"That's it. We're dead. You've killed us," Rimmer scowled at the Cat. "I hope you're happy."
"Come on, man," Lister offered with a shrug. "It can't be that bad. The lights and air's still on!"
"Yeah!" Cat replied and nodded.
"It will take just under two months for Mr. Cat and Mr. Lister to starve to death without the average amount of supplies regularly pilfered from derelicts," Kryten noted. "Unless, of course, we can repair the engine fault so that the ship can move again."
"Yeah!" The feline nodded again.
The hologram sighed and rubbed his temples. "Why, why did you find the need to plug in your hair dryer and curling iron into the main board down in engine room seven where there were already twenty full sockets in the same power grid?"
"That's the best napping spot!" Cat grinned. "That main board thingy with all the blinky knobs and buttons is so warm and relaxing. It's the best place to lie back and perm all my leg hairs."
Rimmer and Lister shared an exasperated look.
"Krytes," Lister pleaded, "are you absolutely sure there is no way to fix that fuse?"
"I'm afraid so, sirs," Kryten said apologetically. "That 610X247-D fuse was the last one we had." He paused wistfully. "If only it had been the 610X247-E. There is one included in each toaster repair kit and there are a dozen crates of those defunct parts down on Z deck. I believe Mr. Cat once even made fetching earrings out of some of them."
"Oooh, I remember those shiny things!" Cat spun around, and exclaimed, "those are in my top ten favorite shiny things!"
Rimmer paused thoughtfully, before speaking, "Kryten. Can't we just take an extra D from another redundant system?"
Rimmer glared at Lister but continued, "what about engine room four? That one isn't active."
"We nicked that one's fuse to fix the main oxygen unit that broke a few years back," Lister explained.
"Why not just reroute the oxygen unit with a TF-876 projector, bypassing the need for the 610X247-D fuse?" Rimmer proposed.
"According to the logs," Kryten chimed in, as he poured over the inventory data, "the last TF-876 projector was used to fix the water recyc system."
"Reroute the projector with a ZX702 chip?" Rimmer offered.
"Last one was used to fix the faulty airlock on A deck," Kryten replied.
"The 987-234c vacuum?"
"Stripped for the main refrigeration unit."
"A 78-9-2345-0 generator?"
"The nav computer."
"Starbug's left windscreen wiper?"
"The microwave in the officer's club."
"Smeg!" Rimmer threw up his arms. "Does anything on this ship work anymore?"
Lister jumped up with a thought. "What about Starbug? Can't we just go out and get supplies?"
The mechanoid entered a few keystrokes into the system. "There are no planetary systems or friendly GELF trading posts in range."
"So, the choices are starve to death on Starbug or starve to death on Red Dwarf." Rimmer sunk down into his chair. "Great choices, Kryten!" The hologram was well aware that Lister's demise also meant his own.
Cat paused spinning his chair in circles for a moment as his brain suddenly cobbled together an idea. "Why can't we just teleport somewhere else without having to move? Like one of those wibbly things where BOOP we are suddenly somewhere new?"
"Sir," Kryten replied slowly. "There are two problems with that idea. Firstly-"
"Hang on Krytes!" Lister interrupted. "Cat may be on to something!"
"Really?" Cat smiled proudly.
Lister turned to Rimmer. "Do we still have the Holly Hop Drive?"
"Do we really want to risk using the Holly Hop Drive?" Rimmer questioned. "Who knows where we might end up without Holly here."
Lister took another bite of curry.
"Then again," the hologram paused with a grin, settling into his bunk, "no Holly to smeg up the calculations either."
Lister sighed. Most days he really missed having Holly around.
"It'll be fine," Lister assured. "Kryten's dusted off the Hop Drive, read all the logs from the last incident, and he's running test simulations right now."
Rimmer stared off at nowhere in particular and pondered, "do you think we'll hop to the same universe again, with our female opposites?"
Lister paused his fork. "And Jim and Bexly?" He offered weakly.
The hologram opened his mouth for a moment but couldn't find any words to add. He hadn't heard those names in a long while. It understandably wasn't something that the man liked to talk about.
Lister resumed his curry half a moment later. "Anyway, from what Kryten's discovered so far, the drive is random. We could end up anywhere. The only guarantee is that it'll take us to the coordinates of an alternate Red Dwarf."
"Well, then," Rimmer said, heading towards the bunk room door, "whoever they turn out to be, let's hope the smegheads are willing to trade us their smegging fuse."
"Ready to Hop, sirs?" Kyten said cheerfully, placing Holly's Drive up on the center console.
"Hang on, Krytes," Lister interjected. "Cat's still preening."
"Whatever for?" Rimmer complained. "The insufferable git."
Lister stared at the hologram incredulously, "you're one to talk!"
"I've no idea what you are talking about."
"Rimmer, you're wearing your best uniform with all your long service medals!"
"Well," Rimmer hemmed and hawed. "There could be literally anyone on that ship. There might be a beautiful woman! Multiple beautiful women!"
"Yeah, yeah," Lister rolled his eyes.
"Another Kochanski, even?" Rimmer offered.
"Yeah, yeah," Lister shook his head.
"Sexy lady cats all howling in pleasure upon my arrival?" The Cat yeowled with his grand entrance to the control room.
"Don't get your hopes up, man."
"He's right, Cat," Rimmer snorted. "This time your equivalent might be a nest of rats, or a deaf bat, or a very slow tortoise."
"Rimmer, man, who would have a bat as a pet in deep space?"
"I don't know!"
"Kryten, just punch it!"
"With gusto!" The mechanoid chirped happily as he pressed the Holly Hop Drive's start button and they momentarily blinked out of existence.
The boys from the dwarf gathered round the view screens which now showed another Red Dwarf, indistinguishable from their own.
"Sirs, if I might suggest," Kryten began, "I think it may be wise if we start communications cautiously. Start with audio-only."
"Agreed," Rimmer nodded.
"I'll do it," Lister added, punching up the communications array and clearing his throat.
But, before he got a word out, the mechanoid jumped in.
"Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Lister, sir, but we are already receiving a video call from the other ship. Shall I punch it up?"
"Go for it," Lister leaned back in his chair.
The screen buzzed and fizzled into life. A single albino looking humanoid woman was staring back at them.
"What the smeg is that thing?" Rimmer yelped.
"She can hear us, ya smeghead!" Lister scolded in a hushed voice.
Suddenly the albino woman grinned a wide sharp toothed grin.
"Yeooooow!" She yelled, pressing her face further into the screen. "What a handsome boy cat!"
"Yeowwww!" Cat mirrored as he turned smugly to his crew mates. "See! I told you! Look at that lady cat! All my dreams come true."
"Cheers, man." Lister gave Cat a friendly slap to the back.
Rimmer rolled his eyes as more yeowling continued in the background. "I really hope this ship isn't just full of Cats and that there is someone reasonable to reason with," he mumbled to no one in particular.
Soon the cat yells died down and new voices came through the video feed.
"Auntie! Auntie!" a young girl no more than ten exclaimed, running into camera view and climbing over the albino feline to get to the controls. "I want to mash the buttons!"
"Touch nothin!" Said a familiar female voice as a woman pulled the girl away from the buttons and into her lap, taking a seat next to Lady Cat onscreen. "What did we talk about? No more mashin the buttons."
"Deb?" Dave Lister asked the screen.
"Oh eh, you know me?" Deb Lister replied, repositioning to see the screen better. "Cat me girl, move over."
Dave leaned closer to the screen. "You're not the same Deb Lister we've met before are you?"
"Nope. I'd definely remember if I had met such a handsome version of myself. Guessin you used the Holly Hop Drive?"
"You are correct, ma'am," Kryten chimed in.
In the background a second screaming child took a leap into view, diving for some controls in the background.
"Excuse me a moment, yeah." Deb sighed as she moved away from the screen to shoo the second young girl away from the controls. "Smegging hell, Rimmer, where are you?" She yelled towards the background. "Get in here and help keep our girls away from the controls!"
Our? The boys from the dwarf watched the screen suddenly transfixed as the other Rimmer appeared, an Arnold Rimmer looking very much like their own save the greying hair and distinctive lack of an 'H'.
"Settle down, woman," he replied as he took hold of the other girl and set her in his lap. "I got over here as fast as I could."
"Wait," Deb pondered. "Now who's watching the other kids?"
"I don't know, Listy," he replied. "I figured Jim, Bex, or Lee were keeping an eye on them."
"Smeg!" Deb cursed and took off out of view of the screen, leaving only Rimmer, the feline, and the girls. "You just continue where I left off," Deb yelled from the back. "I was about to start tellin what happened when we once used the Hop Drive."
"Oh right," Rimmer commented, while still struggling to keep his girls off the controls. "When we hopped with the drive ages ago, our alternates turned out to be these quite nasty lizard people who wanted to eat us."
"And then-" he started and then stopped, the wiggling girls about to break free. "Cat, a little help?"
"Nah, monkey man, I gotta go pretty myself up for my new boy toy. Gotta make sure all my sets of cleavage's looking good," she said with a dramatic wave, leaving the control room.
Deb's Rimmer snorted. "Hello Kitty here's alternate was some sort of ninja tortoise. Unpleasant experience all around."
"Oi dad," a voice called from the background. "Here to rescue you."
A young man who looked to be in his twenties stepped in and leaned over his father, scooping up the girls. "Thanks muchly, Jim."
"So," the exausted father continued, turning his attention back to the viewscreen. "What do you lot want? If it's a few notches more tame than wanting to eat us for lunch, I think we'll get along just tickety boo."
A long silence passed as the boys from the dwarf could only stare at the viewscreen.
"Hello?" The human Rimmer questioned again, tapping at the controls. "Hello? I can't hear you lot. Did one of the girls manage to hit the mute button?"
Kryten blinked repeatedly, before snapping out of it and slowly glancing around at the others.
"We are going to need a minute here, sir," the mechanoid finally replied. "I'll call you back." He cut the feed.
"How many smegging kids did they have?" The hologram exclaimed as he paced hysterically around the bunkroom. "Are they single handily trying to repopulate the human race?"
"You gotta admit, man" Dave Lister slurred as he took another drink of lager. "Our kids were kinda adorable."
"Our?" Rimmer glared incredulously. "Oh, no no no, milado," the hologram gestured wildly between them. "There is no our."
"Is the idea really that disgustin to ya?" Dave complained, leaning back to grab another lager from the fridge. "Can you really say you wouldn'ta done the same thing in his position? Stuck with a beautiful woman in deep space? Not being livin-challenged?"
Rimmer snorted. "How is that lucky smegger not dead anyway?"
"Don't know." The drink hissed as Lister opened it. "You'll have ta ask em when we go over there."
"Assuming Kryten's negotiations went well." The hologram added just as they spotted the mechanoid in the doorway.
"Good news, sirs." Kryten announced cheerfully. "I just finished speaking to the other Mr. Rimmer, and they are willing to make a trade."
"Brutal!" Lister exclaimed. "They have that fuse we need then?"
"Yes, Mr. Lister, sir." The mechanoid nodded. "And, we've been invited to tea."
"Hang on." Rimmer interjected skeptically. "What did they ask for in return?"
Kryten averted his eyes and absently fiddled with his fingers, looking as embarrassed as mechanically possible before responding.
"Condoms." Rimmer slowly repeated, pursing his lips in thought. "Condoms?"
"Y-yes, sir." Kryten's eyes shifting quickly between Mr. Lister and Mr. Rimmer. "Apparently they ran out some years ago."
Lister choked on his sip of beer and a small amount dribbled out his nose.
"Lady cats, lady cats, lady cats!" The Cat sung repeatedly, clutching several bouquets of flowers to his chest, barely able to contain himself as Starbug landed in the ship bay of the alternate Red Dwarf.
"We only saw one female cat, you gimboid." The hologram grumbled, growing tired of the Cat's nonstop yeowling.
Cat ignored the hologram and sang even louder about his multitude of new lady cats and all the sex he was going to have right on the other side of the airlock that just started to open.
Deb didn't have a chance to get a single word out before Cat rushed past her with a loud "Yeoooow", heading off to meet his Lady.
"Cats, right?" Deb said with a grin.
Dave shrugged in agreement, before offering her his hand.
"Deb," she replied, giving his hand a firm shake.
"Welcome to our humble home. Come on, I'll introduce ya to the family."
As the group headed down the cooridor, Deb's Rimmer leaned over to Dave. "Hope that Cat of yours is packing some of that protection you promised us. Last thing we need is a litter of kittens."
"Dead eh?" The grey-haired Rimmer asked of himself.
"How kind of you to notice," he responded sarcastically.
"The radiation leak?"
The hologram nodded. "How did you manage to survive?"
"It was the strangest thing. A vision of my own disembodied head spoke to me through a table and told me I should get into stasis..."
"Deb was the only other survivor. Although, loneliness isn't exactly a problem these days. Quite the opposite."
"So I've heard."
He shrugged in explanation. "There's not much else to do in deep space."
"This here's Jim, our eldest." Deb said, starting off the introductions.
"Twins- my son, Bex and daughter, Lee."
"Me other son, Speed."
The hologram rolled his eyes and shook his head. Lister was nothing if predictable in any incarnation. He caught the eyes of his counterpart, and they shared a look. It was obvious he didn't get much input when it came to the naming of his progeny.
"You may remember our youngest girls from earlier, twins Chen and Bianca."
"Hang a mo," Dave chimed in. "I get Chen, sorta, but where did the name Bianca come from?"
A heavy sigh emanated from the girls' father. "The other names I could deal with," he said slowly, "but I put my foot down when she wanted to name them Cinzano and Bianco."
"Really, man?" Dave questioned. "That would have been brilliant."
"I know, right?" Deb exclaimed.
There was a pause as she waved over the remaining children.
"Oh, and this here's Fred, Betty, and Wilma."
"You have got to be kidding me," the hologram muttered to himself.
"But, I think," Deb said gesturing at her partner, "Arnie here is partial to our youngest."
As if on cue, Deb's Rimmer walked over to the crib and picked up the toddler.
"This is Napolean," he said, beaming with pride.
Rimmer gave himself an affirming nod.
The Listers shot each other a look.
"How'd ya live that one down?" Dave whispered to Deb.
"Lost a bet," she shrugged.
"Here, me. Hold him."
The hologram suddenly found the toddler thrust into his arms. He studied the small boy for a moment, curious eyes the color of his own staring back at him. The reality of it all had not quite hit him yet. These are effectively his flesh and blood. The older ones, he could dismiss easier as just more strangers of yet another weird parallel dimension. But, holding this small child brought back feelings long forgotten-the feeling of what it was like to look upon Dave's Jim and Bexly yet be unable to hold them. And, the pain they left when they were gone such a short time later.
"Da da?" little Napolean offered.
His hologramatic heart melted.
"Was there a Kochanski in this universe?"
"Old boyfriend." Deb shrugged as she handed Dave a beer.
She paused before asking, "are you and your Rimmer close?"
"I'm not following..."
"Are you close?"
"What do you monkeys mean we can't stay longer?" The Cat wailed.
"This isn't our universe. We don't belong here," Rimmer stated.
The Cat continued to whine about having to leave his newfound Lady Cat behind.
Dave Lister glanced around as if searching for something. "Where did Kryten wander off to? I've barely seen him the entire time we've been here."
"He's in laundry heaven right now with our Kryten," Deb chimed in as she walked her guests back to Starbug. "Endless nappies and tiny knickers to clean," she explained.
"Wow," Dave replied. "Don't know how we'll ever be able to tear him away from that roaring good time."
"Well, sirs and ma'am," Kryten said, setting another crate down. "Here's the last of the condoms as promised."
"And in return," the other Kryten replied extending his hand, "the 610X247-D fuse, as requested."
The Krytens gave each other a synchronized bow before parting ways.
"Well," Dave sighed, "I guess that's that."
"Hang on," Deb said, running up and thrusting a small box into her counterpart's chest. "One more gift for the road."
"What's this?" Lister turned the small box in his hand and shook it lightly.
"Let's just say," Deb said slowly, "that it's a data file you might find useful someday. Keep it refrigerated."
"Cheers," Dave said nodding, puzzling briefly over the box. "Thanks."
As Starbug pulled away, the entire Rimmer-Lister clan watched and waved goodbye, while the albino female Cat cried hysterically into her multiple bouquets of flowers.
"What was that box?" Rimmer asked with mild interest, settling into his bunk back on Red Dwarf prime.
"The female you. I saw her slip you something before we left."
Lister paused. "I wasn't sure, so I had Kryten analyze it as soon as we got back," he said thoughtfully. "The way he explained it, it's basically a human cloning starter kit."
Rimmer scowled, and replied, "whatever for?"
"It contains DNA profiles of our counterparts and their kids," Lister continued cautiously, "in case we ever wanted to- you know-"
"-raise children of our own."