Notes: Between Stoke Me A Clipper and Oroborous (with one bit of Blue at the end).
Lister wandered back to the midsection with a lager in his hand and a broad smile on his lips. He sat back in one of the chairs around the central table, tilted it back on its two back legs, and propped two black-booted feet on the table. He picked up the magazine he was half-through reading, not mentally preparing himself for a snarky comment on the midmorning lager, the trashy magazine, the tilted chair, the filthy black boots with mismatched lacing, or their location on the table. The smeghead who would usually deliver said lecture was gone, gone for good. Dead, as far as Cat and Kryten were concerned, and if they were taken aback by his cavalier attitude towards Rimmer's supposed death, they would just have to deal with it. He could not be happier that the goit had taken his smirk and his H and gone to dimensions unknown. Yes, he was happy that Rimmer had finally discovered reserves of courage and honor in himself, and his triumphant - well, except for that ejection business - departure as Ace had taken away any need Lister might have had to feel anything other than relief.
Lister let out a good, long belch - a two-minute blaster - and scratched his chest. Life was good.
Lister sat back in his bunk, smoking a cigar and watching Baked Bean Bombshells Volume 15. He had stashed it away after finding it on the derelict that held the AR machine, and had not found a good time since to watch it; he had no desire to watch nude wrestling videos with Rimmer, and the goit would poke his head in at the most inconvenient times.
He had invited Cat in to see it, promising him that the women were almost as attractive as Wilma, but the feline had turned his nose up at the state of the sleeping quarters. "Buddy, no self-respectin' monkey would be seen in a place this filthy. I can't see the floor; who knows what's hidin' under there?"
"Wha? It's only a week or so since I cleaned it..."
"You did that in a week?" Cat raised his eyebrows. "It'd take a month to undo it!"
So Lister was watching the movie alone. No, he had not cleaned since Rimmer left - but it was such a relief to not be bothered about it. After they had been stranded on Starbug, Rimmer would hound him on a daily basis about his laundry, his ashes, his lager cans, his underwear scattered on the floor. He had been such a pain that the place had actually been cleaner than their bunkroom back on Red Dwarf. So could you really blame Lister? A break from all of that anal-retentive smeg is just what he needed. He took another pull on the cigar and fast-forwarded to the next good bit.
It was time for the monthly stores replenishment. Lister and Cat went down to the storage decks to carry up another load of foodstuffs to the living area.
"OK, buddy, that's the grain and the dehydrated veg. Newel post head said we have three hundred poppadums already upstairs."
"Garn, I didn' know we wuz so low! We'll need two more boxes." Lister hauled two large silvery boxes from the stack in the corner and stacked them on the boxes already on the Cat's dolly. Cat sighed. "This is the last load, right? I've been at this all day. I'm not a dog, ya know." Cat was allergic to work. He had snuck off every chance he could get to curl up and take a nap. Lister had spent half of his time hauling boxes and half of it chasing Cat down. Both of them had highly frayed tempers at this point.
"Go ahead. I need to get some of that mint sauce and some chutney from the other storage bay."
The other storage bay held the miscellany - mostly personal effects - and they hadn't been organized since the crash on the GELF moon. Lister kicked aside boxes and piles of clothing, looking for his wooden box of condiments. One box made a resonant thongg and did not move as he kicked it. He reached down to push it out of the way - and recognized the smell.
He sighed and opened the chest. It was empty, now, books and soldiers missing, a very large chunk taken out of the back. He wondered why Rimmer had kept it; it was useless, now that it had lost its back. And Rimmer had no more memorabilia of his life as... someone alive... to put in it, anyway. If he had left it there to make Lister feel guilty, it was a bad plan. Lister had never felt a single pang of guilt about saving his beloved guitar, certainly not when the price was a chunk of wood out of a chest that Rimmer couldn't touch, a reminder of a father who didn't love him. Lister should toss the thing as so much dead weight.
Lister closed the lid and pushed the chest over to the side, and found his condiments.
Cat poked his head out of the cockpit door. "All hands on deck!" he yelled into the midsection.
Lister dropped his half-eaten kebab, and Kryten removed his vacuum groinal attachment. Both ran into the cockpit and took their stations.
"What is it?" Kryten asked.
"I dunno, bud; there's nothing on the screen, but my nostril warnin's are sounding loud and clear. And the ship isn't steerin' right. It's all doughy."
Kryten turned his attention to the scanners. Lister felt something odd behind him, like a tickle on the back of his neck. He scratched his neck.
"It's a planet. We've entered its gravitational field."
"What are you talkin' about, Kryten? There's no planet on the screens."
"Sirs, this is a neutron star. It is a ten-meter sphere of the densest material known."
"I thought goalpost head was the densest material known," Cat groused.
"Even though it's too small to see at this distance," Kryten continued, "the gravitational forces are intense. It's pulling us towards it."
"Can we land on it?" Lister asked.
"If we get anywhere near it, gravity will crumple the ship like tinfoil, and we will add perhaps another millimeter to the diameter of the star."
"I've been doing that, bud!" said Cat. "It's sucking us in."
"It wouldn't dent it," Kryten replied.
"What are we going to do, then? I don' wanna end up as cosmic meringue!" Lister realized that his voice was rising alarmingly in pitch. He was well on his way to panic. The feeling at the back of his neck returned, and he scratched it fiercely.
"Sirs," said Kryten, "I have a suggestion. If we accelerate towards the star..."
"We'll have less time to panic before we get crushed? Great smegging idea, Kryters!"
"...we can use its gravitational field as a slingshot," the android continued doggedly. "It will accelerate us around the star, and we can add our thrusters to the outwards sling to break escape velocity."
Cat's brow was furrowed. "I was with you all the way to 'suggestion.'"
"Accelerate to mark 3-0-657." Cat grabbed the stick and did as Kryten said, adjusting their flight path as the android called out corrections. Lister grabbed the arms of his flight chair as Starbug began to creak and groan around them, metal structures complaining about loads they were never designed to bear. As close as they were to it, the neutron star was still only a red pinprick as they swung around it.
"Now, full thrusters, mark 7-6-457!"
Cat punched a button and took the joystick back in both hands. The noise of the runabout settled back to background as they shot away from the neutron star. Lister took a deep breath.
"Smug mode. Well, now that the ship has been saved again, it's time for me to finish the vacuuming." Displaying his awkward mechanoid smirk, Kryten left the cockpit.
"Wheeew, buddy, that was close!" Cat let go of the joystick and stretched. "I think I need a nap."
"Go ahead. I'll cover for you."
Cat walked back to the midsection, curled up on the table, and was out in a second.
Lister scratched the back of his neck again - and turned. Now that the panic was over, he recognized what he had been feeling. The empty chair behind him was a presence of absence, a thunderous silence. Nobody was looking at the back of his head. Nobody was panicking, suggesting surrender, giving him a foil to rebel against. It was...
Sight and smell are evocative of memory; a fading past can be brought back to clarity with sensory stimulation. As Lister piled the hologram's old possessions in front of him from the boxes where they had been living, they revived back scenes, faces, sounds that he hadn't thought of in months. Holding the bits and bobs that meant something to Arn, but were dead weight for Ace - he felt the electric thrum of the hologram again, smelled his godawful cologne, felt his soft, puffy hard-light uniform. Without these physical reminders piled in front of him, would he forget Rimmer entirely?
"Don't you want to, bud?"
Lister realized he had spoken out loud. "Rimmer and me, man... we had fun..." he tossed the shoe trees off to the side. Cat crinkled his brow, but Lister was already somewhere else. He was in the docking bay, watching Rimmer uncomfortably try to ape Ace's swagger. He could hear the crinkle of that tinfoil suit, feel it slide under his fingers as Arn gave him that one last hug, smell the godawful cologne under the synthetic scent of the wig. He had pulled back, and given Arn a genuine, honest smile. Because, at that instant, he had been relieved that Rimmer was leaving.
He wondered if the Lister of that moment would be as disgusted at him as he is at the Lister of that moment.
Because, god help him - he's lonely.