Disoriented and vaguely nauseous, Howard opened his eyes slightly, then screwed them tightly shut, pained by the harsh lights overhead.
An all-too-familiar nasal voice addressed him. “Ah, Sleeping Ugly stirs. Wake up, you goit.” Cracking one eye open again, Howard tried and failed to focus on Arnold’s face looming over him.
A warm hand was placed on his brow. “You’re in the Medi-Bay aboard Red Dwarf, man,” someone said in a Scouse lilt - the Touch-T? Yes, that was it. “Your bee got damaged on the Trojan by that nutter Crawford, but Kryten and I finally sorted it. How do you feel?”
“Hnngh,” Howard mumbled.
Arnold crowed, “He can’t speak? Marvelous!”
“Only temporarily, sir,” Howard heard his brother’s mech answer. “We’re running your diagnostic and repair program on him now. Some of his files were evidently corrupted by his resentment overload and the trauma of his holo-death, but it’s nothing we can’t fix.
“Oh, joy,” Arnold groused. “Can’t wait.” He leaned over Howard again, hovering a few inches above his face. “Feeling tickety-boo yet, eh, Howster?”
Straining with the tremendous effort, Howard finally found his voice.
“So, it was all a lie, then. No ship, no Lamborghinis, no beautiful women falling at your feet. You’re no better than I am. In fact, I outrank you, Second Technician,” Howard gloated. Rimmer glared at him across the bunkroom table, electing to slurp his wine angrily rather than respond. “Did you ever make First Technician, or was that beyond you?” As Rimmer’s face began to twitch with fury, his brother pressed on, sniping, “We always knew you weren’t officer material, but not even managing First Technician? Really, Arnold, even you should have...”
“Oi, mate!” Lister shot to his feet and pounded his fist on the table, cutting Howard’s sneering short. “You’ll back the smeg off if you have any sense in that thick skull of yours, or I’ll smash your smegging light bee with me bare hands!” As Howard stared at him in shock, cowering slightly in his chair, Lister turned to Rimmer and gently began stroking his arm, soothing the enraged hologram. Resuming his seat, he continued to comfort Rimmer while addressing Howard. “Look, man. Arn didn’t want to bring you back at first, but I talked him into it. Don’t make me regret it, yeah?”
Howard eyed Lister warily. “Why did you bring me back, anyhow?”
“We needed to ask you for a favor.”
“Which would be...?”
Lister faced Howard and stared him dead in the eyes. “We need you to be a witness to our wedding.”
Stunned, Howard found himself unable to speak for the second time that day.