Lister, Cat and Kryten were marched along by the guards, out of the woods and into a large field. Through the dank mist, Lister could make out a building in the distance. As they approached closer, he realised it was some kind of palace or temple, vaguely in the shape of a pyramid.
"Nice place," Cat remarked. "Shame about the statues."
Lister had to grin, the statues lining the pathway were all of Rimmer in various heroic poses; some in togas, some in armour and many holding swords. Lister doubted Rimmer could even lift a sword.
The soldiers lead them through the courtyard and up to the great wooden double doors where one of them knocked loudly three times. Another identical clone, who appeared to be some kind of general servant, opened the door. On seeing the prisoners he stumbled backwards and made a hand gesture which Lister guessed was some sort of superstition to ward off evil.
"What are these abominations?" he breathed.
"We don't know exactly, we found them in the woods," the lead guard replied, keeping his spear trained on them. "Inform the Great One. We'll be in the throne room."
Lister admired the throne room's decor while they waited. Cat was right, the Rimmers were far more competent builders than he would have expected of a species cloned from Captain Smeg-Up.
Eventually Rimmer entered dressed in a roman style and sat down in his throne. He removed his helmet and placed it on his lap, then regarded his troops and their prisoners. "Who disturbs our royal snooze?" he enquired pompously.
Lister stepped forward with a welcoming gesture, hoping to show Rimmer he was forgiven for abandoning them. "Rimmer, it's us!"
Rimmer leaned forward in his throne and gave Lister a look of disbelief. "Dear Lord, what created such foulness? Is this the product of a marriage 'twixt woman and gerbil?"
Lister sighed. Surely Rimmer wasn't still sulking after six hundred years? Maybe he genuinely had forgotten them after so long, Lister would just have to jog his memory. He attempted to explain but Rimmer seemed more interested in speaking to his soldiers than to him and the soldiers seemed to have a very low opinion of anyone who wasn't one of them.
Cat looked at him warily and gave Lister a nudge. "That ain't...," One of the soldiers poked him in the buttocks with his spear, demanding silence, and Cat rounded on him angrily, forgetting what he was going to say. "Watch the outfit, Buddy!"
Whether Rimmer remembered them or not, he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself ruling over a planet of his own clones. Lister wasn't surprised, Rimmer had always been power crazed whenever he managed to actually get any power. Sending the concubines away because Lister was too ugly for them to be subjected to was a tad insulting though, Lister would have to think of some cutting insults of his own later.
"Enough of this heresy," Rimmer decided eventually. "At the stroke of dawn, take them out and kill them."
Lister lost his temper as the guards made a move on his friends. "Okay, Smeghead, enough of this playacting!"
"Except for that one," Rimmer stopped them, pointing at Lister. "There is something..., strangely compelling about him."
Lister side-eyed him, wondering what he was getting at now.
"Give him a thorough bath and find him some respectable clothing." Rimmer flicked his tongue across his upper lip. "Then bring him to my bedchamber."
"Oh, so you do remember me, Smeghead?"
Well, that meant his friends weren't really in any danger of being killed, so Lister decided he might as well put up with the theatrics for a bit if it made Rimmer happy. And, to be honest, a bath didn't sound at all an unpleasant prospect after months stuck in Starbug. "Okay then," he agreed.
"Yes, Sire," replied the lead soldier, who Lister noticed was also regarding him with a rather lascivious look. He prodded Lister with his spear and indicated which way he should go whilst Cat and Kryten were led away in the other direction.
"So what's it like working for Smeghead?" Lister asked his guard as he followed him down the corridor to the bath house. "Has he still got a report book? Who does he report you to?"
The guard took no notice and pushed him through a silk curtain into a room constructed entirely of marble. It had several deep bathtubs with golden taps and was decorated with potted ferns. The sun had come out whilst they were indoors and sunlight was now streaming in cheerfully through the open skylights. Well, this was a bit of alright! Lister decided as he happily stripped off his grubby clothing and stepped into an already filled tub.
Whilst Lister was relaxing in hot soapy water, Cat and Kryten found themselves unceremoniously shoved into a stone jail cell. There was one other occupant, who was sitting on the slab-like bed that was the only piece of furniture in the room, a hessian blanket draped over him like a hooded cloak. Kryten recognised him immediately. "Mr Rimmer!" he said delightedly as he pulled the blanket away.
"Oh yeah!" Cat remembered. "That's what I was trying to tell Dormouse-Cheeks before the dude with the spear interrupted. That guy upstairs ain't Goalpost Head, he didn't smell right."
Rimmer looked at them. "Titan! Kit!" he exclaimed. "I remember! You've come to rescue me!" He looked around whilst Kryten speed-counted the tally marks on the wall. "Where's..., Custer? Derek Custer?"
"It's David Lister, Sir," Kryten corrected. "Mr Lister is upstairs with your..., oh dear!" he trailed off.
"What?" Cat insisted. "What's wrong, Buddy?"
"Mr Lister still thinks that the Rimmer leader is our Mr Rimmer. We'll have to get out of this cell and find him before anything untoward happens." He began fiddling with the teleporter, trying to find a setting that would transport them only as far as the other side of the door.
Three female Rimmers in skimpy white dresses entered the bathroom, one wielding a loofah. Lister had wondered if the female half of the Rimmer race would look like Arlene Rimmer, but apparently not, they seemed to still have Arnold's face, just a slightly more delicate shaped version with a narrower jaw, and wore their hair long, the effect was disconcerting. They approached the tub without speaking and began fussing over him.
"Hey, I can wash meself!" he protested but they ignored his complaints and began soaping and scouring him. One of them even gave him a shave, even though he'd had one that morning. Eventually, he found himself fully scrubbed, rinsed, dried and sprayed with perfume, before being given a white pleated tunic and a pair of sandals. He put them on without making a fuss because anything was better than his grotty longjohns. "Hey, can you get those washed for me?" he suggested, indicating his pile of clothes. One of the handmaidens gave him a nod and gathered up his laundry on the way out. "Cheers," Lister smiled after her.
"This way, abomination," said a guard curtly. Lister couldn't tell if it was the same guard who'd brought him here or not. He wondered how they told each other apart as he followed him through the corridors. Various Rimmers of various occupations glanced at him as they made their way through the palace, with looks ranging from curiosity to disgust to a certain amount of undisguised interest.
Eventually the guard arrived at a large double door carved with an H and knocked politely. "Enter," said a Rimmer voice. The guard opened the door and stood respectfully to one side as Lister entered.
Rimmer was standing by the French windows, drinking wine from a golden goblet. He'd removed his breastplate and helmet and was wearing only a tunic and cloak. He looked Lister up and down, then turned to the guard. "Leave us," he said. The guard bowed himself out and closed the door behind him. Rimmer turned back to Lister.
"You're really enjoying this King thing, aren't you, Rimmer?"
Rimmer ignored that statement. "Do you know why I had you brought here?" he asked simply.
"Well, I get the general idea, yeah," Lister smirked.
"There is something about you. You are a grotesque, foul, unnatural creature..."
"Alright! Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"
"But there is a fascination about you that I can't explain."
"This is hopeless, Sirs," Kryten sighed after trying six different doors and finding six empty rooms. "This palace is a maze. Mr Lister could be anywhere."
"I can't smell him either," Cat grumbled. "There's so many plants and flowers in this damn greenhouse, they're drowning out his scent."
"Halt, abominations!" a guard appeared around the corner suddenly, levelling his spear at them.
"Ah, excellent timing! Excuse me, Sir." Kryten caught the spear by the point, it wouldn't harm a mechanoid and there was only one guard this time. "I'll have that, if you don't mind, Sir," he said politely, tugging the spear out of the guard's grip.
"Help!" the guard tried shouting instead as his natural cowardice kicked in.
Cat grabbed him by the throat. "You don't want me to tear those nostrils any wider, be quiet, Buddy. Now where's the big dude's bedroom?"
Rimmer put his goblet down and walked towards Lister. He placed a hand under Lister's chin and tipped his head up to face him. "If you please me, I will give you a permanent place in my harem. If not, I will have you executed."
Lister rolled his eyes. "That's a great way to get the most out of your concubines, give them performance anxiety."
"Remove your tunic," Rimmer stated calmly. "Let my eyes feast upon your foul nakedness."
"Okay," Lister shrugged and tugged the tunic over his head.
Rimmer stared as if he genuinely never had seen Lister naked before. "You truly are an abomination!" he thundered. "What in all the hells created such a monstrosity?"
Lister wondered if Rimmer was just pretending to be surprised as part of his playacting or if he really had forgotten over the centuries just how large Lister was. He decided to play along regardless. "Luck of the draw," he grinned at him. "Some have it, some don't."
"We must find you a suitable covering for it in public. Such a repulsive beast is fit for the King's eyes only."
Lister shook his head sadly. "You really are enjoying this, aren't you? You perv."
Rimmer unfastened his cloak and draped it neatly over a chair. "Lie down on the royal bed."
"Okay," Lister grinned. There was only one bed in the room so he guessed Rimmer must mean that one. He kicked off his sandals and made himself comfortable amongst the many large soft pillows while he watched Rimmer remove first his boots and then his tunic.
Rimmer lay down on the bed beside Lister in only a loincloth and began to slowly run his hands over Lister's body. "My foul abomination," he breathed lustily. "My bastion of hideousness. Are you ready to please your King?"
"Oh yeah," Lister smirked. He deftly changed positions, flipping Rimmer over onto his back and straddling him, then leaned down and passionately kissed him. "Did you miss me, Arn?" he breathed. Rimmer didn't answer but looked surprised. "Okay, Your Majesty," he purred as he guided Rimmer's hands to his waist. "You want a concubine? Why don't I show you some of the exotic tricks I know?" There were a few things he'd been saving and now seemed like a good time. After all, from Rimmer's perspective, he hadn't seen Lister for around six hundred years. He reached down and began unfastening Rimmer's loincloth.
The door flew open and Kryten and Cat burst into the room. Lister spun around in shock, then saw who it was and scowled at them. "Oi! A little privacy here, guys?" he complained.
"Mr Lister, Sir, that's not Mr Rimmer," Kryten informed him. "Mr Cat and I found Mr Rimmer, he was in the dungeon. That's another clone, Sir."
"Another one of the clones who rules as King. His H is an affectation, a piece of jewellery worn as a holy symbol, I would guess, Sir."
The real Rimmer peered awkwardly around Kryten. "Custer?"
"Guards!" bellowed the Great One, recovering from his shock.
Lister rounded on him. "You smegging scumbag! You were gonna have sex with me under false pretences!"
Kryten coughed politely. "To be entirely fair to His Majesty, Mr Lister, he didn't actually make any claim to be Mr Rimmer. That was your mistake, Sir. On the contrary, I would imagine the King assumed everyone on this planet knows who he is."
"Guards!" the Great One yelled again and Lister heard feet pounding down the corridor and swung himself off the bed.
"We'd better go, guys."
"Grab the teleporter, Sir."
"Hang on a minute, Krytes. I've gotta get me clothes back first."
"Oh for silicone heaven's sake! Where are they, Sir?"
"I dunno. Where's the laundry room?"
"Oh, for the love of...," Kryten teleported them to a different room.
Lister looked around. "No good." Judging by the large table in the middle, it appeared to be a meeting room and the inhabitants looked too shocked to do anything at three strangers, one of them naked, who had appeared from thin air.
"Trying again, Sir."
"No, this is the bathroom again."
"Well, this is no good, Buddy! Now we're just in the gardens!"
Several jaunts later, they finally found the laundry room. "Thank the maker for that. I hope the teleporter isn't overheating," Kryten worried whilst Lister ran from tub to tub looking for his clothes.
"Cheers, darling," Lister told a Rimmer washerwoman as he hoisted his jumpsuit, jacket and longjohns out of her tub. They were wringing wet so he just bundled them up to carry for now, Kryten could dry them once they got back to Starbug.
"Alright, Sir. Are. We. Ready To. Leave. Now?" Kryten wanted to know.
"Yes, Krytes, go, go, go!" Lister agreed.
Kryten reset the teleporter coordinates to Starbug's known location and beamed them out of there, leaving some very confused washerwomen.
Back on Starbug, Kryten performed a wipe on Rimmer's lightbee to delete five hundred and fifty-seven years from his memory, leaving only the memories of the first forty or so years, first creating Rimmerworld and its inhabitants and then being overthrown and imprisoned shortly before the crew arrived to rescue him. That was all of the important parts of the incident, five and a half centuries worth of little more than staring at four walls whilst keeping a tally in chalk was a terrible waste of memory space. Besides, Lister insisted it was the kind thing to do, Rimmer may be a bastard but he didn't deserve to know he'd lived over six hundred years and spent most of it in prison.
Later, Lister, knocking back with a beer, decided to discuss his encounter with the Great One. "It was weird, man," he explained. "He thought I was pretty much the ugliest thing he'd ever seen but he still wanted to shag me. I mean I thought he was you, just sort of mucking around, like, so I didn't question it but now I know he was someone else, I don't get it. If I was that ugly to him, why'd he even want to touch me?"
"I have no idea, Lister."
"The only thing I can think of is that finding me attractive is hardwired into your DNA. Enough to override his social conditioning. Come to think of it, I bet he didn't understand it either, he must have been really confused."
Rimmer scowled. "Are you suggesting that there's just something innately irresistible about you, you arrogant goit?"
"Well, to you, yeah." He grinned broadly. "It's a good thing we left when we did before the whole smegging planet tried to shag me."
Rimmer didn't have an answer to that.