Sometimes Rimmer was convinced that it was all Holly’s fault. The idiot was deliberately overlooking a scratch on his personality disk, or a corruption in his data files, not unlike the time the jumped up calculator had let Peterson’s right arm try to murder him.
At other times Rimmer couldn’t be certain that he hadn’t always felt like this. That he hadn’t always known his life was never going to pan out the way his parents told him it ought to. That he was just different.
When Third Class Technician Dave Lister had joined the crew of Red Dwarf, it had taken the goit less than a week to smirk up at him, too knowing, and say,
“You know what you need, Rimsy? You need to get your leg over.”
He had stood there sputtering, nostrils flaring, while Lister pulled on a marginally less disgusting shirt and headed for the doorway, pausing only long enough to wink at him and quip,
“Don’t wait up. It wasn’t an offer, Rimmer.”
But that was the closest they ever got to it, the closest he had ever wanted to get. He didn’t spend his nights lying awake listening to the sound of Lister breathing, or his afternoons dreaming up ways to get the Cat off the scene so Lister would have no choice but to give him his undivided attention.
The fact that the Cat hadn’t existed, and not being a hologram had meant he required a good eight hours sleep, was neither here nor there. The point was that, before the accident, Lister had never slobbed across his mind’s eye often enough for the Ionian thought police to come knocking.
Because back on Io it wasn’t the kind of thing you admitted to. His father had told all four of them that no son of his would ever succumb to it, not if they knew what was good for them, and at school Charlie Sterring from the lower sixth was expelled after being caught in a compromising position with a jar of Marmite and the Biology Master. If Sterring’s parents hadn’t had the money to get him into a fancy academy on Ganymede, his diplomatic career would have been over before it had even started.
Rimmer wasn’t that stupid, understood the importance of keeping his head down and doing what was expected of him. He struggled through his lessons, and sat his detentions, and, once, when Porky Roebuck threatened to tell his older brother a totally unsubstantiated rumour, he went for the lesser evil and his favourite shoes ended up in the school septic tank, with his feet still nestled snugly inside them.
By the time he became a technician on Red Dwarf, Rimmer was used to telling himself he was above such matters. He joined the Love Celibacy Society and told anyone who would listen that he was renouncing sex and romance, and everything else which went along with it. A JMC officer wouldn't have time for entanglements, and he pretended that he couldn’t hear the accusation in his mother’s voice, every time she remembered to ask him how his life was going.
Lister didn’t accuse so much as joke and, before his eleven and a half minutes with Yvonne McGruder came to the attention of the ship’s gossips, he had offered to set him up with one of Chen’s mates from the kitchen. Rimmer had naturally told him to smeg off, and to go and microwave his oozing pustule of a head in the interests of humanity. He actually met the friend in question weeks later, only to find him surprisingly pleasant and lacking a third eye or an incurable skin disease, or any of the other ailments he had imagined him to be inflicted with. But Lister had already gone into stasis by that time and, anyway, Rimmer wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to screech at or apologise to the idiot.
He didn’t get a chance to do either in the end, and was reduced to nothing but a steaming pile of albino mouse droppings on the floor of the drive room quicker than you could say, ‘Up up up the ziggurat’.
“Why did you really bring me back?” He asked Holly that first day, once Lister was safely passed out and snoring. Holly shrugged, or at least did the computer equivalent, and told him,
“If you can’t work it out, I’m not wasting my time explaining it to you.”
It was at that moment, looking into Lister’s unwashed face as he told the glorified alarm clock exactly how little he thought of him, that his problems really began.
Because Lister was all he had to latch onto, and no matter how frustrating, there was something so very intoxicating about believing Holly's explanation that, of everyone aboard, Lister had most needed him. That he had a real purpose, a mission. That every sullen gaze Lister sent his way was proof he was good at something.
Lister appeared alternately oblivious and frighteningly perceptive. He frowned at him whenever he caught him staring, unable to tear his gaze away though intellectually he knew the sight of Lister to be about as attractive as piece of grease stained flocked wallpaper. Yet Lister invariably sought him out, whenever Rimmer was attempting to avoid him.
It was doing strange things to his brainwaves, making him think he wanted things from Lister he didn't dare describe aloud, and always at the most inopportune moments.
Things came to a head when he returned from a particularly draining session of supervising the skutters’ repainting of the cargo bay, only to find Lister kitted out like a dog’s dinner.
Or, perhaps more fittingly, a cat’s elevenses.
“Lister, Lister, Lister,” he sighed, walking a circle around the man with his hands behind his back, so as to get a better view of the ludicrous ensemble and not to hide from Lister the hot flush of possessive jealousy. “What do you think you look like?”
“I thought you weren’t gonna be back for hours,” Lister whined, tugging at his ruffled shirt cuffs self-consciously.
“And what is all this in aid of?” Rimmer went on, pleased at how easy it was to fall back on sarcasm. “A hot date in the AR suite? A night of passion with the skutters?”
“You’re so funny,” Lister deadpanned.
Inwardly Rimmer raged. It was obvious to a brain damaged gnat what was going on here; Lister was tarting himself up for that mentally challenged fleabag. The idea that he even cared in the first place made it all the harder to deal with. Outwardly he crossed his arms across his chest and said, “Ah, yes, I can see it now. The first human – service droid hybrid. You won’t know whether to feed it or oil it.”
Perhaps the (underwater) life that could have been in Fiji was playing too heavily on his mind, perhaps it was simply Lister’s time of the month. All Rimmer knew was that one minute Lister was standing there looking somewhere between embarrassed and exasperated, and the next he was storming towards the door, pausing with his hand around the frame to hiss,
“You know what, Rimmer? You really are a smeghead.”
It was late when Lister finally returned, and Rimmer could smell the drink on him as soon as the door opened. He was forcibly reminded of that night back when he had still been alive, the night Lister had suggested he get some before going out, drinking himself paralytic, and falling through the door at half past three in the morning. He had tried for his bunk and failed, instead collapsing atop Rimmer and driveling in his ear about how he was sorry for taking the piss, and how he was sure Rimmer wasn’t that bad, and that they were bound to become good mates, really.
Rimmer had pushed and shoved and called Lister a few choice names, before finally giving up and clambering over him to sleep in Lister’s bunk for what was left of his downtime. He had woken up late in the morning and hadn’t had time for a shower, and later he hadn’t been able to understand why the stench of Lister on his skin wasn’t sickening.
This time it played out almost like déjà vu, except Lister fell through him when he landed on his bunk, and started undressing himself with clumsy fingers, as if he couldn’t hear Rimmer’s (manly) squeals of protest.
“I was only trying to be nice to the Cat,” Lister told him, plaintive. “It’s my fault he’s the only one of them left now.”
“How were you to know your cat would mutate into a race stupid enough to worship you as a God?” Rimmer soothed before the reality of the situation washed over him. “Look, will you get out of my bunk!? The skutters have only just finished fumigating it from the last time you passed out on it.”
“You remember when we did this before?” Lister giggled, fingers where his temporal lobe should have been. “You made a nice pillow,” he said, soft and breathy and sincere, and then promptly started snoring.
Something twisted in Rimmer’s gut. Something horrid and painful, and he jumped to his feet to point threateningly at Holly through the viewscreen.
“This is your fault!” He accused. “I demand you fix whatever it is you’ve done to me this instant. You’ve had your laugh – Arnie J falls head over heels for Lister, a man whose only encounter with personal hygiene was when he was forced to look it up in the dictionary. Ha ha, tee smegging hee. Now it’s time to give me my personality back, or you'll wish you'd never been programmed, miladdo!”
“There’s nothing wrong with your disc,” Holly told him smugly. “It’s functioning perfectly.”
“There must be something wrong with it!” Rimmer countered, refusing to believe the alternative.
Holly looked at him pityingly, shook his head, and said, “If you’re going to have an identity crisis, can you do it quietly? They think it was the maid, in the kitchen, with the arsenic."
And with that he was left on his own to lay rigidly on Lister’s bunk, staring unseeingly up at the metal above him. It smelt of Lister, which should have been revolting but wasn’t. The thought was almost enough to send him into meltdown. Rimmer took a deep, though unnecessary breath, and let it out slowly.
He liked Lister. He wanted Lister. Rimmer pulled a face, but the world didn’t implode, nor did portents of the end days dance across his vision. Nothing changed, nothing happened. It was typical, he thought, that a seismic shift in his thought processes should go unacknowledged by everyone.
Because the truth was as clear as the result printed on one of his thirteen Astronavigation exam result slips. He fancied Dave 'cheese sandwich for a brain' Lister, in all his slovenly, slobby, goity glory.
All that remained was to work out what the smeg he was going to do about it.