It was Lister who found the notebook. Stashed in a thin space deep in the side pocket of Rimmer's least favourite caddy, between a box of tees and a well-thumbed volume entitled The Royal Io Golf Club: Rules and Regulations Volume MMV, it had a spiral edge and plain cover. Several rubber bands had been wrapped around it in a worryingly severe manner, as if cutting off the circulation and the pages within in some kind of bizarre parody of self-censorship.
He peered at it for a moment, and was about to toss it aside and return to the real reason he was raiding Starbug's storage locker at two o'clock in the morning--golf balls to complete the makeshift pool table he'd spent an exhausting and splinter-filled night knocking together, and was now all but ready to sink a few pots and fall into bed--when he spotted three words scratched out on the cover:
Ode to Enlightenment
It was Rimmer's hand; Lister could recognise that painstakingly rendered copperplate anywhere. It had served as fodder for many an argument on a dull evening in the old days back on Red Dwarf. ("But it's not as if anyone's ever going to read it. Why put in so much smegging effort?" "Look, just because I don't stoop to your chicken-scratch level of penmanship, Lister...") The theme, of course, being yet another reason to unpeel more layers to the vast Freudian galaxy that was Rimmer's childhood. And after three million years, Lister was beginning to realise that those particular depths were more or less bottomless.
So, with that in mind, there was perhaps half a nanosecond of moral will-I-won't-I, before Lister gave a shrug and peeled off the rubber bands. He scanned the opening paragraph greedily.
Let these words show that it is not the way of the humble man to question his worth, nor undertake the Herculean task that is Understanding--but merely to strive for all that is perfect. Within this tome, I, the Writer, shall, henceforth, and in the most modest fashion, make within something that might otherwise be called, or known, as Sense.
"What the smeg...?"
He turned a few pages.
...For has it not been the fight of all great leaders, artists, thinkers, and Hammond Organ owners, to gaze to the Sky, reach for the stars, climb every crater, ford every--
On it went, some ten or more pages of overwrought monologue. Nothing was absent from this painfully heartfelt rhetoric. No metaphor too broad, not cliché too purple. And every single word of it, pitch-perfect, unmistakable Rimmer.
"There you are..."
A voice from the corridor made its way into the storage locker--a voice that was ever so slightly nasal, rich with accusation, and followed not long after by the hologram himself. Lister scrambled hastily to his feet, flinging the notebook into the caddy. He missed completely, and proceeded to watch, in a kind of slow-motion horror, as it landed on the toe of Rimmer's left boot. These were boots that had obviously been recently shined--there was no-one in the universe who could wield a shoe buff quite like Rimmer--and Lister could only stand in mute awkwardness as his reflection grinned back, warped in some wobbly parody of a burglar caught in a hall of mirrors.
"Ah. Rimmer." Lister stepped away, mind scrambling hamster-like in several different directions for something to say. "Er...fancy a game of golf?"
"My notebook!" Rimmer's voice took a brief vault into Pavarottian heights. He pointed a wavering finger in Lister's direction. "That's supposed to be private."
Lister reached down nonchalantly and picked it up. "What, this?" he asked, as if noticing it for the first time. "I thought it was your score card."
"Tosh." Rimmer blew out his cheeks with a dismissive breath, like a topsail being let fly in forty-knot winds. "You know very well that I never kept a score card. A true sportsman, a true connoisseur of the glorious old game, we don't need to keep such petty things as scores, we--" He stopped mid-gesture and frowned. "The point is, that's mine and you shouldn't be reading it."
"Look man, I was just searching for--" Lister paused, thinking it mightn't be such a brilliant idea to confess his real reason for being there, what with Rimmer being more protective of his every possession than a hungry bear. Taking a breath, he tried again. "Look. I didn't read...well, I didn't read much. Honestly! I swear it." He held up his hands, all traces of amusement wiped clean from his expression. For want of something to do, he sat down beside the caddy and zipped it up, discreetly returning the several golf balls he'd been unsuccessfully trying to hide in the lining of his parka jacket.
After a moment of steely, narrow-eyed consideration, Rimmer sighed with begrudging acceptance. He joined Lister on the step. The notebook sat between them. Neither touched it.
"I do have one, tiny, very insignificant question though," Lister began, when he realised the fact that Rimmer hadn't yet stormed out meant this particular secret was not so private that it mightn't be shared at two o'clock in the morning, in a very cold storage locker, three million years from anything remotely resembling the Aigburth Arms.
"What's the 'Ode to Enlightenment'?"
"Oh that." Lister hid his surprise. He had expected another tirade, but Rimmer only thumbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. "It was our manifesto. On the Holoship. The time I threw away my one chance of happiness."
Ah. And there lay the rub. This, of course, was edging into familiar territory. Rimmer's whole life, from what Lister had managed to glean from various drunken confessionals, was one missed opportunity after another. Often he seemed to relish them, wallow in a sort of Byronic misery at the potential he'd never quite achieved. Most times it was amusing to watch, but others, like now, it simply made Lister sad.
So he didn't poke fun at his shipmate. Instead, he took up the notebook and threaded the rubber bands back around its worn covers. "You mean Nirvana."
Rimmer waved a hand manfully. "'Course not." But his eyes darted away, the familiar tick jumping at one corner of his mouth. "Well, maybe," he went on, in a more deflated tone. "I don't know. All that 'high' thinking, the seventeen planes of existence, the nature of...self. God help me, the nature of self-inflated, self-important crap, more like. I tell you, Lister, I was never happier to leave a place."
Lister looked across for a long moment. And then he repeated, with exactly the same meaning and inflection, "You mean Nirvana."
"Yes I smegging mean Nirvana!" Rimmer sprang upright and immediately began to pace the tiny length of the storage locker. There wasn't a whole lot of room; he got in about seven laps in the space of as many seconds.
None of this surprised Lister. He was all too aware that Rimmer was apt to jump from quiet truth to braying indignation in the space of a few sentences. In the old days, they'd have ended up in an insult-slinging argument, interrupted only by Kryten poking his head in to cheerfully announce that there were several Gelf battlecruisers about to come at them not only from all sides, but possibly all dimensions as well--and would sirs kindly like to step up to blue alert before they all got blown to smithereens? But time had mellowed Lister, and he simply waited for the further minute it took Rimmer to pace out his frustration, before speaking again.
"D'you think she's still out there?" he asked, quietly.
Rimmer looked uneasy, rubbing a hand across his forehead in the manner of a man who'd rather be anywhere but here. He attempted a nonchalant expression, which didn't work in the slightest. Self-preservation had always been a huge part of his makeup; even more so since having the status of hologram thrust upon him by a senile computer in some ironic, grasping-at-straws attempt to keep the last human being sane. As much as he almost lived to annoy Rimmer, Lister had sometimes wondered what it would be like to suffer an existence where you knew, just knew, you were dead. Because, let's face it, at least in death you were, well...dead. In death, there was no Gazpacho soup, no astronavigation exams, no family-sized weight of disappointment hanging over your every step.
In fact, and perhaps most of all in the case of one Arnold J. Rimmer, death might almost set you free.
"Oh, I'm sure she's somewhere," Rimmer said. "On some...higher plane or other." His eyes were turned to the ceiling; military grey, of course, but Lister could tell that the colour had no more meaning at this moment than Rimmer's regulation padded pocket protector--it could have been splattered with Skutter graffiti, and he still wouldn't have noticed. He was looking at the bright lights of a ship a long way away; a ship where the lift music was a symphonic bliss; a ship where ambition was rewarded and where like-minded men and woman understood his plight. Understood him. "Having a whale of a time, I expect."
"Did she know about this?" Lister gestured to the notebook.
Something skimmed across Rimmer's lips, there and gone again, telling so much more than the small nod Lister was given. He suddenly felt like an intruder, party to a very real moment of longing he probably had no right to see. Rimmer looked at his hands, then crossed his arms, tucking them away as if weary of the sight. He cleared his throat, plainly avoiding the question, strolled back to the step but didn't sit. "It's not very good, is it?"
"Don't try diplomacy, Lister, it doesn't suit you."
"Okay. Well, no then, it's not very good. It's kind of...crap."
There was a chuckle at this. "Yes. That's pretty much what she said."
Lister stood, wincing as his knees creaked in protest. He felt tired all over. Everyone had the same story, he thought. He missed home; Rimmer missed a girl he'd barely known. In the end, they were stuck with nothing but memories, and nobody but each other. "What are we doing here, man?" he wondered aloud.
There was another long pause. They seemed to be excelling in those at the moment--the result of too much actual conversation, as opposed to the usual petty squabbling. Ironic, Lister thought, that a clandestine mission to nick a couple of golf balls should result in this. It was Rimmer who broke the silence, speaking with a marked deliberation that felt to Lister very much like a man waking himself from sleep, determined to make the world cheerful again. "I'm not sure," he said. "But...there is something we could be doing."
"Really?" Lister looked sceptical.
"Yes, really. I believe--and you can correct me here if I'm wrong, Listy--but I believe while I was coming in I saw what could only be described as a makeshift pool table. Crafted, no doubt, by a drunken buffoon who probably got some sort of high off the wood shavings; but a pool table nonetheless. And I'm thinking that a dozen of my golf balls would rather complete it. Don't you agree?"
Lister tried not to laugh.
He reached down, scooped up the notebook and carefully replaced it in the pocket of the caddy, feeling Rimmer's gaze on him and knowing, beneath the pomp and superiority, that there was gratitude in those words.
"Agreed," he said.
On an impulse he picked out one of the irons and mimed a tricky shot into empty air. He grinned, quite openly this time, as he swivelled the imaginary cue. "Oh, and Rimmer?"
"If you're a 'true sportsman' then I'm the smegging Pope. The reason you never kept score was because there wasn't space enough to record your huge quadruple bogeys."
With that Lister knelt beside the caddy again and began to pull out balls one by one. He glanced back, watching as Rimmer absorbed this insult. Outwardly, there was no change at all to the hologram's expression; he merely sniffed once, and turned his eyes to the growing line of golf balls that were snaking their way delicately towards his boots.
But Lister knew better, and was certain that he almost saw a smile.