Lister shrugged. With the shock of his freshly restored memory and their subsequent row stinging like a mental paper cut, he couldn’t bring himself to react more than that.
Especially when he knew Rimmer would be back. Let him gallivant across the multiverse and maybe he’d meet a version of himself with enough decency not to drag people’s Grans into idle banter for the sake of winning a trivial pissing contest.
He lasted longer than Lister had expected, all things considered.
Rimmer was happy enough to talk about the universe he’d dubbed Ratworld, where evolved Rats rather than Cats had overrun Red Dwarf and a posh version of Lister was their reluctant snugglemate. Lister shuddered. Poor bugger.
He also described in some detail the universe where he’d stumbled into the ship just as the radiation leak was occurring, pouring scorn on the cowardice of that version of Hollister. Like he could talk, the smegger.
Lister sat and chortled his way through the bizarre tale, waiting for him to get to the one which had been the final straw. But the hologram tailed gradually off before rounding on Kryten, declaring it was high time he inspected C Deck for cleanliness. He strutted out of the bunkroom with the bemused mechanoid in tow.
Fine. Lister could wait.
It took several days before Cat went on one of his regular mall trips, accompanied by Kryten to push the giant trolley they’d found in a loading area.
Rimmer thumbed through his Astronavigation For Dummies book, its well worn spine falling open in various places. His right leg jiggled and his lips were pursed.
“So when are you gonna tell me?”
“Why you came back. What was it about that last universe that was so unbearable?”
Long-fingered hands clenched together. “Nothing.”
“C’mon, man. That was about as convincing as Reggie Wilson’s toupee.” He smirked at the hologram’s glare.
Rimmer let the book thump shut with an exasperated sigh. “Clearly you’re not going to stop badgering me until I tell you.”
Lister nodded emphatically as he seated himself opposite Rimmer at the bunkroom table. He popped the tab of his lager as the hologram drew a deep breath before reeling off a speech through visibly gritted teeth.
“It was a version of Red Dwarf where the accident never happened. I was a Navigation Officer. You … were the Captain.”
Lister whistled. “How’d that happen, eh? Guess Hollister really was right, ‘cept I’m more than quite bright.”
“You were rich as well. Helium-7 shares.”
“And shagging an alternate version of you to boot. Man, no wonder you came back.”
Rimmer froze. “Wh … what?”
Dark eyes sparkled with mischief. “C’mon, Arn. Didn’t you ever wonder why you never met any of the other Rimmers?”
The journey Rimmer’s face went through was the most satisfying thing he’d seen in a while. “You ... you…”
“He looked the same as you, more or less. They automatically get put into your uniform. But he was less uptight.”
The hologram gaped at him, speechless.
“I tell ya, I thought we were pretty good for our ages, but those two must be at it like rabbits. He couldn’t take his eyes off me in me leather togs. No prizes for guessing what he bought for his Captain the minute he got back home.”
Rimmer finally recovered his voice. “Are you telling me that they were … together? They can’t have been.”
“Why the hell not?”
“They were both married. To women.”
“Oh yeah, he did explain that to me. They broke up temporarily because his family were interfering, pestering him for grandchildren. He found a girl who wanted to get away from Io but isn’t into sex so they had kids with sperm implantation. And the Captain had married a stripper on the rebound but luckily she’s into open relationships so it all worked out in the end.”
Rimmer’s nostrils flared. “Are you still taking the smeg? That sounds like something out of one of your stupid romance films.”
“Nah, on the level now. I guess he could’ve been lying, but why bother?”
A silence stretched between them. Lister sipped his lager as Rimmer inspected his fingernails.
“So, during the course of your delightful gossip session with this other me, did he happen to mention just how his version of Lister came to be the Captain?”
“No, he didn’t get a chance before you returned and yanked him back to his universe. Spill it, then.”
“He spotted the faulty drive plate. And fixed it.”
Flabbergasted in his turn, Lister goggled. “Wow,” he said faintly.
“I don’t know where I was at the time. Couldn’t bring myself to ask.”
Lister looked the hologram up and down in slow realisation. “That’s why you didn’t want to talk about it.”
Rimmer’s voice was barely audible. “If you hadn’t gone into stasis…”
“Who knows? Maybe. Or maybe this other me paid more attention in basic training.”
At Rimmer’s expression, he reached out and covered the hologram’s hand with his own. “Hey, remember Krissie’s version of me? Her Dave?”
Rimmer arched a brow. “Hardly. I never met him, remember?”
“Yeah, but she was always going on about him. Maybe a bit less by the time you were back on the scene. Anyway, the point is he was a hologram. So he obviously didn’t spot the drive plate fault in that universe, did he?”
Rimmer perked up. “True.”
“No matter what universe you’re in, it’s never gonna be perfect. We’re stuck with each other, man.”
“Are you telling me you’re not jealous of that Captain version of you? Rich, successful, having all the sex he wants?”
Lister sighed. “Yeah, a bit. But he’s still gotta run a ship the size of a city. Sounds a bit too much like hard work.”
“And he has a moustache which makes him look like a 1970s porn star.”
“Wha’?! Stop taking the smeg, man. No version of me could ever grow a decent moustache.”
Rimmer smirked. “Didn’t I ever tell you about the Mirror Universe?”