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Three Million Years

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Lister would never admit it, but he had good days and bad days. 

On the good days he would roam the ship singing, or encourage Cat to accompany him out onto a nearby planet, and annoy Rimmer with all the enthusiasm he had three million years ago when they were the lowest of the low on a ship bustling with people.

But on the bad days... On the bad days he would lay in his bunk, reminiscing on the past while clipping his toenails or reading inane magazines, half-watching Rimmer revise fruitlessly or do exercises for all of the thirty seconds he could bear. And when he was alone, either in his room, or in the endless bowels of the ship, occasionally he would let slip a tear two for his lost mates.

He never admitted his feelings, of course. None of the crew would understand them anyway. Kryten couldn’t understand the majority of complex emotion, Cat had the emotional range of a silk suit, and Rimmer... 

Well he knew what Rimmer would say. 

“Oh Listy, I didn’t know we were impersonating teenage girls today.” Or, “Lister, you little wimp, when I was a child if we cried our mother would stuff fruits in our ears and make us hop to church. I grew a grapevine out of one ear and a tomato plant out the other before the priest got her to stop.”

He always was an impersonal prick.

That is to say, he wasn’t stupid enough to think they didn’t occasionally show emotion. Sometimes Cat would catch a scent and just sit for a while, drinking it in, before hurrying off as if it were nothing. Once Lister caught Kryten staring at a picture of his old crew on a screen, bent over. When he went to find the image later, it had been deleted permanently.

Rimmer though. He always was a mystery. He often showed emotion, but Lister was never sure if it was genuine, and the general smeg-ishness that accompanied him made him reluctant to accept it. He was quick to admit he was a coward, first to hide in the face of danger, and shared tidbits of his childhood that would be enough to make Lister feel sorry for him if he was in the right mood.

But it was never real.

The man just brushed Lister off if the conversation got too serious. And, well, the hologram was here for Lister’s sake, to keep Lister sane, so as much as he hated it, he kinda trusted the guy.

He would admit that only on a good day.

Today was not that day.

He had been in a foul mood the entire week. Kryten had burst into tears - or the android equivalent of - six times since Monday due to Lister’s mood, thinking he had failed him in some way.

“Damn,” Cat said when he finally came down to what had been assigned the kitchen. “You look worse than my mama on catnip, and believe me, she was a real stoner if you get what I mean.”

Lister shot him a sarcastic look. “Gee, thanks man, and here I though I was a positive delight.”

“Maybe you are,” Cat replied with a wrinkled nose, “but you’re definitely not a clean one.”

Lister took a seat heavily, crumbs falling out his jacket, and reached for the plate of crisps on the table. “Whatever, man. Hey, what happened to your Cat species anyway?”

“They left,” he replied idly, staring at himself in the shiny metal table. “I thought you knew. The Cat empire came and went in the name of Cloister the Idiot, until they reached the promised land of Fuchal.”

“Yeah I know that bit, but what actually happened to them? Why isn’t there any on the ship?”

“Asking questions, Listy?” Rimmer said, striding into the room to take a seat. “We both know that’s not a good idea.”

“Shut up Rimmer, I want to know.”

“Maybe you don’t,” the hologram replied stubbornly. “Why do you even want to, it’s just a stupid story. The Cats did their time on this ship, they fought their wars, they left and now we’re back. It’s not rocket science to understand.”

“You’re talking about an entire species here,” Lister said, horrified at the callous way he spoke. “How can you be so dismissive?”

“They’re only Cats.”

A dark look crossed Lister’s face. Rimmer, seeming to realise he’d crossed a line, grabbed a crisp and marched out the room, straight-backed. Lister turned back to the Cat.

“Cat, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think Rimmer would insult your race like that. He’s a smeghead, you know that.”

Cat waved his hand dismissively. “Of course I know that. Every Cat knows that. Plus, he does have a point. Why do you want to know, rat hair?”

Lister’s mouth dropped open. “Did you just agree with him? What’s going on, I don’t like it. Seriously, you’re just gonna put up with tha’?”

Cat shrugged. “Cloister put up with it.”

“I’m sorry, Cloister did what now?”

The Cat rolled his eyes and pushed away the bowl he was sipping from. “Cloister, the great sage who brought the virgin mother who sired our race? And Rimmer, whom he hated- Seriously I just told you this, you’re stupider than I thought, monkey brains, you should teach, you're so stupid. Gotta pass the wisdom on.”

“What? No-” Lister gave up, astounded by the Cat’s utter obliviousness. “Just- Okay. Do you have a copy of your myths? In English. I want to know what you’re talking about, up straight.”

Cat rolled his eyes again and stood up. “There might be a copy in Boiler room Two, down in the Hold. It was where my parents kept all their stuff. It’s all I got left of them. I never go down there though. Books and bad suits, eugh.”

Lister shook his head as he was left alone. Mournfully, he left his crisps and headed back to his bunk, picking up his guitar and strumming a few off-key chords while Rimmer wasn’t there, but somehow he couldn’t find it in himself to continue.

Instead he lay down in bed and thought of Kochanski and Peterson, and all his friends who died long ago. He didn’t see Rimmer return to his own bunk, because he had long fallen asleep.

The next day - or what could be assumed was the next day, with no sun to guide the passing of time - Lister awoke. Rimmer still wasn’t in his bunk. He shrugged it off. He was probably on an early morning run.

Feeling invigorated, like this might just be a good day, he clambered out of bed and headed out, grabbing a curry from a dispensing machine and eating it as he settled down on the long-haul lifts that went to the lower decks.

Actually, he thought as the lift went through the safety procedures (none) and exits (none), he didn’t think he’d ever been down into the Hold. Not since he’d woken up from the stasis chamber anyway. Maybe there would be a Cat empire, or the ruins of one anyhow...

“Holly, directions to Boiler Room Two,” he called to a nearby screen. 

The screen came to life with the disgruntled computer’s face. “Gordon Bennett, not you too. You should know that I’m no expert with the halls of this area of the ship, so calm yourself okay?”

“...You’re the computer,” Lister said. “You’re supposed to know the halls. And what do you mean ‘you too’?”

“I mean, you as well,” Holly replied condescendingly. “Boiler Room Two is down this corridor, right turn, left turn, straight turn, third exit and on the right.”

“Right turn, left turn-” Lister attempted to repeat the direction. “What the hell is a straight turn?”

“It’s when you turn, right, and wait cause this will blow your mind it will, when you turn, but straight.”

“So it’s not a turn.”

“Call it what you like, but who’s the one with the directions?”

“Not you, apparently, if ‘me as well’ means a higher chance of getting it wrong again.”

Holly was silent for a second. “Smeg off,” he said eventually, fading from the screen, despite Lister’s annoyed shout.

Grumpily Lister made his way to the boiler room. When he arrived he could hear loud clangs and shouts from inside. He opened the door hastily, only to duck as a wrench came flying towards his head.

“Smeg,” he cursed, venturing further inside, pausing at what he saw.

Rimmer was fending one of the scutters off with a long pipe with one hand, while throwing things into the open furnace with another. When he got closer, Lister could see they were knick-knacks, books and an assortment of clothes, many already forming a charred lump in the fire.

“Hey!” He shouted at Rimmer. “Hey what are you doing?”

Rimmer caught sight of him, and dropped the pipe, instead using two hands to shovel books and belongings into the furnace. Lister tackled him as the last were going up in flames, and pulled him away, both kicking and shouting incoherently.

They rolled apart a few meters away, panting from the heat of the boiler room, while the scutter tried in vain to save the pieces of paper in the embers.

“What the hell are you doing?” Lister shouted. “Those belong to the Cat. They’re all he has left! They’re history, artefacts, the last remains of the Cat empire, and you’re destroying them! Why?”

Rimmer straightened his shirt and stuck his chin out. “I am doing nothing of the sort. I am simply cleaning out the boiler rooms. You’ll find I’ve already done all the boiler rooms on this floor. I was about to finish and move on to boiler room one, if you and the scutters hadn’t interfered.”

Lister was disgusted. His friend - well if they weren’t friends before, they definitely weren’t now - his acquaintance, was burning priceless artefacts and treasured belongings in the name of cleanliness, with no regard for the great history of the Cat people or the last remaining Cat to whom they all belonged.

“I can’t believe you.” The disappointment was evident in his voice. “You know, I put up with some smeg from you, but this is it. I am ashamed to know you Rimmer. Ashamed.”

Lister left the room. Behind him, Rimmer seemed to wilt a bit, and look almost regretful, but he quickly resumed pretending to clean the boiler room.

Searching for anything else, Lister entered the final boiler room, Boiler Room One, the farthest and deepest boiler room on the ship, and looked around for any Cat traces. Nothing. He should have figured. Miserably he returned to the upper decks, and sat in the kitchen.

“Mister Lister sir!” Kryten exclaimed, wearing an apron and wash cap. “What’s wrong? You seem down in the dumps, as it were.”

Lister pursed his lips. “It’s Rimmer, Krytes. I just caught him burning the old Cat stuff from boiler Room Two, the ones Cat told me were there.”

Cat sat up sharply from where he was lounging, feet on the table. “He did what now?”

“Threw ‘em all in the furnace. I saw him. The scutter tried to stop him but he did it anyway.”

Cat looked in disbelief and anger, with more emotion than Lister had ever seen from him. “No. Those belonged to my parents. They’re the only things I have from them... And Rimmer burned them? Without even reading them? I’m gonna kill him! I’m gonna kill him so hard he’ll come to life just so I can kill him again!”

“I agree, sirs,” Kryten said, nodding. “Those books could be the last remains of the Cat civilisation, containing information on their culture, their traditions and religion. If Rimmer burned them for his own selfish purposes... The smeghead!”

The android abruptly burst into sobs.

“Krytes, what’s wrong?”

“I’ve just been so emotional,” he replied, wailing. “With you having a bad week and all.”

If Lister had been less angry he would have protested the fact he had a bad week, despite knowing it was true. As it was, he just agreed vocally and marched back to his and Rimmer’s room, plonking himself on the lower bunk and loudly playing the guitar. 

Rimmer didn’t return to their room that night.

He didn’t see Rimmer for almost a week. He knew he was avoiding them, because he had heard from down the corridor Cat snarling and spitting curses at him, but when he got there, it was only the Cat standing alone.

Whereas usually Kryten would clean and make Rimmer’s bunk every morning, for almost a week it was unkempt and dirty, though Rimmer himself didn’t actually sleep there.

Once Lister asked Holly to locate him. All he saw was Rimmer painting over walls with the same colour paint as it was before. He asked Holly what the difference in the paint was. Holly just said it was newer and smelled stronger. He shrugged it off as Rimmer’s eccentricity.

“So,” he asked Cat conversationally one evening when they and Kryten were in the kitchen. “Tell me about Cloister the Idiot.”

“Well,” Cat said, putting down his mirror. “I wasn’t gonna tell you, but since Rimmer destroyed all the books, this might be the only time it will get passed down.”

Kryten put down his duster and stood behind him. “May I listen in too? I simply love stories.”

Cat paused. “Yeah why not? The more the merrier.”

Kryten made a thankful sound and sat down, staring intently at the Cat.

“Okay,” the Cat started. “I learnt this as a kitty, so I might not have it accurate, but I will tell you the story of Cloister the Idiot, who from Frankenstein the Virgin Mother, begot the twins Bexley and Jim.”

“I was always gonna call my kids Jim and Bexley,” Lister interjected. “After Jim Bexley Speed, my favourite Zero-Gravity Football Player.” Funny coincidence, that.

“Would you shut up and listen,” Cat snapped. “Now, Bexley believed that the donut was the sacred symbol of Cloister, while Jim believed it was the popadom. From these two great apostles sprang the Order of the Donut, and the Brotherhood of Popadom, the two sects who warred for thousands of years.”

“Well I can tell you now, it’s definitely the popadom,” Lister said. “Popadom and spicy chicken curry...mmmmm.”

“Yeah,” the Cat argued, “but the symbol stood alone, with no curry to back it up, so if you put the lone popadom against the donut, who would win?”

Lister nodded thoughtfully. “I see your point.”

“Anyway,” the Cat continued. “They didn’t argue at first. It was the demon Rimmer who turned the two against each other with stories of Cloister, his sworn enemy.”

“Rimmer!?” Lister and Kryten exclaimed in surprise.

“Not this Rimmer, dum-dums,” the Cat said exasperated. “How could it be this Rimmer?  He doesn’t know Cloister the Idiot, and he hasn’t been alive three million years.”

“Well, he is dead, sir,” Kryten pointed out.

“Potato, pota-ato,” Cat replied, to dubious stares. “Anyway, the two sections destroyed each other in several wars, while Rimmer was protected, thinking him a friend of Cloister. It wasn’t until after the Fifteenth Holy War that my people realised it was all Rimmer’s fault. They trapped him in a cage of light, where he stayed for three hundred years, until he tricked a maid to release him.”

“Then what happened,” Lister asked.

Cat shrugged. “He disappeared. Returned to the Stasis, where the gods like Cloister dwell. It’s only a story. Some rural villages claimed he stayed with them, but no-one believes them.”

Well, that was a story, Lister thought. He could tell it was very obviously stolen from his life, names changed of course, altered over time. But it was interesting that Rimmer stayed the same, while ‘Lister’ and ‘Fiji’ had been bastardised over time into ‘Cloister’ and ‘Fuchal’.

“Bexley and Jim were said to have been wise beyond their years and could battle wits with Rimmer himself,” Cat added off-handedly.

There was a snort form the doorway, followed by a low, “heh, yeah, right.”

Lister shot to his feet calling out “Rimmer!” But by the time he got to the door, the hologram was just a blur going around the corner. Lister knew he wouldn’t be able to follow.

“Was that Rimmer, sir?” Kryten asked.

“Yeah,” Lister said. “He’s not been himself.”

“Listening at doors and running away?” Kryten scoffed. “He seems quite like himself.”

Lister ignored the other two’s chuckle, beginning to become a little bit worried.

“Aren’t you slightly sorry for him?”

“Nah,” Cat said. “He’s just running cause he realised he’s named after the god who was hated by the entire empire because he was such a smeghead.”

Lister decided not to mention that if anything the god was named after the hologram, and instead headed off to bed, saying goodnight to the two shortly.

He headed to his room, hoping shallowly that the other man would be there so they could have a talk, and was only slightly disappointed when the room was once again empty, bed unmade. 

He picked up his guitar and strummed a few chords, but didn’t find it in himself to continue. It was still early so he tipped the pieces for a puzzle on the table and began sorting them, but gave up after a few minutes, instead turning in early.

The next morning, Rimmer’s bed was made, but empty. Lister suspected it was the hologram himself, as he and Kryten were still not on speaking terms.

Unlike the previous mornings, where he headed for the kitchen, ate a curry and a strong black coffee and talked to the Cat and Kryten, today he went straight up to the bridge, where the main navigation officers and the captain used to have their offices. 

He plonked himself down in what used to be Kochanski’s seat. He didn’t have the energy to face anyone else today, preferring the company of the deceased. Finding himself quickly bored and with little else to do, he spoke to the computer.

“Holly. You have cameras down in the Hold, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, Dave,” said Holly’s indignant face. “I have cameras everywhere.”

The screen flashed into grainy footage of a dingy corner filled with boxes

“Okay then, show me Frankenstein,” he ordered. “How she did, down there.”

He wouldn’t admit it, but the cat had been his closest friend for a while. He and Peterson had been close, but in a mates-doing-stupid-stuff kinda way. Frankenstein had been someone he could talk all about his emotions to, without judgement or advice.

“Alright,” Holly said, screen fading to black for a second, before his face reappeared. “The last video I have is three million, six hundred and five years ago, just before the radiation leak that wiped out the crew happened.”

Lister sat forward, suddenly interested. “Really? What about during the radiation leak? The cameras in the Hold can’t have been affected, there wasn’t any radiation down there. And none of the wires could have been damaged, or there wouldn’t be a feed now... So why isn’t there any footage?”

“I honestly do not know,” Holly answered. “I’m checking all my memory banks now. There is no memory for the last three million years, except for for the devices that checked the radiation levels.”

“None at all?”

“None that I can access.”

Lister sat back in the chair, puzzled expression adorning his face. He clicked a few keys, performing a manual check.

“Don’t trust me?” Holly asked grumpily.

“No, just checking,” Lister answered. “Well, what’s the first memory after the radiation cleared?”

“Ummm,” Holly paused as if thinking, but probably going through the data. “The first thing after the death of the crew and the Hold being sealed off... An announcement. All radiation cleared. Then, a few seconds later, you were released from Stasis. And a minute after you were released, Rimmer was activated.”

Suddenly a thought occurred to him. “Holly, what about Rimmer’s memory? Have you checked that?”

“I can’t, it’s stored externally,” the computer said. “Why, what do you suspect?”

“Nothing, it’s nothing.”

“No, go on, I want to know.”

“It’s just-” Lister spun his chair around and leaned back again. “Don’t you think he took the fact he and everyone else were dead awfully well? Considering he was activated after I was released, and I took it badly?”

Holly’s eyes widened. “By jingo, you’re right. Now I think about it, I never actually explained to him about the radiation or why he was brought back. So how did he know?”

“You never explained?” Lister asked, incredulous. “You bring him back and you don’t explain?”

“I was very busy getting the ship running,” he sniffed. “Besides, I assumed the program to keep you alive automatically informed him.”

“The program?”

“Just a small sub-routine in the case of a ship-wide emergency intended to keep the last human alive and sane for as long as possible. I didn’t write it. I’ve barely looked at it to be honest.”

“Oh right. Okay, so why can’t you access Rimmer’s memory?” Lister asked, electing to ignore the general uselessness of the entity controlling the ship he was living on.

“It’s stored externally,” Holly said. “Well, you know, you’ve been there, remember when you gave him your memory? And then later, when he was malfunctioning?”

“Oh, yeah. Thanks Hol.”

Suddenly with a purpose, Lister strode from the bridge, heading to the dimly-lit room that housed all of Rimmer’s functions. He always felt guilty when he entered this room. One switch and the hologram would be completely at his mercy. Despite his hatred for Rimmer, that kind of power put him off his appetite.

He sat down at a computer and pushed a few keys. Soon he was going through the dates that were next to each memory. All usual. Then, gone. From the date the drive plate wasn’t sealed properly to the moment a minute after Lister’s resurrection, there was no data. No memory. The first thing after the radiation was cleared was a notice saying that he was brought back as a hologram to make sure the last human didn’t go insane.

But the program seemed...wonky, was the best word. Not quite right. Fake. Like this was just a skin showing what was meant to happen, but the actual programming didn’t line up.

Lister tapped away at a few keys. The wonky program was soon stripped away. Beneath the notice that Rimmer had come back online, was the code itself. Lister took out a pad from a nearby desk and quickly downloaded it, hoping to decipher it later.

Hastily, he left the room, worried Rimmer might find him poking about in his memories.