“I'm being very, very calm. You want to be aware of that. Very… very… calm,” the voice said in the darkness. “So tell me that again, but slower and only one of you talking at a time.”
The Red Dwarf posse realised, the voice was being very calm, while his face looked anything but.
Lister looked around the Starbug hold for a moment, as he tried to put his thoughts in order:
“We were no match for them; they killed us, and destroyed everything on board ship, including the Time Drive, which meant there was no Time Drive for them to have in the future, to bring back into the past, and destroy the future of their past selves in the present. Put simply: by killing us they killed themselves, because once we were dead it was impossible for us to become them in the future, and return in time to kill ourselves in the past, even though it was the present.”
“But there was an accident that destroyed all our curry supplies,” Kryten supplied. “So Mr Lister convinced my Spare Head 3 to go back in time with him to get more. I’m afraid Spare Head 3 has always been unreliable.”
“And we went along, ‘cause we didn’t know it was Spare Head 3, and accidentally pushed that Harvey guy out a window,” The Cat added. To be honest, he still found that whole series of events puzzling, but he liked to be included in the discussion. “And Lister convinced Jeff Kay to shoot this Pres Guy from a grassy knoll, so it all worked out.” The Cat grinned, showing his teeth.
“Jeff Kay?” The calm voice asked. The calmness, they saw, had become a little forced.
“John F Kennedy, sir,” Kryten supplied. “And as a bit of a punishment, Mr Rimmer tricked Mr Lister into separating the engine and cargo decks from the command module and we left him alone for a week , trapped in the cargo hold with nothing but three tons of curry products for company-
“I was fine, Krytie-“ Lister said.
“I bet you were,” The Cat interrupted. “We had to pump the atmosphere through the air filters three times before we dared open the doors. Then there was a Swirly Thing alert, and we crossed a reality bridge and got left with another monkey,” The Cat said, pointing a thumb at Kristine Kochanski. “And then there was this loud explosion, like a hole bein’ blown in reality and this blue box appeared, and you staggered out surrounded by smoke and said: “I think I’ve saved her, but it’ll take the automatic repair systems a few hours work before she’s ready to fly again,” and-“
“I know that part- I was there.” The tall thin man had a wonderful coat and hair which The Cat judged, grudgingly, was nearly as perfect as his own.
“So… to summarize,” the man said, “your older selves returned from fifteen years in your future,” his voice got louder as he let the anger go. “With a better equipped spaceship and blew up both you and the time machine, creating a paradox, after which you travelled back in time and created several more paradoxes, damaging the fabric of reality and allowing you contact with other versions of yourselves. That is the most irresponsible thing I have heard in nine centuries of Police Box travel!”
“Look, we’re sorry, man” Lister said, “But it needed to be done. I need curry - and who are you to come over all judgemental?”
“I’m The Doctor,” the tall thin man said, “I'm 904 years old, from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I am the Oncoming Storm, the Bringer of Darkness and if you don't like it-“
“If you want to take it to a higher authority-“
“There isn't one. It stops with me.”
“Oh.” Battered by the forceful personality, Lister rallied. “Yeah, well I’m Dave Lister, I’ve smegged around for over 3 million years and I’m the last Human Being alive. And I need curry, ok?”
“I’m The Cat,” The Cat introduced himself to the woman, who had kept quiet until now.
“Martha Jones,” Martha said. “Are you sure you’re a cat, because the cat people I’ve met before had hair all over, including their faces.”
“I wax,” The Cat said. “You people pluck your nose hairs, I wax my face.”
“Krystine Z Kochanski,” Kochanski introduced herself, shaking Martha’s hand. “Under appreciated female character.”
“Oh… me too,” Martha said, realising she had found someone who could appreciate her position.
“Sir! A large winged being has appeared out of nowhere,” Kryten announced, analysing what he was seeing, he added. “It somewhat resembles a huge white blood cell.”
“It’s a Reaper!” The Doctor explained. “They’re from outside of time and space, they move into damaged areas of time and consume everything inside it!”
“Like what?” The Cat asked.
“Like this ship and everything in it- including us.”
“You had to ask, man,” Lister said.
“I’m the oldest thing in here, stay behind me and run when it eats me,” The Doctor said, standing in front of Martha and holding his arms out wide.
“Are you smeg the oldest thing in here,” Lister said as he picked up a carton and lobbed it over arm. It missed, but the Reaper swooped and caught it in its huge mouth and chewed. It shrieked in pain, spat the carton out and fell to the floor.
“What was that?” The Doctor had his sonic screwdriver out and scanning the Reaper. “It’s…. Dead. But nothing can kill a Reaper. They have existed since the beginning of time. In fact, they eat time…”
“Looks like Holly was right- nothing drinks the dog’s milk.” Lister grinned. The Doctor turned the sonic screwdriver on the carton.
“A three million year old carton of dog’s milk, as drinkable now as the day it was made.” The Doctor scanned Lister twice before looking at his screwdriver in dis-belief. “You… are your own father!”
“Yeah, so? Had to be done man, so humans always exists somewhere in time,” Lister said. “Ouroboros an’ that.”
“That is the silliest thing I have ever heard. Everything always exists somewhere in time- that’s what makes time travel possible in the first place,” The Doctor said.
“Well… it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Two Reapers popped into existence, Lister realised he could not throw well enough to take them both out and handed two cartons of milk to the Cat “Throw!”
The Cat spun on the spot and let go. The cartons arced across the cargo bay and caught the Reapers right in the mouths. The Reapers dropped to the floor, dead.
“Sirs, we should crank up Starbug’s engines and get out of here before more of these Reaper things turn up,” Kryten pointed out.
“Won’t work,” The Doctor said, scanning with his screwdriver again. “The damaged area is huge, it’ll take this heap years to fly out of it, plus Mr Paradox here is part of the damage. The time energy he’s giving off is a magnet for the Reapers. Oh! Oh, got it! Everyone into the TARDIS,” The Doctor yelled, clutching his head.
“Sir, your box is too small for to take all of us,” Kryten said. “I will stay and sacrifice my life so you can escape.”
“Get in the TARDIS, novelty condom head,” Martha said, grabbing Kryten by the shoulders and shoving him through the doors, as two more Reapers entered reality and sniffed around their fallen comrades. Kryten stumbled through the wooden doors, looked around, popped his eyes out and gave them a good clean; looked around again. It did not help. The dimly lit room was not only bigger than the blue box it was in- it was bigger than the cargo hold the blue box was in.
“This makes no sense,” he said.
“That’s what I thought at first. Come to think about it, I still think this place makes no sense,” Martha said. “It’s a twenty minute walk to the kitchen, and don’t get me started on the toilets.”
The Doctor dragged Lister over to the console, and wiped his hands before pulling off a panel. “This is the telepathic interface, but I’m going to re-purpose it.” He threw himself on the floor and wriggled under the console as he talked “Stick your fingers into the creases.”
“Will it hurt?” Lister asked.
“A lot less than being eaten alive by a Reaper,” The Doctor replied.
“Oh, right then,” Lister pushed his fingers into the creases. The Doctor squirmed out, and lifted a floor panel.
“Nothing reaching the batteries yet. Wait a minute,” he punched the console with the side of his fist. The lights blazed and the time rotor trembled. “We have power!” He grinned.
“Looks like we got a new ride,” The Cat said. He picked up the hammer on its length of chain. “What does this do?”
“Put that down!” The Doctor said and turned to Lister. “Falling through the hole in space/time–that you created- drained all my ship’s power. But you’re a walking paradox, so we can use you to channel artron energy and recharge The TARDIS. But, whatever you do, do not remove your hands from the interface!” He shouted as he ran around the console, flipping switches, pulling leavers.
“Why, what’ll happen?” Lister asked.
“I don’t know, because no one’s ever used a human being as a conduit to power a TARDIS. But you may age the full three million years you were in stasis.”
“Okay, not moving my hands,” Lister said. The Doctor rapped the side of the console with the hammer.
“Hey! I could have done that,” The Cat complained. The engines wheezed, and the posse watched the screen as the TARDIS dematerialised and entered the time stream.
“We’re safe,” Kryten announced. A Reaper ghosted through the floor and grabbed Lister’s legs. He held on to the console as it tried to pull him out of the TARDIS, teeth locked in that grimace Kryten thought of as “electrocuted hamster.” The Cat and Kryten grabbed an arm each and held on as the Doctor reached for his sonic screw driver. The Reaper pulled a boot off and swallowed it, then its tentacles pulled Lister’s sock off and crammed that into its mouth.
“It ate Lister’s sock!” The Cat screeched. “Nobody’s that crazy.” There was a scream, and the Reaper fell dead on the floor.
“Right…” the Doctor said, staring at the corpse. They were supposed to be immortal guardians of all reality. Practically gods. Killed by a three million year old sock. For the first time in a long time, he was lost for words. “So… we’ll take you ten years into the future, by that point the wounds in your timeline will have healed and your ship will have drifted a long way from whatever’s left- so you should be safe enough. And if you’re not, well, you’ve always got another sock.”
“Look man, drop us off back on Earth, yeah?” Lister asked. The Doctor stared at Lister for a moment before answering.
“Afraid not, you’re a fixed event in time,” he said. “If I drop you off on Earth, that’ll break time again and there are worse things than Reapers.”
The Doctor pulled a lever, the time rotor drifted to a stop, the wheezing sound of the ancient engines faded, and The Doctor ran to the doors.
“Is there any way to take me back to my universe?” Kochanski asked. “I really, really need to get back to my Starbug.”
“Oh, hey,” Lister said. “We’re the last representatives of the human race… we should stay together.”
“Dave, I know you’ve been through a lot and you are the last man alive, but it’s a no from me,” Kochanski said.
The Doctor returned to the console and flipped nobs and turned switches while staring at the scanner screen. “Look, he pointed, “The membrane between your timeline and this one has only begun to heal. If we break through in the TARDIS, time could collapse, ending causality- one thing will no longer lead to the next,” explained.
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Kochanski said.
“I am so, so sorry,” The Doctor said. “But you have to stay in this timeline. C’mon, I’ll help you get everything fixed up before we go- I imagine the engines will need maintenance after ten years of drifting through deep space.”
The TARDIS had landed in the crew room; dust coated every surface, and the detritus of millennia littered the floor.
“Nothing’s changed here,” Lister said. They walked into the cockpit and flipped switches; the lights came on and the engines started first time.
“She’s fine.” Lister told The Doctor. “Aerospace engineers discovered that, after a plane crash, the only thing that always survives intact is a cute little doll. They built Starbug out of the same stuff.”
“Right, in that case, we’ll be going. With the TARDIS powered up, we’ll be able to return to our universe,” The Doctor said.
“Hey, why don’t you stay a while? We’re having curry for dinner and there’ll be enough for a couple extra plates.”
“Not if you were the last man alive,” Martha said.
“Oh, low blow, man, low blow,” Lister said.