Starbug was silent, but Rimmer's brain wasn't, it was screaming. Everything the nice, soothing Android tech had shielded him from was returning tenfold. And it hurt, it hurt so badly he could scream, but he couldn't; he felt paralyzed and powerless.
At this moment he hated Kryten more than he ever hated anyone; the android had ruined him when he refused that upgrade for all of them and saved them. Sure, by all means; he should have saved Lister, and perhaps the Cat, but why take him too? He'd been happy. For the first time in his existence he'd been truly happy, because there were no voices, no crippling self loathing, no intrusive thoughts and no pressure. All there had been was blessed silence and contentment. He'd actually achieved statue among the androids, without even trying.
His brain kept loading: traumatic childhood, abuse, bullying, pain, disapproving dad – not his dad he knew now, but the pain remained. Years of fighting to be worthy. Useless, he was useless. Repressing his sexuality, Red Dwarf, more bullying, death – dying again and again. Then Lister – always Lister. Terrorform planet, Rimmerworld, all that pain. Lister. Going away as Ace for Lister. Failing as Ace, still not an officer, so tired of fighting. So tired. Lister – the reason he'd never pressed terminate!- Not being good enough for Lister, not good enough for Lister!! No one will ever love you, no one!! Not good enough, failure, loser, bonehead!! The voices kept repeating it on and on without a pause, unrelenting, louder than ever. He could scream, he wish he could scream. Desperate for some peace he tried to do his breathing exercises, chanting the one mantra that always calmed him; “I am a fish”, over and over. It didn't work, why didn't it work? Why couldn't he picture himself in calming water, happy blissful, not thinking? Why was everything so dark?
Why was someone screaming in that darkness? He needed silence!
A hand on his shoulder. “For smeg sake!! Rimmer? What's wrong with you?”
A shock went through Rimmer as he realized: the screams had come from him and Lister and Kryten were now standing next to him looking at him in horror. Slowly and with difficulty he entangled from the tight protective ball he'd folded himself into behind the navigation desk.
Rimmer felt nauseous seeing the look of deep pity on Lister's face when his tear filled eyes finally focused enough to gaze at the Scouser properly. He didn't want pity, he didn't deserve pity; not from Lister. He certainly didn't want Kryten's pity, not after what he'd done to him.
He regretted ever telling Lister about the fish tank; it had shown weakness. It had exposed some of the darkness and pain he'd been trying to hide from him for all these years. It was disgusting and weak.
There was no way he'd tell him what he really wanted to say: “Listy … my brain … I'm so sorry, so many voices, so dark … I need the silence back, please! I want to be an android again ...” He couldn't ask him for the hug he so needed, the calm soothing talk he yearned for. No admitting to the human contact he desperately longed for. He didn't want to be an android; all he really wanted was peace. But he could never tell Lister that; he would either laugh at him or pity him, while he'd hate himself even more for revealing the emotional wreck behind the mask. He existed to keep Lister sane, that was his duty. How could he keep someone sane if he told them he was falling apart?
Suddenly he realized that he'd been staring up at the two men in front of him in a dazed stupor for the last minute.
“Rimmer?” Lister asked again, clear worry in his voice. ”Are you okay?”
The Hologram swallowed with difficulty, trying to focus his pounding mind on the now. He was losing his dignity; he needed to sort himself out quickly.
“Do ya want to talk, Arn?” Lister tried. Rimmer shook his head. “I want to be alone.” He restored himself to his normal posture. “We all know where we're going, I think I could be excused.”
With that he quickly got up and went to the Starbug's sole bunkroom and locked the door. Maybe, without the others watching him, he could have a civil mini breakdown and recover himself, find a way to work through his brain in peace.
Certain no-one was watching or able to hear him he finally let rip; screaming out his inner agony, pounding the walls and weeping to his hearts content, then he threw up weird blue hollo-goo in the toilet. His breakdown finished on schedule he crawled into bed, still sobbing a little and shaking with utter exhaustion.
Maybe this wasn't the right way to deal with it. Oh heck, he knew it wasn't the right way to deal with it. But it was the only way he knew how to survive: Bottling up and then screaming into the silence until he was exhausted and empty.
He knew it wouldn't last, but for the moment he had worked through it and he could breath again.
A quiet voice inside of him wondered how long he could go on like this; long enough to get Lister through? He hoped so; he'd suffered for more than seven hundred years, surely he could last another fifty?
Breathing out and in deeply and rhythmically the anxiety faded little by little. He started his chant “I am a fish”, softly at first, then louder: “I am a fish” - the only thing he could recall during those exams so long ago … “I am a fish”, he visualized the cool blue water, the tranquil calm; no pain, no obligations, the sweet nothing. Until, finally, the water pulled him under, into a much needed dreamless sleep.
Secretly observing the Hologram's breakdown on the security cameras a worried Lister looked up at Kryten with tears in his eyes. “Man, I don't know how, but I think we need to get Rimmer a fish tank … fast!!”