Dave Lister, second-in-command of the (currently missing) Jupiter Mining Corporation vessel Red Dwarf, messiah to the felix sapiens species, and last living human being in the universe, was trying to retrieve a particularly troublesome morsel of chicken vindaloo from between two of his back teeth using his fingers, when he heard what he would mentally describe to himself as “a warped slurping noise” from down the corridor of Starbug. He briefly entertained the notion that whatever had just warped in would simply go away again, but a few second passed and it failed to do so. Lister dejectedly put down his fork with a “smeg…” and stood, emerging from his room to confront the intruder.
The intruder, dressed in black and white robes and wearing some kind of device on his wrist, was examining the state of the ship when Lister first saw him. He reminded Lister of a school headmaster. Not a fatherly, nurturing headmaster who helps everyone excel, more a strict headmaster that nobody likes who tells you that your performance is disappointing and you’re capable of so much more based on precisely zero evidence.
Before Lister could say anything to draw attention to him, the rest of the crew marched in: Cat, wielding a bazookoid upside-down; Kryten, wielding a mop with half a head; and Rimmer, nostrils already flaring dramatically.
Rimmer spoke first: “Now listen here miladdo, I don’t know who you think you are or what you think you’re doing here, but you’d better explain yourself very prontissimo or you are very quickly going to regret tangling with-”
The intruder pressed a button on his wrist, and though Rimmer’s mouth continued to move, no sound escaped it, and Lister would forevermore be both impressed and amused at just how long it took Rimmer to notice. Once he finally did, he mouthed a few things to himself, before complimenting his wild mouthing with wild gesticulations, many involving pointing furiously at the intruder and alternating between threatening and obscene gestures. After one gesture that was definitely trying to convey some form of imminent pain happening to the intruder’s backside, the intruder sighed in a disgruntled manner again and pressed another button. This time Rimmer’s image froze mid-sentence, and he stood for a few seconds with his finger very close to his own rear, mouth hanging open, nostrils flared further than looked comfortable, before the image disappeared entirely.
“Sirs, he’s shut down mister Rimmer’s light bee!” Kryten explained unnecessarily.
“Don’t worry,” the intruder spoke up finally. “I’ll bring him back when I’m finished.”
“There’s no rush, really,” Lister replied. He didn’t know if Rimmer could hear him, but he hoped he could.
“So how about you explain who you are, anyway, before I give a taste of laser?” Cat threatened with his usual level of tact.
The intruder ignored it, clearly not alarmed at the large gun that was meant to be pointed at him. “I am Deputy Coordinator Narvin of the Celestial Intervention Agency,” he replied, in a tone that implied that they should know what that was. His inscrutable expression stayed mostly inscrutable, but with a slight tinge of perturbed when Lister’s blank face told him that he did not, in fact, know what that was.
“Oh dear,” muttered Kryten, probably louder than he intended. Lister shot him a confused look, and he continued. “The Celestial Intervention Agency are widely feared, with only some peoples believing it actually exists. Their purpose is to prevent any changes to their idea of what history should be. Their methods are debated in different tales, but they frequently involve erasing meddlesome time travellers from history, sir.”
“Your mechanoid is correct,” Narvin continued. “We ensure the Web of Time by correcting any changes, and eliminating any who would cause it harm.”
“But what about the Inquisitor?” Lister asked accusatively. “He went around time wiping people out just because they weren’t always rich or successful. Was he one of yours? Or was he on your list of meddlers or whatever?”
“The Inquisitor?” Narvin looked stoic, but with a hint of confused. “I don’t know who or what you’re talking about.”
“Along with their methods, the CIA’s competence is also somewhat hotly debated sir,” Kryten chimed in, though was silenced by a deadpan but also slightly irritated glare from Narvin.
“We detected an unregistered and unsanctioned time machine aboard this vessel,” Narvin explained. “Such devices can be highly dangerous, and so I am here to confiscate it.”
“I assume you are referring to the prototype time drive we are currently in possession of?” Kryten asked.
“Hang on,” Lister interrupted before Narvin could confirm Kryten’s inquiry. “If you’re one of the guys in charge of this thing, how come you’re doing the fetch work? Shouldn’t you be getting someone else to do it?”
“We researched the history of this ship and it’s crew-”
“And somehow didn’t spot the Inquisitor I suppose-”
“AND,” Narvin continued, his face stony but containing evidence of trying to be angry, “we came to the conclusion that, based on the number of threats and events it has survived, the crew of this ship must be formidable, and we should expect strong resistance. Clearly, we were misinformed.”
“That’s it!” Cat pitched in again. “We don’t take orders from anyone, especially not someone who got all their clothes from the flightless section of Antarctic Fashion Monthly! We’re not giving up anything to you!”
If Narvin was offended by the insult he didn’t show it, Lister noted, but still backed up Cat. “Yeah, who do you think you are, showing up and trying to boss us around?”
Narvin - who was, in fact, quite offended by the insult - looked unflappable and a little unconcerned, but before he could speak again, he was preempted.
“If you’ve done your research into us,” a suddenly present again Rimmer said, “then you’ll know that I’m the kind of rough-and-tumble space captain who doesn’t put up with anyone’s smeg, and that my crew don’t just surrender until I tell them to.”
“No you’re not!” Lister laughed. “You surrender if someone looks at you with enough zing!”
“You’re right, we surrender the time drive unconditionally, have a nice day!” Rimmer’s tonal change almost caused Lister whiplash, prompting a “smeg off, Rimmer.”
Narvin’s impenetrable expression showed a flicker of annoyance as he pressed a button on his wrist and Rimmer vanished again, but before his light bee could hit the floor, he was back.
“Hey, how is goalpost head doing that?” Cat asked.
“Dunno,” Lister replied.
“Perhaps when Legion upgraded mister Rimmer’s light be to make him hardlight, he also added a reboot feature and made it more resistance to remote interference,” Kryten suggested.
“You mean we can’t just turn him off whenever we want to?” Cat complained.
“Regardless,” continued Narvin, determined not to let Rimmer annoy him for as long as possible, “I will not be leaving until you give me your time machine. Based on my experiences here we absolutely can not let you have unchecked access to the time continuum!”
Cat and Rimmer started to open their mouths to object and throw more insults, but Lister got there first: “Just take it, man. It’s yours.”
“Yeah!” Cat agreed.
“You what?” Rimmer inquired.
“Wait, what?” Cat withdrew his agreement after a couple of second processing what Lister had actually said.
“You all said it yourselves, we can’t end up like our future selves,” Lister explained himself. “If we keep the time drive here it’s only gonna tempt us. Just get rid of it, it’s the only way to be sure.”
“Your...future selves…?” Narvin inquired, abstruth expression cracked by a flicker of apprehension clearly dreading the answer to the question he already regretted asking.
“We had an encounter with our own future selves a while back,” provided Kryten. “They had used the time drive to go to various points of history and live in luxury and hedonism. They damaged their own time drive, and tried to repair it using parts they wanted to seize from ours.”
“You...interacted with your own futures?” Narvin’s expression had moved to impassive with a splash of incredulousness.
“But we refused,” Lister continued, “and they blew us up for it. But because they killed their past selves, us, they never existed in our future to come back and kill us, so they stopped existing, so because they never existed in our future to come back and kill us, we never died, so we didn’t die.”
Narvin started slowly massaging his temples. “I wonder if Coordinator Romana would revoke her banning of the Oubliette of Eternity if I told her this.”
“I don’t care what Listy-poo here is saying,” Rimmer strode forward, trying and failing to make himself look intimidating, “but I am in charge of this vessel and we will not be surrendering any of our equipment to some officious monochromatic stuffed-shirt, so you’d better pack up and leave right now, goodbye, toodly-pipsy!”
“Considering you tried to surrender to me at the first opportunity you had,” Narvin retorted, opaque expression showing subtle but definite signs of being unimpressed, “I hardly think I’m going to be the slightest bit intimidated by an insubstantial caitiff with delusions of authority.”
“Better an insubstantial…that, than a...jumped-up, uptight git!”
“Your method of recycling retorts is less than impressive, and clearly you have no actual authority here.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m going to throw you in the garbage disposal and recycle you if you don’t get off MY ship right this second, you self-important little smeghead!”
“I highly doubt a coward such as you would be able to so much as push me over, assuming you’d be bold enough to so much as lay a hand on me.”
Lister leaned over and whispered in Kryten’s ear: “Kryters, you got any popcorn in there?”
“Way ahead of you, sir,” came the reply, as Kryten produced a box of freshly cooked popcorn from somewhere Lister didn’t bother to question.
“Look, I hate to agree with dormouse cheeks as much as anyone,” Cat eventually interrupted the argument when it became clear it was not going to end anytime soon, “and I really don’t want to listen to someone who thought March of the Penguins was fashion week! But turning into that other me? I’d rather die!”
“Thank you,” Narvin replied. “Finally somebody here speaking some sense.”
“Me? Speaking sense?” Cat seemed genuinely shocked. “That’s never happened before!”
Narvin pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
“Look,” Lister tried to bring an end to the situation, “all those in favour of giving this guy the time drive, say ‘aye’.”
“Aye,” said Lister, Cat, and Kryten.
“All those against, say ‘nay’,” said Rimmer.
“Na-” was as far as Rimmer got before Lister cut him off.
“Right, we all agree, we give him the time drive,” he concluded, ignoring the fuming Rimmer behind him as Kryten left the room.
“Finally,” Narvin’s expression was slightly less inscrutable than before, with more obvious relief shining through. “We can put this whole thing behind us. You don’t have to worry about turning into whatever it was you were going to turn into, and we don’t have to worry about you tearing the Web of Time apart with your paradoxes.”
“Most likely for the best, sir,” replied Kryten, entering the room with time drive in hand. “Last time we used it we accidentally changed Earth’s history and only fixed it by convinced a US president to go back in time and assassinate himself.”
Narvin spluttered for a couple of seconds before giving up. “I’m going to leave before you say anything else that would incriminate you. Coordinator Romana wanted me to finish this as simply as possible, and we try to avoid eliminating meddlers as much as we can. Farewell. I hope we have no cause to meet again.”
With that, he pressed a few buttons on his wrist and his form slurped out of view.
“It’s for the best that we got rid of the time drive,” Lister reasoned. “We weren’t gonna be able to not use it, were we?”
“Probably not, sir,” confirmed Kryten. “I am glad that the Celestial Intervention Agency chose not to simply erase us all from history.”
“Yeah,” Lister agreed. “That guy though, what was he about?”
“Indeed, he did come across as rather a smeee-heeeee, didn’t he, sir?”
“Can you imagine if he had to stay here?” Lister shuddered at the thought. “For a minute there it was like having two Rimmers again,” he chuckled.
Kryten nodded. “Rassilon forbid, sir.”