Written By Joanna Kennedy
The warm fire cackled like a happy witch, and vomited tiny shards of coal as Lister gazed up at the stars, his brown eyes twinkling. It wasn't often he looked at the stars. He'd been up among them for so long now that they meant nothing to him. But now he was down here looking up at them, rather then at them, they suddenly seemed quite beautiful - awe-inspiring even; Celestial, magic. And out there somewhere, was Rimmer. Lister sighed, trying to catch himself before he thought about it too much. He'd pretended to the others that he was over Rimmer, that he didn't care, but he couldn't pretend to himself. Where was Rimmer now? Was he a hero, had he lived up to his dream? He'd never know now. What did it matter? And the stars kept on twinkling.
Kochanski gazed at Lister across the flames, sensing that something was wrong. He seemed lost in his own thoughts, absorbed in the stars, a sad longing pinched his face with cruel fingers.
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, fine." Quickly, he took a swig of lager. "Isn't Kryten back yet?"
"No, not until they find the source of that life sign. I was sure there was something here."
Lister looked at her.
"Don't." she said.
"Hope that it might be Rimmer. He's gone, Dave. And he won't be coming back."
"You never know. Maybe one day we'll catch up with him..."
"Don't do this to yourself. You know as well as I do that he could be anywhere. In an infinite universe, No chance, don't try." She got up and left.
Lister sighed and looked out to the vast expanse of sky with their twinkling stars. They winked at him, laughing as if they knew where Rimmer was and weren't telling. Lister flicked a V at them. They weren't beautiful any more. "Smeg off."
"Cat? Kryten?" Kochanski's voice bounced back off the walls like an unwilling wish, her footfalls as eerie as the dripping water that somehow increased the volume of silence. She wasn't afraid of the dark, but here, lost in a labyrinth of cobwebbed passages and empty rooms, she was beginning to imagine things. Clutching the Bazookoid to her side, she made a left down a passageway, and cursed herself for having ventured off alone. The others would be worried about her by now, but she was sure she'd heard something. She didn't want to tell Dave in case he got his hopes up again. Strange he should be missing someone who was so –
"Well, well, well. Look who it is."
A stalactite of terror pierced her chest and spilled hot panic in her stomach before she realised this person wasn't addressing her. The voice was dangerously soft, a female voice, the kind of voice to send chills down your spine and make you take out instant life insurance. Cautiously, Kochanski peered round the corner into a cold, bare room. And that was when she saw him.
So it wasn't all roses and clover, this hero lark. Rimmer was beginning to realise this when the simulant flashed a rather nasty looking knife before his eyes.
"Well, well, well. Look who it is. Ace Rimmer. I believe we've met before." She eyed him coolly, and flicked the knife so it slashed the air with a rather unsettling CRACK. Rimmer smiled, he was cool.
"Have we met before?" Rimmer asked, in his best macho Ace voice. "I'm sure I would have remembered."
"Oh, yes. We have. Believe me."
"I believe I've done something to annoy you, ever so slightly?"
"I believe you have, yes." Her red eyes drilled into his own as if willing him to drop dead. Though considering what she was doing with that knife, willing just didn't come into it.
"Would you care to enlighten me? Only, I seem to have forgotten." Rimmer took out a cigar and lit up. He was enjoying himself.
"You destroyed every simulant here to rescue another human, You take our fuel, you take our weapons. And now...." She poked the knife into his throat. "I shall take you."
Rimmer laughed round the knife as best he could without cutting his throat. "Little lady, I think you have miscalculated slightly. I'm a hologram - holographic. And I don't think you could damage my light bee with one of those."
She took a step back. "No, but I could hurt you with one of these."
Rimmer looked at the gun she'd whipped out, which was large enough to put the fear of God into an entire SWAT team, and raised an eyebrow. "Fair play for trying to be intimidating," he smiled and exhaled a smoke ring. "But I'm afraid you're going to have difficulty killing me with that as well. I'm hard light. Pretty tough, I think you'll find."
He leaned back against the wall, and brushed his fringe aside. Boy, if only Lister could see him now! "I'm practically indestructible."
The simulant smiled, her sharp metal teeth glinting in the dark. "Yes, Rimmer. Practically."
It took a second for Rimmer to realise what she was about to do.
And when she pulled the trigger, he prayed she was one hell of a bad shot.
He closed his eyes.
There was a sickening BANG, followed by a deadened THUD.
"Are you OK?"
The simulant lay dead on the floor. Someone else had fired the shot.
"Are you OK?"
Rimmer looked up. And, oh my - it was a woman. "Yeah, I mean...yes, fine."
"Are you sure? You look rather shaken."
"I'm fine. Perfectly dandy." Rimmer was trying to keep up with his macho image while recovering from the shock. He swallowed. "Look, uh, I don't think this is the best place for you, there's some nasty characters round here and you've saved my neck while putting your own at risk." He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. "There's something I've gotta do, and it's damn dangerous."
To his surprise, she burst out laughing. " I think I can handle it. If anything, you're the one who ought to get out of here. You've had a nasty fright."
"No, look..." He led her to the doorway. "You return to your shipmates, and get away as fast as poss. This is no place for a pretty gal like you."
Kochanski smiled. He was very handsome. "You're quite a charmer, aren't you?"
Rimmer smiled. It was amazing how confident he was with women now - as Ace. Take away the voice, the clothes and the wig, and he'd just be Smeghead Rimmer, blushing and small-talking his way out of an embarrassing situation.
"Look, I'm indebted to you for your bravery back there, but I can't allow you to place yourself in danger just for saving my hide. Now go back to where you'll be safe and we'll say no more about it. Deal?"
Kochanski pondered. She didn't fancy leaving him on his own. Besides, there was plenty of room on Starbug, and they could use an extra pair of hands.
"Look," she released the safety catch on the Bazookoid. "I know you can hold your own, but she nearly kicked your bucket back there. And Simulants don't usually travel alone, there's bound to be another one round here somewhere."
Rimmer looked round cautiously. "You think so?"
"I know so." rasped a metallic voice.
And there was another. He looked even more whacked-out and twisted than the last one. He leered at them from his lopsided view, his head angled to one side from damage he'd suffered to the neck. It is Ace Rimmer, I presume?"
"You presume correct. And you are...?"
"Going to kill you." The Simulant leered. "...Both of you."
Rimmer edged Kochanski towards the door. "You can do what you want with me, but you've got no quarrel with the young lady here."
"Oh, but I do." hissed the simulant. "Her ship landed on my sister."
"Unlucky. No ruby slippers as a consolation prize, eh? Bit of a blow for you, then."
"Yes," grinned the simulant, and held aloft a huge grenade. "It is."
Rimmer and Kochanski pelted it as fast as they could towards the exit, as the simulant threw the grenade at them. It overtook them, flew over their heads, and landed at their feet. Kochanski picked it up, and tossed it over her shoulder. "One for luck," she said, and ran. The explosion threw them into the corridor like a punch on the back, then all was still. They got up, and peered into the doorway where black smoke was billowing.
"I'd say that was pretty successful," Rimmer spluttered, momentarily losing his facade in a coughing fit. Kochanski frowned, catching a fleeting glimpse of something else.
"Do I know you from somewhere?" she peered at him, puzzled. " I'm sure we've met before."
Rimmer raised an eyebrow and smiled gallantly, his face smudged black from the smoke. "I would definitely have remembered you if we had."
Without warning, she placed her hands on his shoulders and surrendered him to a brief, tantalising kiss. She couldn't help herself. He really was something! Rimmer gazed at her, stunned, while his heart fluttered softly like the beating of a butterfly's wings.
"What did you say your name was again?"
Lister burst into the room wearing a huge grin, followed by Cat and Kryten.
"Lister?" said Rimmer, his voice back to normal in disbelief.
"Rimmer?" said Kochanski in equal disbelief.
"Kochanski!?" said Rimmer, now completely bewildered.
"Great to have you back, man!" Lister slapped him affectionately on the back, "I never thought I'd see you again."
Almost oblivious to Lister's joy, Rimmer turned. "Hang on. You are telling me this is Kochanski?"
"Navigation Officer Kristine Kochanski?"
"Yeah." "B-but she just...."
"I can't believe it's you!" Lister's grin lit up the room.
"But I mean we just - she just..."
Rimmer closed his eyes, and collapsed in a dead faint.
Kochanski looked up, worried. "I wasn't that bad, was I?"
Rimmer and Lister walked together up the hill to where Starbug was stationed. As the familiar green dome of it's hull loomed into view, Rimmer felt a pang of nostalgia, and a grin melted onto his face. Lister smiled.
"Home sweet home."
"I never thought I'd say this Listy, but it's good to be back. Despite all her faults, I really missed the old rustbucket."
Lister looked at him imploringly. Rimmer rolled his eyes and sighed.
"All right, Listy, I missed you too." Lister hugged him. "A little."
"We found the Dwarf as well." he pointed to the lump of red in orbit over the planet's surface.
Rimmer's jaw dropped. "How on Titan did you find that?"
"Long story. So, tell me everything. How'd you get on, then Ace? Rescue any damsels in distress?" he grinned, but Rimmer's expression hardened to a familiar sneer.
"Thanks to Miss Hoity-Toity over there, I have resigned as the wonderful Ace Rimmer."
"She spoiled everything! If it hadn't been for her I would have died a hero."
"What d'you mean?"
"She ruined it all, didn't she! I was coping perfectly well until she showed up."
Lister looked at him, incredulous. "Rimmer, she saved your life."
"Yes. She saved my life when I didn't need saving. I'd rather have died and become a martyr, and people would have built my statue. At least I would have gone down fighting."
"Hang on Rimmer. You're sayin' you'd rather have been killed?"
"Of course. I'm supposed to be a hero and heroes aren't supposed to be rescued - especially by a girl." Rimmer grimaced. Angrily, he punched in the security code and opened the airlock. Lister and Kryten exchanged shrugs, and followed him through.
They'd only just left the planet's atmosphere when the Cat sounded the alarm. They raced for the cockpit, and took up their stations. All except Rimmer. For some reason, his had been taken. He leaned over and said "Uh, excuse me, but I think you've just sat in my seat?"
"There's a meteor shower up ahead!" called the Cat. "And it's headed this way."
Kochanski looked up, annoyed. "What, Rimmer?"
"You're in my seat?"
Kochanski quickly scanned the monitors and began hitting buttons. "Rimmer, can't this wait? I've got more important things on my mind right now."
"Can we avoid it, Cat?" asked Lister.
"I dunno, bud. It's coming at us pretty fast, I don't think we have much time."
"Suggest we attempt to skip through the storm, Sirs." said Kryten. " If we're very careful, it is possible to avoid the largest of the meteorites, while skipping through the smallest."
Rimmer looked incredulous. "Kryten, we're about to be hit by a shower of rocks the size of Red Dwarf and you're treating it as if it's a few dust particles we can play hop-scotch with! Add to that the fact they are rocketing towards us over 26 thousand miles an hour, and I think the words 'splat' and 'erred' spring to mind. Work out the order for yourself."
"Kryten's right." said Kochanski. "The storm isn't too dense. If we run out now we risk being hit by strays."
Rimmer looked exasperated. "Are you still here?"
"So what are we doing, guys?" fretted the Cat. "The view through the windscreen's shrinking faster than my pants in the laundry."
Rimmer folded his arms and leaned against the doorway, waiting for someone to notice he was still there...
"Right." Kochanski scanned her screens. "When I say, flip to starboard on a 30 degree bearing..."
Bastards! They didn't even acknowledge his presence with a sarcastic comment, not even a swearword! "Um, excuse me," he began, " I am still -"
"Now!" Kochanski yelled and the 'bug was tipped violently to one side.
Rimmer was flung onto the floor with the sudden jolt, then flung the other way as they dodged another. This in fact, went on for several minutes until they were through the other side. The swing from left to right was broken several times by an apocalyptic BOOM as a meteor clipped the front legs. Rimmer almost preferred that part, at least it stopped the violent rocking. When it was over, he stood up, and grimaced. He felt quite seasick.
"I can't believe we got through that in one piece!" Cat grinned. "Nice driving!"
"Everyone OK?" Lister turned.
"Nice driving you two." Kochanski smiled. "That was nasty."
"Good teamwork Sirs, ma'am." Kryten beamed.
Rimmer sat on the edge of Lister's bunk, playing absently with the blond wig that once had all the girls swooning. It had happened again. Fate had farted in his face. Well, stuff it. Rimmer thought. So what was new? He sighed with a mixture of self-pity and anger, and thought about Kochanski. He hated her already. She'd come along and spoiled it all. Not only had she smashed his heroic facade, she had taken away his crew and his ship, replaced him as if he'd never existed and the others didn't seem to care. Not one iota. Had they stuck up for him? No. He'd have thought that Lister, at least, would have said something. He sighed, and briefly wondered whether he could get out there again, as Ace, forget it ever happened and go back to rescuing damsels and fighting demons. Wouldn't be too tough, he'd done it before. No, impossible. The spell had been broken.
And it was all her fault.
"Hi," Lister quietly entered the room, and sat next to him. "You OK?"
Rimmer sulked. "Perfectly A-wonderfully tickety-boo."
"Look, I know it was a bit of shock seeing Kris on board, but it's not like she'll be here for ever. She's been trying to get back to her own dimension ever since she arrived."
"Yes, and with you lusting after her like an adolescent school boy I'm not surprised."
"Don't you like her?"
"Do you blame me?"
"Just because she happened to risk her life saving yours? Yeah, I do."
"It's not just that! It's everything. I thought when I left that maybe I could be somebody. Maybe I could be the person I'd always wanted to be. And I was, for a while. Then I return to find that she's replaced me, and you don't need me anymore." Rimmer looked so sad that Lister placed a tender hand on his shoulder.
"That's not true. It wasn't the same when you went away."
Rimmer raised an unconvinced eyebrow.
"It's true. Look, I know we haven't always got on and all that, but when you left it was like I'd lost.....It never felt right after you'd gone. I had no one I could really talk to, especially about Kris."
Rimmer snorted. "Why would you want to talk about her when you can talk to her? And I can't believe for one minute you've missed me with her around. I dunno, three million years dry and now you've got a sex life and you seriously expect me to believe you were lonely?"
"I'm not going out with her, Rimmer."
Rimmer looked surprised. "How come?"
"She's not me girlfriend. She's from another dimension, isn't she." Lister scuffed with his shoes. "She's not interested."
"Sorry, Listy." Rimmer said quietly. "I didn't know. But that must be horrible!" He suddenly blurted. "Getting her back after all this time and not being able to....do anything with her."
" I just think you ought to thank her, that's all. Go on, Rimmer. She saved your life."
Rimmer stood. "Right. I will. But not before I've given her a piece of my mind first!"
Rimmer found her in the mid section pouring over the ship's inventory. He stood in the doorway and watched for a moment, trying to work out what to say, noticing the frown of concentration on her face, remembering how horrible she'd been to him in the old days on Red Dwarf, and how she'd snubbed him in the cockpit just now.
She looked up.
Rimmer quickly straightened and stood awkwardly "I, uh....I was wondering what you were doing." He walked over to her.
"Nothing much. Trying to keep out of Kryten's way, pretending to look through the inventory so he won't bother me."
Rimmer nodded, vaguely realising it was the sort of thing he probably would have done.
"I take it you and Kryten don't get on?"
" You kidding? He hates me. He seems to think I'm going to take Lister away from him."
"But you're not going out with Lister."
"He knows that. But he still calls me a 'smee-hee' behind my back. I think he missed you."
Rimmer didn't know whether this was a compliment or an insult.
"Look, I'm not very good at this sort of thing, but I wanted to....well, frankly I don't think you deserve it since you've taken over my crew and my ship, turned Lister into a big girl's blouse and stolen my seat on Starbug, but I suppose I probably meant to possibly thank you maybe for what you did this morning, perhaps."
There was silence for a moment, which Rimmer always hated.
Kochanski turned over a page in her printout. "Lister sent you, did he?"
"No. Why would he do that?" Rimmer lied.
Kochanski pushed the papers to one side, clasped her hands under her chin and looked at him expectantly. "Are you sure about that?"
Rimmer shifted. She had him sussed. He rubbed the back of his neck for something to do, and tried to suppress the humiliation that he had to thank a girl for saving his life - and he was meant to be the hero!
"Look, I've said thank you, haven't I?"
"You didn't mean it. You only said it because Lister made you. You never even thanked me this morning."
"I did!" Rimmer protested, genuinely offended. "I thanked you straight after."
"Yes, as Ace. It's a pity you're not more like him." she murmured.
Rimmer choked on a laugh. "And I suppose the only reason you went to the trouble of saving me was because you have a flutter for Ace?"
"Why not? He was a nice guy. He was charming and gallant and grateful."
Rimmer shrugged off the daggers of accusation as nonchalantly as he could.
"You didn't have to rescue me." He mumbled
. "No, I didn't. But I did, because you were in trouble, and I would have done the same thing if it was you or Ace. Honestly, I would have thought you could have been a bit more grateful, Rimmer."
"I am grateful."
"You've got a funny way of showing it."
Rimmer sat down. "It should have been the other way round." He whined. "I should have rescued you from a crazed horde of psychotic simulants, a fight to the death between me and a group of twenty. Or something."
Sensing the mood change, Kochanski leaned back in her chair and relaxed a little. "But you rescued other people before today?"
"Of course I have!" said Rimmer, indignantly. "That's what heroes do."
"Sorry. No need to take it so personally."
"Did you ever come across Ace in your dimension?"
Kochanski brightened at a chance to reminisce. "No. We'd all heard of him though. Something of a legend there. Dave always wanted to meet him." She smiled. "His hero, I guess. I only wish he'd been there when...." She broke off.
She looked at the table. "Your crew were wiped out in a radiation leak, weren't they?"
She said it more as a statement then a question.
Rimmer nodded, feeling a bit uncomfortable. He'd rather not think about it. It hadn't exactly been a highlight of his life.
"Yes. Cadmium 2."
She brushed her hair aside, and fidgeted in her chair. "I wasn't going out with Dave the day it happened, but we were still good friends. Y'know - we could still talk to each other. I knew he'd be in serious trouble if he was caught with that cat of his, so I took it away to be destroyed. Only I couldn't go through with it. So I got caught, and was sentenced to eighteen months in stasis. It was my fault it happened. My fault the crew were killed."
Rimmer was startled. "Your fault? But you weren't supposed to seal the drive plate."
"Yes," She looked at him almost pleadingly, an expression akin to quiet anguish on her face. "But I was supposed to supervise the repair. If I'd been there to watch over the re-seal, a major disaster could have been diverted."
"What, you mean the Cat would never have come into existence?" said Rimmer, dryly.
"No. I mean the crew wouldn't have died!"
She didn't say it with the self-pity Rimmer would have done, by admitting her failures she didn't condemn herself to be worthless. It was plain and simple facts she was stating - albeit with deep regret. But it was the first time Rimmer had heard another talk about themselves that way.
"You can't blame yourself," he said. "It was a long time ago. I'm to blame for my crew being wiped, and you're to blame for the deaths of yours. But it's not entirely down to us. It was Lister's fault too."
"I know. But I'm an officer. I'm trained to deal with this sort of thing."
"Don't do this to yourself." he said softly. "It was a long time ago."
"I know. But it doesn't feel like it." She sighed.
Rimmer pondered, wondering whether he ought to leave her. But then, it was a lonely world.
"Look, there wasn't a thing anyone could have done to prevent what had happened. And it wasn't your fault. I mean, OK, if you'd been there, 1, 169 people wouldn't have died a horrible death and OK, we would have made it back to Earth by now instead of stuck in deep space, but apart from that....well, no one can point the finger at you."
She glared at him, but she was smiling too. "You really know how to be tactful, don't you. Honestly, even the Cat in my dimension is better at it."
"Is there anyway you can get back home?" he asked.
"I need to find a link-way, but they're few and far between."
"Lister'll miss you." he said with concern.
"I know." A pause. " But I think I'd miss you most of all." Rimmer looked at her with surprise, then suspicion. Was she taking the smeg? He couldn't tell. "We don't have a Rimmer in my dimension."
Rimmer snorted. "Probably not a bad thing."
He stood, and was about to leave when he turned on his heel. "Just out of interest, what was I like in your dimension?"
She thought for a moment, smiled softly, and said "I bet he never made it as Ace Rimmer."
Rimmer nodded, and left. He bumped into Lister on his way to the cockpit.
"So, you gave her a piece of your mind, did you, then Rimmer?"
Rimmer looked up, startled out of his reverie. "Hm?"
"You told Krissie off, then? Had a go at her?"
Rimmer was confused for a moment. "Oh - Oh, yes. I had words with her. Things are going to be very different from now on."
Lister watched him go with a smile. Things certainly were.