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An Unexpected Change

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Lister lay on the top bunk with the covers over his head, pretending to be asleep. In fact he was squinting into the darkened room, watching Rimmer move around. Just two days ago they’d finally caught up with him on Rimmerworld. A few hours for them had been six hundred years for Rimmer, and he’d spent most of that time in a prison cell. A number of failed attempts at making a female clone of himself had created nothing but exact replicas. Rimmer after Rimmer after Rimmer. And, in time, they’d overthrown him and locked him up. Thinking of so many Rimmers gave Lister the creeps.

He looked on with concern as Rimmer continued to pace, an unreadable expression on his face. Lister was worried. Rimmer was a smeghead, but he was also a friend—or the nearest he’d ever get to being a friend—and something was definitely up with him. On their return to Starbug, he’d said nothing of his time away, except to explain the obvious things, such as how he’d used the supplies in the escape pod. Once he’d reached the whole cloning thing, he’d clam up, and Lister still had no idea what had made his doubles take over.

***

Rimmer moved around the room, unaware that he was being scrutinized. He wore a pair of his old regulation pyjamas. Since meeting Legion and acquiring a hard light drive, he’d been able to touch again and could now dress himself in his former attire. His mind had been in constant turmoil recently—the last 500 years or so, in fact. That’s why he paced. Movement gave him something to concentrate on. Lying down to sleep, there was nothing to hold off the thoughts... the memories. Luckily, as a hologram, he didn’t really need to sleep. It was just something he’d done to maintain the illusion that he was alive. Still—he glanced at Lister’s bunk—better dead than smeg. He immediately cut off this thought and paced more quickly.

He paused in front of the mirror and peered at himself through the darkness. A pale, slightly haggard face greeted him. His metallic H, showing his hologramatic status, glinted on his forehead beneath his short, dark curls. Rimmer reached up and touched the letter, feeling first coolness then a faint heat as his fingers warmed the surface. He glanced at the clock on the nearby shelf. It was almost morning. Time to climb into bed so it would look like he’d slept. After a final glance at his face in the glass, he crept to the lower bunk and eased himself down onto the mattress, pulling up the covers.

***

Lister watched all this in silence, trying to breathe slowly and deeply, to give the illusion of sleep. Something was different alright—different and very wrong. All he had to do now was think of the best way to handle the situation. With this purpose in mind, he closed his eyes and attempted to get a few hours’ shut-eye before dawn.

***

“Thank God you’re here, buddy!” exclaimed the Cat when Lister appeared in the cockpit a few hours later. “A flashing light just appeared on my screen, and it does not go with this outfit. I’ve gotta change!” Without waiting for Lister’s response, the Cat shot from the co-pilot’s seat and out of the room.

“Good morning, Mr Lister, sir,” piped up Kryten cheerfully.

“Hey Kryters. Anything happening?” Lister flopped into his seat and put his feet up on the console.

“Nothing to report, sir. Though the vapour trail readings suggest that we may be gaining slightly on Red Dwarf.”

“Good,” said Lister, and left it at that. He liked to keep as quiet as possible during these discussions. The others generally blamed him for the loss of their main ship, since he was the one who’d parked it. That seemed a little unfair, though, he decided with a mental shrug. After all, all small blue-green planetoids looked the same to him.

“Why don’t you head off, man?” he said, looking around at Kryten. “I’m fine here.”

“But, sir,” Kryten objected, “Mr Rimmer hasn’t arrived to relieve me yet.”

“He’ll be here in a minute,” Lister pressed. “You go.” He mentally willed his friend to leave. He’d decided to confront Rimmer during their shared shift, while he couldn’t run off, and he wanted a few moments alone before Rimmer arrived.

“Very well. If you’re sure, sir. I’ll go and start the ironing, and then perhaps you’d like a curry omelette for breakfast?”

“Yeah, man, that’d be good,” agreed Lister, and at that, Kryten finally exited.

Lister let out an audible sigh once he was alone. He tried to get his head straight, but decided he couldn’t think on an empty stomach. He didn’t want to call Kryten back though. He just needed a little snack. He gently patted his jacket, smiling to himself when he struck gold. Reaching into his inner right pocket, he pulled out a dismal-looking mint. With infinite care, he picked off the worst of the muck and fluff, then popped it into his mouth.

“That is absolutely disgusting!” a voice rang out behind him.

Lister sat up in his seat and looked round. Rimmer had arrived and was regarding him with a look of both revulsion and something else that Lister couldn’t quite make out.