Lister huddled miserably in his bunk, shivering despite the mass of blankets, eyes shut tight as if trying to block out the pain. “Mr Lister?” Kryten popped his angular head around the door of Starbug’s compact sleeping quarters. “Are you awake, Sir?”
“No.” Lister grudgingly peered out from under the covers, puffy-eyed and sad.
Kryten hurried to his side, “Oh, dearie me. You don’t look well at all.”
“I’ve got the sniffles and a banging headache. I know it’s just a cold, but I feel crappy.” Kryten plucked the tip off one finger, revealing a small thermometer, which he placed gently in Lister’s ear. “Hmm. A touch of fever but not too severe. Still, I think perhaps you should stay in bed.”
“Fine by me.”
“I’ll bring you some chicken soup before we go.”
“Thanks, man.” Lister frowned suddenly, “Wait. Go? Go where?”
“There’s a downed ship on a moon just a few clicks away on the scanner; the Mirage . I was going to suggest a little shopping trip, but you don’t have to come.”
“Smegging typical. I haven’t been off this ship in months, and now there’s finally an opportunity to go somewhere and I feel lousy.”
“I’m sure it will all be very tedious,” Kryten patted his shoulder. “You stay here and get some rest. We’ll bring back anything interesting, and I’ll keep an eye out for that special hot sauce you like.”
“Okay then.” Lister snuggled back down.
“Let me bring you that soup.”
“With twisty noodles? And chilli flakes?”
“I know how you like it, Sir. You just leave it to me.”
“You’re the best, Kryters.”
“How come Listy gets to stay at home with his feet up, while we have to do all the grunt work?” Rimmer complained a little later, as the remaining crew prepared for the expedition.
“Now, Mr Rimmer, you know he’d come with us if he wasn’t under the weather.”
“He’s got a cold, for smeg’s sake.”
“He’ll be back to normal duties much sooner if he rests.”
“Meanwhile we have to lug everything back from this stupid derelict by ourselves.”
“Sir, we don’t even know yet if there’s anything worth salvaging. Besides, your hard light drive makes lifting even the heaviest crates almost effortless.”
“That’s not the point. It’s not fair. And you know he’s going to do the bare minimum.” He glared at Cat.
“What’re you looking at me like that for?” Cat replied, indignant. “I do plenty round here.”
“If by plenty you mean ‘bugger all’.”
“There’s no point squabbling about it,” Kryten scolded. “We just have to make do.” He squinted at the readouts. “And by the looks of it we’ll need to concentrate. There’s a busy asteroid field surrounding the moon.”
“Probably what brought the ship down in the first place.” Rimmer sighed theatrically. “Perfect. Now we’ve got to navigate a complex asteroid belt with a reduced crew as well.”
“Chill out, Goal-post head. I can get us through this standing on my head.”
“Forgive me if I fail to look reassured.”
“Hey, I don’t need help from Dormouse Cheeks. I got this.”
“Everything will be fine, Sir. I’m getting very clear details of the asteroid movements, and with Mr Cat’s superior reflexes this shouldn’t be a problem if we all focus.” His voice assumed the very slightest suggestion of a warning tone. “There is absolutely no need to bother Mr Lister.”
Starbug zipped gracefully back and forth between the spinning rocks before landing gently at the crashed vessel. “See?” Cat turned smugly to Rimmer. “Smooooth.”
Rimmer glared at him and didn’t reply. “Kryten, run a safety scan.”
“Already underway, Sir.”
“Well, hurry up. We need to be efficient, Kryten. We’re short staffed, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“I can’t control the speed of the scan, Sir. Ah, here we go. Structure is stable. Life support systems operational. No bacteria or toxins detected. Life signs...” he hesitated for a second, “...one.”
“That’s it. Abort mission.”
“It could be something harmless.”
“Or it could be something hideous. Let’s not risk it.”
“We should investigate further before deciding. It might even be a glitch.”
“It could be a foxy lady,” Cat grinned.
“Unlikely, Sir, but as always your optimism is charming.”
“We’re not that short on supplies. It’s not worth it.”
“Speak for yourself. I’m nearly out of leg wax.”
“What are you talking about? Literally no one else uses it. There’s loads of leg wax.”
“Not the good leg wax.”
“Fine. We’ll ask Listy what he thinks.”
Quick as a flash, Rimmer hit the intercom button. “Oh Listy! Wakey-wakey! We need your advice.”
“What is it?” Lister’s voice crackled back resentfully.
“It’s nothing, Sir! Go back to bed!” Kryten interjected in vain.
“The scan detected a life form on this derelict. Should we go ahead?” Rimmer asked, voice all innocence.
“A life form? Are you serious?”
“Probably nothing, but best to play it safe and skidaddle, wouldn’t you say?”
“What’s wrong with you? They might need help! We have to investigate!”
“Fine, if you say so. We’ll be off then. See you later.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m coming with you.”
“Oh no, Listy. You’re far, far too delicate right now. You stay here while we deal with this.”
“No way. I’m coming up.”
Rimmer turned to smile smarmily at Kryten. “Look at that. He’s coming up.”
Kryten fumed, internally cursing his programming. “Mr Rimmer, you really are a total smeee-heee. Why did you have to tell him when you know he’s not well?”
“I wasn’t going to lie , Kryten,” Rimmer said earnestly.
They gathered in the mid-section to collect their equipment before boarding. “Mr Lister, are you sure it wouldn’t be better for you to stay here, so that we can contact you if we run into trouble?” Kryten pleaded.
“We stick together until we know what’s out there, man. Okay?”
“But your temperature has risen and you’re looking very peaky.”
“I know, and my head is killing me, but we’re not taking any chances. We’re not splitting up. Once we’re sure everything is peachy, I’ll go right back to bed.”
“And as you’re here, you can carry the other tool belt,” Rimmer thrust it at him.
“Thanks,” Lister said sarcastically.
As they boarded the Mirage , the lights flickered on, triggered by the motion. “Nice place,” Cat observed, looking around. “Shiny.”
“Indeed. Other than the damage sustained by the asteroid hit and the crash landing, it appears to be a fine ship.” Kryten confirmed.
“Never mind the paintwork. Are you still getting the life reading?” Rimmer pressed.
“Yes, Sir. Not too far away either.”
“Okay, let’s go see what it is. Everyone be on your toes.” Lister raised his bazookoid. Kryten noted with concern that his hand was trembling.
“Sir, I’m really not sure you should be here.”
“Well, I am, so let’s do this as quickly as possible so I can get back to bed.”
They followed the readings down the corridor. “It’s close, Sirs. In fact, I think it’s coming towards us.”
“Safety switches off, gents,” Rimmer instructed. “Be ready to fire if necessary. Lister, I said safety off. Lister?”
Lister swayed on his feet. “I don’t feel so good.”
“We know, we know. Stop whining.”
“No. I mean I...I...”
Lister’s vision swam. Pain exploded between his eyes as if he’d been stabbed. He dropped the bazookoid and fell to his knees with a cry, clutching his head. “Sir?!” Kryten knelt beside him, distraught.
“It hurts!” Lister gasped breathlessly. “It hurts!”
“What’s the matter with him?” Rimmer demanded, panicked.
“I don’t know!”
“Well, do something!”
Lister groaned in agony, as the throbbing spread through his brain. He couldn’t speak, could barely breathe. He started to faint. The last thing he heard was Rimmer’s voice fading away down a dark tunnel. “We don’t have time for this! It’s coming! It’s coming...!”