Author's notes: This story has been sitting in a file on my computer for years. I came across it today and finally decided to publish it. Hope you enjoy :)
A LOOK IN AT THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE…
Look at them, Rimmer sneered, her lip curling as she watched the boys from a safe distance. Waltzing in like they own the place…
She couldn't tell which one was Jim and which was Bexley—and it didn't really matter to her. All she knew was that they were two more Listers onboard, and that was plenty bad enough.
The one in the top bunk was lounging at ease, his eyes transfixed on the video screen, a childish grin on his inherited chirpy gerbil face. The other was in the bottom bunk—her bunk (also the place of his conception), eating a curry, and slopping a great deal of it on his red London Jets t-shirt. He untucked a corner of her bed sheet and used it to wipe at the curry spill, only succeeding in smearing the orange paste deeper into the fabric. Yes, these man-children were the spawn of Lister. No doubt about it.
"They're not a couple of animals in the zoo, ya know," said Lister from behind her, making Rimmer jump. "Yeh can get a bit closer."
"I'd rather not," said Rimmer stiffly, continuing to survey her new shipmates from the safety of the corridor.
"Ah come on, Rimmer—give them a chance," Lister said. "They've only been here sixteen hours."
"Sixteen hours too long," Rimmer sniffed.
"Well, you'd better get used to it," said Lister, cracking open a can of lager. "Because they're staying, whether you like it or not."
"But we don't even know anything about them. They could be crazed schizophrenic homicidal maniacs for all we know. They could enjoy show tunes!"
"I highly doubt that," said Lister, supping on her beer can. "Besides, they were only born three days ago; I'd say they're still the epitome of innocence."
"But why do they have to stay here?"
"You heard what Dave said," Lister said, leaning against the wall. "They were aging too fast. If he didn't drop them off here they would have been dead by the end of the week. He did what he had to."
"You seriously bought that story about 'accelerated aging'? How do we know your male counterpart was pregnant at all—that he didn't just get in a bit of a pickle with a cloning machine, found they were too much trouble and decided to dump them off here for us to worry about?"
"Come off it," Lister said dismissively.
"I think you just fell for the biggest con in the book, Listy. You should have seen his face when I suggested you take a maternity test before taking the sprogs off his hands."
"That's because it was a ridiculous suggestion! Of course I'm their smegging mum. Who else could it be, when we were the only two humans across two universes?"
"Still," Rimmer sniffed, "I think he seemed far too eager to dump them off here. Probably glad to see the back of them."
"What the smeg are you talking about?" Lister said, "He was obviously really broken up. He didn't want to leave them behind—he didn't have a choice. He was just doing what was best for them."
Rimmer watched her new crew mates through narrowed eyes. "I've always said never trust anyone who's escorted everywhere they go by their own doppelganger."
Lister rolled her eyes, "They're identical twins, Rimmer!" she smirked. "They are a good mix of the two of us though, don't ya think?"
"Of course they're a mix of the two of you," said Rimmer impatiently, "you had a shameless one night stand with someone who's DNA is identical to yours—their parents are essentially the same person! They're more inbred than any humans who've ever lived. They're freaks. Frankly, I'm amazed they haven't got arms growing out their foreheads."
Lister scowled. "There's nothing wrong with them! And they're not freaks."
"Tell yourself what you will," said Rimmer, "I don't want them in our bunk room. They'll have to sleep somewhere else—like the ship exterior. I'm sure there was something in the manual about unregistered crew members and stowaways—both of which they qualify as—not being permitted in any part of the ship."
"You don't make the Dog sleep outside," Lister pointed out. "He's not registered. Neither is Kryten."
"That doesn't mean I didn't try to throw the Dog out," said Rimmer. "When I ordered the skutters to toss him out, they tried to throw me out instead. They would have succeeded, if I had any physical form."
Lister rolled her eyes in response as Rimmer continued, "I'll bet they haven't even had their shots…"
"You're making it sound like they're a couple of stray dogs we picked up—they're not. They're me sons," said Lister, the words sounding strange to her own ears. "They're me sons..."
Rimmer watched the one in the top bunk scratch his head. "They probably have fleas…they are house trained, aren't they?"
"Of course they—" Lister stopped mid-sentence, frowning. Had Dave had time to toilet-train them? He seemed far too tired and over-medicated when she'd seen him to have accomplished such a task. Her question was answered, however, when Jim leaped down from the top bunk and proceeded to urinate into the sink.
"So they're partially trained," Rimmer looked disgusted as Lister sniggered.
"So we've got a bit of work to do with them," Lister shrugged. "I mean, we can't expect Dave to have taught them everything in three short days, especially when he was recovering from childbirth. He had to have a c-section, y'know. Only way in his universe, apparently."
"But what was I doing?" Rimmer said. "My male counterpart, I mean. Certainly I would have ensured they knew all about astronavigation, the history of great military generals and how to color code their timetables."
"Not if your male self was skulking around spying on them the way you are," Lister said. "Afraid of them."
"What an absurd—" Rimmer blustered. "I am not afraid of them!"
"Of course you are," said Lister. "They're men…sort of. They're boys in men's bodies, and you've always had a problem talking to guys."
"I do not!"
"Then prove it," said Lister, cocking her head towards the sleeping quarter door. "Go and have a conversation with them. They won't bite."
"I would speak to them," said Rimmer, "if I believed they could form coherent sentences. It's probably all grunts and pointing with them."
"No it's not," said Lister, crumpling up the empty lager can and tossing it over her shoulder. "They talk just fine. Sure, they might not have the vocabulary of Erna Hemingway, but Dave said they were already asking Kryten to put on another Mugs Murphy vid when they were just twelve hours old."
"Is there anything about them that's—normal? How am I supposed to cope when they've already discovered they can run straight through me?"
"Rimmer, the task of taking on two kids I know nothing about is just as galling to me, you know," said Lister. "I didn't expect Dave to pop in out of nowhere and say, 'Oh sorry, Deb—they're yours now, I can't keep them in my universe anymore or they'll snuff it'. This is gonna change me whole smegging life, this will. I'm gonna have to be responsible now. A role model. I'm suddenly supposed to be a mother when I never had one meself. But you don't see me whinging on about it—I know I just have to get used to it. Who knows—it might even be fun!"
Rimmer looked highly skeptical, but didn't say anything.
"And you know what else?" Lister said, stepping closer to Rimmer. "I can't do it on me own, I know I can't. I need all the help I can get—Kryten, the Dog, smeg—I even need you."
"You do?" said Rimmer, clearly caught off guard.
"Me? But what can I do? I'm a hologram!"
"You could teach them things," said Lister enthusiastically. "You'd just have to give them verbal instructions since you can't touch anything. Like…" she paused as she drew a blank, her eyes towards the ceiling. She snapped her fingers. "I know! You said your best subject in school was geography, yeah?"
"And you used to color in those maps perfectly—never going outside the lines? That's something, you could teach them how to color, they'd like that—even if the geography part is useless to them away from Earth. We could them how to unclog a blocked nozzle, we're old pros at that," Lister paused to read whether Rimmer was buying any of this. She was nodding thoughtfully, which Lister took as a good sign.
"The fact of the matter is you can help in ways Kryten and the Dog can't. Kryten's brilliant when it comes to washing and ironing, and Dog's always good to romp around and wrestle with, but they're just not human. They don't understand everything it takes to raise kids. Smeg, neither do I. I was thinking, between the four of us—we might be able to figure things out. But me, the boys—we need your help, too."
Rimmer seemed considerably cheered up by this proposal. Ever since her death, and even before, it was so rare anyone ever made her feel useful, feel needed….
Lister grinned slyly. "So—what d'ya say?"
"I say it's high time those boys got to know their Aunt Arlene better," said Rimmer, marching straight-backed into the sleeping quarters.
Lister hung back a moment, grinning in satisfaction. Kryten came up behind her with a basket of fresh laundry. "Let's just hope she doesn't have too much influence on them, ma'am. I'm sure they are very easily influenced at their young age, inclined to pick up the behavior and neurosis of whoever interacts with them."
"You think so?" said Lister, looking worried. "I'd better get in there before she does too much damage. We all know the last thing we need is three Rimmers."