managed to work out exactly how Kochanski's got the mess in her hair she'd really have a field day. Although she's not too bad to Kochanski, usually.
She gives up on her hair. Most of the gunk is out, anyway. She wishes she was like the Cat with his shower panelled in mirrors -- the one back on Starbug was, anyway -- then she might be able to see if there's any residue. Damn Dave!
Kochanski steps out into the cell, fully dressed in a clean prison jumpsuit -- pink this time. Kryten is, as usual, cleaning the cell. His broom scrapes against the floor, clatters under the bunks, and frightens the shit out of a couple of mice who were working on increasing the mouse population of the Brig under there.
Watching the rodents make a panicked dash for cover somewhere far, far away from the mechanoid's broom, Kochanski is vaguely reminded of being busted by her parents, making out in the back of an early boyfriend's car. The guy had bolted halfway down their road before his pants slid down to his ankles and tripped him. Kochanski'd laughed for a full ten minutes, and her parents hadn't even cracked it with her, being too amused. She doesn't recall ever seeing the guy in question again since then.
'Hello ma'am, good shower?' Kryten asks. As always she can't be quite sure if he's being sarcastic or not. He knows she hates showers, at least, so she gives him an evil eye as she walks past him to the door.
'Ma'am, where -- '
His only response is the metallic hiss of the door sliding shut.
'Bob not working today?' Rimmer inquires casually, wandering into his and Lister's shared cell. Lister turns away from the pipe he has been tapping on with a spoon and shakes his head.
'I was goin' to ask what time he's comin' with supper tonight, 'cos Holly says Ackerman's got a surprise inspection on the books at six-thirty.'
At the other end of Lister's communication pipe, Kochanski crouches beside Madge the skutter. Both of them have, in their own ways, evil smirks on their faces.
'This is getting better and better,' Kochanski says.
'Are you sure you want to let me do this?'
Madge pauses, then nods again.
At 6:00 PM that night there is a tapping on the ceiling of Lister and Rimmer's cell. Lister gets up from where he is beating Rimmer at checkers for the third time in a row and opens the grating. Madge Skutter is waiting there with Lister's beef vindaloo, poppadoms, and six-pack of Leopard Lager.
'Madge? What're you doing here?' Lister asks.
Bob's sick, Madge taps on the side of the grating.
'Why? What's wrong with him?'
He's got a skutter-virus. He'll be fine tomorrow. Yes, because Kochanski will let him out of the cupboard she has locked him in, and he'll be fine, if a fair bit peeved at both the human and his missus.
'Oh well, tell 'im I said to get well soon. Now, pass down that food, will you?' Lister asks, hopping up and down in anticipation. Madge dutifully passes down the foil container, the paper bag, and the six plastic-ringed cans, and for the first time in her long life feels a twinge of worry as Lister takes them. She hopes he won't see the place where the edge of the vindy container wouldn't completely seal again, or the tiny needle-mark in one of the lager cans.
But Lister doesn't suspect anything amiss.
'Thanks Madge. Here's a little something for ya.' He sprays the skutter with WD-40. Madge dislikes it, but lives with it -- with Kochanski, she usually gets some of Kris's own perfume mixed with a clear oil that makes it suitable for the skutter to use. Lister smiles up at her and waves, then pulls the grating closed.
Madge skutters quickly along the duct towards the supply closet where Kochanski is sitting in front of a small TV screen. The black-and-white image is fairly blurry, but clears to show the inside of Lister and Rimmer's cell, centring on the table where Lister has just sat down to eat his vindaloo. She had wanted decent video equipment, but on short notice this medical stuff was the best Madge could get. The tiny camera eye is on the other end of the cord Madge took with her to the cell.
'Ready to watch?' Kochanski asks.
Madge nods and says something in machine-code.
'You want to let Bob out? Will he go and tell Dave what's going on?' Kochanski asks.
Madge says something else and whirs agitatedly around the small room.
'Okay, go and explain it then bring him out, but hurry.'
Madge crosses the room and starts talking through the door of the cupboard. Bob can be heard replying. Kochanski sits forward, elbows on her knees, watching the small screen intently.
'This vindaloo tastes a little strange,' Lister mumbles with his mouth full.
Rimmer arches an eyebrow. 'Listy, it's just your sole remaining tastebud sending out a cry for help before it waves a little white flag and dies. I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you.'
Lister starts to scrap curry sauce off a lump of beef. 'Well, Rimmer, you can't afford to be smart, since your supper was once ninety percent canine.' He looks at his cellmate and grins. 'Or is that feline?'
Rimmer looks down at the three steamed dim sims sitting on his supper tray, and suddenly doesn't feel so hungry any more. 'Want these, Listy?'
'Nah.' Lister makes a big production out of ripping open the paper bag containing the poppadoms. Unfortunately, he rips a little too enthusiastically and suddenly he has a lapful of pointy poppadom shards. Two poppadoms' worth. The third is a soggy mess.
Rimmer laughs. 'Ah, Listy. Enjoying your meal?'
'Terrific.' Lister brushes the mess onto the floor, where it may or may not be swept up later. The soggy poppadom sort of splats onto the pile. Sickening.
'You'd better clean that up, Listy - cell inspection in ten minutes.' Rimmer has a definite twinkle in his eyes -- he's enjoying this nearly as much as Kochanski in her little hidey-hole is. 'Wouldn't want Ackerman deciding to punish you, would you?'
Lister shudders at the thought of the one-eyed warden punishing anyone. An image of whips, chains and general nastiness pushes its way into his head. 'Not really.' He gets down on his knees and sweeps the mess into a pile and gathers it up into his hands, dumping it into the Waste Disposal Unit on the wall.
'Gonna finish your supper anyway?' Rimmer asks.
'Yeah.' Lister cracks open a tinnie and starts wolfing his vindaloo down, wondering only mildly at the strange texture of the meat, when the last piece of beef falls onto the floor as well and is revealed to be green.
'Oh, yuck.' Rimmer hovers his hand over it so Lister can't see. 'Don't look, Listy, it'll sicken you.'
'I already feel sick, Rimmer, show me and I won't vomit on your head.' Rimmer hastily gets out of the way. Lister leans over and looks at the apparently off meat, then daringly picks it up and sniffs it. His face contorts in misery. 'Smeg, that's not beef, that bit's...'
'A sprout!' Rimmer is ecstatic. 'Ohh Listy, and sprouts make you sick. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.'
Lister slurps his lager and glares at Rimmer. 'Shut it, Rimmer, or I really will chuck on you. I mean it.' He finishes that lager, tossing the crumpled can overhand into the Waste Disposal Unit to join most of the rest of his garbage. He starts on the next one.
'That's the one,' Kochanski tells Madge and Bob. Both skutters laugh. In a way.
Lister downs this lager rapidly, wanting to get the taste of the sprouts out of his mouth. At the near end of the cell block the gates clang open and Ackerman's voice is heard loudly announcing 'Inspection!' with an untamed glee. If there's anything Warden Ackerman loves, it's catching inmates unaware with illicit and illegal anything.
'Smeg,' Lister says. He hastily pushes the grating back open and shoves the four remaining lager cans into the space above. His hand brushes the camera eye and for a moment the picture goes blurry, and in their supply closet Kochanski and the skutters hold their breath.
But the picture stabilises, and if anything becomes clearer.
Lister and Rimmer start dashing around the cell, dusting, cleaning, and in some cases simply stuffing things into the nearest space where they won't appear messy. Lister squeezes a little toothpaste onto his finger and smears it across his teeth as Rimmer crouches to check the space under the table. Finding some remaining poppadom shards, he sweeps them up into a hand and dumps them the way of the others.
'I feel sick,' Lister says, rinsing and spitting. He exhales into Rimmer's face. 'Does that smell like beer to you?'
'No, like your normal halitosis,' Rimmer replies.
'I do not have halitosis!'
Their cell door slides open and the one-eyed wonder, Warden Ackerman himself, steps through, followed by Warden 'Feral' Ferona. Lister and Rimmer both shut up and move to stand by the bunks without being told.
'Ah, gentlemen, having a bit of a squabble, are we?' Ackerman's eye roves around the room, noting the red tinge to Lister's cheeks -- the alcohol, presumably, although it looks almost green as well. Ackerman is perfectly aware that most if not all of the inmates have illicit supplies of who-knows-what hidden in their cells or on their persons, but he has to prove it to be able to punish them.
'No, sir,' Rimmer says innocently.
Lister opens his mouth to back Rimmer up. And that's when disaster strikes.
'Oh smeg... I think...' Lister can't talk. Instead of words, what comes out of his mouth next is projectile vomit. In a spray more violent than a New Year's Eve fireworks display, the contents of Lister's stomach splatter Ackerman, Ferona, and even Rimmer. Bits of predigested meal cover the front of Lister's own jumpsuit. It's like the food fight earlier, but worse, since this food has already been eaten.
To top it off, Lister lets out a long, loud belch.
Kochanski's forty metres away and even she hears the burp. Tears of laughter are rolling down her cheeks as she giggles hysterically, one fist stuffed in her mouth to stifle the sound. The skutters are applauding her -- either her, or Lister for chucking on Rimmer -- and she bows to them before falling back into hysterics.
The next morning sees silence at the Dwarfers' table. Cat and Kill Crazy are watching Kochanski, wide-eyed. The Cat keeps snorting with repressed laughter.
Lister and Rimmer sit in dead silence, eyes on their plates, trying to ignore Kochanski's steady gaze. Kochanski, in turn, is trying to ignore the blatant evil look Kryten is giving her. He knows she did something to his precious Mr Lister, but he doesn't know exactly what.
Finally Lister has to ask.
'Okay Kris, what exactly did you do?'
And Kochanski, knowing he already knows she did it, says innocently, 'When, Dave?'
'Come on, Bud-Babe,' the Cat breaks in, 'tell us what you did to Monkey-Boy.' Kill Crazy nods in agreement, and Kochanski can't help but spill her guts -- whoops, bad choice of phrase. She tells them how she added the sprouts to the vindaloo, and how she smashed up the poppadoms and dunked one in the cleaner's sink.
'But he got sick worse than just sprout-sick, I've seen it before and this was worse,' Rimmer says, unconsciously rubbing the front of his jumpsuit as if expecting to find bits of Lister's leftovers still lodged there. 'Come on Kris, what was it?'
Kochanski gets up and tosses a Baggie on the table in front of them. Then she heads over to Kerry Shayne's table. Soon she, Shayne and her friends are giggling away and throwing glances at the guys, who stare down, amazed, at the empty bottle of a well-known emetic and the syringe that was used to add the contents of that bottle into Lister's lager.
Rimmer breaks the silence.
'Guess she got you this time, Listy.'
Lister glares at him for a second, then opens his mouth and belches in Rimmer's face. Early-morning breath nearly knocks the Second Technician out. Within seconds he's trying to stab Lister to death with his fork. The Cat and Kill Crazy are laughing, and Kryten is flustering around trying to stop Rimmer from killing Lister.
Life is back to normal on Floor 13.
Chapter 3: Impossible Complications
It's a couple of days after the food fight, and Kochanski is back to her normal parole routine; today she's folding sheets in the warm laundry room and listening to the chatter around her. Kryten is studiously ignoring her, an easy task since he's stationed across the room at one of the giant industrial washing machines, watching sheets spin.
Beside Kochanski, Kerry Shayne is stacking the folded sheets into basket after basket, which trundle away towards the giant linen supply closet on a small train track of sorts which circles the room. The redhead doesn't work silently like Kochanski is: she yells to her friends, laughs and jokes.
'Hey, Kochanski, lighten up, hunh?' Shayne grins. 'Whassa matter?'
'Nothing,' Kochanski answers, started out of her unconscious reverie. She wasn't aware she was staring into space. 'I was just off in dreamland, I guess.' She tucks in a stray sheet corner and pushes the stack along the bench to Shayne. Shayne turns away for a minute to stack the sheets in the cart, and Kochanski keeps folding.
'So why do ya hang out with that Lister guy, anyway?' Shayne asks.
'Don't you know the story?'
'I heard some story about you and him stealing a Starbug, and about a bunch of nanobots or somethin' fixin' the whole ship,' Shayne says, 'and you an' him an' Kryten an' that Cat guy were all involved.'
'Yeah. And I came from another dimension before I ever met them. One where everyone else was dead, too. The story is that three million years ago all the crew on Red Dwarf died, except Dave, who was in stasis. I was in stasis in my dimension, and that's why I was alive. It goes on and on, Shayne, I assume you know the rest?'
'I do, actually,' Shayne says.
Fold, fold, stack, stack.
'So, are you and Dave together?' Shayne asks.
'He likes me, but I'm not too sure about him... he's such a mess,' Kochanski says.
'Oh. Uh-huh. Mmm.' Shayne seems uncertain which grunt to use today.
The prison P.A. system, playing rock music from the late twentieth century, is interrupted by a call for 'Dave Lister to Warden Ackerman's office, please'. Then the Offspring's 'Gone Away' resumes playing.
Kochanski listens to the words and finds them vaguely reminding her of her Dave, although he's not dead. But he might as well be, as far as Kochanski is concerned, since he is in another dimension. She wonders what he is doing without her. Maybe he's picked up another version of her from yet another dimension, and they're having a wonderful relationship without her. Fine. Great.
'Kochanski?' A hand touches her arm.
Kochanski recoils before she realises it's just Shayne. 'What?'
'Are ya OK? Kris, you're not, you're crying.' Before Kochanski can do anything, Shayne turns around and yells, 'Ladies!' The girls all leave their workstations -- not Kryten -- and swarm around Kochanski and Shayne. Kochanski has time to see the sympathy and caring on each face before they come closer still and she is enveloped in a group hug.
'Kris, whassa matter?' Shayne asks gently. 'It's okay, you can tell us, we're not gonna bite.' And before Kochanski knows it the whole story - her Dave, the dreadful time she had on Starbug, everything - comes flooding out along with a bucketload of tears. Before she's finished there's a couple of others crying in sympathy. Shayne keeps an arm around her shoulders the whole time, even after the others have backed away to give her space.
'Here you go, Krissie,' a quiet voice offers. It's Jodie Vaughan, or JayVee as she is known, Shayne's distinctly more sedate roommate, and she's offering Kleenex. Kochanski accepts and blows her nose, then uses a fresh tissue to swipe at her eyes. Tears slick the soft skin of her eyelids, roughening it when she scrubs them away. Ouch.
'You gonna be okay, Kris?' another voice asks.
'Yeah, Kochanski, you ready to get back to work?'
'Yeah, I'll be fine. Thanks, everyone.' Kochanski manages a watery smile and throws the balled-up Kleenex overhand into a bin as the rest of the girls start making their way back to their workstations. Shayne gives Kochanski one last squeeze before letting her go and stepping back to her place.
'Come on Kris, let's fold some sheets, hunh?'
By five that afternoon everyone's back in their cells, unenthusiastically passing time in their various ways before suppertime rolls around. Kryten is vacuuming under the bunks. Kochanski is reading, flat on her back on her bunk. She hates sleeping on the top bunk -- she has a mild fear of heights -- but the bunks simply won't support Kryten's weight. They did try, the first day they were here, and Kochanski subsequently had to sleep on the floor for two nights until a replacement bunk could be found - Kryten's weight having broken it.
She doesn't know why he has to sleep in a damn bunk, anyway -- he only has to stand in the corner to recharge, and he can go into downtime at a whim. Stupid metal git. Kochanski comes in here completely stuffed some nights, and he's there with his stupid chatter and his attempts at making conversation -- doesn't he realise that half the reason she's so short with him at times is because her brain's completely scrambled?
'Ma'am, what are you reading now?' Kryten chirps at that moment.
She debates telling him The Guide To Dismantling Manic Mechanoids and settles for flipping the book round so he can see the cover, same as she always does.
'Douglas Adams... ah yes, the science fiction writer, twentieth century. Seems to be quite the day for that, with the music and everything, isn't it?'
'Yeah, Kryte, it is,' Kochanski says. She can practically hear his mind ticking over, trying to think of more light conversation. Fortunately she's saved by someone knocking on the glass bit of the cell door, and when she sits up she sees Shayne and JayVee pressed up against the glass.
'Um, see you later Kryte,' Kochanski says as the duo beckon her. She dives off the bunk for the door, barely into the corridor when she distinctly hears Kryten's undisguised sigh of relief. What the hell, she'll sort him out later.
'Come into our cell, Krissie?' JayVee offers. 'We've got a TV!'
'Where'd you get that from?' Kochanski asks.
'Does it matter? We've got a movie, some of the girls are coming round to watch too... wherever they are... come on, Kris, before the guards come along and start hassling us.' Kochanski follows JayVee to her and Shayne's cell, three cells away, while Shayne heads the other way to rout out someone else to come and watch the movie as well.
The screening selection is Kalifornia, with Brad Pitt and David Duchovny. After a few initial squabbles over seating, food, and who out of Brad and David is better looking (David wins by a hair), the girls settle down to watch the movie.
When the movie is over, Shayne stretches, gets up, and heads to the VCR to rewind the tape. One of the guards wandered past once, but turned a blind eye to the whole cell - Kochanski wonders if Shayne is somehow paying them off. Although with Shayne's reputation for fighting with the guards, it's more likely that the guard is just scared of her.
'Next question, ladies,' JayVee says as if the David vs. Brad discussion was five seconds instead of nearly two hours ago, 'We did David against Brad, so what about the girls: Michelle Forbes or Juliette Lewis? I'll go Michelle.'
'Jules, all the way!'
'Juliette,' says Shayne. 'Kris, who'd you pick?'
'Um, okay, Juliette,' Kochanski says a little uncertainly. Are they serious?
'More, more,' JayVee says.
'Captain Hollister or First Officer Todhunter?' asks Trisha, a wild girl with her hair in blue gelled spikes.
Maybe they're not serious.
'Hollister!' Kochanski says before anyone else can. There's a heartbeat when she's not sure if they'll get it or not, then the other six girls are in hysterics.
'Nice one, Krissie,' JayVee gasps.
Kochanski pretends surprise. 'What? I was serious!' she barely manages to say before her self-control slips and she starts laughing just as loud as the others.
'I think Todhunter's gay,' Shayne says.
'Oh, I wouldn't be so sure. He's slept around,' says Trisha's roommate, Abigail. Like Trisha, her hair is spiked, but instead of blue it is mauve, with gold sequins scattered through it. Abby shakes her head. 'But that doesn't mean anything.'
'No, it doesn't,' Shayne agrees.
Trisha and Abby get up. 'We've got to get back, we're on the first supper shift,' Trisha says.
'Oh, okay,' JayVee says. 'Just leave us. Be that way.' She mock-pouts, then starts giggling. Abby and Trisha take off through the doorway. The other two girls, Tracey and Sophie, offer to hide the TV in 'the usual place', which is apparently in a supply closet near their cell. They vanish with their burden just before one of the guards comes to the cell door.
'Kochanski, are you supposed to be in here?' she asks.
'Yeah, she is,' Shayne says before Kochanski, blushing, can stammer an answer. She goes to the guard and says something so soft that neither Kochanski or JayVee hear it, then something, probably money, changes hands so fast Kochanski barely catches the flicker of movement from hand to hand. The guard, appeased, leaves. Shayne comes back over and perches on the edge of the bunk between Kochanski and JayVee.
'She's not gonna bother you no more,' she says. 'She's okay once you get to know her.'
'Yeah, but how well do you know her, Shayne?' JayVee cracks. Shayne punches her lightly on the arm and they both giggle. Kochanski watches, mystified.
'Don' worry, Kris, it's okay. So, girls, where were we at? Hollister or Todhunter?' Shayne asks.
'Neither,' Kochanski and JayVee say in unison.
'Scuzz,' JayVee adds.
'Would you know?' Shayne asks.
'Abby would,' JayVee says. 'She's the one who's been with him.'
'Poor Abby,' Kochanski says.
'Well, then... Lister or Rimmer?' Shayne continues.
'Lister,' Kochanski says, looking at her feet. She feels an arm go around her shoulders.
'It's okay, Krissie, Dave's not too bad. I've spoken to him once or twice in the mess hall. Word has it that he really likes you,' JayVee says.
'Yeah, but a) I'm not sure if I like him and b) I said him because Rimmer's just not an alternative,' Kochanski explains.
'Really? I'd pick him, myself,' JayVee says. 'I know him from Io House, where we went to school together. He used to get a lot of crap hung on him, figuratively speaking, and I always kinda felt sorry for him.'
'Well, he's free,' Kochanski says, 'unless there's something I don't know about.'
'Um-hum,' JayVee says thoughtfully. 'I guess it wouldn't hurt to try.'
'Trust me,' Kochanski says semi-confidently, 'the only thing you'd need to worry about would be him passing out from shock that anyone actually liked him.' The trio share a laugh, and JayVee flicks a hand through her light brown hair, grinning.
'What about us, Kris? If you were... you know, gay, who'd ya pick, me or JayVee?' Shayne asks.
Kochanski looks from one to the other, from Shayne's auburn hair to JayVee's almost blonde locks, from Shayne's half-serious, half-smiling blue eyes to JayVee's slightly puzzled violet, from Shayne's slight build to JayVee's lanky form.
'Don't put this on me, Shayne, it's too late at night,' she says with a laugh. Shayne smiles and nods and JayVee applauds.
'She knows where it's at,' she tells Shayne.
But as Kochanski walks back, alone, towards her cell, she's not so sure that she does.
Chapter 4: Impossible Dreams
'Lights out!' Warden Ackerman's voice echoes through the prison as the bright fluorescent lights clang off one by one with a sound that reminds Rimmer of the time he saw 'The Shawshank Redemption' one lonely afternoon down at the cinema on G deck.
There is a rattling noise from the upper bunk as Lister rolls over -- he has been asleep for about twenty minutes, having gone to bed complaining of a stomach ache. Bob the skutter has dropped by with an antacid, and Lister has taken it, but said he doesn't think it was doing him much good. Then he collapsed onto the bunk in his boxers and T-shirt and started snoring.
Rimmer sits on his bunk, staring into the half-darkness -- for Lights Out in the Brig never means what the name implies. There is always the glowing ends of the inmate's cigarettes, and the faint glow from the hallway that leads to the women's quarters, where Kochanski and Kryten are holed up. The Cat is two cells away, in a cell he shares with Kill Crazy, the red-haired homicidal maniac.
When his eyes have adjusted enough, Rimmer gets up and stands for a moment before going to the cell bars and looking out. From somewhere further down the row he can hear someone call out to Baxter, and Baxter's gruff reply of 'Shut up!' The Cat and Kill Crazy are quietly discussing women, and their complete inexperience in that field.
Looking back into his own cell, Rimmer can see Lister now. The younger man lies sprawled out on his back, mouth hanging open. He isn't snoring, though, and in a sudden panic Rimmer crosses the floor and leans closer to Lister, holding his own breath in order to hear his. Finally the soft inhale-exhale of Lister's deep sleep is audible, and Rimmer breaths a sigh of relief before reaching to the foot of the bunk and pulling Lister's blanket over him. Lister sighs and rolls onto his side, one thumb going into his mouth, and Rimmer half-smiles. Lister is so innocent.
Rimmer watches him a moment longer, once, tentatively, reaching out to touch one of the long matted dreadlocks that fall across the pillow in a wild spiderweb. Lister sighs but doesn't wake up. Rimmer nods to himself and goes back to his silent vigil at the cell door, expecting another sleepless night. He never lies down on his bunk until every other inmate is asleep -- an odd habit, but it was born of never being able to fall asleep before he was sure his brothers were already asleep, because they liked to do nasty things to him at night, such as tipping honey in his already unruly brown hair, or sticky taping his eyelids closed so he thought he'd gone blind. This is just the same paranoia, only on a bigger scale.
Finally the last small light, that of a glowing cigarette tip in the cell of one of Baxter's cronies, goes out. Rimmer smiles, satisfied, and turns to go to bed.
That is when he hears the low cry.
'Lister?' Rimmer questions in a whisper.
'Rimmer?' There are two soft thuds as Lister's feet hit the floor, and he holds his arms out in a gesture of supplication and helplessness. His eyes haven't adjusted like Rimmer's had, and he is virtually blind. Rimmer moves to catch his arms and help him sit down on the lower bunk. Even with his own night-vision better than that of Lister's, one hand misses and brushes against Lister's cheek.
It is wet.
Lister has been crying.
'Lister, what's the matter?' Rimmer asks gently, sitting down beside his friend.
'Nuttnn,' Lister mutters, although 'Nothing' is clearly not the answer Rimmer wants.
'I... I was dreamin' again,' Lister says.
'What about?' Rimmer asks.
'About Kris. About how she's buh-back, and I still haven't guh-got her, when I love her so muh-much,' Lister sniffles. But quietly. The dead, one AM silence from the rest of the prison is enough to warn him that talking loudly would be a bad move.
'Oh, Lister,' Rimmer says, realising how ridiculous it sounds.
'Sorry to wake you. Did I wake you?' Lister asks, making a move to get up. Rimmer, unthinking, slips an arm around him to stop him. Lister tenses, then in a change of attitude maybe even stranger, relaxes and even allows himself to lean against Rimmer a little.
'No, you didn't wake me. I was awake already,' Rimmer says.
And Rimmer finds himself pouring out the tale he has not told Lister thus far. Beginning with a brief mention of his brothers' childhood torments, but moving swiftly to their first day in the prison. When Lister, not really knowing the ultimate effect it would have, had sprinkled a whole tube of the Sexual Magnetism virus over Rimmer's shoulder when he was surrounded by the meanest, biggest, and toughest inmate intake in the history of the Brig.
Rimmer had been heartstoppingly close to being gang-raped by about five of the inmates -- who, since they had been attracted by the virus, were presumably all homosexual - when Warden Ackerman had stepped in. Along with his heavies, he beat the other inmates back off Rimmer. Lister, Kochanski, Cat and Kryten had already left with most of the others, that was why they had no idea.
Ackerman, though he normally seemed to be pretty strange himself, was unaffected by the virus. His intervention had saved Rimmer from one of the greatest indignities ever -- sadly one of the most common in prison, where months without a woman might turn the most heterosexual male's tastes to a different direction. Rimmer had stammered a thank you, but Ackerman merely stared him down, then spat in his face and swung his nightstick, knocking Rimmer out. When he'd come around he was in the cell, lying on the bunk they were currently sitting on.
When Rimmer has finished his tale, he feels Lister's arm go around his waist and sees Lister's dark brown eyes, filled with concern, turn to meet his own hazel ones. Whatever apology Lister might have made for the virus incident is quickly lost in the sound of Rimmer's own racing heartbeat.
'I...' Lister starts.
'I don't want your apologies,' Rimmer says. They are so close, faces bare inches apart, and Lister's arm suddenly tightens around Rimmer's waist as he realises the fact.
'Rimmer, what...' Lister says anyway. Rimmer lifts his other hand, and cuts off Lister's wide-eyed query by placing his finger across the younger man's lips.
'Do you want to wake everyone up?' he hisses fiercely.
'Mmno,' comes the reply. Rimmer grins and releases him. Lister's arm draws back, and he looks at it with his developing night vision, a disbelieving look on his face, as if wondering why it had decided to hug Rimmer.
'Rimmer, you're not...'
'No, I'm not.' Rimmer shakes his head and his breathing roughens slightly. 'But don't you ever get curious?'
Lister gets the picture quickly. Very quickly. His chocolate eyes widen, look deep into Rimmer's hazel eyes as they lean in towards each other, warm breath pluming in the chill air, before their eyes close.
The kiss itself is slightly rushed. The pair hold it for bare seconds before falling back, eyes opening, staring at each other in a kind of amazement. Then Rimmer opens his arms, and Lister comes to lean against him, head on Rimmer's pyjamaed chest, listening to his heartbeat as they lie back on the bunk and fall asleep, wrapped in each other's arms.
Rimmer wakes up, sitting upright with a sudden jerk that bangs his head painfully on the bars. He is still sitting in the metal chair he has apparently fallen asleep in, facing out into the long corridor that lines the walls of Floor 13 -- Red Dwarf's notorious Brig.
'Oh God, Oh God, what a nightmare!' he groans, standing up and padding over to the toilet. He hears Lister stirring on the top bunk, muttering something in his sleep.
A few minutes later, Lister's eyes open. Rimmer is dressed, wearing the standard purple jumpsuit that is regulation clothing for the prison inmates. He is sitting at the table, apparently engaged in a game of checkers against himself.
'Rimmer, what're you doing up so early?' Lister murmurs, checking his watch. 'It's only five-thirty, we've still got another hour.'
'I couldn't sleep, I had a bad dream,' Rimmer says.
'Yeah?' Lister drags himself out of the bunk and over to the toilet. His back turned to Rimmer, he continues talking. 'What was it about?'
'I can't tell you, it'd scare you too,' Rimmer says darkly.
'Don't be so sure. I've had a few nightmares in my time that'd make your hair straight,' Lister says with a laugh. He finishes up and turns around, buttoning his fly, and catches the serious expression on Rimmer's face. He crosses the room and sits down facing his cellmate. 'Come on, if it's that bad, maybe you should get it out.'
Haltingly Rimmer begins to speak, first barely outlining the dream, then at Lister's motioned insistence, filling in the details. He even tells Lister the part about the virus and the other inmates, and Lister sucks in a quick breath when he realises the implications of what had almost happened.
When Rimmer has finished his story, Lister is silent for a long moment. But just when Rimmer thinks he will not be able to respond, Lister clears his throat.
'Y'know, I had a dream like that,' he says hesitantly.
Rimmer represses a scornful snort. 'You? You're just making it up to make me feel better,' he says.
Lister shakes his head. 'I'm not,' he says. And without any further denial he plunges into his own story: the story of his dream, when the other Rimmer - who had left to become the new Ace Rimmer -- had supposedly returned to Starbug. When Lister had welcomed his return -- with a kiss.
'I don't think you're making it up any more,' Rimmer admits when Lister has finished. They look at each other, across the table, and for a second the air is filled with uncertainty and a strange kind of tension.
Suddenly the sound of the morning reveille disturbs the air. Ackerman's voice rings out over the loudspeakers, exhorting the prisoners to rise and get dressed. Lister tears his eyes from Rimmer's and dives for his uniform, and the moment is lost.
They have a Canary mission that afternoon -- a trip to a derelict Space Corps vessel, with weak life-signs emitting from the rear. Lister is quite gung-ho about it, having realised that most Canary missions are no harder than the salvaging he and the crew have done before the nanobots rebuilt Red Dwarf. He leads the way onto the ship, yelling, 'Come on, let's investigate these cosmic ship farts!' and making most of the Canaries laugh.
Rimmer mooches along at the back of the group, silent, thinking his own thoughts. Cat and Kill Crazy are in front of him. Lister and Kochanski lead the group, and Kryten and the others are somewhere in the middle. Cat spares a glance back over his shoulder.
'Hey, Bud, what's the matter?' he inquires.
'Nothing,' Rimmer says, startled. The Cat looks at him keenly for a moment, then turns back to Kill Crazy and starts discussing the rumoured upcoming suicide mission. Then from the lead Kochanski calls something back, and as one the group start to run.
They find out what the life-signs were coming from, all right. The Polymorph, apparently, had several relatives, and this is a smaller -- if no less aggressive - version. Kochanski becomes the hero of the day when she bravely baits it, then just as it reaches out a sucker to steal an emotion from her, shoots it with a tranquilliser dart.
Kryten and Lister between them manage to manhandle the slimy, five-foot-tall beast into the Canary's transport ship to take back for the Science Department to study. Rimmer sits closest to it, gazing morosely at the monster's snoring face. Another case of humankind royally cocking it up.
About halfway back to Red Dwarf, the Polymorph begins to stir. Rimmer automatically takes a needle from the Canary backpack he holds and reaches through the bars of its cage to inject it with a sedative.
At the other end of the seat, Lister and Kochanski face each other and talk. Rimmer can hear some of the words: they fit into a sort of messy, jigsaw-puzzle discussion of the mission.
And Rimmer just sits and thinks about his dream.
The Canary table at dinner that night is crowded. Rimmer picks at his food and speaks to noone.
'Rimmer?' Lister asks in a quiet voice.
'Can we talk?'
Rimmer gets up without looking at Lister, who is lying on his side; head propped in one hand in a too-familiar attitude. 'Wait.' He drags his chair to the bars and sits down, looking out at the dying lights of the prison.
Lister watches him, seeing the way Rimmer slumps forward, elbows on knees and head in hands, shoulders rounded. Seeing the rough silhouette of Rimmer's unruly hair outlined against the bars. For a second he considers making a joke about it being a Kodak moment. But then he thinks of what Rimmer must be thinking about, and doesn't.
Finally the last light winks out as someone's cigarette is extinguished. There is a sudden wild laugh from somewhere, and a chorus of 'Sssh'es. The laugh is not repeated, but echoes madly in both Lister and Rimmer's heads as slowly Rimmer turns back to face Lister.
Carpe noctem -- seize the night.
'What do you want to talk about?' Rimmer asks, keeping his tone neutral.
Lister's voice is low as he drops from his bunk and leans against the pipe he uses to communicate with the skutters. 'You know.'
'There's nothing to talk about. I told you my dream, you told me yours. There's nothing more to say,' Rimmer says, looking straight at Lister for a moment. Then he crosses the room and lies down on his bunk. All Lister can see of him now is his tight white T-Shirt and his boxers, which is all the inmates ever sleep in. This is the major discrepancy in Rimmer's dream, the one he clings to, to prove to himself that it hasn't been real.
'So, what? You're just going to leave it there?' Lister's voice rises on the last few words, and someone yells, 'Shut up!' from another cell. Lister makes a rude gesture in the general direction of the voice, and Rimmer pulls his blanket up and over his head. Now Lister can't see him at all.
'Great,' Lister says sarcastically. Rimmer hears the creaking and feels the bunk shake a little as Lister swings himself up into his bed. 'Have a great sleep. Don't dream.'
He doesn't seem to hear Rimmer's response, 'You either.'
They wake up at exactly the same time, letting out yells that, while loud, miraculously don't wake any of the other prisoners on the block. Lister leaps from the top bunk, Rimmer scrambles from the lower one, and they race to press themselves into the very corners of the room, as far away from each other as possible. Lister winds up in the shower, and peeks nervously around the corner of the thin plastic curtain, one brown eye bulging in a way that is almost comical.
'Did you -- I dreamt -- we were...' they both say at the same time, speaking over each other. Rimmer recovers first.
'It must be food poisoning, or something. I never dreamt this kind of stuff before I came to the Brig. Never. Hell, I barely even dreamt about women this way!' he says in a harsh whisper.
'I just don't see why I'd keep dreaming about it,' says Lister from behind the shower curtain. 'I mean it's not the kind of thing I think about, so why would I dream about it?'
'When we dream we are experiencing reality. What separates our dream feelings from our waking ones?' Rimmer says under his breath. Lister hears him anyway, and raises an eyebrow -- even in the darkness Rimmer sees it, and Lister sees Rimmer blush. 'I mean, that's just a quote I heard somewhere...'
'Yeah. I just don't see... I mean, ya don't normally think about other guys...' Lister says.
'I don't know, Listy, some people do,' Rimmer says dryly, and their shared laughter seems to clear the air. Lister crawls back out of the shower and Rimmer comes out from behind the table. They both move to go back to their beds.
If only Lister wasn't such a troublemaker...
'Well, goodnight Rimsy,' he says cheerily, planting what is intended to be a quick, joking kiss on Rimmer's cheek. The smooth texture of Rimmer's warm skin under his lips makes him hold it half a second longer, and when he does pull back, Rimmer is staring at him with surprise.
'What did you do that for?'
Lister falters. 'Um, just a joke...' he says lamely.
Rimmer smiles. Leaning forward, he almost daintily brushes his lips against Lister's cheek, feeling the rough stubble there -- Lister hasn't shaved for two days. 'Night, smeghead.' He brushes past Lister and curls up on his bunk on his side, facing out into the cell.
Lister doesn't move.
After a minute Rimmer sighs and says, 'What's the matter now?'
'I... don't know,' Lister says in an almost wondering tone. He sits on the edge of Rimmer's bunk, and when he speaks again his tone has turned to uncertainty. 'Everything's turned strange.'
Rimmer sits up and slides his arms around Lister's waist from behind, holding him in a comforting hug. They lie down together, Rimmer's chest against Lister's back, snuggled together unselfconsciously. Lister rests his head on Rimmer's upper arm and closes his eyes. Soon his breathing evens out: he has fallen asleep.
And Rimmer sleeps, dreamlessly.
Chapter 5: Impossible Explanations
It is five in the morning. Nobody sane is awake. Rimmer awakens first, and for a panicked moment can't remember where he is, or who is curled up against him in the narrow prison bunk. Then when he sees it is Lister, he spends another moment trying to remember why Lister is in bed with him.
Oh, yeah. They have both had those weird dreams. And instead of that being a deterrent, Lister has been freaked enough by his to come and sleep in Rimmer's bunk, curled up with his cellmate for comfort. It seems to have worked for him alright: he is still sound asleep, and not even snoring.
Rimmer's left arm is trapped under Lister's head, and his right hand rests lightly on Lister's right hip. Rimmer manages to raise himself enough to see Lister's sleeping face anyway. Lister's left thumb is trailing out of his mouth, and his right hand is tucked up against his chest. His eyes are closed, lashes making coal-black half-circles on his golden brown skin. Rimmer smiles to himself, then stops.
He hasn't just thought... no. No way. This is just a comfort thing, nothing more.
And at this moment, Lister opens his eyes, blinking sleepily. Fortunately for him he doesn't have the same moment of disorientation that Rimmer has had. Instead he just grins up at Rimmer, takes his thumb out of his mouth, and asks casually, nodding towards Rimmer's right hand, 'Where's that going?'
Rimmer growls deep in the back of his throat and raises his right hand to mock-throttle Lister, with a quiet laugh. Lister tries to defend himself and rolls onto his back, left hand inadvertently brushing against the front of Rimmer's boxer shorts. Rimmer jumps. Lister jumps more.
'I know. Shut up.' Rimmer blushes.
'It's okay,' Lister says after a moment's consideration. He reaches up, slides one hand around the back of Rimmer's neck, and draws him closer. There is a half-second's pause as they look deeply into each other's eyes, then the eyes close and mouths open, pressing together, tongues darting.
Rimmer kisses -- when he does kiss anyone - coolly, trying to hide his extreme emotions, which generally results in his coming across as remote and frigid. He's not. He's just restrained. On the other hand, Lister kisses like every kiss is his last, and he's got to make the most of it. His tongue darts, dives, runs along Rimmer's teeth, slicks along the side of Rimmer's own tongue before running along the inside of Rimmer's lower lip. From Rimmer's sharp intake of breath, hissing in his nostrils, Lister realises he's hit a sensitive spot, and repeats the manoeuvre, getting the same response. Rimmer pulls back abruptly.
Lister grins. 'Gotcha.'
Rimmer groans. 'What I could do with that...' He suddenly makes a dive and starts tickling Lister under the arms. He can't remember when he heard Lister hated that, but it pays off now: Lister squirms and starts laughing uncontrollably. Rimmer has that sneaky sly smile on his face, and his hazel eyes dance with some strange combination of emotions - happiness, humour, and yes, even lust. And Lister sees this.
And it doesn't make him draw back.
Instead, he hooks an arm around Rimmer's waist, pulling him over so he is stretched out on top of Lister. Now Rimmer can feel the heat in Lister's own groin, and the hardness, and reaches a tentative hand down to run a finger along the outside of Lister's boxers. Lister moans, then covers his own mouth. The slightly stunned expression in his eyes starts Rimmer giggling. And the more he tries to stop, the more he can't. Finally he rolls away again to face the wall until his laughter subsides.
'Nice one,' Lister says in a sarcastic tone, before reaching over Rimmer's body and drawing a line from the hollow at the base of his throat straight down the middle of his chest... and not stopping. It's Rimmer's turn to gasp and jump, and Lister's turn to laugh. Rimmer rolls back over and they kiss again, this time Rimmer is less shy and gives as good as he gets... and it is good.
Rimmer's hand is cold as it slides up under the T-shirt Lister has worn to bed, and Lister sighs and his eyes close when one of Rimmer's exploring fingers touches his left nipple, making it pebble up. Then Rimmer's hand is gone, and Lister's eyes open again, but only to see Rimmer urging him to sit up, pulling on the shirt. Rimmer doesn't speak, but the look in his eyes give no lie to what he wants, and Lister hastily sits up, letting Rimmer pull the shirt up over his shoulders and off. Then Lister does the same for Rimmer, and they lie back down, transfixed by each other.
Lister's chest is dotted with sparse hairs, dark as the ones on his head, but Rimmer's is perfectly smooth except for his nipples, which harden as Lister flicks a fingertip over them. They are a light brown colour, where Lister's are dark. Lister ducks his head and briefly runs the tip of his tongue over Rimmer's right nipple and his cellmate gasps and draws back.
Suddenly Rimmer brings one of his own hands up, fisted, and bites down on his knuckles. A wise move, since Lister can hear the sounds his cellmate is trying not to make. Sounds that would alert everyone on the ship to what is going on.
'Please, don't,' Lister hears Rimmer say past the hand.
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' Lister quits it. He realises just how hard he's been pressing against his cellmate when Rimmer backs off a little.
'No, it's okay... I just...' Rimmer can't, apparently, get control over his mouth. Whoops, bad choice of thought there, Lister thinks, looking at that very tempting mouth. Moving to kiss Rimmer again, he rubs against his cellmate and Rimmer nearly chokes. A little rill of blood trickles down between his fingers.
'Sorry,' Lister whispers again.
'It's okay. C'mere.' Rimmer lets Lister curl up into his arms. The comfort of having a warm body to hug and to hold sends them slowly back into dreamland.
They miss the morning reveille. Nobody notices - they are, after all, currently on probation, and so could be off doing their respective jobs. Kryten and Kochanski and the Cat finally realise at seven o'clock, when their breakfast shift comes on and Rimmer and Lister are missing.
It falls to Kochanski to come and find them, and she opens the cell with her palm-print ID before realising that the two are curled up in the same bunk. Her mind races furiously, trying to find a logical explanation that isn't the most obvious. It fails. Miserably.
Lister hears the door open subconsciously and awakens, but doesn't register Kochanski's presence. Instead, he leans in to brush a kiss against Rimmer's lips.
'I think we missed reveille. Sweetheart,' he whispers jokingly. Rimmer smiles, then opens his eyes. For a moment they are normal, then they look over Lister's shoulder and see Kochanski, arms folded, watching them, and almost drop out of his head.
'You sure did,' she says. Lister's face is a study in comic anguish as he rolls over in Rimmer's arms to see Kochanski regarding him with a mixture of suppressed laughter and utter disgust on her face. She has always prided herself on being tolerant... but this? She bites her lower lip, trying not to laugh at how cute the pair look, sleep-ruffled and blinking.
'Uh... hi, Kris,' Lister says, looking away. Rimmer just gets a grin on and looks from one to the other, then scrambles out of bed and takes his uniform off its hook and ducks behind the shower curtain.
Lister sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed, then leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees.
'What're you doing here?'
'Nothing half so interesting as what you two have been up to, apparently,' Kochanski replies. There is a muffled giggle from behind the shower curtain.
'Shut up, Rimmer,' both Lister and Kochanski say in unison before turning back to one another.
'I won't ask what happened here.'
'I don't want to know what happened here.'
Lister nods again.
The shower starts running. Rimmer's head pops round the side of the plastic curtain and wriggles his eyebrows suggestively at Lister. Kochanski looks around for something to throw up into, and settles for sitting down at the table, where at least if her legs give way she can stay remotely under control. She feels like she's just fallen into a tar pit with a hungry Alsatian.
'Rimmer,' says Lister. 'There is one thing worse than you doing that... if I took you up on it with Kris in the room.'
Rimmer's face vanishes.
Kochanski shakes her head. 'You two are unbelievable. I thought you hated each other... and now this.'
Lister scuffles a foot. 'Welllll...' It lasts half a minute. 'It's not quite as bad as it looks.'
'Like Lister's not quite as bad as he looks,' Rimmer calls.
'You don't know what you're missing out on, Kris.'
'Both of you shut up, or I'm going to tell Baxter on you.' Kochanski realises this sounds incredibly childish, but can't think of a way to take it back. 'Or maybe Yvonne McGruder...'
Rimmer steps out of the shower, pulling his jumpsuit on. Thankfully his lower half is already covered. 'It's all yours Listy.'
'Just a min... oh, hang on...'
Kochanski begins methodically beating her head on the table as Lister vanishes behind the shower curtain. It's Rimmer's turn to perch on the edge of the bunk.
'It's not that big a deal, Kris,' he says.
'Yeah. Really, it doesn't mean anything.'
'Oh, you're breaking my heart, Arn,' Lister calls.
'Keep it down, would you? There are other people on this block,' Kochanski says. Rimmer gets up and walks to the door. He opens his mouth to yell something, then looks back at Kochanski. Lister is peeking round the shower curtain and looks deadset terrified. Rimmer relents and crosses to sit at the table opposite Kochanski.
'I thought you loved me, Dave,' Kochanski says, deciding to proceed as if Rimmer wasn't just about to blow the whole thing. Whoops, bad choice of words, although she still doesn't know -- or want to know - exactly how much went on between these two.
'And wasn't this a lovely way of showing it...'
'Shut up, Rimmer.'
Rimmer gets up and starts pulling the sheets off the lower bunk, stuffing them into one of the laundry bags for collection. They have a minimal storage cupboard, with spare sheets, and now he starts remaking the bed, studiously ignoring Kochanski watching him.
'Chuck us a clean uniform, would you?' Lister asks.
Rimmer brings it to him. Lister pushes aside the curtain the tiniest bit and takes it, the dull sound of water dripping behind him as backing music. Their eyes meet, lock, and then look away, not without some reluctance. Kochanski thumps her head on the table again. And what she wouldn't give for a camera... this would look lovely in the Red Dwarf yearbook.
'You guys aren't going to keep this up, are you?' she asks. Rimmer shoots a glance at the closed shower curtain, and Kochanski would bet anything that, had the thin plastic not been there, his eyes would have met Lister's in a look of uncertainty.
'I don't think so. It was just one of those things,' Rimmer says.
'He's right,' Lister agrees, appearing, fully-dressed.
'Only that I was thinking... if this gets into the prison rumour mill, you're history,' Kochanski says.
'It already did. Back when we first came in. Everyone thought we were doing something slightly abnormal,' Rimmer says.
Oh, what comebacks Kochanski would have to that... she sees Lister biting his lip and hiding a grin too. Rimmer realises what he's just said and snorts laughter.
'Come on, guys. You might still make breakfast. If not, Madge the skutter and I have an arrangement... we can get you something if you miss the shift,' Kochanski says. She gets up and goes to the door first. Lister reaches out and squeezes Rimmer's hand -- just once -- then follows her.
Rimmer follows them out of the cell and switches the light off.
Chapter 6: Impossible Fantasies
Kochanski still can't believe it. She's sitting across from Rimmer at the table, next to Dave, and the two guys are studiously not looking at each other as they spoon up their Cornflakes. Yet she knows... or partly knows... what went on between them last night. Apart from one night stands, this is the least attention she's seen two - lovers, for want of a better word -- pay to each other.
'Pass the sugar, would you Kris?' Lister asks, although it's closer to Rimmer than to her. Kochanski waits a moment, then seeing Rimmer is not going to make a move -- whoops, bad choice of phrase -- she reaches over and gets the sugar and passes it to him. Lister nods a thank you and proceeds to liberally coat his Cornflakes with sugar. Kochanski winces: she's surprised his teeth haven't already rotted out.
Kryten and the Cat, who have no idea what's happened, are also surprised at the pair's silence. Normally Lister and Rimmer would spend the breakfast shift sniping at each other, mainly over Lister's snoring or something equally banal. But they're close-mouthed, brown eyes and hazel eyes fixed firmly on their bowls, messy dreadlocks and short brown curls bent low to avoid each other's gaze.
Apparently something has just sunk in, Kochanski figures. When it's the dead of night, anything can and does happen, especially on prison blocks. But when it's brought into daylight -- or rather, into the harsh fluorescents of the mess hall -- it takes on a new perspective. She looks at them, as they refuse to look at each other, and shakes her head slightly. They haven't exchanged a word since they left the cell, either.
'Are you OK?'
Lister just looks at her, not speaking, just looking kind of incredulous. 'I'm fine.'
Kochanski has had, if not with this Dave then with her own Dave, years of experience at reading his true thoughts from his face and his eyes. But for the first time ever, he is completely closed off, although his chocolate-brown eyes meet her lagoon-blue eyes dead on, almost staring. A slight smile stretches the corners of his mouth as he realises she's trying to read his mind, and he seems to know that she won't succeed.
'Okay, end of shift, come on now, clear up and let the next lot through!' Warden Ackerman's assistant, Warden Ferona, yells. 'Feral' Ferona is a big lump of muscle with not much brain, but Kochanski gets up quickly and moves out: Ferona is smart enough to know which people are lagging. Lister and Rimmer follow her, heads down, not looking at each other.
From seven-thirty to eight-thirty today, all of Floor Thirteen's occupants are slated for cell-cleaning and general duties before the weekly regular cell inspection. Kochanski, knowing that Kryten has a way of liking things to be just so, offers for him to be left alone this week to clean their cell to his specifications, although, privately, one of her week's highlights is squabbling with him over the position of their stuff.
Kryten agrees, pleased but surprised, and Kris hightails it out of the Women's Wing into the Men's Wing -- G Tower, where Rimmer and Lister's cell is.
When she arrives the pair are persistently not speaking to each other. The cell is getting cleaned besides that, though -- Rimmer is head down under the sink, and Lister is making the bunks up again with the neatest 'hospital corners' he can manage.
'Hi guys, how's it going?' Kochanski asks.
She is answered with only a grunt from Lister, and a muffled 'Hi, Kris,' from Rimmer, who waves out of the under-sink cupboard, Ajax in hand. Kochanski is impressed - some of the girls don't even go to this much trouble. But then, a lot of people used to say Rimmer was overly feminine, and they didn't mean it nicely at all. Kochanski tries not to wonder about Rimmer's feminine tendencies in connection with the events of last night, and instead sits down at the table and waits for them to finish up.
They do a couple of minutes later. Dave fluffs his pillow and places it just so at the head of his bed, and Rimmer finishes up under the sink and washes his hands before coming to sit down. When they realise they've sat next to each other, the first eye contact in half an hour is made and Rimmer sort of bobs his head before scooting his chair about a foot away, while Lister moves closer to Kris's side of the table.
Kochanski shakes her head. 'You two, you're going to have to talk to each other some time, or you'll wind up killing each other,' she says.
'Um,' Lister replies.
'Look, Kris, have you ever done anything you were, well, not exactly ashamed of, but confused about?' Rimmer asks.
Kochanski thinks about to her childhood in Cyber-School, then skips a few years to her time as a retro punk, and simply nods her head. Great, their silence is catching.
'Well, I don't know about Lister, but I'm just trying to work out where I stand,' Rimmer says.
'So'm I,' Lister says, daring a quick glance up at his cellmate. Their eyes meet, and Kochanski tries not to sigh as a quick silent communication passes between them. She doesn't know, and doesn't want to know, exactly what happened between them last night, but as Dave's eyes flicker from Rimmer's eyes to his mouth and back again, she's willing to hazard a guess that they at least kissed. And, of course, since she found them in bed together, it probably went at least a little further than that.
'Well, look, if you two aren't going to talk out loud, I'm gonna leave,' she finally says after about a minute. Lister's head jerks guiltily as Kochanski stands up. Somewhere further down the cell block, Ackerman's voice can be heard. 'Ackerman's coming anyway,' Kochanski adds. 'I'll see you two later.' She bends and drops a quick kiss onto Lister's forehead. 'Stay out of trouble.'
As she walks out of the cell, she only just hears Rimmer's murmur of, 'Keep your hands off my man.'
Lister stares at Rimmer after Kochanski is gone - he has heard Rimmer's murmur loud and clear. 'Rimmer, what are you playing at?'
Rimmer looks at him through half-lidded eyes, the expression that can be innocent or like a cobra poised to attack. At the moment it's innocent. 'I'm not playing at anything, Listy -- just having a little joke.'
'Come on, man, you know where 'little jokes' get us.'
'That was your fault last time, don't blame me,' Rimmer says determinedly, recalling Lister's joking kiss on the cheek that got them into bed together in the first place, before anything even happened.
'Don't you blame me! It's not my fault I was tempted by you,' Lister says. When Rimmer looks strangely at him he adds, 'Just a little joke.' He crosses the cell and climbs up onto his bunk, lying on his side, watching Rimmer. Rimmer ignores him, going to lie on his own bunk and look up at the underside of Lister's mattress.
'Hey, I can afford to joke around a little,' Lister says defensively.
'Did I condemn you?'
'Well, sort of...'
Rimmer would reply to this, but the cell door slides open and Warden Ackerman steps through, announcing 'Inspection!' and practically rubbing his hands together in glee.
They still have three-quarters of an hour before the doors will respond to their palm-print IDs and open. Rimmer stands by the door, on his toes to look out of the barred window. The rest of the bars, where for ages he had kept his midnight vigil, are covered now: a new Sheetrock wall has been added this morning by some group of techs after complaints of the cold. Sure, jails are meant to be below average conditions, but when people started getting sick from the draughts some notice had to be taken.
'I hate him,' Lister says.
'The whole damn floor does. It's not just you,' Rimmer replies, crossing the room to lean against the bunks, looking at Lister. He is just tall enough that, as Lister lies down and he stands, their faces are on a level. 'So are you OK?'
'I said, I don't know where I stand,' Lister says, with just a hint of an edge of warning in his tone.
Rimmer looks into his eyes, decides he's telling the truth, and nods slowly. Then he gets back onto his own bunk and lies down, facing the wall, eyes closed.
'Are you OK?' Lister asks after a moment. Rimmer doesn't hear. Rimmer's mind is miles away.
Well, time-wise, at least: as far as places go he's right here in this bunk, just a couple of hours earlier, when he wasn't the only one lying here. When Lister was with him.
'Dave,' he whispers under his breath. On the upper bunk, Lister hears the sound but not the word, yet he rolls over and looks over the side, alert, curious.
'Rimmer? You say something?'
Lister drops to the floor, one ankle giving under his weight, twisting his mouth in pain as he rubs it, sitting on the edge of Rimmer's bunk. When he has fixed it he turns to face his cellmate, an inquiring look in his dark-chocolate, meltingly irresistible eyes. No spoken word, just that unspoken question, which fades as soon as Rimmer reaches out for him.
They relive the previous night, kissing, touching, and exploring... and more. Exploring the bodies that are normally hidden under uniforms, jumpsuits, or shabby leather jackets. The bodies that, over the space of a few hours, have become the most fascinating ones on the entire ship. Stripped naked not only of their clothing but of their defence systems, their souls laid bare to be wondered over.
This is all so new to them, and yet is something from before the dawn of time. And neither of them wants it to stop. They're just fortunate that during inspection times the cells are mandatorily privacy-activated, with the comm-screens closed down and the cell bars covered over. Had they been open, nobody on the floor would've missed the sounds they make in the taking of their pleasure.
Rimmer sits up, his eyes springing open wide, until he realises he's just been dreaming. Or daydreaming. Or whatever. A little voice in the back of his head reminds him that that particular sort of daydream is more properly called a fantasy, but Rimmer quells the voice and looks up to see Lister's face, upside-down, watching him over the edge of the bunk.
'Rimmer, man, what's the matter? You look like you've just seen a ghost,' Lister quips. It isn't particularly funny, either.
'Nothing, nothing,' Rimmer says hastily, examining his fingernails. One has a ragged look and a little rivulet of blood pooling over the cuticle: he's been biting it again. And the more he looks at it, the more painful it seems. Mental pain. It's all in his head. The sight of blood does this to him, well, the sight of his blood anyway.
He misses the thud of Lister's feet hitting the floor, but feels the younger man's warm breath on his hand as Lister lifts it up to take a look. With a sly glance at Rimmer's face, which is still looking down - apparently -- Lister raises the hand to his lips and brushes a kiss over the afflicted finger.
Rimmer stands up so fast it's as if he's been shot out of the barrel of a cannon. His eyes meet and lock with Lister's, and they stand deadly still for an indeterminable amount of time, Lister still holding Rimmer's hand.
Lister takes a step forward, dropping Rimmer's hand: but it's the way he looks fleetingly over his shoulder to check that the privacy's on that tells Rimmer what's going on. He waits the seconds that it takes Lister to confirm that they are not being watched, then when the younger man turns back to him, opens his arms to let Lister step forward into his embrace.
They stand there for a minute, unmoving, Lister's head on Rimmer's chest, listening to his heartbeat. The slow, reassuringly regular beat, which as Lister listens, speeds up a little. Rimmer's breathing also speeds up slightly, and Lister grins to himself as he thinks about what's causing it: him.
'I wanted to apologise for getting you into this,' he says.
Rimmer's chest shakes as he laughs silently. 'Don't apologise for something you don't mean to,' he says. 'Believe me, I haven't done anything I didn't want to.' He pauses, and when he speaks again his voice sounds a note more worried. 'I didn't do anything you didn't want me to, did I?'
'What? No! No, I...' Lister isn't sure how to finish the sentence, but Rimmer resolves that for him: with one hand set under Lister's chin he gently raises his face and leans down. The kiss is soft, sweet, almost like the kiss of a teenage couple on their first, uncertain foray into their sexual relationship. Of course, that isn't what these two are: far from it.
They sink down onto Rimmer's bunk, lip-locked for some moments even as they settle themselves. Then Lister draws back and looks down into Rimmer's eyes as he lies stretched out on top of him.
'Krissie'd kill me. If she cared. Does she care?'
'Anyone who really cares about you is not going to kill you, Dave. Now shut up and come here,' Rimmer orders, reaching up, locking his hands around the back of Lister's neck, and pulling him down to melt his mind with another slow, soft kiss.
Lister jerks out of his reverie and looks up into Rimmer's face, dropping his hand as if it's a hot potato. 'Sorry.'
'What for?' There's amusement in the Second Technician's tone.
Lister shakes his head. 'I just went off to la-la land for a second there.' His eyes meet Rimmer's, silently asking: What do I do now? Where do we go from here? I know I'm thinking about you, are you thinking about me?
Rimmer breaks their lock and steps back, raising his wounded hand to his mouth. He can faintly taste Lister's mouth on his finger, and the sense almost sends him tailspinning into another... daydream? Fantasy? Whatever. But he pushes it away and sits down on the edge of his bunk.
After a second, a long second in which he just stands there and looks down at his roommate, Lister climbs the ladder back onto his own bunk.
When Lister was a kid he got shunted around a few foster homes. One of his foster brothers, when Lister was six, used to tease him about the monster under his bed. About how it'd come out and kill him. Lister used to laugh it off: he'd had too rough a life to worry about some fantasy creature.
He lies there flat on his back and thinks about the monster under his bed. It used to be a kid's tale. But the monster's real now.
Except it isn't a monster.
Except it isn't scary.
Except this time, it's a different type of fantasy creature.
Except... it's Rimmer.
Chapter 7: Impossible Games
Rimmer's hand is still bleeding. From the fingernail he just nearly tore off, and as he clenches that hand into a fist, the scab on his knuckle where he'd bitten it that morning opens up. He doesn't want to get up and fix it, though: he'd have to cross the floor to get a towel or something, and then Lister would be able to see him.
A vague memory comes back to him: a story he'd read once when he was in high school. Something... a line. About a woman who'd slept with a man, but never seen his naked body. Well, since Rimmer and Lister have been sharing quarters for a couple of years, they've certainly seen each other.
But not since last night.
An involuntary laugh escapes Rimmer's throat, but dies when he hears his bunkmate roll over on the upper bunk. The sagging mattress bulges in a new place as Lister's hip presses into it instead of his backside.
'What's the joke?'
'Um, just remembering something...' Rimmer's voice trails off. There is a laugh from above, and then he can hear Lister singing under his breath, in a voice just as melting and chocolatey as his eyes. A voice that is clearly put on.
'You get your kicks from the ghost of a memory...'
He cuts himself off as the cell door opens. It is eight-thirty, and time for them to go out on their separate jobs. Rimmer heads off for the Captain's office, while Lister goes down to the mess hall, where he has dishwashing duty for the morning.
As fate would have it, their paths cross again at lunchtime. Though lunch is a meal generally eaten wherever the inmates happen to be, Lister and Rimmer are both job-free and in the mess hall, gagging down soggy french fries and charred hamburger.
'Hey, guys.' Kochanski slides into the seat beside Lister, and Cat and Kryten sit down, one on either side of Rimmer. 'How's it hanging?'
'It doesn't hang, it drags,' Lister replies. Kochanski elbows him. Hard.
'What are you two doin' here? Don't you have jobs to do?' asks the Cat. His job involves changing the CDs on the PA system, once every 45 minutes. Currently playing is Live's 'Lightning Crashes', muted but still audible. Kochanski is humming along with it, which makes it louder.
'I'm finished,' say Lister and Rimmer at exactly the same moment. For the first time in a little while they exchange a look and a laugh. Kochanski mentally rolls her eyes at the strangeness of their actions.
'I'm done as well,' she says. She has spent most of her morning working alongside Todhunter and a sulky new teenage girl who has taken over her place in the Drive Room, training this new girl to do her old job. Todhunter was, of course, giving the girl the eye - he's an inveterate womaniser, as well as being rumoured to be quite attracted to males as well.
'How about you guys come up to my office?' the Cat asks. 'Spend an afternoon of relaxation with me.'
'Relaxation, around you? You mean you wouldn't be fretting about your clothes every two seconds like you've been doing for the past, oh, I don't know how long?' Lister asks.
The Cat reflexively drops his hands to the ornate CAT belt buckle that he has added to his lavender prison uniform, and straightens it fussily. Lister and Kochanski roll their eyes. Rimmer just chews thoughtfully on a french fry and watches the three of them exchanging words.
Kochanski looks at him, wondering what is going on inside his head. Rimmer looks back at her, with what almost could be resentment smouldering in his eyes. Kochanski decides to test him and slides a little closer on the bench to Lister.
Rimmer gets up and storms out.
'What's gotten into him?' the Cat asks.
You'd rather not know, Kochanski thinks. Stifling a snicker, she looks at Lister, who reads her mind and shakes his head.
'It wasn't like that.'
'Sir, ma'am, what are you talking about?' Kryten asks.
'Nothing,' Lister and Kochanski say in unison.
To Kochanski's surprise, Rimmer is waiting for them by the door to the Cat's fairly cramped office. No name on the door, of course, just 'PUBLIC ADDRESS - MUSIC'. The music can be muted from the Captain's office and the Drive Room, but the actual CD players and whatnot are here.
Kochanski has brought a couple of extras along to this little gathering -- Jodie 'JayVee' Vaughan and Kerry Shayne, the Women's Wing troublemakers. Likewise, the Cat has brought Kill Crazy. Kochanski notes that JayVee can't keep her eyes off Rimmer from the moment they walk into the corridor the Cat's office is off. This could mean trouble, considering what Kochanski now knows has happened between Lister and Rimmer. It's hard to believe that was only last night. It seems like it's been ages.
'Hey, Rimmer,' Lister says as the Cat unlocks the office door proudly.
'Hey. Kris, I don't believe we've had the pleasure of meeting your two friends?'
'Um, yeah. This is Kerry Shayne and Jodie Vaughan,' Kochanski says, pointing at each of them in turn. 'But they're just called Shayne and JayVee.'
'Just called that? Krissie, you wound me.' JayVee clutches at her heart and drops to her knees.
'Oh noble JayVee, how can you ever forgive me?' Kochanski returns, offering her a hand up. JayVee accepts it and the girls start laughing for no apparent reason.
'Come on in, everyone,' the Cat invites, holding the door open for everyone, considering slamming it in Rimmer's face. He doesn't.
Everyone manages to settle themselves: Kryten is absent, fortunately, or it'd be just that one person too many. But as a service mechanoid, he's a lot more useful around the ship than a couple of technicians, a Cat and a sulky Navigation Officer.
JayVee, Kochanski and Shayne perch along the edge of a bench which holds the long CD racks. Everything from Madonna to Rasta-Billy Skank to Live to Hanson to Britney Spears is there. Shayne alters that a little by spotting the Hanson CD, taking offense to it, and smashing it over her knee. The Cat looks pained and Shayne gives him a 'Sorry' smile before throwing the bits in the bin.
Kill Crazy sits on a chair, wide eyes watching the girls. Lister sits on another chair beside him, and Rimmer, after a second's thought, sits on a chair at the far end of the bench where the girls are, coincidentally closest to JayVee, who is secretly delighted. The Cat goes through the ritual of changing the current CD for a new one.
'What's the go? Isn't this th' same band?' Shayne asks as Live's 'The Dolphin's Cry' begins.
'It's a special request by one of the more nostalgic Science Officers,' the Cat explains. 'We've been through "Throwing Copper" and "Secret Samadhi" -- this is "The Distance To Here".'
'Oh.' Shayne nods as the Cat sits down not too close to Rimmer. Now they form a rough, squarish sort of circle. The kind of circle that permits interesting developments, especially if one or more of the group is fixated on another group member. The room is lit up by disco lights, apparently the Cat's own idea, but even with the weird blue-green-red flashes, Kochanski can see at least three people staring at someone else.
'What're we doin' for entertainment?' Shayne asks. She's not staring at anyone.
'Oh, what about a wild orgy?' Kochanski suggests. Shayne and JayVee laugh -- the guys, unused to this new brand of humour, just try to keep their eyeballs in their heads. 'I'm joking guys. It's a female thing.'
'How come Listy didn't get it then?' Rimmer asks. Lister shoots him a Look and Rimmer holds his hands up in submission. 'I'm joking Listy. It's a Rimmer thing.'
'Idiot,' Lister says, sculling the last of the lager in the tinnie he's brought along. He holds it up, checking it one last, belated time for needle marks. Kochanski doesn't even bother blushing. She was too proud of putting that emetic in his drink that time that she's not going to get embarrassed over the fact that he's still worried about her doing it again.
'Shayne's right, what are we gonna do?' Kill Crazy asks.
'Well, we're not killing anything,' JayVee says. A laugh ripples around the room and the slight air of tension, undetected except on a subconscious level, is washed away with it. Lister drops the lager can on the floor and JayVee's eyes light up. Shayne seems to read something in her eyes and groans, a split second before JayVee blurts out, 'Spin the Bottle!'
'Aw shit, you're jokin' aren't you?' Lister asks only half-jokingly, and JayVee shakes her head. She slides forward on the bench to give the dropped can a flick with her toe. It spins, a couple of drops of lager spraying out, and the Leopard Lager logo on the side becomes a spinning yellow blur.
To JayVee's evident delight, the open end of the can slows to point at Rimmer, who looks up at her. She leans down and plants a big smackeroo right on his lips, then sits back up and tosses her hair out of her eyes with a flick of her head.
'Nice one, JayVee,' Shayne says. Rimmer, meanwhile, has spun the can and is watching it intently. He looks like he's willing it to stop on a certain person. Kochanski's been watching him, and he's been staring at Lister. JayVee has been staring at him, though, and Lister himself has been staring at Kochanski... well, nothing abnormal there, she reminds herself.
The can scrapes and spins on the smooth concrete floor. Small ridges in the concrete make it wobble as well as spin, and by the time it slows, stops and points at Kochanski, it's a foot away from its starting position. Rimmer hops up to brush a quick kiss over Kochanski's lips, since a minimum of on the lips is an unstated rule. Kochanski, to quite a few people's surprise, doesn't look even remotely disgusted.
'Go Krissie,' JayVee encourages her. Kochanski gets up and retrieves the can from under the Cat's seat and sets it spinning again in the middle of the floor. She crouches over it like a panther over its kill, her hair gleaming in the fluorescent light, her eyes bright under the shadow her hair casts across her beautiful face. The can spins and stops, pointing at Shayne. Kochanski looks up, for a second like a feral animal caught in the headlights of a truck. But then she's laughing and standing up as Shayne leans forward.
She's somehow not surprised when Shayne holds her to their kiss a second longer than is perhaps necessary. Nobody else seems to notice, though.
Shayne takes her turn, and Kill Crazy nearly faints when the open end of the can stops when it faces him. Shayne makes a thorough job of kissing him, although even a not-too-observant watcher would see that she doesn't open her mouth. Then she hops back up on her bench beside Kochanski.
For a moment Kill Crazy looks like he's not going to be able to muster up the intellectual power - small as it is -- necessary to order his foot to give the can a kick. But then he does it, just when nearly everyone is ready to scream 'GET ON WITH IT!'
JayVee comes to him instead of he to her, although she doesn't make a big deal out of the kiss like Shayne did. A quick brush of her lips against his, and she's back in her place, her and Shayne flanking Kochanski like bodyguards, or like guardian angels. Whatever.
JayVee's next spin lands on Lister and Lister's then lands on Shayne, although he disputes this for a full minute, trying to point out that it's clearly on Kochanski. Shayne shuts him up by giving him the same dynamite kiss she gave Kill Crazy -- who, by the way, looks like he'd be perfectly happy to never have another turn as long as he can remember the last one.
Shayne takes a second to fix her red hair before her next spin. The Cat is starting to look irritated that nobody's gotten him yet, and Shayne kneels beside the can, flipping it with her hand rather than her foot. Is it coincidence that the open end points to the Cat? Probably not. Shayne doesn't seem to be too fussy about who she kisses, and she goes to the feline happily.
'My mouth's gettin' worn out,' she says when she's done. 'Nobody land on me for a while, OK?' This is instantly ruined when the Cat's turn scores her again. Shayne doesn't quite roll her eyes and lets him come over to her this time. The way she's sitting, legs apart, leaning forward as the Cat comes over and stands uncertain for a second before she pulls him very close to her, somehow isn't slutty at all. When the Cat goes back to his place, though, they can hear that his breathing has become slightly faster.
'Kez, maybe we should finish up,' JayVee suggests, 'if you're feeling that lousy.' Shayne leans across Kochanski to punch her. Kochanski can faintly smell Shayne's sweat, mingled with the smell of the regulation-issue soap and shampoo... and underneath, a certain scent that must be her own deodorant, a musky, almost masculine scent. Maybe that's the Cat she can smell on Shayne's body.
'I told ya don' call me Kez and I told ya don' make crap jokes,' Shayne says. Her fist slams twice into JayVee's shoulder. JayVee doesn't react badly, just laughs and shakes her head at her friend. Shayne sighs and gives the can a kick, a little too forcefully. Kill Crazy jumps up to retrieve it from under the bench where it has clattered.
'What's the time, someone?' the Cat asks.
'We've got another five minutes until you gotta change CDs,' Shayne replies, checking her watch. The Cat nods and, by the look on his face, starts trying to work out what CD to put on next.
'What's this song?' JayVee asks.
'Um, it's "Meltdown",' the Cat says, checking the CD cover.
'Shut up, JayVee, it's my go,' Shayne says as Kill Crazy returns the wayward can to her. 'Thanks, mate.' She sets the can on its side on the floor and toes it more gently this time, setting it spinning. It lands on Rimmer and Shayne grins at JayVee who suddenly looks quite white. Shayne gets up and goes over to Rimmer, kneeling beside his chair and letting him lower his head. He barely grazes his lips against hers before she is pulling back, and Kochanski sees a look of gratitude pass from JayVee to Shayne as the redhead makes her way back to her place.
Rimmer spins the can, not really thinking about who he wants it to point at, and is more than a little surprised when it actually does stop on Lister. Without a second's hesitation he gets up and goes over to Lister, intending on making this as short and businesslike as the one he'd just given Shayne.
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As soon as Rimmer's mouth touches Lister's soft lips, he's gone. He feels Lister's hand come up and press lightly on the back of his head, holding him to the kiss, hears JayVee and Shayne's identical shocked gasps, and then it all recedes very quickly as Lister's mouth opens under his and his tongue runs over the sensitive place inside Rimmer's lower lip.
'Holy shit,' Shayne says.
'Ah...' The Cat isn't sure what to say.
Kill Crazy just gets up and quietly leaves the room. He's a lot smarter than the others -- he's heard someone outside the room. Suddenly the doorhandle is being rattled and an angry voice can be heard outside -- Captain Hollister, of all people.
'Come on!' Kochanski grabs Rimmer's collar and forcibly yanks him away from Lister. They both look dazed and more than a little annoyed, but when they realise who's outside the door that fades. Instead, they hurry to the duct on the wall and start pulling the grate away.
'Ladies first,' Rimmer says, ushering Kochanski, Shayne and finally JayVee into the narrow crawlspace. They hurry to make room for Lister, and Rimmer crawls in last, pulling the grating back into place behind himself just as the Cat has to give in and unlock the door.
They sit there in the duct, silent, hearing Hollister verbally beat up the Cat, who apologises five times before Rimmer loses count. Apparently the CD he's been running was supposed to be played later in the day. Or something. Rimmer genuinely isn't sure.
His listening is disturbed as he hears the scrape of someone moving further down the duct. 'What's going on?' he whispers to Lister.
'Girls are going back this way. Come on, we'll go too.'
'He'll know we've gone. It's lucky Hollister's bloody voice is loud enough to cover this up, but let's get moving,' Lister says. The girls are already gone -- Rimmer can feel the empty space where they had been.
'I think I blew our cover,' he says softly.
Lister laughs. 'Don't worry, Kris already knew, and what can it hurt?' They're on the move now, and Rimmer hopes Lister knows where he's going, because he can't see a damn thing.
They come out in an incredibly appropriate spot - the linen supply closet at the end of the cell block. It's empty save for the silent stacks of sheets, towels and pillowcases: the light is on but the door is closed.
'It's warm in here,' Lister says, heading for the door. Rimmer's hand grabs his arm and he stops.
'Are you sure this is going to be OK?'
Lister turns right around and holds out his arms. Rimmer comes to him and leans against him, feeling the younger man's heartbeat speed up slightly.
'It'll be fine,' Lister says, looking up into Rimmer's face. Rimmer smiles back and gives Lister a playful shove, slamming him into the door. Lister recovers but stands still for a second, and Rimmer takes the opportunity to press against him, arms snaking around his waist and holding him close, head dipping to tease with the brush of mouth on mouth. Lister actually lets out a tortured moan before Rimmer gives in and kisses him for real.
'Y'know, I think that JayVee girl really liked you,' Lister says a couple of minutes later, when fear of discovery drives them back to their cell.
Rimmer goes white. 'Really? Um...'
'Don't worry, Rimsy,' Lister says, 'Krissie'll tell her what's going on.'
'Oh, I'll bet.' Rimmer pauses. 'Once Kris has told her, do you think she'd mind telling me?'
Lister laughs, looks around furtively, then goes onto tiptoes to brush another light kiss across Rimmer's mouth. 'Don't worry, Rimmer,' he says, 'we'll work it all out.'
'What makes you so sure?'
Lister turns away and goes to climb up onto his bunk. 'Because I know everything,' he says with a grin.
Well, thinks Rimmer, watching his bunkmate with a kind of amazed disbelief, you certainly know more about me than I ever thought. And as if Lister reads his mind, the Scouser briefly flickers his tongue at Rimmer. Rimmer flickers his back, and they both laugh.
Then Rimmer lies down on his bunk and sleeps the rest of the afternoon without dreaming.
Chapter 8: Impossible Horrors
JayVee's lying flat on her back on her bunk, staring at the underside of Shayne's bed. Shayne isn't up there, though -- she's sitting on a chair beside her friend's bed, watching her with a concerned expression.
'This is a horrible nightmare,' JayVee mutters.
'Jay, you'll be fine... look, a lot of people turn in prison, maybe when we're all out of here those two will split and you'll have a chance.' Shayne is holding JayVee's left hand and stroking it gently. JayVee abruptly pulls her hand out of Shayne's and glares at her.
'You saw the way those two kissed... you really think he's going to come after me? The man is gay, Kerry. And speaking of which, what is going on between you and Kochanski?'
'Nothing,' Shayne says. 'What have I said about callin' me Kerry? I don' like it.'
'Kerry, Kerry, Kerry,' JayVee singsongs until Shayne smashes her across the face with one angry fist. An old cut under JayVee's eye opens up again. She doesn't cry out, though, only looks at Shayne.
'Sorry,' Shayne mutters.
'You are not,' JayVee says.
Shayne leans over her and brushes her lips against the cut, then makes a move to kiss JayVee on the lips. JayVee raises her hands and sets them on Shayne's shoulders, then pushes her away gently.
'No more,' she says. 'Maybe once, Shayne, but no more.'
'Fine,' Shayne acquiesces. Then she gets off the chair and starts to gather her clothes, her blanket - not Space Corps prison issue, but a brightly patterned doona -- and the rest of her meagre possessions.
'What are you doing?' JayVee asks.
Shayne just looks at her. Then she turns and walks out of the cell. JayVee watches her red head turn down the corridor and disappear beyond the range of JayVee's window. Then she gets off the bunk and goes to look out of the cell doorway. Shayne has gone down to Kochanski's cell, and is apparently talking to someone within. JayVee can't see any more, though: her violet eyes have filled with tears and she goes back to her bunk, lying face down and all-out bawling into the pillow. To make matters worse there's a faint scent of Shayne's shampoo on the pillow, and JayVee's memories, including the one about Rimmer and Lister kissing, completely overwhelm her.
She doesn't even hear when the door opens and Kryten comes in. Clearly a deal has been struck, though, for the mechanoid carries the case containing his spare heads and recharge wires. He looks at the girl crying on the bed, then quietly sets down the case by the door and goes back out.
'Miss Shayne, ma'am, Miss Vaughan is crying.'
'I don' care,' Shayne says. She's busily engaged in helping Kochanski move her sheets and pillow to the lower bunk. Since Shayne likes the top bunk and Kochanski likes the lower bunk, it's a perfect arrangement. And JayVee will get the top bunk she always wanted. So far as Shayne can see she's just made a straight up trade. So why's JayVee upset?
'Shayne, why's JayVee upset?' Kochanski asks at exactly the moment Shayne thinks it.
'I don' know, Kris,' Shayne says. 'She's prob'ly goin' to miss me a bit. That's all.'
Kryten seems to be appeased by this explanation and leaves the room, presumably bound back to his new cell. Shayne concentrates on unfolding her doona and spreading it over her new bunk. White stars on black space, outlined in silver thread. Kochanski groans.
'Don't you get enough of that view out of the window?'
Shayne looks at her and smiles. 'Some things you just can't get enough of, Kris.'
'So, um, how long do you think JayVee's going to be upset for?' Kochanski asks, a little disturbed by the smile on Shayne's face.
Shayne shrugs. 'C'd be a little while. But let's face it, she's the one who made me give up and move out.' She looks at Kochanski through tawny eyelashes, testing her reaction, seeing if she'll respond.
'What do you mean, made you give up?' Kochanski challenges.
'Do you really wanna know?' Shayne sits on the edge of the lower bunk and represses a sigh. Once Krissie knows exactly what Shayne's all about she'll surely kick her out too.
'Yes.' Kochanski sits down beside her and looks at her, lagoon-blue eyes without a single sparkle of humour, just flat seriousness. 'Tell me what happened between you and JayVee. What happened that made you move out.'
'It's a longish story,' Shayne says. For some reason her voice doesn't seem to be coming out in its normal tough tone, but in a half-whisper. She can smell Kochanski's perfume, mingled with her shampoo and other, less definable scents. Kochanski just looks at her with a 'Tell me anyway' tilt of her head.
A full year before the Dwarf was rocked by the Cadmium II explosion and everyone died, Kerry Shayne and Jodie Vaughan were put together in a cell for their crimes against the Space Corps. They were not huge crimes, but big enough to earn them a minimum of five years in the Brig.
They had been living together for two months before JayVee realised that Shayne was watching her sleep some nights, and for another one month before they became lovers. JayVee was staunchly straight, but as many people had realised before her, sometimes prison offers you no other option. Shayne, on the other hand... Shayne wasn't sure. She knew people always said you should know your sexual identity, and she felt that by her age -- twenty-three -- that she definitely should, but she just wasn't sure.
But when JayVee first spotted Arnold Rimmer from across the room in the mess hall, the first day the Dwarfers were there, she felt she knew exactly what she wanted. For the past six months since the Dwarfers had arrived in the prison, JayVee had been steadily losing interest in Shayne. But that was Okay. Because Shayne didn't much care. She felt she could always find someone else.
However, when JayVee witnessed Lister and Rimmer kissing in the Cat's office, when she saw the clear attraction between them, she realised that this was quite probably going to be futile. But JayVee and Shayne were both tenacious, willing to go after whatever they wanted and do whatever it took to get it. That's why JayVee rejected Shayne a few minutes earlier. Because she's still got her sights set on Rimmer.
'I thought you two were together,' Kochanski says when Shayne finishes talking. Shayne gives her a quizzical look and Kochanski adds, 'You two are like two halves of the same person. Loud and quiet. Opposites attract, you know.'
'I've heard that one, yeah.' Shayne tries to give a light laugh, but to her shock what comes out is a strangled sob.
Instantly Kochanski has an arm around her, rocking her. 'Ssshh Shayne, it's okay, come on, don't cry...'
'It's not okay... even if she wanted to be with him I shouldn't of changed rooms... but I couldn't stay in there with her if she was going to be with him.' Shayne looks at Kochanski through wet eyes - sitting down, the girls are the same height, although Kochanski is nearly a head taller than Shayne. 'Do you understand? Sooner or later I would of made a mistake and done somethin' she would've hated me for... I would of gotten jealous, and tried to take her back by force,' she adds.
Kochanski sucks a breath in between pursed lips. 'Not good,' she agrees.
Shayne bites her lower lip until a little bead of blood appears. 'I just couldn't take th' risk,' she says.
'Don't bite your lip,' Kochanski says, automatically touching Shayne's cheek next to her mouth. Shayne stops biting her lip and her tongue flickers across it, gathering up the blood and swallowing. Kochanski watches as Shayne reaches up to touch her lip to check if the blood's all gone. It is.
'Thanks, Kris,' Shayne says.
'Kris and Shayne... we sound like a couple of guys. We should be over in G Tower instead of Dave and Rimmer,' Kochanski says with a laugh.
'Oh yeah, those two,' Shayne says as if the thought has only just occurred to her. 'I think JayVee's prob'ly upset because they're together.'
'Mmm, I thought so.'
'D'ya know anythin' 'bout their relationship?'
Kochanski shudders. 'God no! And I'd rather not!'
Shayne regards her with a quizzical gaze. 'Are you homophobic or somethin'?'
'No! Of course not! It's just that I'd rather not think about Dave with Rimmer. This hurts me, too. I thought he loved me, but maybe I was wrong...' It's her turn to start chewing on her lip, trying to hold back the tears. Shayne's arms go around her and Shayne rocks her this time. It's only just hit Kochanski that she's lost Dave, who she was really starting to like, to a guy. She says as much, through sobs, to Shayne, and Shayne nods sympathetically.
'Men... ya can't trust 'em. Don' cry, Krissie, it'll all be okay.'
The mess hall is mostly empty at the 7:30 dinner shift. Lister and Rimmer are at one table, JayVee sits alone in a corner, and the rest of the group, including Kill Crazy and Shayne, are gathered at a third table. A couple of Shayne's other friends are around, and Baxter the hulking brawn-no-brain and his cohorts take up the far end of the mess hall.
'Shayne, what's going on?' Abigail asks, passing by the table. 'Why's JayVee in a shitty mood?'
Shayne fixes her with a steely look. 'Hey, Abby, go screw Todhunter an' leave me an' JayVee alone, OK?' Abby scurries off to her roommate Trisha, muttering 'Lover's tiff!' under her breath. Shayne tilts her chair back and smiles at nobody.
'So, Miss Shayne, ma'am, are you still speaking to Miss Vaughan?' Kryten ventures.
'Yeah, when she gets over her darkie.' Shayne deliberately raises her voice so that JayVee alone in her corner can hear. It's too much for the blonde, who gets up and comes over.
'If you got something to say to me, Kerry Shayne, you say it to my face,' she says.
'Maybe my fist has somethin' to say to your face,' Shayne warns.
'Come on Shayne, don't pull this shit on me. I know you better than anyone else here, isn't that right?' The mess hall being empty enough for all the other occupants to hear, JayVee's query is met with several calls of 'Right on!' Shayne flattens these with a sweeping glare, and Abby and Trisha get up and leave the room quickly.
Kochanski looks around to see who's still here. Tracey and Sophie, the other two girls from the video night a few nights back, are sitting at one table. Baxter and his gang are just leaving. Rimmer and Lister are trying to act completely oblivious to everything, although Kochanski's caught Lister staring at her twice. As she looks at him now he meets her gaze, then for some reason pointedly slides his hand along the table to hold Rimmer's. Fine. Be that way.
Kochanski looks back at Shayne and JayVee to see that they are standing almost toe to toe in a clear space between some tables. The air crackles with tension.
'Fag hag,' Shayne says. Kochanski's missed whatever it was that led up to this.
'Fag,' JayVee responds with a smile.
'That's not true, and you know it.'
JayVee smiles frostily. 'Tell that to half of Floor 13.'
'You want a slut, you look at Abby, wherever the little tart's run and hidden. Tracey, where did Abby go?' Shayne asks.
'She and Trisha went back to their room,' Tracey replies. A mousy brunette, she seems pleased that Shayne has singled her out. Kochanski feels a slight feeling of contempt -- surely not all the girls in the Brig revolve around Kerry Shayne?
JayVee certainly is. They've bypassed the insults and started circling. Kochanski realises that if she wants to stop any punches being thrown, she'd better step in now.
But it's too late. Shayne's right hook hits JayVee on the shoulder. JayVee responds by stepping forward, grabbing a fistful of Shayne's long red hair, and yanking enthusiastically. Shayne repays her in kind, and adds a knee hoicked into her thigh. JayVee nearly doubles over and Shayne lets out a hiss of victory, only to be thwarted as JayVee headbutts her in the stomach.
Shayne's breath all comes out in one great gushing gasp, and she sinks her teeth into JayVee's shoulder.
'Stop it! Just stop it!' Kochanski's had enough of this. She runs forward and grabs Shayne around the waist.
Shayne, blinded by fury, elbows her hard in the midsection and Kochanski goes down.
To her surprise, she is caught in someone's arms. A male. A male she knows, the slightly soft stomach and strong but gentle embrace. Dave. Though there's a kind of black haze in front of her eyes as she struggles for breath, Kochanski can see Shayne turning to look at her, horror all over her face, and also sees Rimmer and the Cat pulling the two girls away from each other.
'Kris? Krissie? Oh Jesus Christ...' Kochanski's vision clears a little, and Shayne's on her knees beside her, as she lies flat on her back like a beached whale, head on Dave's knees as he kneels behind her. 'Krissie, breathe!'
I can't, Kochanski tries to say, I can't. She feels like something's really wrong inside. Like maybe Shayne broke something. But it wasn't her fault. She tries to say this as well, but then the black haze comes back, swallowing up her vision, and she goes down into the dark, away from Shayne and Dave and JayVee and everyone else. And it's quiet in the dark. The last thing she hears before it takes her is Shayne yelling, voice cracking, 'Someone get her to the medi-bay, for God's sake!'
Chapter 9: Impossible Implications
Kochanski's eyes snap open. One of the Floor 13 nurses, such as they are, is leaning over her. Not for this nurse the look of concern and caring, though: she's got a half-snarl on her face, and seems to be yelling at someone to go away. Kochanski wonders briefly what the hell is going on, then dismisses it and lets sleep overtake her again.
Four hours later she's awake and knows where she is. And why she's there. And the fact that the nurses are fighting a losing battle against about six people who want to come in and see her doesn't escape her, either.
'Will you people get out! She needs to sleep!' the nurse snaps at Kerry Shayne and Jodie Vaughan. The two girls seem to have made up and are squashed together in the doorway, Lister and Rimmer behind them, and Kryten and the Cat behind them. Kochanski sits up with an effort and waves at Shayne and JayVee.
'She's awake, lady, now get the hell outta my way!' Shayne snaps. She shoves past the nurse and comes to sit down by Kochanski's bed, grabbing her hand and holding it tight, tight, tight. Lister grabs the other hand and for a second Kochanski feels like she's going to have busted fingers to go with the four cracked ribs she's got. A white bandage is strapped against her left side, and each breath sends fire-fingers brushing against her lungs.
'You guys mind leaving me some hand? I need those,' Kochanski says.
Shayne's grip loosens up right away. 'Jesus, Krissie, I thought we'd lost ya!' she says breathlessly. 'I'm so sorry, God, I spent most of yesterday in the chapel, I thought I'd killed ya!'
'Yesterday? How long have I been here for?' Kochanski asks.
'Three days,' Rimmer says. He's standing there prising Lister's fingers loose from Kochanski's hand -- Lister gripped so hard he's left a red mark. Once the Scouser's fingers are free, Rimmer takes hold of Lister's hand himself. Standing there next to Dave, who's sitting in the other seat, for the first time ever Kochanski realises just how... tolerable Rimmer is. Nice? She doesn't know him that well. But Dave seems to think so - he's got his head resting against Rimmer's hip as Rimmer sneaks an arm around his shoulders.
'Three days? God! What have I missed out on?' She means with the group.
'Shayne and JayVee are talking again.' As if to prove Lister's point, the two in question hug. 'Um... nothing else, I shouldn't think.'
'No? No sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll?' Kochanski asks.
'No, your morphine, and Cat's CD's. At least, as far as I know the first is a no,' Rimmer says. 'Unless the Cat has had some luck in that department.'
The feline shakes his head. 'No such luck, buds. Still, I don't think I'll have long to wait.' The optimistic fanged grin on his face is endearing, and Kochanski catches JayVee giving him an almost lustful look.
'JayVee, do I detect a wandering eye?' she asks. JayVee gives her an evil eye, and Kochanski shuts her mouth with a snap. Best not to go into that, maybe.
'I want to know the truth about you two,' she says suddenly to Lister. Lister looks up at Rimmer, who gives a tiny little shrug of his eyebrows in response.
'Are you sure?'
'Yes,' Kochanski says. She isn't but what the hell.
'Okay, um...' Lister is not exactly forthcoming. Rimmer slaps him lightly across the back of the head.
'We made out. And that was all.'
'That could cover a lotta stuff, y'know,' Shayne says.
'Well, it doesn't.'
'Ya wanna get outta here now, Krissie?' Shayne asks, giving up on taunting Rimmer.
'Do I ever.' But when Kochanski tries sitting up, her body rebels, her ribs letting out a scream she'd swear is audible. She gasps and goes flat again. 'Shit.'
'C'mon, Kris. We'll get you out of here.' Without warning Lister yanks the blankets off her and scoops her gently up, cradling her in his arms. He heads for the door, Kochanski too tired to complain, their little entourage following them. The nurse at the door lets out a squawk of indignation, but the group pushes past her and is gone.
Some time later, Shayne and Kochanski are alone in their cell. Lister and Rimmer were sent back to their own wing as soon as Lister put Kochanski down; Kryten and JayVee are in their cell arguing animatedly about who should do what cleaning duties.
'So are you feelin' any better, Krissie?' Shayne asks.
'A little. That was one hell of a thump you gave me,' Kochanski says.
'I'm sorry,' Shayne says contritely. 'I coulda used that elbow on JayVee, little bitch, and it got wasted on you.'
'I thought you were talking to her again?'
'Yeah, I am,' Shayne says, surprised. 'S'just that at the time, I wasn't, so when I talk about that time I still hate her.'
Kochanski laughs -- in a weird way it makes sense. 'Do you think Rimmer was telling the truth about him and Dave?'
'He'd have no reason ta lie,' Shayne shrugs. She scrambles up onto her bunk and lies flat on her stomach, opening a book. Kochanski watches her from where she's sitting at the table -- though sitting up hurts, she's determined to stick to her routine, and at this point in the afternoon she's usually doing some parole work. Excused from that because of her injury, she's playing solitaire with an ancient deck of cards featuring scantily clad women on the backs.
Kochanski's curiosity gets the better of her and she finally asks, 'What are you reading?'
'The Bible. It's Sunday you know,' Shayne says.
'I didn't think you were religious.'
Shayne looks genuinely sad. 'I probably shouldn't be. I break a lotta God's divine laws. But for all the fighting, frightening and fucking I do, I still believe in God. Crazy, hunh?' She smiles sadly and closes her Bible, coming down to sit beside Kochanski at the small metal table.
'No, I don't think it's crazy at all. In here, I guess you've got to stick to your beliefs,' Kochanski says. 'Sometimes they're the last things you can hang on to in here.' Like she's the expert. But she knows what Shayne means about religion - she's a lapsed Christian herself, and sometimes regrets that she didn't go to church more often when she was younger. 'What does JayVee believe in?'
'JayVee? She believes in a Creation story that tells that we're all part of one bigger entity, and as we go through different incarnations we gain knowledge and power on our way to enlightenment, and when we die in our last incarnation we become one with this bigger entity.' Shayne makes it all the way through the sentence without her usual mangled words, and Kochanski guesses that she's heard it a lot of times.
'Interesting.' It is.
'Yeah.' Shayne steals Kochanski's cards and starts building a card house. 'Too bad the other girls ain't here, we could play strip poker.'
'Or maybe not,' Kochanski says, blowing the house over. Shayne gives her an evil look, then grins and starts building patiently again.
'How come you aren't out on parole work?' Kochanski asks after a minute.
'Didn't get none.' Shayne shrugs. 'Don't think they trust me with their stuff.' She leans the ace of hearts against the queen of diamonds, then piles the queen of clubs on top of that. 'Doesn't really bother me, though. I don't get bored.' She looks up at Kochanski and smiles. 'Too much stuff to think about.'
'Like your past?'
'Yeah.' Shayne tries to smile, but it doesn't seem to work. 'Like my past.'
'What exactly did you do to wind up here for five years?' Kochanski asks.
Shayne sighs. 'You remember the girls talkin' about Abby an' Todhunter?'
'Well, when she dumped him he went after her an' attacked her, more or less. 'Cept because Hollister never found out about that, me an' JayVee took it into our own hands ta get revenge. We jumped him in th' corridor outside th' Drive Room one night an' beat him up pretty bad. Unfortunately, since Todhunter didn't ID us, we can only guess someone saw JayVee runnin' away, an' blew the gaff. They wouldn't of seen me, 'cause I went through a duct.' Shayne stops talking, breathless.
'And you're not mad at JayVee for that?'
''Course not. Some shithead sees her, it ain't her fault. But we couldn't let Todhunter go without a fight, see? He deserved everythin' he got.'
Kochanski casts her mind back to a year before the accident... though she's from a different dimension, she vaguely recalls a day when Todhunter came into work with a black eye, and was walking in the sort of way a guy might walk when he's just been kicked quite violently in a rather sensitive part of the anatomy. The memory makes her giggle, and Shayne looks at her inquisitively.
'What's th' joke, Krissie?'
Kochanski explains. Shayne nods.
'Spot on, that's what we done to 'im here as well. He didn't half shriek. That was when we decided it was about time to go. JayVee did have her hand 'cross his mouth, but he bit her. That's part of the reason we got busted... his teethmarks between her fingers.'
Kochanski winces. 'Ouch.'
'That's what she said, 'cept louder and ruder.' Shayne laughs. 'She didn't half yell, I can tell you now.'
The chime of the P.A. system rings, and Warden Ackerman's voice comes over the system. 'Would the seven o'clock dinner shift please report to the mess hall now, thank you.' A list of people on the seven o'clock shift scrolls across the screen, and Kochanski is pleased to see that she and Shayne are not only on this list, but are listed as being in the same cell. Well, it has been a couple of days, and she's sure Shayne wouldn't neglect telling someone.
'Come on, Krissie, you okay to walk?'
Kochanski stands up carefully, a wince of pain crossing her face. Shayne is on her feet in seconds and lifts Kochanski up the same way Dave did earlier.
'It's okay, Krissie, you ain't too heavy. C'mon, let's go get some serious food.' And Kerry Shayne, carrying an unprotesting Kristine Kochanski, walks out of her new cell. Leaving the light on.
Chapter 10: Impossible Jaunts
It is past any innocent little prisoner's bedtime in the Brig: but the quartet currently sneaking through the duct system towards the Men's Wing are far from innocent little prisoners.
'Are we nearly there? You said you knew the way!' Shayne hisses.
'I do,' Kochanski protests, 'it's only a few more metres. Here we are.' She stops crawling and starts yanking on a grate set into the bottom of the duct. The bolts holding the grate down have already been removed, and it lifts with ease, opening onto a cell below. Kochanski sticks her head down into the gap and groans at what she sees, before letting out a low whistle guaranteed to wake even the heaviest of sleepers.
In the cell below, Lister and Rimmer are curled up in the same bunk. Lister's head rests on Rimmer's chest, and both have peaceful expressions... at least until Kochanski's whistle wakes them up.
'Oh smeg. It's tonight,' Lister reminds his cellmate.
'I nearly forgot.' Rimmer drags himself to his feet, brown hair springing out in every compass direction. Shayne and Kochanski exchange a look, then turn to JayVee, who is waiting anxiously behind them.
'JayVee, off you go,' Shayne hisses. The rangy blonde, who is very uncomfortable with crawling around in this dusty duct, takes off in the direction of the Cat and Kill Crazy's quarters. Kryten waits at the nearest intersection: his weight is hard to support for a long time in these ducts, and the intersections tend to be better structured.
Kochanski draws back from the grating, rubbing her side distractedly. Her ribs have been semi-healed, but they still hurt if she does anything too physical, and this sure is. A week since the fight she got hurt in -- and she wasn't even a fighter -- and four days since she got out of the medical unit. She's positive that this experience isn't going to be beneficial to her, even if they by some freak chance do make it to the Starbug bay and escape.
'You okay, Krissie?' Shayne asks.
'Yes, Shayne,' Kochanski says. 'Are we going to get going, or what?' She says this just as the table in the cell below scrapes too-loudly across the floor, and seconds later Lister's head pops up through the grating hole, his hands grabbing the edge of the hole and pulling himself up. The half-smile on his face announces that he's getting help from below, although Kochanski doesn't really want to think about that.
Rimmer follows Lister through the hole, tall frame bent double when he finally scrambles into the duct. The grating, pushed by Shayne, clangs back into place. Without a word the group hustle towards the intersection where Kryten awaits them. The Cat, Kill Crazy and JayVee join them there within a few minutes, and together the eight head down a new duct which will eventually lead them to Landing Bay One.
At this early hour, hardly any of the Ground Controllers are on duty. There are ten glass-fronted booths where they work, most days with only two or three routine outside maintenance ships leaving and arriving in the bay: at this time, only two of them are occupied, and only one of the occupants is actually awake.
'Please state your name and pilot code,' he requests when the group have snuck into a Starbug and the Cat attempts to take off.
'Not this again,' the Cat says to Lister.
Lister leans over and turns the comms console off, ignoring the Ground Controller's squawk of protest. 'Come on, Cat, let's just get out of here,' he says. He, the Cat, Kochanski and Kryten are at their usual places, with Rimmer hovering over Kochanski's shoulder. Shayne, JayVee and Kill Crazy have already left the cockpit to start exploring the ship.
'Sure thing, Bud,' the Cat says. He runs briefly through the startup sequence, then abandons it when he realises the Ground Controller is closing the giant landing bay doors. However, they will take some time to close - perhaps another minute -- and the Cat quickly fires up Starbug's engines and the squat green ship shoots forward towards the closing doors, just as klaxons start blaring and Warden Ackerman's voice comes over the ship's PA system, loud enough for them to head inside the ship:
'Attention, attention, prisoner escape reported, security alert, security alert!'
'Here we go, Buds!' the Cat yells joyfully, as Starbug zips towards the rapidly closing doors. With a squeal as something scrapes along the side of the ship and a gasp from Kochanski, Starbug pops into outer space like a cork from a bottle.
'We did it!' Shayne says, running into the cockpit, the other two right behind her.
'Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, Miss Shayne, ma'am,' Kryten warns.
'He's right, Shayne, we might be followed yet,' Kochanski says. Shayne looks crestfallen and plonks herself down on Kochanski's lap. Kochanski can't decide whether to be unimpressed or irritated, and settles for unobtrusively shoving her cellmate in the back. Shayne bounces back to her feet.
'Shayne, how about you go round and organise sleeping quarters for people?' Lister suggests.
'Good idea,' says Rimmer.
'Stick with our cell assignments and don't put anyone in the room right next to the sewage processor,' Lister says.
Kochanski shudders. 'Especially not me. I couldn't stand another night with those pipes, nurieeking and squelookling and whatever else they do!'
Shayne grins. 'Sure thing, Krissie. JayVee, wanna help me?' The blonde gives her a slightly suspicious look, and Shayne spreads her hands wide, palms up, in a gesture of surrender. 'C'mon, Jayv, you have my word I won' try anything.' JayVee looks appeased, and the two exit the cockpit.
A couple of hours later, all the crew apart from the Cat and JayVee are at least in bed, if not asleep. The Cat is piloting Starbug and JayVee is relishing the chance to exercise her little-used navigation skills. Yes... Jodie Vaughan used to be a Navigation Officer before she was thrown into the Brig.
In one of the rooms allocated as sleeping quarters, Lister and Rimmer have foregone the formality of separate bunks and are sleeping together in the lower bunk, Rimmer's arms wrapped around Lister's waist, the younger man's head leaning back against his chest. And yes, they are sleeping, it's not just a figure of speech. In fact, these two haven't so much as seriously kissed since the game of Spin The Bottle. Their bed-sharing is a simple form of comfort and nothing more.
Meanwhile, in their room, Shayne and Kochanski have settled in for a night of talking. Shayne in the top bunk is hanging precariously over the edge of it, while Kochanski lies on her bunk looking at her. Shayne's head is down Kochanski's feet end, and she supports it by resting her temple on the topmost of the steps set into the wall beside the bunk. Their voices softly echo back and forth, quick repartee flying like a table tennis ball.
Finally, in the quarters he will share with the Cat when the feline isn't flying the ship, Kill Crazy is half-asleep, the initial excitement of escape is yet to wear off and his bright blue eyes stare into the darkness, the brain behind those eyes working on plans for the future, everything from breakfast tomorrow to seeing if the Cat will teach him how to fly Starbug.
Unlike Shayne and JayVee, Kill Crazy isn't a Space Corps member -- he was an average citizen turned psychopath who killed three people but got a light sentence by virtue of an insanity plea. Like many of the other four hundred inmates of the Brig, he was just being transported to Adelphi 12 to carry out his sentence when the Cadmium II explosion and subsequent events led to him winding up here on Starbug instead.
Kryten is on downtime in the corner of his and JayVee's room, undergoing a restoration of circuits and a general self-analysis of his workings. He's a bit worried that time in the Brig may have affected his intelligence circuits. But so far he's found nothing wrong except that he's forgotten whether custom dictates it's blue for boys and pink for girls, or the other way around. Quite why he was wondering about that in the first place has escaped him anyway, and so he has ignored it and kept working.
'Kryten don' like ya much, does he?' Shayne asks.
Kochanski shakes her head. 'He's got the idea that I'm some kind of threat to his and Dave's friendship,' she says. With a self-deprecating little laugh she adds, 'Although I think he should be more worried about Rimmer, considering what we know about them.'
'Mmm.' Shayne is silent for a long moment, then says, letting the word out slowly as if to see how it tastes before she says it, 'Freedom.'
'Yep. Something both JayVee and me thought we lost, up until we were crawlin' through the ducts earlier tonight.' Shayne grins. Kochanski can only barely see the grin. She used to sleep with the door closed, but after being locked in a cell every night for the past eighteen months, leaving the door open came as an unspoken agreement between her and Shayne. The faint light streaming in from the corridor illuminates Shayne's face.
'So how come attacking Todhunter got you five years in the Brig, anyway? Wasn't it justifiable?' Kochanski asks.
Shayne snorts. 'Not flippin' likely. An' you know what? I mean, you know why Abby an' Trisha were in th' Brig? 'Bout two months after the Todhunter thing, she was screwin' around with another guy and the same thing happened. 'Cept without me an' JayVee to look after her, she hadda take things into her own hands an' deal with this guy herself...' Another snort. 'Landed her right in the Brig with us, Trish along with her, and for what? Nothing.'
'What about Tracey and Sophie? What were they in the Brig for?' Kochanski asks.
'Oh, them. They were in there before us. They were bein' taken to Adelphi 12 with all the other drop-kicks. Sophie was RWV -- Robbery With Violence,' she amends at Kochanski's bewildered look, 'and Trace was a nasty homicide. It was justifiable, but,' Shayne adds with an ironic grin.
'That makes me feel so much better,' Kochanski says. She can tell by the look on Shayne's face that she has picked up on the sarcastic tone in her voice.
There is a loud thud from somewhere else in the ship.
'What the hell was that?'Kochanski asks.
'I have no idea,' says Shayne, but the look in her eyes suggests otherwise. Kochanski considers pressing the point, but doesn't.
'You're going to fall out of that bunk if you're not careful,' she warns instead.
Shayne changes position, crossing her legs at the ankle and digging her bare feet into the sheet for added support. One hand rests on top of her head, the other by her side: she looks bizarrely like one of those pictures of someone sleeping that's been turned upside down. Kochanski doesn't giggle and instead shifts position herself, rolling onto her side and propping her head up with one hand.
'So what do you think of Starbug?' she asks.
Shayne considers this. 'It beats hell out of Floor 13,' she says. 'Seriously, though, I like it. It's big enough for us not to all constantly run into each other, an' this bunk is real comfy compared to the Brig.'
'Oh, so you're going to base your opinion of the ship on whether the bunk is comfy or not?' Kochanski teases.
Shayne grins again. 'Hey, why not?' she asks. 'I fully intend to spend as much time as I can in the damn thing, catching up on all the sleep I missed out on by getting woken up at six in the morning every morning for the past who knows how long.'
'You're not going to try and learn about piloting the ship or anything? Or navigating, like JayVee?' Kochanski asks.
Shayne shakes her head. 'The way I see it, Kris, is that there're you an' Jayv an' Arnold who'll all wanna navigate. The Cat an' Dave an' Kill Crazy want to pilot. If you guys wanna spilt the shifts up, fine. But I don' really wanna do anything just yet apart from lazing in this nice bunk and watchin' the world go by.'
'Well, I guess. But sometime, providing of course that we don't get caught and dragged back to Red Dwarf's finest luxury apartments, I think you should learn how to fly Starbug. There might be an emergency someday, and we might need you to help out,' Kochanski says.
Shayne shrugs, opening her mouth with a comeback, but doesn't get to say it. The shrug has tipped her off balance, and like Kochanski warned, she topples sideways off the bunk to land with a solid thump on the cold, unyielding floor. By necessity of her position her head hits first, and for a long unbearable moment Kochanski would swear she hears a snap as Shayne's neck breaks.
'Shit. Shayne? Shayne?' Faster than a flash of light Kochanski is out of bed and on her knees beside Shayne, who is lying a little too still. Tentatively Kochanski touches her fingers to the side of Shayne's neck, and is immensely relieved when she feels a pulse. And seconds later Shayne's eyes open, pain written deeply in them, yet she still manages a smile.
'Ouch, shit. Really wish I was back in that bunk,' she says. 'Don' those things come with guardrails?'
'You don't need a bunk, you need a cot,' Kochanski says, taking her hand back from Shayne's throat.
Shayne laughs, winces, and tries to sit up. Only her head and shoulders make it off the ground before she decides she won't be going anywhere for a minute, and she lets her head sag down onto the pillow of Kochanski's left thigh. She blinks up at her roommate. 'Fuck that hurts.'
'Sshh. Stay still,' Kochanski encourages. She isn't sure exactly what will happen if Shayne does: will they both just sit here all night, or will Kochanski eventually be able to get Shayne to the medi-bay? It probably doesn't matter, she decides, Shayne will probably be okay to get back in her bunk in a few minutes.
That shaft of light coming through the door stripes across Shayne's face, and slants up to light up Kochanski's left side and face as she leans over Shayne. It's an interesting tableau, and should anyone have walked by the room and looked in they might have taken a picture. In a strange way, the scene evokes an image of Mary and the baby Jesus. Innocence personified.
Shayne looks up at Kochanski, and not for the first time is struck by her good looks. The sleek glossy brown hair, a trifle mussed from being in bed -- though she has washed it since their duct crawl, so not only is it clean, but being damp has kept it a little straighter than it might have otherwise been. Expressive eyes under arched eyebrows, blue eyes with tiny shades of green here and there.
Moving down: she has perfect smooth skin, unmarked by any blemish, scar or birthmark. Delicate nose, a strand of hair trailing across it which Kochanski lifts a hand to brush away even as Shayne watches her. And, most tantalising of all, her mouth. Dark pink lips which one might be inclined to attribute to lipstick, but it isn't. Kochanski does, on occasion, use lipstick, but even after a long day when she's eaten it all off her lips are still that gorgeous dark shade of pink that was one of the main talking points among most of the men and not a few of the women of the Red Dwarf crew.
Kochanski, meanwhile, is looking down at Shayne. Initially looking into her eyes to check she isn't concussed, she starts kind of staring, although she doesn't admit it to herself.
Shayne's eyes are blue, the colour of forget-me-nots with rain on them. The light blue is accented by fine lines of a darker blue which radiate out from the dark pupil like spokes on a cartwheel. Her russet hair is spread out over Kochanski's thigh like a halo. It looks even darker because Kochanski is wearing a white shirt and white boxer shorts, the same as the guys would be wearing in their room.
Shayne has delicate features: in fact her whole body is delicate and petite, but she packs a hell of a punch. Iron muscles hide under her tanned skin, and even Kochanski, who's short, is taller than she is. A blink turns her eyelashes into dark semicircles on her cheeks, which are blushed rosy pink and sprinkled with the golden flakes of pale freckles. Freckles which Kochanski's never noticed before. But then, she's never really studied Shayne's face this intently before.
Shayne's eyes open again and she looks calmly up at her roommate. 'Krissie. Are you still in there? Or are you off with the fairies?' she asks.
Shayne just giggles and hooks an arm around Kochanski's neck to drag herself up into a sitting position. Once up, she leaves the arm there and rests her head on Kochanski's shoulder.
'Ooh. Head spins,' she complains.
'That happens. Live with it,' Kochanski tells her. 'Are you sure you haven't got a concussion?'
Shayne rolls her eyes upward to look at her. 'C'mon, Kris, I haven't got a concussion. I'm dead.'
'Dead. Because here I am with an angel.'
Kochanski doesn't know if she should laugh or jump up and run screaming into Dave's room. Strangely, though, the latter option doesn't seem any too inviting; well, she'd probably be more scared in there, anyway. Who knows what the guys are getting up to... 'Get real, Shayne. I'm no angel.'
'You look like one from here,' Shayne says. Her arm drops from Kochanski's shoulders and she gets to her feet. Kochanski stands up, one hand ready to support her, and it's needed when Shayne nearly falls right back onto the floor. Kochanski catches her with an arm around the waist. Shayne staggers and puts her own arm right back around Kochanski's shoulders. Then she half-turns so she is facing Kochanski, and puts her other hand up to clasp with the other behind Kochanski's neck. Of its own volition Kochanski's other arm lifts from by her side to slide around Shayne's waist.
She always used to think of hugs as being divided into categories. When you have one arm around the person's waist and one around their neck, and they the same to you, it's as equals. The quick arm around the waist or shoulders, just a friendly squeeze. But when you have your arms around their waist, and they have their arms around your neck, then they are in charge of the action and they are calling the shots. You're submissive, they're dominant.
But for the first time ever she doesn't feel like that. She can see the look on Shayne's face, the uncertainty of what she knows she's about to do... but only if Kochanski agrees.
Kochanski's arms tighten on Shayne's waist; Shayne's hands separate and slide down on Kochanski's back, pressing her closer. She turns her face up and Kochanski lowers her head, a single last-second Oh my God, what are you doing? being the only protest from her mind.
It's a protest she ignores.
Shayne's hands are cold on her back, but her lips are warm against Kochanski's, and somehow comforting. Though she's shorter and therefore logically submissive, she's now in complete control here. Her lips part slightly, and her tongue darts to wet them even as she's kissing Kochanski. Then her tongue touches Kochanski's lips, and Kochanski opens to her.
For a moment she almost just takes what she's getting, wildly thinking that if this does turn out to be a dumb mistake then if she doesn't really kiss back then she'll be able to just forget about it. But then instinct, impulse and plain desire take over, and Kochanski responds to Shayne's kiss with a will. Their tongues play against each other, tasting and exploring.
The kiss lasts a long time. Kochanski isn't actually aware of breathing at any stage, though surely she must have. When Shayne finally breaks it off to lay her head on Kochanski's shoulder, the Navigation Officer draws in a great big breath of air and then lets it out in a long, soft sigh.
'You okay Krissie?' Shayne asks.
'Yeah, I'm fine,' Kochanski says. 'I think I'm the one who wound up with the concussion, though.'
Shayne laughs, then pulls out of her embrace. 'Bedtime. We've had a long day, we need our sleep.' She moves to the bunk ladder.
Kochanski pushes her gently towards the lower bunk. 'Sleep there tonight. We don't want you falling out of bed again, do we?'
Shayne sits on the edge of the bunk, then looks at Kochanski, who is about to climb the ladder herself. 'Better idea.' She opens her arms as Kochanski looks back at her. 'Share with me?'
'Just sleeping, Krissie -- I know better than to get pushy with you, chances are you'll push right back and I will wind up with a concussion next time,' Shayne says. Her soft blue eyes are pleading. 'Please?'
Kochanski steps back off the ladder. 'Okay.' She sits on the edge of the bunk while Shayne gets comfortable, then snuggles in with her, her back against Shayne's chest in a position mimicking that of Lister and Rimmer in the other bunkroom. If either pair could see the other now, they'd both be equally shocked.
But for now, that doesn't matter. For now, all that matters is sleep, and rest, and Starbug getting as far away from Red Dwarf as possible. In regards to that, it's probably lucky that the squat green ship has autopilot.
Because Kochanski and Shayne aren't the only couple who have been kissing tonight...
Chapter 11: Impossible Kinships
Lister is up first on their first full day of freedom. Disengaging himself gently from Rimmer's arms - Rimmer's still out cold, breathing shallowly through an open mouth -- he gets out of bed and gathers up his clothes, heading for the shower.
The shower recess is divided into two spaces: the shower proper and a small bench space. The bench is set back into the wall and a mirror fitted over it, and it's this bench that Lister drops his clothes onto then sheds his boxers and T-shirt onto. He glances briefly at his reflection in the mirror, then steps into the shower and turns on the water. With the usual rattle of pipes and the change of sound in the water coming through the shower head, the imminent arrival of the hot water is announced. Lister adjusts the spray and temperature and starts happily soaping himself.
Out in their room, Rimmer is awoken by the sound of the pipes. He's facing out into the room, but a complete roll over brings him to the edge of the bunk. Swinging his legs out and planting his feet on the floor, he looks at the clock, which is blinking its idiot 12:00 over and over. Nobody's bothered to reset it: in fact, ever since they came on board this Starbug Rimmer has had the feeling that it hasn't been used in a while.
He considers just snuggling back under the covers, waiting for Lister to get out of the shower and wake him back up, but then a new thought grips him. At first it shocks him, but then he sees its possibilities and decides what the hell, he'll do it.
Lister thinks he hears the squeak of the shower door opening, but isn't positive until a hand reaches past him, grabs the soap, and a voice offers 'Want a hand with that?'
'Rimmer?' Lister squeaks, turning around and staring into the calm, amused eyes of his roommate.
'That's right, Listy. Have you done your back yet?' Lister turns back around, not without a feeling of some surreality, and feels Rimmer's hands start rubbing his back.
'What are you doing this for?' Lister asks. Incredibly, he can feel himself getting hard. He doesn't look down, though: that might get Rimmer's attention, and even if Rimmer did come in here with some ulterior motive other than getting clean, seeing Lister's reaction to his presence might put him off. And Lister doesn't want the feeling of Rimmer's hands on his body to go away -- not just yet, anyway.
He can hear Rimmer's raised eyebrow in the tone of his voice. 'Doing what Listy? I'm just taking a shower.'
'Yeah, with me!'
'So? Do you want me to go?' Rimmer's hands stop moving, midway down Lister's back. 'I'll go.'
'No!' Lister realises how vehement he sounds, and blushes. Rimmer laughs at him, and carefully sets the soap down. His hands start moving again, and they're getting lower.
'Calm down Listy. I'm not going anywhere.' One hand grazes ever so lightly across Lister's bum, sending a tingle through his body. Lister remembers the night that they first started sharing a bunk... and the next morning... and wonders just how far Rimmer is planning on taking this.
'You're not going anywhere? Sure.' Lister tries to tough-talk, but his voice has a little out-of control quaver in it. He's going to have to do something to regain control of this situation, and fast. Rimmer's hand isn't just grazing his bum now. It's tracing little circles high up, tracking lines, writing messages.
Lister's being driven crazy by a man. It's nutty, he'd never have thought, but...
Lister turns around suddenly, pivoting on one foot and pushing forward with the other. Rimmer is caught off-balance and with a startled little whoosh of breath, Lister pushes him up against the shower wall and starts kissing him with all the force he can muster.
When Lister finally backs off, he's panting for breath. Rimmer, on the other hand, isn't breathing at all: that ability seems to be denied him somehow. He can feel Lister's body where it's still pressing against his. It feels good. In fact, it feels damn good, but Rimmer's still confused as to exactly why they ever ended up here, in this shower, when they'd spent so many years doing nothing but sniping at each other.
'You okay, man?' Lister asks, bringing him back to reality.
'Huh. Can't breathe. Other than that, I'm doing pretty well,' Rimmer says.
Lister can feel Rimmer's hardness against his own thigh, and has a good idea of just how well Rimmer actually is doing, but doesn't say anything, unwilling to make one of his usual smutty jokes at a time like this. Instead, he takes two steps back (bringing him nearly up against the wall: the shower isn't really very big), and begins a slow visual survey of Rimmer's body through the curtain of shower water still pelting down on them. The feeling is sensual, like dancing in the rain.
Start at the top. The unruly brown hair, flattened down a little by the water, but otherwise still quite messy. Below that, the expressive hazel eyes and the nose which so many people tease him for. Then the mouth, which looks a little swollen -- from kissing, Lister would assume.
Rimmer's chest is thrust out a little, and he moves to set his hands on his hips. He's posing for Lister. Lister bites back a laugh and continues his visual survey. Chest covered so slightly with downy hair like a newborn. Nipples brown and hard. He's breathing deep breaths now. Long, flat inhale-exhales which seem to be making him further lose control, not keep it.
Lister keeps looking at him, eyes finally dropping below the waist. All right. He'll admit it. He's seen Rimmer naked before. But he's never stared at him. And they've certainly never been sharing a shower. And Rimmer definitely wasn't just standing there and letting Lister drool over him.
'Like what you see?'
Rimmer's voice jolts Lister back to reality, and he realises he's been severely caught staring. But he can still manage the response, 'Oh, sure,' before Rimmer reaches out and draws him into his arms again. They kiss, lightly at first, tongues softly touching, then Rimmer arches his back and sucks Lister's tongue into his mouth, hard, thrusting his hips forward at the same time. He moans into Lister's mouth, and then Lister feels the pulse against his thigh, and a slow, trickling warm wetness that indicates that for Rimmer at least this shower has been very worthwhile.
'You OK?' Lister asks mildly.
Rimmer does not look okay. Rimmer looks, in fact, as if he's just been hit by a fairly large truck. But then his eyes refocus on Lister's face, and he smiles.
Then his mouth is on Lister's mouth, then on his chest, tracing a path down his torso, pausing to flick a tongue into his navel, and Lister realises what Rimmer is about to do about two seconds before he actually does it. Then it's a matter of keeping his balance with Rimmer on his knees for him, and Lister settles a hand on the back of Rimmer's head, urging him forward, encouraging him.
He comes about two seconds later, and it's like a bomb explosion.
Rimmer slowly stands up, running out his tongue to lick his lips slowly. Lister is doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping in deep breaths which don't seem to be doing anything. When he finally recovers and moves in for another kiss, he can taste himself in Rimmer's mouth.
'I'm not him,' Rimmer says.
'I can't imagine he'd have that kind of tongue control.'
Rimmer goes bright red. 'Watch what you say, Listy, or next time I'll bite.'
'There's gonna be a next time?'
'That might be okay,' Lister admits.
Rimmer raises an eyebrow at him, then throws a sponge at his chest. 'Get yourself clean, then come out here.' And then he's gone, whisking out of the shower to where he's left his clothes in their room.
Lister soaps himself slowly, paying particular attention to his thighs. He feels drained. No wonder, a voice in his head says, considering your bunkmate just sucked your brains out through your cock.
Lister tells the voice to shut the hell up and steps out of the shower.
Lister sits on the floor, leaning back between Rimmer's legs as the older man towels his hair dry. The dreadlocks, damp, lie over Rimmer's thighs. Rimmer strokes them, pats them, and squeezes all the water out of them. He does it with brisk efficiency, the same way it seems he does everything but revision.
Lister just kind of sits there, unable to do anything else. His mind is AWOL, his breathing is erratic, and if anyone walks in on them in the next couple of minutes he's not going to be able to do anything but smile dopily at them. That's how gone he is.
'Are you still there, Listy?'
'Nuh,' Lister replies. 'I'm not here.'
'Where are you?'
'I have no idea.' Lister doesn't, but he thinks it might be some kind of fantasy land. Even with all the evidence he's finding it hard to believe that this is happening. And the towel draped across his hips is starting to tent up. Rimmer notices this, and grins.
'Shut up, Rimmer.'
'I didn't say anything,' Rimmer says.
'I heard that smile,' Lister says. Rimmer stares at him for a second, then starts giggling. After a moment, Lister joins in. It is kind of ridiculous.
One thing keeps playing on Lister's mind for some reason: when Rimmer -- the other Rimmer -- had been on the psi-moon and was handcuffed to a pole and being oiled by two handmaidens. It's an interesting image. Nothing short of fascinating, in fact, and Lister debates whether or not to mention it to this Rimmer.
There is a knock at the closed door, and Rimmer jumps up, diving for the shower, starting it running again as Lister wraps the towel around his waist and goes to open the door manually.
'Morning, sleepyhead,' Kochanski teases lightly. Shayne is standing behind her, a cheesy grin on her face. 'Didn't disturb you doing anything you shouldn't be?'
'Or anyone?' Shayne says.
'No...' Lister leans in for a kiss and is momentarily puzzled when Kochanski, her tongue touching his for only a moment, pulls back with a frown on her face.
'Dave?' She frowns harder. 'Is that...'
Shayne gathers what she means right away and starts laughing, not meanly, but with genuine amusement. 'Maybe we'd better not put 'em on the same shift, Krissie, or we'll be draggin' 'em out from under the consoles every two minutes.'
Kochanski is still standing there with her mouth open. She spits onto the floor, heedless of any mess it might make. 'I don't even want to ask which of you it was,' she says.
'Hey, off his case. Remember who ya shared a bed with last night,' says Shayne, sneaking both arms around Kochanski's waist and resting her head on Kochanski's shoulder. Two devilish blue eyes peek at Lister over the red fabric of Kochanski's top. It's Lister's turn to get a shocked look.
'You two slept together?'
'We slept,' Kochanski emphasises. 'Which is a lot less than what you and in-there seem to have done.'
'Forget about it, Kris. It meant nothing.'
'Thanks a lot!' Rimmer calls from the shower.
Lister throws a trainer at the door. 'Shut up!'
Rimmer steps out, towel around his waist, hands too-casually on his hips, brown hair wet and flattened down. He looks vaguely surprised at the sight of Kris with Shayne draped over her, then grins, throwing in a lip lick for good measure. Lister wishes he hadn't. It only makes him more aware of the fact that he's only wearing a towel... and it doesn't cover much... and Kris and Rimmer are both staring at him with the same lustful look. Even Shayne seems to be giving him the eye.
He tries a grin, then just shakes his head and sinks down onto the bunk, pulling a blanket over his head. 'I can't believe this,' he mutters from under the blanket.
'Uh, Lister?' Rimmer's voice holds a definite note of amusement. Lister peeks. Shayne and Kochanski are facing each other now. Kochanski gives him a very brief glance before Shayne decides to pull her close and start to kiss her. Lister can't help but watch. It's like a cobra mesmerising a mouse... except cobras aren't usually this attractive. And they don't generally enjoy themselves this much... or do they?
'Mmmm,' says Kochanski when she finally pulls away. She gives Lister a sweet smile. 'Just like last night... or was it this morning?' she asks Shayne.
'Not that it matters,' says Shayne. 'C'mon, let's go an' see what Jayv an' the Cat're up to.'
'Sure,' says Kochanski, and they stroll out of the room, leaving Rimmer and Lister both very surprised.
Chapter 12: Impossible Lovers
The Cat sits in the pilot's chair of this Starbug, a pilot's chair which moves smoothly when asked to and doesn't stick like some. JayVee sits behind and to the left of him at the navigation console, testing out her old skills as a navigator -- a task at which she is quite adept. She is well aware of the fact that Shayne has run off with Kochanski, and she doesn't even care. And her disappointment over Rimmer's new infatuation with Lister has also faded. Instead, she's far more engrossed in her new crewmate.
She used to have a cat herself. Unlike Frankenstein, though, Madonna has been quarantined for the requisite six months, and wears a collar announcing her status as permitted pet of the Space Corps. When the crew were all wiped out by the radiation leak, Madonna had died with them. But also like the crew, when they were resurrected, she had been as well, and now she is safely asleep in a box under JayVee's console.
JayVee reaches down and pets the sleek tabby-grey fur, aware that the Cat is watching her. One of the first things she did on coming aboard the ship was to change out of the prison uniform -- they all did -- and now she is wearing a lilac V-neck short-sleeved T-shirt, and a white skirt dappled with pink and blue flowers. When she leans forward to pet Madonna the Cat probably cops an eyeful of what packs that tight T-shirt, and JayVee doesn't really care.
When she sits back up he's standing there with a hand on the back of her chair, looking down. At first JayVee thinks he's just looking at her, but when he asks 'What is that?' she knows he's looking at Maddy.
'That's Madonna. My cat,' JayVee says.
The Cat lets out a low whistle. 'Ground Control, this is Major Tom,' he says. 'That's a space oddity if I ever saw one.' He crouches to pet the cat - who is little more than a kitten -- and Madonna opens her eyes and arches her neck, asking for a chin-scratch. The Cat obliges, and for a moment doesn't speak. 'I thought all Cats looked like me now,' he says finally.
'Madonna was resurrected along with the crew,' JayVee says.
The Cat straightens up and nods. 'I hope we'll be able to feed her,' he says. 'There's always trouble with supplies.'
JayVee bristles. She can't help it. 'Well, you're the one who eats eight meals a day,' she snaps. 'All Madonna's food is stockpiled in the cargo bay. I asked Madge to get her skutter friends to help stock the ship. They've brought half a dozen racks of your stupid suits as well. They're taking up more supply space than anything else, so don't you talk!'
'My suits are important supplies!' the Cat snaps back, and JayVee jumps to her feet, fists clenched at her sides. She's ready for this now. She can sense what's coming next.
Jodie Vaughan's favourite movie is Fight Club, with Brad Pitt. She suspects that one of the girls is a secret Pitt fan, because he's in a lot of the movies they watch. She used to get a rush just out of watching him pound on other guys. She and Shayne, at one stage, used to do the same thing.
And she can sense the same desire lurking in the Cat's mind.
Anyone who has to fight for survival: will they turn it into a game, like in Fight Club? Oh, but in the end it wasn't a game, was it? It was an all-out terrorist destructive battle, when it became evident that Tyler was just a figment of the narrator's imagination, and that everything the Fight Club had done -- vandalism and worse -- was down to him. JayVee has felt the pleasure of landing a punch, of taking one -- she still has a scar under one eye where Shayne opened up a cut about five times. She knows what it's like to fight for the fun of it.
The Cat lifts a hand, already clenched into a fist. Behind him, the autopilot light is blinking on one of the monitors -- he has already switched it on, probably just before he came to see what she was looking at. But all JayVee can look at is the hand, fine fingers knotted into something that will really hurt if it hits her. Muscles and tendons stand out along his forearm -- he's wearing a T-shirt and jeans, not having had time to change properly -- and JayVee thinks he looks just fantastic. His face is further darkened by some kind of anger.
'I don't want to have to hurt you,' he says through gritted teeth.
JayVee slides past him and stands in the cockpit doorway, a taunting smile on her face. 'That's because you're a self-obsessed creature, and you're afraid of me hurting you,' she says. 'You couldn't bear for one little scratch to mar that perfect skin of yours.'
The Cat gives her a toothy grin. 'I know my skin's perfect,' he says, and that's when JayVee loses it. She leaps at him. With cat-quick reflexes he dodges, and they're standing in each other's places. JayVee leaps again and wraps her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, sending him staggering backward down the steps and crashing to the floor in the midsection. The thump is loud enough to wake everyone else up, but nobody comes to see what's going on.
'What the hell are you doing?' the Cat hisses, all traces of the grin gone from his face. 'You're gonna kill me!'
JayVee snarls down into his face, discreetly yanking her leg out from under him as she does so. 'Yeah, and what are you gonna do about it, freak-face?' She's subconsciously aware of exactly how much she could wind up hurt if she takes this all the way -- the way she and Shayne 'played' usually meant the winner fucking the loser senseless -- and the Cat has that feline reproduction encourager, a barbed cock, which could really tear her up if it hasn't been bred out of the species over three million years.
The Cat doesn't say anything, but lifts his head sharply, catching her just below the hairline. He's good at this. With a push of one foot he flips her off of him and onto her back, and is on her before she can recover. She drives a fist into his midsection, and is rewarded by a startled whoosh of breath and a smirk that indicates he knows just how this game is played.
She'd better be careful not to lose.
JayVee changes tactics, lying completely still for a long moment. The Cat looks puzzled, and that's when she headbutts him, actually splitting his lower lip. Blood drips onto her upturned face, and he puts a hand to his face, touching the wound with his long, tapered fingers.
'Well, it wasn't anyone else,' says JayVee.
His next attack is something of a surprise - fangs sinking deeply into her shoulder. She yelps and hits him twice in the gut, disabling him enough to push him off of her and take a quick look down at her shoulder. Two deep tooth marks, a couple more just scratches. Nothing that would disable her, certainly nothing Shayne would even think about, and JayVee takes this to heart as she kicks the Cat in the ribs.
He's lying doubled over, wheezing, and for a moment she's afraid she's broken something. She kneels beside him, reaching out a hand to touch.
It's the mistake of the night.
His hand darts out, catching her wrist, twisting it up behind her back. JayVee bites her lips to keep from crying out, but the Cat is relentless and finally she parts her lips just enough to say softly, 'Stop.'
The Cat grins, nods, and lets go of her hand. His lip is already scabbing over. He gets to his feet and lifts her up, not stopping when she is standing, but setting her down on the edge of the scanner table. There is no hint of a question in his eyes: he knows what the stakes are here, and he knows that he has won, and may claim his prize.
When he kisses her she can feel the place on his lip where she hit him, and knows that it is a wound which will heal without a trace. She can't say the same for the dully aching bite in her right shoulder, though -- she has already got one bite mark, on her stomach, from Shayne, and knows that they tend to be slow to heal and slower to fade.
She knows that he has never been with a woman before. One of the hot topics of discussion in every prison is who's with who and who's done who, and the Cat's virginity is no secret, considering the way he constantly bemoans it. JayVee figures that the other girls are like her, they know the extra risk, and they aren't willing to take it the way she is.
But lack of knowledge is more than made up for with enthusiasm. He's a great kisser. He's not shy about seeking out the sensitive places of her mouth and working them with his tongue once he's found them, making her jump and cry out.
One hand is on her shoulder. The other hand is up under her T-shirt, and JayVee remembers that she's done a Shayne today and isn't wearing underwear. The mere announcement of this fact, issuing from Shayne's smooth, perfect lips, used to be enough to turn her on, and when the Cat figures it out for himself, the wide-eyed expression (making him look even more youthful) on his face is a reward. A further reward is the fact that now he's got one hand on her bare breast, he's not stinting on the caresses. She can feel his fingers lightly rubbing and pinching her nipple, and the sensation makes her arch her back and cry out.
If anyone walks in, they'll be dead.
The mere fact of the risk they're running, as the realisation occurs to both JayVee and the Cat at the same time, serves as more of a turn-on. The Cat bends his head to nuzzle and lick at the exposed skin in the V of JayVee's shirt, and she backs off for a full second to shed her shirt before he dives in again and almost attacks her breasts.
His teeth rasp across her sensitised skin and she can't hold back a cry of pleasure. He's varying the pressure of his mouth: one second licking lightly at her hardened nipple, the next swooping in and sucking hard. He moves to the other breast and repeats the performance, one hand on the table, steadying himself, the other sliding up her thigh to lightly brush across the material covering her centre.
It's here that she senses a certain hesitancy in him, and JayVee almost takes control before remembering that he won the fight and thus has the right to do whatever he wants. So she stays still, watching as he backs off and sheds his shirt and jeans. He's not wearing any underwear either, and her eyes roam greedily over his body.
He comes back to her and brutally rips the skirt off her, leaving her bare and exposed on the scanner table. Dropping to his knees, he sets one hand on either of her thighs and pushes them apart. JayVee lets him, willingly.
The first touch of his tongue at the very centre of her desire nearly sends her over the edge. She has to bite her lip and knot her hands together to keep from shrieking. She hasn't felt that touch in over five months now, and then it was from a female. Only her time in the Brig made JayVee accept it: with nothing else to take, she took what she could get.
His tongue slides across her, then into her, the tip flicking in an expert gesture, one that Shayne used to use on her to really get her going. The Cat is only using this as a starting place, though: he has more to offer than Shayne could, and though JayVee momentarily regrets that she won't be tasting Shayne tonight the same way the Cat is tasting her, with light touches and long strokes of his tongue, that regret is appeased when the Cat straightens back up and leans in to kiss her again. She can taste herself in his mouth and the taste drives her wild.
He looks down for a moment, and she senses what he wants and slides off the table to kneel before him. This classic submissive position is one she hasn't used in a while, she thinks as she begins to lightly suckle on the tip of his cock. She can see the blunt spines along its length and stimulates each individually. The Cat has both hands on the back of her head and is urging her forward, but JayVee takes her time, now that she has regained some control she intends to use it.
A rough yank of her ponytail, and she reluctantly releases him. She knows the reason he's stopping her: much longer and he wouldn't be able to keep control: he'd be at the edge and jumping without a rope. His dark eyes, so stunned and clouded; his dark hair, free from its ponytail, in a misty, messy mass around his head; his dark skin and lips, the latter slightly swollen.
He lifts her back up onto the scanner table and sits her right on the edge, standing between her open legs. For a long moment he just looks at her, his skin dusky, his head bowed, then he takes a step forward and allows her to guide him into her.
They move slowly for all of a minute, JayVee getting used to the unfamiliar extra sensation of the Cat's spines. Then he leans more heavily into her, and deeper, and she moans as his hand snakes between her legs and begins rubbing the swollen nub just above the place where they are joined.
He pushes her further backward until she is flat on her back, then climbs onto the table and begins thrusting into her in earnest, each stroke merciless and hard. His face remains calm; his eyes hold the only clue to the maelstrom of emotions lurking just below the surface. JayVee can see passion and lust and desire and every variant on the same theme, coupled with a childlike sweetness and simple pleasure. She smiles at what she sees, and he flashes her a toothy grin in return.
Hard and not slow but not fast. Sensation bursting through her with each long thrust. The long slide as he enters her and pulls back, enters and pulls back. He is fearless now, every inch the warrior taking his prize, and he bends his head to her neck, sucking hard. There'll be a mark there in the morning... and another, on the other side... one on her breast...
When he reaches the rosy peak of her nipple again his eyes drift closed, the tiny movements of his tongue seeming completely separated from the earth-shaking pleasures he's inflicting on her down below. But somehow, it's the tiny touch, the little nipping and licking that bolts through her body like a lightning strike. From her breasts down her finely muscled torso and straight to the centre of her. She cries out in delirious pleasure and hears his voice added to hers as they climax simultaneously.
He collapses on her, shaking and exhausted, and JayVee automatically begins stroking his hair, the final pulse of him inside her sending a hum of pleasure along tired nerves. His hand moves away from her first, slowly dragging his fingers along her on its way away, and she quivers all over at that touch. Then he pushes himself up with his shaking arms and pulls back out of her with a long slow slide that makes them both moan with some kind of regret.
There's a mew from the cockpit doorway. Madonna, the sleek grey tabby kitten, is sitting there with her tail curled neatly around her paws, sedately watching her mistress, who is grinning like an idiot even as she allows the Cat to check if she is bleeding. She is, a little, but it's somehow like she's just lost her virginity again: a bare couple of drops and nothing more.
Instead of wiping it away with a cloth, or even just his hand, the Cat bends and laps lightly at JayVee. She shivers all over with the feeling, when he straightens up seeing her own blood on his lip and kissing it away. They remain there, Cat standing, JayVee seated, in a loose embrace for a long moment. Then a sound, imagined or real, from upstairs drives them apart, grabbing their clothes and dragging them on. They exchange a glance and then re-enter the cockpit, JayVee picking up Madonna on the way.
'She must think you're crazy,' says the Cat.
'Because you just did that, and you didn't feed her first.'
JayVee has a comeback for this. 'At least you got to eat.'
The Cat goes bright red, although it's hard to tell through the dark colour of his skin. 'Well...'
'I know it was your first time,' JayVee continues.
'That's true,' the Cat admits, and Madonna starts to purr.
'But don't worry. Because,' says JayVee, 'I've never had it better from a male.'
'I'll take that as a compliment,' the Cat says, and they both turn back to their respective jobs. Tonight has been unforgettable all round, but if they crash Starbug into anything they won't be remembering anything.
It's getting hard to even think.
Chapter 13: Impossible Maledictions
Kerry Shayne has already decided one thing: she's never, ever, ever going back to Red Dwarf's Brig.
Dave Lister has also already decided one thing: he's going to kill Kerry Shayne.
After seeing her kiss his Kochanski, he begins a verbal tirade seconds after they leave the room. Using every curse he knows and making up a few more just for variety, he explains exactly what he's planning to do to the petite redhead if she pulls another stunt like the one she just did.
Rimmer listens patiently until Lister is finished, then advances an opinion of his own. The opinion is: 'Is what they did any worse than what we did?'
Lister fidgets. 'But...'
'But nothing.' Rimmer's hands land on his shoulders, pushing him down into a chair, then beginning to give him a massage. 'You realise that in a way we're actually worse than them, if you want to place the blame anywhere,' he says.
'I guess,' Lister says unwillingly.
Rimmer leans down and places a soft kiss on the side of Lister's neck. 'But if it makes you feel any better, you could always blame me entirely for that,' he says, giggling into Lister's hair, nuzzling the small curls on the top of his head. Lister lets out a long, shuddering sigh.
'You could always tell them that I... threatened... you if you wouldn't let me do what I wanted to,' Rimmer breathes, his hands still massaging Lister's bare shoulders. Lister is becoming very aware of the fact that he's still wearing only a towel which doesn't cover much. 'That if you didn't give in to me I was going to do something horrible to you...'
'Like what, turn the hot water off?'
Rimmer giggles again. 'A cold shower would certainly have cooled you off,' he says, not mentioning that the second shower, the cover-up shower, that he dove into when Kochanski and Shayne were at the door, was purely cold water. And that it doesn't seem to have worked.
'Yeah. It would.' Lister gets up suddenly, shrugging Rimmer's hands off his shoulders, trying to disguise the fact that his face is starting to go bright red. He heads to the shower and picks up the stack of clothes that he left outside, dragging boxers, jeans and T-shirt on quickly. The process isn't helped by the fact that Rimmer's watching him, a mock pout on his face.
The whole crew eventually gather in the midsection of Starbug, the Cat working on his second breakfast. Both he and JayVee have a certain look about them, one which is easily legible, but neither of them will speak when asked questions about the previous night. And the Cat's scabbed split lip and the bruise near JayVee's hairline are a puzzle to everyone but Shayne, who is holding her own counsel.
Kryten starts out to discuss a rota system for piloting and navigating the ship, but his voice trails off when he realises that most of his crew are too busy evil-eyeballing one another across the table to listen. He slams a plastic fist onto the table and yells, 'WHAT THE SMEG IS GOING ON HERE?'
'She...' Lister can't say it.
'He...' Kochanski shoots Rimmer an evil look.
'Never mind,' says Shayne. 'If youse are gonna fight I reckon me an' JayVee are gonna leave. Ain't that right, Jayv?'
'No way,' JayVee protests, fingering the bump on her head and grinning beatifically at Shayne. A series of mock sign language signals then pass between the pair until Shayne is satisfied she has the whole story.
Her only comment aloud is then, 'Wanna Band-Aid?'
'Oh, you two, cool it, huhn?' Kill Crazy says. 'You gotta stop fighting. Yeah. We're free now, there's no reason to fight.'
'No reason to fight?' Rimmer raises an eyebrow. 'That's never stopped anyone, so far as I know.'
The Cat goes an interesting colour. It's like red, but because his skin is so dark it's hard to tell. He drums his slim hands on the scanner table and says nothing, and Lister raises an eyebrow at him. The Cat is trying, unsuccessfully, to hide a rather large guess-what-I-was-doing-last-night smirk, which only provokes Lister to further efforts. The other eyebrow raises, and Lister's mouth moves around the obvious question. The Cat sort of bobs his head in a 'yeah, of course I did', and Lister has to hold himself back from letting out a wild whoop.
'Honestly, doesn't anyone talk at this table?' says Rimmer. 'From where I'm sitting I can see at least two non-spoken conversations going on, and by the way, Listy, that act's about as transparent as Glad Wrap. If you really want to ask the Cat any questions about what he was doing last night and you don't want us all to know that's what you're doing, then take it into the cockpit.'
'All I was gonna ask was how did he get that split lip?' Lister says innocently.
The Cat touches it. 'Oh, this!' he says. 'Oh, I... fell down the cockpit stairs last night. Hit my mouth.'
'Uh-huh,' Rimmer says, not convinced. 'And JayVee, how did you get that nasty-looking bruise?'
'He knocked me down the stairs as well and whacked my head with his when he accidentally landed on me?' JayVee suggests, doing a piss-poor job of lying herself an alibi.
'I'll bet it was an accident, too,' Rimmer says.
'Sir, really, all this has no bearing on why Mr Lister and Miss Shayne are giving each other dirty looks that would take a week's worth of Windex to clean off,' Kryten says. 'Is there something the matter, Mr Lister?' The mechanoid tries to look kindly and concerned, but the expression doesn't sit too well on his plastic face.
'No, Kryte,' Lister says. 'It's all in hand.'
'Oh, was it?' Shayne murmurs, earning herself a sharp kick on the ankle from Kochanski, who is struggling not to laugh.
'Shayne, I don't wanna know what the hell happened, and so maybe you could just drop it at all?'
'Sure, Jayv, anythin' for you,' Shayne says peaceably.
JayVee is suspicious. Shayne isn't usually this cool, calm and collected. In fact, she hasn't seen her like this in a long time. And then there's the way Shayne's looking at Kochanski... and sitting just that little bit extra into her personal space...
'Are you shtuppin' Krissie?' she yelps.
Shayne gives her a startled look, and for a minute JayVee thinks she's nailed it. Kill Crazy is looking around at everyone, extremely bewildered. Then Kochanski herself lets out a shriek of outrage and actually throws her water glass across the table at JayVee, who assumes that this means she is wrong.
'No, she is not doing anything of the sort!' Kochanski says, scooting her chair away from Shayne as if the gesture will prove her point. 'We were up most of the night talking, but that's all.'
'So what were you saying about sharing a bed last night then?' Lister asks, the stirrer. 'I mean, I distinctly heard something about that.'
JayVee gets up and begins to pace. 'Okay. I get it now. Me and Cat are the only two on this ship who are actually straight,' she says.
'You ain't fully straight, Jayv, an' don' try and tell me otherwise,' Shayne says.
'I'm straight!' Kill Crazy protests.
'Those of us who are actually in a relationship,' JayVee amends, which doesn't really make Kill Crazy feel any better.
'I'm not in a relationship with her!' Kochanski says.
'You shared a bed!'
'To sleep,' Shayne says.
JayVee folds her arms. 'And you expect me to believe... oh...' Her sentence stops there as Madonna the cat begins oiling around her ankles, purring like a blender. 'Maddy, go to bed! Go!' she hisses, but it's too late.
'Is that a cat?' Rimmer asks. 'What are you doing with a cat?'
'She's doing a lot with a Cat,' the Cat says, being a smartaleck.
'What... oh. Never mind... I didn't just ask that...'
'You did too,' Shayne says. 'Jayv, what's Maddy doing here?'
'She's part of the crew,' JayVee says. 'We're not getting rid of her.'
'Of course not,' Lister says. 'Nobody said anything of the sort, JayVee! You don't need to worry about Maddy.'
JayVee looks relieved. She still looks confused under that, though. 'So who is Kris sleeping with, then?'
'It used to be me,' Lister says. 'But that was a long time ago.'
'So your bread's buttered both sides,' JayVee nods. 'That's gotta make sense, especially with prison.'
'Everyone's bisexual,' Shayne broad-sweeping-states. 'It's just that some people are more tilted one way than the other. It's a fact.'
'What sort of fact is that?' Rimmer asks. 'One you just made up on the spur of the moment?'
'Not really,' Lister says. 'I've heard that one myself.'
Rimmer sighs and drinks some more coffee. He swears he's still got that strange, thick, salty-bitter taste at the back of his throat. Coughing, he realises JayVee is regarding him rather amusedly.
'Don't choke,' she says.
'I'll try not to.' Rimmer finishes his drink and gets up for a refill. JayVee gives his butt a friendly swat on the way past, and he jumps, but manages to keep walking without paying much attention. Lister, meanwhile, is trying not to take JayVee's innocent-seeming remark in totally the wrong way, and failing miserably.
'Yeah, it's a fact, innit Jayv?' Shayne is on a roll now. 'One in ten people are only gay, right? Or so the story goes.'
'But they say two in twenty sounds less lonely,' JayVee contributes around a mouthful of coffee.
'Yeah. An' then there's the thing where somethin' like forty percent of people are not only straight, either,' Shayne says. 'Like, they've had a homosexual experience....'
'...which led to orgasm,' JayVee says.
Lister cocks an eyebrow. 'You two do a lot of reading or something?'
'Touching on the subject closest to their hearts,' Rimmer says.
'Sex,' Lister says.
'Just 'cos you males always think with ya little heads,' Shayne says cheerfully. 'It's gotta be a fact or something, around the right girl -- or guy -- guys can't think straight at all.'
'Not around the right guy, anyway,' the Cat says, twisting her meaning of 'straight'. He reaches out and pulls JayVee down onto his lap. 'Is there a point to this conversation?'
'Not besides the one I'm sitting on,' JayVee cracks, to a loud groan from... well... everyone else. The Cat grins and wriggles a little, and JayVee's eyes widen a bit. Shayne rolls her eyes at her friend and JayVee starts giggling.
'Anyway...' she says.
'So what were we fighting about again?' Rimmer asks.
'You and Dave,' Kochanski says.
'Nothing to fight about. There's nothing going on between us,' Rimmer says.
'Bullshit,' Shayne says cheerfully.
'I think your relationship's coming along nicely,' JayVee cracks. 'At least, that's the impression I got from Krissie...' She nods at Kochanski, who rolls her eyes and pretends to throw up. 'Did you work out who it was, Krissie?'
'I'm not telling you,' Lister says, before Kochanski can really start giving him a meaningful look. 'I just don't think it's important.'
Kochanski looks at Rimmer.
'Okay, it was him,' Rimmer says, and to the chorus of shared laughter Lister pretends to punch him out. Tensions are eased now, and it looks like the Starbug crew might actually survive this one...
Chapter 14: Impossible Nuances
A long time ago, Dave Lister was in love with Kristine Kochanski. He thought he'd never even look at another man, let alone kiss one, let alone have one do the incredibly delicious things that Arnold Rimmer can do with his mouth.
But his mind has been changed somewhat....
'Oh God...' Lister throws his head back and claws his fingers into the curly hair of his roommate, who currently has his mouth between Lister's legs, sucking his cock. 'Don't stop...'
'I have no intention of stopping,' Rimmer mumbles around his mouthful. His tongue flickers along Lister's cock, making the younger man moan with pleasure. Then his head is dipping again, taking Lister in ever more fully, and as Rimmer feels soft flesh meet the back of his throat, Lister cries out and bucks his hips upward. Rimmer's mouth is flooded with that salty-bitter taste and he swallows hastily so he won't be drowned. It would be a hell of a way to go, he thinks.
'How do you do that?' Lister pants as Rimmer crawls up to lie stretched out beside him.
'Do what?' Rimmer asks innocently.
'You know. It's like...' Lister gestures impotently. 'It's like you've done it before.'
'I have. This morning, in the shower,' Rimmer says, being a smartarse as usual. Lister lightly whacks him across the shoulder with one hand, and Rimmer giggles. He leans over and presses a generous kiss to the skin of Lister's neck, now applying light suction.
'Don't you dare give me a hickey, I'll kill you,' Lister says, pushing his head away.
'I think that's the least of my worries at the moment,' Rimmer says.
'What's the greatest of your worries?' Lister starts drawing on Rimmer's bare chest with a fingertip. He's completely naked. Rimmer is wearing only blue jeans with a black belt that has a silver buckle bearing the Red Dwarf logo. Lister's eyes are repeatedly drawn to this buckle, as well as the bulge in the denim beneath it.
'Kris,' Rimmer says.
'Because she wants to kill me.'
'Well, if she kills you, I'll kill Shayne. And then the Cat will... I don't know.'
'The Cat will probably just bend JayVee over the pool table again,' says Rimmer, imitating Lister's drawing patterns and realising they're both drawing hearts.
'How did you know that?'
Rimmer snorts. 'Honestly, Lister, do you really think your little charade with the sign language fooled anyone? We all guessed what happened right away.'
'I just don't understand the split lip he's got,' Lister says. 'D'you think he really did fall down the stairs?'
Rimmer, who has seen Fight Club, chooses to keep his own counsel. For a long moment the room is quiet except for their breathing. Then Rimmer looks down at Lister and sees the younger man looking up at him with an expression on his face that can only be described as lust.
'What do you want?' Rimmer asks quietly.
Lister goes red, realising he's been caught. 'Uh... nothing?'
'Oh, sure.' Rimmer leans down and kisses him thoroughly. Lister tastes that raw taste again, that taste that he knows is him. He doesn't especially like it, but then, he doesn't especially dislike it either. And there's an indefinable feeling he gets when he tastes it, too, a primeval emotion stirred deep within him. One of his hands lifts of its own volition and presses against the front of Rimmer's jeans, eliciting a gasp from him.
'You like that, hmmm?'
Rimmer's eyes were cool, calm and collected. His entire face was. Now, though his cheeks have only slightly reddened, it's his eyes that give him away. They're filled with emotion: surprise, pleasure, a hint of fear, but mostly raw lust. So without waiting for an answer, Lister touches him again, his palm pushing against the soft heavy curve under the denim, fingers curving, moulding to the material and rubbing. Rimmer pushes against him and seems to be having trouble breathing.
'You're not answering me. Do. You. Like. That?' Lister's hand tightens on Rimmer's cock to the point where any more pressure will make it painful.
Rimmer manages to nod his head. His eyes have closed and he's breathing in short, sharp gasps through his half-open mouth as Lister continues circling his hand over the hard bulge in Rimmer's jeans. Every so often he varies his stroke, squeezing harder, and Rimmer always takes in a sharper breath when he does it.
There's a sound Rimmer can't quite define for a moment, a sort of tearing sound, and he decides it can't be too important... until, that is, Lister's hand slides in through his fly and cups his cock through the thin satin of his boxers.
'Boxers, Rimmer?' He can hear the raised eyebrow and the amused look in Lister's voice.
'Yes, dammit! Boxers!' Speaking these three words, ignoring what Lister is doing with his thumb - circling it lightly over the head of his cock -- is the biggest effort Rimmer has ever had to make.
Lister's hand goes away for a minute then, and Rimmer is about to protest, but then he feels the waistband of his shorts being lifted. Without speaking he starts jerking his hips in a wordless plea, and a faint whimper escapes his throat when Lister's hand finally encircles his cock, bare skin on bare skin.
That whimper goes straight to Lister's groin, bypassing his ears and brain, and if he thought he was still soft a minute ago from Rimmer giving him head earlier then he's wrong. He's suddenly harder than he's ever been before and it almost hurts. Rimmer notices, of course - how could he not notice? -- and without opening his eyes or even seeming to move much suddenly his hand is wrapped around Lister's cock and they're lying there holding each other.
Neither knows who says what. It doesn't matter. It's background information. Something that's just a tiny sound behind the rush and pound of their own heartbeats in their own ears. Whatever blood isn't concentrated... elsewhere... is rushing around their bodies with the urgency of a sprinter.
One of them has to start first. One of them has to make the first move now, or this moment could be the last they spend together like this. Lister will go back to Kochanski, and Rimmer -- Rimmer will probably kill himself.
Lister starts. Fingers wrapped around his roommate's cock, feeling the smooth skin move over the hard muscle. It's like touching a rock wrapped in silk, and somehow different to touching himself. Maybe because when he does it to himself he doesn't hear that tone of gasp, or feel that thrusting against the palm of his hand.
Rimmer can't even move his own hand in response for a long moment. There's just no motivation to do it. But then he thinks, well, share and share alike, and without straining his brain any further instead starts carefully imitating Lister's rhythm.
As they get deeper and deeper into the encounter, breathing seems to be optional. Lister's is ragged and features the occasional tortured gasp as Rimmer does something particularly good. Rimmer's, on the other hand, is almost normal by comparison...
...until Lister shoves his hand away, pushes him onto his back, and pins him down, taking Rimmer's cock into his mouth all in one quick move.
Rimmer lets out a strangled yelp, and automatically thrusts upward into the younger man's mouth. Lister fights the gag reflex and wins... at least for the moment. He pulls away a little and puts his hands on Rimmer's hips, fingers fanned out over the smooth skin, pinning him down.
Then he starts to play.
Tongue runs up one side, down the other. Quick flicker of tongue tip over cock tip. This elicits a moan from the trembling man, and Lister, closing his eyes the better to concentrate on what his mouth has to do, thinks he hears his own name in that moan. The thought sends a delicious shiver down his spine. Flutter of the tongue again, then pressing forward to take in as much of his roommate's cock as possible.
This time he knows he hears his own name.
He's tasted semen before. His own, in Rimmer's mouth. But that aftertaste does nothing to prepare him for the flood of salty bitterness that fills his mouth and covers his tongue, and Oh God he's got to swallow hard but if it were a choice between breathing and hearing Rimmer moan his name like that just once more he'd sooner drown.
Lister lifts his head and swallows again. That taste, which under most circumstances he would probably describe as 'revolting', has its own strange appeal. It's a taste that is only Rimmer, and as such it is a joy to endure.
Then he crawls up the bed to lie beside his bunkmate, who is still flat on his back, boxers around his thighs, eyes shut, breath coming in great hectic gasps like hyperventilation.
'You're a sight for sore eyes, you know,' he tells Rimmer.
'That good, huh?'
Rimmer manages to open one eye. 'And you asked me if I'd ever given head before.'
Lister grins playfully. 'Aw. I've been on the receiving end of it enough times to know what feels good.'
Rimmer closes the eye again. 'I wonder how girls can stand to do that all the time?' he thinks aloud. 'I mean, no offence, but it's not the most wonderful...'
Lister places a finger across his lips. 'Belt up, will you? I don't think they can stand to do it, you know. It's just that they do, and that's all that matters.' His heartbeat is still pounding in his ears.
Rimmer opens both eyes. He looks strangely upset. 'They do it, and that's all that matters? Don't you care if they like it or not?' He drags his boxers and jeans back up to where they belong and starts piecing his clothing back together.
Lister drags on his own boxers, feeling a little defensive as he picks up his jeans -- discarded ages ago -- and pulls them on as well. 'Of course I do! But... I mean... would they do it if they didn't like it?'
'You'd be s'prised,' says a voice from the doorway.
Lister jumps. 'Holy shit!' Then he sees who it is, and groans. 'Shayne, what are you doing here?'
'Wishin' I had a camera,' Shayne says. 'This'd look lovely in the Red Dwarf yearbook.' She grins lazily and stretches, going up on her toes, her hands nearly reaching the ceiling at full stretch, even though she is petite. Petite? She's built like a bulldog, but sure as hell doesn't look like one. When Lister moves he feels a throb of almost painful desire between his legs, and hopes she hasn't spotted the very obvious bulge in his boxers. Kerry Shayne being attractive to him? Surely not. But he is staring.
'Dave, I came in here 'cause Krissie wants to talk to ya. But lemme warn ya, if you go down there without takin' a cold shower first, she's gonna know exactly what you been doin'. And from what she just said to me, she'll be jealous,' Shayne says, her auburn hair catching the light as she drops back down from her tiptoe position. 'So watch yaself, OK? 'Cause I catch you messin' around if she don' want you to, you gonna be dogmeat.' With that she whisks out of the room and is gone.
'Shit,' Lister says when she is gone.
'Yep,' Rimmer says.
'I'd better go.'
'Is that all you're gonna say?'
The word has subtle nuances every time Rimmer says it. The first is agreement. The second is a kind of sympathy. But the third is tinged with regret. Lister hears this, and pauses on his way over to the shower.
'Are you OK?'
Sadness shows in Rimmer's eyes. 'Yep.'
'Yep,' Rimmer confesses.
Lister comes back, sits down on the edge of the bunk, and takes Rimmer's hand in his. 'What's the matter?'
'I don't want you to go.'
'I gotta. That, or Kris will come up here, and then she'll get mad.'
'No.' Rimmer looks agitated. 'You don't understand. I don't want you to go back to her.'
'I love you.'
Lister can't breathe for a full minute. His mouth opens and closes, he's a fish out of water. The whole minute Rimmer just lies there and looks up at him with those big sad hazel puppy-dog eyes. If he started whimpering Lister would not be surprised.
'I love you,' Rimmer repeats patiently.
Some emotion chances across Lister's face, but then it's gone. 'Rimmer, no.'
Rimmer sits up abruptly, pushing Lister's hand away. 'How can you not believe me? We've spent the past God knows how many years together, occasionally in the same bunk. We've dreamt about each other. We've eaten together, slept together, worked together and even jerked off together, and now you're fleeing back to your nice straight world where you don't have to worry about me.' The last few words are spat out angrily. 'I suppose you think you can just forget about me, about me sucking you off, about how much I want you, about how much I love you!'
Lister is stunned into a deep, dead silence. Rimmer, unfortunately, takes this silence as refusal to answer, and gets off the bunk, legs working in short, annoyed thrusts as he crosses the room to the shower, reaches inside, and snaps both the taps off. A gush of water pours from both of them. He throws the metal handles at Lister, who stands up, looking shocked.
'Rimmer, what the...'
'Shut up!' Rimmer is angry. 'Shut up, shut up, shut up!' He sweeps a stack of revision papers off the table, crosses to the sink, throws the toothpaste and their matching military grey toothbrushes at his roommate, follows it up with the shampoo bottle, follows that up with the water glass that sits next to the soap holder. He hears the glass shatter on the wall next to the bunk, but already his hands are scrabbling for the next object -- the soap, the conditioner, a comb, a sponge, whatever. The water spurting like an out-of-control ejaculation from the shower is beginning to flood out into the room, the drain not enough to cope with the constant heavy flow. Rimmer splashes over to the towel rack beside the shower door, pulls both blue towels off the rack, balls them up, flings them at his roommate. He bounds back across the room to the bookshelf, grabs Lister's Popup Kama Sutra: Zero-Gravity Edition and flings it across the room. Lister is huddled on the bunk, screaming something that Rimmer can't hear over the furious pounding of his own heart. Around and around the room. Books, clothes, socks, the sock basket, the pillow from the bunk above the one Lister is curled up on, blankets, whatever Rimmer can lay his hands on, he throws.
Somewhere among all the flurry and fluster he realises Lister is getting up, but he doesn't really register it until with a sudden pounce, Lister has him pinned to the floor in the inch of water that has pooled near the shower door.
'I hate you!'
'Rimmer, will you just calm down!'
'I hate you!'
'I hate you!'
'I hate you, hate you, hate you!'
'I love you.'
Lister says this last in a voice as soft as the brush of a butterfly's wing on a child's cheek, but the three words have more power than anything he has screamed previously. Rimmer stops screaming, stunned, and gapes up at his roommate, who leans down to press a gentle kiss to his forehead.
'I love you.'
Rimmer sobs. 'Oh, Listy...'
'I broke your book.'
'You broke a lot of stuff. Don't worry, I'll help you clean up.'
'Kris is waiting for you.'
Lister, lying atop Rimmer, rubs against him very slowly and deliberately. 'I. Don't. Care.'
Rimmer gasps for the four thousandth time that day, then lifts a hand and pulls Lister's head down, meeting his mouth with his own. They lie in the water, surrounded by the mess, oblivious to anything but this shared kiss and their two hot, seeking mouths and tongues.
Kochanski has arrived.
Chapter 15: Impossible Origins by Princess Lauren
Kochanski stands in the doorway for an impossibly long moment, just staring down at the duo entwined on the floor. Then, a sob escaping her throat, she turns and flees.
'Ah, fuck,' Lister says.
'Get off me,' Rimmer says.
'If you'd said that five minutes ago my girl wouldn't just have run out.'
'Like she's your girl.'
'Well, she's nobody else's girl,' Lister says.
As it turns out, he is wrong.
'Together,' Shayne says, slowly and thoughtfully.
Kochanski nods, a tissue firmly clamped in one hand, tears staining her face. 'I mean, I'd heard what you said, and I thought you were for real, but I guess it didn't really register until I saw them together on the floor,' she says. 'Oh, God, that room was a mess... I don't know why it was such a mess, but it was...'
Shayne, knowing something of the ways of jilted lovers, thinks she knows just what happened to make the duo's room such a mess, but doesn't say anything. Instead, she leans back in her chair and lights a cigarette.
'Krissie, listen,' she says after two drags. She gives Kochanski a serious look. 'If what they decided is to be together, you gotta let 'em do what they wanna do. The thing to remember here is that th' decisions in life hafta be left up to th' people makin' them, not to whoever wants them to go their way.'
'I didn't think I loved him,' Kochanski says, 'but now I'm not so sure... seeing them like that made me jealous, Kerry, you know?'
Shayne slaps her arm -- hard -- without even thinking about it. 'I thought I told you all don' call me Kerry,' she says.
Kochanski winces and pulls her arm back. 'Shayne! What did you do that for?'
'Shit, Krissie, I'm sorry,' Shayne says, a look of remorse crossing her face. 'Shit, babe, for a moment there I... thought you was Jayv. It was an accident, babe.'
Kochanski shakes her head. 'How did JayVee put up with you slapping her around all the time, Shayne? Did you hit her last night? Is that how she got the bruise on her head? Did you hit her again?'
Shayne holds up her hands, remembers the cigarette in one of them, and takes another drag. 'Krissie, no. I didn' hit her. All you hafta do is think about that meetin', you'll figure out who hit her.' She waves her cigarette. 'It wasn' me, that's all I'm sayin'.'
Biting her lower lip lightly, Kochanski thinks. Shayne's attention is drawn to her perfect white teeth, the pretty pink flesh of her lip bulging out around them, and she is flooded with a sudden wave of desire stronger than she's ever felt for Kochanski before.
'The Cat. But why would Cat hurt JayVee?'
'Babe, listen. It's all part of a game, y'know? Jayv likes getting slapped around. It makes her feel good. Th' thing is, Kris, that some people have really sick parents, an' Jayv's one of them. She got taught to need that kinda thing, an' I couldn' break her of the habit.' Shayne's blue eyes are filled with pain. 'When I firs' met her she was really, really screwed up, an' I mean that in ways you couldn' ever understand. Her Dad was sick, babe. Real sick. An' even though I don' really approve of stickin' with what he did to her, she wants it. 'Sides, she's holdin' her own with th' Cat. Didja see his face? Split lip? It's all good pain, Krissie... love-pain, an' that's th' best kind.' Shayne stretches and butts her cigarette in a nearby plant pot.
'I didn't know she had been abused,' Kochanski says, awed, terrified, sympathetic. 'That's terrible!'
Shayne lights another cigarette. 'No, Kris. That's life.'
Ten minutes later, they still haven't moved, and Lister still hasn't shown up to say anything, not that, Kochanski thinks, there is anything he could possibly say in this situation anyway.
'So. Kris. How'd you get into the Space Corps?'
Kochanski thinks of a young woman named Erin, a bad drinking habit, and of being evicted.
'I just did, I guess,' she says. 'It was what everyone was doing, it was the right thing to do... I don't know, Shayne, what sort of question is that?'
Shayne blows a smoke ring; she's onto her third cigarette. 'Shit, Krissie, I dunno. It was jus' something to ask.'
'Those coffin nails will kill you,' Kochanski says.
'I know. It's easier than waiting for it to happen naturally,' Shayne says. She looks at the glowing tip of the cigarette in her hand for a long moment: the thin grey plumes of smoke curling up from it look deceptively innocent, but the red glow of the tip gives it away for what it is -- death with a filter tip.
'Shayne, you're one of the most... the most resilient people I know. Why on Earth would you want to die?'
Shayne shrugs. Her Martian accent heavily colours her next words. 'Kay-kay, when you've been through as much shit as I have, death is a bright prospect.'
Kochanski stiffens at Shayne's use of her childhood nickname, and at the rest of her words. 'Don't talk like that.'
'It's th' only way I've got t' talk,' Shayne says. 'Babe, listen. I've been called a 'leso' since high school. An' worse.' She lifts her hair slightly on the left. 'Look.'
Kochanski leans forward to look, and sees the jagged dark scar behind Shayne's ear that stands out like the nose on a certain reindeer named Rudolph. 'Shayne, what happened to you?' she asks.
Shayne drops her hair again. Kochanski's breath stirs it. 'Knife wound,' she says briefly. 'A guy though' I was hittin' on his girl.' She pauses, then adds, 'I was seventeen.'
Seventeen. Ouch. Kochanski decides against saying it. 'But you're a survivor,' she says. 'A little Martian battler.'
Shayne snorts laughter. 'And that got me names too,' she says. 'I got called a 'Martian muff-muncher' one night in a nightclub.'
Kochanski giggles. She can't help it. And the way her breath stirs Shayne's hair again in tiny little puffs makes her realise just how close she is sitting to the other girl, and that she has not moved back since looking at Shayne's scar. Shayne turns her head slightly and she's smiling too. The two of them sit for a minute, looking at each other, until Shayne turns away to butt out her cigarette.
'Y'know, Krissie,' she says, almost too casually as she turns back, 'I never would've thought you'd kiss me in front of the guys like ya did this morning.'
'Oh, that.' Kochanski nibbles her lower lip. Shayne's eyes focus on it. 'I don't know... I just wanted to see how they'd react...'
'An' the reaction ya got from me wasn' enough?' Shayne raises one tawny eyebrow: they are lighter than her hair, the same colour as JayVee's hair. 'Kris, ya gotta be careful... ya don' wanna tease people too much like that.'
Before she quite realises what she is doing, Kochanski has leaned forward and brushed her lips across Shayne's. She draws back, seeing Shayne's eyes widen in surprise, and says:
'It's not teasing if you plan to go through with it.'
Shayne doesn't ask her if she's sure, or if she's serious; the look in Kochanski's eyes had already given her the answers. Instead, she just opens her arms, and Kochanski comes to her.
Where do you turn when you've lost the person you were falling in love with to someone else? What do you do when your world has been shaken by the realisation that someone close to you has secrets you'd never imagined? How can you rebuild your faith in the world when all your normal, stable facts have been crushed like ants?
They start with kissing, which they've done before. Shayne's mouth tastes faintly of the cigarettes she has been smoking, but Kochanski doesn't mind -- at least as far as that goes, it's not too different to kissing Dave. But Dave was never quite this considerate about kissing her. He kissed like he was eating watermelon -- all tongue and lips and wet. Shayne kisses like she's genuinely interested in making it good.
And it is good. Somehow the petite girl's finding all Kochanski's weak spots and teasing them. Her tongue tastes Kochanski's mouth delicately, picking up the mixture of old salt tears and the slightly sweet taste that is Kochanski's own special personal taste. The combination drives Shayne wild, that and the fact that she feels like she's finally picked the forbidden fruit and it tastes just like Heaven.
With one last flicker of her tongue along Kochanski's Shayne pulls back, and this time she does ask:
'Are you sure about this?'
'We'll just have to see where it leads,' Kochanski says; Shayne has accurately spotted the slight look of trepidation in her eyes, but she thinks that whatever Kris says about stopping if it gets to be too much, she'll at least be able to make her understand something more about the ways of women.
They have been sitting on the edge of the bed, and now Shayne links her arms around Kochanski's neck, leaning back and lying down and taking the other woman with her. They kiss again, lightly, and Kochanski wriggles into a comfortable position beside Shayne, one arm sliding under her back, the other resting on her own hip as she lies on her back and turns her head to face her bunkmate.
'You tell me to stop if ya need to.' Shayne's voice is unbelievably soft and gentle, and Kochanski looks at her in some surprise. Shayne is lying on her side, facing Kochanski, her arms still half around Kochanski's neck, but one hand leaves her neck and drifts down to begin tracing circles on her stomach. 'OK?'
'Right. I will.' Kochanski says this, thinks But you'd better remind me, because these days I don't know where 'stop' is.
The hand on her stomach is drawing patterns over the red T-shirt Kochanski is wearing over loose tracksuit pants. With a strange jolt in her stomach, she remembers that she's not wearing a bra, and wonders if Shayne will notice. Maybe not... Her eyes close and she just lies back and enjoys the soft, almost nonexistent touch of Shayne's hands. Shayne's other hand is playing with her hair, and that feels nice too.
Shayne can't quite believe that she is where she is, but maybe it doesn't matter. Even dreams can be real at times. She's dreamt about something like this before, and isn't entirely sure that she isn't just dreaming again. Closing her eyes, she puts her face close to Krissie's and inhales deeply of the scent of her hair and skin. Generic JMC shampoo and soap, but again there's that tang underneath that is just Kochanski.
They lie there in silence for at least a quarter of an hour, Shayne continuing to draw her pictures on Kochanski's stomach. Kochanski feels it as a feather-light touch, and it works in such a way as to make her feel as if she isn't really wearing her shirt. She can't feel the fabric moving: only Shayne's fingertips like five dots of fire heating her skin.
Then Shayne's hand drifts upward, fingers grazing lightly over one of her breasts, and Kochanski is suddenly very aware of the clothing she is wearing -
-- and how much she suddenly wants to take it off.
However, for whatever reason (would it be too forward? does she really want to anyway?), she doesn't. But she can feel her nipples harden into little peaks, and knows that Shayne has done that. And for the first time since her 'stop' warning, Shayne speaks.
'No... oh, very funny.' Kochanski grimaces and is about to giggle when Shayne brushes the palm of her hand across Krissie's left breast, and the sensation just sends all thoughts spinning out of her head. Sure, she's been touched there before, but not even her most considerate lover (whoever it was -- she can't quite remember right at the moment) is any competition for Kerry Shayne.
Kochanski arches her back, pushing up against Shayne's hand, and Shayne turns her stroke into a soft squeeze that makes Kochanski gasp. Yes. Definitely better than a male. Did she just think that? Never mind.
After a couple more minutes of this, Shayne thoroughly enjoying the pleasure she is inflicting on her bunkmate, she slows down to the point where she is barely touching her.
Krissie's eyes open again. Is she stopping?
Chapter 16: Impossible Positions
Dedicated (truly, madly, deeply) to the newly-formed Red Dwarf Slash Society - myself, JaimeBlue, Chriss Corkscrew, and Tronella.
(I just included that disclaimer as a measurement of how old this fic is. Back then the RDSS had four members. Now (January 2010) it has over 500 and has expanded from Yahoo Groups to LiveJournal.)
Shayne isn't stopping. With a casual slow slide that she is obviously not trying to scare Kochanski with, she moves her hand down over Kochanski's shirt and then up under it to settle on her stomach, bare skin on bare skin. She pauses for a long moment, making sure that Kochanski isn't going to protest, then starts circling her fingertips lightly across her smooth skin.
The door is still open. If Dave or anyone walks in now, especially if it's JayVee, they are both going to cop an earful. And whoever walks in will cop an eyeful. But Kochanski is enjoying Shayne's touch too much to think about such petty things as being caught. Besides, surely Dave would have come in by now if he was going to say anything.
She feels Shayne drawing butterfly wings on her stomach around her navel and giggles.
'I'd draw angel wings if ya were lying on ya stomach,' Shayne says.
'I don't deserve them,' Kochanski says ruefully.
'From where I'm lyin' ya do. Ya look gorgeous, Krissie. An' you're a good person, too.'
'If I'm such a good person, what am I doing lying here with you?' Kochanski challenges. 'I should be with my nice, straight boyfriend.'
'Ya boyfriend ain't straight. 'Sides, he's hardly your boyfriend anymore.'
'Guess you're right.'
'I'm always right,' Shayne says. 'Turn over, I wanna give you a massage.'
Shayne wriggles up onto her knees and rolls Kochanski over onto her stomach, then straddles her hips and settles astride her, hands drawing the promised angel wings before anything else. Kochanski feels them and laughs.
'You're an angel too.'
'Ya don' mean that.'
'No, I do.' Kochanski rolls onto her back -- a difficult feat, with Shayne on her - and looks up seriously into Shayne's face. 'You're so caring and everything...'
'I care abou' you, Kris,' Shayne replies. 'Everyone else can jus' go to Hell.' Her hands smooth down over the fabric of Kochanski's T-shirt, then slide all the way up under it to cup her breasts. Her thumbs make light circles over Kochanski's hard nipples, and Shayne tilts her head to one side to judge the effect this is having on her bunkmate.
The effect is nothing short of electric. Kochanski cries out and arches her back, collapsing back onto the bed with a soft thump, and her blue eyes open wide, wide, wide, staring up at Shayne with something like... like nothing Shayne's ever seen before. A mixture of pleasure and lust and need. This very moment seems to be the one that Shayne's been brought into existence for -- to introduce her angel to this different, formerly forbidden gratification.
'Is that OK?'
'Better than...' Kochanski closes her eyes, unable to think about seeing and feeling at the same time. Shayne's just wishing that Krissie was wearing a button-shirt instead of a T, because if she wants to keep going she's going to have to ask Kochanski to take it off, and that might break the spell Shayne seems to have managed to lay on her.
Shayne leans over and dusts Kochanski's face with soft kisses, not stopping the movements of her hands. Kochanski seems torn between pushing against her hands and her mouth.
'That's not me, Krissie.'
'Are you sure?'
Shayne nuzzles the side of Kochanski's throat. 'Pretty sure.'
'I'm pretty sure too,' Kochanski says. She opens her eyes, lifts her hands and pauses Shayne's in their tracks, then somehow slides them out from under her shirt and around her waist. Then she's kissing Shayne again and no kiss has ever been this sweet. From the softness to the actual literal taste of Shayne's mouth, it's sweet.
'If you're not God, you're an angel,' she mumbles into Shayne's mouth.
'Cut the crap.'
'If you weren't, would I let you do this? Would I do this with you?' Kochanski amends.
Shayne looks straight into Kochanski's eyes. It's easy. They're mouth to mouth, almost nose to nose, eye to eye. 'An' what exactly are you doin'? 'Cause all I see you doin' is layin' there.'
It's a dare and Kochanski knows is and now Shayne's worried that she's pushed it too far, but even as she's opening her mouth to somehow take it back - her, Kerry Shayne, who's never taken a damn thing back in her life -- Kochanski is laying a finger across her lips to silence her. And then she's lowering her mouth to the side of Shayne's neck and oh God there's gonna be one hell of a hickey there in a little while. But it doesn't matter because her mouth's moving down, down her throat to find the wildly beating pulse and kiss it lightly, then down again to trace the line of the collar of Shayne's own shirt all the way down to the V that points down like an arrow to where Shayne is beginning to desperately wish Krissie's mouth was.
'Sssh.' Kochanski's usually nimble fingers fumble, however, when they come to the top button of Shayne's shirt -- which is button-through - and Shayne raises her hands to stop her.
'Are you sure?' she asks softly.
'I'm not sure if I'm sure.' Kochanski voices a high, cracked laugh. Shayne winces.
'Krissie, if this isn' what you want, I'm not gonna make you do anythin',' she says.
'Ah...' Kochanski hesitates just that moment too long and Shayne nods. Resignedly, she gets up off the bunk, and pauses beside it, looking down at her roomie.
'It's okay, Krissie,' she says in that unnervingly gentle voice she seems to reserve exclusively for Kochanski. 'I don' mind. You gotta take it slow. I know what it feels like -- almost like wakin' up. You just realise you're attracted to your best friend or somethin', and there ain't nothin' harder to deal with.' Except, maybe, being that friend -- and returning those feelings. 'I'm gonna go and see what Jayv's doing, and you just get yourself settled, OK?'
'No, Shayne, really--' Kochanski makes a half-rush at her, and Shayne catches her easily by the wrists, pinning her against the door frame.
'Please, stay with me,' Kochanski pleads.
Shayne wavers. She's torn between giving Kochanski time to sort this out on her own -- and possibly having her swing back the other way (pardon the pun) -- and going back inside, locking the door, and, basically, shagging the girl silly.
But the former option is going to be the way to go. Especially with the outside influence...
Lister, who has been standing just down the corridor for some minutes, has made up his mind to walk down the corridor and stand just outside Kochanski and Shayne's room for a while. Except that now Shayne is in the doorway... and now Krissie is with her... and the two look a little involved right at the moment.
Shayne is about to let go of Kochanski, maybe give her a light whack like she'd give JayVee ages ago, just to set her head straight, but then Kochanski lurches forward and presses a rather sloppy kiss to the corner of Shayne's mouth.
And then Lister decides it's time to come and see what the heck is going on.
'Hi, ladies. Not interrupting anything, am I?'
Shayne puts on her standard-self and sneers. 'No,' she says. 'Not unless ya left Rimmer to come down here an' bug us.'
'No, he's asleep,' Lister says, randomly picking an excuse. He has no idea where his bunkmate is. 'Either of you care to explain what's going on here?'
Shayne drops Kochanski's hands and pushes past Lister, headed arrogantly for the cockpit. She has no intention of being the one to explain the situation to him, and Kochanski sighs when she realises the impossible position she's been left in.
Meanwhile, Lister is waiting for an explanation. And she doesn't really have one.
Apart from the truth...
Chapter 17: Impossible Queries
'So, what was that all about?' Lister asks as Kochanski sags back against the door frame, looking as if someone's just put her through a glass-topped coffee table.
'I don't know.' She's breathless, shocked, and judging by the look on her face, at least thirty percent aroused as well. Lister's eyes drop to the front of her shirt for a moment and he is provided with evidence to back up the latter. 'I just don't know. I didn't want her to go... I...' With a swift shake of her head Kochanski clears the cobwebs in her brain. 'This is insane. I am not attracted to her. I can't be. I'm straight.'
'Kris.' Lister's voice is as soft as dew falling on a rose petal. 'Have you ever considered the possibility that you might not be straight?'
'I'm not gay!' Kochanski stumbles away from her lifeline, the door, and slumps down onto her bunk. The roomy bottom bunk, which still smells like Shayne's shampoo and body and self. Shit. She gets back up and chooses a chair over at the table, which at least doesn't make her think about... about... dammit. 'I can't be... I like guys!' she blurts out, much to Lister's amusement. He comes over and sits down beside her at the table.
'Kris, I've realised something over the past few weeks, and that is that love can be anywhere you find it. Whether you're male or female you can find it with a male or female, and there's nothing wrong about same sex relationships. The giving and the taking can be exactly the same as in a hetero relationship.' He reaches out and covers her hands with his larger ones. 'Love is where you find it and what you make it, not what society makes of it, and if the person you fall in love with happens to be the same gender as yourself, who gives a smeg? Big deal. Go through with it. Who knows, maybe they'll be able to understand you better.' He swallows, and there's a dry click in the back of his throat. 'Understand you better and love you more. Maybe there's just that extra something that Kerry Shayne can give you that I couldn't offer, too.'
Kochanski looks straight at him, her little hands shaking slightly in his. 'Are you saying that you ended up with Rimmer because I rejected you?' she says.
'Where did that come from? We were talking about you and Shayne!' Lister protests.
'Were we really?' Kochanski asks. 'I'm not so sure that we were. Because a lot of the things you just said then could apply to you and Rimmer as well.'
Lister sighs and shakes his head at her. 'Kris, I...' He stops. 'Maybe you're right,' he admits. 'I'm just trying to prove to myself that I'm doing the right thing.'
'Do you think you're gay?'
'Do you?' Kochanski presses.
'I don't know. I... I always liked women. Maybe I'm bi.' This is a more cheering thought than any other. 'I could like both. You could like both. This was you and Shayne we started off talking about, remember?' Lister says, trying to deny a memory that has irresistibly bubbled up to the surface of his mind. Fantasies about Rimmer. Hell. And wishing he had Kris back... he experimentally touches on those feelings, and is surprised to find that they are still there.
'Oh, well. JayVee's gone back to being straight, maybe the great balance of things necessitated someone else to be Shayne's partner,' Kochanski says.
'No... not yet anyway. That's not to say that I haven't vaguely thought about it.' She has vaguely thought about it, but only very vaguely. Those thoughts scare her still. 'You and Rimmer?'
'Uh... not in the realest sense of the word,' Lister says.
'Realest? Sheesh,' Kochanski says. 'That's not a word.'
'It is now,' Lister says.
They sit there a moment longer, two confused people in their own little worlds, until the alarm on Kochanski's watch goes off.
'Ah... that's my shot in the cockpit. Better go soon -- that's ten minutes to go, that is,' she says. She realises that this sentence doesn't make the greatest of sense, but doesn't care. She looks closely at the watch in order to cover her confusion. 'Hey, it's nearly six-thirty. Shouldn't the Cat be in here nagging you for his dinner?'
'Kris, listen.' Lister squeezes her hands, not tightly, just enough to get her attention. 'I was about to come and find you and tell you something when I got distracted by Rimmer -- well, when he started chuckin' stuff around the room. I was going to come and tell you something important.'
Kochanski looks up at him, and something on her face... before she can even ask what he was going to say, Lister leans in and kisses her.
It isn't an especially passionate kiss, nor an exceptionally long one, but it's tender and sweet and it's obviously the sort of kiss Lister has been waiting his entire life to give her.
Kochanski, leaning back when it's over, doesn't know how to react. She thought he was... but maybe he isn't... and does all this go back to their non-relationship, the one that had barely graduated to a few pecks on the cheek and comforting hugs? Is that what Dave wants back? Is it what she wants back?
More importantly, can they go back to it?
'You know, I heard a saying once...' Kochanski isn't sure if she can explain this the way she wants to. 'It went, 'You can never go back to holding hands'... after, you know, something serious...'
'Making love?' His dark eyes are fixated on her face; his dark hands are tight on hers.
'Yeah. Uh, I guess I mean... well, to start with, what was that about?' she asks finally.
Lister shrugs. 'I don't know what I can say to that,' he says. 'You just looked... um... I don't know. I just felt like it.'
'You kissed me before, too -- this morning,' Kochanski remembers. 'Because I tasted...'
'I know,' Lister interrupts. 'Sorry.'
'Don't worry,' Kochanski says automatically. 'I barely realised it at the time... I don't know, it just didn't register. What's the story, morning glory? Do you want me back, or what?'
Lister gives her a deep serious look, and Kochanski feels herself melting. 'Would that be a problem?' he asks. His thumb is making circles on the back of her hand. 'I mean, I just realised now, looking at you, that I'm not that prepared to give up... whatever it was we had.'
'Which, you must admit, wasn't much,' Kochanski says, promptly regretting it when she sees a look of pain come into his eyes. 'Well, a couple of kisses, Dave, what can I say? It wasn't as if we were married with three kids and a mortgage.'
'Thank God.' He gives her that serious look again. 'But Kris, what would you say if I offered to make it something more?'
Kochanski doesn't move for a moment. Thoughts swirl through her mind -- Shayne, Rimmer, the people who may be hurt... Will they be? Or will they be all right? Shayne's tough and Rimmer is used to rejection... the chain of thoughts is almost dizzying. She looks at Lister and sees that he is having the same mental struggle.
How can you not believe me? We've spent the past God knows how many years together, occasionally in the same bunk. We've dreamt about each other. We've eaten together, slept together, worked together and even jerked off together, and now you're fleeing back to your nice straight world where you don't have to worry about me... I suppose you think you can just forget about me, about me sucking you off, about how much I want you, about how much I love you!
Can he do it? Can he abandon Rimmer like that?
'Kris...' He shakes his head back into the real world. 'I think I still love you,' he says wonderingly. 'I love you...'
'Can you do that to him?' Kochanski challenges. She's seen something of his thoughts in his eyes. 'Can you leave him like that?'
'You don't know how hard it is!' The words are jerked from Lister's mouth. 'I love him as well!'
'Then maybe you should reconsider what you just asked me to do,' Kochanski says in a hard voice. She pulls her hands out from under Lister's. 'Maybe you should consider the feelings of the person you're already with, before you go and tear them apart.' She stands up. 'I'm going to miss my shift in the cockpit.'
'So come with me, idiot,' Kochanski says in a rather surly burst of concession to Lister's needs. 'Come on... it's only me and Kryten.'
'You and Kryten?' Lister says. 'God... if I go up there he'll get all paranoid and think I'm after you.'
'You are. If his head explodes, you can just put him back together.' Kochanski dusts her hands together briskly and heads out of the room without a backward glance.
After a moment, Lister follows.
Starbug's cockpit is a place where more than a few important discussions have been carried out over their time. Another one is going to be carried out today.
After meeting Kryten in the midsection and talking him into a shift trade (with copious amounts of difficulty, of course), Lister then has to evict Cat and JayVee from the cockpit. The feline and the blonde have locked the door, and... well, it's fortunate that Starbug has an autopilot system even in Holly's absence.
'Come on, Cat,' Lister yells, banging on the door.
'I don't want to know!'
'Dave, that's disgusting,' Kochanski says, while gales of laughter can be heard from beyond the door. Moments later, the Cat and JayVee come out, the latter shamelessly still buttoning her shirt.
'Don't sit in the co-pilot's seat,' she advises.
Kochanski raises an eyebrow. 'You missed a button,' is all she says, pointing out JayVee's mis-buttoning. JayVee blushes, grins, and scuttles into the galley. The Cat follows her, making a smutty joke about having already eaten. Kochanski heads up the steps into the cockpit, Lister following her.
When the door is safely closed behind them, and they are settled in their regular seats, their conversation is resumed.
'It's ultimately your decision, Dave. That's all this is, really -- a decision between two people, right? I'm sure you've been there before, I know I have,' Kochanski says.
'Sort of,' Lister says, absently thinking of one past girlfriend -- or two, rather. 'Yeah, I can do this. I can make this decision.' He takes Starbug off autopilot and does a half-hearted scan to see how far away from Red Dwarf they are now. Their escape has definitely been noticed by now -- how could it not be, with the way they barely scraped out of the landing bay in the first place? -- and Lister decides that Red Dwarf's Captain probably just isn't interested in having them back. After all, only Kochanski -- and maybe Kryten -- of them are really, genuinely useful (unless you're obsessed with having chicken soup right now), and there are other mechanoids and navigators on the big ship. No, it looks like they're safe.
That leaves him with this other question, the impossible query that is going to plague his mind until he decides what he is going to do.
'Kris,' he says after ten minutes that feel like two hours.
'How would you feel -- just hypothetically, like -- if I chose Rimmer over you?'
Kochanski thinks for a bit, hands steepled in front of her face, hair hanging in her eyes. She makes little thinking noises, humming slightly, and Lister sits and watches her.
'I don't know,' she says at last. 'I suppose I'd be all right. You never asked me how I felt when I first found out about the two of you,' she adds.
Lister looks shocked. 'No, I didn't,' he says. 'How did you feel?'
Kochanski's silence is longer this time; she has the answer, she's just trying to sort the words into a coherent order. 'Upset,' she says after a few minutes. 'Not as upset as JayVee was. Sort of not surprised, I guess. I think I'd had time to think about the possibilities. I just... the way you talked about him, especially after you told me you dreamt about him, you know?'
So you're missing Rimmer?
I had a dream about him...
The memory, especially taken out of context, is jarringly blatant in its obvious showing of the facts. The memory that they both have at the same moment. They exchange a glance, pause, then Lister says:
'I think I've made up my mind.'
There it is, as easy as that. Two words. Could've been It's over; could've been Bye, Bud-Babe; could've even been Not you. Many, many combinations of words would have been possible. She is touched by the fact that he chose to make it apologetic. She also feels as if she's just been dumped, but it's not like a usual feeling of that kind. Just a sadness as if she's lost something.
Lister recalls something. 'What did you say about JayVee being upset?' he asks.
'Oh! Oh, that. Oh, she was just... she had a crush on Rimmer, and was a bit devastated when she found out he preferred you,' Kochanski says.
'Someone had a crush on Rimmer? Wonders will never cease,' says Lister.
'You have a crush on Rimmer.'
'Yeah. You'd better start thinking of something nice to do for him,' Kochanski says.
'What? Why?' Lister asks, turning Starbug three degrees left, feeling like his whole Universe has been turned three degrees left while he wasn't looking.
'As I understand it, he threw a tantrum because you were planning on coming back to me,' Kochanski says. 'Shayne outlined it for me at some point, I don't remember when. Today's been pretty hectic, you know.'
'Oh, I did notice,' Lister says.
'So I think you should do something nice for the guy. Woo him. Buy him flowers. Buy him chocolates. Buy him condoms, I don't know.' Kochanski is getting increasingly frustrated at the rather blank expression on Lister's face. Miraculously, her last suggestion provokes a response.
'Well, you never know,' Kochanski says practically. 'Go for it.'
'Go for...' Lister mutters to himself for a minute, perhaps thinking this new concept over. Kochanski sits and thinks, so, didn't he think of that before? and decides she doesn't want to know the answer.
'What about you and Shayne?'
Kochanski is taken aback. 'Dave!'
'Hey, I'm just asking. I don't think you like Kill Crazy, and the Cat's taken, and the day I even think about you and Kryten together is the day I head for the gantry over the landing bay and throw myself off it,' Lister says.
'Can't imagine Rimmer'd be too impressed.'
'Shut up, Kochanski.' Lister bounces on his seat. 'So, tell me. You and Shayne?'
And Kochanski, as she goes to think about this, realises that she doesn't have an answer for this particular impossible query.
Chapter 18: Impossible Rendezvous
This chapter dedicated to Chriss Corkscrew, who always waits so (im)patiently for me to write this. Chriss, I've discovered why I'm slowing down as I get further into this (Affrays, Battles and Complications were written in about a day each): it's because I don't want to finish it! Oh well... I could always write a spinoff... *slaps muse* not yet!
(Famous last words, 2001-me.)
Lister's thinking about what Kochanski said to him about treating Rimmer well as he heads back to their shared room after his shift, and catches Rimmer in their room just before the technician heads out of the door to his shift in the cockpit.
'Hmmm?' Rimmer is putting his boots on.
'Got anything planned for tomorrow night?'
Rimmer looks at him incredulously. 'Well, yes actually Listy, I was going to go on a date with the Cat. Or maybe Kill Crazy. What do you think?'
'Great!' Lister starts making plans even as he's giving Rimmer a quick kiss goodbye. The gesture, so... so... married-coupleish, makes both of them giggle. 'I'll see you later, OK?'
'Sure, honey.' Rimmer sticks his tongue out at Lister and disappears down the corridor. Lister watches him go, admiring the smooth curve of his roommate's bum in the uniform trousers that are just a little too old and tight. He's being so clichéd he's making himself sick. It's fantastic.
'Now. Date materials,' he mutters to himself.
This is going to take some creative thinking...
'I'm sorry, sir?' Kryten, mopping the corridor between the cargo bay and the midsection, isn't sure he's exactly heard this right. 'You want to what?'
'I'm tryin' to set up a nice date for Rimmer, and I need your help.' Lister, even after a fitful night's sleep, is determined to go ahead with Plan Date. 'I want to make him dinner and everythin'. I need candles, flowers, the works.'
'Candles...' Kryten thinks for a moment. 'Main cargo bay, just inside the door on the left. Flowers... well, unless you can make them from paper, you're out of luck.'
'Don't we even have any artificial ones?' Lister asks.
'You could ask the Cat.'
'Cat, the Cat, of course! Thanks, Krytie!' Lister is starting to get excited. This is going to be fun. If he can get it all organised, of course. He'll have to kick Rimmer out of their room, where Rimmer is sleeping off the effects of his late-night shift. That could be a problem. Oh well. He'll burn that bridge when he comes to it.
Blissfully oblivious of any mixed metaphors, Lister sets off in the direction of the cargo bay. He's got some shopping to do.
It's been an absolute arse of a day, according to Rimmer, and the fact that Lister has locked him out from their quarters all day doesn't help matters any. He wants to go in and have a shower, since he's been wandering all around the ship today, and there is a cobweb caught in his hair.
Just as he is about to kick the door in or something, it slides open in front of him, and Rimmer is shocked, not for the first time, by Lister. But rather than it being a grotty joke disgusting him, this is a different sort of shock; it's over what Lister is wearing. Instead of his usual curry-stained T-shirt and cargo pants, he's wearing a black shirt and dress pants. Clearly, he's uncomfortable in them, and the thought flickers across Rimmer's mind: Mind if I get you out of those?
'Hey, man,' Lister says.
'Hi. What's going on?' He tries to see past Lister into the sleeping quarters, but Lister deftly blocks him, then stretches up for a kiss. Wow. He tastes like mint. Toothpaste? Lister has actually brushed his teeth? Rimmer takes back that snide thought -- he knows Lister brushes his teeth. How many times has he been reclining on his bunk, watching Lister squirt the toothpaste high into the air and catching it in his mouth? It must be nearly as many times as he's watched Lister squirt the toothpaste into the air and totally fail to hit his mouth.
Why is he thinking about toothpaste at a time like this?
'Uh... I wanted to know, Rimmer, if you'd like to go on a date tonight,' Lister says.
'Please? If you say yes, I got your best clothes ready in the Cat's room... you can go have a shower in there, clean up a bit, and then come back here. It'll be nice and private and everything,' Lister says.
Rimmer decides to be evil. 'Oh, Listy, I don't know... I'm just so tired, I really only want to lie down and sleep. Maybe some other night?'
Lister puts his hands on his hips, then transfers them to Rimmer's hips and pulls the other man against him. 'Rimmer. Go. Get. Dressed. And that's an order.'
'You can't order me around, I outrank you. And I'm older than you.'
'Not by much, toots. I'm only about two months younger than you now,' Lister retorts. 'Now go shower. You have spiderwebs in your hair.'
'You'll have to let me go,' Rimmer says.
Lister pouts, then leans in for another kiss. That mint taste is fading away to Lister's self-savour, that sort of spicy tang that speaks only of Lister to Rimmer's eager mouth.
Lister finally pushes him away after about five minutes. 'Enough of that. Go get cleaned up. There'll be plenty of time for that later.'
Rimmer stands in the shower in the Cat's quarters, surrounded by mirrors he can't help but look at himself in. The body he used to think was white and weedy is, in fact, lightly tanned and even a little muscular.
Not bad, Rimsy, he thinks, admiring himself. One hand slips down to grip his cock. He's nervous, and hard, and there is one good way to get rid of both these problems. As he slowly, gently moves his hand, eyes closed now, thinking unashamedly of Lister, Rimmer decides that he's changed. He's no longer the weedy wet that he used to be.
Now he's a man.
Of course, if they were back on Red Dwarf, he wouldn't be a man. He'd be a lowly Second Technician. A lowly faggot Second Technician, probably, especially if Baxter and that lot found out. But here on Starbug, which he has once or twice fondly referred to as 'The Ship of Love', he's accepted the way he is.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it's this thought which makes him come.
Lister waits patiently for his partner to return from changing. His partner? Can he say 'lover' yet? Maybe later tonight. Maybe. It's a big step to take, but they've been taking little steps towards it in a very short time, and maybe tonight will be the night.
He plucks a rose from the vase on the table and sniffs it. Earlier, he sprayed it with some of Kochanski's perfume: now it smells just right, and, fortunately, not like Kris herself.
There is a polite knock at the door. Lister glances around to check that the candles are all burning, and that the one strip light over the bunks isn't illuminating the room too brightly, and goes to open the door.
'Who's there?' he says teasingly.
To his great surprise, the voice that answers him is feminine.
Well, more feminine than Rimmer's, anyway.
Lister opens the door and stares at her. 'What're you doing up here?'
Shayne's eyes take the grand tour of his body. She finally meets his eyes and smiles. 'You've done yaself proud,' she says. 'Krissie told me youse were havin' a date tonight. I brought ya something.' She tosses a tube at him. 'Lube... you'll need it.'
'Hey, Shayne, who said we were doing anything apart from dinner tonight?' Lister protests weakly.
Shayne rolls her pretty blue eyes. 'Come on Lister, ya can't pull the wool over this muff-muncher's eyes, and ya know it. Don't do anythin' I wouldn't do, but if ya do, name it after me.' She hugs him briefly. 'Oh, hey, you shoulda seen what happened with the Cat before,' she adds.
'Why? What happened?'
Rimmer comes around the corner. Shayne's eyes flicker to him. Lister's eyes do more than flicker; he barely registers Shayne mouthing 'Tell ya later' as she subtly fades off in the other direction.
Rimmer looks fabulous, clad in his black evening suit, with a white shirt and a pale blue tie which brings out the green in his eyes. Lister just can't stop staring. Maybe it's true, then, that sometimes the clothes you wear are better than what's underneath... you have something left to your imagination that way.
The two men stand silent for a moment, looking each other up and down; then Lister steps aside to let his roommate into their romantically-candle-lit quarters.
'You've gone all out here...' Rimmer looks around, seeing the candles, the white tablecloth, the flowers 'borrowed' from the Cat's accessories closet, the twin covered meals on the table. 'How long did this take you?'
'Most of the day, actually,' Lister says. 'Come on, sit down, or dinner'll go cold.'
'What are we having?' Rimmer asks.
'Spaghetti bolognaise. Don't worry, I'm not going crazy, mine has curry powder sprinkled on it, and pepper,' Lister reassures him. He presents Rimmer with the rose. 'Here.'
'What's this for?'
'It's an apology for me telling Kris I love her, when I really don't any more. It was a mistake. I know you didn't know, but I felt bad about it anyway,' Lister says.
Rimmer draws Lister to him, kissing him, nibbling lightly on his lower lip. 'You're forgiven.' He's not nervous any more. He had had that first-date attack of nerves, but he's not nervous now... he's being as forward as he can, in fact.
'You want any more proof?'
'After our meal,' Rimmer says, a gleam in his eyes. 'I promise...'
Neither of them can think for the entire meal. Since Lister has sprinkled curry powder over both plates by mistake, this is probably a good thing.
'Remember your promise?' Lister asks when they've finished eating.
'What promise would that be, Listy?' Rimmer asks devilishly.
Lister drops his fork on his plate and lunges around the table at Rimmer, who suddenly isn't there. The edge of the tablecloth is swaying slightly, but just as Lister moves to dive under the table after his prey, a hand shoots out and grabs his ankle, and Lister finds himself toppling backwards.
'What do you mean 'Help!'? I am helping.' Rimmer crawls out from underneath the table and, using various bits of Lister as handles, drags himself up the other man's prone body to lie atop him, looking down into his eyes.
'Helping with what, exactly? You're sure not helping me up,' Lister complains.
Rimmer shushes him with a finger held to his lips. 'I'm helping you fulfil your unrecognised sexual desires.' This is so un-Rimmer-like that Lister has to snicker, but when Rimmer thrusts down against him he just squeaks and is silent. 'If you'll shut up, that is.'
'Shut up and kiss me, fool.'
Now, Lister's imagined hearing those words plenty of times before, but never from Rimmer. Okay, maybe once from Rimmer, but he was really drunk. And back then he never thought he'd be happy to hear them. Now he is, and of course is only too happy to give in to Rimmer's wishes.
They both taste the red of tomato sauce, a taste which is quickly replaced as their tongues dart by their own, individual, Rimmer-and-Lister taste, the one they make together. Rimmer tucks one arm under Lister's head, both pillowing it and bringing Lister's mouth closer to his. Lister has one arm hooked around Rimmer's neck and one around his waist, holding him as close as possible and trying every second to pull him closer. It seems as if they will not be truly fulfilled until they become one another... or something as close to it as possible.
When finally they separate, it's with great reluctance and desirous looks in their eyes. Lister realises that Rimmer's other hand has been at work - most of his shirt buttons are undone.
Rimmer looks down at him innocently. 'Yes, Listy? Oh, your buttons. They did that themselves.'
'What a load of B.S.'
'Yes,' Rimmer admits. He nuzzles the side of Lister's neck. 'Are you objecting?' He swoops down and licks at one of Lister's nipples, hardening it into a dark little button that he can play with with his tongue. Lister gasps and doesn't object in the slightest.
'I hope that door's locked,' is all he manages to say after about two minutes of this treatment. Rimmer pauses and lifts his head, and for a strange moment Lister is reminded of a wild animal crouched over its prey. Then Rimmer's up and off him and is not only locking the door but pushing a chair in front of it, not that that will do any good as it's a sliding door. He enters a code in the keypad, meaning that the door is now locked to anyone without a keycard.
Then he turns and faces Lister again.
They end up on the bed somehow, kissing like it's going out of fashion. Lister's hand is working on Rimmer's buttons; his other hand is tangled in Rimmer's hair, and holding him down so he can't escape. Rimmer's hands are roaming Lister's chest, stroking and playing. Every so often they break apart for a long, deep breath and a dazed glance into each other's eyes, then dive right back into the whirlpool of passion.
A few minutes later, Rimmer is shirtless and Lister's is only still on him by virtue of his arms still being through the sleeves. Rimmer backs off for a minute and drags it off him, then his hands drop to Lister's belt buckle.
'You don't have to scream my name,' Rimmer says. He considers for a moment, then adds, 'Yet.'
'Thanks a lot.' Lister pulls him down for another scorching kiss, but he only manages to occupy Rimmer's mouth with it... the technician's nimble hands are working elsewhere. Lister feels his belt slide out of its loops... then his button goes... and then the zip. He thinks that Rimmer will probably just rip his pants off him if he doesn't take them off properly, so he pushes the other man away and sheds his black dress trousers.
'You're wearing black boxers,' Rimmer comments.
'I put your clothes out... so are you.'
Lister is taken aback for a minute. 'You're not... going commando, are you?'
Rimmer arches an eyebrow and speaks in his old supercilious tone for a moment. 'That's for me to know and you to find out... preferably as soon as possible.'
It's a challenge Lister is only too willing to accept.
He turns out to be right.
Then it is time. If they thought going back would be difficult before this, it will be impossible afterwards.
Lister's sprawled on his stomach across their bunk as Rimmer readies himself. The two are unsure and uncertain of this, but are prepared to try.
One slippery finger insinuates itself slowly inside Lister, and he gasps. Not from pain, but because the unfamiliar sensation is somehow very good. The lube feels strange as well, but by far the most... interesting feeling is when the tip of Rimmer's finger grazes against his prostate. It's like a little electrical shock. Rimmer's finger is too slender to really make any more contact, but the length of it is good, and the feeling of it inside him is better.
The finger slides out, is replaced by two. Lister turns his head to see Rimmer kneeling behind him, intent on the task at hand, but doesn't have much time to stare; the sensations Rimmer is inducing in him are too powerful for him to simply ignore like that.
Even with his limited (okay, complete lack of) experience in this kind of situation, Rimmer has an innate sense of when Lister is ready for him. He smears his cock liberally with lube, trying not to masturbate too much as he does it, and then lightly presses the head of his cock against Lister's entrance.
'Just one thing...' Lister's voice half breaks with anticipation. 'Are you gonna regret this?'
'Lister. I've been regretting not doing it ever since I met you. Why do you think I hated you so much? Because I couldn't have you. Is that a good enough answer?'
'Yeah... yeah. Right. Okay.'
'Shut up,' Rimmer says affectionately, moving forward and into his lover.
Pain, pain to begin with. And then, as he becomes used to the full feeling, pleasure. Subtle, barely there pain still with each dip and thrust Rimmer makes, but they're so slow that he's not sure the pain is really there. God, oh God, if he were religious he'd be going straight to Hell for this, but life without love would be a greater Hell, one they'd reject for eternity in flames for this, these near-perfect minutes of love.
Slow and long and hard Rimmer moves, trying to contain the climax that rages to be freed. Lister is so hot and tight around him and it's so very hard not to just scream and give in, but he holds it back, keeps it back.
'Oh... God... Rimmer...' Lister chokes out some random words, trying to be coherent and getting nowhere. The sensations flooding his system; the wine he drank with Rimmer earlier; the lager he guzzled before Rimmer even arrived, his own method of settling his nerves, all combine to completely spin him out.
And then they're there, Lister first, his climax overtaking him without warning. His muscles clench around Rimmer, dragging the other man's orgasm out of him even as Lister's own seed spills out onto the bunk. He can feel, red-hot it seems, Rimmer's own semen flowing into him.
And then... it's over.
Spent and satiated, the duo finally crawl under the covers half an hour later, after a long shower together and sorting out whose boxers are lying on the floor, who never wore boxers at all. They spoon up, Rimmer curled around Lister, settling arms and legs and heads into comfortable positions.
Then it's time for those words which they have only before said in moments of anger, or attempts to calm one another. This time, though, they are only said as tired lovers drift off to sleep:
'Love you, Listy.'
'Yeah, I love you too Rimmer.'
Chapter 19: Impossible Situations
Lister has been wondering this morning what Shayne meant by what she said last night, 'what happened with the Cat before', and though he'd like to stay in bed with Rimmer -- who is sound asleep -- he's just not tired enough. So he gets up, sore in some interesting new places, and wanders into the shower to wake up properly. Thank God Kryten's fixed the taps Rimmer snapped off in his little fit of rage.
As the warm water splashes down over his coffee-coloured skin, Lister shampoos his hair and hums to himself. He remembers something... something from a long time ago. The Despair Squid, being Sebastian Doyle, the odd, half-admiring look Rimmer gave him when he saw how neat Lister looked in his suit, and before that, catching Rimmer's arm as he stumbled and both of them being loath to part. Though perhaps that was due to being in a strange place, alone except for the now-homicidal mechanoid and the geek with the buckteeth.
He wonders how possible it would be to straighten his hair. He runs his hand through the short curls - so like hair covering certain other body parts -- and along the rat-tail dreadlocks. They're not matted together with dirt. They're matted together because he hasn't brushed them in, oh, over three million years now.
Using the tips of his fingers as a comb, wincing frequently, Lister begins the painstaking task of parting the strands. It's slow work. The water is starting to run cold. After only unravelling half of the dread, he stops. Better to seek proper help.
'I'm not into this hairdressin' shit,' Shayne complains, toying with the fine-toothed comb they have swiped from the Cat's stash.
'Shut up, Shayne, and pick a lock.' Kochanski takes a second comb and sits to Lister's left, laying the nearest dread over his shoulder, and working from the tip up.
Kill Crazy, the lovable psychopath, is sitting in a corner of the midsection; as Lister leans his elbows on the coffee table and prepares himself for a long wait, he realises that the redhead is very quiet. He hasn't been doing much lately, a lot of wandering around the ship and being overwhelmed at being free from the Brig. But now it seems that something has happened to the guy. In fact, something has.
'Ow!' Lister yips as Shayne gets down to work.
'Well, wash the knots out, don't just wash around them,' Kochanski says reprovingly.
'Aw, shuddup,' Shayne says. 'I'll tell ya a story, I'll tell ya what happened yesterday with Cat and Kill Crazy. Will that shut ya up?'
'Tell me a story,' Lister says. He closes his eyes and leans back in the chair. 'If it's a good one, I'll shut up.'
'Alright,' Shayne says. She considers for a minute, then begins.
I'm bored. Krissie's angsting over Dave, Dave is angsting over Rimmer, and Rimmer... he's probably angsting over the size of his cock, although from what I've seen he's got nothing to worry about. Don't even ask me what I've seen.
Jayv's sitting with the Cat in the midsection. The robot's up front piloting; Kill Crazy is in the galley; the others are around.
'Jayv, what d'you think of Krissie?'
JayVee delicately removes her tongue from the Cat's mouth to answer me. 'I think you should go for it, Shayne. You need someone to love.'
Kill Crazy comes over from the galley, a steaming bowl of noodles on his hands, and sets the bowl down on the scanner table Cat and Jayv are sitting at. 'I dunno... why d'you have to be in love with a girl anyway? Why not be in love with me?' He tries a winning smile. It falls flat on its face about twenty metres before the finish line and is stepped on by the other runners.
'I don't know,' I say flatly.
The nutter persists. 'Well, you know, it's just that... ain't those relationships weird?'
'Weird? Jayv, get off Cat for a minute and come here.'
JayVee demurs. 'Shayne, no. But...' An evil gleam comes into her eyes. It's a look I recognise. The last time I saw it was the night we escaped the Brig. We never really escaped, though, not totally -- a little piece of Floor 13 is carried within all of us.
'Cat, kiss Kill Crazy.'
'Are you nuts?' the Cat asks. Surprisingly, Kill Crazy doesn't protest. Then again, maybe he hasn't got the smarts to. 'I'm not kissin' that nutcase!'
'Well... think of it as an experiment. Show him that it's okay to like people like that.' JayVee is using her most winning smile, and it's the blue-ribbon sort. 'Show him that there's nothing to be afraid of.'
'But I don't like him like that,' the Cat wails.
'Cat, just do it, an' maybe I'll stop her hittin' ya,' I say. JayVee bunches up a fist and smiles again. This time it's menacing.
'I think it would be okay,' Kill Crazy says cautiously. 'Like she said, an experiment. I mean, that Lister dude seems to think it's okay to kiss that Rimmer guy, even if they're both weird.'
I stifle a laugh. He's calling people weird? This man thinks that fighting things with less than ten tentacles is weak. This man adheres to the maxim of 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall'. This man was in the Brig for serially killing Jehovah's Witnesses. The insanity plea only just stuck, and that was because the clerk couldn't spell. Kill Crazy's been working a lightened sentence for the past five years on a plea of 'inanity'. How insane can you be to kill Jehovah's Witnesses? Beat 'em to death with their own tracts, that's what I say.
Thinking this has distracted me from the Cat and Kill Crazy, who are now sitting side by side. JayVee has backed off a little and is watching them with all the interest of your average testosterone-driven teenage male at a screening of Lara Croft: Boob Raider. Sorry, Tomb Raider. Or all the interest of me at a screening of Tomb Raider. Hey, she's got what it takes.
One white (why white? 'White' skin is pink), slightly freckled face; one chocolate, smooth, unblemished-skinned face, so close together. The sort of scene that fascinates me. Thinking about it, especially. They move in closer and closer, eyelids closing down.
One of the Cat's long-fingered hands cups the side of Kill Crazy's face and draws them together at last. Their lips meet tentatively, for about three seconds. Then both of them back off, very quickly, with looks on their faces that make this the comedic moment of the year.
'Okay, Shayne, you've got your jollies, can I have him back now?' JayVee asks. She holds her hands out to the Cat, who goes to her, and I nod without thinking about it.
I guess what I really get off on (and no, not really in that sense) here is corrupting other people...
'Hey, Ginger,' Lister calls. Kill Crazy doesn't move. 'Don't you like starring in your own gay porn stories?'
'Way I see it, you're the one starrin' in the gay porn,' Shayne says. She yanks a little too hard with the comb, and a clump of knotted hair comes off in its teeth. 'You and up-there, I mean.'
'Ow,' is all Lister says.
'Shut up,' Kochanski says briskly. She gets up to get something -- water, maybe, or maybe an industrial-strength cleanser -- and on he way past Shayne, Shayne catches her around the waist. Laughing, Kochanski lowers her head and pecks Shayne on the lips, before continuing on her way.
'Uh?' Lister says.
'Oh, what now?' Kochanski has grabbed the dishwashing liquid and is testing the water at the sink, squirting the spray attachment they use for washing glasses into her hand. 'Did she find your breakfast in there?'
'I haven't had breakfast,' Lister says.
'I meant yesterday's.'
'Ha. Ha. Ha. I was just thinkin', you know, that it's a bit funny that you should kiss her like that?'
'Why is it strange? We are sleeping together,' Kochanski says.
Lister's jaw drops.
Meanwhile, the Cat and JayVee are out to prove that the Cat isn't gay.
'I kinda liked it, that's all I'm saying,' the Cat says.
'Will you shut up?' JayVee is concentrating on getting his clothes off as quickly as possible, and it's hard to do with her fingers crossed that Kryten won't come down here. All right, not literally, but she is sweating lightly, her skin covered with a fine sheen of it, and she's damn horny, and that's going to kill her if she doesn't do something about it very soon. 'I don't care if you want to go shag him, just shag me first.'
The Cat decides he likes her better and kisses her hard, his teeth scraping lightly at her lower lip. JayVee shoves him backwards and he almost falls over his trousers (black, light cotton, with silver studs up the sides to match the silver embroidery on his black shirt), which are down to his ankles. Letting out a hiss, he kicks them away and leaps at her, naked, and at the peak of his felinity. He's so fucking graceful -- when his boxers aren't in the way -- and JayVee cries out in delight just at the sight of him -
-- right before he knocks her down to the floor.
She's wearing a JayVee outfit, which means lots of black and lots of tight and very little coverage of her body. The pantihose are ripped off her easily, her miniskirt flipped up to allow the Cat access, and as he disdainfully tears off her flimsy panties and plunges into her, his other hand slides up under the dark purple middy top, under which she is wearing no bra, and closes over her small breast hard. His mouth comes down crushingly on hers, and she cries out again into it.
'Purple's good on you,' the Cat observes breathlessly, bringing his hips down against hers again and again. 'Brings out the violet in your eyes.'
JayVee nods, not trying to talk, just trying to assimilate the feelings rushing through her like a whirlwind. She's a slim-hipped girl, and it's hard for the Cat to lie between her legs the way he is, but they manage. She's built small except for her height. She's tall and skinny, and hates it. Shayne's compact body always pleased her more than her own.
But the Cat's body pleases her even more.
The Cat's mind works simply. If he's eating, he's thinking about eating, and his body is involved solely in that. If he's showering, he's thinking about getting clean, and that's all his body is doing as well. And when he's fucking her, it's not just with his cock, it's with his mind and his body as well. He is fearless about it, despite being inexperienced, and, somehow, this makes up for any lack of knowledge. Sometimes enthusiasm can really kill sex, even if it's to make up for inexperience; but not in this case.
He takes her swiftly to her first orgasm, then a second follows soon after, and when he finally empties himself into her it's with the knowledge and pleasure that he has already satisfied her. This is one of the sole times when the Cat thinks of someone other than himself.
They make their way up from the cargo bay towards the midsection, where it is strangely quiet. Just before they enter the area, Shayne lets out a howling, good-humoured laugh.
JayVee looks around. Kill Crazy is sitting silently in the corner, looking catatonic; Krissie and Shayne are hovering around Dave, who's sitting with his mouth gaping open. Rimmer has just come bounding down the stairs and is paused at the bottom; completing the tableau is Kryten, standing in the cockpit doorway and holding his groinal attachment, the vacuum cleaner, in one hand. Everyone is looking over at Dave and the girls.
'What's going on here?' JayVee challenges.
Chapter 20: Impossible Temptations by Princess Lauren
While Lister and Rimmer are getting to know one another over spaghetti bolognaise, Shayne is sitting in the cockpit watching JayVee navigate and Kill Crazy pilot. She suspects that Kill Crazy is using it as a way to get over kissing the Cat earlier. Not that she cares, at the moment, if Kill Crazy is using piloting as a way to crash into the next asteroid they come across. All she's thinking about at the moment is the past and the future.
'Are ya happy with th' Cat?'
JayVee pokes at a few things on her console before answering. 'I guess, Shayne. Why?'
'I was just wonderin'.' Shayne is lolling in Kryten's regular chair -- the mechanoid has finally decided to trust the cockpit to a two-person crew and is off making dinner for those members of the crew not currently out on dates. Shayne thinks Kochanski is out there helping him or something.
Shayne thinks about Kochanski a lot.
'Are you thinking about Krissie?' JayVee's eyes are violet and direct and like ultra-violet radiation threaten to burn Shayne if she doesn't answer. 'You are, aren't you?'
A turn of the head in the direction of Kill Crazy, who is oblivious to the conversation behind him, and Shayne bites her lip before answering. 'I might be.'
'Because if you are, and if you're worried about losing your chance with her out of any... any left-over stuff between us, it's over, Kerry. I still love you, of course, but I'm not in love with you any more... I'm in love with Cat.' JayVee's lashes lower over her eyes, making her look ashamed of the fact, but she isn't.
Shayne swings a foot and kicks JayVee's elbow. 'How many fuckin' times do I have to tell ya not to call me Kerry?' she asks.
JayVee grins, unabashed and undaunted. 'If it was Krissie calling it out in the middle of the night, you wouldn't give a tin shit, am I right?' No answer. JayVee continues. 'Kerry Lee Shayne, the only thing you have to worry about is how Krissie will take it, not about how I will. And judging by what I've seen so far, you're gonna be A-OK. Now will you get out of my cockpit and go have sex with someone?'
Shayne gets up, pauses by JayVee's chair, then bends down and kisses her. It's not a long kiss, but it's a searching one. JayVee responds for a moment, then gently closes off her mouth, evicting Shayne's tongue. Shayne straightens up, nods, then smacks JayVee across the side of the face.
'And definitely don' use my fuckin' middle name, Jodie Karen Vaughan,' she says, and exits the cockpit.
With Starbug on autopilot twenty minutes later, Shayne, JayVee, Kill Crazy, the Cat, and Kochanski sit down around the scanner table for the meal Kryten has concocted. Though they don't know it, if any of them went upstairs now and stopped outside Lister and Rimmer's door, they would hear almost nothing -- except moaning.
Kochanski licks a drop of the creamy cheese sauce Kryten has poured over their pasta from her lip. 'This is great, Kryte,' she says.
Shayne is focused on the way Kochanski's tongue darted out to blot away that sauce. Unbidden, an image rises to her mind, of somewhere else that tongue might go, and she tries to hide the tingle that goes through her body at the thought.
'Thank you, ma'am,' Kryten says, looking as pleased as his plastic face will allow.
'Yeah, it's great!' Kill Crazy is already on his second helping, as if that wasn't indication enough. God knows where he stores it. He's certainly not carrying any fat anywhere Shayne can see.
JayVee, sitting beside the Cat, across the table from Shayne (who has one whole side to herself), watches her former lover with a keen eye. She sees the way Shayne's glance constantly goes to Krissie, and the way a shudder goes through the petite woman's body when Kochanski nonchalantly licks an errant smear of sauce from her fingers.
But because JayVee is on the outside of this particular Kerry Shayne relationship, she can see that the equanimity affected by Kochanski isn't real. In fact, every move she makes is calculated. JayVee knows this because she can see the way Kochanski's eyes keep going to Shayne. Strange -- she thought Kris wasn't over Dave yet - but then, people are persuadable, as Jodie Vaughan herself knows. Oh yes she does.
About ten minutes into the meal, Kochanski and Shayne finally manage to lock gazes. Kochanski's fork pauses just above her plate for a full minute, and Shayne almost drops the salt into her pile of pasta. JayVee observes all of this, and tries to batten down the laugh that wants to come bubbling up out of her like a fountain.
'Everything all right, Miss Shayne?' Kryten inquires, unconscious, of course, of any silent visual communions.
Shayne drops the salt.
'Damn!' She grabs it, rights it, then uses a paper towel to wipe the cheese sauce off the sides. Her cheeks are flaming red, and JayVee has to stuff a forkful of fettuccini into her mouth to ward off the giggles. The Cat is looking from one of them to the other, puzzled. Kochanski has placidly started eating again, but JayVee can see the tiny flares of colour high up on her cheekbones. She's smiling around her fork.
'You okay, Kerry?'
Shayne's foot connects with JayVee's shin under the table, but JayVee's grin just gets wider. When Cat looks away from her she silently mimics someone moaning in ecstasy, and prudently tucks her feet under her chair, feeling Shayne's foot swing by again.
Kill Crazy looks at the three females, puzzled, then looks at the Cat for some masculine support.
'You know, I'll never understand women,' he says.
That's it and all about it. JayVee snorts laughter, so hard that a wad of half-chewed pasta flies out of her mouth and lands somewhere across the room. Shayne drops the salt and the paper towel and howls, grabbing her stomach and doubling up on her chair. Kochanski sets her fork down and covers her mouth, letting out little chuffing sounds that are all that will come out of the hoots trying to escape her.
The Cat and Kill Crazy just exchange baffled looks. Kryten tuts at the foolish humanoids and goes to clean up JayVee's donation to the wall art across the room.
'He kills me, you know,' Kochanski says later. She's lying on her stomach on her bunk, wearing her night clothes, reading Stephen King's Needful Things and wondering what her needful thing would be. Definitely nothing, she decides, considering what happens to the people who buy at that particular shop.
'Who?' Shayne is sitting at the table, facing away from Kochanski, head down on her folded arms.
'Kill Crazy. He's such a little kid... and he's really about thirty! God... so am I...' Kochanski drops her book on her pillow and drops her head on it. 'I hate being old...'
'Old, my arse, girlie. If you're old, I'm a Peruvian limbo dancer.' This is so un-Shaynesque that Kochanski rolls over and stares at her roomie's back.
'Okay, so I'm not old then.'
'Right. Why were ya doin' that at dinner?' Shayne asks.
'Doing what?' Kochanski says innocently.
'Flirtin' with me.' Shayne is nothing short of blunt. 'Ya were, don' deny it. I know ya were.'
Shayne gets up from the table. 'Aw Shayne nothin'. This mornin', this afternoon, ya were all over me. Just 'cos we're both female don' make it any less leadin' on than if I was a guy.' She yanks the book out from under Kochanski's head and whaps her lightly on the shoulder with it. 'Ya gotta choose, Kris. Ya can sit there all night an' read your book, or ya can shove over and let me in with ya. But if ya don' wanna let me in now, ya may not get another chance any other time.'
Kochanski takes her book back off Shayne, slowly and deliberately. Shayne begins to turn away, and is stopped by the book flying past her and thumping against the opposite wall, and a sharp pinch administered to her bum.
Shayne tumbles down onto the bunk beside her roommate and starts lavishing little kisses all over her face. Kochanski turns her head away just enough to voice-ac the lock on the door, and then patiently lets Shayne kiss her senseless.
At some point she becomes aware that Shayne has moved down from her face to her neck, and from there down onto the slopes of her breasts, exposed by the low-cut top of the satin camisole she is wearing. Kochanski raises her arms and lets Shayne slip the soft material up and off her, enjoying the soft 'Mmmm' of approval Shayne lets out at the sight of her.
'I guess I'll let you in bed with me.'
'Ya fuckin' better.' Shayne pins her back down and starts licking one of her nipples. Kochanski gasps at the suddenness of the manoeuvre. But Shayne isn't stopping at one surprise -- one of her hands is sliding, spooky-quick, into Kochanski's satin boxers. And now Kochanski cries out instead of just gasping.
Shayne's hand moves over the soft - very soft -- curls between Kochanski's legs, imagining their colour, maybe lighter than her brown-blonde hair, maybe darker. She finds the most sensitive place on Kochanski's body, and presses in, and Kochanski jumps again.
Shayne isn't being rough -- not exactly -- but she is certainly not as gentle as some people Kochanski has been with. And Kochanski's realising that it's not such a bad thing. She can't decide whether what Shayne's mouth or hand is doing is sending more intense feelings through her, but it doesn't really matter.
'Oh God -- Shayne--'
'I'm sure I've told ya before, that's not me,' Shayne says, lifting her head for a moment. Her fingertip is lightly circling Kochanski's entrance. 'May I?' She doesn't wait for Kochanski's hurried assent anyway, but at least she's asking.
Kochanski feels like she's falling. Maybe she is. She vaguely feels Shayne moving over her body, pulling that last scrap of clothing off her, but she's mostly concentrating everything on what Shayne is doing so-expertly with her hand. The sensations are buzzing through her like high-voltage electricity, like a nest of bees released to fly where they will. None of the tingles running through her are in logical places -- sure, they centre around her clitoris, which Shayne is rubbing with her thumb, but apart from that...
She can hear someone whimpering, and it takes her a while to figure out that it's herself. The low, 'Please, please, please...' doesn't sound like her.
Shayne does, and doesn't press the point. Instead, she slides her finger back out of her lover, licking it thoughtfully, then uses both hands to spread the folds of skin - so like flower petals, or so the analogy goes -- and give her access. That one taste has awoken in her a raging craving, and without pausing for very long to savour the sight of her new girlfriend's most private area, she lowers her head and swirls her tongue around Kochanski's clitoris.
The loud moan she gets by doing this is more than enough reward.
Damn, but she tastes good. Shayne flicks her tongue hard, then seeks lower, the tip of her tongue sliding inside her lover. Her tongue darts and flickers, light touches, then comes down harder, rubbing roughly over the wetness that is smoother than any satin.
She has one bad moment when she thinks Kochanski has actually stopped breathing, and pauses.
'No... Shayne, please don't stop don't stop now don't stop...' Kochanski is, indeed, almost breathless, but she's not that far gone. Her hands reach down, twine through Shayne's russet locks, encouraging her, urging her on. She might be crying, but Shayne isn't sure. Shayne's too busy following orders.
So close, so close...
And then, as Shayne's expert tongue sleeks over Kochanski's centre one more time, Kochanski cries out and her entire body shudders with the force of her orgasm. Smartarse Shayne doesn't let it stop at one, either; she rides the first one then keeps going, making love to Kochanski with not only her mouth and her hands, but with the entire force of her indomitable will as well. She doesn't stop until a second orgasm rips through the woman's petite body, leaving her weak, but totally satisfied.
The best part for Shayne is hearing her lover cry out her name.
'Are ya sure I can get in bed with ya?' Shayne asks innocently, crawling up to lie beside the spent and shaken Kochanski.
'Will you ever fuck off?' Kochanski wipes a few tears from her eyes, but she's laughing. 'My God, Shayne, that was...' Then the words fail her and she just rolls her eyes and keeps giggling.
'Incredible? Fantastic? Dreadful? Throw me a line, Krissie, I'm drownin' here.' Shayne kisses her hard on the mouth, letting Kochanski taste herself on the other girl's lips. 'I'm guessin' it wasn' that bad, given the way you reacted.'
Kochanski can't even keep her eyes open. 'Shut up, Shayne.'
'That's not what ya were sayin' before.'
Kochanski manages to muster enough strength to sit up. 'Ow. I can't even think.'
'I'm not surprised.' Shayne hands her the satin boxers, then the matching camisole. 'Here. You'll freeze.'
'Yes, honey,' Kochanski mumbles drowsily, dragging the clothes back on -- the top back to front, but it doesn't make much difference -- and collapsing back onto the bunk.
Shayne unfolds a blanket from the bottom of the bed and shakes it out over Kochanski, then gets off the bed and changes quietly into her own cami and boxers combo, a popular choice amongst space-girls. She decides against brushing her teeth -- she wants to keep the taste of Krissie in her mouth a little while longer -- and snuggles into bed beside Kochanski, who is already well on the way to sleep. She wraps an arm around Kochanski's waist, curling up close against her, and leans her forehead against her lover's.
'Love ya, Krissie-baby.'
'Mmmm... love you too, Shayne.'
Sleep comes easily and sweetly for both of them tonight.
Chapter 21: Impossible Understandings
JayVee sighs. 'Look, guys, I asked a question. What's going on here?'
'Kris... Shayne... you... what?' Lister is very tongue-tied.
'Shayne, what's going on here?'
Shayne looks over at the blonde and shrugs. 'Krissie just said we were sleepin' together, an' all Hell broke loose.' She picks her comb back up and, incredibly, goes back to Lister's dreadlocks, working away as if nothing has happened.
JayVee's face breaks into a grin. 'Good for you, Kris! I knew you and Shayne were perfect for each other!' She bounds over and hugs the Navigation Officer, who hugs her back.
'Ri-ight. I was beginning to wonder what was happening,' Rimmer says from the bottom of the stairs. 'Shayne, why are you pawing at my boyfriend like that?'
'We're checkin' for fleas.' Shayne is exercising her sense of humour. 'Found a half-dozen already.'
Rimmer shakes his head. 'Shayne, what's gotten into you this morning?'
'You shouldn't ask that. Never ask that.' JayVee nods with years of collected wisdom. 'See, I think it's her schizophrenic alter ego who's around today.'
'Aw, Jayv... shut ya face.'
'Yes, Mummy,' JayVee says, opening the fridge and taking out the egg carton. 'Hey, who put this back empty?'
'Whoops,' Kill Crazy says, rousing himself for the first time. 'I forgot.'
'Yeah, you forgot.' JayVee Frisbees the carton into the waste disposal unit and starts looking for the powdered eggs in the cupboard. 'Those were the last real eggs we had, and I didn't get any.'
'I was making an omelette!'
'That explains the fucking mess in the frying pan!'
'Oh, settle down, you two,' Shayne says. 'If you're going to fight, do it properly.'
'My Mummy always told me not to fight,' says a certain redheaded psychopath.
'Kill Crazy, you're nucking futs,' JayVee tells him.
'Jeez.' JayVee finds the eggs, and drops the box, spilling yellow powder everywhere. 'Just what I needed. Could anything else go wrong this morning?'
'Don' say that,' Shayne groans. 'Ya know what happens when ya say that.'
JayVee takes a step towards the sink and slips in the powdered eggs, landing on her bum in the middle of it all, and begins laughing hysterically as Shayne sighs, shakes her head, and keeps working on Lister's hair.
'Dave, are there any of those retro-housings on board this Starbug like there were on the old one? I desperately need a bath,' Kochanski says, disentangling the topmost part of the rasta plait she is working on and beginning to brush the freed hair out.
'Probably. I found it down in the cargo area. You can look once you've finished torturing me.'
'You asked for it.'
'What, exactly, are you doing to his hair?' Rimmer asks.
'Brushing it. I didn' think ya'd recognise it,' Shayne says, looking pointedly at Rimmer's mass of unruly curls. 'We're doin' yours next.'
'Um, I don't know about that,' Rimmer says.
Several hours later, after Lister's hair has finally been completely disentangled, Rimmer's hair has been brushed properly, and even Kill Crazy has submitted to Shayne with her pot of hair gel and turned into a sort of human version of Bart Simpson. Actually, he looks like he's enjoying himself now. The Cat, of course, point-blank refuses to let anyone but himself touch his hair, but as Shayne says, 'I wouldn' wanna fight through all those years o' hair gel anyway!'
While Shayne works on the last points of Kill Crazy's new hairstyle, Kochanski and Lister go down to the cargo area and start cleaning out one of the retro housings stored there -- fortunately there's one which is not only almost brand new, but is also only covered with a thin sheen of dust.
'This ship is now officially a statistical anomaly,' Lister announces.
'Why?' Kochanski says, scrubbing diligently at the bottom of the housing.
'We have one gay couple, one lesbian couple, and one straight couple.'
'At least we're diverse.'
'We must mostly be out of that ten percent of the world who are gay or whatever,' Lister says.
'Is that a real statistic?' Kochanski asks.
'When I was in high school we had a Health session on homosexuality. The guest lecturer told us that one in ten people was either definitely gay or bisexual, that 'two in twenty' sounded less lonely, and that, um, forty percent of people had had a homosexual experience which led to orgasm,' Lister says. 'I think Shayne said the same thing a while back. She must've had the same class, or something.'
'All I ever learned in Health class was how to put a condom on a banana,' Kochanski muses.
'And I'll bet you really need to know that now, don't you?'
'Don't get smart with me. Let's get this bastard upstairs. How did you move the one on the other ship?'
'The Cat helped.'
'The Cat helped? Don't make me laugh.'
Kochanski sits in the bath, soaking away the strain of carrying the bloody thing upstairs, a glass of wine sitting on the low table beside the tub, bubbles all around her.
'Want someone to scrub ya back?' Shayne comes in and locks the door behind her, her eyes sparkling mischievously. 'Ya look like ya could use a good massage.'
'Whatever. Have a drink.'
Shayne drinks half of Kochanski's glass before Kochanski's warning groan sends her to the cupboard to get her own. They have outfitted their sleeping quarters with a few extra goodies.
'Nah. Hot, actually. I think it's the metal in the housing. Keeps it warm.'
Shayne pours her drink, puts it down beside Kochanski's, and starts to strip. Kochanski pretends not to watch her with greedy eyes and starts soaping her arms instead. She ignores the petite woman staring at her, ignores the sound of Shayne's shoes and jeans hitting the floor, followed by her shirt. Then almost ignores the soft splash of Shayne dropping into the bath behind her.
'You're not wearing underwear?'
'It's an unnecessary luxury.' Strong little hands settle on Kochanski's shoulders and start easing the tension away. 'Why bother with underwear when I can be outta my clothes five minutes faster without it?'
'You're just a big slut, Shayne.'
'If it's name-calling ya want, you dyke, I know them all.'
Kochanski splashes her, very accurately. Shayne's hands slip around her, pinning her arms to her sides, and cup her breasts, sleek over the wet skin. Kochanski slides back and leans against Shayne, feeling the burning heat as she settles back between Shayne's open legs.
The soft stroke of Shayne's hands over her is driving her crazy. The water is so deep, up to their necks, but if it splashes up as they move a little and Kochanski swallows a mouthful, she doesn't care. If Shayne decides to drown her -- for whatever crazy reason -- she probably wouldn't care about that either.
'I know something not everyone does.'
'You're not a real redhead.'
Shayne starts coughing, or laughing, or both. 'An' what exactly is ya point?'
'I'll consider not telling everyone, if you're a good girl.'
Intriguing. 'How good?'
Kochanski slides away from her. 'Turn around.' Shayne shuffles around in the water until they are back to back, then feels Kochanski moving as well, until their positions are reversed. Kochanski starts rubbing Shayne's shoulders.
'Why red hair over blonde, Shayne?'
'Are you going to tell me?'
'It was a temporary thing, but then I got jugged an' got a rep as th' crazy redhead, so I hadda keep dyeing it.'
'How'd you get the dye in prison?'
'Connections, always connections.' Shayne wriggles and settles comfortably against Kochanski, who runs a hand down her spine, feeling the bones just under the skin, then around her waist and up again. Shayne's built small everywhere, and Kochanski can cover her breasts nicely, one hand for each. Shayne whimpers and rubs against her hands, and Kochanski rearranges her arms so that they hold Shayne's down. Inspiration strikes, and she fishes the soap out of the water and starts lathering Shayne, as much as she can reach.
'Mmmm, that's nice.'
'Good,' Kochanski says, kissing the side of Shayne's neck, just above where the water laps at her skin. 'I always knew you were secretly a good girl, Shayne.' And with that, she drops the soap and runs one hand straight down to find the heat between Shayne's legs is still there.
Shayne gasps and stiffens against Kochanski like someone's just dropped a hairdryer in the bath and switched it on. She can't think, literally can't think, as Kochanski slips two fingers inside her and, with the caution of the first-timer, starts moving them slowly.
'Is that nice?'
'Krissie, shut up.' Shayne manages to get her own right arm around behind herself -- her left arm is still pinned by Kochanski's left arm -- and, using Kochanski as a teaching tool of sorts, starts demonstrating what feels best.
They spend forever just using light touches and their voices to tantalise each other, but eventually tire of being on the edge and, together, turn their touches into more than just teasing.
The cold water drives them out of the bath hours later. It's just a surprise that none of the others have come to call them to the cockpit, or just to see what they are doing, but what Kochanski doesn't know is that Shayne is handy with the threatening glares and employed one of them before coming upstairs.
Kochanski towels herself off efficiently with the single towel -- there should be two, but one is mysteriously missing -- then starts on Shayne, who is leaning against the wall beside the bed. The scratchy rough fabric feels good on Shayne's skin, and she closes her eyes and lets Kochanski attend her.
The soft mouth on her nipple surprises her, but not much.
'Krissie, ya devil,' she says quietly, stroking Kochanski's hair.
'Am I doing all right?'
'Ya doin' fine. Now don' talk, just go with th' flow,' Shayne instructs her. Her eyes are still closed. She's concentrating.
And Kochanski does. Her mouth pulls lightly at Shayne's skin, a little clumsily, tongue flickering, then traces a blazing path over to Shayne's other breast, tongue dancing over the peak there. Down her side, then across her taut stomach, tongue dipping into Shayne's navel for a moment, making Shayne giggle.
Kochanski drops to her knees in front of Shayne and insinuates a hand between Shayne's legs, touching her lightly, feeling the one place where she's still wet even after the benefit of the towel. 'You're not dry all over Shayne.'
'I'll have to remedy it.'
'Towel's on the floor.'
'Thought I'd make like an animal. They use their tongues as towels don't they?' With that, Kochanski runs her mouth down the skin of Shayne's thigh, chains light kisses inward, and finally licks at that place which Kochanski's Health teacher demurred from even talking about properly, insisting that the girls use the words 'special place'. Kochanski thinks she must have been right, because only a place that is so special could produce the reaction she is getting from Shayne now.
'Shut up and stay still.' Kochanski keeps her hands where they are, pinning Shayne down and spreading her labia for easy access at the same time. She shuffles forwards and licks lightly over the slick skin, getting used to the way Shayne tastes -- sort of salty, but more than salty, sort of sweet but more than sweet. Satisfied that she isn't doing too badly, she slips her tongue inside Shayne and feels her tighten around her tongue.
This isn't hard for Kochanski. She does everything slowly and carefully, making sure it's all right, but from her other experiences with Shayne she knows that she is doing fine. As she finds the hard point of Shayne's clitoris and uses the very tip of her tongue on it, hearing Shayne whimper and gasp and moan is enough to let her know that it's all right, she's going well and everything is all right.
Crazily, a snatch of an old, old song floats to her mind: 'And we laughed/at the world/They can have their diamonds/and we'll have our pearls...' The spot she has found on Shayne is like a pearl. Round and small and precious. Cliché or dumb comparison, maybe, but it's what she feels.
Shayne's hips rock up and she presses harder against Kochanski's mouth, and in response Kochanski increases the pressure she is using on Shayne's clitoris, moving one hand and sliding two fingers inside Shayne at the same time, and Shayne moans loudly, then cries out Kochanski's name as the unstoppable rush of her orgasm overtakes her, and Kochanski rides the wave of this one and manages to tease a second, smaller one out of her lover before withdrawing her fingers. She places a light kiss on the slick skin then pulls her head away and gets to her feet. Shayne is leaning heavily against the wall, breathing hard, head down.
'You all right there, Shayne?'
'Mmmm.' Shayne takes two steps to her right and collapses onto the bed, rolling over to give Kochanski room to lie down, and all this time keeps her eyes closed.
Kochanski pads over to the bed and sits on its edge, then lies down beside her lover and pulls a blanket up over them for the sake of decorum just in case an asteroid hits the ship or something. Shayne's arm goes around her waist; the other girl is already almost asleep.
'We'll have to get up again you know,' Kochanski says.
The warm afternoon and the lovemaking combined draw them into a blissfully peaceful nap.
Chapter 22: Impossible Values
The crew have been free of the Brig for a little over two weeks now, and have settled into a nice, safe, comfortable routine of meals and cockpit shifts and shower times and a few other things that don't always stick to routine. They are currently skirting around a Simulant hunting zone, marked by the traces of millennium oxide which usually mark the edges of Simulant territory, but Kryten says the closest Simulant ship is only visible on long-long-long-range on the scanners, and therefore shouldn't be a problem.
Kill Crazy is moderately happy to be free. Only moderately? He misses the Brig, in a way: the way he didn't have to think for himself, and the Canary missions, and the few people he could claim as 'friends' there. But on Starbug he has a better chance of killing something, so he doesn't mind so much.
The ship's couples have settled down, comfortable at last with who they are with and who they are. The Cat and JayVee have their slightly violent relationship, and don't mind flaunting it: JayVee has never had a problem with flaunting anything anyway, from her navel ring to her short but sexy legs, and is always worth a sly wink when she is caught doing anything 'interesting' with the Cat.
Likewise, Kochanski and Shayne have worked out where they stand with each other (it's usually in the shower), and are unafraid to kiss or hug one another in front of the rest of the crew.
Of course, it's the last ship's couple, Lister and Rimmer, who do have a problem with public displays of affection. Shayne teases them relentlessly about this, naturally. But the duo brush it off and keep on in their own way... and it's a fine way in its own right...
'You know, Listy, I like you with your hair out like this. It's nice and sleek.' Rimmer takes up two huge handfuls of the glossy dark brown-black mass tumbling over Lister's caramel shoulders and holds it tightly.
'Will you shut up and pay attention to what you're doing?' Lister's voice is strained with desire. 'I need this. Now.'
Rimmer drops Lister's hair, puts his hands on Lister's shoulders, and starts thrusting into him with a will, plunging in and drawing back with a force to it he's never used before. Lister buries his face in the pillow, trying not to scream and draw anyone's attention, and fists up two handfuls of the pillow to try and keep a sense of stability in the starburst world Rimmer is creating for him.
'Are you sure you need this?' Rimmer has stopped all of a sudden, and Lister can hear the smirk in his voice.
'Rimmer. Fuck me. Or you are really gonna regret it.'
'As you wish,' Rimmer says. He reaches forwards and pins Lister's wrists down with his own hands, then starts moving again. Over the past couple of weeks they haven't moved from being first-time lovers - they've all-out raced from it into being semi-experts on each other's bodies. Right now, Rimmer is employing his superior position to shag Lister stupid. Lister tries to free his hands, but to no avail, and has to remain there, face-down, and endure -- if that's the word -- what Rimmer is doing to him.
Rimmer explodes within Lister barely a minute later, and Lister lets out a strangled cry and empties himself all over the sheets.
'That's another laundry run.'
'Oh, shut up Rimmer.'
'At least Kryten is getting something out of this relationship.'
'I've heard that one before.'
'You're pathetic. No, scratch that. What's worse than pathetic?'
This banter continues as they get up, drag the sheets off the bed, and generally clean up the evidence. Lister showers briefly and Rimmer considers joining him, then decides against it. He's sore in an interesting place, and chances are that anything happening in the shower would only make matters worse. No. He just pulls on his boxer shorts instead and sits at the table, waiting.
Lister comes out of the shower and drips across the floor, looking for his towel. Rimmer's gaze is riveted to his body: to the sleek wet caramel skin, the cascade of wet black hair over his shoulders, the fine curls of black hair between his legs, the slightly bobbing semi-hard cock also between those legs. He wonders what it would be like to have that cock sliding inside him... in the two weeks they have been having sex it's always been Rimmer dominant -- Lister, though, far from passive.
'You know something, Listy?'
'I think I figured out why women think penises are funny.'
Lister bites back a snort and starts towelling off, lifting one foot then the other to dry those first. 'Please, don't tell me why. Please.'
'You should dry your hair first. All that water's only going to make your feet wet again.'
Lister turns to face him and holds the towel out. 'You do it then, if you're such an expert.'
Rimmer accepts. Pushing Lister down onto the edge of the bunk, he wriggles in behind him and starts drying Lister's hair. It was nice drying it as dreadlocks, but now that it flows in one long waterfall over his shoulders, it is even nicer.
Once Lister's hair is dry enough not to be a problem, Rimmer picks up one of the red and yellow hair ties Lister occasionally wears and pulls his hair back into a neat ponytail, securing it with the tie. Then he moves down with the towel, rubbing across Lister's shoulders and back. Lister lets out a soft 'Mmmm' of pleasure, and Rimmer turns the drying into a massage for a moment, before continuing down. Now out along his left arm. Now his right.
He moves back out from behind Lister and kneels before him, wiping his face dry with the air of someone performing a serious religious rite. Lister sits as still as a stone idol as Rimmer moves down his front, taking a long look at the beads of water caught in the sparse black curls on his chest before drying them away. Now he's down to Lister's waist, now his thighs, and down along his right leg then his left, saving the best part for last.
There are little drips of water all over Lister's cock, and they gleam in the light from the overhead fluorescent tubing. For a long moment Rimmer just kneels there, resting his buttocks on his heels, taking in Lister with his eyes, twisting the towel between his hands as if he's forgotten about it.
Then he casts the towel aside, leans in, and begins licking away the water.
Lister gasps as the sensation of Rimmer's tongue, gliding on the water, rips through him. It feels so natural, so soft. As Rimmer cleans away the water, his touch becomes rougher, and Lister closes his eyes, leaning back and looking down so he can see Rimmer's every move. Although it feels rough, as opposed to smooth and slick, Rimmer's tongue is touching him so lightly he practically has to look just to be sure that it is.
When the water's gone, Lister doesn't quite know what to expect -- all he knows is that he's hard again and he needs some kind of release or he's going to go insane, if this light touch doesn't drive him there anyway.
Rimmer stands up, looks down at him.
'Y-yeah?' Lister is having trouble breathing for some reason.
'I want you to do me.'
Who can pass up an offer like that?
'I'm stuffed, man, I don't know if I can,' Lister says. But is that a glimmer of deviousness in his eyes, a hint of devilry in his voice?
Rimmer turns away, eyes already filling with disappointment. He moves to go back to the table, and is just about to sit down again when something hits him from behind, sending him falling forward, his progress arrested by the table. He ends up arse-up, bent over the table, and realises that this is exactly what Lister intended.
'You're a smeghead, aren't you?'
'That's right, baby,' Lister says. He pulls Rimmer's shorts down to his knees.
'How dignified is this gonna look if anyone walks in?' Rimmer is laughing, though.
'It's midnight, man: who's gonna walk in?' Lister has the very-close-to-empty tube of slick in his hand and smears some over his cock, then around Rimmer's entrance. Sliding a finger in, he's rewarded with only a little resistance, then Rimmer opens like a flower. Except flowers don't usually moan with pleasure.
'Lister, just do it.'
Lister realises what Rimmer did earlier: that this is Rimmer's first time like this. Strange how circumstances make these things happen; nonetheless, he's determined to make it good. He moves forward and in.
He doesn't have a lot of time to make it good. Far from being strange, Rimmer's body seems to have decided that this intrusion is a hundred percent welcome, and within seconds he's tearing into his second orgasm of the night.
'Never mind... oh.' Lister lets out a soft breath and closes his eyes as the movement of Rimmer's muscles around him draws his own climax out, sweet as chocolate.
When it's over he moves away and grabs a washcloth, wiping himself and Rimmer clean. The Second Technician is half collapsed on the table and looks exhausted.
'Worn you out?'
'Uh. I don't know about that. I just got a little overwhelmed there.'
Lister drops the cloth on the table and puts an arm around his lover's shoulders. 'Are you all right?'
''Course I am, Listy; why wouldn't I be?' Rimmer grins at him and straightens up, pulling his boxers back up -- and just in time, too, as there's a knock at the door. Lister dives for his own boxers as Rimmer moves to the door, barely waiting for Lister to get his act together before opening it.
'Hey guys.' Kochanski is standing there with two bowls of ice cream. 'Shayne and I made this and thought you'd like to try it.' She doesn't look like she realises it's midnight. She doesn't seem to care, actually. Her eyes rake over the two of them, her mind clearly works out what's just happened, and she hands the bowls to Rimmer with a 'Let us know if it's all right, will you?', and leaves.
'Why are she and Shayne making ice cream at midnight?' Lister asks.
'Who cares?' Rimmer takes the bowls over to the table and sits down. 'Here, dig in.' Kochanski has even provided spoons -- clever girl.
Rimmer takes a mouthful of the ice cream, and nearly swoons. 'This is fantastic.' A drip hits him on the chest and he doesn't even notice as he digs in for another spoonful.
'Careful, you'll get a headache.' Lister grins at him. 'We don't want you to operate at less than full capacity now, do we?'
'Who cares?' Rimmer closes his eyes and sucks the sweet foodstuff slowly off the spoon, heedless of the way Lister's eyes are riveted to his lips, heedless of the drips that run off the spoon and splatter onto his chest.
He finds it a bit hard to ignore the touch of the tongue that licks them off, though.
Rimmer opens his eyes in time to see Lister lift the ice cream bowl off the table and pour the melted part all over Rimmer's chest. It's icy cold and sticky, and Rimmer yelps.
'And it's so nice of you to share.' Lister pushes Rimmer's chair away from the table, the castored legs squeaking, and crouches in front of him, methodically beginning to lick the ice cream off his lover's torso.
Rimmer sighs, closes his eyes, and gives in to the feelings rushing through him. The ice cream is cold. Actually, the longer it sits there, the colder it feels. But the combination of that coldness and the warmth of Lister's tongue feel good anyway.
Lister's mouth pulls lightly at his nipple, tongue swirling away the vanilla sweetness, tasting Rimmer's skin underneath before moving downwards, sweeping left to right and back again, cleaning the dessert away.
When Lister is finally done, Rimmer considers retaliating with Lister's own -- now completely melted - bowl of ice cream. But a yawn stretches his mouth, and he realises he's too tired.
'I'd better shower,' he mumbles, heading for the shower recess.
'Sorry.' Lister's chipmunk smirk belies the apology, but Rimmer doesn't care.
Ten minutes later, squeaky clean and rubbing himself dry with one of the nice scratchy towels that they found in a cupboard, Rimmer comes out of the shower and starts looking for his clean boxers.
It takes him some minutes to realise that Lister is no longer in the room.
'Listy?' Maybe he's hiding.
The bowls are still on the table, but Lister's spoon is lying on the table beside his bowl, a small puddle of melted ice cream around it, as if it has been dropped in a hurry. Frowning, Rimmer finishes drying and tucks the towel around his waist securely, then steps out into the corridor and looks along it.
Suddenly an alarm wails through the ship. Rimmer hears someone yelling from downstairs, and sees JayVee bolt from the Cat's room without even looking around, diving for the stairs and going down the railing headfirst. The Red Alert lights placed strategically around the ship light up, and Rimmer spares no time to dress, but follows JayVee's lead down the stairs, hoping that the disaster, whatever it is, has nothing bad to do with Lister's disappearance...
Chapter 23: Impossible Warnings
A siren starts howling from the cockpit, and Lister drops his spoon and races downstairs as soon as it begins. As he passes through the midsection, Kochanski joins him from the galley, hot on his heels. They dive into their respective seats, and the Cat blitzes through the door not long after them. The siren dies, and Kryten starts swearing at it.
'Shit-shit,' Kochanski says. 'I'm picking up more than just traces of millennium oxide in the immediate vicinity. We've wandered right into a Simulant hunting ground.'
'Simulants!' Lister yells, alerting the entire crew. Kryten thumps the faltering siren and it starts up again, and he switches the Red Alert sign on as well.
'Simulants? Ain't they the nasty ones made o' metal? I'll rip 'em apart! Gimme a gun!' Kill Crazy tops out and starts dashing in little circles around the cockpit. 'Come on, bring it on! Let's find those metal-face freaks and bring 'em down!'
'Settle down,' Kochanski says, not unkindly pushing him down into a chair. 'We'll see if they're still around first.'
'Then can we get 'em?'
'Yes,' JayVee lies, crossing her fingers behind her back for good measure, and realising that now is not the best time to remember that she isn't wearing any underwear under her miniskirt. 'Krissie, how close are they?' She sidles away from the redheaded nutter (no, not Shayne, the other one).
'They're definitely within a medium-range scan, probably two thousand miles out on the port bow,' Kochanski replies tersely, the fun gone from her speech as she returns to her role of professional navigator. 'Jayv, will you make sure everyone's armed? Cat, try and steer us into that asteroid belt, so their scanners can't find us. Kryten, send out an SOS call on the JMC frequency only. We may be able to contact Red Dwarf and get them to help us.'
There is a howl of discontent at this suggestion. 'But they'll recapture us!' Rimmer protests.
'Yeah, an' this is a serious parole violation, Krissie. Do you really wanna go back to that hellhole they call Floor 13?' Shayne says.
'Do you want to go to Hell? Literally?' Kochanski says. 'You don't know the Simulants like I do... they're lethal. Cat, keep going!' The feline has slowed down, trying to follow the argument behind him as well as steer. 'Get in there, go on!'
'Navigate me,' the Cat says.
'Do it by your eyes and your nose, stupid! Jodie Vaughan! Get your arse through and find us some bazookoids! Shayne, get out of my cockpit!'
'I just love it when you go all bossy,' Shayne says, making no move to move. Kochanski smacks her on the bottom and she finally goes, tossing a wink over her shoulder to Lister, who is watching the whole scene with some amusement.
'My craft,' the Cat says. Lister lets go of the secondary steering yoke and the Cat deftly corrects the slight wobble in their course, aiming them down under the asteroid belt, planning to rise up into it like a shark into a shoal of fish.
The siren is still screaming, and with a flip of a switch, Kryten shuts it off, before turning the radio on and beginning to broadcast the SOS. According to the long-range radar, the ship bearing the JMC ident tag they know as Red Dwarf's is still within radio range -- not that they've been trying to contact Starbug anyway.
'Cat, watch that 'stroid.'
'Where are they now, Krissie?'
'They've spotted us,' Kochanski reports, nary a quaver in her voice. 'Up, Cat. Up! They're coming in -- eighteen hundred miles and closing. Get behind the biggest asteroid you can manage, and then go to silent running.'
Kryten keeps the radio running for as long as it takes for the Cat to nudge the bulky 'bug into semi-safety behind the asteroid and shut the engines off. Strange crackling starts to come from the radio after that, and Kochanski smiles.
'That's got 'em. This rock's almost pure metal, guys. Great shield.'
'But ma'am, what about Red Dwarf? Won't Holly have trouble tracking through that 'rock' as well?'
'Don't worry, Kryten. If we're lucky, we won't even need the Dwarf. The Sims might leave us alone, if we just wait it out and see what happens.'
'Shots fired!' Lister says as twin streams of green laser fire zoom across the black spacescape far below them.
'Trying to draw us out. Ignore it, Cat!' The Cat is reaching for the startup switch. 'They're trying to bait us. We're not going anywhere. Kryten.' Kochanski looks across at him, every inch the expert. 'Can we run the psi-scan to get an idea of how many Sims there are, or do you think it's too big a power emission, and they'll pick it up?'
Kryten looks visibly pleased at being asked. 'I think it's too small for them to pick it up, ma'am. Running it now.' The tiny backup generator under his console hums, for a moment overwhelming the steady background thumping of the oxygeneration unit.
'What does it say?'
'About ten heat signatures that aren't attributable to their engines. And they're about fifteen hundred miles away now,' Kryten adds.
'Good. Ten Sims isn't as many as I'd worried.'
'How can you be cool under this pressure?' Lister asks. 'I don't get it. You're treating them like they're ten schoolyard bullies. They're ten armour-plated killing machines.'
'Look, if you don't understand it, then don't worry. But the point is that we can outwait these guys. Schoolyard bullies are more persistent. The Sims will give up as soon as they realise they can't find us.'
There is a crackle from the radio. '...rbug? ...ou...ere?'
'Is that the Dwarf?' Kochanski asks, furrowing her brow. 'Kryten, get that link off. The Sims can trace it. How did Red Dwarf contact us when we're behind all this metal?'
'More sophisticated radio systems, ma'am.' Kryten has the answer. 'They have a lot of power behind it all. The Simulants don't have as much,' he adds reassuringly. 'They have a smaller craft.'
'Yeah, well, smaller doesn't always mean worse off. Size doesn't count,' Lister says.
'I am going to do my best not to comment,' Shayne says from the doorway, where she is lounging with a grin on her face and a mining laser in one hand, checking the calibration. 'Kill Crazy's got ants in his pants. He's dying to rip a few Sim heads off. Why don't we come out from cover and let him do it?'
Kochanski is saved from answering this as, quite unexpectedly, the asteroid they are sheltering behind explodes.
'Ambush!' Kryten yelps.
'Cat! Run for it!'
The Cat powers up the engines, turns the ship impossibly quickly, and bolts into the asteroid belt, ducking and weaving to avoid both the laser bolts from the Simulant ship and the asteroids surrounding them. The Simulant ship follows, more agile than the lumbering 'bug.
Kryten reopens the radio link to Red Dwarf - now that the Sims have found them, one more trace won't make a difference -- and starts broadcasting a mayday message.
But the message is interrupted by the Sims.
'Human ship.' The Simulant on screen is female, slender, with black and silver hair that looks like most of it is actually strands of metal. 'Give yourselves up and we won't kill you.' Her teeth glitter menacingly as she tries to comfort them by smiling. She is actually pretty attractive, in a crazed mass murderer sort of way.
'No way,' Kochanski says. 'Kryte, tell her no way.'
Kryten relays the message and closes the link down, then reopens the one to Red Dwarf. 'Red Dwarf, we are being attacked by a Simulant ship which has a JMC ident code and name: the Neutrino. Crew: approximately ten, led by a female. Be careful they don't spot you as well. Over.'
There's a response from the Dwarf before the Sims can take over the link: 'Starbug, message received. Captain Hollister says he'll help you if you return to Red Dwarf and give yourselves up to Warden Ackerman for readmittance into the Brig.' It sounds like Todhunter talking. The visual link is bad.
Those of the group in the cockpit exchange glances: Kryten, Kochanski, Cat, and Lister. The others, clustered around the doorway, have also heard the message.
'Tell them no!' Kill Crazy says. 'We didn't get outta there just to give ourselves up again!'
'He's right!' JayVee chimes in. 'I say we take on the Simulants ourselves!'
'But you don't understand. Without Red Dwarf to back us up, there's no way known that we'll survive combat with the Sims. They have superior firepower, manoeuvring, everything. They'll outwit us, no question!' Kochanski thumps a hand onto her console. 'We've got a choice between giving in to Red Dwarf and going back to the Brig, or getting tortured for years by Simulants. Now that I've put it that way, is anyone still for going after the Sims?'
'I am,' Kill Crazy says. 'Better dead than ever have to face Baxter again.' Nobody knows what he's talking about, but Kochanski has a sneaking awful suspicion.
'I am,' JayVee says. 'I think that if we use guile and cunning, we can outsmart them and get away with our freedom.'
'Better make a decision soon, buds,' the Cat says. 'They're coming.'
The Simulant ship is mainly Military Grey, streamlined, with two huge tinted windows at the front like black eyes. The ten lifeforms Kryten sensed with the Psi-Scan are gathered at the front, presumably in the cockpit.
Red Dwarf is still many miles away, but is coming closer. Soon they will be near enough to scoop up Starbug and bring its crew back to the dubious safety of the Brig.
Simulants. Their own old crew. It's a tough decision.
So far, Kill Crazy, JayVee, and Shayne are all voting to face the Simulants. The three of them are arguing against Rimmer, who wants to go back to Red Dwarf, and Kochanski, who knows all about how nasty Simulants can be. Lister, Kryten and the Cat, having faced Sims before, are trying to think of ways to outwit them, but are equally amenable to going back to Red Dwarf.
But then, in one quick swoop, the Simulants make the decision for them.
All JMC ships are capable of docking with other JMC ships, and the Sims' Neutrino is no exception. While the Starbug crew are arguing, it swoops in, and despite the Cat's quick reflexes, the Neutrino shoots out grappling hooks and catches the edge of Starbug's airlock. It begins towing the small green ship closer to it, or possibly dragging itself closer. Either way the result is going to be the same -- the smaller ship is headed for Starbug's cargo bay and within minutes they are going to be under attack.
'They're coming in! Get the bazookoids! Kryten, close all doors between here and the cargo bay. Shayne and Jayv, up for some more duct work? We should be able to get into the ducts over their heads and take out a couple before they realise what's going on,' Kochanski yells.
'Better idea,' Shayne says. He voice sounds different. Harder. 'We go an' face them on their own turf.'
Shayne and JayVee are standing in the midsection. Both are wearing black leather with metal studs scattered here and there. JayVee is painting a silver streak, like a runnel of melted metal, down Shayne's face with makeup. Kochanski stands in the cockpit doorway, staring at them.
'Do we pass as Simulants?' JayVee asks, gesturing to Kill Crazy, who is similarly attired.
Kochanski stares at them, baffled. 'What on Earth do you think you're doing?'
'Bluffin',' Shayne says. 'We're gonna infiltrate their ship, take out th' steering, and fight our way back out.'
'What, just the three of you?'
Shayne shakes her head -- JayVee manages to lift the makeup brush away just in time to avoid smearing - and points to the scanner table. 'There's enough stuff there for all of us to go in. I reckon if Kryten an' th' Cat stay here, to get us outta trouble as soon as we reboard th' ship, the rest of us can go in.'
'Believe it or not, ma'am, it sounds like a feasible plan,' Kryten says, 'and one with the greatest chance of working, given the current circumstances. Red Dwarf is too far away to save us, as yet. This is our best and only option.'
Kochanski sighs and holds out a hand. 'Give me some leather.'
JayVee grins and hands her a pair of pants and a jacket, then goes to the comms console on the wall and speaks into it. 'Neutrino! Why have you attached yourselves to our ship, friends?'
There is a pause, then a reply from the Simulant woman. 'You are humans, not our friends. Your ship is human.'
'As is yours, friend, but you are Simulants like ourselves,' JayVee says.
'My God, she's actually bluffing it!' Lister whispers to Kochanski, helping her drag the leather pants on. They are all heedless of nudity at this stage; Rimmer has dashed upstairs, almost losing his towel, looking for underwear, but the rest are unselfconscious, although Kochanski is aware of Kill Crazy staring at her bum as she wriggles into the pants, which are probably the Cat's.
The Simulant sounds puzzled, though the visual is completely down now and they can't see her expression. 'You are one of us?'
JayVee winks at the others, then goes into all-out 'arrogant mode'. 'More to the point, are you one of us? How many are you on your ship?'
'Ten Charter followers,' the Simulant says, and a truly wonderful thing is happening: a note of uncertainty has crept into her voice. 'State your ident code and purpose.'
'You state yours first,' JayVee orders, 'or be prepared to be blasted out of the sky.'
The Cat is in the cockpit, and can only hear this, not see JayVee standing with her hands on her hips, for all the world looking as if she is arguing with the Simulants face to face, but the others can hear him laughing admiringly anyway. Kryten hushes him.
'Jaina 269, seeking humans and/or humanoids to destroy in revenge,' the female Simulant says after a pause, evidently considering herself beaten. 'We number ten strong Simulants, human vessel. If you do not stop stalling, we will destroy you with one blast, we will use our laser cannon on you...'
'Oh, I'm so scared,' JayVee sneers. 'I am Jodie 171, and I have five Simulant companions who are your match in any battle, no matter what the numbers.'
But to everyone's surprise, when Jaina speaks again, her voice is warm -- as warm as a Simulant's voice can possibly be, at least.
'Sorry, friend, but it's a dangerous world out here, and I seek only to ascertain your purpose... I must look after my crew. You know how it is...'
'Of course,' JayVee says hurriedly, 'and as we have no wish to disturb you further, we'll be on our way. Seek and destroy!'
'Wait,' Jaina says almost plaintively, just as JayVee is about to turn the comms mic and screen off. 'Will you not join us aboard the ship, and take a meal with us? Surely you have stories to trade of your doings, since yours is a ship that must have been stolen from the loathed humans, and as such is the spoils of war. I beseech you, join us.'
JayVee looks at Kochanski for help. Kochanski is fully dressed in Simulant raiment now.
'Could we sustain this for long enough?' she whispers to Shayne.
'Yeah, why not?'
'Come on, let's get on with it!' Kill Crazy says. He has a bazookoid and is loading it. 'I wanna shed some metal-features blood!'
JayVee winces -- hopefully Jaina didn't hear that! She leans close to the speaker again and replies, 'All right, Jaina. We will join you.'
'One question.' Jaina's voice is hard again.
JayVee swallows. 'Yes, friend?'
'Our scan registers eight life forms on board your vessel, yet you only mentioned yourself and five others. Who are the other two?'
'Two mechanoid servants, who we stole with the ship. It saves us doing any work aside from creating new human torture devices,' JayVee says. A chill goes down Kochanski's spine: JayVee sounds so sincere.
'That is well. I will see you shortly, at the airlock to my ship. We are docking with your cargo bay,' Jaina says.
'Soon, friend,' JayVee says, breaking the connection. She turns to face the others, lightly sweating, but with a grin on her face. 'Looks like we got a dinner invite.'
'Since when do Simulants eat?' Kochanski asks suspiciously.
JayVee shrugs. 'They're part humanoid as well as metal. They eat.'
'How do you know all this, ma'am?' Kryten asks.
'There's not a lot to read in the Brig's library, but there was some information on Sims on the Internet. They fascinate me,' JayVee says.
'You're sick,' Lister says. 'What a subject to get fascinated by.'
'Don't knock it if you haven't tried it. What's your date of birth?'
'I haven't got one, really.'
JayVee sighs. 'Just appropriate any combination of three numbers for your Sim name, then -- first name and three number designation. Don't forget. If she or any of her mates asks you, you won't want to forget.'
'I love it when you talk dirty,' Shayne says, winking. JayVee nearly slugs her one, then decides not to. The others are almost all ready -- the leather really suits Rimmer, and Lister is kissing him without giving a damn for the others. Kill Crazy looks vaguely sick.
'Come on, let's go kick some Simulant arse!' he suggests. 'Let's get in there!' He pounds one leather-gloved hand into the other. 'I wanna see blood!'
The others exchange looks.
'He's right. Let's go!' they agree.
Chapter 24: Impossible Xenophobes
Shayne and JayVee lead the way out of the airlock into the Simulant ship. Jaina is waiting for them in the corridor just beyond it, and Kochanski's heart skips a beat as she waits for the Simulant to realise their deception and kill them all. She starts breathing again when Jaina holds out her hands in welcome. Of course -- this was JayVee's idea, and with Shayne helping her, Shayne who wears a skull ring on her right hand anyway and occasionally looks the part of a Simulant even when she's not dressed up, it's a winner.
'My friends! Welcome,' Jaina says. Her voice is strangely mellifluous; not grating and metallic like that of most Simulants. 'It has been many years since I have encountered others of my own kind apart from my own crew. You must have many tales of your deeds, especially since you are travelling in a human ship. But first, tell me -- are you all Charter followers?'
JayVee is still being their spokesperson, but this question could be answered by any of them: they all heard Jaina announced herself and her crew as Charter followers, and this indicates that it is safer to agree.
'Charter followers one and all,' JayVee says.
A gleam of excitement lights up Jaina's dark eyes. 'Then you must have many stories of revenge! I have lost more than one member of my own crew and exacted vengeance, and we should share our stories over our meal.'
'Most certainly,' JayVee says.
'But do your companions not talk?' Jaina asks.
'Of course we do,' Shayne says. 'We were jus' admirin' your decorations.' She gestures to the wall behind Jaina, which the others have been avoiding looking at, trying not to speculate about what the dark blotch is across the metal.
But as they follow Jaina along the corridor, their eyes are drawn, one by one, to the dry-brown, flaking, wide spray of what is clearly blood, and most likely to be human blood.
Jaina leads them through a warren of corridors to the mess hall. On the way they pass no more blood-sprays, but there is an interesting mosaic on one wall which they are all sure is made up of human bones.
Two other Simulants are in the mess hall already. Jaina introduces them as Randall and Jessamyn, both without the numbers after their names. JayVee introduces the rest of the Dwarfers, also without numbers. It's clearly an informal introduction, now that they have been accepted into the enemy territory.
The three real Simulants excuse themselves and disappear into the kitchen adjacent to the mess hall. Taking the opportunity, JayVee gathers the others close.
'The little bit of information I've been able to read about Simulants doesn't mention much about this Charter that she keeps going on about,' she says. 'I don't know exactly what it entails, except that from what she's said I gather it's about getting revenge for your dead friends.'
'I know what it is,' Shayne says.
Shayne quotes, '"And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.".' She grins, exposing teeth that JayVee has somehow silvered with makeup. 'Th' Sims got religion.'
'That's from the Bible, isn't it?' Rimmer says.
Shayne nods. 'Exodus, chapter twenty-one, verses twenty-three to twenty-five.' Her smile is hard. 'Don' try an' use that as an excuse for hittin' back in church, but.'
'They're coming back,' Kochanski points out. 'They're bringing food.'
'Is this gonna be real food?' Kill Crazy asks, 'or bits of their last victims?' He looks sick at the idea of eating bits of person, although he has no qualms about slicing and dicing, not according to his personal record at least.
'Real food. They're part human, Kill Crazy! They're not cannibals.'
'They might be,' Kill Crazy says sullenly.
'Well, they're not,' JayVee says again. 'I've studied them -- what I can of them - and they just enjoy the torturing. You have to remember that, if they ask. Now, our...'
She is cut off by the reappearance of Jaina and her two cohorts from the kitchen, bearing platters of cold meats, evidently the kind that come from freeze-dried packages, but still looking very appealing. Salad as well, less appealing than the meat but still arousing interest in the Dwarfers: green salad, potato salad, and pasta salad.
The least appealing thing about the whole experience is the other seven Simulants who file silently in through different doors and sit along the table, leaving every second space free for the Dwarfers. It means they have no choice but to sit beside the real Simulants, and that is a dangerous situation. But more dangerous still would be to refuse, and possibly break some unknown Simulant protocol, and be discovered.
The Simulants -- both fake and real - sit down to dine. Glasses of wine are poured, serving plates handed around, and Kochanski realises with some shock that nearly everyone is actually being very polite. Perhaps Simulants are more refined in their own company.
'Chicken, friend?' Jessamyn, beside her, offers her the plate, and Kochanski takes some. 'Ham?' On the other side of her, JayVee is holding a conversation with Jaina. Kochanski can't see all of JayVee's face, but there are tiny beads of sweat on her temple. Kochanski hopes that these aren't out of place. Hopes like mad that nothing will give them away, because they are in a very bad place if they are given away.
'Being created is such an ignominious way to enter the world, wouldn't you agree?' Jaina says, either addressing JayVee or the entire table. 'We're creatures of shame, created to be less than the humans who made us... but humans are so fragile. Easy to break.'
'Whereas we are powerful and strong,' Rimmer says. 'We fear nothing.'
'Exactly!' Randall, beside him, pounds the table with a fist. 'No fear, but pride. We are capable of ruling the Universe. If we can steal one ship, we can steal a hundred. Has Jaina told you the story yet?'
'Our team came off the construction line, made to be miners. Miners, on the asteroids! Powerful, but miners!' Jaina shakes her head. 'We stole this ship, the Neutrino, and took off. But our tale is boring. What did you do?'
'We were to be deployed to a warrin' planet,' Shayne says. 'But when we got there the war was over, an' the humans didn' need us any more. They were gonna kill us, but we killed them -- not without losses. We stole the human ship an' have been flyin' the Universe since, seekin' our revenge.'
'And how many lives have you taken?' Jaina sounds impressed.
'Fifty-four,' JayVee says, shooting Shayne a glance that reminds her to let JayVee run things. 'We still have vengeances to exact, though.'
'As do we,' Jaina says. 'We still have six lives to take in return for our fallen friends.' With snakelike speed her arm is around JayVee's neck, squeezing tightly, and JayVee gasps and gurgles. 'It's fortunate that you six have come along, then!'
Kochanski's heart drops to her feet, then plummets through the floor as Jessamyn's arm goes around her neck and a knife blade digs into her side. The Simulants' laughter clearly shows that they have not been deceived. Every one of the Dwarfers has been taken prisoner.
No -- not quite every one, Kochanski sees. Kill Crazy has jumped from his seat and is standing on the table, holding an unfamiliar gun, evidently pickpocketed from one of the Simulants. He shoots fast, hitting Jessamyn in the face, and the reflex as she lets go to clap her hands to her face gives Kochanski the break she needs. She throws herself backward off the seat and somersaults, nearly snapping her neck but managing to catch Jessamyn's dagger in the process. She scrambles to her feet and leaps to free JayVee.
When Shayne feels the arm around her neck she almost loses it. Her head drops. She can almost hear a song playing in her head... Taps, she thinks. Day is done, gone the sun... He's tightening his grip, clearly worried that she'll pull some macho stunt. Black roses bloom in front of her eyes. That's the start of unconsciousness. Then she'll die. No more fights for Kerry Shayne. No more loving, either. Goodbye, Krissie...
'Hell, no,' she says out loud, and slams her elbow into one Simulant's stomach, bruising it pretty badly on the metal body armour, but shaking him enough to yank herself free. The Sim on the other side of her reaches for her and Shayne swivels her legs out from underneath the table and kicks him, hard, between the legs. He cries out and hits the floor like he's been hit by a small tornado. Shayne's free. Four free, two trapped. She joins Kill Crazy, up on the table, and starts hurling cutlery.
'Die, you sonsabitches!' Her full repertoire of obscene words comes into play, as does her years of fighting experience. She and Kill Crazy work in tandem on the two Simulants pinning Lister in his chair, and keep working until they get the Scouser free.
'Dave!' Rimmer is on his knees on the floor, Randall the Simulant behind him, hands around his throat and tightening quickly. Rimmer's face is mottled purple and red, and Lister sees red. He launches himself, weaponless, at the Simulant, and knocks him and Rimmer both flying.
Now they're all free -- in a manner of speaking -- but still hopelessly outnumbered. Ten Simulants would be a match for an equal number of humans, let alone only six.
But they have something that the Simulants don't.
They have Kill Crazy.
Kochanski, moving fast to avoid another attack, reaches under the table and scoops up two of the bazookoids that they brought with them. She tosses one up to Kill Crazy, who looks prepared to run into battle with a shaken-up can of Coke and a tennis racquet. He starts enthusiastically firing. Instead of keeping the other weapon to defend herself, Kochanski throws it up to Shayne and dives under the table again. There's a Simulant there, unarmed, teeth bared in a leer as he scuttles forward and latches his teeth onto her arm. She grabs a bazookoid with her free hand and hits him with it, and he lets go, momentarily dazed.
'Jayv, take this!' She shoves the bazookoid out from under the table and feels someone grab it - hopefully the person she intended it for. 'Dave! Rimmer!' She kicks guns to the other two and sees them go sliding away, but the Simulant under the table has the sixth and is firing straight up, trying to hit Shayne and Kill Crazy. A high-pitched scream indicates that, in at least one case, he's succeeded. Kochanski hightails it out from under there as fast as she can before he decides to shoot her instead.
They don't go for an outright kill. They aim to wound, then capture to torture.
Thanks a lot, mind.
She doesn't need information like this right now, thank you very much.
Kochanski slides out from underneath the table and straight into Jessamyn's legs, but the Simulant isn't going anywhere. She's dead. Her head is a pile of red glop, smeared on the floor, a few wires poking out of the mess and still spitting and fizzing. Kochanski stares at it for a second, then leans over and vomits.
Shayne jumps off the table to haul her up. Shayne herself isn't doing too wonderfully. Her vision is awful. She thinks some of the makeup has run into her eyes. It reminds her of the time, years ago, when she smoked three joints on top of her vodka and everything seemed to happen in a series of jump cuts. It's not so bad, though: like that night, she feels like she's bouncing when she walks.
Wait. She is bouncing when she walks. What's going on?
Somebody's shooting at the ship, probably with laser cannons, because the impact of the shots thunders through the entire ship. Does their Starbug have laser cannons? Probably, because she knows Red Dwarf is still out of range. How did Cat and Kryten know they were in trouble.
Shayne picks Kochanski up and puts her on her feet, holding her there for a moment, waiting until she can stand on her own before letting go and firing on a Simulant trying to attack them. Even with Jessamyn dead there are still nine big, ugly, metal freaks out for their blood, and six against nine is still really lousy odds.
But then the odds change. Shayne takes a step forward and lifts off the floor. The gravity has been affected by the shots, and now the bigger, more unwieldy real Simulants are at a disadvantage, while the humans are used to antigrav situations from basic Space Corps training. Shayne smiles, then whoops and blows Randall's head to bits as he attempts to strangle Rimmer.
'C'mon, guys, get 'em!' The Simulants are spinning helplessly, and Shayne grabs Jaina's feet and shoves her towards the nearest wall. The Simulant smacks off it and rebounds, and Shayne ducks as she comes flying back.
'Why didn't we just blow this shitheap up in the first place?' JayVee yells just as the laser cannons stop firing.
'Because the charge on the cannons wasn't high enough!' Lister says, then screams as a Simulant's teeth fasten into his ankle. He kicks hard and the Simulant flies away with a piece of Lister's ankle between his teeth. 'But Krytie's been watching us all along!' He slides a hand under his black T-shirt and hooks out the wire to the tiny camera hidden in his hair.
'Go for the door!' Kochanski says. 'Now, while we can get away!'
'You'll never get away!' Jaina says, her teeth bared as she lunges at Kochanski, overshoots, and sails past, arms and legs flailing.
Kochanski grabs Shayne's arm and propels her towards the door. JayVee follows them. Kill Crazy is standing, surreally, about two inches above the table, loosing off bazookoid barrages in all directions. Lister and Rimmer are making their way along the wall, fighting off Simulants as they go.
'Kill Crazy!' Kochanski shouts.
The redheaded psycho doesn't move, steady as a rock as he aims and fires, aims and fires. His blue eyes are steely, more sane than Kochanski has ever seen them, and she thinks his name is inappropriate: he's not crazy when he's killing, he's crazy when he's not. This is his element.
Rimmer and Lister are at the door now, supporting each other. She can see a wide gash on Rimmer's left cheek that is bleeding like mad, but there's not a lot they can do about it right now.
'Kill Crazy, come on!' JayVee joins in the shouting, but still Kill Crazy doesn't move. He just stands there with the bazookoid, aiming and firing.
And then the remaining eight Simulants rush him all at once. He stays up for a moment, then goes down under a hail of arms and legs. Two more of the Sims go flying back off him, gaping, ragged holes in their torsos. Shayne yells and starts forward, but Kochanski catches her arm.
'Just shoot from here!'
She does. She, Rimmer and Lister are the only ones with charge left in their bazookoids, and they fire on the struggling mass of Simulants, killing another three. But then the bazookoids run out of power, and the Dwarfers are forced to retreat.
Kochanski is in tears, and is only vaguely aware of being picked up and carried back to the airlock. As soon as they've gone through it she passes out, and it's then that JayVee finds the bleeding wound to Kochanski's shoulder, and covers it -- but is it too late?
Kochanski wakes up in the medi-bay. Starbug's medi-bay. Shayne and JayVee are sitting either side of her. Kryten is sticking a gauze pad over Rimmer's cheek to cover the stitches. Lister and the Cat are absent, presumably down in the cockpit.
'Where's Dave?' Her voice hurts.
'Cockpit, with the Cat.' JayVee reaches out and takes her hand. Kochanski's shoulder is throbbing like nobody's business.
'We stayed as long as we could, Kris. Shayne and Dave went back in with fresh bazookoids. It looks like he killed all of them before he... well, you know.' JayVee squeezes her hand. 'Don't worry, Kris, it's the way he would've wanted it.'
'What do we tell Hollister?'
'Isn't Red Dwarf still out there?'
'Yes, ma'am,' Kryten says, 'but they're steering clear of us, and after retrieving Mr. Kill Crazy's body we set the Neutrino to auto-pilot and sent it towards them. As far as they know, they've got a Simulant ship coming after them, and that gives us time to get out of the way.'
'God, I'm tired.'
'You should sleep, babe.' Shayne leans over and kisses her square on the mouth. 'Okay if we leave ya here? Only I need a shower -- I got Simulant blood in my hair, and the others ain't much better off.'
'I'll come and check on you in about an hour, ma'am. Would you like a sedative?' Kryten offers.
'No. I'll be fine.' Kochanski catches Rimmer's eye. The technician is fingering the thick white bandage covering most of his face. 'Rimmer, you all right?'
'I will be. Kryten says it'll heal.' Rimmer manages a smile. 'I'm going down to Dave, if that's all right with everyone.'
'And I want to see the Cat.'
'All right, Jayv, I said I'd be fine alone.' Kochanski waves her hand at them and they go, although all four of them stop to kiss her on the cheek, even Kryten, which feels weird, kind of plastic, but at least he doesn't want to throw her back to the Simulants like he might've when she first came on board.
Then she sleeps.
It might be after Kryten's promised checkup visit an hour later, or it might be before it, when Kochanski is awoken by the soft stroke of something on her cheek. Something cold. Metal? She opens her eyes.
Metal. A gun barrel. Jaina is standing there, battered, bruised, but smiling.
'Get up. Or I blow your head off right here and now. It's time for my vengeance, and believe me, I want it.'
Chapter 25: Impossible Yearnings
Shayne is sitting in the midsection, wanting to go up and visit Krissie, not quite daring to go before Kryten does, and absently ignoring the way Starbug is lurching around as the Cat avoids the asteroids around them. Dave and Kryten are discussing the best way to 'bury' Kill Crazy's body, which is currently residing in the cargo area, wrapped in a tarp, exactly the way that they brought it from the Simulant ship.
It had been a bloodbath, fighting their way back in there, but in the end they thought they'd counted enough body parts to account for all the Simulants. She and Lister, picking their way through the abattoir, alternately taking point as the other reloaded after each encounter with one of the hybrids. JayVee had wanted to come, bravely volunteering, but Shayne had talked her out of it. Now, as she sits here, hands around a Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate, she's glad she did. The Simulants weren't the only ones to get pretty torn up in the firefight. They had trouble finding all of Kill Crazy as well.
JayVee is currently in the cockpit with the Cat and Rimmer, but comes to the door just as Shayne looks up, as if by some tenuous psychic link still connecting the two former lovers.
'Hey Shayne, you 'kay?'
''Course I am, Jayv, you moron. Why wouldn' I be okay? We're headin' away from th' stupid ship, an' by the time Red Dwarf realise what's goin' on with th' ship comin' towards them, we're gonna be free an' clear. I'm fine.'
'That's all right then. You just looked depressed, and Kerry Shayne never looks depressed,' JayVee says.
'Shut up, Jodie.'
In the middle of this friendly banter there is the sound of a footstep on the metal stairs from above. Shayne, who knows that everyone's downstairs but Kochanski, looks up eagerly.
Kochanski comes down the stairs, walking stiffly, her arm held close against her side because of the shoulder wound. She comes down five steps and then stops.
'Krissie?' Shayne stands up. 'What's wrong?'
'Me,' says a voice from further up the stairs. 'Don't go for the guns, because I'll blow this one's head off.' Jaina moves into view, grinning macabrely with half of her cheek torn off to reveal metal teeth and circuitry. The dangling flap of plastiskin seems to irritate her, because she pulls it off and drops it. 'Everyone to the middle of the room. You in the cockpit - set this crate to autopilot and get out here. No weapons,' she repeats.
'What're we gonna do?' JayVee whispers to Shayne.
'Target her weaknesses,' Shayne says.
'She's a fucking Simulant, Kerry. She doesn't have any weaknesses.'
'For the eight thousandth time, Jodie...'
'Shut up!' Jaina barks, shoving the radiation pistol closer against Kochanski's chin, forcing her head uncomfortably upwards. Kochanski doesn't make a sound, but her eyes plead mutely to the others to do something. Preferably something involving Jaina's head and about fifty bazookoid rounds. But the others are loath to do anything because of Jaina's threats. They don't want the wrong head splattered.
'Jaina, please. You don't want to do this,' JayVee says.
Jaina bares even more of her metal teeth. 'Oh yes I do. Your people killed my people. I have the right to claim my vengeance.' She urges Kochanski further down the stairs, until they are standing at the bottom, on a level with the others.
Shayne is reminded of her early childhood, sitting in a pew, listening sedately to the sermons being read. Sometimes, whoever was reading them would get worked up. They would sound very much like Jaina does now -- a religious fanatic, willing to kill or be killed in the cause of their own warped views on life.
She remembers all the Bible stories of her youth, and swallows. The innocent always seemed to be the ones to die. But if that's how it has to be...
Shayne launches herself at the Simulant, with no real plan in mind except to attack. She is vaguely aware that someone is screaming, and that it sounds like herself. But there's no time to think about that.
She hits Jaina roughly in the midsection with the top of her head, knocking herself, the Simulant, and Kochanski into a heap on the floor. There's the thin tseew sound of the radiation pistol, and she feels a searing pain in her right arm, then a terrifying numbness. But again, she hasn't got the time to worry about it right now. The Simulant is wriggling away quickly, and Shayne reaches for her leg, grabbing on and holding tight, moving to hug the leg with her entire body.
'You always have to play the fucking hero!' It's JayVee. There's the boom-boom of bazookoid fire, and Shayne scrunches up as small as she can to avoid being hit. As she moves, Jaina's leg slips from her grip like an eel on steroids, and before she can recover it Jaina has scuttled crablike up the stairs and out of sight.
'Come on, let's go get her!' Shayne yells.
Kochanski grabs her leg. 'Wait. Do you want to end up like Kill Crazy or something? Don't do it. Wait for us.'
'She's getting away!'
'She's not going anywhere.'
Shayne kneels, grabs Kochanski's shirt with both hands, and yells into her face, 'The escape pod's up there!'
Lister is the first to move, bolting up the steps, carrying the bazookoid, but even as he's going they hear the escape pod detaching from the ship and taking off.
'Shit. She's either going to escape, or going to try and attack Red Dwarf,' Rimmer says. 'There are over a thousand people on that ship. How far is she prepared to go for vengeance?'
'All the way,' Kryten says grimly. One of his plastic figures taps the external camera view on the nearest vid-screen, and the screen obligingly shifts to that view. The escape pod is jetting for the hydrogen scoop of Red Dwarf. 'If she succeeds in what I perceive as her plan - to block that intake scoop -- Red Dwarf will very shortly cease to be able to move, and shortly thereafter will stop generating oxygen efficiently. Jaina is alone now, and seems to be prepared to sacrifice herself to destroy the ship.'
'Maybe she thinks she won't die,' JayVee points out.
'I think we should go after her.' Kochanski is pale but determined, and she pushes past the others into the cockpit, not stopping at her seat, but going straight to the pilot's chair and sitting in it. She grips the steering yoke, her face set, and turns Starbug to follow the escape pod. 'I think it's our responsibility to get her out of there, because we're the one's who brought the Simulants into this sector in the first place. I don't want to carry the deaths of over a thousand people on my soul forever.'
'Amen t' that.' Shayne takes the co-pilot's seat and helps make tiny course corrections, although in actuality she just wants to look like she's doing something important.
Madonna, the little cat, comes out from under the Cat's chair and leaps onto the dashboard, mewing for attention. JayVee picks her up and hugs her close, troubled violet eyes fixing on the rapidly nearing maw of the hydrogen scoop. Already Jaina's pod is just a dot against the vast redness that is Red Dwarf, and Starbug is being buffeted by the steady sucking of the fan that pulls the galaxial air into the hydrogen reprocessors. The pod must be having an awful time of it, but this is something that nobody in the green ship really cares about right at the moment.
The radio crackles, and Captain Hollister appears on the video screen. 'Starbug... Kochanski, are you there? What's going on? We're picking up an UO headed for the hydrogen scoop -- it's not you, is it?'
'We're headed that way, Cap, but it's not us,' Lister replies tersely, seeing that Kochanski has her hands full with the steering, which is becoming increasingly difficult.
'Who's that? Is that you, Lister? What's going on?'
'We had a run-in with some Simulants. We killed most of them, but one of them got away, and she's headed to block the intake tube. We're going to get rid of her as a personal favour, but after that we're leaving.'
Hollister is semi-speechless, shocked by more than a few things. 'You killed a group of Simulants?'
'Hey, it's not that hard once you get the hang of it,' says the Cat.
'Yeah, they're slice-and-diceable. As this one is going to be if you don't let us get in there after her.'
'Don't break my hydrogen scoop, Lister,' the Captain warns.
Lister straightens up and snaps off a fairly passable Full-Rimmer salute at the monitor. 'Yes sir Mr. Hollister sir!' Everyone in the cockpit, that is, everyone who isn't concentrating furiously on steering the ship, laughs. Even Hollister looks like he's suppressing a smile.
'You do realise that it's not really a great loss to the ship to see you guys go, don't you?'
'I know you love me, Frankie, let's not make this emotional,' Lister says.
'Dave, can I have some help here?' Kochanski asks. There's no humour in her voice, not even a little bit. 'This is getting a mite out of control.' In fact, there isn't anything in her voice -- she's remaining incredibly calm, even emotionless, the closer they get to the ship. The power of the vacuum tube is really sucking them in now, buffeting the ship like an autumn leaf in a gale. At least they're not surrounded by a lot of other ships, like other leaves.
Lister joins her and Shayne up the front, helping her with the steering, which he privately thinks even he couldn't manage alone. The Cat, though loath to leave JayVee's side in this moment of turmoil, goes to help Shayne. The four of them are putting immense pressure on the steering yokes, and Starbug's engines are whining and whining like a kicked puppy dog, but the power of the small green one seems to be as nothing compared to the power of the large red one.
'Sir, we're approximately three minutes from being sucked into the engine ourselves!' Kryten almost screams over the noise of... of everything.
'She hasn't gone in yet!' Lister yells back. 'There's still time to catch her!'
'What with?' hollers JayVee.
'We've got a...' The ship is rocked by a massive blast of energy, and Lister falls backwards onto the floor of the cockpit. He scrambles back to his kneeling position, barely able to see over the dashboard, and finishes, '...rudimentary mining scoop! We should be able to send it out and catch her in that! Kryten! Are you ready?'
'Yes, sir!' Kryten bellows.
'Can you see her?'
'Then get her!'
A hatch opens underneath the windscreen of the 'bug, and a flexible arm shoots out, the scoop on the end resembling a large, three-fingered hand. The arm extends to its full length and just misses the pod.
A new comms link is opened. They can't hear her, but it's Jaina on the screen. She looks like she's screaming obscenities. She probably is. JayVee, who can lipread a little, catches the words 'Human scum!'.
'Get her, Kryte! She's coming for us!' Lister yells suddenly.
Sure enough, the pod has turned around, and in complete defiance of the energy flowing the opposite way, is bulleting towards the 'bug.
The mechanical arm swings around again and the 'hand' grabs at the pod, but misses. With a tremendous impact that shakes the ship from end to end, the pod rams into Starbug's windscreen, right between the eyes. The four at the front go flying and end up at the back. Miraculously, the glass doesn't break -- if it's glass. It's probably perspex or something even harder.
'Kris? Kerry? Dave? Cat?' JayVee runs from one to the next, dropping Madonna, ignoring the grey kitten's yowl as she steps on her tail.
'Uh...' Kochanski rolls over and sits up, dazed.
'That hurt!' The Cat sits up and starts examining his clothing for tears.
'Ow, fuck, move.' Lister pushes past JayVee and hurls himself at the steering yoke. Beyond him, outside the 'bug, the pod has rebounded and is now drifting uselessly, being sucked slowly towards the hole that leads into Red Dwarf. Jaina is still on the comms screen, irritatingly looking no worse for the collision; in fact, she's cackling madly.
'Did I get any of you?' she yells. 'I just wanted vengeance! Looks like I got it!' She thumps on the viewscreen. 'How many dead? How many dead?'
JayVee, kneeling beside Shayne, doesn't answer. Her mouth has set into a hard line as she rapidly checks Shayne's pulse and breathing.
'Kris, get her into the midsection and get an oxygen mask on her.' Kochanski doesn't move. 'Fucking do it!' JayVee yells, kicking her in the side, and Kochanski manages to get her act together and with Rimmer to help her drags Shayne into the midsection -- or at least out of the cockpit, which was the main idea.
JayVee leans over Kryten, who looks slightly dazed himself, yanks his hand out of the glove that controls the arm, and sticks her own hand in it. No time to figure out all the controls -- she'll just have to guess.
The arm waves around a little, aimless, before brushing against the pod, sending it spinning further away. No, no! Not like that! JayVee corrects her aim and manages to snag the pod with the tip of a finger, curling that finger in and bringing the pod back towards the ship.
Lister, meanwhile, is backing the ship out of the dangerous reach of the larger ship. They're still within the hydrogen scoop, and it's like being on the event horizon of a black hole. The pull on them is nearly enough to draw them in to be diced like mincemeat in the engines that extract the hydrogen from the air, but not quite enough... and they rock back to the safety zone without any of them really realising it at first.
'You've got her, Miss Vaughan! Well done! Now, reel the arm in slowly, and we'll put her in our landing bay,' Kryten coaches.
'Wait. I want to get away from Red Dwarf first. In case something happens,' JayVee says.
'Is Shayne all right?' Lister asks, turning around for a brief second.
'We're doing what we can for her,' Rimmer calls from the midsection, not in answer to Lister's question -- which he didn't hear -- but just as a report. 'She's breathing okay, but I think she's out cold.'
'Bloody Simulants,' JayVee says. 'Are we out of the danger zone, Dave?'
'Nearly there, Jayv,' Lister replies, eyes front again as he gingerly reverses Starbug away from the Dwarf. Fortunately, the larger ship isn't moving - or not as fast as them -- so he's making progress. It's like a mosquito flying backwards out of an elephant's trunk.
'Starbug? What's going on?' Captain Hollister is back and bleating.
All hands are busy, but the Cat manages to flip the Listen switch to Talk/Listen. 'We're here, buddy,' he says loudly. 'We're busy right now, though. You want to leave a message?'
'We just want to know if everyone survived that impact.' It's Todhunter now, looking prim and official. 'We were watching you on our monitors.'
'Everyone who's still here survived,' Lister says.
'What's that supposed to mean?'
'Kill Crazy was lost in the battle with the Simulants!' JayVee says loud enough for the microphone near the Cat to pick it up and transfer it, with a squall of feedback, to the other ship. 'He died a noble death and we're going to hold his funeral here. Any other dumb questions?'
'Miss Vaughan, I'm going to have to ask that you return his body to the ship. He is a prisoner of the Space Corps, and we need verification of his demise before we can allow any funerary services to take place.'
'Spin on it,' Lister says.
'Yeah,' JayVee agrees, 'stop being so fuckin' morbid, Todhunter. He's dead. That's all the proof you should need. If it's not enough, go look in the Neutrino, and see if anyone could've survived being attacked by all of those bodies in the dining hall. But I warn you -- we're not positive that they're all dead yet.'
With the hand not in the glove, JayVee makes a curt gesture to the Cat, who shuts off the radio link. They're away from the Dwarf now, rising up above it, and still going in reverse to boot. The pod is still there on the end of the arm, firmly grasped in the three-fingered scoop.
'Miss Vaughan, it should be safe to bring her into our cargo hold now and find a way to kill her without too much ado,' Kryten says.
'Fuck that.' JayVee's violet eyes are cold. 'Shayne's back there, probably unconscious, possibly gonna die, and I don't give a fuck for any easy death ideas you may happen to have for this chick. She's dying, all right, but on my terms.' And with that, she begins to slowly fist her hand inside the glove, a strangling, squeezing gesture, and outside the 'bug the pod begins to be crumpled as the hand obediently tightens to JayVee's will.
Like a soft drink can squeezed too hard while still closed, one end suddenly bursts off the pod. They can hear tinny screaming through the audio link to the pod, but there's no visual, which is probably just as well. Then there's just silence.
Something round comes spinning out of the pod, and with a shiver of disgust, Lister realises that it's Jaina's head. The Simulant's features are locked in an eternal snarl, and her plastiskin is beginning to wither as the head goes spinning off into the void of Deep Space.
'Lister, Cat, you two stay in here and keep us on a course away from Red Dwarf. Kryten, I'll need you in the midsection. We need to see if Shayne's all right.' JayVee pulls her hand from the glove. It's slick with sweat. She wipes it absently on her leg and moves for the door. She may have the Cat now, her relationship with Shayne may be in the past, but right now she feels a sudden, desperate need to know that Kerry Shayne hasn't already drawn her final breath. To see her open her eyes and smile, even if it's at Krissie and not her.
Kryten follows JayVee obediently through the cockpit door. Lister and the Cat exchange a glance, then bend their attention to slowly easing Starbug into a path that curves away from Red Dwarf and up and out into the freedom of the stars.
Chapter 26: Impossible Zeniths
Shayne's cheeks have a faint bluish cast to them, and the oxygen mask clamped over her nose and mouth doesn't seem to be doing a whole lot of good. JayVee kneels beside her comatose friend and checks her pulse.
'Wavery,' she announces. 'Alright, let's get her to the medi-bay. Kris, take her shoulders -- I'll get her legs. Try not to drop her, although I doubt she'll notice.'
Together the two of them lift the Martian from the floor and carry her up the stairs and out of sight. The Cat watches them go, then goes back into the cockpit, which is still a hive of activity. He takes his accustomed place and helps Lister steer the small ship away from the larger one, like a bee rebelling against the collective mind of the hive and taking flight.
'Are we clear?' Rimmer keeps asking, his voice fraught with tension. 'Tell me we're out of range. I don't want blubber-bum coming anywhere near me.'
'We're out of range,' Lister says at last. 'We're still in radio-range, but I doubt they'll try anything with any of the other ships -- like the man said, we're not exactly the biggest tax write-off. Maybe Krissie, but there are always other Navigation Officers in the making.'
'Lister? Are you there?' It's Hollister on the radio again. 'Look, we're grateful for you saving us from the Simulant, but you really should come back to the ship.'
Lister thumbs his nose at the monitor. 'Screw you, Frankie,' he says. 'We're going home.'
'Home? Home is three million years away,' Hollister says.
'Race you,' Lister says. 'First one back to Earth gets the prize.'
'Cut the crap, Lister. If you don't turn that ship around this instant and come back to Red Dwarf, I'm sending Todhunter out after you, and he's bringing Baxter. You won't stand a chance.'
Lister loses it.
'Listen, lard-arse. We just saved your fat behind from dying a very, very nasty death. If you think suffocating would be fun, then by all means forget about our effort. But if you have a single shred of gratitude in your soul, then just let us go. You said it yourself -- we're worth nothing to you. Why bother with sending a ship out? You won't catch us, anyway. So just cram it, babe, because we're going home!' He spits these last words at the monitor, such an angry and dark expression on his face that for a moment the others scarcely recognise him. 'We've got one crewmember upstairs who's probably dying because she tried to help save you, and another one already dead because he faced the Simulants who would've come after you and subjected you all to the most horrible tortures they could think of. So don't give me any shit about any regulations that state we have to come back to the ship, or give Kill Crazy's body back. There is no Space Corps any more. Understand? There's nobody to report us to, nobody who's going to come down on you like a ton of bricks for letting us go. So just give it a break and give us our freedom!'
Hollister sighs in defeat. 'All right, Lister. You win. We're giving you free passage out of our sight. But if we ever come across you again, you'll have to come back to the Brig without a fight.' He pauses. 'Not that we really want a bunch of deviates like you.' He smirks.
Lister crosses his fingers behind his back, clearly visible to everyone but Hollister, his face turning slightly red with anger at Hollister's words. 'Fine. Deal. Now fuck off.' Kryten reaches out and flips the switch, and the Captain's fat face is erased from Starbug's viewscreen, hopefully forever.
'Let's get out of here, alright guys?' he murmurs, and the others are only too happy to oblige. The tension in the cockpit is palpable; the boys have a hard time performing their set tasks knowing that Shayne may be dying or dead upstairs, and more than a few mistakes are made over the next few hours.
Four hours later, with Starbug well out of Red Dwarf's radio-range and cruising at a comfortable one-eighth light speed, the crew put the crate on auto-pilot and go upstairs to see if Shayne is all right.
The redhead is sitting up in bed, looking furious. 'I told ya, Krissie, I'm gonna get up, and ya not gonna stop me!' she is saying. She catches sight of the four at the door and waves. 'Come in, guys. Krissie's tryin' ta make me stay in bed, but I told her I wasn' gonna stay anywhere, not while I didn' know if ya were okay or not.' She has a huge purpling bruise across her forehead, and her right arm is encased in a half-cast, the bandages wrapped tight.
'We're all fine,' Lister tells her, while the Cat gives her a hug. Kryten has a small bunch of artificial flowers in one plastic hand, which he places in a vase beside the bed. Shayne wrinkles her nose, then smiles. Rimmer leans down to kiss her on the cheek; Lister is last, and holds her close for a long moment. 'Are you fine?'
'In perfect health. But Krissie still won' let me up. No, doesn' matter how concerned I am about my friends, she won' let me go an' check.' Shayne's face folds into a pout, but her eyes are twinkling.
'And now that you know that they're perfectly alright, will you go to sleep?' Kochanski asks when Lister has stepped back, looking exactly as if she knows that Shayne won't. Of course, she's right.
'Shayne, for God's sake,' JayVee says. 'Grow up and snuggle down. You're not going to get any better if you're sitting up like that.' She tries to get Shayne to lie down, but doesn't succeed.
'I could get up an' do star jumps!' Shayne is looking very indignant.
'I highly doubt it,' says JayVee, pushing her back down onto the pillows. 'Now either you shut your eyes like a good girl and go to sleep, or you're getting a shot of anaesthetic that'll put you out for a week.' She holds up a needle that's probably usually used on horses or something. 'Do you get it?' The needle looks evilly sharp.
'Yes mother,' Shayne says. She lies down, snuggling her head into the pillows. 'But I've gotta condition to impose on this deal.'
Shayne says nothing, but looks meaningfully at Kochanski, who sighs and starts stripping down to her underwear, not even glancing at any of the boys. Kryten looks away embarrassedly, while the Cat's eyes nearly fall out. JayVee elbows him, reminding him of who's in charge here.
As Kochanski finally slides in beside Shayne, tucking her arm around the other girl's shoulders, Madonna the cat comes in and leaps on the bed. For a moment, the whole crew is gathered together around the bed.
'What're we going to do about Kill Crazy?' Kochanski asks, realising now that she is in the bed just how tired she is. She yawns. 'Or will we worry about it in the morning?'
'Let's worry about it in the morning,' JayVee answers. The Cat has his arm around her waist, and Lister and Rimmer are holding hands; it's a regular Kodak moment. 'We'll worry about it in the morning.' She picks Madonna up one-handed and hugs the little cat until Madonna mews in protest. 'Right now, let's just get some rest and worry about those of us who are still alive.'
The morning is tomorrow; something to be worried about another time, and that's good. Kochanski snuggles up against Shayne, the smell of Shayne's freshly-washed hair surrounding them both, and barely hears it when the others leave the room. Shayne has already fallen asleep, red hair spread damply around her head like the halo of a fallen angel who has finally acquitted herself. Kochanski holds her close and closes her own eyes. She will be there all night, and will be there when Shayne wakes up in the morning.
The lights go out.