Chapter 1: BUNNIES!!
“Lister, I've been up for nearly seven days, I've got half an hour for a lay down. Please, I BEG of you, don't disturb me.” Rimmer said as he strode into the bunkroom hastily.
With a sigh Lister glared up from his comic, the soggy half of the biscuit he was dunking into his lager flopping onto his shirt. In five seconds he had planned to scoff, rebel, make noise, keep Rimmer arguing until the thirty minutes were up. But then he looked up to see deadly pale, haggard features mixed with desperation and his plans died and shrivelled away just as soon.
He had been witness to Rimmer's four night in a row anguished all-nighter cramming sessions and heard about what had happened at the exams this time: crazy with exhaustion and stress Rimmer had mistaken the writing on the pages for ants and had kept wiping them away for half an hour before thinking the bugs had crawled onto him sending him into hysterics.
He had also been witness to what happened before those days, and was rather surprised that Rimmer was still standing, let alone functioning and talking. Well, barely.
It had all started calmly enough; in the weeks he'd expected Rimmer to prepare for the exams the man had been sitting quietly behind his desk with a smile on his face, painting. Painting a large chart, which he only later understood was supposed to be the exam revision schedule. It had looked rather pretty, once you took your mind of the fact that Rimmer had spent all his revision time creating this and was now creating a study schedule for days that did not exist any-more.
The second thing that struck Lister was the calm and happiness that exuded from the Second Technician when he was creating his schedule. All he'd seen up to this point was stressed out, bitter smeggy 'superior' Rimmer. Even Z-shift moved along more amiable. Lister found that the man was quite bearable like this.
Then suddenly a change, nine days before the exams Rimmer abruptly stopped working on his useless chart and started pacing the room. The Second Technician's entire body and spirit seemed to ooze so much panic it made Lister uncomfortable.
“What's up with you man?”
“Exams, only nine days away!!” Rimmer gasped as if he was being strangled.
“And?” Lister shrugged.
“How the smeg am I going to cram three months of study in seven days?”
“You've got nine …” Lister offered.
“I need to make a new timetable first!” Rimmer said with such conviction it made Lister agree with him without thinking, until the stupidity of it hit him.
So Rimmer wasted two whole days on another chart, which he then threw away as well, because he'd accidentally added two Wednesdays. Having done so he then took a few sleeping pills and went to bed – at four in the afternoon.
“What are you doing now?” Lister asked in confusion, wondering why Rimmer didn't just open one of his many study books so he could actually read up on the subject matter he'd be taking his exam on.
“From tomorrow on-wards I'll be at it all day and night. So I'll better catch some shut eye in advance.” With that he turned to face the wall and zonked out.
Lister shrugged and wondered if he should inform the Captain that his superior was mentally unstable. This worry only grew the next day when he had to wake Rimmer up for Z-shift – something that had never happened before.
“Leave me alone, I'm tired.” the Second Technician groaned.
“Don't be weird Rimmer, you've slept since yesterday afternoon.”
“Then why am I so tired? Why the smeg am I so tired? I'm going to fail, aren't I?”
“You have seven days to catch up, now come on Rimmer and let's get that stupid shift over with so you can get started.”
With a sigh Rimmer sat up. Lister couldn't repress a snigger; he'd never seen the Second Technician looking anything less than immaculate, but here he was in crumpled pyjamas, sleep face and his hair sticking out all over the place. Wrapping his blanket around his shivering frame as he got up from the bunk, Rimmer dragged himself to their tiny bathroom, the very picture of anxiety induced exhaustion.
The Arnold Rimmer that left the bathroom ten minutes later was a totally different person: wide eyed and cheerful he clapped his hand at Lister: “Come on Listy, chop, chop no use sitting around all day work to do and all that!!”
And with that he rushed out of the room, a stunned Lister following him.
Z shift that day was … different.
Instead of the usual matriculate examination of every machine – even the ones that were not even scheduled to be serviced – Rimmer was dashing through the halls at such a speed Lister lost him three times.
“Come along, a 4 b, faster Listy, come on! We need speed, speed speed, hurry hurry, chop chop!!” When Rimmer took over their trolley and ran off at breakneck speed with a “weeeeeeeeeee!!”, Lister knew something was off.
In the bunkroom Rimmer was just as manic, running through the room like a lunatic, opening all his books and scattering them round the room.
“Rimmer, what are you doing?”
“Studying, what does it look like?”
“No, oh, yes, I see. No, I'm strategic! I am doing all three months of study at once you see, if I walk past all books fast enough I can scan read them all in five minutes!”
“Rimmer, what …?”
“It makes sense.”
“No, no it doesn't!”
A little dizzy spell seemed to overtake Rimmer and he took a bottle from his pocket, popping a pill. Lister raised his eyebrows.
“Rimmer, what's that?”
“Oh, just a few energy pills. I'm gonna be up all week.”
“Go-Double-Plus caffeine tablets?!! You're only supposed to take one after your first all-nighter! Not pop em all on the first day you smeghead. How many have you had?”
“I don't know … ten, eleven, maybe twelve … Why are there bunnies in my book?”
“Weird pink bunnies … they're scowling at me! Ah, I bet they think I'll fail my exams again!! Well let me tell you this furry doubters; this time Arnold J Rimmer will succeed!!”
“After he's been to the medibay ...”
“Yes after … what?”
“Nothing … come along Rimmer …”
“Will the bunnies go away then?”
“Yes Arn, they will. Come along now.”
“I took too many, didn't I?”
“Yes, yes I think you did.”
The medibay gave Rimmer a sedative that sent him to sleep for a while. The next morning Lister woke to the bunkroom smelling like an ashtray and Rimmer standing in the middle of the room in his pyjamas. He was standing stiff and still, his hair manic, an insane grin on his face, three lit cigarettes between his fingers.
“What the smeg, now what?” Sitting up Lister found there were several empty cigarette packages scattered round the room. “Rimmer, what?”
“Can't … caaant ... ” Rimmer tried, with frozen lips, his voiced sounding slow and odd.
“List … List ...”
The Second technician tried to talk, forcing out words that felt odd and sounded sluggish.
“Ca ...nt … mo ...ve ...”
“You can't move?”
“Pa …. nic a … at … tack …”
With a sigh Lister got up and decided it might be best to remove the cigarettes from Rimmer's hand before the man burned himself. It was confusing: Rimmer wasn't a smoker, in fact he hated it, now he had burned though a small tobacco factory.
Coming closer to the man who claimed he was his superior he heard soft, strangled wheezes. He understood, the panic and anxiety were so severe his brain was now unable to control his body. Suddenly starting to smoke such a ridicules amount had probably upset his breathing even more.
Shaking his head Lister removed the cigarettes from Rimmer's cold frozen hand. After putting them in an ash tray he turned back to the second technician and placed his hand on Rimmer's chest.
“Doing?” Rimmer forced.
“Breath Rimmer!” Lister insisted.
Rimmer made a valiant attempt but only succeeded in upsetting his breathing even more. Lister then tried to get him to breath into a paper bag. This worked to get some movement in the man. When he was finally calm enough to sit down Lister, worried the man was close to hypothermia, wrapped him in a blanket and made him a cup of chamomile tea.
Chapter 2: Why Would You Care?
Z-shift was another mini ordeal, with Rimmer distracted and in such a state of constant tension he didn't even recall how to unblock a coffee machine.
That night, as he tried to get to sleep, Lister heard Rimmer silently whimper and pray in a soft but clearly distraught voice as the Second Technician alternated between his bunk and pacing in front of his text books. Lister woke up the next morning to Rimmer still standing in front of the shelves with unseeing eyes, eyes that where now red and puffy. It was obvious that once again Rimmer had not slept a wink.
Helping the, now dazed, Rimmer thought another Z-shift, Lister came to the annoying realization that he was sucked in by now and felt actually worried about the man. Not just because he was living with him, but because, oh smeg, he'd started to care.
That evening, over a pint, he asked Peterson if living with Rimmer during exam time was always like this.
“Oh yes. We just ignore it, usually. He collapsed in the hallway once, we just step over him, he's usually fine.”
“Hmmm” was all Lister said, not wanting to show he found the remark rather callous.
Asking round the ship he kept receiving the same replies: Rimmer was a mess, an emotional cripple who would never succeed. Everyone seemed to know about his panic attacks, the desperation to become an officer, the pressure from his family and the crippling anxiety that blocked him from being able to study properly. He also heard about the twelve previous attempts that always ended in him burning himself up and several visits to the medibay. Everyone admitted freely to ignoring it, as if Rimmer's well-being was of no importance.
That didn't sound right to Lister, who wondered how a man with such severe anxiety had ever been accepted on the ship in the first place. Surely they did some mental check ups beforehand?
Then he remembered how he'd ended up on the ship himself and the question rather answered itself.
Returning to the bunkroom he walked in on Rimmer throwing up in the toilet, a half empty bottle of ... dog-worming pills next to him.
“Rimmer … what …?” He didn't really know what to say.
“They say dog worming pills contain amphetamine … Need energy.”
Sighing with exasperation Lister picked up the bottle and put it on the table.
“For what Rimmer? You're not actually studying, are you? You're just pacing and smegging up Z-shift!”
“I am, I'm trying!!” Rimmer sat on the floor gazing up in desperation looking an absolute mess: hair sticking out, pale face with sunken cheeks, dark circles under teary eyes, his uniform dishevelled.
Suddenly seeing how thin Rimmer was, Lister realised he couldn't recall the last time he'd seen the Second Technician eat anything.
“You need some normal food. I'll make you a sandwich.” Lister sighed as he turned to their tiny kitchen and started preparations.
“No, I need to calm down.” Rimmer groaned, clearly still unable to get up from where he was hunched over the toilet.
“That's an understatement …”
“I'm going to the Happy Astro, drink a beer. I always go to the happy astro, drink a beer before exams. I hate it but people do that, don't they, to calm down?”
“Not always. Rimmer, especially when you've got a low alcohol tolerance and have only just overdosed on energy pills twice in one week. Why are you doing all this? Why don't you just try to calm down and keep your usual routine. You'll kill yourself like this.”
“I didn't study. I'm failing again … my parents will …” He semi blacked out for a second, when he regained himself Lister helped him up and brought him to the dining nook.
“I'm confiscating all meds Rimmer.” Lister said once he was certain Rimmer could understand what he said.
The Technician looked at him groggily.
“Petersen told me you're always like this, but it's worrying me.”
“Why … why would you care?”
“Because I'm here and someone has to.” with that he put a plate in front of Rimmer with two sandwiches: one baked egg, the other avocado, then he also placed a cup of herbal tea in front of him.
“There you go. Food to help you think, tea to calm you down. You've got four days left, try to make them count instead of driving yerself crazy.”
Rimmer looked up at Lister in confusion: this wasn't right, over the last few days the Scouser had looked after him as if he – Arnold J Rimmer – was the weak one. What was going on? Then he realised he was starving and forgot all about his confusion as he wolfed down the sandwiches.
His mind calmed by food and tea he decided he'd do better, make Lister see he wasn't some hysterical blabbering imbecile. He was this man's superior and working to become an officer. Lister seeing him crying over a toilet bowl was the last thing he'd wanted him to see. It was humiliating. He had to set an example. For the first time in ages he actually opened a book and started reading.
And didn't understand a single word. This panicked him again; this was a disaster!
He read through the night and went down to the library to find “Astronavigation for dummies” the following morning which he hid in his official study book as he tried again the next night.
For four days and nights in a row an already ravaged Rimmer tried his hardest to store information, only leaving the bunkroom to do his technician duties.
Chapter 3: The Captain's Floor
This wasn't what he'd meant! Lister thought as he sadly saw Rimmer slip from one extreme to another. Knowing Rimmer had started this new craze already ill and sleep deprived a worried Lister supplied tea and sandwiches when he realised how easily the Second technician forgot his own basic needs.
On the third night of study Rimmer looked so ill and miserable Lister half thought he should convince him to give up and go to bed. But Rimmer refused, there was so much still to be done.
After days of endless studying the words still meant nothing to Rimmer and by now they had lost any meaning. Crazed with exhaustion and anxiety his brain now convinced him that if he would understand enough separate words and numbers on the pages he might still be able to answer six questions correctly. Or at-least that was what his dazed mind got from Lister's supportive words: “You'll be fine Rimmer. You've atleast read something now, could be enough to get you through.”
He wasn't feeling well at all, but being so used to his fathers regime it barely realised. His father had often kept him up studying for days on end when he had tests coming, giving him ice baths when he started to doze off.
Right now he didn't need ice baths, as he was chilled to the bone with fatigue, anxiety and the after effects of all the pills and chemicals in his body. Undeterred Rimmer wrapped himself in his blanket and asked Lister to set the electric heater next to him.
This night was a tough one for Arnold Rimmer; his eyes kept falling shut and he kept restarting the same sentences. Even putting an ice mask on his eyes made little difference.
Round six o'clock he was seeing stars as all the words muddled together into a blurry swirly ball and Rimmer decided he might just rest his eyes, just for a few seconds.
Waking up Lister smiled seeing Rimmer fast asleep on top of his books; this was only to be expected. He knew the second technician would be furious when he woke up to find he'd missed out on precious hours of study, but he needed the break. He jumped from his bunk as softly as possible and tiptoed around him to ready breakfast.
Much to his annoyance it was then that the alarm went off, Rimmer's special sonic boom version.
“Smeg!” he hissed. “Off!!” he yelled.
A groggy, weary groan from the table as Rimmer sat up with difficulty, surprised to find a piece of paper stuck to his face. He looks like death warmed over, Lister thought.
“Did I nod off? What time is it?”
“Calm down, it's only 7.30 ...”
“7.30? I missed a whole hour of study! I was only supposed to rest my eyes for a minute. Why didn't you wake me?”
Only an hour? Lister thought. Shame.
“Because you looked like you needed a break. Calm down, its only an hour. What do you want to eat?”
“I don't know. I just really fancy a chocolate eclair. Does there have to be a reason? I'll pay.”
“If that's what you want I'll get some from the canteen later. Want a cuppa now?”
Blinking slowly Rimmer nodded. He felt strangely floaty as if his neck had grown longer than his body. Despite shutting his eyes for a bit they were painful and he was still seeing stars. He wasn't sure if he'd actually slept a bit at all as he was feeling worse than before. He longed for it all to be over. The chocolate will get me through. A voice in his head said far too cheerfully.
Z-shift that day was an endurance, for Rimmer as well as Lister. Checking the machines Rimmer nodded off twice making even the Second Technician realise it would be quicker if Lister took over. Or as he put it: “Lister, I think it's time for you to take on more responsibility.” Which Lister took with pleasure. He did wonder if Rimmer could even tell if he was doing it right, as the man seemed barely present any-more. That was … until Holly appeared on the screen.
“A message to Arnold Rimmer.”
The man in question jolted out of his trance like stupor.
“Holly … what?”
“Man, you look awful!”
“Well, what do you expect? My exams are tomorrow. I've been up studying for the last few days.”
“Condolences Arnold. Well, this will cheer you up. What is the one thing you've been longing for?”
“Sleep?” Rimmer offered, barely able to stifle a yawn.
“No, guess again.”
“No. You, Arnold, have been selected to do a shift on the Captain's floor!!”
The loud noise of things falling over startled Lister from his concentration. He turned round to find Rimmer on the floor hyperventilating, their cart crashed into a wall. He quickly went to check on Rimmer, fearing he'd collapsed from exhaustion.
“What the smeg?” He wondered out loud, noticing Holly on the screen.
“He's selected to do the Captain's floor, he is!” Holly's massive head smiled. “Biggest honour of his life.”
“Hey, congrets Rimmer!!” Lister smiled, gently slapping the Second Technician's back. Not that he cared about smeg like that, but he knew by now how much Rimmer did. “When's the big day?”
“T … T … Thursday ...” Rimmer gasped. Lister frowned. “That's the day after tomorrow Rimmer. That's supposed to be your recovery day.”
“Not … not any-more it's not. Lister can't you see … this is w … what I've waited for. Fifteen years I waited for the cap … captain to see me.”
With a sigh Lister got up to get two coffees from the machine he'd just fixed. He felt sad. This was what Rimmer had waited for for over a decade? Working his butt of for that lard arse of a Captain?! What a terrible life.
The cups ready he returned to where Rimmer sat and handed him a cup. Usually the Second Technician would refuse for whatever smegged up rule he'd made up, but now he eagerly grabbed the cup and warmed his shaking hands.
“Thank you Lister.” He sighed wearily. Then he looked up at the Scouser, a soft smile on his face, bleary dark rimmed eyes beaming hopefully. “I … would like for you to join me. You have been a great help to me this week ...”
Lister sat himself down next to Rimmer. Seeing him unguarded was new to him, he looked sweet like that. The past week had made that crazy weak spot he had for Arnold J Rimmer a lot bigger. “Sure man. If this means so much to you, I'll be there,”
“Everything, it means everything. It's … it's the biggest honour someone like me can get.”
Man, you're worth more than that. Lister thought. Then, thinking; “You will have time to get some sleep after all that studying before right?”
“Yes, yes.” Rimmer nodded a bit too fast with a smile that looked slightly deranged. “After my exam there is only one shift left, after that … sixteen hours of rest … I can't wait.”
With a sigh Rimmer leaned backwards for a second, his head pressed against the wall. Feeling his eyes closing the moment he relaxed he quickly sat up again. Lister noticed and turned to him.
“Hey … I … I could take that one shift alone, so you have some more time to recover before your big day … Would be good practice for me ...”
A silence as Rimmer stared down at his coffee and bit his lip.
“Well … you … are improving … We'll see. It'll depend on if I'm allowed.”
“Well … If I mess up the exam I'll have to be punished … of course …”
The technician said it with such conviction Lister could only stare in confusion and stammer “O … Of course ...”
Starting his last all nighter Rimmer felt euphoric on chocolate eclair sugar rush – he could do this, he was the king. He was a Captains floor technician now!!
Then, for some reason time seemed to be jumping. Every fifteen minutes or so 20 or 30 seconds or more seemed to get lost. He also kept forgetting what he'd just been reading, things seemed to go blurry and black for a few seconds and he had to restart. It was odd.
Even later, in the silence around 3.30 with Lister asleep his mood plummeted to the deep dark lows of depression, anxiety, bone weary exhaustion and tears.
Who was he kidding? Days of reading and still he knew nothing. He felt ill and just wanted his bed.
By morning he was freezing up: his entire body was numb with anxiety and when Lister woke he found a deeply pale Rimmer rocking himself in front of his books mumbling the last formulas he'd read.
“Hey, Rimmer, are you okay?”
“Are you okay Rimmer?”
“Don't know ...” Rimmer slurred slowly and with difficulty. Looking at him Lister felt worried, the man seemed rather disorientated and his eyes were unfocussed. This last night had probably been too much.
“You don't have to do your exams today Rimmer, if you're ill.” He urged, wishing he'd shut down the man's hectic studying on the first night. He'd been beyond exhausted long before he started his all-nighter sessions.
“Ex … exams …” Rimmer droned, blinking a few times as he seemed to recall what it was he'd been doing. “Yes … I … I was … was studying. The … the exams … they're … today … They're TODAY!!”
Much to Lister's annoyance Rimmer refused to listen to reason, insisting he would be taking his exams, despite being clearly mentally and physically burned out. The Scouser accompanied the terrified man to the exam room after Rimmer had been returned to the bunkroom in hysterics by one of the crew three times, as he'd forgotten where the exam rooms where.
Chapter 4: ANTS!!
Exam proctor officer Todhunter could barely repress a groan of annoyance when fifteen minutes into the exam the door bursts open and something that resembled Arnold J. Rimmer stumbled in followed by an apologetic looking Dave Lister.
“Sorry … I am sor me ...” Rimmer mumbled as he stood before the desk slightly swaying in a stained and crumpled uniform. This was surprising. Even at his worst Todhunter had never seen the second technician look anything but immaculate, now even his hair was unkempt. What was even more confusing was that the man didn't even do his infuriating salute or stand to attention. This was odd and Todhunter didn't like odd.
“Rimmer … this exam started fifteen minutes ago. Why are you late?” He started, hoping for a reason to suspend Rimmer. He'd been happy when the man hadn't turned up, as for once the exam room had been quiet.
“Time keeps changing …” Rimmer sighed as his eyes fell shut for a second. “I … I can't catch it … But … But quazaars can!!” He swooned a little, grabbing the desk for support.
With a long suffering sigh officer Todhunter turned to Dave Lister who was still hovering nearby.
“Lister, what is going on? The man looks an absolute state. Is he drunk, did he take any drugs? Learning drugs are illegal. I could suspend him for a year!!”
His hands raised in defence Lister quickly stepped towards the desk. No-one was denying Rimmer his exam rights, not after all he'd been through.
“Hey Todhunter man, cut him some slack, would ya? He hasn't slept in days. I'm not sure how long he'll last.” A silence in which Lister's eyes pleaded with the officer.
“Come on, he worked himself like crazy for this, atleast give him a chance!!”
Looking at the spaced out man in front of his desk Todunter sighed. No rule in the JMC's book actually banned people from being late and stopping a clearly over-studied person from doing what they had worked for …? No, no he couldn't. Not even Rimmer deserved that.
“Very well, get to your seat Rimmer. Hurry.”
Through a haze Rimmer understood something good had happened: he could still take his exam. But there was no joy, only more fear. He just nodded a tight thank you.
Then he looked at Lister for guidance. The Scoucer smiled at him kindly. “Good luck Rimsy.” Lister mouthed as he left for the door.
The second that door closed a tightness started pulling in Rimmer's chest. He'd never had support before and with Lister gone he was alone again.
For a few seconds he simply kept staring at the door, not sure what to do.
“Sit down Rimmer, this is your final warning!!”
Shaking the Second Technician staggered to his seat and sat down, taking a few deep breaths, then he looked at the clock – he still had an hour. He could do this. Then things got a little hazy.
A strange shock went through his body and when his eyes focus again he only had 58 minutes.
Where did those 60 seconds go?
He could still do this.
At his desk Todhunter shook his head when he saw Rimmer stare up at the clock unseeing and unmoving for over thirty seconds. He'd never seen anyone that zoned out before.
Just as he was about to get up to give Rimmer a shake the Technician started moving again, turning his head ever so slowly towards his paper.
Time to start. Rimmer smiled: he now knew words.to.do.with.astronavigation. He had read words, lost of them! He'd write them down!!
But when he tried to focus his weary eyes on the texts something odd happened ...
Ants!! There were hundreds of ants!! Had his brothers brought them in to torture him? But they weren't here. Maybe they'd bribed Todhunter or … Chen! He bet it was Chen!! More ants!! They had to go, he couldn't read his text any-more. Wipe them away! Shake out the papers. More ants?!!
“Rimmer, what are you doing?” Todhunter asked.
“Can't you see it?!! All the papers are covered with smegging ants!!”
“Rimmer, we are in deep space, there are no ants on board!”
“What about the rats?”
“There are no rats either, we've been over that. Now calm down!”
“They're crawling over me!”
“No they're not.”
“Yes they are you big smegging lump!! Oh smeg, what if they're poisoned?!”
The more frightened he became the more frantic he wiped at his paper. When that didn't work the scared man violently shook the pages, but that only seemed to attract more ants. Convinced the ants were now on him, out to kill he jumped up and begun beating on his arms and body. Angry at the distraction other students shushed him. Tears of terror streaming down his face Rimmer sank onto his chair. The ants were now mocking him in high pitched ant language. Why did no-one help him?
Suddenly a hand squeezed his shoulder. Shuddering Rimmer looked up to find Todhunter standing next to him.
The delirious second technician uttered a series of garbled sobs, unable to form a coherent reply.
“You're not well, are you?”
Rimmer shook his head.
“You can go outside if you like and have some water.”
“Exam strike?” Rimmer asked in a barely audible voice – he couldn't have a ninth failure strike, could he?
Todhunter looked at Rimmer's miserable deadly pale face that gazed up at him, a sorrowful pleading in the bloodshot red ringed eyes. “The poor guy looks absolutely terrible” the officer thought. He decided he'd take pity on him this time.
“Have you written anything?” Todhunter asked, again putting a kind hand on Rimmer's tense shoulder.
Once again Rimmer shook his head.
“Then we'll just not file it this time, it's fine. You go off and recover, there are still plenty of chances this year. Okay?”
Forcing himself not to burst into tears again Rimmer just nodded.
“Let the Medi bay check you and see you get some rest, eh, Rimmer?” Todhunter said as he helped Rimmer up and walked him towards the door.
“I know … I know ten chapters now ...” Rimmer muttered dazedly as he slumped against Todhunter, his body only barely functioning. “If … if I tell you the words I know … would that help …?”
His eyes then rolled into the back of his head and Todhunter could only just stop him from collapsing.
“Whoa there! Guess what we'll do: you'll get one bonus point whenever you take an exam next time, if you'll just … leave now and go to bed.” Todhunter said as he helped Rimmer onto a chair and gave him a glass of water.
“I've … I've earned a bonus point?” Rimmer asked, a weary hopeful smile lighting up his haggered features. Todhunter smiled and shook his head.
“Yes Rimmer. You've earned a bonus point. Bye bye now.”
Rimmer nodded a thank you, then watched Todhunter leave.
The next thing Rimmer knew was a loud crash. Looking down he was confused to see the glass he'd just been given broken on the floor.
How had that happened? It was a shame, he'd been thirsty.
With a sigh he stood up. Then things went a bit hazy.
Wait, when had he decided to walk to the lift? Wasn't he supposed to go to medibay? It seemed so tempting: a few calming pills, warm comfy bed … But no, no they probably wouldn't let him get up for his important duty the next day. Also, he had failed his exams again! Despite earning a bonuspoint, he'd better do a good mornings work to balance it out. No rest till he'd done his duty. It was his punishment for failing again. It was what his father would want from him.
So he decided: He would just go to his room and prepare for Z-shift, actually earn that bonuspoint. And then, finally, he could rest. For a few seconds he pressed his pounding head against the cold steal of the wall next to the lift door to calm himself. To convince himself that: yes, he could do this! From far away he could hear his father's speeches about duty and discipline, no matter what happened.
He only had to stay awake for five more hours, he ordered his body as he dragged himself into the lift. Five more hours and he could sleep. Finally he could sleep!!
Sixteen hours of glorious sleep!!
He could weep with joy at the thought. What was even better: he could have a thirty minute lay down now if he was quick. Shift wouldn't start in an hour, the lift to his bunkroom usually took thirty minutes – twenty if he was lucky.
The journey in the lift was a mini ordeal as he struggled to stay awake in the boring cabin as it slowly descended to his floor. Adrenaline leaving his body he begun to feel how unwell he really was. Maybe Lister had been right: the exam probably had been too much for him. It dawned on him that he hadn't really slept in more than a week and now he began to feel every cold weary minute of it. Leaning against the wall for support it took every fibre of his self control not to press the 'lock' button on the lift as the dirty sticky much used couch in the corner began to look worryingly attractive. What if he'd just had his nap there … He could sleep for a whole hour!!
No, the last part of his rational mind intervened. What if someone unlocked the lift and found him there, asleep? He hadn't slept in days, his body was ready to crash. What if he couldn't wake up, what would they do to him then? What if he'd been drooling …? Or worse!! What if he'd wet himself?! He'd never live that down. Listing all the anxiety inducing scenarios a nap in the lift could cause helped to keep him semi-conscious enough to survive the long tedious journey to his floor. Except for the fact he couldn't recall going past floor 8 when he'd reached floor 6 … Or floor 12 … how was it 10, where was 11? Somehow he reached his floor where he gathered himself together, hoping to look at-least slightly strong and purposeful. All passers by saw was a pitiful looking zombie.
“Lister, I've been up for nearly seven days, I've got half an hour for a lay down. Please, I BEG of you, don't disturb me.” Rimmer said as he strode into the bunk-room hastily.
The guy looks pathetic. Lister thought and sighed. They were due for Z-shift after Rimmer's lay down, he better give him his space, else the shift would probably be unbearable, well, more unbearable than usual lately.
“Certainly Mr Rimmer Sir, I'll go to the canteen.”
“No, no, no, what do you think you're doing?! I need you here, you've got to wake me up!”
“Use the alarm!”
“I'll sleep through that. Just stay and wake me … please! That's an order. I need to do my shift.”
The desperation in Rimmer's face and voice enhanced by the emotional “please!” softened Lister.
“Hey, sure, I'll wake ya. It'll be fine. Go rest.” he had his fingers crossed behind his back saying this, there was no way he'd wake up that broken man again when he was finally sleeping.
A grateful look was his answer. Then, with a sigh of relief, Rimmer sat down on his bunk for the first time in days.
Laying down! It's been so long … The Second Technician thought. His body was a stiff cramped up throbbing mess of pain.
But it wasn't to be, as the second Rimmer got ready to finally rest his head on the pillow Holly plopped onto the screen.
“Alert for Second Technician Arnold J Rimmer!”
With a sigh Rimmer slowly lifted his unwilling body again to stand.
“What?!” Rimmer growled in frustration. He wanted rest, rest!
“Sorry to get you up Arnold, but I need to tell you your shift is starting in five minutes.”
A chill overtook Rimmer: this had to be a mistake!!
“W … what, what? I had half an hour ...”
“Not any more Arnold, you'll be doing the Captain's floor today as well.”
And that was where Arnold J Rimmer's brain broke.
“No, no, no, no! That's tomorrow, I had it all planned! I … I could sleep!! Oh God. I could sleep before … I had half an hour now, half an hour!”
Chapter 5: Slipping
The sound that emanated from Rimmer when hearing the bad news startled Lister. It was a mixture between a strangled sob and whimper. The second technician then shook his head gathering himself to no avail and Lister realised how desperately Rimmer had been looking forward to that brief lay down. Well not surprising, he'd never seen anyone look as washed out as Rimmer did at that moment.
“Yeah, why did everything change?” Lister tried to finish the conversation, as Rimmer had seemingly blacked out, staring into space mumbling 'I had half an hour,' over and over.
Clearly sensing something was wrong with Rimmer an apologetic Holly explained to Lister that Rimmer was right: That floor had previously not been due till the next day in the morning shift, but seeing the Captain had planned a lay in it had to be done now. The Skutters where on their way with the special Captain's Floor trolley.
Lister nodded “understood” and thanked Holly, then he turned to Rimmer and could only just repress a gasp; the man looked like he was experiencing two nervous breakdowns at once.
To Arnold Rimmer it seemed as if the light faded from the room as the weight of the universe fell onto his thin shoulders. The Captain's floor? He'd been looking forward to that ever since he'd started out as a lowly third technician. It was what he'd been working towards. But why now, when he was ill with exhaustion, beyond breaking point? This would take at-least four more hours. And what was worse he didn't even get his lay down. All he'd wanted was thirty minutes. All because that lump of a Captain wanted an undeserved massive sleep. Sleep … he needed sleep, the smegging Captain didn't!! A lump in his throat as his vision started to swim. Oh smeg, when had he become so weak? He turned away from Lister, covering his face with his hands. Crying is for girls, crying is for girls … he muttered his father's words. But broken as it was his body refused to listen, and he couldn't stop the stubborn tears that escaped.
This is painful. Lister thought seeing Rimmer turn away, and hearing a few repressed sniffles. He wanted to know why.
Why did the exams push the Second Technician to breaking point? Why was a promotion worth killing yourself for? Why did no-one look after him? Why did he never talk about his family?
Doing this Z shift could finish him off, especially if it involved the Captains floor. He could picture himself standing around with that stupid smegging trolley waking Rimmer up as he nodded off for the tenth time while trying to clean the Captain's machine to perfection. He had to make him see sense, get him to bed for both their sakes.
“Should I take over, maybe a supervised shift with someone?” Lister offered, tentatively placing a comforting hand on his superiors shaking shoulder.
“No ...” Rimmer said, his cracked voice sounding as if there was cotton wool in his mouth. He was getting worse by the second. “It's … it's the cap … Capt … ains floor. Such an honour I have to … have to. Two floors … I can do it … just two more floors and … and then ….”
Suddenly in the middle of his sentence Rimmer just stopped and stared of into space.
“And then …?” Lister asked confused by the sudden silence mid Rimmer-flow. “Rimmer? … Arnold?” When no reply was offered he tried a tentative “… Sir …?” and shook him a little.
A deep snore followed by a tiny gasp as Rimmer came back into existence, his eyes drooping with exhaustion but blinking himself awake manfully.
“What … what was I saying ...” He asked, sounding rather dazed. The room seemed to be swaying, his heart was pounding, what was going on? He now felt feverish on top of everything else. He was ill and felt like death. Why couldn't he just go to bed? Let Lister take over? Oh maybe he could have before, but not now, not if it was the Captain! He had to do it, do it all! He was in hell. More tears that clamoured to escape, he repressed them manfully.
You're a weak little crybaby, aren't you?! He heard his father's voice again. Worse he saw him from the corner of his eyes glaring at him with disgust.
Rimmer swallowed. No, he would not give up. That would be humiliating. Arnold Rimmer wasn't a quitter and he certainly wouldn't quit when there was the Captain's floor to consider. He could never let a subordinate tend to that. What would his father say if he weaselled out just because he was hideously sleep deprived? That he gave up on a chance at promotion just because he was unable to function on a few days without feeling his pillow. He'd have kicked him right out of bed again, that was certain. No food, no sleep, not until you got it right; those were the Rimmer rules. These were good rules. Sleep was for wusses, losers. He was a can do go getter and knew better than give in to his bodies wishes.
But something was off now, as he stood things seemed to change around him, as if they were going out of focus. Or … or where his eyes closing? His bodies wishes … wishes, wishes for … for sleep … He groaned. Then his mind seemed to detach for a bit. Blackness … What was that nice warmth he was feeling? Dancing seagulls ... It was good and comfy. Teddy on the swing …Where … Blackness … A shock, a head jerk. Where was he again? He vaguely recalled something about Z-shift … the Captain? The Captain!!
A Captain made of chocolate …
“See?” Rimmer tried, once again not sure where he was or what he'd been talking about. For a split second he thought he was in bed, he thought, prayed, that it was all over. Then, much to his disappointment, he realised he was still standing. Well … leaning now, on something soft. What was going on? He'd been drooling!! Why was his body letting him down like that? Failure. This wasn't the Rimmer way. If he was to work on the Captain's floor he needed to behave with dignity.
Though right now … he wasn't really sure he remembered how standing up straight actually worked. He wasn't sure he could ever move again. Everything seemed so difficult … so far away. His head was so heavy and so, so comfortable resting on whatever that tickly warm softness was. It was warm, and he was so cold. Maybe if he could just stay here resting his heavy head for a little longer. NOT sleeping, just resting. He was allowed a little rest, wasn't he? He'd just earned a bonus point. He'd work to truly earn it soon, soon. He had a few more minutes before the sku … sku … iron fellows ... came after all. His eyes fluttered as a fuzzy cloud buzzed around him. He would be strong again in a bit, he swore to himself. Father would be proud, if he could just rest, just for a minute. Just.a.minute! A comfy warm sea was engulfing him, his painful eyes shut. Such relief, they'd been open for so long. His cramped body relaxed a bit. This was nice … It had been so long since he'd just relaxed. A minute of rest, it was all he needed. Silence.
A tiny snore.
A bonus-point dancing in a tutu, fun.
He was still awake, how could he be snoring? He was just … resting.
Then everything disappeared and he dreamed of a fish. Sadly it lasted only a second.
Please leave me alone. Why can't they leave me alone?
The soft tickly thing was shaking. Why? Did he have to reply? He was just resting. Why did he have to reply? It felt so good where he was.
“Hmmm?” He garbled incomprehensibly between semi snores, most of his brain was sleeping now. “I'sss zzbbmmm zzresting, ju ... bbb st … zzzresting …” He rubbed deeper into the soft tickly stuff and sighed, squeezing his eyes shut a little tighter. The lovely warm sea came back, almost as comfortable as a soft blanket. Micronaps were good …
Could he … maybe … have a brief nap?
The tickly thing rocked harder. Rimmer felt as if he could cry. Did this mean he wasn't allowed even a little rest? How could it be so cruel to him? Just as suddenly the shaking just didn't matter any more, his body so beyond the end of it's tether it just … didn't care. Things faded again, so blissful at sea ...
Now he was snoring, sleeping, still standing up but resting … at last.
Rimmer barely heard it, he was far away now. He snored again, a desperate little sound.
“Rimmer for smeg sake!!”
No, no, no!!!
The urgent fussing of his pillow brought him back. Returning to consciousness only seconds after finally sleeping Rimmer felt nauseous and completely confused. Was the tickly thing angry with him? Why? He wasn't doing any harm. Tired, SO tired … He tried lifting his weary head, it was so hard as it seemed to weigh about five tonnes by now. He felt sick and dizzy. He gave up and rested his head again. Even though he knew he shouldn't the urge to sleep was overwhelming. Let the thing shake, he didn't care any-more. For smeg sake why was it making so much fuss? Didn't it understand how drained he was? Sleep, please. Please let me just sleep for a moment, one little moment he begged it. Or just let me be here resting for a few more seconds. He'd be up again in a minute, soon, soon he would find the strength to work. Work … wor … beautiful bed ...
Before he had the chance to blissfully slip away again that voice piped up again. A voice he somehow sensed he knew. Things were so foggy in his overworked brain.
“Rimmer, did you just take a micro-sleep … on the top of me head ... twice?” Lister asked as if from far away, sounding rather annoyed. Lister? Ah yes, it was Lister! Why was his pillow sounding like Lister?
Slowly he began to recall:
Wait, no … he wasn't in bed, he should remember that! Important … such … an important ZZZZ -Z-shift.* Z-shift? Now? Oh please no, please!!* He was in so much pain. The fever was getting worse. Where was he again? Using all the strength he had left he priced his eyes open, hoping it would help him focus. Through a thick blurry haze he briefly saw he was either standing or floating in the bunkroom then the heavy lids fluttered shut. For a second he almost slipped away again. Staying awake was so hard, so terribly hard now. Basically his body seemed to have given up, but still he was willing himself back to consciousness.
The mental mist in Rimmer's mind began to part, as it dawned on him that: yes, he was standing and that the nice soft thing could very well be a person …
Chapter 6: Breaking Point
“What?” Arnold Rimmer jerked awake with a yelp. The much needed feeling of peace shattered and he was sort of back in the room, be it rather disorientated and panicked.
Where had he been? Was this reality?
He hated it!
Did Lister accuse him of sleeping on duty? How dare he!
“A superior on duty doesn't sleep Lister. I … I was thinking …” The room was swaying and his heart racing as he stumbled backwards then fell. He realised he'd been leaning on Lister for support –
No he'd been drifting off on Lister's head!!
Was that the nice warmth he'd been feeling? Had he actually nodded off on the top of Lister's head? How long had he been making a fool of himself? He'd actually dreamed a bit! A look at the clock said everything had probably lasted no more than a few seconds, it had felt like hours. He was Lister's superior … supposed to be … where was his dignity? Smeg, he'd just wanted some rest!! Did he even care any-more?
In less than a week he'd lost it all: Lister had seen him go nuts, overdose, cry, throw up and now he'd been having micro-naps on top of his head.
He'd enjoyed it!!
He'd … drooled!!!
How he wished he was still there!!
His body was still yearning for the lovely warmth he'd just felt. He longed for it so much. He'd been so calm so at peace.
He'd never expected Lister to be that soft, warm and comfortable. Lister had looked after him, helped him. No-one had ever done this before …
Lister is a bed, a good, warm bed … His crazy hallucinating mind told him, and for a second the broken man believed it.
Then … from the corner of his eyes.
His father, his father was standing in the corner!! He'd embarrassed his father again!!
No … he promised! It was over now. No rest, work to do. Don't think about anything soft and comfortable, not even Listers. It was wrong, thoughts and feelings he'd ought to repress. It was just the sleep deprivation talking. He was on dangerous territory now, he was weakened, he was losing the fight. Father looked disappointed. He had to think of things that kept him awake. Father, his anger, the ice baths he used to get when Rimmer senior wanted to keep him studying for tests. Yes, that was good. The Captain, promotion. Comfortable floor … sleeeeep … no, not sleep. Don't, don't! Father, the capmotion, cold Listers, eyes closing … soft baths. No, no, that wasn't right … His feverish brain kept pounding disjointed thought after disjointed thought. His father, brother, teachers and laughing mother all swirling around him. Jeering at him, the family failure. He felt like curling up in a ball and waiting for blessed death. Smeg, he was going insane!!
“Thinking, eh? Sure you were smegger …”
He heard Lister scoff from far away. Was time running differently for him? How could Lister still be replaying to that when he had been talking to father for ages?
“Come on Rimmer, get up.”
He was grateful that Lister's voice penetrated his haze of fear.
Lister, safe warm Lister …
Lister, bed … rest ...
Lister's hand reached out, he took it. Then things briefly went black.
Lister sighed as he helped Rimmer up and the man semi-collapsed in his arms again with a weary snore. He wondered if it was time to ask Holly to bring in a doctor and the psychiatrist. It was getting out of hand. Rimmer was by now obviously delirious with exhaustion. There was a fear in his eyes and he clearly wasn't even aware he was crying. When the Second Technician was finally recovered from all this would they have to discuss the bizarre display of a superior resting his head on top of a subordinates head? Hopefully Rimmer would lose every memory of all this.
Idiot! His brain screamed: he could have put Rimmer to bed during his black out, they'd been standing next to the bunk! Rimmer had been totally out of it, basically sleeping already. He could have just slid him in and all of this would have been over! Why had he been so stupid to wake him up? Now he'd go all “Second Technician, have to do my duties” again!
“Lezz get ready then .,.” Rimmer slurred, half snoring and swaying precariously against Lister. He was basically sleeping while awake, barely aware of his surroundings. He saw stars, light flashes and weird things, he was made of clouds. He had returned to just slumping over Lister and hoping the best of it.
It seemed as if the Scouser was sort of rocking him, it felt good. Slowly he was lulled into the same comfortable rest he'd felt before. Why did Lister make him feel so safe? Maybe it was because no-one had ever held him before and Lister just did it without question.
“Lezzzzzzzzz get cart ...” He snored. “C'p'tn z' waiting ...” Great, now he'd forgotten how to talk. Had he actually said it, or did he just think he did? No, it seemed Lister was replying, or was he dreaming it? Why was everything underwater now?
“Rimmer, you just fell asleep standing up. I'm not even sure if you're awake now. Don't be an idiot. Smeg, I'll tell the Captain you did Z-shift if you just go rest now.” Noticing Rimmer was still spaced out Lister attempted to push him into his bunk. It was obvious the man would be gone the second his head hit the pillow.
Blinking both in confusion and simply to keep his eyes from shutting Rimmer shook his head again, hoping to clear the fog. Lister's offer was so tempting, his body felt so weak … Maybe father would understand how ill he was and allow him to rest. He noticed that the Scouser was trying to nudge him into his bunk and was almost ready to accept, but then …
What are you doing Arnold?
Weaseling out are you? Well, what else could I expect of someone as worthless as you!
I'm sorry father …
Did you really think I'd forgive you failing your exams again?!!
Please, please let me rest father I …
No, get to work you pathetic little failure!!!
I … I will sir, I promise.
One last chance!! Be a Rimmer again, show authority or else!!
Of course father …
“I … I can't Lister …” Rimmer droned, as he tried to raise himself up. It took nearly everything he had to stand by himself again. In what he hoped was a flash, but to Lister was a clumsy display, he wiped his mouth and stood to attention. See father? I'm ready.
Then he turned on his heels as he went to the tap to splash some cold water in his face and to take some deep breaths. He then looked in the mirror to straighten his uniform, comb his hair and plaster his special 'Captain's smile' on his face.
Ah, he looked better than he thought. His uniform was pressed and pristine, his hair neatly gelled in place, his eyes bright and eager, while his smile looked strong and in charge.
“Ready Rimmer?” Lister asked kindly, patting his shoulder and Rimmer … jolted awake.
That broke the fantasy and in the mirror the Second-technician saw … A haggard looking man in a crumpled, stained uniform, hair so frizzy no comb could ever save it. The smile was rather wobbly and looked slightly creepy fixed on his tight pale features set off with hollow, red ringed, bloodshot eyes. He looked like a depressed, malnourished, vampire.
Had it been a hallucination or had he just micro-napped? Whatever it was it'd been ... disorientating …
Well, couldn't be helped now.
A few more deep breaths as Rimmer pressed his nails into the soft of his hands and summoned all the energy left inside him to force out his usual energetic Z-shift leader personae. He could do this!
“Come on Listy.” Rimmer smarmed as he turned round clapping his hands. “The Captain is waiting, chop chop!” And with that he turned round sashayed out, and … promptly walked into the door.
Cringing with second hand embarrassment Lister took Rimmer by the arm to lead him into the hallway.
Too exhausted to care and grateful for the support Rimmer let him.
Leaning on Lister while yawning continuously Rimmer dragged himself through half the corridor before he slumped limply onto a bench near the lifts.
“If they're bringing it up they can smegging well bring it here and maybe I can close my eyes for a few seconds.” He realised he felt beat already, his body was aching and seemed like lead. No! He could STILL do this!!
Lister was less sure of that than Rimmer as he noticed that the Second technician was by now shivering with exhaustion while his eyes were just tiny cracks desperately fighting to stay open. Every blink seemed to last over a minute. His wake up routine actually seemed to have made him worse, the poor guy was swaying in his chair. In a way Lister respected Rimmer's dedication, but the sight was beyond pitiful.
“Please, I smegging beg ya!! Go to bed Rimmer, I can …”
“Not in a month of smegged up Sundays Dave Lister! I have a duty to the captain, the ship, the crew, my family … my … thing … I don't know … somethi …”
His eyes fell shut as Rimmer trailed off, his head lolled forwards as he was lost in another microsleep, then the bloodshot eyes snapped open again. Lister sighed. That crazy man was barely able to string a coherent sentence together by now, let alone tend to half a dozen machines. Even keeping his head upright seemed to be a struggle. Smeg, Lister sighed as he sat himself next to him, this would be the ultimate Z-shift from hell.
“Father sa … cold ba ...” Rimmer muttered to himself, fighting against the blanket of exhaustion that covered him, his feverish brain only vaguely aware of the meaning of these words by now. All he could think about was his blanket. How he wished he could sit next to the central heating, his blanket wrapped around him. Resting in the warmth. He was so tired … so … cold.
Lister is a magic blanket ...
Smeg, had he nodded off again? Weak failure! He pressed his nails into the soft of his hands again, pain would keep him awake!! Why couldn't those Skutters hurry the smeg up. Father, stop glaring at me, I'm trying!!
Cold … so cold ...
He shifted himself a little closer to Lister, remembering the heat the Scouser radiated. In his rational mind setting himself closer to Lister was the last thing he'd allow himself to do. But now he was beyond caring: warmth, comfort and kindness were all he longed for.
Five minutes seemed like hours, long draining hours in which he felt all strength leaving his body.
Too weak to press nails ...
Darkness was pulling at the edge of his vision, he was blinking in and out of consciousness.
Father kept glaring, screaming insults, but they didn't really make sense any-more. Everything seemed to go misty and blurry … A spinning ball of blurriness.
Custard creams are free on Sunday ...
He had to keep moving to stay alert – or whatever the smeg passed for it. Nice comfy Lister … his brain said again.
Lister is a friendly pixie, he'll lead you to happiness in mushroom land ...
No, no, wake up, please …
No … I …
The water is warm … I am a fish … I am a fish … I am a fish … I am a fish … I am a fiiiiiiiiiiiiii …..............................
Then all the lights went out and, at last, there was nothing ...
Chapter 7: Don't go back to sleep here you stupid smeghead!!
Suddenly there was a pressure on his shoulder and something was tickling his face. Lister froze completely. Smeg no, this could not be, this could not be happening. Terrified of moving, Lister tried looking from the corner of his eyes to see … auburn curls, lots of them. He swallowed and closed his eyes. Arnold Rimmer was sleeping on his shoulder, smegging great. Not micro-sleeping like before but actually, seriously, sleeping!! Worse: he was sort of … nestling … Probably so out of it he thought he was in bed … well, at-least Lister hoped that was what it was.
He had to wake the smeghead up, before anyone saw them. It wasn't as if Lister would usually have a problem being seen with men sleeping on his shoulder: a blind drunk Petersen had done it often enough. But being seen with Rimmer on your shoulder … that was rather different. He wasn't sure he'd ever live it down.
“Rimmer ...” Lister tried, shaking his shoulder a little, “Rimmer, wake up you smegger!!”
Great, now Rimmer was doing that annoying, whiny, wretched snore of the extremely fatigued. And … oh great, just his smegging luck; the shaking had succeeded in Rimmer collapsing on him a little more.
Lister sighed: this was useless. Rimmer was a wreck and had obviously crashed out, too far gone to notice anything short of the ship exploding, After everything he'd been through who could blame him?
The snores got deeper as the beyond exhausted man started leaning heavier, all control of his body lost.
To Lister's embarrassment Rimmer smacked his lips and wrapped his arms around him, rubbing his head against him, getting good and comfortable. Smeg … was he … drooling a little?
Lister pondered trying to “sleepwalk” Rimmer back to the bunkroom, but knew it wasn't possible: Rimmer was thin to the point of skinny, but also very tall and would be difficult to manoeuvrer. He could try to escape and leave Rimmer there, but it wasn't his style to leave someone so defenceless. For some reason the thought of a sleeping, ill, spaced out Rimmer at the mercy of the crew didn't appeal to him. He loved to prank Rimmer, but that was just it: pranks. Hurting him was something else entirely. Deep down inside there was a part of him that wanted to protect this man, no matter how annoying he could be.
“I'm sorry …” He suddenly heard Rimmer sleep-slur.
“Rimmer?” Lister asked.
“S … sorry … Father … So … so tired ... Must … must do Z-shift … Captain …” Rimmer muttered feverishly, in one last futile attempt to do his duty. “Fa … father will … angry … Don't … Don't let him hurt me … ”
Father? Lister raised his eyebrows. Now they were getting somewhere. Was Rimmer's father a tyrant? That would explain quite a bit. Maybe he had the sort of perfectionist parent that pushed their children to breaking point. Whatever Rimmer's father had done the smegger was certainly causing his son a feverish nightmare right now.
Without thinking he started stroking Rimmer's hair and whispered: “Don't worry Rimmer, you'll do your Z-shift ...” That seemed to calm his fever a bit, then he added. “The Captain changed his mind, you can do his floor tomorrow.”
“Not … not punished …?”
“No-one is gonna punish you Rimmer, I promise.”
“Good ...” Rimmer sighed, utterly depleted. Tension leaving his body he went limp and his head sank comfortably onto Lister's lap. Deep snores then followed.
“No, no, don't go back to sleep here you stupid smeghead!!” Lister nearly screamed in pained frustration. This was even worse.
Then the lift finally arrived presenting two Skutters with the service trolley – the big Captain's floor one!! With a relieved smile Lister's brain came up with an idea.
“Hey guys, could you help me out?
Apparently sensing what was up two small Skutter heads nodded in unison.
Quickly Lister slid out from under Rimmer, as the Skutters made sure the Second Technician stayed in place.
Escaping was the easy part, Lister knew when he was finally free. Getting Rimmer to stand and walk – if only for five seconds – that would be the hard part.
“Come on Rimmer, get up.” Lister said, as he shook him, feeling almost guilty having to wake him again.
“Noh-ple-please-vsvs-basterd-smeg-goit-zleeeepzzhhhhh …” Rimmer muttered in protest at the thought of doing anything but sleep ever again.
“No, no, you don't have to do anything much. Just a few steps Rimsy, so you can go to bed.”
“Not … in bed?” Rimmer slurred in confusion, then he immediately continued snoring, he clearly didn't care where he was, as long as he was there sleeping.
“Just work with me smegger ...” Lister grinned bending down under Rimmer's limp arm to try and raise him up, only to find the Second Technician rolling over to once again use him as his favourite pillow.
There he was with part of Rimmer sprawled over him and the man snoring loudly in his hair. When Rimmer crashed out he crashed out!
For a few seconds Lister just knelt there under Rimmer and pondered how all this had to look on camera. He might ask Holly for a copy of the security tapes one day.
Just to laugh at mind … not … to use as future blackmail. Of course not …
“Soft … nice … warm Lister …” He heard in his curls between snores and lip smacks.
He cringed. What the smeg?
Rimmer seemed almost … peaceful now.
Did he like him? Trust him?
If there was any chance of that …
Not blackmail then … or ridicule.
It didn't stop Lister from sniggering at the absurdity of it all, though.
With a sigh he pushed most of Rimmer back on the chair until he and the Skutters had him in the right position to manoeuvre.
When certain the angle was at it's best he slowly raised the Second technician, and succeed in getting him to waddle about two steps, his head lolling around like a broken nodding car dog toy. The Skutters managed to push the cart in front of him just in time for him to collapse on it. To Lister's surprise Rimmer just curled up on the cart and continued his exhausted slumber. This was clearly the beyond exhausted point where anything was 'a bed'.
“You poor guy ...” Lister sighed shaking his head.
Swiftly Lister carted his sleeping superior to the bunkroom and parked him in front of the bed.
Sniggering at the ridiculous situation he proceeded to open the duvet covers, remove Rimmers boots and belt and then rolling the man into the bunk, where the Second Technician curled up again and continued his sleep as if nothing had ever happened. Lister snorted and shook his head as he turned on the electric blanket and covered his bunkmate with several blankets. Finally the tension in Rimmer's face disappeared a little, as if he subconsciously knew he was finally in bed now. Lister pondered if the constant lack of sleep, combined with whatever had happened to him before were what caused most of his insufferable behaviour. Rimmer had seemed depressed and exhausted long before this whole exam business started.
Not trusting the fever the man had, nor the state he had been in before crashing out, he called Holly and requested a doctor to look at Rimmer. He also ordered the computer head to make sure that no-one else would disturb Rimmer in his current state, he needed all the rest in the universe. Meanwhile he'd keep his promise and make sure that “Arnold Rimmer” did his Z shift.
Chapter 8: Aftermath
It was not until the early evening of the next day that Arnold J Rimmer finally woke up in utter confusion. His eyes seemed stuck together while his mouth felt as dry as the Sahara.
He sat up groggily as he wiped the drool of deep, desperate, exhausted sleeping from his cheek; what had happened? He didn't remember going to sleep … in fact he barely remembered anything from yesterday … Hadn't it been an exam day? He shivered as he tried blinking open his eyes.
Slowly a few vague blurry events restored in his mind: exhaustion and panic, going to the exams, what had happened there? It was a blank, that was never good. He very vaguely remembered going back to the bunkroom, desperate for a lay down, a message from Holly about something stopping him from … Still no memory of how he got to bed, had he blacked out? He felt rough, his head was pounding. Thankfully his eyes were opening a little now.
What? He'd been sleeping in his clothes?? He never slept in his clothes.
“So, you're finally awake then, Rimmer?” He heard a voice say. A voice he'd recognize anywhere: Lister.
“Whadappened?” Rimmer slurred, his mouth was so dry his tongue was stuck to his pallet.
With a cheeky grin Lister handed him a glass of water “There ya go, sleepy mouth ...”
Rimmer swiftly downed the glass, it was nice and cold. He pressed the nice cool glass against his feverish brow, what a relief.
“Want more?” Lister asked kindly.
Rimmer nodded gratefully and quickly downed the new glass handed him.
“Lister … what happened … it's six PM!” He asked again, more aware of where he was now. “I can't have missed two Z shifts? I …”
“Ya … didn't Rimsy, I promise.”
“But … I must have … Smeg … smeg … oh smeg … the Captains floor … I remember now … I … I was so tired …”
“Not just tired Rimmer, you were delirious from extreme exhaustion. You could have died ya smegger.”
“Did … did I … smeg … I made a fool of myself? I failed?” An evil butterfly started fluttering in Rimmer's chest as his brain came up with all the ways he could have humiliated himself.
“You finished both floors last night Rimmer, you did it perfectly. You did it all and only crashed when you came back here, I could only just get you to your bunk …
“I … I am confused … Lister?”
“Well, you did seem a bit on automatic last night, but I assure you; you Rimmer, ya did what ya could. It's all fine. Now the doctor says …”
“Doctor? Lister, what happened?” Rimmer was almost hyperventilating by now, Lister got him a paper bag just in case.
“Smeg, you've slept for an entire day and yer still as tense as anything!”
“This is no good. Holly, Holly!!”
“Holly, what happened?
“I don't know, you called me!”
“No, what happened yesterday morning?
“Ah. Well the Captain had breakfast, two full English, Todhunter had two boiled eggs with soldiers.”
“No, to me! What happened to me?!"
“You didn't have any breakfast, as you were too tense.”
“No, after that!!” Rimmer grumbled.
“Oh, you freaked out at your exams again. The usual … Ants this time.”
“No, Z shift, did I do Z shift?”
“Yes, you certainly did Arnold, two floors, then you collapsed. Doctor says you've had a complete breakdown and need to stay calm and rest for at least a week.”
“So I … I did Z shift?” Rimmer asked hopefully.
The pixilated head on the screen smiled kindly as Lister winked at it without Rimmer noticing.
“Yes you did Arnold." The head said as soothing as a computer generated image could.
In his bed Rimmer nodded tightly. It was so confusing: why couldn't he remember it?
But … at least he had done his duty: served the Captain and had his punishment for messing up.
He could rest for a few days, Holly had said. He needed that, he could feel it. His body felt odd and his brain was buzzing. But could he? Could he really? There was this nagging thing in the back of his mind telling him he couldn't rest. Could never rest. His job … His Z-shift!!
“But who's going to do it when I'm in bed? Z-shift? Who …"
“No-one, Z-shift will resume once you're up. Till that time Lister will be on call out just in case of emergency.”
With a glare Rimmer looked up at the screen.
“Lister? He's not qualified!!”
“He will be supervised by Todhunter.”
Hearing this Rimmer physically and audibly gasped.
Lister working with Todhunter?!
Lister working with an OFFICER?!!
That caused Rimmer an immediate anxiety attack; He'd never been supervised by an officer, why should Lister have this honour?! What if Lister did his job well? What if he did it so well Todhunter mentioned it to the Captain and Lister was promoted? That would mean he'd be the lowest ranking person on the ship again. He'd been waiting fifteen long years to get to this rank and he wasn't about to lose it again.
In a flash he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of his bunk.
“Unnecessary, I'm absolutely fine!”
With that he rose to his feet, suffered a nausea inducing dizzy spell and … keeled over.
The first thing he noticed when he regained consciousness was Lister by his side, looking down on him with good natured despair as he mopped his brow with a wet flannel.
“Urgghh …” the Second Technician groaned weakly, unable to make any coherent sounds.
“Smeghead.” Lister chided. “What did you have to get up for?”
“I can't lose my job.” Rimmer muttered, trying to convince his body to sit up. “I worked years to get pro … pro ...” He sighed and gave up, he finally accepted he was beaten and didn't even protest when Lister wrapped his arms around him to help him sit up. No-one had ever touched him as kindly as that. It stirred a memory: him, resting peacefully on something soft … soft and prickly. It confused him.
“Rimmer, I've got no intention of getting promoted to anything, you doink.”
The kind and soft voice Lister used stirred another memory in Rimmer: Lister looking after him, helping him … holding him!
If Lister could accept his issues, help him without ridiculing him … maybe he could trust him.
Still, he had to ask.
“Why not? Everyone wants a promotion.”
Lister smiled at him. A nice smile.
“I'm a coaster Rimmer; I just want this job to earn a few bob and get home. I'm happy where I am. Fumbling with machines and partying with the lads. Now get back to bed.”
With that he slowly helped Rimmer up and sat him on the edge of the bunk. From there Rimmer looked up at him. He just couldn't understand it.
“But people like you Lister, you might have no say in it.”
“Look," Lister sighed, but still continued patiently, "if I promise to behave exactly as I do when on shift with you when I work with Todhunter, would that get you back to bed?”
At that moment anything would have gotten Rimmer back to bed, as he felt absolutely awful and the world was still slightly spinning. He had ruined his health for an exam he'd never got to take, and to top it all: fifteen years he'd waited to work on the Captain's floor and now he didn't even remember it. Maybe he should just stay in bed forever …
“Just promise you don't get promoted.” He sighed, as he tried to unbutton his uniform with unwilling fingers; he just wanted the comfort of his pyjamas.
“Deal.” Lister smirked as he helped to open Rimmer's uniform buttons.
Helping Rimmer into his pyjama's, Lister made a mental note never to tell the second Technician about the compliments he received from the Captain the night before when he completed a full Z-shift in thirty minutes, instead of Rimmer's usual, anxious perfectionism induced, three hours. That would have been too cruel.