Holly appeared looking nervous. “Oh crumbs.”
Kryten scrutinised the scanner. “Oh silicon heavens!”
Rimmer joined him. “Oh smeg.”
Lister peered over his shoulder. “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.”
The Cat waltzed in oblivious. “Oh I am looking gooood today. I am rocking this outfit so hard I could cause a shipquake.”
Just then the ship did rock, violently, hurtling from side to side for a number of heart-stopping minutes.
“Told you,” the Cat grinned once the worst had passed.
“That wasn’t you, you narcissistic goit,” Rimmer groaned from a corner he’d been thrown into. “Red Dwarf has just plunged into some sort of terrifying asteroid-strewn reality-bending thing.”
The ship had settled, sort of, upside-down. The gravity simulation drive had obviously malfunctioned leaving the Dwarfers sprawled higgedly-piggedly on what was usually the ceiling of the drive room. Everything continued to shudder ominously and there were occasional sharp jolts as they descended further into the terrifying asteroid-strewn reality-bending thing.
“How did you manage to fly us straight into this Hol?” Lister asked incredulously as he was sent spinning once again. “It was there, clear as day, on the short-range scanners!”
Holly’s face materialised on a screen looking upside-down to the others with her usually immaculate hair completely frazzled. She tutted indignantly. “’Fly there! Land smoothly! Avoid that black hole!’ What do you think I am?”
“Err… the computer in charge of flying this ship?”
“So what even is this thing we’re in? And how long will it take to get out?”
“Working on it Dave.”
Kryten, meanwhile, had spotted something. “Sirs there appears to be another craft out there!”
A little while later the Dwarfers watched as three suited men clambered out of a tiny vessel in the docking bay. One of them was laughing. Evilly.
“Now that we’re out of that thing I can think of five and a half more ways to ruin your life Pip Bin.”
“Not now Gently Benevolent! There is a matter of vital importance to be considered: how does the well-educated Victorian gentleman introduce himself to a spaceman?”
“Oh, I can do this Pip! Let me.”
“If you must Harry.”
The man called Harry approached the Dwarfers confidently.
“Take us to your leader!” His stomach rumbled. “On second thoughts, lead us to your takeaway!” His stomach rumbled again. “And cake! Do you have cake?”
“Sorry. Jelly then. Any jelly?”
A large feast was laid out for the guests on the ceiling of the drive room. Two minutes later, when Harry had finished, another large feast was laid out and this time Pip and Gently Benevolent managed to grab a bite too.
“You’re sure none of you are Hardthrashers then?” Gently Benevolent asked once everyone had been introduced. “Or Sternbeaters or any of my other natural allies?”
All the Dwarfers shook their heads.
“Well that’s a relief," Pip said. "Otherwise I might have ended up killing one of you in a gruesomely painful manner!” he laughed heartily.
“I’m dead already,” Rimmer put in morosely.
“Yes, a hologram.” Gently Benevolent mused. “But not an evil hologram though?”
“Shame. And you, the android. Not a malevolent android perchance? Or the cat creature. You don’t happen to be a diabolically evil cat do you?”
“I’m only diabolically handsome, bud.”
“I had a cat once,” Harry said, mouth full of cake. “He was brilliant! Bright pink. Used to love standing on one leg.”
“Harry that was a flamingo.”
“So, Pip, how did you three wind up floating around in deep space then?” Lister asked.
“Well, gerbil man-”
“Whatever. It is a very long story, well-suited in fact to be performed as a number of plays on the wireless if we had the time. What I will tell you is that I wish Bloomoonbaby a very happy birthday.”
Everyone looked at him.
“What did you just say?”
“I’m not quite sure but for some reason I have an overwhelming desire to look at this screen over here.”
On the screen he indicated there were the words: “Mi esperas ke vi havas vere grandan jaron”
“That’s Esperanto!” Rimmer said triumphantly.
“It’s a rare breed of swan, Pip.” Harry put in.
Rimmer started translating. “My aunt dances the fandango with a cross-dressing goat…”
“Not quite, sir. Allow me: ‘I hope you have a really great year!’”
“What the smeg does that mean?” Lister asked bemused.
“What the smeg is a smeg?” Pip asked bemused.
“That is definitely a breed of swan.” Harry said enthusiastically.
Mr Benevolent had other things on his mind “Let me get this straight. We’re on a spaceship from roughly 3 million years into our future?”
“Why yes, sir.”
“A spaceship filled with all kinds of advanced technological devices that, for example, just picking something at random here, could be put to use to ruin the life of Pip Bin in all sorts of ingenious ways.”
“It’s hardly my place to say, sir. But if you had no morals at all then I suppose so.”
“Laters, people!” He quipped and dashed out of the door.
“Where’s he off to?” the Cat asked.
“Oh, probably just planning something incredibly evil.” Harry explained airily.
“Coming to thwart you ready or not!” Pip yelled excitedly and sprinted after him.
Holly appeared on the screen. She was still upside down but now with a brightly coloured pointy hat perched on her head and a party blower in her mouth.
“Happy Birthday from me too, Rebecca, you awesome person” she said. “I think I’ve worked it out folks. This terrifying asteroid-strewn reality-bending thing. It’s a narrative distortion field.”
“A narrative distortion field. It’s a highly unstable area of space-time to which none of the normal rules of logic and physics apply.”
At this point a monkey rode past one of Red Dwarf’s windows on a unicycle.
“See what I mean.”
“I invented a narrative distortion device once.” Harry piped up.
“Did it work?”
“Well in one sense no.”
“In what sense was that?”
“In the sense that it didn’t successfully carry out any narrative distortion functions. But in the sense of blowing up the conservatory and half the library it was an unqualified success.”
Rimmer turned to Kryten. “What does this narrative distortion field actually do?”
“It’s incredible Mr Rimmer, sir. I thought it was just some old myth. Put simply everything here is at the mercy of some sort of writer, possibly from another dimension. They can manipulate events to convey whatever message they want.”
Gently Benevolent ran into the drive room carrying what looked like a bag of popadoms and one of Kryten’s spare heads “Love your blog Bloo.” He laughed evilly for a moment or two then ran out again.
Pip ran in carrying what looked like a fishing net and one of Lister’s socks “What’s a blog?”
“It’s a site on the world wide web containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., each entry being known as a post, Pip” Harry clarified. “Well either that or it’s a breed of swan.”
Pip ran out again.
“Kryten do you mean to say there might be a writer who can control our every action?”
“Quite possibly, sir. Maybe even our thoughts.”
Rimmer and Lister exchanged glances. Rimmer was relieved to see that his bunkmate at least was staying calm. They’d gone through a lot of smeg but they’d always weathered it out together. Lister’s gaze was so soft and reassuring and warm Rimmer felt his anxiety unwinding. Lister, for his part, was noticing not for the first time how Rimmer’s hazel eyes reflected the light so magically; rainbows danced in those beautiful irises.
There was a thick silence.
“I think I’ll just… go take a cold shower.” Lister said in a strangled voice and he hurried out the room.
Rimmer gulped. “What next?” he squeaked.
Gently Benevolent ran in. “Look out that window. Pip you will never untangle my dastardly plot!” He raced off again.
Pip ran in. “The window is definitely a good idea. I am so thwarting you Gently Benevolent!” He raced off again too.
The others crowded around the window they’d suggested and gasped at the sight it revealed.
At that very moment, a thousand celestial bodies billions of light years apart were slowly moving into a position that had never before been seen and never would again for the rest of eternity. Red giants, white dwarfs, planets, comets and long-forgotten space junk spun in the depths of infinity. From the vantage point of that one window on Red Dwarf those watching saw that together they seemed to form a pattern, no a group of letters:
H A P P Y B I R T H D A Y B L O O !
A dozen nearby suns flared simultaneously setting the whole sentence ablaze. Far off in other galaxies supernovas exploded creating a backdrop of breathtakingly pure light. Greens and yellows of divine hues filled the vision of those watching. The wonder of the sight before them seemed to tug at their very souls. The splendour of it all brought tears unbidden to their eyes.
There was a long pause.
“Well now they’re just showing off.” Rimmer said weakly.
“This Bloo must be quite some character.” Harry said.
“Yes sir. I get the impression she is sassy, smart and very kind.”
“With a terrific sense of humour.”
Rimmer pulled himself together with a shudder. “This writer chap enjoys pulling our strings don’t they? They have absolute control and this is what they come up with? It is just not fair. It’s like meeting our ‘Creator’ all over again. Why me? Why mess with my life? Does everyone just enjoy watching me suffer?” he wailed pitifully. “If anyone out there actually likes me can’t they give me what I want for a change? I’m begging them. Please!”
Nothing happened for a moment.
Rimmer sighed a heart-achingly weary sigh.
Then suddenly he found himself dressed in a smart astro-navigation uniform holding a certificate proclaiming he’d been made an officer.
Lister returned to the drive room as Kryten was reviving Rimmer. “Holly says we’ll be out of the narrative field thing soon, thank smeg. All I want to say right now is that Bloo writes superb fanfics. I am on tenterhooks waiting for the next chapter in her story on AO3!”
Pip and Gently Benevolent ran back into the drive room simultaneously from opposite ends.
Gently Benevolent wheezed, “Alright I give up for now. Pip Bin.”
“Loser!” Pip Bin taunted, “I thwarted all 23 of your evil schemes.”
Gently Benevolent looked confused, “I only made 22.”
“Do you think perhaps you thwarted a swan instead?” Harry suggested.
“Harry, man, there are no swans onboard this ship.” Lister said kindly.
Harry looked outraged. “I think it is time we were leaving.” He said coldly. He stormed out of the drive room. Then he came back in, took another cake, and stormed out once more.
All four Dwarfers and the three Victorians made their way back to the landing bay. The last effects of the narrative distortion field made themselves known as they enthusiastically burst into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in seven part harmony.
After friendly farewells, the small pod was released back into deep space and the Dwarfers quickly lost sight of it in the purple haze of the narrative distortion field.
“We do a lot of weird stuff,” the Cat said, “but I would rank this as one of the weirdest days ever.”
“I’ll say,” agreed Rimmer fervently.
They all felt the memories of the past few hours slipping away as they reached the other end of the narrative distortion field and the ship righted itself. The last thought in all of their heads was ‘Thank smeg for that’. Along with ‘Happy Birthday Bloo’ of course.