The first thing that alerted Rimmer that something was off was the distinct lack of snoring.
There was no response from the darkness.
The hologram blinked blearily and shifted in his bunk so that he could glance at the time. Lister should have been back from his shift hours ago.
Highly suspicious of the situation, Rimmer marched down the corridor towards Kryten. The mechanoid was humming and mopping cheerily.
"Kryten," Rimmer said sternly, nostrils flaring. "Where is Lister?"
Kryten froze, clutching his mop tightly and sporting a guilty look.
"Out with it, bog-bot," the hologram ordered. "I know you know where he went."
Kryten shifted his eyes about nervously. "Oh, Mr. Rimmer, sir, he ordered me not to tell you!"
"I don't care."
"He knew you'd be mad."
"He's probably right."
"Oh, sir, I-"
Rimmer sighed. "He's gone to that casino on the GELF moon we picked up on sensors yesterday, hasn't he?"
Kryten turned away and nodded shamefully, resuming his mopping.
"What did you lose this time, Listy?" Rimmer questioned, glaring at Lister as he hopped out of Starbug.
"Well," the hologram responded, eyeing Lister skeptically, "I do see that you managed to return with Starbug this time instead of floating home."
"Yeah, yeah. I know, I smegged it up the last time I gambled with GELFs-"
"Understatement of the year."
"-but this time," the human replied, gesturing over to the large crates that Kryten had already started to unload, "I won big."
"What is all this stuff?" Cat asked, sniffing at the pile of Lister's winnings.
"Food supplies, mostly," Lister replied, as he dug through some of the crates. "And a few other miscellaneous items."
"Hang on," the hologram began, "what is that cube?"
Lister picked up the metal box that sat atop the larger crates and turned it over in his hands. It was about half the size of the Holly Hop Drive.
"Don't know," Lister shrugged, handing the device to Kryten. "The GELF I won it from seemed happy to be rid of it."
"Does no one else see a problem with this?" Rimmer commented.
"It has a giant blue button on top," Cat added. "Let's press it!"
"No!" The hologram yelped, ducking behind the stack of crates. "It'll probably explode and kill us all."
Kryten ran a scanner over the box.
"It's not dangerous, right, Krytes?" Lister added quickly.
"According to the scanner, it does not match the configuration of any known type of weapon," the mechanoid replied. "It appears safe."
At that Rimmer tentatively rose from his hiding spot behind the crates and rejoined the others.
"But what is it?" Cat questioned.
Kryten turned the cube over. "Ah, it appears to have a set of instructions on the side scrawled in a GELF dialect. Translating now."
"Well?" The hologram added, impatiently.
"It reads roughly as follows: Press button. Make a request. Keep it simple."
"Good enough for me." Lister shrugged, taking the box back from Kryten and setting it back atop the crates. "I'm pressing it."
Before Rimmer had a chance to utter any dissent to this idea, the button had been pressed.
In an instant, a tall solid-blue humanoid creature blinked into existence next to the cube. It had black beady eyes set in a round, bulbous, and mostly bald head and was completely nude-not that it had any discernible genitalia anyway.
The boys of the dwarf froze, wide-eyed.
"I'm Mr. Meeseeks!" It screeched in an overly cheery tone with its giant mouth that stretched all the way across its nose-less face. "Look at me!"
Rimmer yelped and quickly resumed his position behind the crates.
"Uh, hi?" Lister said uncertainly.
"Look at me! I'm Mr. Meeseeks!" The creature repeated loudly with a big smile.
"We are looking at you." Cat responded, sporting a disgusted look.
"Quick, Lister!" The hologram exclaimed. "Send it away before it decides to suck out our brains or do any number of horrible things to us!"
"With what?" Lister said incredulously. "And it's not like he's offered to hurt us none."
"Press the button again!" The feline suggested. "Maybe that'll make it go away!"
Lister hastily smacked the button again.
A second identical creature blinked into existence next to the first one.
"I'm Mr. Meeseeks, look at me!"
"Hi, Mr. Meeseeks, I'm Mr. Meeseeks!"
"Kryten!" Rimmer ordered. "Deal with those monstrosities!"
The mechanoid approached the two Meeseeks cautiously and began politely, "Mr. Meeseeks, sirs, what can we do for you?"
"What can you do for us?" The blue, lanky humanoid responded with a wide grin. "The real question is, what can we do for you!"
"Of course. The second step." Kryten muttered in realization. "Mr. Lister, I think you should make a request. And remember the last instruction-think simple."
"That shouldn't be problem," the hologram cut in, "simple thoughts are Lister's forte."
"Um," Lister hummed in thought, glancing about the room before directly addressing their two blue guests. "Fetch me a beer, would ya?"
"Can do!" The Meeseeks responded in unison, walking towards the nearest fridge.
One opened the fridge while the other reached in and picked up a lager.
The boys watched as the two blue figures then returned to Lister, placing the beer in his hand.
"Huh." Lister grinned with a shrug. "Cheers, man!"
The two creatures offered the crew a cheery thumbs up before blinking back out of existence.
Rimmer breathed a deep sigh of relief. "Kryten, just what was that deformed blue Gumby?"
"Best guess, sir?" the mechanoid replied. "They are a specially engineered lifeform summoned from an artificial pocket-dimension contained within the box. Furthermore, they disappear once completing the task requested of them."
"Hm." The hologram fiddled with his fingers, mulling over this information.
Without warning, the Cat reached out and grabbed the Meeseeks box.
"I'm Mr. Meeseeks-"
"Fish!" The Cat ordered with a grin, taking a seat and putting his feet up on a table.
"Can do!" It replied, heading out the door and down the hallway.
"Cat, man," Lister questioned, incredulously, "what're you doing?"
From down the hall, they could just make out the Meeseeks yell "Fish!" and the subsequent sound of a vending machine.
Cat just grinned wider as Lister rolled his eyes.
"Here you go!" The Meeseeks screeched happily, placing the plate of fish in the feline's lap.
It had barely blinked out of existence before Cat pressed the button multiple times in a row, causing a half-dozen new Meeseeks to appear.
"Lister, take that smegging thing away from him!"
Tired from another long shift, Lister headed down the corridor towards the bunkroom, looking forward to the quiet of his own bed.
Instead he found something quite different.
Rimmer was laid back on the couch, in a relaxed pose, while a Meeseeks dressed in a hat and artists smock was painting at an easel. At the table, a second Meeseeks was furiously writing and flipping through various papers. And yet a third sat in the middle of the floor, sifting through some boxes and file folders.
"Rimmer, what the smeg are you doing with the smegging Blue Man Group?"
"Ah, Listy. I've just put these disgusting mutants to work."
The blue artist paused a moment and gave the hologram a thumbs up. "Looking good, Arnold!"
"Almost done with that new revision timetable, Big Man!" The second called out. "I'm Mr. Meeseeks!"
"Look at me!" Yelled the third with a wave. "Almost done re-alphabetizing your data collection on twentieth century telegraph poles!"
"Rimmer," Lister groaned in frustration. "I thought we agreed we'd only use the device if we needed extra hands in an emergency!"
The hologram rolled his eyes.
"They aren't your personal slaves!"
"Aren't they though? They serve, therefore, they are."
"Go ahead, pick one of the blue demons. Ask it how happy it is."
Lister glared at the hologram, but walked over to the Meeseeks in the artist getup.
"You alright, man?" He asked of the blue creature.
"Existence is pain!" It replied with a large smile before disappearing, the painting apparently just completed.
Rimmer pursed his lips in contemplation and turned slowly to Lister. "Not quite the response I was expecting."
After a pause, Lister picked up the painting and gave it a once over, utilizing all ninety seven minutes worth of his Art College experience.
"Not bad," he said, spinning it around to show his bunkmate.
Rimmer balked. "But my face is coloured blue and my hair looks like it's on fire!"
"I like it," Lister replied sincerely. "Let's put it on the wall."
"Nothing ever goes my way, does it?" The hologram sighed into the couch.
Lister stirred in his bunk and grumbled. It was late, and he was vaguely aware of the glare of a table lamp and the sound of Rimmer mumbling to himself and the shuffling of paper.
"Rimmer, man," Lister asked blearily, "aren't ya supposed to be on watch tonight?"
"Nope. Sent one of the overgrown Smurfs to cover it," the hologram replied smugly. "That way, I can get in a few extra hours of revision."
"Why do you keep taking that smeggin exam? Why do this to yourself?"
"I have a good feeling this time, Listy. This time, I have all the tools I need." Rimmer guestured to the Meeseeks box and pressed it.
"Help me revise for my exam so that I can pass this time."
At that, Lister hopped down from his bunk, dragging his blanket behind him, in search of peace and quiet.
"I'm Mr. Meeseeks, what celestial observations can be compared with position data obtained by computer readouts or ship piloting skills to access current navigation location?"
"Look at me, Arnold, I know you know this one! I'm Mr. Meeseeks!"
"Just relax, Big Man! We just went over this one!"
"I don't know," Rimmer groaned, placing his head down on the table in defeat. "Go to the next question!"
The face of the blue creature showed a brief flash of concern before returning to its usual cheery grin. "It's okay, Arnie! I'm sure you'll get this next one!"
The hologram barely looked up from the table.
The Meeseeks continued flipping through the revision papers.
"Okay, Big Man, what occurs when the index arm does not pivot at the exact center of the arc's curvature?"
"It pivots," Rimmer answered pensively, "away from the center?"
"Nope! Try again!"
"I give up."
"You can't give up!" The blue creature exclaimed, it's cheery composure slowly breaking. "We've been at this for hours! Out of two hundred sample astronavigation concept questions, you've only answered two correctly. We haven't even gotten to the one hundred problem solving tasks!"
"I'm useless," the hologram muttered into the table. "I can't do it."
"But I can't leave until my task is complete!" The Meeseeks' face twitched, panic starting to set in. Then it looked over to the cube on the table and got an idea. "I'm gonna try something, ok, Arnold?"
Rimmer groaned noncommittally.
The blue creature reached forward and pressed the device.
"Hiya, I'm Mr. Meeseeks!"
"Hi, Mr. Meeseeks, I need an extra hand with this one!"
Lister hummed as he wandered down the corridor towards the bunkroom. It had been two days. Surely Rimmer was done with all his revising nonsense by now and they could go join Cat for a quick card game before next watch.
But as he got closer, the human could hear some dozen competing, pained, and screeching voices.
"What the smeggin hell is goin on?" Lister exclaimed, reaching the doorway.
Several Meeseeks laid flailing about on the floor, grunting in frustration. Another sat rocking back and forth in a fetal position, crying. The rest were yelling questions and throwing revising papers at the hologram who was huddled in the far corner, back against the wall.
One Meeseeks threw itself at Lister's feet and wailed, "He. Just. Won't. Learn!"
"Lister! Help me!" Rimmer squeaked, surrounded. "These blue demons won't stop trying to make me learn!"
"Rimmer, man, what have you done to these poor sods?"
"-ship traveling at 0.6 light speed will take how much time to cross a space station orbiting at 0.04.-"
"Argh!" Rimmer yelped as another page was thrown in his face for not answering fast enough. "What have I done? I asked for help revising, and now they won't stop!"
"-a laser beam towards a moon of a twin star system, what is the degree of gravitational compensation for it be successfully received by-"
"They won't let me sleep! I've been awake for two straight days!"
One of the creatures pressed the box again, "I'm Mr. Meeseeks, look at me!"
"O-kay. Settle down," Lister said calmly but sternly, peeling the crying Meeseeks from his feet. "That's enough." Once free, he snapped up the offending device from the table to put a stop to the endless summoning.
"-assuming Ship A falls into a black hole, what is the thrust to input ratio required to escape-"
"I don't smegging know!"
"Come on," Lister said, pushing through the blue bodies towards the hologram. "Revising's over," he said, pulling Rimmer up and out of the crowd. "Let's go."
A few of the Meeseeks jeered and threw various papers and revision charts at the two. Others starting pulling out their own few strands of hair, or gnawing at their own limbs with rabid eyes. "Arnold can't leave! Our purpose isn't complete!"
"Back away slowly," Lister said to Rimmer softly, edging closer to the door.
"Ar-nold! You are coming back soon, right? Look at me! We have to finish revising! Meeseeks aren't designed to exist for this long!"
"Lock!" The human yelled as soon as they crossed the threshold.
"Kryten, what is happening to them?" Lister asked, looking on at the monitor which showed a current view from the bunkroom.
"The've gone mad!" Rimmer interjected hysterically. "I was held hostage with my own revision timetables!"
The mechanoid studied the feed. The Meeseeks had further degenerated. Their smooth blue forms were becoming blotched and blemished. Many were writhing on the floor. A few began doodling on themselves with highlighters meant for Rimmer's revising. Still others appeared to be plotting something.
"It would appear, sirs, that these lifeforms are specifically engineered to only exist for a short time, long enough for a simple task. Otherwise, they start to degrade both mentally and physically."
I'm confused." Cat said slowly.
"How so, sir?" Kryten asked.
"The blue dudes- they say their name is Mr- but they've got no- you know-"
"Cat, get out!" The hologram ordered, pointing towards the door. The rest returned their focus to the monitors.
"Why haven't they gone away though?" Lister asked Kryten.
"Sir," the mechanoid began, turning towards Rimmer. "What was the original request? And this is important- the exact wording."
"Revising. I asked for help with my revising."
"There must be a missing detail," Kryten pondered. "Can you remember anything else?"
"Krytes, can we pull the feed from two days ago and display it on the other viewscreen?" Lister added.
"Searching- searching-," the mechanoid replied, tapping on the console. "Ah! Here we have it, sirs. Playing now."
On the recording they watched the hologram clearly says the words, 'help me revise for my exam so that I can pass.'
"Oh Smeg," Lister said, turning slowly to Rimmer.
On the first monitor one of the Meeseeks jumped up on the table and rallied the others around him, while a second and third pounded away at the door console trying to hack into it with a pencil.
"Kryten, crank up the audio!"
"Hiya, I'm Mr. Meeseeks, and I have a fool-proof plan to make Arnold pass! Look at me!"
"Fool proof? The problem is that Ar-nold is a fool! He'll never pass that exam. We are doomed to an endless existence!"
"Yeah!" "He'll never learn!" "I'm Mr. Meeseeks!" "Infinite suffering!"
The lead Meeseeks raised his arms up to hush the crowd.
"Look at me!" He screeched. "If we can't help him pass his exam- we'll help him pass into the next world!"
At that moment the previously locked bunkroom door hissed open.
"I'm Mr. Meeseeks! You idiot, the hologram is already dead. No can do!"
"Easy! We'll go down to the hologram simulation suite and destroy every last piece! And after that, if he's still kicking, we'll track him down and crush his Light Bee!"
"Can do!" The Meeseeks whooped and hollered in unison, reaching for weapons and blunt objects, tearing at the chairs and other decorations, and pulling pipes off the wall as they marched out the door and down the hallway.
"That's it. I'm smegged." Rimmer said flatly. "All because I couldn't stick to my revision timetables."
"Krytes, there has to be something we can do!" Lister pleaded. "Can't we block their path or disconnect Rimmer from the suite so that he's fully remote?"
"I'm afraid not, sirs, they have continued hacking into the system," the mechanoid apologized, typing furiously into the console. "I can't access any of the overrides."
"Think," Lister muttered to himself, pacing and leaning on a nearby console. "Think."
The hologram laid down in the floor in preemptive defeat.
"Rimmer, man- Rimsy- you have to pass that exam. Maybe I could help? Revise with you?" Lister offered tentatively.
The hologram stared at Lister as though he had sprouted a second and third head.
"I-" Lister fumbled, before realizing something. "Wait, where's the Meeseeks box? I had it on that console there just a moment ago."
"It's gone, sirs!"
"No one else has been up here except for us and-"
"Cat!" Lister exclaimed.
The feline was stretched out on his bed while a Meeseeks appeared to be going through his closet, playing dress-up.
"What are you doing, Cat?" Lister sighed, gesturing to the blue creature now sporting a black and white striped suit.
"Isn't it obvious?" Rimmer screeched, glaring daggers at the Cat. "He's fraternizing with the enemy!"
The Meeseeks did a twirl and courtesy to the group before retreating to fetch another outfit.
"Blue dude's organizing my suits!" The feline explained, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"By wearing them?" Lister pondered before snapping back into focus. "Nevermind! We need the Meeseeks box, where is it?"
The feline produced the device, and Lister hurriedly accepted it.
"Lister, what are you going to do with that?" The hologram questioned shakily.
"I have a plan," the human replied. "Trust me?"
"Sirs, the hologram projection suite is hailing us."
"Put it on." Lister ordered, the Meeseeks box held securely in his arms.
"Big Man! Ar-nold!" The leading Meeseeks sneered, holding a bunch of wires ready to cut, the other blue monstrosities in the background poised to attack the remaining hardware. "Ready to pass on from this world?"
"No, he's ready to pass his exam." Lister replied confidently, as next to him, Rimmer stared back, puzzled. "But, we need a few hours," Lister continued.
There was a pause as the Meeseeks pondered it over.
"You have two." The feed shut off.
"Lister, what are you-"
"Computer, ready the exam room." Lister announced.
"Which exam?" The computer voice droned in reply.
"Astronavigation," Lister replied.
"Arnold J. Rimmer." Lister stated.
"Preparing. Please enter the test room now."
"Listy?" The hologram asked uncertainly.
Lister looked at the Meeseeks box in his arms, and then looked over and met Rimmer's eyes. He pressed the button.
"Hiya! I'm Mr. Mee-"
"Your name is now Arnold J. Rimmer," Lister commanded. "Go over into that room and take the exam."
"Are you smegging kidding me?" The hologram gaped. "You've just killed me! I am dead. Gone. No more."
Lister only grinned at him.
"-and there is no telling what horrible things those blue mutants will do to you lot once I am a pile of scrap metal and scattered beams of light!" The hologram continued.
"All done!" The Meeseeks returned, waving a filled out exam paper.
"It was only gone five minutes!" Rimmer yelled.
"Brutal!" Lister exclaimed, taking the paper handed to him.
As the human fed the paper into the computer, the blue creature disappeared with a wave.
"There is no way," the hologram muttered. "There is just no way."
"Processing," the computer droned in the background. "Processing."
"Krytes, ring the hologram simulation suite."
"On screen, sir."
"I'm Mr. Meeseeks! Ready to go to silicon hell?"
"Mr. Meeseeks, sirs, if you would be so kind as to log into that console next to you and view Mr. Rimmer's latest exam marks."
As the information flashed by, the demeanor of the blue creatures changed instantly.
"Congrats! Big Man!"
"Arnie does it best!"
"Knew we could get through to you, Arnold!"
Cheers erupted until each Meeseeks was gone, and the hologram simulation suite was lifeless save for the rapid beeping simulating the heartbeat of one Arnold J. Rimmer.
"How did you know that was going to work?" Rimmer asked.
"Didn't," Lister shrugged. "But, I figured that if one of em could hack a locked console with a pencil, that maybe-just maybe-they might know a bit about astronavigation."
"In any case, Listy, you've done me a great service, today," the hologram replied thoughtfully. "I'll finally be an officer!"
Lister glanced briefly out the window at the Meeseeks box floating by. He hadn't yet had the heart to tell Rimmer that before tossing it out the airlock, he had summoned one last Meeseeks to hack the system and erase the day's logs-including the exam records.