The last jump left Rimmer with little fuel. He checked his gauge, tapping it with his index finger, and let out a frustrated sigh. “Computer,”
A familiar sultry voice responded. “Yes, Mr. Ace?”
“We’re low on fuel; I need you to scan the area for local fuel sources. We also need a rest stop to perform repairs.”
“Yes, Mr. Ace.”
After several grueling minutes, the computer sent him coordinates to where he could refuel and they set course.
Rimmer wondered who he’d have to rescue in this dimension. Being Ace was a tough job. He was grateful he was already dead and only had to worry about his light-bee being damaged. He glanced out into the vast space. Something was familiar.
Is that Saturn in the distance? Impossible. But when they began to pass a large orange gas giant with a large red eye, Rimmer couldn’t deny that that was Jupiter.
He felt himself grip his seat slightly. His mind wandered back to Lister. He hadn’t seen the smeghead in years, and now he was so close to their original goal of coming back to Earth. An unfamiliar part of him felt guilty to be this close to Earth without Lister.
Maybe after he refueled he could take a few month detour to see if Earth was still there. But what was the point? It’s not like he’d see Lister to tell him. Even if he ever ran into Lister again he would never know if it was his Lister. Rimmer decided that he’d refuel, make repairs, then decide if he could pass by Earth. Why decide now?
It was then that Rimmer noticed Wildfire was flying closer to Jupiter than he liked. “Computer?”
“Yes, Mr. Ace?”
“Where are we going?”
“Europa Space Station, sir.”
“Europa Space Station?” Rimmer repeated.
After some time they finally began docking procedure. The people at the Space Station seemed excited to see him. He had to make sure he didn’t slip up. He was Ace, not Arnold.
Wildfire docked in the Space Station. A crowd began to form around the ship. Rimmer took an un-needed breath, and opened the hatch. He climbed down the latter, adopted a wide grin, and was prepared to flip his hair when needed.
The crowd was excited, they all welcomed him back. Back? They asked him how the trip went. Rimmer played along. Something was wrong. All these people knew him. He had to be extra careful. He was able to mention repairs and refueling but he was unsure if anyone heard him. They all wanted to hear stories of his travels.
Finally a man, who looked very much like Kryten when the DNA modifier turned him human, walked over and broke up the crowd. “Ace! It’s good to see you alive and Wildfire in one piece.”
Rimmer let out a laugh, “She just needs some minor repairs and fuel.”
“Why do you need fuel? You’re home, Ace.”
Home? A slight panic began to wash over Rimmer, these people thought he was the original Ace. They weren’t going to let him leave. “Well,” Thankfully being Ace taught him to think fast. “I still have lots to explore.”
“We’ll see, Ace. How about you get some rest, and you can write up a report on your travels, and have it on my desk tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Isn’t that a little short notice?”
“What’s there to write? You’ve only been gone 3 years.”
3 years? Oh dear. “3 years?” he echoed his thoughts.
“Don’t ya know, Bongo? Time passes differently for Ace. He could’ve been gone 10 years to ‘im.” A voice said behind Rimmer. Both men turned to man, and Rimmer felt his knees almost go weak.
It was Lister. Except it wasn’t Lister.
This Lister had a short clean mustache, and glasses. He didn’t seem to have Lister’s dirty plaits and he didn’t reek like Lister.
A wide grin broke on the man’s face. “Welcome home, Ace.”
Something caught in Rimmer throat. “…Hey…Spanners.”
Rimmer stood in his quarters. Bongo rescued him from talking to Spanners. But he would have to talk to him. Ace and Spanners were friends. Not like him and his Lister, who held nothing but contempt for him.
Plus Ace was dead. This Ace was dead. How could he lie to all of them and be that Ace? He had to refuel and get out of here as soon as possible. He wasn’t a very good actor. He can play Ace, but not to people who knew him.
Just as he thought he might be able to pull this off for maybe a few days, there was a knock on his door.
Without thinking he said “Come in.”
The door opened to Spanners’ face. Before Rimmer could acknowledge the scouser, he was knocked back at the force of Spanners’ lips on his. Rimmer tripped over the table he was standing beside, and fell, knocking the table over, and Spanners’ onto the floor.
“You okay, Ace?” Spanners’ asked, a laugh hidden in the question.
“Jus’ a welcome back. Not like I could’ve done that in front of Bongo and your fans.”
“What?” Rimmer’s simulated heart was pounding.
“Mind you, Krissie wasn’t happy when I told ‘er you were back. But she understands.” Spanners stood, extending his arm for Rimmer to stand.
“Understands what, exactly?”
“That I’m in love with both you.” He pulled Rimmer to him and gently pressed his lips to the hologram’s.
It took Rimmer a moment to process what Spanners said. He knew Spanners and Ace were friends, and he did get a ‘gay vibe’ from the original Ace, but in love? With Lister? He felt
He could barely pretend to be the original Ace, how could he pretend to be this Lister’s lover too? No. He had to put a stop to this.
With a gentle force, he pushed Spanners away. A confused crease formed between the familiar face. “Spanners…” Rimmer hesitated, “I have to write up my report, and I can’t tonight. Sorry” He paused, “old sausage.”
An unfamiliar expression of hurt grazed Spanners’ face. “Nah, I’m sorry. I should’a known. I jus’ thought…well, it’s been 3 years for me…I missed you, Ace.”
For a second Rimmer forgot how to breath, before remembering he didn’t need to breath in the first place. “I…missed you too, Spanners. Another night, old love.” His hand cupped the young face, easing the grin he
Spanner placed his hand on Rimmer’s. “I’ll hold you to that.” He leaned forward, kissing the pilot. Then he turned away, waving as he left the room.
Rimmer collapsed onto the floor. His knees had given out. Never in his 31 years alive (and 20 years dead), no one had kissed him like that. And it was his luck that it had to be Lister to kiss him. True, this Lister was cleaner and didn’t smell of lager, curry, and cigarettes but it was still Lister. Dave Lister kissed him.
He shook his head, needing desperately to think clearly. “I’ll hold you to that.” Spanners’ words echoed in his head. He felt his face redden. He had been Ace for 10 years, so his sexual experience had risen, but that didn’t mean he ever slept with a man. Let alone Lister.
“I need to get out of here.” Rimmer said out loud. But it still sounded as if a stranger had said it. His mind raced as to what would happen if Spanners or Bongo found out he wasn’t Ace. He imagined being lynched. Ignoring the fact he was already dead, Rimmer felt a familiar sense of fear wash over him.
Standing, Rimmer resolved to escape now. He had to sneak into the docking bay and steal Wildfire, make the jump as soon as possible and hope to refuel and make repairs in the next dimension.
“Right.” Rimmer rubbed his hands together. He straightened his wig again, puffed out his chest, he took a deep breath. He reached for the door, but his legs wouldn’t move.
Why was he afraid? He was Ace. Not only was he Commander Ace Rimmer, but he was Arnold Rimmer. Oh right. That was why he was afraid. He had been Ace for 10 years, but Arnold would not let go. Every time he was about to do anything heroic Arnold would pipe up and ask “Why risk my life? Make someone else do it.” He learned to shut Arnold up, but right now Arnold’s claims of “They’ll kill us if they found out we were lying.” seemed to make sense.
A thought occurred to him. He disliked this new thought. He wished it gone, but it just grew louder. If I leave now, Spanners will be heartbroken. Why did he care? Lister was still Lister, whether he had a mustache or not. “Smeg.” It wasn’t like he never lied to Lister. But this felt different. He cared. When did that happen? “That I’m in love with both you.” Spanners’ voice echoed again.
Dave Lister loved him. No. Lister didn’t. Spanners loved Ace. Not him. He wasn’t Ace. He could flip his hair, sound pompous, and do heroics, but he would always just be Arney. Not Ace. Not the man that Spanners loved. Lister loved.
“I have to tell him the truth.” He muttered to no one. On cue Arnold argued “They’ll never let us leave! Lister will tell that Bongo guy and they’ll throw us in prison for stealing the ship.”
Rimmer took another unneeded breath. He silenced Arnold, and forced his legs to move. He opened the door, walked down the hall, making his way back to the docking bay. He got lost, found a map, finally making there after 15 minutes.
He saw Wildfire gleaming. She had her hood up, and an engineer was checking her gauges. He spotted Rimmer as he was making a note, and waved him over. Rimmer hesitated, but walked over. “Ace, just the man I need to talk to.” The nameless engineer said, climbing down the ladder. “How many jumps did you make?”
Rimmer was taken aback by the question. “Erm…well over 100. I never counted, old sausage.”
“Over a 100? Wow, no wonder. She’s burning through your fuel like crazy. Bongo isn’t sure if you’ll be leaving again, but I’ll repair it just in case.”
“Thanks, ol’ man.” He flashed a grin. “Seen Spanners about?” He tried to sound casual.
“I think I saw him going to the library. I’d check there.”
“Thanks.” Rimmer left off Ace’s usual pet name, and left the docking bay. It took him another 15 minutes to find the library.
He found Spanners buried in stacks of books, taking notes on things Rimmer couldn’t identify. “Spanners.”
The scouser looked up at his nickname, and grinned. “Changed your mind, Ace?”
“Can I have a chat, in private?”
Rimmer and Spanners went to a secluded area of the library, and Spanners began to lean forward, but Rimmer stopped him. Spanners seemed to think this meant they were going to finish what Spanners had started in Ace’s quarters. “Spanners, old love, I have to tell you something.”
Rimmer looked into Spanners’ brown eyes, hesitating. “Dave…” He saw Spanners take a step back, Ace never called him Dave. “I’m not Ace.”
“I am Arnold Rimmer, but I’m not from this dimension.”
A nervous laugh passed through Spanners’ lips, “You’ve hit your head, Ace.”
“Spanners, I am not your Rimmer. I’m from another dimension.”
“If you’re from another dimension,” Rimmer could tell Spanners was trying to humor him, “then why do you look and sound like Ace? Why do you have Wildfire?”
“I took over the position of Ace from another Arnold Rimmer. The…” Rimmer hesitated, “the original Ace died a long time ago. He was killed by a Neutron Tank in dimension 165.”
“You’re lying. This isn’t funny, Ace.” But Rimmer could see Spanners was just trying not to believe him.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m not even alive. I’m a hologram.”
“But I can touch you.”
“It’s called Hardlight, a being called Legion gave it to me.”
A familiar look of disgust formed on Spanners face. A look Rimmer saw on Lister’s face often.
“Spanners, you can’t tell anyone that I’m not Ace.”
“An’ why not, Rimmah?” The ‘Rimmah’ was said as if it was the most disgusting word Spanners could utter.
“Because I don’t belong here. I need to take Wildfire and get out of here. I may not be your Ace, but being Ace is my job.”
Spanners scanned him. He sighed. “Fine…Ace.” Spanners was silent for a moment, looking at the floor. “Is he really dead?” Spanners asked in almost a whisper.
“Yes.” Rimmer thought for a moment. “Well, Yes and no.”
Spanners looked up.
“Since every choice makes new dimension, it is very likely that your Ace is alive somewhere. But I was told he was dead. I just didn’t think it would be fair to lie to you.”
Spanners smiled a little. “Thanks.” He paused, “Ac-Rimmer?
“Did you have a Lister in your dimension?”
“Yes, but he hates me, he and I aren’t even friends.”
“Can’t imagine he hates you. He probably misses you like I miss Ace.”
Rimmer laughed, “I doubt that. Will you help me get Wildfire back?”
Spanners took off his glasses, cleaning them, “Why not?”
Rimmer could tell Spanners was still hurt by the news about Ace, he suddenly felt very uncomfortable. “I should go. Rest up.” He avoided looking at Spanners.
“Yea, get some rest, Ace.” Spanners wouldn’t look at him.
Rimmer couldn’t get out there faster. He didn’t know how he made it back to his room, but the next thing he knew he was sitting on his bed.
That night Rimmer tried to sleep, but Spanners face kept creeping into his mind. Why he suddenly remembered the kiss? Why he remembered Spanners declaration of love that kept echoing in his ears, he didn’t know.
He glanced at the clock, 4am. Smeg, Rimmer rolled over, frustrated. Technically he didn’t need sleep, but it was a good way to waste time. What else was there to do?
Rimmer sat up, running a hand through his wig-less hair. He fixed his eyes on the glowing clock. 4:02am.
At 4:05am there was a faint knock. Rimmer thought he imagined it at first. Then a slightly louder knock followed. “Who is it?” Rimmer began to reach for his Ace wig.
“It’s me.” Spanners’ faint voice replied. “You awake?”
“Yes, I am” Rimmer turned to face the door, “Come in.”
The Door opened, flooding the room with faint light from down the hall. The room was engulfed in dark again as Spanners closed the door. Rimmer blinked to allow his eyes to readjust. “What is it, Spanners?”
He saw the dark form of Spanners walk towards him; it paused in front of the bed. “Can’t sleep. I come here when I can’t sleep.”
“Oh.” Rimmer rubbed his forehead, where his H should be. “I don’t need sleep, so I can leave if you want.” He didn’t know what to say to Spanners anymore. It had been easier to talk to him when he was lying about being Ace.
Spanners shifted. “You don’ hav’ to go. I was just wonderin’ if I could sleep ‘ere tonight.” He hesitated, “With you.”
Rimmer shifted in the bed, “I’m not Ace, Spanners.”
“I know. I jus’…can we pretend? Jus’ for tonight? You owe me tha’ much for lyin’ ta me.”
Rimmer let out a small laugh, “You sound like my Lister.”
“You can preten’ I’m ‘im.”
“Lister and I would never sleep in the same bed.” Rimmer said, though his mind forced him to remember how Lister would drunkenly stumble into his bed at night back before the accident. How Lister’s fumbling hands would roam his body, and how the scouser would press messy kisses on him before falling asleep and moaning for Kochanski. Rimmer was thankful of the dark, as blush appeared on his simulated skin.
“Please, Rimmah. Jus’ for tonight? I’ll ‘elp you leave tomorro’.”
Rimmer sighed. “Fine. Get in.”
He felt Spanners climb into his bed, his body exactly as Rimmer remembered Lister’s to be. Spanners buried his face in the crook on Rimmer’s shoulder.
It didn’t take long before the room was filled with familiar snores. Rimmer didn’t realize how much he missed that snoring. He dozed off to rhythm of Spanners’ breathing.
The next morning Rimmer awoke alone. He washed up, and made his way to the docking bay. Wildfire was gleaming in the fluorescent lighting. He spotted Spanners talking to a nameless engineer.
“Ace, there you are.” Rimmer turned to see Bongo walking towards him. “I wanted to tell you that Spanners convinced me to continue the Wildfire project. On one condition.”
“What condition, ol’ love?”
“You try to return sooner than 3 years or at least send us regular reports.”
“Is that even possible? I’ll be in a different dimension?” Bongo was an idiot, Rimmer decided.
“That’s why I said try. Wildfire is expensive.”
“But it works. Isn’t that enough?”
“Not for the heads. Just try, Ace, that’s a lad. Wildfire should be ready for another trip by the afternoon. I’ll expect that report whenever you get back.”
“Can’t wait.” to get off this smegging rock, Rimmer finished in his head.
Rimmer decided to pass the morning eating. He liked to eat, and he never gained weight, even though he didn’t need to eat it was a luxury, like breathing, he enjoyed.
While he was eating a figure entered his line of sight. He looked up to see the annoyed face of Kristine Kochanski. Without asking, she sat. “You think you can return after 3 years and just steal him back?”
“Who else, Ace? He’s my husband. You left an’ I thought I had him all to myself again.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Rimmer leaned back in his chair. “I’m leaving again this afternoon. He’ll be all yours by then.”
She sighed, glacing darkly downwards. “I hoped you’d neve’ come back, Ace.”
Rimmer didn’t know what to say. He stood, and left Kochanski alone at the table. He’d be gone soon, and never get in the way of their marriage again.
The afternoon crept up faster than Rimmer expected. Spanners found him in the library and told him it was time to go.
The two men walked to the docking bay in silence. The usual crowd was gathered. People wishing Ace could stay longer. Rimmer played along, shaking hands, taking hugs, even a kiss from a woman he’d never seen before.
Spanners shook his hand. “Thanks, Ace.” There was more he wanted to say, but Rimmer felt it all in the handshake.
“Thank you, old love.”
“Good luck, Ace.” Spanner said as Rimmer climbed up.
Rimmer pushed the needed buttons, and before he knew it he had left Europa Space Station. He had only been there a day, but it felt like a week.
The jump was smoother. Whatever the engineers did to the engine helped a lot. It was just after the jump that Rimmer remembered his plan to swing by Earth. “Oh well. Not like I’d ever see Lister again to tell him.”
Hours later, in the middle of space, in an unknown dimension, Rimmer tried to sleep, but he still felt the echo of