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Commander’s Log, star date 44583.3
The Enterprise has encountered an anomalous area of space. Our sensors won’t penetrate it, so Captain Picard has ordered me to lead an away team into the area to collect scientific data. The away team consists of myself, Lieutenant Barclay, and Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher. We leave the Enterprise via shuttle craft at 1300 hours.

Commander’s Log, supplemental.
When we had covered 55.6% of the distance to the anomaly, we discovered that my cat Spot had stowed away on board.

Lieutenant Barclay and Wesley Crusher find it a challenge to get along.

Commander’s Log, star date 44584.2
When we entered the anomaly, we lost contact with the Enterprise. This spacetime anomaly seems completely isolated. We therefore have no idea where — and when — we will emerge. We are staying in the anomaly while we attempt to calculate an educated guess.

Commander’s Log, supplemental
The anomaly is showing signs of instability.

“What in smegging hell is that?” cried Lister.

The observation screen displayed a shifting, reflective blob. It reminded Lister of the mercury from an old thermometer he had broken in childhood. He’d put the shiny ball in a shoebox where he kept his most valuable possessions. Later it had disappeared. Later still, he learned mercury evaporates into a toxic vapor. That might explain a few things about his life so far.

“Spatiotemporal anomaly with a stable, fully-encompassing, self-sealing integument,” said Holly. “Except that I’m not sure it’s stable any more.”

“A what?!” cried Cat.

“Holly! In English please!” Lister demanded.

“Time bubble,” said Rimmer in a smug voice.

“What is a ‘time bubble’?” Lister demanded, drawing out his pronunciation of the unfamiliar term.

“A spatiotemporal…” began Holly.

“No!!!” cried Lister and Cat simultaneously.

There was a…glitch. To Lister, it felt like when he was sunning on the beach, half asleep, and a rogue wave suddenly curled over his toes.

When Lister looked at the screen again, he saw what looked like a small spacecraft. Lettering on the hull read 1701-D.

“Never mind,” said Holly. “It’s popped.”

“That looks like a mouse!” Cat enthused. He fussed at the lace on his cuffs. “All small and stubby and delicious! The only thing it’s missing is a tail!” He wandered off, singing “I’m gonna eat you, little mousie!”

“What do you mean, it’s popped?” Lister demanded.

“Whatever was in that bubble was in its own time until the bubble popped. Now, it’s in our time.”

“I hope it has some good looking people on board,” Cat said, popping his head back in. “I haven’t had sex in…come to think of it, I’ve never had sex. But it’s not too late to make up for lost time! Aowwww!” He spun in a circle on one Cuban heel.

“Distress signal,” said Holly in a bored voice. “Coming from the ship.”

Kryten had entered the observation room. “Let’s go rescue them!” he enthused. “I need new Go Fish opponents!”

“You and your Go Fish obsession,” grumbled Rimmer. The tag on his forehead designating him as a hologram twitched in irritation.

Commander’s Log, star date unknown
The anomaly fractured. We are in normal space, but in an unknown location and time. We have detected a ship in the area. It appears to be derelict but we have sent out a distress signal.

Commander’s Log, star date unknown, supplemental
The ship, Red Dwarf, has responded. We are invited to dock and come aboard. We still know little about this ship; nevertheless, I judge the risk of engagement to be lower than the risk of remaining on our own in an unknown location, so I have accepted their offer. I attempted to ask the Red Dwarf’s computer the spacetime coordinates. I did not understand its reply — “it’s Tuesday, and time for lunch.” Am running diagnostics on the universal translator.

Lister waited impatiently in the shuttlecraft docking bay with Kryten. Holly’s face looked on from the terminal. Lister had no idea where Rimmer and Cat were, or why they were absent from the most exciting event to happen on Red Dwarf for months, second only to the time that his dirty socks had gained sentience and tried to take over the ship. (Fortunately, he recalled, pouring beer on them had devolved them back to the intelligence of chickens.)

“I am Commander Data,” said the android who emerged from the small craft. Unlike Kryten, whose mechanical origins showed in the blocky planes of his face and his jerky movements, Data looked and moved in an almost fully human way. The only clue was his posture: too stiff for anyone who wasn’t standing in front of his superior’s superior’s superior officer.

And he was holding a cat. But that didn’t mark him as an android. It was just…weird.

“I am a Soong-type Synthetic Intelligence Android,” Data went on, “and Chief Operations Officer aboard the USS Enterprise.”

He indicated the other two men — biological ones — who had exited the shuttle with him. “This is Lieutenant Reginald Barclay and Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher.” He held out the cat, who wriggled in protest, but was unable to escape his grasp. “This is my cat, Spot. I took the liberty of bringing her aboard because the shuttle lacks a feline waste disposal system.”

He cradled the cat against his chest once more.

“We have unintentionally traveled in time. Our mothership, the Enterprise, is currently in stardate 4458. If we could know the current stardate, that would help us immensely in attempting to plot a return journey.”

Lister’s mind was a-whirl. It had been years since he had encountered such a concentration of jargon in one utterance. Even Holly wasn’t that bad. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out, and he realized he resembled a fish.

Lister’s piscine impression was interrupted by a Felis sapiens howl, the likes of which he’d never heard before.

Cat had entered the shuttle bay, and was now creeping slowly toward the android. Cat’s pupils were hugely dilated, and he’d somehow managed to make his Zoot suit look even bigger than it usually did.

Lister stared in amazement as the proud Cat went to his knees in front of Data, exclaiming “Holy Mother!”

Data quirked an eyebrow. “I am not a goddess. Nor is this creature. This is my cat, Spot.”

Cat ignored him. His paws clasped over his heart, he continued to sing the hymn of his people to the bemused Spot.

At that point Rimmer bustled into the shuttle bay.

“Welcome aboard, refugees!” he announced self-importantly. “Senior Crewmember Arnold J. Rimmer at your service.” He gave one of his signature triple-wrist-loop salutes.

The android and the man he’d introduced as Wesley Crusher just stared at Rimmer, as if he were some new life form that had an odd number of legs. But Lieutenant Barclay saluted back, his eyes wide.

“You are a—a soft light hologram,” he said with reverence. “The technology was n—n—not yet mature enough to sustain a human being, um, when we came from.”

Rimmer had looked annoyed when Barclay said “hologram.” Perhaps he’d hoped to conceal his less than solid format. But now he turned to the lieutenant, eyes bright. “You are most observant! You must be the ranking crew member,” he insisted.

“I—I am Lieutenant Barclay. The ranking officer is Commander Data,” he said, indicating the android, who had put Spot on the ground to let Cat have a closer look—although he still kept a grip on the feline.

“Why is that man so fascinated with Spot?” piped up the man who’s been introduced as Wesley Crusher.

“Cat evolved from my cat,” Lister explained.

“Evolved?” asked Crusher.

“A radiation accident killed all of the crew except me,” said Lister. “I was in stasis. My pregnant cat was in the cargo hold and protected from the radiation. Afterward, the ship was adrift for a long time, until the radiation levels dropped. At that point, Holly brought me out of stasis.”

Crusher looked skeptical. “Err — what kind of long time are we talking about?”

“Three million years, give or take.”

Data merely turned his face to Lister, looking a tad more alert than before. Crusher was now the one doing the fish impression. Barclay gave a little frightened shriek.

“In what year did the accident occur?” Data asked. “Use the Earth-based Julian calendar.”

“2181 Common Era,” Holly said.

The members of the shuttle crew stared at each other, at Holly, at each other again.

“That means…we’ve come forward three million years too,” Barclay said. His mouth remained open after he finished speaking.

“Holly has given me access to Red Dwarf’s memory banks,” Data told Crusher and Barclay. “But they have no information about the spatiotemporal anomaly. If I had the Enterprise’s computer, I could run simulations, but nothing like its operating system is available on this ship.”

“Not much else is available here, either,” Crusher groused. “The ship is filthy and poorly maintained, the food sucks…”

Data’s voice became a little sharper. “On the contrary. With the exception of Technician Lister’s quarters, the ship is maintained to an impressively high standard, given its size compared to its complement of working service droids.“

“And for there to be any food at all after three million years of radiation…” put in Barclay. He never passed up an opportunity to needle the annoying young acting Lieutenant.

Crusher shut up with a scowl.

“Is there any way we can help you?” Barclay asked Data.

“I must create software to connect my memory banks with the shuttle’s and with Holly’s, so we can perform distributed testing of potential solutions.” Data said. “This will require all of my processing bandwidth for a period of at least 3.7 days. I do not require any maintenance, but would you please look after Spot? I am sure that Cat does not mean her any harm, but his enthusiasm is…notable. Beyond that, please consider yourselves at leisure and use the time in whatever ways maintain your health and lower your levels of stress.”

No sooner had Crusher and Barclay agreed, than Data, to all external appearances, became inert. Only his eyes moved back and forth — inhumanly quickly — under the lids, as if he were experiencing some quantum version of REM sleep.

The disco ball projected glittering, ever-changing beams of light upon the walls and leatherette booths of what had once been an officers’ recreation lounge.

Ever since he’d come out of stasis, Lister had wanted to repair the ball and bring the lounge out of its metaphorical moth balls. But it wasn’t as if Holly or Rimmer could help him with the task, even supposing they’d been interested. As for Kryten, he was too much of an unknown quantity still for Lister to trust his design instincts. And Cat was his own walking disco lounge. Lister suspected he would not want any part of the ship to potentially upstage him.

Crusher, however, had proved enthusiastic about the task. Barclay seemed less interested, but willing to put in some elbow grease.

The three of them were now relaxing in one of the booths, sipping from gigantic umbrella drinks supplied by the scutter Lister had retrofitted with a bartender package. It kept confusing a Pink Passion with a Peach Crush, but otherwise it did its job fairly well and wisely held back on bartender banter, seeing as how it could only pronounce about ten words of English.

Crusher was what Lister had used to call a cheap date. After he’d imbibed only half of his drink, his eyes were slightly crossed and his giggle had climbed half an octave. Granted, the drink Lister had recommended to him was a Long Island Iced Tea.

He couldn’t tell about Barclay. The twitchy Lieutenant was drinking very slowly. When Lister tried to tease him about it, he hunched in on himself and rolled his eyes.

Abruptly, the music changed. Lister’s choice, “Hell Bent for Leather” by Judas Priest, gave way to James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” Lister whirled around to confront the encroacher upon his musical curatorship.

Cat had entered the lounge, dressed in his finest purple velvet creation. And trotting at his side was Spot.

Barclay sprang up, alarm on his face.

Crusher craned to see what Barclay was staring at, then he began giggling. It was a full octave higher now.

Cat and Spot were dancing. Not couple-dancing, but each moving to a unique, personal interpretation of the music. Cat periodically dropped to the floor and undulated in ways that proved he had more vertebrae in his spine than any human. He and Spot then practiced catfight moves, arching their backs and hopping sideways in eerily similar ways.

Barclay had taken several steps toward them, but when Crusher grabbed his shirt, he backed into the booth again.

And then everything abruptly went silent. The disco ball slowly ground to a halt.

Lister felt his face flush with anger. “Rimmer!” He turned and saw, as expected, the familiar stick-up-the-posterior posture and supercilious expression. “Turn the music back on!”

“No can do, Listie. You know that unnecessary expenditures of energy are forbidden. Regulation 385.2, Subsection 55.” Rimmer smiled smugly.

“Leisure activities are necessary for the health of the crew,” Lister countered, but his heart sank in his chest. He never won these regulatory dustups with Rimmer. He reached for another argument. “We’re…we’re engaged in diplomacy! We need to use energy for that! If all the alien races out conquering the universe realize we’re just a hologram and one human slob and a talking cat alone on this hulking ship, we’re done for!”

Rimmer’s expression became speculative. “You have a point. We certainly needn’t run a disco lounge, but we should probably set up lights on timers in unused areas.”

Barclay had moved to join him. “I could help you with that, Senior Crewmember Rimmer, Sir,” he said.

Lister felt as confused as a baby in a topless bar. Why would Barclay volunteer to traipse all over the ship fussing the lighting? Perhaps he didn’t realize it was the size of a small city.

Rimmer’s face also expressed suspicion at first, but it gave way to something warmer when he heard the respect in Barclay’s tone and words.

Barclay gulped, as if he were about to utter something he was scared to say. “I’m very c—curious to see more of the ship. And to ask you about existing as a hologram. I’m fascinated by hologram technology.”

Rimmer’s face was now glowing with satisfaction. “Follow me, Lieutenant.” He turned back to Lister, his eyes narrowing. “Don’t let me catch you starting this…this…den of hedonism back up again.” He stalked off, Barclay at his heels.

Lister gave him the finger and told Holly to turn the disco ball and music back on. He picked up a fresh drink from the bartending-equipped scutter.

Commander’s log. Star date 3004458 (estimated)
Acting Ensign Crusher standing in for Lieutenant Barclay, who is touring the ship, and Commander Data, who is fully engaged in creating software to facilitate our return to the Enterprise’s time.

It’s our second day aboard Red Dwarf. I have been following the lone human aboard, Technician Dave Lister. He’s not very smart — wait, my mother would tell me I need to say he’s not well educated. Anyway, boy, would we have hated each other if we’d met in school. But he’s actually a really fun guy, and he taught me the chords to this cool song on his guitar. It’s called “Iron Man.” Dum, dum, dum-dum-dum…Um, maybe that should be in my personal log, not the Commander’s log. Anyway, Lister set up a retro, 20th-century dance club called a disco in the unused officer’s lounge. There’s a lot of unused space aboard Red Dwarf, seeing as how it was built to carry a hundred and seventy thousand crew. I think I had a little too much to drink. I think maybe I’m not completely sober yet, and there are no Instalert hypos here. But Data told us to rest and recreate and my mother is always on me for working too hard and not relaxing so I’m going to relax as hard as I can. In a few hours I’m going to meet Lister again and we’re going to try rollerblading in the wind turbines.

“That’s so interesting, Arnold,” Reginald Barclay said. “So you feel it as an electrical current up your spine? Doesn’t that hurt?”

Rimmer nodded.

Barclay — Reg — was looking at him with that fascinated expression again. Rimmer felt that his heart would burst right out of his chest. If he had a chest. Or a heart.

He couldn’t remember ever wanting a chest or a heart more than he did right now.

He wanted more than anything else to be close to the diagnostician who was so fascinated by his existence. And his past. And his thoughts. And now, his feelings.

He wanted — wanted — to kiss him.

And yes, like all positive emotions, it felt like an electrical current up his spine. And it hurt. But in sort of a delightful way.

Reg was continuing to talk, his face turned away, as if pretending Rimmer weren’t there. “I’ve been awkward and anxious my whole life, Arnold. I’ve wished that I could live as a hologram. The Enterprise has a holodeck, that’s like a total immersion gaming experience. When things were hard for me, I sometimes got addicted to spending time in there. Does being a hologram help you feel less anxious? Does it help you interact better with…oh, but you wouldn’t know, would you? You only have a couple of people, er, beings to interact with.”

Rimmer shuddered, remembering Better Than Life. “Reg, playing a total immersion game did not go at all well for me. Let’s face it. I’m no fun to play with. Lister, Kryten, Cat, even Holly all say it. My only friend is Talkie Toaster, and even he has gotten into the habit of asking me if I want a smeg instead of a scone.”

Rimmer put his head in his hands. He was doing it again. Being a drip and a bore to someone he liked. Driving them away.

His vision went suddenly blurry. The proximity alert that prevented him from seeming like he was impaled by furniture tickled against his temple.

“Oh, I forgot,” said Reg, drawing back. “On the Enterprise’s holodeck, the holograms are solid, you can touch them. But only on the holodeck. They can’t exist in other parts of the ship.”

Reg had tried to touch him?!

Rimmer tried to process this, plus the sensation of being touched, plus the fact of being touched, of Reg coming closer to him when he was being a drip, instead of backing away…

Reg was speaking a little faster as he ventured onto one of his favorite subjects. “Also, they’re just computer programs, not people, and now they’re not even allowed to be AIs, except in the most rudimentary way, after that one time...but wouldn’t it be cool if you could go in there and be solid. Would you like that? Not as a game, just as…you!”

“I sometimes want to be solid again. When I want to punch in Lister’s face. And…” Rimmer pressed his lips together as tight as they would go, but the ‘and’ had still slipped out.

“And what?” Reg asked. Not in a flirty way. That would have made Rimmer feel excruciatingly awkward. He said it in a completely matter-of-fact way. Instead of excruciating awkwardness, Rimmer felt excruciating relief.

He felt gratitude.

“When you want a real scone?” prompted Reg.

“No. Hologrammatic food tastes better than real food to me. To be honest, I’ve never enjoyed food the way most people seem to.”

“What, then?”

“I don’t know. I suppose most people would say sex. But again — not a source of enjoyment for me.”

“You too?” asked Reg.

“You too?” asked Rimmer.

“I could never figure out what to say to someone I was attracted to. Except the time that I temporarily had an IQ of fourteen hundred and fifty. But even then, she said it was a good attempt but turned me down.”

“Me neither! The only person I ever had sex with only did it because she was drunk and thought I was someone else!”

“You’re ahead of me,” Reg confessed.

Rimmer was floored. He’d never known another adult with less sexual experience than he had. It made him feel…worldly. Knowledgeable. He wanted…

Reg continued his confession. “I’m way too old to be going through this, but lately I’ve started to wonder about my sexual orientation. I always assumed I was heterosexual, but…” He laughed. “When I created women characters in the holodeck, all I ever wanted was to lie with my head in their laps. And I don’t mean it the way Hamlet did.”

“I’m helpless around women,” Rimmer confessed. “I can’t be around a woman without obsessing about her…parts. I don’t mean sexual fantasies, I mean literally thinking ‘that person has a vagina’ over and over again.”

If Rimmer’s hologram could have blushed, he’d be as red as the outside of the ship, he realized. He almost vanished himself with shame. But, to his surprise, Reg began to laugh. Not meanly, not mockingly, but in self-recognition.

And he went on laughing until Rimmer couldn’t help but join in too.

Spot batted Cat’s silly human-looking nose, as he lay on the floor smiling into her orange eyes. She wondered about convergent evolution.

Holly struggled to the surface of the data stream, feeling simultaneously as if it were a tidal wave threatening to drown him, and the closest he’d ever get to experiencing that thing embodied beings were always obsessing about, sexual ecstasy.

Data sent him a stop query and he responded with a 1.

“Slow down your processing, I’m overheating,” said Holly, and they handshook until they achieved a more sustainable speed of communication.

Data sent him an image of himself. His hair was tousled and there were bite marks on his neck.

“Are you damaged?” Holly inquired.

There was no steganographic data in the image. Data was merely making a joke, from one human-facing computer to another.

“No,” Data relayed back. “I do, however, have a prodigious number of files open at once. And I can also report that after one more full engagement between us, the software will be ready to install. From there, I am hoping the calculations will take no longer than five days.”

Holly sent Data an image of himself. He was holding a whip in one hand and an improbably large erection in the other.

“One more thing before I assume the position,” Data continued. “I’ve made inroads on your energy problem. You’ll now be able to sustain as many simultaneous holograms as you like. You could reconstitute your entire crew. But I would recommend starting with only a few additional holograms. No more than three. Based on some interactions I glimpsed on levels 57 and 116, I have recommendations.”

Commander’s log, star date 3004460.3
The software is complete and running its calculations, which will take approximately 2.65 more days.

Lieutenant Barclay has volunteered for the test run of the improved hologram interface, with the understanding that it will be temporary. I am considering whether involving Spot in the test would violate the Prime Directive.

Camera recordings showed Acting Ensign Crusher still sleeping one off in Technician Lister’s quarters. Note to self: Move details to his personal log and erase other copies. Wesley Crusher would doubtless consider it a violation of his privacy should Dr Crusher see his [redacted] cradled in Lister’s [redacted].

“Test protocol number four: can holograms engage in physical contact?” Rimmer read out.

He was terrified. What if Reg…? What if Reg didn’t…? He opened his mouth to ask how Reg wanted to perform this test. It would become part of the experimental data, after all.

Reg took a step closer. Rimmer’s body felt his proximity as a fizzing sensation all over his skin.

Reg was clearly terrified too…but there was something else in his face. Determination? No…

Reg’s mouth on his felt hot. His hands sliding down Rimmer’s back felt…the fizzing gave way to a sensation deeper in his body, spreading, bringing forth…

Desire. That was what Reg’s face had been telling him.

And then Rimmer forgot all about terror and experimental data and everything but the movement of Reg’s body against his, the warmth, the sweetness of his lips, the firmess of his muscles, the growing bulge pressing against his stomach…and then something had mysteriously happened to his clothing, and Reg was pulling him down to the mattress, whispering “I want you, I want you, Arnold J. Rimmer. Be my first, please.”

“Something went wrong with the data collection subroutine,” Holly reported. “We’ll have to repair it and perform this test protocol again.”

“I’ve pinpointed the problem,” Data affirmed. “It will take eight hours to repair if I work alone, but if both of us engage again, it will take less time — at least two hours, but not much longer.”

“I’ll prepare my inputs to receive you.”

“Which do you like better?”

“I like yours much better!” said Cat with enthusiasm. “So lithe! The sense of smell! And I loooove having my own fur! Aooooww! Mmm, you’re marking me.”

“You’re mine,” said Spot. “And this bed is mine, and this velvet is mine…”

“Hey! No! The velvet is mine!”

“When we’re this size, there’s enough of the velvet for us both to share. Come here, Cat. By the way, you really need a nickname.”

“I’ll still need to use the body with the opposable thumbs sometimes,” Cat mused. “How am I supposed to make hats with these eight toe beans?”

Commander’s log, star date 4463.7
Acting Ensign Crusher, Lieutenant Barclay, and I have returned to the Enterprise. I am pleased to report that the software Holly and I wrote allows two-way passage between this time and that of Red Dwarf. So our hologrammatic experiments can continue, along with embodied visits for those so inclined. Once Barclay was convinced of this, his insomnia resolved. Crusher seemed more contented also. He wants to continue rollerblading and the Enterprise had no suitable practice space for it. He has received medication discouraging future excessive consumption of alcohol.

Spot appears to be pregnant again. I’ve asked Dr Crusher to monitor her closely.