“No sir, not even the smallest bauble!” Kryten said dejectedly. “I am so very sorry Mr Lister.”
Dave Lister sighed and swallowed, then he tried to smile. “Th… that's alright Kryten, it's not your fault. I'll just have to do without.”
He quickly walked out, not wanting Kryten to see how close he was to tears.
Unfortunately, in his blind dash he crashed straight into Arnold J. Rimmer, who luckily was in hardlight mode and stopped Lister from going headlong through him and rebounding off the bulkhead behind him.
“Watch where you going, you gimboid!” The hologram said, dusting off his blue uniform indignantly.
“Smeg off Rimmer,” Lister snapped.
“What's wrong with you?” Rimmer asked, noticing something was off about his long term bunkmate.
“Just leave it, okay?” Lister muttered irritably, pushing past him and walking into the bunk room swiftly, making the door close behind him.
With a confused frown, Rimmer shook his head and headed for the drive room where Kryten was fretting, cleaning around one of Holly’s terminals.
“What's eating Lister?” Rimmer muttered to himself, still thinking over Lister’s weird behaviour. It wasn’t often the Scouser wasn’t in some kind of good mood.
“Oh Sir, it's terrible!” Kryten exclaimed suddenly, having overheard the hologram's mumblings.
“It's Christmas soon!” He added conspiratorially.
“Why would he cry about that?” Rimmer asked, a confused scowl forming around his H. “He loves that mushy mess!”
Why did the annoying bog-bot always expect him to understand the entire story? He didn't have a data bank for a brain!
To his annoyance Kryten put down his cleaning devices and headed over to him. He sighed, all he'd wanted was a few moments to himself to read in one of the new books they'd looted, but if Kryten stopped cleaning it meant something was wrong – or the android was getting ready to start blathering about things that didn't matter. Either way it meant no reading.
“Well, you see sir ...” Kryten started. “Do you remember our last flooding?”
Rimmer's scowl deepened: “It's not something I'd easily forget …” He’d almost got swept away when his light bee had been hit by a particularly high wave. He’d spent four hours with his lightbee on the radiator to dry out its hardware properly.
“You see the ship was filling with water- ...”
A groan escaped from the depths of Rimmer's being. “Yes Kryten, that's what usually happens during a flooding. Could you get to the smegging point please?”
Clearly noting the hologram's severe impatience Kryten skipped the rest of the tale and headed for the dramatic punchline: “Well, when I opened the airlock to let the water out … All our Christmas decorations flooded out too!”
For a second Rimmer just stared at Kryten, expecting something more long winded. Then the weight of the news and what it would mean to Lister hit him.
“Oh...” he simply muttered, not knowing what to say.
Misunderstanding Rimmer's lack of response, Kryten started into his usual embellishments.
“You see sir… Mr Lister loves Christmas so much!”
“Yes, yes I know.” Rimmer sighed, surprised that for some reason the news had rather upset him too.
“It's the time he feels happiest” Kryten continued, oblivious to Rimmer's need to process the news and what it meant
“Yes, I know Kryten.” the hologram said as pointedly as he could, hoping the android would get the hint and smeg off.
“And with Miss Kochanski gone it was his last real connection to the human race...”
Boom!! A gasp escaped Arnold Rimmer; What? What did Kryten just say?
“Yes, thanks for the reminder Kryten, now please do smeg off.” He felt as if he'd just received a sucker punch.
In front of him Kryten's face turned into the android equivalent of mortified, as he realised the implication of what he just said.
“Oh Sir, I am so sorry! I didn't mean to insult, but you are dead and Miss Kochanski was a living breathing … -”
“Kryten, I've got a pencil and I am not afraid to use it.” Rimmer snapped.
“I'll be mopping C Deck sir!!” The android choked dejectedly as he turned away from the hologram.
“Wise decision Kryten, and turn the heating up while you're at it, I'm smegging freezing!” Rimmer called after the android as he hurried out. Then he leaned on the nearest computer desk for a few seconds to catch his breath and recover from the turmoil that had erupted inside of him in the last few minutes.
Knowing he wasn't really in the mood for reading anymore, Arnold Rimmer returned to the bunk room, even though he wasn't really sure what the point was. It wasn't as if Lister was in the mood to talk, he expected.
“It’s smegging boiling,” Lister whined, as Rimmer entered the room, kicking off his blanket as he lay in the upper bunk. “Who turned the heating up?”
“I asked Kryten to, I was freezing.” Rimmer shrugged, glad Lister started a conversation, as he hated doing that.
“What's with you and heat? You're always cold.” Lister grumbled, though there was a clear dejected tone to his voice.
“I don't know. It’s been like this ever since I became hardlight....” Rimmer started, then he trailed off, seeing Lister wasn’t really paying attention in his gloom. It was obvious Lister wasn’t in the mood for small talk, so Rimmer decided to broach the difficult subject of emotions. “Uh... I heard what happened and...” Rimmer searched for the right words that would hopefully get that dower look off his bunkmate’s face. “...I'm ... erm ... sorry.”
Clearly unimpressed by Rimmer's efforts at empathy Lister snorted. “Oh it's fine, Rimmer, just another memory gone, is all ...”
And with Miss Kochanski gone it was his last real connection to the human race...
Was it true? But what did that make him? - No, he had to focus on Lister at this moment.
For a second Rimmer wracked his brain: what did people usually say during those moments? “If there's anything I can do...?” Saying it, he was surprised to find he meant it, but Lister didn't seem to notice. “What did ya have in mind? Become a tree?” He turned his back to Rimmer. “Nah, it's just another loss I have to deal with I guess.”
A deep silence. Slightly confused Rimmer frowned. “Lister...are you depressed over this?”
A sad chuckle. “I was depressed years ago, Rimmer. Now I’m just chronically gloomy.”
Now Lister was taking the smeg, Rimmer felt. He had to talk some sense into that man, rile him into fighting spirit as he usually did. “Come on, it’s not that bad. Why are you so miserable about this?”
He had wanted to launch into a full 'Rimmer speech', but was stopped dead when Lister turned around with a look in his eyes that knocked the wind out of him. This was real.
“Yeah, well I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Back on Earth, Christmas was a huge thing for me, and it’s meant to be happy and you’re meant to spend it with family. But your family probably locked you in the attic or something to be rid of you so they could have a good time without you and yer stupid weaselly face. Yeah, I bet they didn't feed ya either, right? Having their Christmas dinners without ya, is that it? Not surprised. Smeg, you probably had lots of bad Christmases so I guess you don’t really care about any of that do you? Come on then, give me the Rimmer Christmas sob story!” Finishing his outburst Lister stared at Rimmer challengingly.
Reeling from the harsh words that had rained over him the hologram was quiet for a good few seconds.
“Alright, Lister,” Rimmer then snarled. He’d tried to be understanding, he'd tried to help, but Lister’s words had hit deeper than he’d openly admit. “You know what? No, I don’t care about Christmas or your stupid decorations.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, Scrooge.” Rimmer turned on his heels and stormed out, swallowing down the lump that had appeared in his throat.
“Smeghead...” Lister muttered as he pulled his pillow over his head.
Once more in the drive room, alone now, Rimmer sank onto a chair and let the dark thoughts wash over him:
“And with Miss Kochanski gone it's his last real connection to the human race...”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“You probably had lots of bad Christmases so I guess you don’t really care about any of that do you!”
His mind rewound to events from some time ago, when that despair squid hallucination had basically told him how useless he was to Lister and everyone else around him. A manifestation of his own inner feelings: his loneliness in a group of four and how desperately he wanted to connect.
What Lister had said just now was true, he'd only suffered bad Christmases growing up. His family hadn’t really celebrated the usual Christmas; it was ‘a pointless sentimental celebration that was the equivalent to burning money.’ Was what his father had said when a six year old Arnold had asked him about it. But even when they’d relented on Christmas dinner, Rimmer wasn’t allowed in the dining hall, usually on the excuse of him failing to achieve as well as his brothers, and he spent most of his Christmases hungry, sitting alone on the servant’s staircase listening in on the rest of his family.
If he was allowed at the table he would not get to eat or join in either as his father would start on his 'Christmas Themed Astronavigation quizzes' and as usual those who answered right got to eat, the winner would even get an extra pie. His brothers' plates were always overloaded, and a famished Rimmer had to look on as they wolfed down their dinners, getting berated when his growling stomach disrupted the proceedings.
His one bright treat during these meals was when the rest of the family left the table and he could collect the best scraps to eat in secret in his bedroom.
After moving out, he’d ignored Christmas pretty much simply out of habit and the lack of anyone to celebrate with. On Red Dwarf before the accident no-one invited him either and after the accident …
Over the years, Christmas had remained elusive for the boys; either through run-ins with GELFs or crazed stimulants, and the times when Christmas actually occurred Rimmer usually ended up excluding himself somehow, still convinced he wasn’t meant to be part of it as no-one had asked him to be. But there had to be a way.
A few days later, Lister walked into the drive room to see if he could find Kryten, only to find Rimmer asleep at one of the terminals. He was still angry with Rimmer about their argument and the fact they hadn't really spoken since. Sure, his comments might have been harsh, but if Rimmer wanted to spoil Christmas for him then he might as well ruin his day too. “Oi, smegger, wake up!” Lister kicked Rimmer’s boot, startling the hologram who sat up suddenly with a surprised yelp. Lister didn’t even bother to continue the conversation, he just turned round and left. Confused Rimmer rubbed his eyes a little, then simply returned his gaze to the monitor in front of him.
A few minutes later, Kryten bustled in. “Good morning, Mr Rimmer sir.” he clucked cheerfully.
“Morning, Kryten,” Rimmer yawned, not taking his eyes off the screen.
Kryten hesitated, but couldn’t keep his silence any longer. The hologram had been up for the past three nights on the scanners, and even against his better nature, Kryten was getting concerned.
“Sir … I've noticed you have been scanning for satellites and planetoids for the last few nights. May I asked what you're up to?”
Rubbing tired eyes and stifling a yawn Rimmer looked up at the Android. “I'm working on something for Lister.” He shrugged matter-of-factly. “A kind of... Christmas surprise.”
A buzz of surprised followed by several blinks went through Kryten as he entered 'stunned mode', then he uttered a shocked; “You sir? Are you ill?”
The hologram shook his head automatically. No, it was something else entirely; Lister's upset, coupled with the hurtful remarks that had brought back long buried memories of painful Christmases past. He knew the meaning of Christmas, even though he'd never experienced it. He also knew the pain a ruined Christmas could bring and he didn't want that to happen to Lister. The Scouser had only just overcome a painful depression after Kristine Kochanski left, he didn't want him to fall back into the moping, the tears, the alcohol abuse. Arnold Rimmer might be crap at emotions and small talk, but he could try this and show Lister he wasn't the unfeeling Scrooge he and the others took him for. He sighed.
“So what are you planning sir?”
Clenching and unclenching his hands as he sat behind the desk Rimmer tried to explain without giving anything away.
“I am trying to find a way to get him a Christmas tree. I've been looking for a type A nature satellite or planetoid, I'm certain there has to be one nearby. I've been up three nights now looking for the smegging bugger!” he was knackered.
“But I thought you hated Christmas.” Kryten offered, trying to process the new information that did not compute with old statistics.
“I do... kind of,” Rimmer brushed the hesitation away. “Never a thing in my family. But do you want to be stuck with Mr misery guts moping around the ship for at least the next two weeks?”
David Lister was a habitually cheerful and optimistic man who tried to see the best in situations, but that also meant that when he crashed he crashed hard. The idea of Lister descending once more into alcoholism and binge-eating fast food while snapping at everything that moved sounded like a horrific prospect for all involved. And Rimmer didn't exactly want a repeat of the hurt he'd felt during their last argument; he wanted to show Lister he did care, even though he didn't know why, even though he'd never had a Christmas.
“I understand, sir. But...Wouldn't you better tell him, sir? He still thinks you're being a smee … smeeeee ...”
“What is the use in spoiling a surprise?” Rimmer cut in, saving Kryten from trying to force out the rest of the insult. “He loves the bloody things, god knows why.”
“It would stop him being unreasonable upset with you, sir.” Kryten said, almost pleadingly.
“He’s always upset with me, unreasonably or otherwise.” Rimmer said as he stood up to stretch his stiffened back. “But imagine when he sees what I did. I, Arnold J. Rimmer, the Scroogey bastard who wasn't even allowed to spend Christmas dinner in the same room as the rest of his family, bringing the joy of Christmas to a Scouser who’s as far as we know is last human in existence. And...I don't like him being depressed,” Rimmer finished uncomfortably.
Knowing he betrayed too much care with that Rimmer quickly flared his nostrils and hardened his voice. “Well, it's my duty to keep him sane … Isn't it?”
Not sure how to respond to all this, Kryten's mechanical eyes blinked for a moment. Then his database came up with the only reply it could find: “Would … Would you like a cup of tea, Sir?”
A fourth night of secret searching and Arnold Rimmer finally found what he was looking for: a satellite that mimicked the frosty mountain trail, the ultimate place to find a Christmas tree. Rubbing his hands in glee Rimmer got up to find a Blue Midget, after quickly scribbling a note to tell Kryten where he'd gone. Starbug was the much bigger vehicle and Lister would almost certainly notice it’s absence, so the smaller ship would have to do.
A few hours later and, huddled in a thick thermal jacket, Arnold Rimmer set foot on the planetoid he was certain would provide him with the ultimate surprise for Dave Lister.
The icy winds that sloshed over the beautifully re-created snowy alps were enough to almost sent him hurtling back into the safety of Blue Midget. Even as a hologram the wind still cut down to his bones.
“No,” he chastised himself. “No weaseling out this time!” Then quickly, before he changed his mind again, he set off.
Despite the supposed warmth of the jacket, the walk up the hill was long and cold, though Rimmer enjoyed the rare chance at experiencing nature and fresh air. He enjoyed seeing the beautiful stretch of fresh snow.
After an hours climbing Rimmer was getting a little tired, not surprising as he'd barely slept a wink in the last few days. He had almost reached the top, but to his disappointment he hadn't seen one tree that looked 'right' to him yet. He wanted a tree that meant something. He then noticed that there was a new group of trees at the next ridge and with a sigh of resignation climbed even higher.
For a few moments Rimmer stood there, catching his breath, looking at a group of trees in front of him, thinking about that most wonderful of trees, picturing it in the bunk room.
Then, looking closer, he spotted one that came close; it was small and a little scruffy but it was earnest and it would fit perfectly. As he approached it, Rimmer became aware of an odd rumbling sound and snapped out of his dream.
Sadly, the moment Rimmer saw the avalanche, it was too late. Moments before the wave of snow hit, he instinctively reached out and grabbed the tree. He used all his strength to hold on as the snow rushed into him, not wanting to let go of his anchor, but both soon collapsed under the sea of snow.
Stretched out on the couch of the science room, Lister was reading a comic. Well, at least he was trying to. But the truth was: he couldn't stop thinking about Rimmer. It had been almost five days since their argument, and Rimmer had been almost as reclusive as Cat used to be.
The last time Lister had interacted with the guy was kicking him in the drive room, which he kind of regretted now, and he didn’t really recall seeing him these past two days at all, even his bed clearly hadn't been slept on in days.
He knew Rimmer usually came to the science room around 12 noon, pretending he was either studying or monitoring something or other, while instead he'd usually do some secret drawing or cartography. Lister had known about it for years but there had been an almost unspoken rule that they didn’t mention it.
Part of him felt guilty about the argument. He’d been angry about the decorations, true, and Rimmer hadn’t been very understanding, but the guy had at least tried. And the stuff he’d said about his family, that had been an especially low blow, considering the things Rimmer had confided to him over the years … He'd gone too far.
Suddenly the alert on the console that tracked Rimmer’s light bee started flashing.
HOLOGRAM NOT ON BOARD
The sign read.
Lister frowned: “What the hell?” In confusion he turned to call the hologram. “Rimmer, where are you?! What’s going on?”
Despite his utter refusal to admit it, Rimmer did tend to come when he was called, especially when Lister sounded panicked. However, a minute passed with no sign of the hologram. Instead, Kryten bustled in, spotted the alarm and made the 'Kryten knows something bad' face. Lister turned to him sharply. “Kryten, where’s Rimmer?”
“Kryten,” Lister warned.
“I can't tell you, sir!” Kryten burst out guiltily.
“Where is Rimmer Kryten?” Lister said again, feeling his patience begin to wane.
“He said to keep it secret!” Kryten wailed.
“What secret?” Kryten looked torn, and Lister could tell he needed one more push.
“Kryten,” Lister sighed. “If the smeghead’s gone off, he won't last five minutes out there on his own. You know what he’s like!”
“Oh sir, I can’t. My programming-“
“We broke your programming, Kryten,” Lister pointed out. “Stop stalling and tell me. Where did Rimmer go?”
“...he’s taken blue midget already, sir. He’s gone.”
For a second everything in Dave Lister's stopped. Had Rimmer left him, just like Krissy had? “Your family probably locked you in the attic or something to be rid of you so they could have a good time without you and yer stupid weaselly face.” Had those words driven Rimmer away? Of course they had. If there was one way to push Rimmer’s buttons it was bringing up his family. Why did he say that? Why did he do that?
“What do you mean he’s gone?” Lister started to panic. Rimmer was a self preserving coward, why would he suddenly take off without any previsions? He usually fled to the diesel desks if he needed space.
Kryten seemed to tell where Lister’s mind had gone. “Not for good sir,” he said soothingly. “He left for a planetoid we passed a short while ago. He said he was planning on getting you a Christmas tree.”
“What? Why would he do that?” Lister was utterly stunned now.
Not sure how much to give away Kryten rambled through tidbits of the conversation he and the hologram had shared.
“When I talked to him about it he said something about bad family Christmases, your depression, keeping you sane and Scroogey bastards, sir … He's been up for days scanning for the right planetoid because well … He … wanted to give you a ‘true surprise’.”
Lister didn't need to hear anything more to understand; he and his big mouth had driven Rimmer to do something dangerous and stupid.
“Smeg!” Lister said. “Smeg, smeg, smeg!” ‘You should have made up with that idiot the moment you had the chance.’ He thought.
“Which planetoid?“ He asked – they had to go after him, of course.
“The one we passed yesterday, sir. It’s similar to that of the alps, and has a large snowy forest of fir trees.”
Lister scrunched up his face in disdain;“Sounds like a cold place.”
And then, just when he thought he'd heard the worst, Kryten had to rub the guilt in even deeper;
“Oh, it is sir! I warned him about his light bee but he wouldn’t have it, you know how he gets sir!”
“What about his light bee?” Lister asked in a pained voice; please make it stop!- his brain added.
“It can be damaged by very cold temperatures, sir. It’s why Mr Rimmer is susceptible to feeling the cold, it’s inbuilt to stop it from being damaged.”
For a second all Lister could picture was Rimmer; cold, upset, tired and alone walking snowy fields, searching for a Christmas tree and looking like George smegging Bailey.
“Oh that stupid smegger!” he groaned.
A worrying beeping sound came up from Blue Midget's tracer. The Dwarf had finally located Blue Midget’s position on the planetoid. However, the moment the scanner focussed on the area around it, warnings started flashing across the screens:
“What the hell!?” Lister exclaimed, his heart in his throat.
“There’s been an avalanche, sir.”
“I can see that! We have to get down there!”
“Don't worry too much, sir. We don't know if Mr Rimmer is in danger.”
Lister turned to Kryten to give him a long suffering look.
“It's Rimmer, of course he's in danger!”
Within moments Lister dashed out of the room and within minutes he was on board Starbug, dragging a whimpering Kryten and a protesting Cat after him.
Beneath the snow Rimmer tried to move, but could only succeed in shifting his lightbee slightly. Apparently his hard light drive was disagreeable with snow, as it was still active but his software couldn’t tell the boundaries between where he ended and the snow began. His body was growing numb and he was getting tired. He couldn't keep his eyes open much longer, but he had to wait, fight, hope that they’d realise that he was in trouble, that he was gone at all.
I was always a master at hide and seek as a child, it’s not a gift you lose...
Ha. I win.
He thought. Oh god, he wasn’t thinking straight. Why had he decided this was a good idea? He'd wanted to make Lister happy, but why? No good deed goes unpunished apparently. A crackle from his lightbee. His chest hurt. He was fading.
During the two hour flight Rimmer's signal kept getting weaker, while Lister's fear and worry grew stronger. By the time they'd reached the planetoid, the lightbee's signal was barely audible, while Lister was almost out of his mind with worry; if anything had happened to Rimmer he'd never forgive himself.
The second Starbug's stairs were down he ran out to start searching for the Hologram so fast even the Cat couldn't catch up with him.
Within moments they'd tracked down Blue Midget, but much to Lister's disappointment there was no sign of Rimmer.
A sick feeling settled into Lister’s gut like a stone as the three friends made their way to where the tracker had last registered Rimmer’s light bee. Not even the Cat was joking now: his catty 'let's ditch Rimmer' comments feeling off now it was a real possibility that they might have just lost one of their group. After half an hour's climb, they reached the spot the computer readings had pointed to, but still no sign of Rimmer. The snow was fresh from the avalanche, making it difficult for them to walk any faster than a slow trod. By the time they’d reached the location. The scanner read the previous ‘ground’ level was a good four feet below them, the tips of a few battered fir trees sticking out of the snow. The stone in Lister's stomach dropped to his feet. This couldn't be… could it? “Rimmer!?” Lister called, but Kryten quickly shushed him. “Don’t shout, sir. It could bring down another avalanche.”
Suddenly a sad, tired, whiny buzzing sound came up from the snow. Looking closer Lister also saw a weary blue light struggling to the surface. “No, no, Rimmer!” Lister trembled as he simply collapsed to his knees and started digging with his gloved hands. The cold almost immediately sunk into his fingers but he kept digging.
“Hold on, man, we’ll get you out!”
“Sir, let me!”
“No, Kryten, you're not waterproof, I'm not losing two friends in one day. Just get the shovels! I'm coming Rimmer!”
Finally after what seemed like an eternity they unearthed the arm of the frozen Hologram, then his upper torso. His skin was so pale he was almost invisible against the snow. A pull went through Lister's heart seeing Rimmer was still holding on to the Christmas tree in a death grip, which had slowly loosened as he’d lost consciousness.
Finally, after a little more digging, the snow loosened enough for him to drag the hologram free. Rimmer didn’t respond, but as he hefted Rimmer into a bridal carry Lister found he wasn’t very heavy. ‘Duh, he’s made out of light’ Lister thought to himself. “Okay, lets get him back to the Bug...”
Turning round Lister saw Kryten holding Rimmer’s tree, looking around to throw it away.
“No Kryten! We’re talking that home!”
“But sir, it's near bald and broken!”
“Don't care! Arn risked his life for the smegging thing, we're taking it!”
The easiest way would have been for Rimmer to be switched off and the light-bee to be warmed by it's charger, but the extreme cold had corrupted the system and switching Rimmer off would be dangerous. At worse it could corrupt, or wipe the hologram completely and even though they had previous memory saves Lister hated doing it. It felt like killing the present Rimmer. But if they wanted to prevent this from happening, they had to get him warm soon.
The patchy heating in Starbug was not enough to defrost the deeply frozen hologram and, despite bundling him in all the blankets they could find, Rimmer still felt like a block of ice. Lister wracked his brain for anything that could possibly help. He’d done a first aid course once, he’d failed it but there had to be be something he could remember. Hypothermia needed... what was it? Body-heat?
In any other situation, he would have tried to think of another solution, but right now the hologram wasn’t even shivering and time was running out; Lister lifted up the blankets and scooched into the bunk next to him. The Scouser almost jumped straight out again when he felt just how cold Rimmer was, but he grit his teeth and waited it out. Sooner or later, he would start warming up right?
A few minutes later, there was a little improvement but it wasn’t enough. Time for drastic measures.
“Cat, come on.”
“You’re kidding, with this suit?” The Cat looked seriously appalled, but Lister wasn't in the mood to sweet-talk the feline's vanity. He was going to get Rimmer warm no matter what it took.
“Get in or I’ll get Kryten to blast every last piece of fish out of the airlock.”
The Cat froze and thought for a few seconds. Then, grumbling, he finally clambered in on the other side of the bunk but stayed as far from touching Rimmer as he could manage; but at least their shared body heat was helping some. Gently, Lister wrapped his arms around his frozen friend.
“Come on, mate,” he muttered. “We’ve gotten through worse than this...”
A while after they'd took off back towards Red Dwarf, Rimmer started shivering fiercely, which freaked Lister out until Kryten, who dashed between checking on the autopilot and boiling water so he could put warm flannels on his frozen crew mates head, told him it was a good sign. Human bodies shivered to warm themselves up, and in the hologram it was probably some subconscious muscle memory.
This proved correct when about half an hour later, just after they had settled him down carefully into his own bed in the bunk room back on the Dwarf, the quaking calmed down to a slight shiver and Rimmer started to stir.
Feeling as if inside a heavy cotton mist Rimmer was aware he was lying on a bunk … his bunk? but that he was also being held in a bear-hug by a familiar figure.
“Lister?” he mumbled weakly into the blankets. He was really cold, but the arms were sinking warmth into his body.
“Hey, Rimmer,” Lister said quietly. Cat was asleep to their left. “How’re you doing?”
“S’ cold...” Rimmer managed to gasp.
It was difficult for Rimmer to talk as he he didn't seem to have any strength while his teeth seemed unable to stop chattering and his mouth felt odd and frozen.
“Yeah, don’t worry, we’re warming you up.”
With that Lister held him even tighter, feeling the fast breathing gasps of pain and cold that shook through his friends body.
“What are you...?” The hologram tried to ask.
“It's okay Rimmer, we'll get ya warm soon.” Grateful shaky sighs answered this.
“Nice. Nice hug.” the hologram tried to force a smile to show Lister he appreciated his efforts, but it was too draining.
“It’s okay, mate.” Lister said as he rubbed his friends arm. “Just promise me you’ll never do something like that again. I almost lost you man!”
Through his exhausted haze these words reached Rimmer like a lifeline; Lister had missed him? Been Worried about him?
“Sorry...” he whispered almost inaudibly.
“Nah, it’s okay.” Lister said warmly. “You’re here. We got you back. That’s what mattered.”
The white face on the pillow stared at Lister as if searching for something; “Not a Scrooge.” he then forced out; he wanted Lister to understand why he left, what he had tried to do.
“No, you’re not,” Lister agreed with difficulty, a lump forming in his throat. “I'm so sorry Arn, I never should …”
“Wanted you to have... proper Chr’stm’s...”
“We will, mate.”
Looking in Rimmer's eyes, knowing the worry that was still inside of him, Dave Lister knew one thing with certainty: “We are a family.”
For a brief second Lister saw Rimmer's eyes light up upon hearing those words, then the utterly exhausted hologram's eyes closed as he sank away again, his body leaning limply against him. But this time his simulated breathing continued, labored but steady. Lister sighed with relief as he stared down at his sleeping friend: they'd got through the worst of it and made it and now they would have a proper Christmas; together.
The next day, propped up with pillows on Lister's couch, laying on the electrical blanket, wrapped in duvets, blankets, scarfs and other warming fabrics and with a steaming mug of cocoa in his hands, Rimmer sleepily looked at Lister who was cutting Christmas ornaments from tinfoil.
“These are gonna look great on the tree!” Lister smiled, holding up two freshly created stars appreciatively.
“What tree?” Rimmer frowned, his voice still rather weakened by exhaustion, pain and cold.
“Your tree.” Lister nodded knowingly.
“My tree?” Rimmer was confused. “But … I thought my tree got crushed when …” He shivered, it was too soon to say the word 'avalanche'.
“Yeah, she's a bit banged up,” Lister smiled, “I give ya that but it's still good …”
Just then Kryten walked in dragging the object of discussion behind him with a doubtful look on his face, leaving a trail of pine needles behind him.
“You kept that horrible tree?” Rimmer scrunched up his face in disgust. “Here, I was trying to get you something good.”
From the table Lister looked at Rimmer with an excited look in his eyes.
“What ya talking about, ya smeghead? It’s the best tree in the universe!”
Lister grinned on the inside: oh he'd show Rimmer what that tree could still look like despite what happened. He then noticed the hologram's tired expression. He had been up for an hour now, but maybe that had been too soon. He'd better get him to have a nap, the guy was probably too proud to bring up he needed rest. Also with him asleep he could work on the surprise.
“You go and have a rest, you'll smegging see I'm right when you see it lit up.”
“I’m invited?” The look of utter surprise Rimmer gave him startled Lister had Rimmer thought he wasn't welcome?
“Of course you are you smegging idiot! Even if you hadn’t gotten us the tree, you’d be invited. That’s what Christmas is, spending time with your family.”
Rimmer was speechless, but Lister saw the gratitude in his eyes, which stirred a feeling of sadness and guilt. He'd never considered inviting Rimmer to the Christmas party before, he'd thought the hologram knew he'd be welcome and just never bothered to turn up. At the same moment it hit him: all those trips they tried to sneak out without him, all the times they'd told him he was spoiling their fun. It had become an unconscious habit, but Rimmer must have thought that it meant he'd better stay away when they had a party, thinking he'd only bring the festivities down. Alone at Christmas for all those years. For Lister, a man who loved Christmas and it's spirit more than anything, this was heartbreaking.
“Get some rest, Rimsy,” Lister said gently, forcing a smile to mask his upset, “you still need to warm up properly.” He quickly got up to give Rimmer's shoulder a friendly squeeze and to take away his cocoa, so he could go to sleep.
“Not finished ...” Rimmer croaked wearily, he'd been too tired to drink fast, but had really been enjoying sipping from the warm drink.
“That's okay,” Lister reassured him. “I'll get ya a new one when you've rested.”
That seemed okay with the hologram. But when Lister had removed the cup from Rimmer's hands and put it on the table he turned round to see that Rimmer looked a bit doubtful.
“Something wrong, Rimmer?” Lister asked in confusion.
“Warm hands ...” the hologram sighed.
Lister got it: the cup had kept his hands warm, well he could fix that for him.
“Wait, I'll sort that for you. Got just the thing.”
His tired friend nodded vaguely.
Lister quickly dashed to the bunkroom to find his thermal-gloves which he put in the microwave for half a minute. Then he returned to slip them over Rimmer's thin fingers. His efforts were rewarded by a grateful sigh.
“That's nice, eh Rimmer? Now go rest a bit.” The weakened Hologram obeyed the order without question and was gone the moment he closed his eyes.
For a brief moment Lister stared at Rimmer. Don't know what I'd have done if I'd lost you yesterday … He thought. Then he quickly shook himself out of it, moping or feeling sorry for himself wouldn't change a thing. His plan, on the other hand, would.
With the hologram resting, Lister and the posse took to work; This was not going to be just a Christmas, for once they'd have a 'smegging great Christmas!', Rimmer deserved that much.
First Lister took to work on the tree: building a holder for it to stand in after putting it upright, then green spray with a touch of white silver added gave it a lovely shine and made it look fresh and full. He then had Kryten put it through an irradiation preservative process so they'd be able to keep it in it's current state for the next few decades.
The ornaments were not what made Christmas, Lister decided: the thought was what made them Christmas. He had created some swell looking decorations, he felt. Meanwhile, a few altered shiny things and jewels from the Cat added some great sparkle. Then the two of them sewed some lovely hangers. Meanwhile, Kryten brought in some wonderful things too, while half a dozen of his spare fingers in torch mode replaced the candles on the tree rather well.
When Rimmer finally woke up from his much needed rest, he thought he was still dreaming: the room suddenly looked like a low budget Christmas movie. It glittered, it sparkled, it was just beautiful.
And in the middle of it all, covered in glitter, garlands and everything shiny was …
“My tree …” Rimmer whispered shakily. But how could it be? It looked proud and green and strong. It was exactly what he'd dreamed of in those moments before … another shiver. Don't think about that, he thought. Not now. A hand on his shoulder.
“Told you it'd be beautiful, didn't I Arn?” Lister's voice said kindly. Rimmer lifted his own hand to touch Lister's.
“See closer ...” he trembled.
Carefully Lister helped Rimmer up and supported the hologram so he could see the tree up close. Lister was incredibly proud of the work the three of them and a few helpful Skutters had delivered. He smiled seeing Rimmer gently touch one of the garlands. It had been Kryten's idea: popcorn with glittery gold paint – they'd irradiated that too. The Skutters had created several candy-canes, while the Cat, in the end, reluctantly parted with a big surprise: real baubles. He'd hoarded them the Christmas before. The feline also donated a giant silver angel fish, which he insisted should be put on top of the tree. In lieu of anything resembling a topper Lister wasn't complaining.
“Don't ya love it?” Lister asked, gesturing not only at the tree but the entire decoration filled room. “I think I love it even more than what we used to have … as it comes from all of us, together … Rimmer?”
No reply, the hologram just stood there, staring at the tree and the room.
“Arn, are you okay?” Lister asked worriedly, as he put his hand on Rimmer's shoulder.
To his surprise Lister suddenly felt Rimmer tremble beneath his touch, his breath hitched.
“Beautiful …” the hologram whispered after a while.
Feeling slightly awkward Lister raised his eyebrows. Was Rimmer crying? He wondered, then decided not to mention it, aware of his friends pride. For a few more seconds they stood there together, until Lister noticed that Rimmer started leaning onto him a little more for support.
“Come, back to bed with ya, I'll get ya the fresh cocoa I promised.” He smiled at his friend as he tried leading Rimmer towards the door to go to the bunkroom.
“Can I stay here ...” Rimmer suddenly asked. “It's good here.”
“Sure,” Lister nodded, glad Rimmer seemed to enjoy the decorations so much. “I'll get you comfy.”
In the three days leading up to Christmas, Rimmer spent most of his time on the couch in his blanket mountain on Kryten and Lister's orders. Dedicated to duty, he'd wanted to return to his usual routine after resting up for a day, but he'd felt faint, ill and still rather cold within moments of getting up and had soon gratefully returned to the warmth of the recreation room and his couch cocoon.
It didn't come as a surprise to Dave Lister, his hologramic friend had been through hell and still looked decidedly pale and drawn, he needed rest and lots of it to recover. Lister had eased Rimmer's last guilt about neglecting his duties, telling him he deserved a Christmas break and it was nonsense to resume his rituals so soon before Christmas.
Deep down inside Rimmer had to admit he loved laying in the beautifully decorated room and rather took to having Lister sit with him, reminiscing, eating candy and watching Christmas movies together. Sometimes Kryten joined them, and once or twice Cat had also dropped in.
It was one of the pleasures Rimmer had always denied himself, certain he wasn't supposed to laze around watching things that were soppy. “It's part of the Christmas experience!” Lister insisted – and who was Rimmer to break tradition?
Then Christmas eve arrived filled with glühwein, crisps, chips, cranberries, mince pies and song. Kryten made sure Rimmer took it easy, though: there was a lot more Christmas to come and he didn't want the hologram to be worn out before the big day.
Early Christmas day was as calm as the days before it, with the friends watching movies and eating nice things – Kryten had even managed to chase down some eggnog, which went down nicely with Rimmer.
There were gifts, though Lister had insisted he didn't want any as he'd already received the best gifts ever; Rimmer home safe and the best Christmas decorations he'd ever had. He had decided he'd wanted to gift his friends instead. Cat and Kryten were easy: over the years Lister had collected all the jewelry on the ship the Cat had missed so he'd always have something good to gift (or distract) him with. This year there was a glittering diamond locket, in which Lister had inserted a picture of … the Cat, which kept the feline occupied for several hours. For Kryten he'd ordered a specialist mop from the android channel that the mechanoid had long since coveted. The android was overjoyed and spent the best part of half an hour thanking 'Mr Lister'.
That just left Rimmer. The most difficult one. What did you give a man to show him you're sorry and to make him see he's part of the posse? It had to be personal and from the heart.
In the end the present Rimmer received from his Lister and his shipmates was practical as well as thoughtful: Lister and Kryten had installed his own personal heater in his bunk so the hologram would never be cold at night anymore and would hopefully make it easier for him to sleep. As an addition Lister also gave him a fleece snuggle rug, which he hoped would invite the Hologram to continue in his new found delight of snuggling warmly on the couch to watch movies with him. Kryten and Cat added the gift of gloves – which the Cat had embroidered- and a nice scarf, for the colder Starbug days.
After receiving his gifts and kind words Rimmer just stared at them for a few seconds, at a loss of what to say. Then he muttered a quick: “Can … can I be excused?” And rushed out of the room, leaving the others in quiet confusion.
A few minutes later the hologram returned, trying to look as casual as he could, but failing miserably. Lister understood; the poor guy had obviously been completely overwhelmed.
“Thank you all so much for … my gifts …” Rimmer stammered, standing in the middle of the room, feeling embarrassed seeing everyone look at him expectantly. “I … just … thank you.”
Feeling sorry for him Lister got up quickly to wrap an arm around the faltering hologram. “That's okay Rimsy, glad you like them.” His friend nodded. “I do. I've never … never ...” and Rimmer faltered again, so Lister gently coaxed him back to the couch. “Sure Arn, it's fine, you deserve it. Have some more egg-nog, then we'll start with the games.”
That brought the cheer back on Rimmer's face; “Games, I love games!”
So there were games, lots of them; Charades, hangman, carnelli, Elephant's foot umbrella stand. Laughter, friendly bickering, more egg-nogg, for Rimmer it could have lasted forever; this was what so many movies had told him Christmas was all about. He was dissapointed it had to end because the Cat got bored but then Kryten cheered him right up again; dinner was ready!
Christmas dinner was all about warmth: starting with warm cider and more glühwein, with a curry-soup for starters. It was far too mild for Lister's taste, and he ended up spooning in three more tablespoons of curry powder in his bowl when Kryten wasn’t looking, but the others seemed to enjoy it. Rimmer eyed the bowl of offending orange liquid suspiciously for a moment when it was put in front of him, but after trying a slight taste he relaxed and grabbed some bread. It did make him feel warm on the inside, which he enjoyed. Nice warm fondue with nice nibbly things to dip in with hot chestnuts and cranberries on the side were the main course followed by hot steaming chocolate Christmas pudding and brandy. With all this alcohol flowing Rimmer was soon 'nicely drunk' and felt as if his body was positively aglow.
Christmas dinner was followed by a fun game of cards that Rimmer … won. Well … won-ish. Lister later admitted to Kryten he'd never reverse cheated before and he'd probably never do it again. But just this once he wanted to do everything in his power to assure that Rimmer had a good time – and he knew how the hologram could get when losing a card game. This was about the best christmas ever and the delighted smile on Rimmer's face told him he was succeeding. He'd never seen Rimmer glow with happiness before and there was still a lot more fun planned for the next day.
Laying in his bunk, properly warm for the first time since his accident a sleepy Rimmer reveled a bit in the recent memory of his first real Christmas day. Drowsy from all the alcohol and excitement he was soon almost nodding off when Lister sat himself on the edge of his bunk, smiling at him. “Did you enjoy yourself today, Arn?” Awake again Rimmer stared at his friend.
“I …” Could he tell Lister it was possible the best time he'd ever had? That, for the first time, he'd really felt included? How could he put all that in words without embarrassing himself? Lister seemed to notice his discomfort and gave his arm a friendly rub. “Hey, it's okay, I can see it in your eyes.”
Rimmer eyed him gratefully.
Then they sat in silence for a moment, both lost in thought, until Lister shivered.
“Smeg …” Lister whined in annoyance. “Think Kryten's forgotten to put on the night heat!”
“Must have been that third vimto and liquid nitrogen.” Rimmer sighed sluggishly, feeling deliciously lazy.
“Easy for you to joke, you've got yer own heater now, I'm smegging freezing.” Lister pouted, looking rather miserable. With a faux long suffering sigh Rimmer opened his duvet, patting the mattress invitingly. “Go on then.” he sniggered, amused at the reversal of the situation.
Lister's eyebrows raised so much they almost ended in his hairline, then he grinned; “You're serious?”
The hologram scowled up at him; “Yes you gimboid. Now hurry up before I change my mind, we're losing heat here.”
With that Lister quickly squeezed in as Rimmer scooted over to the wall, a bit to close to his inbuilt nightstand and heater for Lister's liking.
“Careful you don't hurt yourself, Arn.” he warned.
A quick blink before a tiny smile, after which Rimmer muttered a quiet; “Thank you.” he seemed suddenly shy as he fidgeted with his fingers.
They were both quiet again for a moment, until a very self-conscious Rimmer cleared his throat a few times, desperate to work himself past the awkwardness of the situation. “Don’t you miss having Christmas’ with your actual family?” The hologram finally asked in a rather uncharacteristically gentle voice.
“You guys are my actual family.” Lister started cheerfully, but stopped when Rimmer gave him a look. “...yeah, I kind of do. But by now I’ve spent far longer up here with you guys than I did on Earth so I don’t think about it too much. It's home now.”
Rimmer chuckled softly as he started getting more comfortable next to his Scouser friend. “I guess you're right.”
For a second Lister stared at Rimmer and knew his answer had been the truth: over the years Rimmer had been everything: his nemesis, his tutor, his brother, his exasperated parent and now his annoying best friend. Kryten had been his mum in many ways while Cat was the daft brother he never had.
“You see: all my life I was abandoned in a way, but you guys have been with me through it all. Especially you, Arn, and even though we fight and bicker, we care and when the chips are down we're there for each other. That's what family is.”
A smile formed on Rimmer's face. “I never thought of it like that … Maybe because I never had a normal family.”
That earned him a knowing glance from Lister who snorted: “What about me?”
His earlier tension eased a cheerful Rimmer smirked “You're right, you win. Night Listy.” with a delighted sigh Rimmer snuggled deeper under the blankets. Lister wanted to follow suit but all the talk about family suddenly reminded him of something that made him jolt upright, crying out: “Smeg, I forgot to open my dad's Christmas card!”
A drowsy Rimmer peaked at him from under sleep weary eyelids; “It's still Christmas in the morning. And you know what's in it ...” he grumbled in annoyance.
“Nah, was totally pished when I wrote it, to keep it a surprise.” the Scouser muttered slightly defensively.
“Goit ...” Rimmer gently chastised, his voice sleepy. With a sigh of resignation Lister resettled in the bottom bunk, the hologram was right he might as well do it tomorrow, especially as felt so warm and cozy right now.
“You know,” Lister suddenly mused, “one of the best things about discovering I am my own dad is realising that we spent every birthday and Christmas together!”
Hearing those words penetrate his sleepy haze an actual guffaw escaped Rimmer's mouth.
“Wha?” Lister asked innocently, hearing the uncharacteristically loud chortles from his friends.
“Do you ever realise you have a really weird life?” the hologram asked, between laughs.
Looking at Rimmer laying there, smiling up at him, Lister grinned back, a warm feeling stirring in his chest. “Sure. And I wouldn't want it any other way.”
And with that he finally lay down and snuggled against the strange man he'd shared most of his life with. “Lister .. what the smeg …?” Rimmer started, confused at suddenly having Lister so close, and the fact he rather liked it. “Oh shut up you smegger, you nearly got yourself killed getting me a Christmas tree so don't you dare deny you like me!”
In the half dark Rimmer's nostrils twitched in panic as he swallowed thinking of what to say. “I …” He sighed, then he continued falteringly; “I … do think it's a good way to conserve heath …”
Shaking his head Lister snorted. “Sure, if that's what you want to call it … git.”
With that he felt Rimmer tentatively moving his arms to hold him closer. Both recalled the last time they'd been this close in very different circumstances only a week before. Lister shivered, then banished the thought. They were here, together and that was all that mattered.
“Merry Christmas Listy ...” the hologram suddenly whispered in his ear. “Merry Christmas, Rimsy …” Lister said just as softly as he kissed his cheek. Then they said nothing, as they basked in the warmth of each others arms until it lulled them into a gentle sleep with dreams of many happy Christmases still to come.