His mind a blaze of emotion, Lister entered a room. Cat was in there eating a trout a la crème, and everything seemed perfectly normal, but it wasn’t exactly.
“Cat, I need to tell you something,” said Lister. “You’re not going to like it. You’re really, really not going to like it.”
Cat looked at him curiously. “I’m losing my hair.”
“The pink sequins are coming off my purple jacket.”
“The hairdryers have finally gone extinct.”
“Then what is it?”
“You have to start being nicer to Rimmer.”
Cat slowly lowered his fork, and then cleaned it with a napkin. He set it elegantly down next to the plastic plate, turned around, adjusted his hairdo and said,
“Come on, man. You really messed him up earlier. He turned himself off! He nearly died died. You gotta tone it down.”
Cat looked thoughtful. As Lister scanned his face to try and work out if he was feeling actual regret, he slid out one perfectly manicured hand and casually pushed his entire delicious meal onto the floor.
“Why,” said Lister tetchily, “did you do that?”
“I don’t know, man! It’s a cat thing.”
Both of them watched the sauce remnants inch along the ground. The door slid open and Kryten came in.
“Oh, sir,” he said, not questioning why the meal was where it was, “what a mess. What an absolutely sorry sight, something that should have been well-made and delicious and sustaining smooshed on the floor and turned into worthless goop.” He paused. “What a tremendous metaphor that is for certain people.”’
“Kryts,” said Lister. “We’ve gotta lay off Rimmer at least for a little while, yeah? I’ve never seen him like I saw him earlier.”
“When he saved everyone, sir? When he saved me? It did seem remarkably out of character.”
“No no. Before that. While we were in the sandstorm. I came in the room and you should have seen the look on his face, man. He was…”
“All because I told him he didn’t exist?” Cat said incredulously. “That’s the least bad thing I’ve ever said about him!”
“With respect, sir,” said Kryten, who would of course take Lister’s side, “you wouldn’t like it if someone told you you didn’t exist. That sort of thing can really fry one’s circuits.”
“He even said he wondered if he was doing the right thing by staying alive and draining Starbug’s power from the rest of us,” Lister said. “When’s he ever wondered if he was doing the right thing before going straight to the wrong thing?”
“What?” said Kryten, sounding genuinely surprised for a second.
Lister latched onto a memory that was probably from either a million years ago or just a few tens, he didn’t really know. “Yeah… guess he wouldn’t have stayed in the tent, whacked Scott over the head with a frozen husky and then eaten him after all. At least not now.”
Cat was looking rather sadly at his ruined meal.
“With respect, sir,” said Kryten, “one inch forward in progress in oh, thirty, seven hundred, a million years, whatever the exact timeline is these days, it does not precisely a redemption make.”
“I know, man, but that’s not what I mean. I’m just saying…”
“C’mon buddy. Why defend him?” said Cat, slicing right to the heart of the issue.
“Because he’s me other half,” Lister said, and then he realized how that sounded. “No, I mean, he’s like all me bad qualities.”
“No he’s not,” said Cat.
“Alright, maybe, but it’s like… he’s everyone’s bad qualities. He’s so annoying, so pedantic and cowardly and nebbish and obnoxious –“
“And badly dressed.”
“And badly dressed, and smug and traitorous and gittish and thick and tone-deaf and wrong-headed and such an absolute total smegpot… you almost have to respect him a little.”
“No I don’t.”
“Okay, you don’t. And I suppose I don’t either. It’s just like…” Lister was spiraling. “Like, okay, answer me honestly here, do you think I’m a good person?”
“Yes!” Kryten almost yelled. “Sir, why would you even ask?”
Cat after a few seconds begrudgingly said, “Well… you’re alright.”
“But that’s the thing, you see,” Lister said enthusiastically, glad of both the confirmation and the chance to vent his spleen, “Am I really good? Or am I just good because all the bad stuff gets used up on Rimmer? Like, is he what keeps me a good person? And if so, do I have a moral responsibility to, you know, try at every opportunity to make him a better person?”
Cat nodded slowly. “These are really good questions. Really smart questions! But before I answer them I have one of my own, yeah? That alright with you?”
“What in the hell is a moral responsibility?”
Lister opened his mouth.
“Actually, come to think of it,” Cat said, “what the hell is a responsibility?”
“Yeah, I’m clearly talking to the wrong person here,” said Lister. “Kryten?”
“It is my greatest regret that I do not have a philosophy drive installed, sir,” said Kryten, and he actually did sound somewhat remorseful.
“It’s not philosophy as such,” Lister said, waving his hands around wildly. “It’s just-“
“Buddy, you know we don’t like it when you start doing that,” said Cat.
“I need to think,” Lister said crossly. “I only came in to have a go at you for being an insensitive smegger. Which I’ve done, though who knows if it’ll sink in.”
Cat didn’t say anything, but Kryten did. He said, rather uncomfortably, as if he was poking at something private, “What did you say to him to make him… reconsider?”
Lister said unashamedly, “I told him, basically, me and him are the sun and moon. I was like sunlight and he was like moonlight. Yeah he wasn’t the original light source, that’s the point, but moonlight still exists. So he exists. And that worked.” He wasn’t explaining it too well, and also he expected laughs. But to his surprise there weren’t any.
“Oh sir,” said Kryten. He was giving the impression of welling up, despite having no tear ducts. “That’s, that’s, that’s BEAUTIFUL!”
“S’not bad work, I guess.”
“Such a touching metaphor! Oh sir it’s so perfect. It would bring me back from the edge, not that I’ve ever been on it.”
“Hang on,” said Cat, who was flicking his knife distractedly over his fingers. “How’d the other cats know about that?”
“The cats who aren’t me, one of them was called Sol and one of them was called Luna. Sol means sun, and luna means moon.”
Lister had to put everything else aside to say, “How the smeg do you know that?”
“Everyone knows that!”
“I believe it’s Latin, sir,” Kryten filled in helpfully. “If I’m remembering rightly, and to be fair I wouldn’t put money on it, the ancient Romans worshipped the sun and moon as a god and goddess respectively.”
“Well for smeg’s sake don’t tell Rimmer that!”
“Various celestial bodies have been the basis for many a religion, sir,” said Kryten. “I wouldn’t read too much into it. Well, at least not until we run into cats again.”
It was still very much in Lister’s head, though. And everyone was quiet for a moment until Cat broke the silence with, “So is that what he meant when the bomb was about to go off?”
“What?” said Kryten, who hadn’t technically been there.
“You know, when he looked at you,” Cat said to Lister, “and said something like, he needed some sunlight right now.”
“Oh yeah,” said Lister. He did remember that one particular moment, it had just taken a brief backburner because so much else had been going on.
“How funny, sir,” said Kryten. “If things had been different, those would have been his last words. Not just to you but to anyone. It’s rather Romantic.” He stopped dead in his tracks. “Not that kind of romantic, heaven forfend! Not that! The very thought!”
“Alright, Kryts, tone it down…”
“I mean Romantic with a capital R. You know, sir. The same way an old castle at night is Romantic, or the first time you screw on a new mop head.”
“Right,” said Lister. He was actually pretty irritated at the “heaven forfend” part and he had absolutely no idea why.
“The idea that when a selfish smeghead who’s done very little with his life – uh, I mean, when Mr Rimmer thinks he’s about to finally and permanently snuff it, he turns to you for the last human connection. A man he’s loudly and often proclaimed disdain for. Only you. Oh, it’s far more touching than it has any right to be.”
“I s’pose it is,” said Lister, wonderingly.
There was silence. Cat looked to the left, looked to the right, and then quietly pushed the last remaining fork off the table. It clattered to the floor.
“Did you have to do that?” Lister said, snapping out of whatever he was in.
“It’s not my fault! It’s a cat’s only way to assert control, because we don’t have opposable thumbs!”
“You do have opposable thumbs!”
Lister rolled his eyes. “Anyway… I’ll be on me way.” Cat was staring in awe at his hands, so Lister tapped him on the shoulder before he left. “Oh, and welcome home.”
That was a great departing line, but then Lister stuck himself back in and pointed at the mess on the floor. “You know what, save some of that for me, Kryts. It still looks edible.”
Rimmer was standing right outside, as Lister had suspected he might be. He’d heard everything, including the bit about the thumbs.
He opened his mouth to say, “Arguably, I may owe you my life.” But it came out like this:
“aRguably I may OWE you myLIFE.”
“Arguably?” said Lister.
“Fine, maybe not arguably.”
Everything was so, so awkward and weird. They were like two men about to audition for a prestigious ballet having never danced before in their lives and turned up wearing platform heels.
“No thank yous, then,” said Lister.
“S’alright. I literally don’t think your vocal cords are capable of saying that.”
Rimmer cleared his throat, it occurring to him for the hundredth time in one day that there wasn’t really anything there to clear.
“I always assumed that when I… went out in a blaze of glory, you would be… there. Probably holding the gun.” Unfortunately he said that at the same time Lister said, “Yeah, I’ll be the one holdin’ the gun,” and suddenly it wasn’t funny.
Lister said, “You really would have pulled your plug right there and then if I hadn’t come in the room, wouldn’t you. I saw the expression on your face. You’d have just faded away without even telling me.”
“No. I would have invited everybody in before I did anything. There would have been speeches. Whole presentations. I might have even let you play your guitar. It would have been glorious.” But both of them knew that wasn’t true.
“Seeing you like that, that wasn’t exactly a great situation to be in, man. That wasn’t the smeghead I know.”
“Surely that’s a good thing?”
That question hung in the air and it would change everything if one of them answered it.
Lister sort of made an attempt. “Listen, since we were talking about opposites… suns and moons… there’s an old saying which goes, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And I promise you, from the bottom of me heart, I’m never gonna be indifferent to you.”
There was silence, apart from the sound of Kryten in the other room picking up the fork and throwing it onto the table with some force.
With a heavy sigh Rimmer said, “You really think people can get better, don’t you? You think there’s a spark of goodness and nobility in everyone. I find that absolutely sickening.”
“You say that,” said Lister, “but here we are. And there we were a few hours ago, waiting for the light to go out, and I think you believed it as well.”
All Rimmer could manage in the face of that was an “mmm.” But after a few seconds, he said, “Well, of course, I’m indifferent to you as well. Profoundly indifferent.”
“Thought as much,” said Lister.
“I should go. There’s a pile of clipboards in the corridor that won’t sort themselves,” Rimmer said. And then, “Thank y-“
“No! It’s much too cliché for you to actually say it, now,” Lister said. “Come on!”
Rimmer tried to think of something else to say in its place. He almost came out with, “The reason I find you so sickening is because you’re an intrinsically really good person and I’m not, you’re an endless font of kindness and forgiveness and light and I don’t understand it and frankly it confuses me in every sense including sexually.”
“All right,” he said.
They parted ways.
Lister went to his room and started playing his guitar. The song he chose was King Harvest’s famous one-hit wonder, number seventeen on the BBC’s list of “The 100 Most Annoying Pop Songs...We Hate to Love!” Dancing in the Moonlight.
His rendition of it was very bad. But it was also very good.