Chapter 1: An Arnold in Need
Ace Rimmer encounters an Arnold Rimmer who never left Io.
Arnold J. Rimmer and Arnold J. Rimmer stared at each other, taking in each other's appearances. Neither was quite sure what to think. One stood straight and tall, while the other was confined to an electric hoverchair.
The standing Arnold looked to be in his early thirties, robustly healthy. His reddish brown hair hung in waves to his collar, thanks to a good straightening shampoo. He wore a silvery gold flight suit with a fur collar he personally thought was a bit garish, though he wore it well. Just under the fringe of his bangs, barely visible on his forehead, was a flat, metallic H. He studied his counterpart, for once unsure what to say.
The other Arnold was equally silent, staring up at the other with cold disdain. This Arnold was somewhat younger, in his mid-twenties. He was healthy, though a bit thinner than the other. His hair was cut simply and, when loose, fell an inch or two below his chin...just long enough that he could pull it into a small ponytail, while he worked. A sketchpad lay open on his lap. Finally, he broke the silence, with a small huff of annoyance.
"Look, if all you want is to gawk at me, could you move to one side, please? You're in the way."
"You're the first Arnold Rimmer I've met that was still on Io," the other replied, moving a few inches to his left.
"Met many Arnold Rimmers have you?" the artist asked skeptically, his eyes and hands returning to his drawing.
"A fair few, yes," the pilot said, amused. "I'm one myself, as a matter of fact, though these days I'm called Ace."
"How wonderful," Arnold retorted, a hint of bitterness in his voice. "Did one of my brothers put you up to this? I don't remember anyone saying relatives were visiting."
Ace sighed. The bitterness was understandable, but he knew it was a poison that the younger man needed to leech out of himself. He placed a gentle hand on Arnold's shoulder, shaking his head.
"No one sent me, Arnold. I'm not a relative. I'm you."
"NO," Arnold answered sharply, shrugging off Ace's hand. "I'm me, thank you. I may not be much, but I don't need some glittery ponce coming along and taking my identity."
Ace grimaced, remembering his own reactions to the previous Aces he had met. He spread his hands in surrender, nodding. He knew better, after all, and knew better ways of handling this.
"I'm sorry, old son. What I mean is that I'm a version of you from an alternate reality."
Arnold continued drawing in silence long enough for Ace to consider he was being dismissed. He started to leave, when Arnold spoke again, his voice quiet and thoughtful.
"That's one hell of a story. Smegging ridiculous, really. How do you plan on proving it or am I supposed to just accept it, because we look alike? Identical cousins and all is rare, but hardly unheard of."
"I hadn't given much thought to proving it, really. I guess I could go get a DNA scanner."
"Don't bother," Arnold said, his tone relaxing a bit. "Just tell me."
Ace obliged, telling Arnold the legend of Ace Rimmer, the test pilot who went off to explore multiple realities, becoming a hero to those in need. He told how Ace met his other selves and how these Arnolds took over, whenever the current Ace was dying or retiring. As he spoke, Arnold relaxed, gazing at him with curiosity.
"So, you're a replacement Ace, then?"
"That's right, old bean. So what about you? How come you're not in the Space Corps? It can't just be the chair."
"You don't seem particularly surprised by my chair," Arnold said, explaining how a land mine in his sandbox had damaged his spine.
"Your parents probably aren't much different from mine...completely bonkers and tight as a cork in a bottle of new wine. I'm guessing they refused to shell out."
"Got it in one," Arnold agreed dryly. "They did, quite accidentally, hire me a rather good nurse. Father gave up on me joining the Corps. I was left alone, after that. My nurse and the gardener take care of me. "
"Where is your nurse?" Ace asked, looking around a bit. The few adults around all seemed focused on the children playing nearby. He was a bit surprised, when the children called out to Arnold, familiarly waving and shouting hello.
"She's closer to the lake. She just stays within shouting distance. I prefer it."
"You don't like her?"
"She's been more of a mother to me than my own. No. I just don't need someone hovering, while I'm trying to work."
"You're an artist, then," Ace mused. "You found your own dream to pursue."
"I suppose you could see it that way."
"How do you see it?"
"Look, I know what my parents and brothers and their cronies think of artists. It seems to be a typical Space Corps attitude. I'm good at what I do, though, so keep your opinions to yourself, all right?"
"This guy giving you trouble, Arnie?"
Ace Rimmer whirled around in surprise to find himself facing this universe's Dave Lister. He looked almost identical to the Lister Ace had first met, though his dreadlocks were a bit shorter and he was a bit, just a bit, tidier in his appearance. Ace couldn't help grinning, which brought a scowl to Lister's face. Lister surprised Ace by stepping forward and giving him a good, hard shove.
"Get out of his face, you smegging twonk. You one of his brothers? Eh?"
"Oh, knock it the hell off, Dave," Arnold said, angry and resigned. "He's no relative that I recognize. In fact, he claims to be me from an alternate reality."
"You wha'?" Lister exclaimed, his face scrunching in confusion.
"Hello, Listy," Ace greeted, smiling ruefully, holding out his hand for Lister to shake. "I'm Arnold Rimmer, but people call me Ace."
Lister instinctively began to reach out his own hand, but then stopped. He'd heard enough stories from Arnie about his family. No way was he trusting this smegger. He lowered his hand and walked over to the only Rimmer he cared to know.
"Been telling him about me, have ya?" Lister asked Arnold, sounding a bit unsure, as he walked around to the back of the hoverchair and climbed on, his arms resting near Arnold's shoulders.
"I certainly have not," Arnold answered, but a small smile was beginning to show at the corners of his mouth.
"Not a word," Ace agreed. "I'm even more surprised to see you on Io, than I am him."
"It's got a good art college, though, hasn't it?" Lister said, shrugging. "You knew me, so where's your Dave, then?"
There was nothing to say this man knew any Dave Lister, even if he was telling the truth about being from an alternate universe. Lister was curious to see how the man responded though. Maybe, if he was lying, Lister could trip him up, if they kept talking.
Ace hesitated a moment, then shrugged, answering, "He ended up in the Space Corps, too. I haven't seen him in a while, but he was serving on a mining ship called Red Dwarf."
Ace felt a bit guilty about the near lie, but he thought it was too early in their acquaintance to tell them that his Lister was lost in deep space and had recently lost Red Dwarf, as well. Why burden these young men with the knowledge?
"Me in the Space Corps?!" Lister said, laughing. "No way would I ever join that group of tossers. No offense, mate."
"None taken," Ace assured him, chuckling. "As they say, he had his reasons."
"Yeah? Like what?" Lister said, skeptically.
"He did a pub crawl on his birthday and ended up needing transport to get back to Earth. He decided to work his way back to Earth on board Red Dwarf. He wants to start a farm and donut stand on Fiji."
"Fiji?" Lister repeated, shaking his head. "What about his art, then?"
"Well, he did go to art college, briefly, but, according to him, he just couldn't stand getting up that damn early."
Arnold burst into laughter, his head going back and bumping Lister on the shoulder.
"Well, that does sound like you, Davey!"
"Oh, it does, does it? Why am I in my second year, then, eh? I'm doing good!"
"Yes, but you do whinge a lot about getting up for classes," Arnold said, almost soothingly.
"Yeah, well, we're artists!" Lister said. "I mean, what's the point of being an artist, if you follow a nine to five schedule? You might as well be one of those sad smeggers that work in high rises."
Lister rocked the hoverchair backwards and forwards a bit. He wasn't going to admit it, but the whole getting drunk and ending up in the Space Corps wasn't exactly far-fetched. Before he had met Arnie, he'd done things like that. This Ace guy was beginning to seem like he was on the up and up...which was just plain weird.
"Oh, Listy," Ace said, chuckling. He felt a brief pang, remembering his own Lister and their old squabbling and banter. "How did you two meet?"
"I started coming here to do some drawing and stuff, for class work," Dave said, shrugging. "Arnie comes here a lot and I bumped into him."
"Literally. He was walking backwards and tripped over me," Arnold clarified, huffing a bit. "Then, he started pestering me."
"You were all frowning and serious," Lister protested. "You needed to lighten up and have a laugh. Still do, in fact, and, if there's one thing I'm good for it's a laugh!"
"Ha. Ha. Ha," Arnie said wryly. "It didn't help that he found out I'm an artist, too."
"You love it, Arnie. You just refuse to admit it," Lister told him, smiling cheekily.
"I've gotten used to you well enough, I suppose," Arnold granted, but the look he gave over his shoulder was fond.
"So how about you? Do any art in your spare time?" Lister asked.
"Don't be a gimboid, Dave. He's a space-faring hero. He has better options."
"You wish you were in the Space Corps, then?" Ace asked, feeling oddly disappointed.
"Hell, no!" Arnold swore, shaking his head vigorously. "The only good thing about this damn chair is it got me out of that. No, it's just...I'll never know. Am I an artist, because I choose to be or because it gave me something to do while sitting in this chair, in a park? After all, Mother and Father would never have paid for me to pursue a proper career."
"Your art is a proper career!" Lister said, indignantly.
"Doing sketches and caricatures in a park is hardly a proper job, Dave," Arnold snapped, tired of this argument.
"You've had paintings in galleries!"
"Oh, yes, the odd picture here and there, placed by your friends!"
"They didn't do it for me. They did it because they like your work, you silly git!"
"So, they told you," Arnold admitted, shrugging. "They're probably telling the truth, but I don't know that!"
"You should leave Io. Get out and see the universe, Space Corps or otherwise. There's ways."
"Oh, yes, that would go over well. 'Father, I can't join the Space Corps like you wanted, but I could help pay some of the expense, if you set me up on a tour of the universe!'"
"Forget Father and Mother," Ace ordered, his voice strong and deep, accepting no excuses, not this time. "You need to get free of them."
"Where would I go? What would I do?" Arnold asked helplessly.
"Anywhere and anything you want," Ace answered simply.
"But, I don't want," Arnold complained. "Everything I know is here. If I just left...it'd be different, if I was going towards something. As is, I'd just be running away."
Ace considered that and nodded in understanding.
"You need a purpose," he mused, taking a quick glance at Dave. "What if I could give you one?"
"How do propose to do that?"
"I can train you. You could be the next Ace."
"I'm paralyzed, you goit! I mean, I was lucky. It's an incomplete injury. I do still have some sensation and I can go to the bathroom on my own. I can even...erm, perform," Arnold finished a bit lamely, blushing brightly and almost involuntarily casting a glance back at Dave. To his annoyance, Lister was smirking and nodding vigorously. "Stop it, Lister!"
"Wha? I didn't say anything!" Lister protested.
"I can get you fixed up. I've got plenty of money, from several dimensions. At least, then, whatever you decided to do, you'd know it was your choice. You wouldn't have to worry you were settling."
"What about me, then? Could I go?" Lister asked solemnly.
Ace considered that, then shrugged.
"He'd be Ace. It'd be his decision."
"Well...I mean, I would want you along," Arnold admitted, reluctantly. "You'd be giving up your schooling, though. You just said yourself you're doing well."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't be quitting, really," Lister said. "I'd just be taking a break, kinda. I could always come back to it later or do a correspondence course or something. I'm sure watching you do heroics would be plenty inspiring!"
"So you'll just leave, mid-semester," Arnold said with a hint of reproach.
"It's later in the year than that. He could always finish out the semester, while you're getting your spine fixed."
"You would really come too?" Arnold asked, a bit dazed.
"If you go, I want to come with," Lister said firmly, placing an arm across Arnold's chest in an awkward hug.
"Should we then?" Arnold asked him quietly.
Lister considered, then shrugged.
"You gotta decide that, guy. There's stuff out there, yeah, and it might answer some questions for ya. Still a risk, though."
"I need to think. I can't decide to head off and become a hero half an hour after meeting a bloke who looks like me!"
"No, probably not," Ace agreed. "Why don't you two come along and I'll show you the Wildfire?"
"Sounds good to me!" Lister said enthusiastically.
"All right," Arnold decided.
"ARNOLD!" a harsh voice shouted.
Ace forced away the flood of tension that threatened to freeze his muscles, rolling his shoulders to keep them loose. He lit one of his cigarettes and took a deep drag as this universe's copy of his mother marched into view, her brightly painted lips pursed in disapproval. She stopped a foot or two away and glared around at the men.
"Arnold, where is that useless nurse of yours?"
"She's next to the lake, Mother," Arnie answered, his tone even and respectful.
"Oh, I hope she's enjoying herself," Mrs. Rimmer said snidely. "I need her to get you home. Your father invited some guests over for luncheon and you'll need to change your clothes. You may not have a decent job, but I won't have you embarrass me by looking like some ragamuffin!"
"He looks good to me," Lister retorted.
"Dave," Arnold hissed, mortified.
Mrs. Rimmer gave Lister a long look of contempt. She put on a fake smile, her voice dripping with icy civility.
"Thank you, but these are important people, you see. I'd like my son to pretend he has a certain amount of class--not the sort of thing achieved by being covered in paint stains, like a child in preschool."
"Dave," Ace warned, seeing him drawing breath to give the woman a proper take down.
Mrs. Rimmer turned to Ace and frowned, confused.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Ace. I just dropped by to meet Arnie, here."
"Did my husband invite you to luncheon?" she said, a slight simper entering her voice that made Ace shiver. "There's room for one more."
"Thanks, but no," Ace said firmly. "I quite like art. If your son has to leave, I'll have Dave show me some of his work."
"Yes, I'm sure that young man has plenty he'd like to show you!" Mrs. Rimmer said with distaste.
"She thinks I'm a slag," Lister whispered loudly to Ace.
"Are you?" Ace teased, not bothering to keep his voice down.
Lister snickered, shrugging, while Arnold rolled his eyes.
"Lister," Arnold almost snapped, before modulating his tone. "We should probably hurry. Dave, get down please. I'll see you later."
Mrs. Rimmer waited until Dave had gone to stand near Ace, before getting behind her son and working the controls of the hoverchair. She eyed the two men with suspicion and disdain.
"Well, it was good to meet you, Ace," Mrs. Rimmer said dismissively. "Mr. Lister."
"Good-bye," Arnold told them. "Oh and Ace? About earlier? I think you're right. I'll do it."
"Do what?" Mrs. Rimmer asked sharply.
"He's taking on a sort of commission for me," Ace lied, winking at Arnold. "Something he's well suited for."
"Oh, his art," Mrs. Rimmer said, sighing. "Well, I suppose he has to waste time somehow. Good-bye."
Mrs. Rimmer pushed Arnold over the grass, either not noticing or not caring that his knuckles had turned white, as he clenched his fists in anger. Arnold forced himself to relax. He hoped it wouldn't take long to get his new life started. He couldn't wait to be rid of the old one. The only things he wanted to keep from his current life were his relationship with Dave and his art. A life among the stars had never sounded so good.
Chapter 2: Rediscovering Old Friends
Preparing to retire, Ace visits his home dimension and gets a surprise.
Arnold "Ace" Rimmer stared in shock at the battle waging in the streets. Ragged, dirty, but very well-armed, mutants with cybernetic implants raced around on land rovers and motorbikes, harassing and fighting a group of ordinary humans. Well, not quite ordinary, they were all wearing the beige uniforms of the Space Corps, which shouldn't have been possible. The human crew were armed and fighting well, but were losing. Ace shook off his shock in seconds, grabbing weapons from the hold of his ship, then racing into the fray.
Ace planted himself in front of a particularly large mutant, Darok, riding a bike whose seat was level with Arnold's shoulders. Several of the human crew shouted in alarm, urging Ace to get out of the way. Darok sneered, aiming for the strange human with the H on his forehead. He licked his lips, enjoying the thought of turning the stranger into a streak of blood and guts.
Aiming steadily with a laser pistol, Ace fired straight into Darok's heart. The mutant's eyes widened in shock. He had expected a head shot and to be protected by his cyber enhancements there, which diffused laser blasts. Darok grunted in pain as his heart was flash fried, but held onto his bike, determined to take the human worm out with him. At the last minute, however, the human leaped into the air, flying over the handle bars and dislodging Darok with a well-placed kick, landing backwards on the bike. Standing and spinning around, Ace caught hold of the handles, just as the bike started wobbling out of control.
The human spectators gave a wild cheer, shocked and pleased at the display. One, however, tilted his head in confusion, not quite believing what he had just seen.
"Isn't that Arnold Rimmer?" Captain Hollister asked.
"Can't be, sir," Todhunter denied, puzzled. "That smeg head would never dare attempt something like that."
"No, no, the captain's right," Karen Newton confirmed. "I saw him enough times, after he failed the astronav exams."
A high pitched scream managed to over ride the other sounds of battle. Hollister and his officers turned to see Kristine Kochanski struggling between two mutants, each of whom had one of her arms and were pulling her back and forth between them. Hollister and the others watched in amazement as Ace spun his bike towards her, gaining speed as he approached.
Kristine Kochanski, the nano version from this reality, watched in horror as the giant bike hurled toward her. She was only mildly dismayed by the fact it was ridden by Arnold Rimmer. The sheer size of the bike used up all her terror. To her surprise, Rimmer managed to aim the bike to one side, squashing one of her captors, while simultaneously lifting her and the other mutant. A well placed blast from Arnold's laser pistol sent the second mutant falling dead to the ground.
"Get behind me," Ace ordered, leaning forward a bit and tugging her to the back.
"Rimmer?" Kochanski asked, even while obeying him, sitting behind him and wrapping her arms tightly around his waist.
"Yes," Ace agreed, his voice a bit deeper than she remembered. "I'll explain, but right now, we've a battle to win."
"Yes, right," she agreed. "I'm not armed, though!"
"There's a small pistol in my left, inner breast pocket," Arnold answered, spinning the bike back to head into the heart of the battle.
Kochanski grabbed the pistol and joined Arnold in shooting at the mutants. Heartened by the demise of three mutants in quick succession and an addition to their own numbers, the Red Dwarf crew began firing in earnest, following Ace's lead by aiming at places on the mutants' bodies that didn't seem enhanced. Soon, the mutants were down to six and outnumbered. Grabbing vehicles, they fled into the nearby foothills, leaving the Red Dwarf crew triumphant.
Everyone gathered around Hollister and Ace was relieved to see no one seemed seriously injured. He'd gotten there in time to prevent that. Pulling the bike to a halt a few feet away, Ace shut it down and hopped off, landing neatly. He turned to see if Kochanski needed help.
She stared down at him, puzzled.
"You're not alive," she said, perplexed, seeing the H on his forehead. Swinging one leg around, she faced him directly, still seated on the bike.
Ace grinned, reaching up and lifting her off the bike by her waist. Instead of setting her down, he spun around with her in a paroxym of pure joy. Kochanski grabbed his shoulders, laughing a bit in astonishment. The rest of the Red Dwarf crew burst into applause, partly for him and partly for themselves, in relief.
"You, however, are very much alive," Ace said, laughing and spinning.
Kochanski laughed again, as Ace came to a halt, though seeming to forget to let her down. She stared down at him, shaking her head.
"No, wait, though. How can you touch me, if you're a hologram?"
"Hard light drive, love," he told her, setting her feet gently on the ground, so she could stand. "I got it off a megalomaniac named Legion about five years or so ago."
"The real question is when and how did he die?" Dr. Newton asked, confused.
Ace looked towards her, frowning slightly in shame.
"Three million years ago, same as you, in a radiation leak..."
"Yes, we know all about that," Hollister interrupted impatiently. "You are Arnold Rimmer--second technician? From this reality?"
"Yep. I'm that Arnold Rimmer," Ace admitted, wryly amused.
"If Holly brought you back as a hologram, why is there a live version of you on board and where have you been?"
"I didn't know there was a living version of me in this reality. I've been traveling between alternate universes in the Wildfire, my ship there. I got an opportunity to do some good and grabbed at it, but my tour is almost over, you could say."
"Then, you're going to be staying? May I ask what capacity you intend to serve?"
"Call me a security consultant, Captain. My job will be to keep you lot safe, though I might lend my services to other people in need, every once in a while. Holly should have a hidden file, code-name dimension hop. Only you and Todhunter will have high enough clearance to read it. It will explain a lot to you."
"The JMC regulations and Space Corps laws don't contain provisions for a 'security consultant,' even if you qualify for such a position," Hollister said pointedly.
"The Jupiter Mining Corporation and the Space Corps no longer exist," Ace said. "You're not a captain anymore. You're the governor of a floating colony in a section of space you're utterly unfamiliar with. You need me and what I can offer you."
Hollister shivered a tiny bit, unnerved by this new, confident,
and dead version of Arnold Rimmer. Hollister had mainly adjusted to being lost three million years from Earth. He had brought his people down to this planet, hoping to find an Earth colony and a way to contact Earth and JMC headquarters, while maybe doing a bit of trading. Instead, they had found only the mutants. Hollister hadn't fully processed the idea that they were three million years in the future, from where they had started. He sighed impatiently.
"I hope this file of yours has some damn good answers, Mr. Rimmer. Do you have any questions you'd like answered?"
"I just have one for right now. Captain Hollister, do you know where Dave Lister is, by any chance?"
"Oh, yes. I know where Lister is," Hollister said, not elaborating further.
Arnold frowned, worried.
"Is he all right? I'll be damn angry, if whatever brought you back killed him off instead."
"No, he's not dead. He's alive and well," Hollister assured him.
Arnold's gaze grew more suspicious, his instinct and Hollister's manner assuring him something was wrong.
"Cat? Kryten? How are they doing?"
"They're fine. Just dandy," Hollister said.
"Then what's the bad news, Skipper? I can tell there is some," Ace prodded, his voice deepening to almost a growl.
"They're in prison. All five of them."
"Yes, you are also in prison, the alive version, at any rate. There's also another Kristine Kochanski, who, if Lister is to be believed, is from an alternate reality. They're all serving a two year sentence for misuse of other people's private, personal information."
Ace stared at him blankly for a few seconds, before his lips turned up in a smile.
"Well, it could be a lot worse. I'd like a chance to speak with Lister, if you don't mind. I've been looking forward to rejoining my old shipmates."
"All right. You can come aboard and see Lister, while I look at that file."
"Thank you, Skipper. I appreciate it," Ace told him.
Ace boarded Starbug with the others, sprawling in one of the passenger seats, near Kochanski.
"Have you seen Lister, since you were brought back?" Ace asked her.
"No. He isn't still obsessed with me, is he?" she asked, worried.
"I'm not quite sure where his heart stands, I'm afraid. It's been awhile, since I've seen him, myself. There's always the chance he has something going with the other Kochanski."
"Where did she come from?" Kochanski asked, puzzled.
"I'm not sure. She must have come aboard, after I left."
"Well, I wish them luck, if they are together."
"No interest at all in him, then?"
"No. I like him and I'd like us to be friends, once he's out of jail, but it was never as serious for me, as for him," Kochanski admitted.
Arnold nodded, pleasantly, lighting up one of his thin cigarettes. Sometimes, he cursed the original Ace for smoking the damn things, but it was a habit he'd gotten used to and even come to enjoy.
"Fair enough. We'll just have to see how things go, eh?"
"Why so much interest in Lister? You two never seemed very close."
"We weren't, but then we were. We spent almost seven years in close company, sharing danger, boredom, and everything in between. We've saved each others' lives and almost got each other killed. It creates a bond."
"You mean, during the time we were...dead?"
"Afraid so, love," Arnold confirmed, sympathetically. "You're alive now, though. That's the important bit."
Kochanski gave a small shiver. She'd been dead. Everyone had been told that much by Hollister, of course, but the knowledge had felt vague, distant. There was nothing distant about this version of Rimmer and his palpable joy at finding them alive. His easy confidence and the new knowledge in his eyes made him seem like an apparition, far more than the H on his forehead. Kochanski thought of her family and, for the first time, felt an intense pang of grief. A warm hand settled on hers.
"Are you all right?" Ace asked.
"Yes. Well, no. We're alive, but..."
"Everyone else is gone," Ace added, his tone gentler than the words. "I know."
"Do you?" Kochanski asked, accusing.
"A couple of years after Holly woke Lister up, we found one of the mail pods. There was a letter in there from my mother, telling me my father had passed on. That's when it really hit me, that everyone I had ever known, except Lister, was long, long dead."
"I'm sorry," Kochanski said, looking away.
"No need. You didn't know and it was a long time ago," he said, earning a wan smile.
"Where have you been, though? There was nothing like your ship on Red Dwarf."
"I got her off another reality's version of me. Long story short, I went off to become a hero."
"Sounds grand," Kochanski teased, with only the slightest trace of disbelief.
"Not as much as people think. Mostly it's a great lot of hard work. It's needed, though," Ace admitted.
Starbug landed and Hollister came to the back.
"Mr. Ackerman is here. He'll take you to Lister. The prisoners are just heading to the mess hall for lunch."
Ace put out his cigarette, then bounced to his feet.
"Thank you, Skipper. I appreciate it."
"No worries. I know what he looks like."
"Right, good," Hollister said drolly, following behind Ace, as he headed for the hatchway.
Ace approached Ackerman with an easy grin, ignoring the grim stare that was meant to intimidate him.
"Ackerman, old chap, the captain says you're giving me an escort into the prison areas."
"Those are my orders," Ackerman agreed, suspiciously. "You will follow me and do exactly as I say."
Ace ignored the implied threat, giving a short salute, bouncing two fingers off of his forehead.
"Following your lead, as ordered, old bean," he promised heartily.
Ackerman gave a small pout, then turned on his heel and began a quick march towards the prison that Ace kept up with easily. When they reached the mess hall, half of the prisoner's were already eating, while the rest filed in line to get their own meals. Ace scanned the room, spotting a bit of trouble in the upper left corner. Kryten, the Cat, the other Rimmer, and a pretty lady were standing in a semi-circle around Dave Lister, who was standing in front of Baxter, a mountainous inmate with a violent temper.
As Ace watched, Baxter struck Lister full in the face and a small fight broke out among the nearby inmates. Kill Crazy stood on the sides, urging Baxter on. Seeing Lister go down, Ace jumped down the stairs, where he stood with Ackerman, racing across the room to his friends. He fought his way through the gathering crowd, shoving and elbowing people, sending them skidding a couple of feet back. Ace reached Lister and the others, just as Baxter drew back his heavy fist to land another blow in Lister's face. Ace caught Baxter by the arm, then lifted him, spinning him around.
"Leave him alone, old chum."
Baxter glared down at the hologram in disbelief. He clenched a fist, rubbing it threateningly with his other hand.
"Make me," Baxter taunted.
"If you insist," Ace agreed, shrugging. Without further warning, he drove a fist hard into Baxter's solar plexus, making him fold over in agony. Kill Crazy gave a snarl of anger and grabbed Cat by the throat from behind.
"HEY," Kill Crazy barked sharply. "Let him go or I'll hurt this one."
Ace spun around, his expression suddenly devoid of charm.
"Let my friend go," Ace ordered, softly.
"Why should I?" Kill Crazy asked.
"It would've kept me from doing this," Ace told him, lashing out with his foot. Kill Crazy stood to one side of the Cat, fairly exposed. Ace swung his leg in a sideways arc that caught Kill Crazy in his kidney. Hearing Kill Crazy's choked gasp of pain, the Cat pulled loose, making his way to stand next to Ace.
Baxter helped Kill Crazy to stand and walked away. The rest of the inmates took a couple of steps back from Ace, widening the empty circle, where Lister lay on the ground. Lister looked up at his rescuer in shock. Somehow, he hadn't thought he'd see him again.
"Hallo, Lister," Ace greeted, his voice not quite as deep as it tended to be.
Ace stretched out his hand to Lister, who took it almost immediately. Pulling Lister gently to his feet, Ace then enfolded him in a warm hug.
"It's good to see you again, Listy."
"It's good to see you, too, man. I missed you," Lister admitted, hugging back.
"Kryten, Cat, and you must be the other Miss Kochanski," Arnold said, turning to them.
"Wait, but...you're our Mr. Rimmer?" Kryten asked, stunned by the display of affection between him and Lister.
"I'm afraid so," Arnold admitted, grinning.
"What? Ace is Goal Post Head? How can that be?"
"Every time an Ace is about to die or retire, he goes and recruits another Arnold Rimmer to take his place," Ace explained. "The funeral you thought was mine was actually for the previous Ace. I rather thought Lister might've fessed up."
"It wasn't my secret to tell," Lister said simply, shrugging. "Let's sit down. Apparently we have stories to exchange."
"We certainly do," Arnold agreed, turning and tipping a wink to the surrounding crowd. "Excuse us, please, old chaps. It is lunch time, right?"
The crowd slowly dispersed and Lister led the way to their usual table.
"You wouldn't mind going first, would you?" Arnold asked. "How on Io did you manage to bring the crew back?"
"Uh, that was my fault, sir. My nanobots got free."
"Well, congratulations, Kryters!" Arnold said with genuine enthusiasm. "They and you did a top notch job."
"Oh well, thank you, sir," Kryten said a bit abashed.
"I guess Hollister told you how we ended up here?" Lister asked, embarrassed a bit.
"He said what the charge was, at least," Arnold agreed. "Did you do it?"
"Well, yeah, but I was only trying to help y-him out," Lister defended.
"Please do not refer to him as me," the living Rimmer complained, staring at his double in a mix of wonder and disgust. "He's not me and I'm certainly not him!"
"Eh, come on. Don't start that again!" Lister said, wheedling.
"No, Listy, he's right," Ace agreed, drawing looks of surprise. "He's who I used to be, yes, but I've had opportunities and learning experiences he hasn't. It's not fair to expect him to just do a one-eighty and become me straight off. The potential certainly exists, but, like me, he'll need help getting there."
"What makes you think I want to be you?" Rimmer asked contemptuously.
"I used to be you, Arnie. I was just as bitter, angry, and full of self hatred as you are right now. More so, in fact. You haven't committed some of my mistakes and betrayals. God willing, you never will. I know how you really feel, your hidden wishes."
Rimmer blushed, not answering, and glared down silently at his food tray. To his surprise, Lister patted him gently on the shoulder, his gaze understanding. Rimmer relaxed slightly, though he kept up his mask of annoyance.
"So, that's our story, then. What about you?" Lister asked, then paled a bit. "You're not..."
"Dying? No, Lister, I'm fine. I'm retiring actually. I came here to find you and see how you were getting on."
"Retiring? I didn't know that was an option," Lister admitted. "Why would you?"
"A few reasons really. The most important is I found an Arnie J. who needs the opportunity of being Ace even more than I did."
"You're taking the smeg," Lister accused, though he didn't really believe that himself.
"I'm afraid not. Remember I told you about the time my brothers put a land mind in my sandbox and it went off?"
"No!" Lister burst out in surprised horror, his eyes widening.
"You sure? I could have sworn I mentioned that to you one time," Ace said, puzzled.
"Um, that was me, sir," Kryten reminded him. "You told me about it, when you were watching home videos.'
Ace considered that for a moment, then nodded, smiling.
"Right again, Kryten, old pal," Ace admitted. "Well, anyway, in this reality, the blast just knocked me out for a bit. In this other reality, Arnie J. was closer and got hit in the lower back. He ended up paralyzed."
"Paralyzed? How's he supposed to become Ace, if he can't walk?" Cat asked, skeptical.
"Oh, I know some surgeons and genius types who can get him going, good as new," Ace assured him.
"Do we get to meet him--Arnie, I mean?"
"Eventually," Ace promised. "Right now, he's with the doctors, getting put back together. To be honest, that's one of the reasons I'm here now. I was being a bit of a mother hen and the doctors asked me to make myself scarce for a bit."
"So, you'll be going off again, then," Lister said, trying to hide his disappointment.
Ace smiled softly, shaking his head.
"Only for a little while," he assured them. "Now that the Red Dwarf crew is back and Arnie is taking over as Ace, I think I'm needed more here than anywhere else. No, I just need to get Arnie on his feet and trained, then I'll be back for good."
"Um, Ace, you travel dimensions on a regular basis, right?" Kochanski asked. "Is there any chance you could take me home?"
"It shouldn't be too hard. We've figured out how to revisit dimensions. With Kryter's and Holly's help, I should be able to pinpoint your reality. Let me talk to Hollister and I'll see if he'll release you to my custody."
"Thank you," Kochanski said, beaming.
Ace sneaked a glance at Lister and felt a pang, seeing his friend look downtrodden by the exchange. Feeling Ace's glance, Lister looked up and gave a wry smile, shrugging slightly. The buzzer sounded announcing the end of the meal period. Kryten began gathering everyone's trays, but Ace interrupted to shake his hand.
"Short visit, I know, but the sooner I go, the sooner I can get back. Kryten, Cat, it's good seeing you. Take care, while I'm gone," Ace urged, smiling fondly.
"Right. Good to meet you," Rimmer said, with fake enthusiasm. "I'm heading back to our cell."
"It's good to meet you, too," Ace said, a bit amused, but still sincere.
"Man, you really did improve over that!" Cat exclaimed, clapping a friendly hand on Ace's shoulder.
"Give him time. He'll get better," Ace promised.
"It'll be good to have you back, sir," Kryten said, astonished to find that he meant it. "Things just keep getting weirder and weirder. Um...may I ask a favor?"
"Of course, you can, Kryten," Arnold said, placing a hand on the mechanoid's shoulder. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I'm currently assigned to the women's prison and I was wondering if you could help by talking to the captain. It just doesn't seem right to me!"
"I imagine it doesn't," Ace agreed. "Why on Io did they stick you with the women?"
"Because I haven't got, erm," Kryten began, fidgeting, "well, you know."
"I do, but you don't have female bits, either, being a mechanoid," Ace reasoned, shaking his head. "Right, then, I'll do what I can for you. I just hope the skipper is in a reasonable mood."
"Thank you," Kryten said, making a sound of relief. He could hardly believe how the hologram had changed. He wasn't quite the same as the other Aces, but he wasn't the old smeee heee he used to be either.
"You're welcome," Ace said simply. "Hopefully, I'll see you all soon."
"Later, bud," Cat said, wandering off with a wave. Kryten and Kochanski waved at him, heading for the female side of the tower.
"You really think you'll be back soon?" Lister asked, lingering.
"I should be," Ace said. "Lister. I am sorry. I couldn't tell her no, but..."
"No, hey, it's good!" Lister protested, then continued, his voice sad, but calm. "We were never like that and I don't think we were going to be. She wants her Dave, not me. It's what she wants. It's what's right."
Ace gave Lister a hug, gratified, when his old shipmate hugged back.
"I'm glad you're okay. I better get going and see Hollister. See you soon, Listy."
"See ya," Lister agreed, grinning cheerfully, before disappearing with the last group of inmates, heading off to the cells.
Ace headed back to Ackerman, who glared balefully at him.
"It is not your job to interfere with the inmates," Ackerman growled.
"Sorry, old bean, but I couldn't just stand by and watch an old friend get pummeled," Ace said, shrugging. "I've had my chat. I think it's time to go see the skipper."
"Follow me," Ackerman said, with disdain.
Hollister deliberately kept Ace waiting, hoping to make him impatient and bring a bit of the old, groveling Rimmer back into the man's manner. To Hollister's disappointment, Ace came into the office, standing tall and calm, relaxed in a way Hollister had never seen him.
"I've read the files. They were fascinating," Hollister admitted. "Any Ace Rimmer, living or dead, active or retired, is automatically given the rank of commander. He is to be assigned no duties that do not directly relate to the protection of human life and liberty. Commander Rimmer is answerable to the highest ranking Space Corps officer, unless there is no one ranked captain or above. In that case, Ace Rimmer is to assume command and will be answerable to the nearest local government," Hollister quoted, smiling with enforced calm.
"In this case, that would be you, Skipper."
"That would be me," Hollister agreed dryly. "So we know you're dead. What else are you? Active? Retired? You did mention staying."
"I'm in the process of retiring. I have a few loose ends to tie up. I have to get the new Ace up and running, then I'll be back."
"The files also say I'm too cooperate, whenever possible, offering any reasonable assistance. Do you need assistance, Commander Rimmer?"
"Well, yes, you could do me a favor or two, Captain. I need you to release Kristine Kochanski into my custody, for starters."
"Only Kochanski?" Hollister asked with mild sarcasm.
"Only her," Ace agreed, shrugging. "I'm not going to interfere with your justice, Skipper. Lister admitted he did the crime."
"Why do you want Kochanski, then?"
"I'm not going to be Ace much longer. After, I won't have the Wildfire. I need to take her home, before that happens. Consider it exile, Skipper--an alternative sentence."
Hollister considered briefly, then nodded. She'd be gone and someone else's responsibility. He'd gain nothing by trapping her here.
"All right. I'll let you take her. Anything else?"
"Just one more request and it is a request, but I'd be grateful. Place Kryten with the other men. I know what the rules say, but I've known Kryten for quite a long time now. He's always been one of the boys. He considers himself a he. It's awkward and embarrassing for him to be in with the ladies...not what he's used to."
"I'll think about it," Hollister said. "Those rules are in place to maintain order."
"I can't think of anyone more orderly than Kryten, Skipper," Ace said, amused. "Placing him back with the gents won't change that."
"I'll think about it," Hollister repeated. "Todhunter will take you back to your ship in Blue Midget."
Ace stood, saluting smartly.
"Thank you, Skipper. I'll see you in about a month, from your point of view."
"Very well. Dismissed, Commander."
Chapter 3: Coming Home
Arnold, retired now from being Ace, returns to Red Dwarf, but he doesn't come alone.
There is a lot of domestic fluff here. I promise the next chapter will have a lot more action/adventure. :D
Also I want to thank a friend on Tumblr for helping give me ideas and and suggestions on how to improve this chapter. She helped me a lot! :D
Hollister glared up at Arnold Rimmer. Unfortunately for Hollister, Arnold glared right back. Sure, Arnold stood almost at attention in front of Hollister's desk, but it didn't help. The military posture only emphasized the challenge in the set of Arnold's shoulders and in his eyes.
"What happens, if I say no, Commander?" Hollister asked and watched as Arnold cocked an eyebrow at him, cool and unimpressed.
"I'd like to think you're not seriously considering that," Arnold told him, his voice better controlled than his posture. "Still. If you do, the transport and her passengers will become the responsibility of the current Ace Rimmer."
"And he'll do...what?"
"Find them another home," Arnold said, a hint of disdain creeping into his voice.
"Look, Arnold. I'm not trying to be a hard case. I understand what you're trying to do. But you said you would be back in a month and that was six months ago. I expected you to come back and settle in as a member of this crew. I did not expect you to come with your own ship, which I'm supposed to provide docking for, and nearly three hundred refugee orphans!"
"They aren't orphans. Their parents are all on this ship," Arnold argued.
"Arnold, they aren't even from this reality! Okay, their parents were alternate versions of people in my crew. But, they aren't our actual children!"
"It works both ways. Ask the crew. Sure, there are a few cases where the child was a niece or nephew in this reality, but, for the most part, the children are alternates of the crew's 'actual children.'"
"For heaven's sake, Arnold, will you stop and think a minute? Look at our situation. Is that something you want to drag children into? We were all dead for millions of years, until some mechanoid's nanobots brought us all back. They even brought back people who weren't here during the radiation leak! They brought Yvonne McGruder back from hair on a brush she left behind."
"Yvonne McGruder is on board?" Arnold asked, stunned.
"You're missing the point," Hollister said, impatiently. "We are three million years into space, homeless, and I don't know what's going to happen next. Strange things that shouldn't happen keep happening and it is no place for children."
"The universe is dangerous everywhere, Skipper," Arnold told him sadly. "No one knows that more than me. Here they have parents that love them and the chance to help restart the human race. Without them, we're probably doomed as a species and I imagine more than one person has figured that out by now. This will give them hope and a future to fight for."
"Ugghhhh," Hollister groaned angrily, rubbing his eyes, before sighing. "All right. What about supplies and living space? You say that transport can be made into a secondary structure--can attach itself to Red Dwarf. Do you have any idea what that would do to our fuel efficiency? How are we even going to feed everyone?"
"It'll increase the fuel efficiency by eight percent. I sent Holly the blueprints and files already. The men who built that transport knew what they were doing, Skipper. Also, I gathered enough supplies on board to last the children at least two years. That should last long enough for us to find a permanent home or to establish trade, once we get to the more populated areas of the galaxy."
"Where the hell are you getting all this stuff?" Hollister asked in disbelief.
"Ace is owed a lot of favors. There are plenty of good people out there willing to help, when the chips are down, especially with children involved."
Somehow, that was the last straw. Hollister tried to be reasonable, but he was a man of discipline and order, something he had expected from Ace. Before his death, Arnold Rimmer had seemed orderly to the point of madness! Now, the man was utterly chaotic. Good, sure, hell, heroic! Somehow that didn't make Arnold's unpredictable antics any easier.
"Get out of my office, Rimmer."
"Leave!" Hollister insisted. "Come back in an hour and you'll have my decision. Right now? GET. OUT."
Arnold didn't even bother saluting, but turned on his heel and left the office. He'd dealt with other Hollisters and thought he knew the man well. Hollister wasn't the type to turn away children. Arnold grimaced as he stalked down the corridors to the quarters Hollister had assigned to him. One thing was certain, though...the children were staying, damn it.
Hollister did finally agree and the next morning, Arnold had the pleasant task of uniting the children with their parents. The work went quicker and easier than even he had expected. The Red Dwarf crew accepted the children with eagerness. There were a few tangles, naturally, but for the most part, Arnold was well satisfied with the reactions he got. Hollister sent the prospective parents, divided into small groups, to Arnold in one of the large auditoriums. The auditorium had a large stage and backstage area, where Arnold, Ace, and Ace's Lister were keeping the children. There were only three more groups to go, when Yvonne McGruder appeared before him.
"Hello, Commander," she greeted, sounding a bit wary.
"McGruder," he said, evenly, not quite succeeding in keeping a subtle softness from his tone. "Give me just a moment, please."
He went backstage and brought back a small boy of about eight months. The boy had curly brown hair and hazel eyes. Yvonne stared at him in amazement.
"Mike," she said eagerly, scooping her son into her arms.
"I'm afraid the poor fella isn't feeling his best," Arnold explained, running a gentle hand over the boy's curls. "He's had a fever and not a lot of appetite."
"Aw, poor sweetie. Don't worry. We'll get you settled own for a bit of a nap soon."
Yvonne looked up from the boy to Arnold, chewing her lip lightly. Arnold stared back, patiently, holding her gaze in expectation. She gave him a rueful smile.
"I need to speak with you in private, later, if that's all right?"
Arnold nodded, looking a bit relieved.
"We need to talk," he agreed. "I'll be done here by three or four. Meet me on the observation tower at four-thirty?"
"I'll be there," she promised. "So, is there anything else I need to do?"
"Holly's taking care of the filing and all. He'll have some questions about rooming and that sort of thing for you. A lot of the families are moving into the new section of the ship."
"Ah. Well, thank you. From all of us."
"You're all welcome."
"What am I doing here is what I want to know?" Lister asked, coming up behind Yvonne, who waved good-bye to the men, leaving.
"Rimmer? What's going on?" Lister repeated.
"Just a second and I'll show you," Arnold promised.
Arnold turned to the stage and gave a long whistle. Ace and Dave appeared mere moments later, each of them cradling a small boy a little older than a year old. Lister stared at the boys and men, stunned.
"Lister, I want you to meet the new Ace and his partner, Dave Lister," Arnold told him, grinning.
"Dada," Jim blurted out, pointing at Lister.
Lister snapped out of his fugue and stumbled forward, reaching out for the boys...his boys.
"Jim and Bexley? They said you'd found some kids of the crew in an alternate universe but..." Lister said haltingly.
"In their home universe, you met Deb Lister quite a bit earlier, but there was no problem with the boys aging. Your other self...I'm sorry, Lister."
"I'm far from blamin' ya!" Lister exclaimed.
Ace stepped forward and placed Bexley in Lister's arms, before taking and shaking his hand.
"It's good to meet you, Dave. Arn has told us a lot about you."
"Some of it was even good," Dave teased, handing over Jim, before patting Lister on the back.
"Thank you, Rimmer, erm, you guys, too," Lister said simply, unable to find better words for what he was feeling.
"You're welcome, Listy."
"We're glad to help," Ace assured him. "We owe Arn quite a lot."
"Yeah. Do you mind if I draw this moment? I don't need you to sit or anything. I got it in me head."
Lister shook his head, shrugging.
"Nah, man, go right ahead. So, you're traveling with Ace?" he asked, an emotion he couldn't place building up in him at the thought.
"Yeah. Before Arn came along, we were both artists. I figure being out in the universe, seeing new stuff, will give us material for when we go back to it."
"Well, you're doing better than me. I ended up in prison. My own stupid fault, but...smeg!" Lister exclaimed, turning to Arnold with wide eyes. "What am I going to do? I can't lose me boys over this prison thing!"
"I took the liberty of speaking with Hollister. He said you could give someone else temporary physical custody--a sort of joint custody arrangement. Sure, you committed a crime, but you didn't hurt anyone or intend to. So, you can pick someone you trust and you'll get full custody of the boys, once you get out. It's only another couple of months, right?"
"About that, yeah," Lister agreed, thinking. "Would you do it?"
"Yes, if you want me to," Arnold agreed.
"Well, you're one of my best mates and most the others are in jail, too," Lister joked, then smiled. "I trust you with them."
"Don't worry. You'll see them every day. I promise."
"No! NO! NO! I don't wanna!" a young girl, Maggie, screeched, running into the auditorium with Todhunter close behind her. He gave Arnold a pleading look.
"Whoa, what's going on?" Arnold asked, surprised. Maggie had been overjoyed to see Todhunter earlier, easily accepting him as her father. "What is it, Mags?"
Maggie threw herself at Arnold, forcing him to catch her, before she fell face first into the floor. He scooped the child up.
"We live in that same room! The same room as before!" she sobbed, throwing her arms around Arnold's neck. "Tell him, Uncle Arnie! Tell him we can't go back in there!"
"Mags, Maggie," Arnold said soothingly. "Remember what I said, when we were coming here? This Red Dwarf is safe. We haven't traveled through that nebula here and we aren't going to. I warned the captain already. There's nothing in those rooms. I promise."
"But, Uncle Arnie, what if something else has gotten in there?" Maggie protested.
"Like what?" Arnold challenged gently.
"Moon spiders! They might have passed too close to a moon, with these spiders, and the ship flew away, but the spiders snuck on board!" Maggie said, gasping at the idea of it.
"Spiders. Special spiders by any chance?" Arnold asked, smiling slightly.
"Uh huh! They're big and green and they can spit venom and they're really good at hiding!"
"Woooww. Mags. We won't let anything hurt you. Not spiders. Not rogue androids. Not gas parasites in nebulas. You have an entire crew of people to defend you, including me. We'll do everything we can to protect you and everyone else. Okay?"
"I'm just still scared," Maggie told him mournfully.
"I can see that. Is there anything I can do to help? Since you won't take my word for it?"
"Can I have a Mr. Flibble? Penguins can eat spiders can't they?"
"Mr. Flibble?" Lister asked incredulously.
Arnold grinned sheepishly at his old friend, shrugging lightly.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Flibble is Uncle Arnie's friend! They met when they both got sick. They're better now, though, and Mr. Flibble helps. He's so cute!" Maggie told Lister.
"Oh. Great," Lister said, pasting on a smile.
Ace and Dave had their heads together, chuckling quietly.
"We're not talking about an actual penguin are we?" Todhunter finally chimed in, worried.
"No, Daddy," Maggie sighed. "He's usually a puppet, but sometimes he's stuffed."
"You don't mind, do you, old man?" Arnold asked him.
"No, not if it gets her to calm down."
"I'll get him for her," Ace volunteered, running off backstage.
Ace was back quickly and handed the stuffed toy to Maggie. She grinned, cuddling the penguin close. Lister shook his head in disbelief. Arnold gave Maggie a quick hug, then handed her over to Todhunter.
"All right. Are you ready to go home now?" Todhunter asked.
"Yes, Daddy. Bye, Uncle Arnie! Bye, Uncle Ace! Bye Uncles Dave!"
All four men waved bye, as Todhunter carried Maggie out of the room. When they were out of sight, Lister turned to Arnold.
"You're sick, man! Seriously? Mr. Flibble? That psychotic..."
"The holovirus is gone," Arnold reminded him, shrugging, unable to suppress a grin. "Look, I needed something to soothe a child and I didn't have a lot of time. Mr. Flibble was the first thing I could think of. Anyway, the kids love him! He's just a doll."
"So was Chucky, Rimmer!" Lister said pointedly.
"Mr. Flibble isn't into voodoo, Listy," Arnold assured him.
Lister tried to stare Arnold down, but the former Ace just stared back, cool and amused. Arnold finally cocked a questioning eyebrow at Lister, who gave an involuntary burst of laughter.
"Okay, okay. I need to get back. They got me in stores today."
"Nonsense. Stick around! I'll take responsibility."
"Will Hollister let you get away with that?" Lister asked skeptically.
"Only one way to find out. He doesn't quite know what to make of me."
"I just bet," Lister agreed, sniggering.
Arnold led Lister back stage to an area where he could play quietly with Jim and Bexley. There were only two more groups of parents left and, as Arnold had thought, he was done in a couple of more hours, finishing up a bit before four. He arranged a baby sitter for Jim and Bexley, then made his way to the observation tower.
Yvonne appeared at the tower promptly at four-thirty, a small bag on her shoulder and Michael in her arms. She smiled slightly, sitting beside Arnold, with Michael half asleep in her lap. Arnold smiled at the boy, tickling his chin.
"You already know, don't you?" Yvonne asked. "That's he's your son?"
"I've met him before, child and adult versions."
"Until today, I didn't really believe the stories about you traveling in other realities."
"It's true, though," Arnold assured her.
"I'm not sure what you want here," she interrupted, nervously. "I don't want you to feel obligated. I can handle this."
"Obligated. Smeg," he sighed. "Yvonne, I was in love with you. The living version of me still is."
"Why didn't you call me? Until I realized I was pregnant, I wasn't even really sure that night had happened."
Arnold flinched, though his training as Ace kept the movement to a tightening of his eyes.
"That's why I didn't. Lister told me about your concussion and...pretty much convinced me you wouldn't want me to call. I didn't want to find out you'd slept with me thinking I was someone else."
"Why the smeg would he do that?" Yvonne asked. "I knew who I was sleeping with. I wanted that night to happen."
"Don't blame Listy, all right? He and I...we have a long history of winding each other up, bickering. I didn't have to listen. I could have been brave enough to talk to you and find out the truth," Arnold explained.
"I need to tell the living Arnold, too. Will he be happy? Are you?"
Arnold shifted a bit, nodding slowly, but somber.
"He will be, but...he's going to be terrified. He probably won't act happy. Don't be fooled though. He'll adore the kid. It's just he'll be worried about what type of father he'll be."
"All first time dads experience that."
"Most first time dads weren't raised by Arthur Rimmer," Arnold warned. "My father...wasn't very stable. Arnie doesn't have a lot of experience with healthy relationships."
"Are you trying to frighten me off?"
"No, not at all. I just want you to understand him...us."
"Fair enough. Anything else I should know?"
"Just be patient and don't always take him at face value. And be careful. Together, he and Lister are a weird magnet."
"I think that last one applies to you, too."
"It does," Arnold agreed, shrugging ruefully.
"It's gonna be strange for Mike, having two dads that are basically the same person."
"Don't let Arnie hear you say that. I've never liked the idea of me and someone else being the same person. We're individuals, no matter how we came about. It's a bit of a sore spot."
"It's all right. I'm just letting you know. As for Mike...he's better off with a living father. I think I should probably take the role of uncle."
"And what am I going to be to you?" Yvonne asked softly.
"I loved you, Yvonne, but that was years ago for me. I'm not that man anymore."
"Hm. The living version is though. Are you match-making, Commander Rimmer?" she teased.
Arnold smiled warmly, charming in his sincerity and humor.
"I just might be, Lieutenant McGruder," he admitted, making her laugh.
"Well, then," she replied drolly, standing and placing a light kiss on his forehead. "I'd better help get that ball rolling. Say bye-bye to your Uncle Arnie, Mike."
Arnold picked Mike up and placed a kiss on his cheek, then handed him back to Yvonne.
"Bahye," Mike cooed, making the grabbing motion that passed for a wave in very young children.
Yvonne left and immediately headed for floor thirteen. Being female boxing champion made certain things easier and she managed to be shown to Rimmer and Lister's cell with a minimum of fuss. Both men were seated at the table, while Lister talked animatedly. The guard just rolled his eyes, letting her in without announcing her, before heading back outside. Yvonne listened with interest as Lister continued talking, his expression becoming a bit morose.
"So, we had to send them back to Deb or they would have died of old age within a month. I missed them though. I can't believe y-Arnold found versions of them that need a home!"
"Hurrah for him," Rimmer said a bit snidely, before his tone softened. "I'm glad for you though. Really. I am."
"Thanks, man," Lister said, then noticed Yvonne. "Hey, McGruder...and child! Welcome to the Tank."
Rimmer stiffened a bit, but forced himself to smile, trying to relax.
"Um. Hello," he said standing, trying not to twitch with nervousness.
"Have a seat, you two," Lister offered. "I'll go to me bunk. You two, um, talk or...whatever."
"Thank you," Yvonne told both of them, sitting down in Lister's chair. "This is Michael. I was pregnant with him, when I left Red Dwarf...before the accident. Strange that I remember that, isn't it?"
"You were pregnant..." Rimmer repeated slowly, sitting back down, not quite believing what he suspected she was saying.
"He's your son," Yvonne confirmed, calmly.
"Hey, Rimmer, you stud! Congratulations, man!" Lister crowed, pleased for his friend.
"Lister, please," Yvonne said quietly, her eyes never leaving Rimmer's face.
For a brief, horrible moment, she thought the hologram was wrong and this Arnold wasn't happy at all. His eyes were wide and, yes, frightened, with his mouth pursed, as he studied the boy. Then, his eyes turned to her and she noticed how bright they were.
"I...have a son," Rimmer repeated, still trying to absorb the information. "Well...yes, good!"
"Rimmer, relax!" Lister coaxed. "He won't bite...probably."
"Yes, thank you, Lister!" Yvonne said, a slight warning in her tone.
"May I hold him?" Rimmer asked, in a strangled voice. He cleared his throat, making an awkward movement with his shoulders. "Please."
Yvonne smiled, getting back up. She arranged the toddler in his father's lap and stood back. Rimmer stared at her for a moment, then placed an arm very slowly and carefully around the boy.
"Um. Hi," Rimmer said, searching for something to say to the boy, smiling slightly. "Michael. That's a good name."
"Give him a moment. He's really not feeling good today, but I needed to tell you about him."
Rimmer couldn't think of anything to say, so just nodded, staring down at his son. Michael looked up at his father with wide eyes. Satisfied with what he saw and sensed, he leaned against Rimmer's chest and placed his thumb in his mouth, resting. Rimmer's eyes widened even further and he instinctively rubbed circles on the boy's back. Yvonne let herself melt a bit at the sight. She placed her chin on her hands, leaning with her elbows on the table.
"You should have called me, you know," Yvonne scolded lightly. "I wasn't sure that night was real and, by the time I learned I was pregnant, I thought you weren't interested."
"You should've called him," Lister couldn't resist answering.
"You should have kept quiet," Yvonne told him, firmly. "Ar...hm. We're going to have to do something about names. The other Arnold said you spouted some rubbish about me thinking I was sleeping with someone else."
"That's what I was told!" Lister protested, ignoring the slight wave of guilt he felt.
"You were told wrong," Yvonne retorted.
"So you weren't concussed?" Rimmer asked, hopefully.
"Oh I was," Yvonne admitted, shrugging. "That's what made me think I might have dreamed the whole thing."
"Oh," Rimmer said, not sure if this was something he should feel guilty about or what it meant.
"I wanted it to happen though. You are cute," Yvonne told him, smiling gently.
"I am?" Rimmer asked, his tone incredulous, making her laugh a bit.
"Yes, you are," she confirmed, leaning over and placing a soft kiss on Rimmer's lips, which he remembered to return only as she was pulling away.
"I see things are going well," Arnold said, coming into the cell with Jim and Bexley. "I hope you don't mind. I tried to give you some time to talk, but I wanted to let Jim and Bexley spend more time with Listy, now we're both done for the day."
Lister hopped down from his bunk to hug his boys. Arnold set the travel bag he had brought with him down on the floor and took a seat on the lower bunk.
"Rimmer, Yvonne, meet my twin boys--Jim and Bexley!"
"Hello," Rimmer said in their direction, his expression a bit lost.
Bexley squirmed down from his dad and walked over to Rimmer, holding onto his leg.
"Play!" he piped, reaching up and pulling on the back of Michael's pants. "Up!"
"Oi, he's sleeping," Rimmer protested, trying to keep from sounding harsh.
"Bexley, no," Arnold said more firmly, standing and picking the boy up and setting him back with his brother.
Unfortunately, it was a bit too late. Mike sat up and began crying loudly. Rimmer froze for a moment, then hugged the boy a bit tighter.
"Hey, no, don't cry," he pleaded, looking to Yvonne for help.
"Just hold him and let him know it's okay," she suggested.
"Why should he believe me? What if it isn't?" Rimmer balked, standing.
Placing the boy on his shoulder, Rimmer walked around the room, hoping Mike would find the movement soothing. Mike just leaned against Rimmer's shoulder, continuing to sob in distress.
"Yvonne, please! I don't know how to do this!" Rimmer protested.
Sighing, Yvonne stood, reaching to take Mike from him. Mike had other ideas, throwing his arms tightly around Rimmer's neck and refusing to let go. Rimmer gazed at the small boy in astonishment, looking round the room for answers.
"Well, what do I do now?"
"Be patient," Ace advised. "I know you want to make everything better, but right now he's sick and upset. This won't last forever. You just have to see it through."
"But, why's he crying so hard? What's wrong with him?" Rimmer asked, flustered and worried.
"He has a small fever and I think he's got a tummyache," Yvonne said soothingly. "He'll be fine. He just needs some rest. Here, see if he'll take his pacifier."
She got up and handed the small toy to Mike, but her son turned away from it sharply, shaking his head.
"Nuuu," he whimpered, burying his head tighter against Rimmer's neck.
Yvonne stroked Mike's hair, murmuring softly at him. Rimmer watched her, awed, wanting to say something to the mother of his child, his sick child, but he couldn't think of anything that seemed remotely intelligent. He felt Mike sit up abruptly and was dismayed at the pained expression on the tiny boy's face. A horrible choking and wheezing noise came from Mike, then he began throwing up, sending a cascade of curdled milk and banana all over himself and his father.
"Oh, my gawwwwwwd," Rimmer groaned, shuddering in disgust as he turned the boy over, trying to get the vomit onto the floor.
The boy was sick for a couple of minutes, then went still, crying weakly.
"Is it over? Is he all right? I think we should get a doctor!" Rimmer babbled. "Does he need a doctor?"
"If he isn't better by tomorrow, I'll take him to the doctor," Yvonne agreed, tiredly.
Jim looked up at Mike, his nose crinkled.
"Awwww," he cooed, then pulled a teddy bear out of Arnold's travel bag. He held the toy up to Mike, but Lister took it first.
"Let's get Mike and Rimmer cleaned up, then he can have the bear," Lister suggested.
Fortunately, Rimmer was in his Canary uniform, so was able to clean up quickly just by removing his tunic and wiping up with a towel. Yvonne changed Michael's clothes, as he squirmed and cried, holding his hands out to Rimmer. Once the boy was clean, Rimmer took him back, staring at him helplessly.
"All right, you're all such experts," Rimmer grumbled. "Now what?"
"He needs to sleep. Why don't you lie down with him in your bunk. See if you can get him to nod off," Arnold suggested.
Sighing, Rimmer obeyed, trying to settle himself and Mike comfortably on the bunk. Lister waited until Rimmer stilled, then handed Mike the teddy bear. Mike took the bear, cuddling it close.
"Well. At least it isn't Mr. Flibble," Lister sighed.
"Flibool?" Bexley repeated, climbing up next to Rimmer and Mike, with a truck clutched to his chest.
"Mr. Flibble isn't here," Arnold assured Lister. "Bexley, sport, let Mike sleep."
"Sleep," Bexley said agreeably, gently patting Mike on the back.
"Oh, please don't make him throw up again," Rimmer begged.
"Calm down, ya smegger," Lister said, affectionately. "Come on, boys. Come play over here."
Lister herded his sons over to the other side of the table, getting down on the floor to help them play with the toys Arnold had brought. Yvonne watched them almost silently, casting occasional glances at Rimmer and Mike. Before long, both of them were sound asleep. Arnold had sat down in Rimmer's chair and watched the entire scene with a small grin.
"You look like Cat, when he's laid claim to something. What's that expression for?" Lister asked.
"Ace doesn't get moments like this, you know," Arnold explained. "He's always leaving, heading off to a new adventure. I didn't give it up solely to help the other Arnie. I wanted to come home. Mind you, I didn't imagine things getting quite this domestic."
"It's good, though," Lister said cheerfully.
"Yes, it is," Yvonne chimed in, smiling at her son and his father, the man she was fairly sure she would soon love, if she didn't already.
Arnold just nodded, leaning back to savor the moment and continue making plans.
Chapter 4: Home is Family
The crew finds a stasis pod and the Rimmer family expands, again.
This gets a bit sappy towards the end, but I think Lister would approve.
Arnold strode down the corridors of the derelict, relaxed, but alert. The scanners hadn't detected any threat. Still. You never did know, out in the regions of deep space. There were threats out there the scanners weren't programmed to detect. Something had attacked this ship, wiping out its AI and leaving it drifting. They hadn't managed to identify the ship yet. Lister kept pace beside him, looking around with more curiosity than wariness. They were both used to danger and derelicts both.
"We should be almost there," Lister said, opening a door and peeking inside.
"Three more doors down, I think," Arnold agreed.
"Think we'll find anyone?"
"Fifty-fifty odds, Listy."
"Sixty-forty," Lister amended. "They had to have some reason to turn on the stasis field."
"Fair enough, though they might have been preserving supplies."
"Eh! There it is. Let's find out," Lister said enthusiastically, running the few feet ahead and entering the door marked Stasis Bay.
Arnold followed Lister into the bay and found him standing in front of a pod, grinning.
"There's someone in here!"
"Any ident on the pod?" Arnold asked.
"Nah, nothing. I'm deactivating the stasis field."
Arnold nodded, coming to stand near the pod, his hand going to the pistol at his side. Lister stood back, his laser rifle at the ready. The timer counted rapidly down and the hatch of the stasis pod lifted. Lister reached up and pushed it out of the way, his eyes widening.
"Lister? What's wrong?" Arnold asked, stepping forward.
"He looks like you! I mean, he doesn't look exactly like you or anything," Lister amended. "He just looks really, incredibly a lot like you."
Arnold stared down into the pod, a slight gasp escaping his lips. Lister turned to him, questioningly.
"Who is it?" he asked softly.
"Frank," Arnold said, more emotionless than Lister had ever seen him, since he went away to become Ace.
"Your brother?!" Lister asked, incredulous.
"Yes, Listy," Arnold said. "In a few minutes, you'll finally get to meet one of my brothers."
Lister considered that for a moment, then shook his head, slamming the pod hatch back down.
Lister was relieved, when Arnold chuckled fondly, reopening the hatch. Inside the pod, Frank Rimmer's eyes opened. Sitting up, he stared in bewilderment at the men in front of him. Arnold frowned. His brother didn't look well. He was pale and there was sweat forming on his brow.
"Arnie? What are you doing here?"
"We'll explain in a bit. How did you end up in a stasis pod?"
A laser blast interrupted the moment, coming from a vent near the ceiling. Arnold whirled, returning fire and hearing a pained yelp in response. More laser blasts fired down on them quickly. Grabbing Frank, Arnold dived behind the stasis pod, feeling Lister following close behind.
"Are you armed, Frank?" Arnold asked.
"I'm afraid not. Where the hell are we? What happened?" Frank demanded, grabbing the front of Arnold's uniform in a threatening grip.
Arnold broke his brother's grasp easily, ducking around to fire once more on their enemy.
"No time for that now. You can't fight and I can't leave the crew undefended. We don't know how many hostiles we're facing. Our priority is to get back to Red Dwarf."
"You better let me handle this," Frank said firmly, though there was a slight rasp to his voice. Getting as close to the corner of the pod as he could, wobbling slightly as he walked, Frank shouted out to the attacker. "Listen! My name is Commander Frank Rimmer of the Space Corps. You're in violation of Space Corps directives. If you continue your attack, you and your people will be classified as hostile and dealt with appropriately!"
Arnold sighed, smiling wryly. Lister just rolled his eyes. Somehow, he'd expected more. Frank's bravado reminded him of Rimmer, when they first met. It was still annoying, even if Frankie was more competent than Rimmer had been. The hostile wasn't impressed either, firing off another round of lasers and nearly getting Frank in the ear. Arnold pulled Frank back to shelter.
"Trade me guns, Listy. That type of laser will bounce right off my hard light body. I'll cover you. Once we hit the corridor, run like hell for Starbug," Arnold instructed.
"Just like you to run, instead of fight," Frank chided. "I hate to tell you, Arnie, but you aren't in charge. We're going to take that hostile and make him wish he'd never been born."
"He may not be in charge, but Captain Hollister is and we're acting under his orders, not yours," Lister snapped. "You're just a refugee, mate."
"Easy, Listy. He obviously has no clue what has happened."
"What do you mean?" Frank demanded.
"Not now, Frankie. Right now, on the count of three, run! One, two..."
On the count of three, Lister dragged Frank out from behind the stasis pod, keeping behind Arnold. Arnold provided cover and they made it first to the corridor and then onto Starbug. Lister took the pilot's chair, while Frank and Arnold took the seats in the back. Arnold contacted Red Dwarf, letting them know what to expect. Leaning back, he just stared at his brother for a few moments, before smiling warmly.
"We'll be back on Red Dwarf in just a bit," he said. "We'd better get you updated. How'd you end up in stasis, Frankie?"
"I have a rare virus. Unfortunately, we were out of the antidote. So, they placed me in stasis, until we could get back to Earth. Then, I woke up and you were there. Now, listen, Arnie..."
"Sorry to interrupt, brother mine, but the sooner we get the air cleared the better. You were in that stasis pod one hell of a long time. Three million years or so and you're about that far into deep space. I'm sorry."
Frank stared at Arnold in perplexed surprise.
"What on Io are you blathering about? Three million years? How could we be that far in the future?"
"There was a radiation leak on Red Dwarf. Dave survived in stasis, so Holly brought me back as a hologram, since we were bunk mates. Then in an even longer story, a bunch of nanobots reconstructed Red Dwarf and the crew. Like Listy, you survived, because you were in a stasis pod."
"You can't be dead. I see the H, but I've seen you touch things."
"It's been three million years. A few things were bound to get invented. My body is composed of hard light."
"Hard light. Right," Frank scoffed.
"All right, then. I don't blame you for not believing me. It's a lot to take in," Arnold said graciously.
"Who was firing on us?" Frank demanded.
"Scavengers, most likely. There are Gelf in the area."
Frank studied his youngest brother, perplexed. Had his personality disk become corrupted? This was not the Arnie he knew. Where was the sniveling, the groveling? Usually Arnie was either sullenly silent or full of exaggerated tales of near successes. This Arnie hadn't whined once.
"Frank? Are you all right?"
"How are we going to get home is the real question."
"Frank...we aren't. That's all in the past. Red Dwarf is home now. We're the last hope for humanity's future."
Frank paled, snapping out, "I have a wife and children!"
"They're gone. Mother, Father, everyone. You have to accept that."
"Don't tell me what I have to accept, Arnold. I don't know what's going on with you, but I'm a commander and you're a technician."
"Hell he is," Lister interrupted. "He's a commander, too, and..."
"And we'll let Hollister tell him the rest. Hollister is, after all, in command," Arnold said firmly. "We'll report to him, while Frank takes a trip to the medbay. I've told them to send a medic."
"Your brother's a bloody twonk," Lister said irritably.
"I'm your commanding officer," Frank said sharply, feeling a twinge of shame.
"Are you? You've been presumed dead for three million years," Lister said dryly.
"We'll find out soon, enough," Arnold said, striving for patience, as Starbug came to a stop in the landing bay. "We're home."
Fortunately, Hollister kept their meeting short, accepting the events with a tired sigh. What was one more Rimmer at this point? Dismissed, Arnold and Lister walked, a bit aimlessly, down the hallway. Lister noticed Arnold wasn't taking them towards medical.
"You look glum," Lister chided. "You got family back, man, even if it is your git older brother!"
"And I'm happy!" Arnold assured him, with a rueful grin. "It's Arnie's reaction that I'm worried about."
"Oh, smeg! Rimmer!" Lister yelped, with awakening horror. "He's gonna go spare!"
"I need to speak with Arnie, before Frank goes anywhere near him," Arnold agreed.
"Did you tell Frank about Rimmer?"
"One step at a time, Listy. Let the docs patch him up, before we drop too many more shocks on him."
"Want me to come along to tell Rimmer?" Lister offered gently.
Arnold's smile warmed and he clapped an affectionate hand on Lister's shoulder. He shook his head.
"Thanks, Listy, but no. I think Arnie will handle this better one on one."
"Good luck, guy."
"Thanks," Arnold said, as Lister turned and walked away.
Arnold found Rimmer in his quarters, playing on the floor with Mike, while Yvonne sipped coffee at the table. Toy cars from multiple centuries were scattered around the play area. Rimmer looked up with a smile, that quickly faded at the undefined emotion on Arnold's face.
"Oh, smeg. I knew it," Rimmer mourned. "Things only get good, to make the bad even worse."
"That is not a healthy attitude," Yvonne suggested mildly, but Rimmer knew it was code for "Don't say that in front of Mike."
"Sorry," he sighed.
"It's also premature," Arnold said, soothingly. "I do need to speak with Arnie alone, though, please."
Yvonne finished her coffee, then stood and scooped Mike into her arms. Rimmer stood with a disconsolate sigh. Laughing lightly, Yvonne leaned in and gave him a firm kiss.
"It'll be fine, tiger," she insisted. "Be at my quarters in an hour for dinner, yes?"
"All right," Rimmer agreed, trying and failing to feel braver.
Once Yvonne and Mike were gone, Arnold sat down at the table, lighting a cigarette.
"So, it's good news, is it?" Rimmer asked, with sarcastic cheer.
"Yes, you could see it that way," Arnold agreed, with a shrug. "The derelict had a stasis booth. The occupant needed drugs his crew didn't have. We're not sure yet, why he never made it home."
"He who?" Rimmer demanded.
"Frank, our brother."
Rimmer's face went blank, but he couldn't hide the panic in his eyes. After a second, a wide, hard smile creased his face. It only made him look more afraid.
"Well, that's splendid!" Rimmer enthused, standing and pacing. "Frank's alive. You should have said right away! This is great!"
"Is it?" Arnold asked quietly.
Rimmer stoped his pacing, staring at Arnold in shock.
"What?!" he squeaked. "Why would you ask that?"
"Because he put a landmine in our sandbox," Arnold reminded him. "We got a concussion. The current Ace was paralyzed from the waist down."
Rimmer's face scrunched into a scowl of denial. He shook his head, as if to dislodge a fly.
"That was an accident!" Rimmer said sharply, before scolding with a scoff. "That's not very Ace-like, holding a grudge, is it? You keep telling me to let go of my bitterness."
"I want you to let go of baggage that is holding you back!" Arnold corrected, sternly.
"Well, then! We'll just let bygones be bygones."
"Arnie. You can't forgive someone, until you admit they were wrong, that they...he hurt you," Arnold said in a gentler tone. "And, forgiving someone doesn't always mean trusting them not to hurt you again.""
Rimmer sat down at the table, eyes wide, perplexed.
"You think he's going to hurt me? Aren't you glad he's here?"
"I don't know," Arnold admitted. "Look, of course I'm glad he's alive, here and safe. He's our brother. But, we don't know him, not really."
"What, exactly, are you saying?" Rimmer asked harshly. "How is the former Ace going to handle this?"
"With cautious optimism," Arnold assured him. "He might have grown up quite a lot, out in space. Thing is, like it or not, we're all the family he has left."
Rimmer gulped, nodding slowly.
"You said he's ill..."
"The doctor's are working on him, as we speak. I'm off now to get a progress report. Do you want me to tell him about Yvonne and Mike?"
"No," Rimmer said firmly. "I'll do it."
"Good enough," Arnold confirmed, clapping Rimmer warmly on the shoulder.
Leaving his other, Arnold headed for the medical bay. He stopped just outside, peering thoughtfully into space. Shaking off his wariness, Arnold went in, finding Frank sitting up on the bed, his color greatly improved. Arnold grinned approvingly.
"You look a lot more like yourself, Frankie."
"I feel better," Frank agreed cautiously. "Captain Hollister was just in. He showed me a datapad with the dimensionhop file."
"It's not a big deal. I'm retired as Ace."
Frank openly scoffed, continuing, "So, you really did all that? Traveled through dimensions, playing at hero?"
"It wasn't a game or a stunt," Arnold answered, with quiet anger.
Frank stared at him, then gave a shaky laugh.
"Fair enough. He also said there's a living you on board. What's he like?"
"He's like I used to be," Arnold admitted, honestly. "He's getting better, though. He just needs some guidance and support."
"That'd be a full time job in itself!"
"I can think of worse ones," Arnold challenged then shrugged. "I've help enough."
"Meaning, what, exactly?" Frank huffed, vaguely offended, though he didn't know why.
"Not meaning a thing, brother mine," Arnold assured him, spreading his hands in a gesture of peace. "It's good to have you back."
"Well, thank you. What do you call yourselves, Arn and Arnie? Sounds like a comedy act."
"Arnold and Arnie, between ourselves," Arnold answered patiently, not rising to the bait, if that's what it was. "He's Rimmer to a lot of people, including our friends."
"Friends. Like that...who was that with you, earlier?" Frank asked, not bothering to hide his disdain.
"That was my best friend, Dave Lister," Arnold said, sharply. "He's a good man."
"He's not exactly well-polished."
"I said he was a good man, not jewelry," Arnold joked, grinning.
Frank laughed, almost obediently, but shifted. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. Arnold's smooth tone didn't hide the fire in his eyes. Anger crackled around him, like a mantle. He wondered if there was some truth to the Ace gibberish. Arnold, after all, was just--Arnold, a cowardly wannabe, going where he didn't belong.
"I look forward to knowing him," Frank offered.
Arnold accepted the olive branch, his smile softening.
"We all need to get to know each other," he said, his lips quirking. "It has been three million years."
"I'll be released in the morning."
"Excellent. Will you join me for breakfast?"
It was the most surprising breakfast of Frank's life. Oh, the mid-level restaurant suited Arnold's new rank and his play at modesty. That made sense. The small group of humanoids, including a mechanoid and three small children, didn't. The only faces he recognized were the Arnolds and Yvonne MacGruder. He'd met the ship's boxing champion at an inter-ship championship match, a few years before going into stasis. Frank noticed Arnie looked stiff as always, a fake smile stretching his lips.
"Good morning," Frank greeted, shrugging off his own unease.
"Hey, buddy!" the humanoid wearing a gold and purple suit, with vampire teeth responded.
The third surprise Frank got was when Arnold sat back down, letting Arnie make the introductions.
"Frank. This is Kryten, Cat, who really is a cat, Listy, and his sons, Jim and Bexley," Arnie croaked out, waving vaguely at each of them. He drew a deep breath. "This is Yvonne MacGruder and...our son, Michael."
"Your..." Frank began, astonished, then stopped himself. "Well. Congratulations, Arnie. It's good to meet you again, Yvonne."
"Who's he?" Mike asked, puzzled.
"This is my brother, Mikey," Rimmer explained. "He's your Uncle Frank."
"Oh," Mike said simply, waving briefly at the new person.
"It's nice to meet you, young man."
"Oh," Mike repeated. "Why?"
"Well. Because we're family," Frank said, as the others laughed.
Frank shifted awkwardly, unsure how to talk to such a motley group, most of them far below himself in rank. Hollister had explained the basics of how Red Dwarf had ended up stranded three million years into deep space and how this group had formed. He looked at Arnold, the dead original of his little brother, struggling for something to say. Arnold smiled kindly, an expression Frank couldn't recall seeing on him before.
"So, where are we headed?" Frank asked.
"We don't know," Arnold admitted. "Eventually, we have to find a planet to colonize. We might find a way back to our solar system. There are ways. If we find a friendly civilization, we might just pick a likely planet and settle there."
"Well, so far," Lister teased, "we've only encountered Gelf, psirens, simulants, and various other groups wanting to kill us off."
"That's hardly fair, sir," Kryten protested. "The Gelf, for the most part, did not actively want us dead."
"Well, forcing someone into marriage isn't much better," Arnold said, steadying his glass of orange juice, so Mike could take a drink of it.
"They tried to force marriage on you?" Frank asked, astonished at his brother's appalling luck.
"Nope!" Rimmer popped, with just a bit of glee. He'd loved being told that story. "That was Listy."
Arnold started to gently scold his other self, but was interrupted by Mike wheezing painfully. Turning, the former Ace saw Mike's face turning a mottled red, his eyes wide and afraid. The boy was still clinging to the glass of orange juice.
"Waiter! We need a medic here immediately! The boy's been poisoned!" Arnold commanded, in his strongest voice.
"Poison?" Yvonne repeated, stricken. "Are you sure?"
"He isn't allergic and he isn't choking. He was fine, just moments ago."
The medics arrived, quickly taking charge. After a few minutes, the lead medic stood.
"He should be fine. We've administered an antidote. We are taking him to the medbay for observation, for at least twelve hours."
"We're going with you," she told the medic, tugging on Rimmer's arm. He nodded, silently, casting a helpless look at Arnold.
"Go on, Arnie. Take care of the boy and I'll get this sorted," Arnold promised.
"That was meant for you," Lister pointed out, as soon as they were gone. "That was your orange juice."
"Why would someone poison you?" Frank asked, puzzled. "And how? You're already dead!"
"Because I was Ace and he has enemies. It's not too surprising someone would find me in retirement and know of a poison for hard light holograms."
"Arnold," Holly interrupted. "I've checked. All of the crew are accounted for. If it was one of them, they haven't run for it."
"Why would one of the crew want to take Ace out?" Lister asked indignantly. "People are such bastards."
"I've informed the captain," Holly said. "He wants to see both you and Frank."
Arnold started, frowning a bit, but shrugged.
"We're on our way, then."
"I'm going to check on Rimmer," Lister said, nodding farewell. "Be careful."
Arnold and Frank hurried to Hollister's office, finding the Captain at his desk, playing fitfully with a pen.
"Arnold. Frank," he greeted somberly. "I've heard the boy will be all right. I'm sorry this happened to him."
"Captain Hollister..." Arnold began, his voice deep with his emotions.
"No, Arnold. I'm sorry. Even Ace can't be expected...the boy's your son, even if that isn't usually acknowledged. You're too close to this."
"You're going to keep me out of it?" Arnold rasped, angrily.
"Can I keep you out of it?" Hollister asked, dryly. "No. What I am doing is putting Frank in charge of the investigation. You can help, but this is his show. Is that clear?"
Arnold gave a shaky breath, running a hand through his hair. He needed to focus. Counting his breaths, he worked on pushing away his anger. After a moment, the cloud of emotion cleared, just a bit, and he nodded. It made sense. Dammit, it did.
"Of course, Skipper. I understand."
"I barely know this ship or it's crew!" Frank protested.
"Exactly," Arnold agreed. "You have objectivity."
"And you'll be there to pick up on clues I might miss," Frank concluded, unable to hide his skepticism.
Arnold looked away for a moment, then turned back, his eyes blazing.
"Whatever coward did this used poison. At a table with three small children. I'm not just another set of eyes and hands for you, Frankie. I'm your protection."
"I want you to bring this person in alive, Arnold," Hollister commanded. "You're to use deadly force as an absolute last resort."
Arnold grimaced, but nodded. Again, it made sense. Again, unfortunately.
"Well, let's start with reviewing who had access to the drinks," Frank said, clapping Arnold on the shoulder. He felt more sympathy in that one moment, than any given week they'd spent under one roof together. Arnold followed, nodding grimly.
They went to Arnold's office, sitting close together in front of his view screen.
"Holly, review the black box. Follow the path of that glass backwards very slowly, from the moment Mike drank from it, to the time the glass was selected," Arnold ordered.
The men watched as the waiter walked the drink backwards to the kitchen. The same waiter waited patiently as the juice was sucked back from the glass to a waiting dispenser. The waiter placed the glass on a tray with the rest of Arnold's breakfast, then stepped away with one of his plates, putting the food back into a skillet. While the waiter's back was turned, another man, in a cook's uniform, heavily bearded and mustached, approached the tray, rubbing a wet cloth all around the lip of the glass.
"Hold and zoom in!" Frank ordered.
"Holly? Do we have an ident on him?" Arnold said quietly.
"No, Arnold. He's not a member of the crew or anyone we've knowingly rescued."
"A stowaway? How would he get on board or stay hidden?" Frank demanded.
"Easily," Arnold said. "There's plenty of technology that could get him on board, without being seen. He might not even be human. Once aboard, well. There's miles and miles of engine space that rarely gets inspected."
"Did you recognize him, perhaps?"
"Under all that fake facial hair? Not a bit."
They watched the screen as the stranger backed up into a closet. When he emerged again, he was wearing an engineer's uniform and heavy goggles.
"Score one for you, Arnold. He does seem to be going to engineering," Frank agreed.
They watched as their target made his way to the engineering sections. Arnold was relieved, since the man completely ignored the service stations and engine parts, merely slinking away into the shadows. His relief disappeared, when the walls of his office started crackling, glowing with a mottled yellow and orange. Grabbing Frank, Arnold quickly dove out of his office, slamming and locking the door, with a voice command.
"What in blazes was that?!" Frank demanded.
"That was attempt number two," Arnold said, chuckling wryly. "That energy could have burned out my light bee. It wouldn't have done you any good either."
"Holly's cameras don't go all the way into the drive decks," Frank mused. "I don't think we can use him, unless we wait for our target to resurface and strike again."
"There's too much chance of someone else getting hurt," Arnold denied, firmly. "I think it's time we went hunting."
"I'm in charge, Arnold," Frank warned.
"Yes, you are," Arnold assured him. "So, what's your decision?"
Frank sighed. It was strange, hearing Arnold be sensible. It was like a fish learning to climb trees! Still. They had few options. Time was definitely a factor, with two murder attempts in as many hours. Finally, Frank nodded.
"All right. Go get us some weapons and I'll inform Hollister."
"Right. I'll meet you at the main engine drive in twenty minutes."
Frank wasn't expecting the sight he discovered at the main drive. Arnold stood beside a small pile of weapons. Two laser pistols and a couple of bazookoids lay tangled up with a holowhip. A couple of long daggers lay on top of the pile.
Staring hard at Arnold, Frank noticed two similar daggers in Arnold's belt and boot. A holowhip rested around one of his shoulders. Frank realized, uneasily, that the majority of the weapon's pile was meant solely for himself. He sighed, shaking his head. This was a bit more in keeping with the Arnold he knew...overblown and a bit melodramatic.
"You were supposed to get weapons, not an entire arsenal," Frank objected.
"We're going after a proven killer and we don't know that he's alone," Arnold explained, with eerie calm. "Better too much, than too little."
"That's just...never mind," Frank said, sighing, remembering his nephew's distress. He picked up the weapons, tucking them into place, before waving vaguely at the bazookoids. "You do know those aren't actually weapons?"
"Have you ever seen someone shot with one? It's effective," Arnold promised.
"Right," Frank agreed, shaking off his unease. "Let's go, then."
Arnold grabbed the second bazookoid and followed after Frank, who kept his sigh silent. Damn it. He wished Hollister had refused to let "Ace" tag along with him. Yes, his little brother seemed to have finally grown up a bit, but here he was. The man swaggered along, armed to the teeth, his eyes darting into every shadow. To Frank, he didn't look alert, just skittish and afraid. Frank just hoped "Ace" didn't shoot himself in the foot, if anything did show up.
As if reading Frank's mind, something scurried near them. The clicking of nails skittering across concrete broke through the soft hum of the engines. Arnold stopped, peering behind a large section of cooling coils. Frank had to give him credit--he was looking in the right direction, at least.
"It's probably just a space weevil," Frank assured him, trying to keep back his impatience.
Arnold looked at him in surprise, before taking on a look of wry amusement.
"You're right," Arnold agreed, ruefully. "He's probably not careless enough to leave a helpful trail of garbage behind. Never hurts to look, though."
"Let's keep moving," Frank ordered, though silently he admitted it hadn't been a bad thought. If there was human food and garbage lying around, the bugs would be after it.
"Wait up!" a voice called from behind them.
Arnold and Frank both looked back in astonishment to see Rimmer approaching. He had his own bazookoid and laser pistol, his face contorted with determination. Arnold gave a weary sigh.
"Arnie. What are you doing?"
"He's turning around and going back," Frank demanded, angry.
"Hold on, old man," Arnold attempted to reason, but Frank interrupted.
"Hell, no!" Frank insisted. "Look, brother or not, he's not up to this. He'll just make a mess of things, like always."
Rimmer flinched, looking down at his feet. Arnold stood straighter, taking a single step closer to Frank, remembering a childhood of mockery and pain. He studied what should have been one of his closest family members and wondered. Was he objecting in order to keep Arnie safe or out of disdain?
"Listen to me, Frank," Arnold said, his tone even, free of anger, but lacking any warmth. "Anything I can do, he can do. Telling him he'll fail won't teach him how to succeed."
"You haven't proven yourself to me either."
"And I'm not going to," Arnold assured him. "I'm here to catch a killer, not worry about what you think."
"Mike is my son," Rimmer said, trying to sound as calm as Arnold. He took a deep breath. "I know I'm not a great fighter, but I'm trying to be a good dad. I have to at least try to protect my child."
"You're willing to allow this?" Frank asked Arnold, not quite believing it. He thought the man had learned some sense!
"That's right, old man."
"Fine, then. You're responsible for him and anything that happens because of him," Frank said shortly, turning back towards the engines.
"Fine with me," Arnold agreed, cheerfully. "Arnie. Just stay close and follow our lead. Do what we say, yes?"
"Yes, fine!" Rimmer promised, irritated, but still determined.
Frank stalked ahead, picking up the pace, perhaps subconsciously hoping to leave his younger brother behind. Certainly, he was irritated, when Arnold kept pace with him, with seeming ease. He fumed, listening to the heavy footfalls behind him.
"I'm not doing this to irritate you, you know," Rimmer told Frank, trying not to sound petulant. "I'm trying to help!"
"Good to know," Frank said, grimly. "I'll make sure to tell Yvonne that, if I have to explain your death to her."
"I've survived worse than this," Rimmer said bitterly.
"Space is dangerous! We've encountered dinosaurs, jail, a metal-eating virus, Listy's socks," Rimmer listed. "It's amazing any of us are alive."
"I thought Lister was your friend."
"He is," Arnold interrupted. "Doesn't mean it's not fun to trade insults. It kept us both going, for a long time."
Frank shrugged, losing interest. Arnold saw it in his expression and nodded.
"Back to work."
"I thought you had retired, Commander Rimmer."
All three Rimmers stopped, turning towards the left and aiming. A short, slender man stood on the top rung of an access ladder, grinning calmly. Arnold raked his eyes over the stranger, taking in the dark gray uniform, it's sleeves adorned with red stripes. The man had short-cropped gray hair and dark brown eyes. His small mouth was pursed with amusement. Arnold gave him a short nod.
"I am, but that won't keep me from hunting down the coward that poisoned a child. I don't believe we've met."
"Well, no. We haven't, really. Though, we have been in conflict before. My name is Roga Neller," he announced, giving a slight bow. "I fought for the Mars Committee colony during its war with the Nobber Affiliation."
"You're a mercenary," Arnold translated, lips pursed in disgust.
"Oh, certainly," Neller agreed, stepping closer.
"Who's paying you?" Rimmer asked, harshly.
"Well, to be honest, no one, at the moment."
"You're here for revenge?" Frank asked, making Neller laugh.
"Not at all. I was well-paid in advance to assist the Committee. They lost, but that didn't matter to me much. I did the job I was hired for and moved on. No, what I want is notoriety. Retirement doesn't make Ace any less dangerous. Anyone who can kill him...well, I'd have my choice of jobs. But, I have to have tangible proof. I was thinking his light bee would make a splendid belt buckle."
"How did you know I used to be Ace?" Arnold asked grimly.
"Oh, who cares?! He's giving a smegging monologue! Find out why he's stalling!" Rimmer demanded, impatiently, drawing an amused smirk from Neller.
"Shut up, Arnie," Frank ordered.
"Oh, now, now," Neller scolded. "Give him points for observation!"
A large electric net fell from the sky. Rimmer and Frank scurried away, but Arnold stood his ground. With a small smile, he lifted the laser pistol and fired a series of shots. The net stopped glowing, falling around the men in tatters. Frank stared between the floor and Arnold with wide eyes. Rimmer just sighed in relief. Neller glowered, but nodded with reluctant respect.
"Well. I suppose I would be wasting my time, if it was that easy."
Arnold's smile turned cold.
"I promise, I won't waste your time."
Neller didn't respond, but took a step back, leaping down the ladder, onto the catwalk below. The brothers stared at each other for the briefest bit of time, before turning as one and running for the ladder. Familiar with the area, Arnold didn't bother climbing down, but jumped off the edge, going into a roll on his landing, then springing lightly to his feet. Frank descended almost as fast, sliding more than climbing down the ladder. Rimmer scurried down, taking the stairs two at a time, but not displaying the same physical prowess.
Arnold and Frank hadn't waited for him, but were heading off down a long corridor to the left. Rimmer hurried after, trying to control his breathing. His weapons dug into his sides, but he ignored them. Arnold kept saying Rimmer could do this and he refused to prove the hero wrong. With a bit of effort, Rimmer caught up to his brothers, panting heavily.
"He's gone this way," Arnold told Rimmer, pointing to the left. "We have to hurry. These catwalks do branch out, up ahead."
"Then, let's move," Frank ordered, heading that way.
They moved swiftly, but with more caution. The catwalk was lined with tall tanks and computer towers, regulating the movement of fuel and coolants. Frank took the lead, with Arnold trailing slightly behind. Rimmer kept close to Frank, walking a pace behind and keeping Frank's body in front of his own. He kept a close eye on the way ahead, looking up and down, searching the shadows. He gripped his bazookoid, barely refraining from firing it at random.
His cowardly diligence was rewarded by the sight of light glinting off of metal.
Rimmer dropped his bazookoid, grabbed Frank and pulled him down beside himself, in a narrow gap between the towers. They saw an exchange of gunfire and heard Neller swearing loudly, then his feet echoing on the metal catwalk. Coming back out, they saw Arnold walking ahead and followed. They caught up, as Arnold bent down, picking something up.
"What is that?" Frank asked, watching Arnold pick something up.
"His gun," Arnold answered, shrugging. "Maybe we'll get lucky and end up disarming the daft bugger."
Frank nodded, turning to Rimmer with a grimace.
"I appreciate the gesture, Arnie, really. Next time, though, don't hesitate. Fire at the bastard! "
Rimmer sighed, his shoulders tensing.
"He was aiming at you! I just thought we needed to get out of Arnold's way."
"You can't expect Arnold to nursemaid you, forever. This might be over, if you had taken the shot."
Rimmer flushed red, stiffening, his mouth working, but remaining silent, as words eluded him.
"You would have been shot, by the time Arnie took aim," Arnold said mildly.
"Right!" Rimmer agreed quickly. "Look it was instinct, okay? I saw him aiming and just thought about getting us out of danger."
"Later, chaps. It's time to get moving," Arnie said, hoping Frank would let it go.
Neller was no where in sight.
"Where did he go?" Rimmer pressed, stridently.
"Shhhh," Arnold soothed, keeping his voice just audible. "He's close by. We need to cut him off."
"There's no where to go, but the catwalks," Frank said, shrugging. "Unless they branch, we'll catch him."
"There's plenty of places to go," Rimmer protested, continuing with a scoff, "He's not going to follow JMC regulations! He's gonna go anywhere he can squeeze by."
"What makes you think there are non-regulation spaces he can slip through?" Frank asked, impatiently.
"Well..." Rimmer stammered, but was rescued by Arnold.
"I once got bored enough to take a three week hiking holiday through the diesel decks," Arnold told them. "Arnie's right. If Neller wants, there are places to slip through."
"You have a suggestion, of course," Frank sighed.
"Well, as a matter of fact," Arnold agreed, amused. "He wants me, not you two..."
"Absolutely not!" Rimmer interrupted, earning a scathing glare from Frank that he ignored. "No heroics or stupid sacrifices! How would I explain that to Mikey?"
"Calm down, Arnie," Arnold chided lightly. "I'm not giving myself to him. I'm just luring him into the open."
"Being bait," Rimmer scoffed.
"Well...a tad bit. Consider, though--there are a limited amount of things that can kill me, especially in hard light mode. Being in this place shortens that list a bit, too. I'll be fine. If you two can get above me, one in front, one behind, you can catch him unawares. He'll think you're off hunting in different areas."
"What if Arnie gets into trouble?" Frank said, doubtfully.
"I can always get help from Arnold, if that happens," Rimmer answered, almost successful in swallowing his petulance.
"Or from you, if you see he's in trouble," Arnold agreed.
"Right, of course," Frank said, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Arnie, you go in front, so Frank can keep an eye on you," Arnold instructed. "Whistle, if you spot Neller."
"Giving up the pretense of not being in charge?" Frank asked, watching Rimmer run off ahead and start climbing up.
"We don't have time to worry about rank," Arnold half-apologized. "Do you have any orders?"
"Yes. Don't get him killed. Don't let him get himself killed. Whatever our childhood was like, I don't actually want to watch my little brother die."
Arnold relaxed, smiling, clapping a warm hand on Frank's shoulder.
"Done, old man," he agreed, turning and walking back along the catwalk. Frank sighed, watching him go for a moment, before cutting to the right. He climbed a metal computer tower. Beginning to walk, keeping pace with Arnold, he spotted Arnie ahead. He was sneaking slowly forward, barely keeping ahead, as he tried to keep to the shadows. Frank almost laughed. As much as Arnie failed, Frank almost respected how hard the other man tried.
An explosion rocked the catwalk, it's first couple of feet in front of Arnold falling away. The sudden disappearance of the flooring and the rocking of catwalk sent Arnold tumbling into the chasm. Arnold spun around, grabbing onto the dangling wires left on Frank's side of the catwalk. His bazookoid went spinning into the chasm. Frank looked around for Neller, but the man was remaining hidden. Frank watched as Arnie worked his way back to Arnold, beginning to climb down to him.
"Arnie, stay put! I'll get him!" Frank ordered.
"NO! Watch for Neller," Arnold shouted, climbing slowly up the wires, as he kept an eye out. "Arnie has this."
Frank hesitated, for a brief second, then ignored Arnold, running forward to help him. Seeing Frank in motion, Rimmer pulled his laser pistol, searching frantically in all directions for Neller. The mercenary exited the shadows, a mere couple of feet forward from where Frank had been. Rimmer tried to aim at Neller. Frank blocked his path, but Rimmer fired anyway, missing. He watched helplessly as Neller scurried up onto a fuel tower, disappearing back into the shadows. Frank heard him, turning just in time to see him vanish.
Both fuming, Frank and Rimmer helped Arnold back onto the catwalk. Arnold brushed himself off, staring hard at Frank. To everyone's surprise, Rimmer stepped forward, delivering a short, powerful blow to Frank's jaw. Frank staggered back a bit, while Arnold placed a restraining arm against Rimmer's chest.
"You couldn't trust me for one damn minute, could you?" Rimmer asked, bitterly. "You couldn't even trust me to pull someone up from a catwalk."
"Look, I'm sorry," he bit out. "I let him escape, I know. It won't happen again."
"Done is done," Arnold told them, grimly, drawing his laser pistol. "We can hash out our issues later. Neller isn't gone. He's here for me and he's not going to go far away."
Neller proved him right, sending two nets spinning out of the darkness, where he crouched. Frank and Rimmer were both knocked backwards, into the nearby fuel tower. The nets pinned them, helpless, inside their nets, with their arms at their sides. Arnold felt something hit him hard in the middle of his back, sending him to his knees. Hearing a thump to his left, he moved swiftly, bringing his fist down on Neller's instep, then punching him in the groin.
To Rimmer and Frank's dismay, Arnold stepped back from Neller, who leaned on his sword, wheezing. Calmly, Arnold drew his daggers, holding them with the blade above his thumb, waiting for Neller to recover. Neller looked up at him and grinned. Far too soon, he stood straight again, giving another nod of respect to his opponent.
"It's good to see you're practical enough to fight dirty."
"All's fair in love and war, after all," Arnold agreed, shrugging. "I might treat a more honorable adversary a bit better, though, I admit."
"I can see why there are so many legends about you. So. One on one. It's fitting I do admit."
"Arnold!" Rimmer cried out, dismayed. "Don't! It's a trap."
"I have to agree," Frank said, his voice strained.
"Oh, not as such," Neller assured them. "As interesting as the hunt has been, I think it's time to bring things to a conclusion."
He pushed a button on his sword and a sickly green energy coated it.
"I couldn't agree more," Arnold said jovially. "Come on, then."
Grinning, Neller circled around Arnold, studying his body movements. He gave due credit. Arnold's movements flowed naturally, with graceful control. Facing Arnold, Neller flicked his blade out, going low to hit Arnold's thigh. Arnold pivoted sideways, so Neller's blade found empty air. As Neller shifted forward, with the weight of his blade, Arnold swung the hilt of his right dagger into Neller's throat, knocking him backwards.
"Oh, you do know how to fight with knives," Neller praised, coughing slightly. "Your prowess with guns and explosives is so highly praised, that your other skills are rather neglected."
"I prefer weapons that kill more cleanly," Arnold admitted. "Knives can get messy, in the heat of things."
"Mercy for your enemies?" Neller asked, circling once more.
"Not all of them."
"Oh, for...just throw one of your knives at him!" Arnie demanded.
"Arnie, leave him be."
"Oh, yes, fine. It's not like I have anything to contribute," Arnie agreed, sarcastically. "I'll just stand here and watch."
Frank rolled his eyes, leaning as close to Arnie as he could, grateful, when the other man leaned in close, too.
"He can't just kill him. Orders," Frank whispered.
Neller gave them a brief look, but Frank couldn't tell, if he had heard them or not. Arnie struggled to make his own face blank, a rictus grin forming. Frank shook his head, turning back to the fight. Arnie managed to free his own knife and began sawing quietly at the net holding him.
Neller faced Arnold again, tilting his head in curiosity.
"You're not going to attack?" he asked, wondering what game Arnold was playing.
"It's your dance," Arnold said, seemingly amused. "You get to lead."
Neller rushed forward, swinging his sword in a neat, swift arch, aiming for Arnold's neck. Arnold dived into a somersault, well under the blade, his hard light body knocking into Neller's legs like a bowling ball hitting a pair of pins. Neller fell, landing hard on his back, the air leaving him in a rush. Arnold's flip landed him on his back, too. One of his feet landed on Neller's shoulder. The other clipped Neller on the side of his nose, before bouncing off his cheek. Arnold spun away, hopping up swiftly.
Groaning, Neller stood up, blood running down his nose, staining his uniform. He gave a weak chuckle.
"You're toying with me."
"I'm not supposed to kill you," Arnold confessed, giving a sharp grin. "Hollister never said I couldn't punish you a bit, though."
Rimmer watched as Neller once again circled Arnold. Finally free of his own net, he began cutting at Frank's. Frank shook his head, frantically, gesturing as best he could to the fight. Rimmer hesitated, looking at Arnold. Almost, he turned to help, then stopped, going back to freeing Frank.
"You'll do him more good, than I can," Rimmer admitted, sadly, as Frank stepped free of then net. "Help him!"
Frank drew his gun, just as Neller charged Arnold. Holding his sword low, to prevent another somersault, and straight out, Neller hoped to skewer Arnold in his lower gut. He had earned a painful death, after all. Arnold waited until the sword was within inches of him, then jumped, turning sideways, with his lower leg tucked back. With his upper leg, he sent a powerful kick against Neller's chest. Neller staggered backward again.
"STOP!" Frank shouted, aiming his laser pistol steadily at Neller.
"Back off, Frank," Arnold demanded.
"He tried to kill Mikey," Arnold reminded him, grimly. "I'm not letting you give Neller an easy out."
"I was trying to kill you," Neller corrected, bringing his sword up defensively. "The child merely got in the way."
Frank looked over at Rimmer, who just shook his head, hands spread in helplessness. Arnold sighed, knowing he needed to finish things, for his brothers' sake. He breathed, not choking off his anger, but focusing it.
"All right, Neller," Arnold said. "Your move."
"If I kill you, your brother will shoot and kill me," Neller pointed out, shrugging.
"That's what usually happens to maggots like you."
"What happens to maggots like me who surrender?" Neller asked, placing his sword on the ground.
Arnold growled, darting forward and punching Neller hard in the jaw, then kicked the sword towards Frank. Grimly, Arnold placed his daggers back in their sheathes. Neller stood still for a brief second, then unleashed a series of hard punches to Arnold's stomach. Arnold took the blows, barely affected. He blocked Neller's last punch, backhanding him solidly, splitting his lip. Enraged, Neller tackled Arnold, hoping to throw him off balance. The men landed hard, rolling and grappling together. Arnold used just enough strength to control their rolls, but hard enough to leave deep bruises on Neller's arms. Neller smashed his forehead into Arnold's nose, drawing a pained grunt.
"Ah. You do feel pain."
"Oh, yes. The pain is there, just not the damage," Arnold told him, grinning sharply.
"Pity. Your nose should be bleeding," Neller panted.
"Good idea," Arnold snarled, freeing one hand and punching him, breaking his nose.
Neller cursed, trying to clear his nose of blood, his chest heaving as he tried to steady his breathing.
"Arnold, enough!" Frank ordered, wary of Arnold's temper.
He was right to be. Arnold flipped his position with Neller's, letting the mercenary hit his head hard on the floor. Arnold grabbed him by the throat with one hand. With the other, he swiftly drew one of his daggers, raising it to deliver a killing blow.
"Don't!" Frank warned. "You have orders, Arnold."
"Yes," Arnold agreed, his voice calm, almost amused, but his hand was shaking. "What I owe Mikey just might outweigh the captain's authority, though."
Rimmer walked over and placed a gentle hand on Arnold's shoulder.
"Don't. You didn't become Ace to end up like this, to do things like this."
"I've done executions before," Arnold admitted softly.
"This isn't one. This is personal," Rimmer scolded. "You're supposed to be teaching me to be better than this."
Arnold took a long, steadying breath, then looked up at Rimmer, smiling and nodding. He got to his feet, his hand still wrapped around Neller's throat, dragging him up. Arnold sheathed his dagger, then ran a hand through his hair, using the gesture to further restore his calm.
"Quite right, Arnie boy. It's time to go back."
Frank breathed in relief, coming forward with a pair of zip cords to bind Neller. Arnold waited, until Neller was secure, then stepped away. Rimmer stepped forward, glaring at Neller.
"I didn't save your life, you know. Hollister might execute you or put you to work with the Canaries, which is pretty much the same thing. You tried to kill my son and you're going to pay for it."
"Enough," Frank urged, taking Neller's arm and pulling him back towards the main areas of the ship.
Rimmer was surprised at how anti-climatic things became. They turned Neller over to security, then reported to Hollister. He confirmed that Neller would be put on trial and imprisoned. Hollister accepted Rimmer's part in the hunt with resigned exasperation and a bit of sympathy. Rimmer was grateful to be let off with a warning. They gave their account and were dismissed, bringing things to a quiet end.
"I have to get back to Yvonne and Mikey," Rimmer sighed, as they left Hollister's office.
"Wait a minute, fellas," Frank urged, his voice strained.
"Something up, Frankie?" Arnold prompted, carefully.
"I want to apologize," Frank admitted.
"Well, I did punch you," Rimmer said generously.
Frank laughed, shaking his head.
"No, not for...not just for that. For everything," he persisted. "Um. Sad to say, from my point of view, I've been meaning to do this for a few years now. Space service, well, it can be one hell of a teacher. It took the Academy and a few years going up the ranks, but I did finally catch on. Our father had some pretty twisted notions. I know I've been a bit of a smeghead, since I got here, too."
"You meant to contact me for years?" Rimmer asked, incredulous. "What stopped you?"
"We just never seemed to be in the same place, at the same time," Frank said regretfully. "And, I really didn't want to talk at home, with Dad looming over our shoulders."
"So, what was wrong with just writing a letter or a personal ship to ship call?"
"I wanted to apologize to you, not to a piece of paper or a flat screen, with you on another flat screen a million miles away. That's no way to finally connect with a brother," Frank protested.
"Fair point," Rimmer admitted, swallowing a bit. "Um. You can come with, if you want. Mikey should get to know you a bit more."
"Arnold?" Frank asked, hopeful.
"Forgiven, old man. Stress brings out the worst in all of us," Arnold assured him. "I'll see you both later. I need a bit of time."
A short time later, Lister found Arnold inside the ship's chapel, leaning back against the pew, frowning thoughtfully.
"Hey. Whatcha doing?" Lister asked, looking around. "I never got why you, of all people, came here."
"Hm. One thing I kept realizing, as Ace, was that my parents taught us a lot of the right things, for the wrong reasons. When I used to come here, it was hypocrisy. It was just something you did, as an officer. Going to church was part of being what my father taught was the 'right people.' Oh, the messages made me feel better, sometimes, but I didn't get it. Unicorns were more real to me, than unconditional love."
"You come here to feel loved?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes, I come to acknowledge my own flaws...to remind myself that even Ace has them. You can't fight evil outside yourself and let what's inside fester."
"Heeyyy. You almost killed Neller, but you didn't."
"Near enough and it would have been murder. Just because he deserves to die doesn't mean I have the right to kill him. Remember the emohawk? I'm not bitter, anymore, but I am still a very angry man. It's a just a matter of aiming that anger in healthy directions."
"He almost killed Mikey. If you're going to do the unconditional love thing, you can spare a bit for yourself, too, y'know."
"Yes, I know," Arnold agreed, finally smiling. "Let's go for a walk?"
"Sure," Lister agreed. "Where to?"
"Oh, the observation deck, I think," Arnold said, with a laugh. "Might as well give ourselves something to look at."
"Oh, is that what draws you there?" Lister scoffed, teasing.
"I'm a space-faring man, at heart, and I really don't think it's because of my father."
They walked quietly to the observation deck, settling against the rails, staring out into space. Lister glanced at Arnold, who looked calm and thoughtful.
"Whatcha thinking about now?"
"Frank. We got a scare, but Mikey is still here. Frank isn't so lucky."
"Yeah, poor smegger. I considered Earth home, but I didn't lose a wife and kids."
"I had family, but I wouldn't say I had a home to lose."
"Your home is Red Dwarf and it's still here too."
"Red Dwarf was never really home. Not until very recently."
"Eh? You said that's why you wanted to quit being Ace, yeah? You wanted to come home."
"Yes, but I wasn't talking about Red Dwarf, no offense to her or Holly," Arnold admitted, smiling wryly.
"So, where's home?"
Arnold took a breath, then turned sideways against the rail, facing Lister's profile. He smiled warmly.
"I meant you. And Cat, Kryten, and Holly to a lesser extent, but mostly you."
Lister turned so he was facing Arnold, their faces inches apart.
"What brought this on then?"
"Frank wanted to speak to me, way back then, and didn't. He finally got his chance, so I thought I would take mine."
"You serious?" Lister asked, hesitantly, not wanting to misunderstand. "You're saying..."
Arnold reached up, gently brushing his thumb across Lister's cheek.
"I love you," he answered simply.
"I love you, too, you git!" Lister swore cheerfully, pulling the taller man into a deep kiss.
Arnold chuckled into the kiss, resting his hands on Lister's hips. Lister pulled back abruptly, frowning.
"This better not turn out to be another smegging dream!"
"You dreamed about kissing me?" Arnold asked, touched by the thought and amused by Lister's reaction.
"Yes, you smug bastard," Lister said, rolling his eyes.
Arnold cupped Lister's face tenderly in both hands, placing small, soft kisses around his lips.
"You're not dreaming, love," he promised.
"Prove it," Lister challenged.
"Oh, Listy, you really should know better," Arnold purred, turning Lister so his back was to the railing and pressing tightly against him.
"Yeah, whatcha got?" Lister asked breathlessly, though he could easily tell for himself.
Arnold cupped Lister's arse, trying to defy physics and pull the other man even closer. He kissed him hungrily, sucking on Lister's lips, then his tongue. Lister grunted, wrapping his arms around Arnold's shoulders. There was a faint flavor of electricity to Arnold's mouth, but mostly he just tasted human. There were details no dream could provide, like the faint rasp of Arnold's tongue, the almost inaudible buzz of his light bee, and the irritating feel of the railing digging into his back. Arnold pulled back, smirking playfully.
"It's a start," Lister conceded, with a cheeky grin of his own.
Chapter 5: Playtime
Arnold and Lister are playing around.
"Oh, real...hey, careful!"
A crash sounded from the shared quarters of Arnold Rimmer and Dave Lister.
"You gimboid, what did you do that for?!"
Walking down the hall, Hollister heard the crash and sighed. This wasn't the first time he regretted giving Arnold Rimmer officer's quarters. Hollister was tempted to move on, but a sound like scuffling and the insults were carrying into the hallway. Discipline did need to be maintained. Hollister considered finding another officer to send in, then banished the thought as cowardly. With a tired sigh, he used his personal code to override the door lock. Once in the room, Hollister dearly wished he had sent someone else. Anyone else.
Arnold and Lister were on the floor, but they weren't fighting, at least Hollister didn't think they were. Arnold lay on top of Lister, one arm serving as a pillow beneath Lister's head. Neither man was wearing a shirt or shoes and their lips were red and swollen. Of course, a good couple of slaps could have produced that effect and with these two...you just never knew. Both men looked up at Hollister with wide eyes, blushing.
"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" Hollister asked curtly.
"Yeah," Lister answered, sarcastically. "You're interrupting."
Arnold tried and failed not to chuckle. "Listy..."
"Commander Rimmer, stand up, please," Hollister demanded, trying to bring some decorum to the proceedings.
"Um, I would, Skipper, but, if I do, you're going to get the worst salute of your career."
"And that's saying a lot, coming from him," Lister said, sniggering.
"Quiet, Squire," Arnold advised, but the slight movement he made with his hips didn't silence his partner, but brought a squeaky little moan from him.
"Arn! The captain's watching," Lister hissed, his shoulder's shaking with laughter.
"Hmmm, I like that," Arnold purred at the feel of Lister's laughter, unrepentant.
"Yeah, I can tell," Lister said, grinning merrily.
"Enough, please!" Hollister insisted. "Do you often mix foreplay with verbal abuse?"
"Eh, it's not like that!" Lister protested. "We have a long history of trading insults. It's all in fun!"
"I fell in love with him, while exchanging insults."
"All lies, sir. He doesn't remember when he fell in love with me. He was too busy vacationing up de Nile."
"I'm leaving now," the long suffering captain said, admitting defeat. "Keep it down and make sure your little game doesn't turn into actual disrespect!"
Hollister ignored the "aye, Captains," Arnold and Lister gave and walked out quickly. Some things could never be forgotten or unseen. Still, he could try and he did have a nice bottle of vodka hidden in his quarters.