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What's death like? Lister asks. If only Rimmer knew. Set between Psirens and Legion.
Rimmer had kept track of how many times Lister asked that question. When it had only been once, Rimmer could forgive it. Someone comes back from the dead - in a way - and the living person is naturally going to be very curious about where he is, eventually, going to end up. Rimmer had obliged him with a sufficiently snarky reply. But the second time Lister asked - he had been sitting in the control room in Kochanski's old seat, contemplatively nibbling at a liquorice allsort - Rimmer had been taken aback. He had reminded Lister that he had already answered the smegging question, and Lister had nodded, absently.
The fifth time Lister had asked - at the impromptu party after he had turned off the duplicate A.J.R, BSC - Rimmer had been rather drunk, and had grabbed Lister by the shoulders (or tried to, and fell right through the table) and said, from his position on the floor, that death was an ineffable transition to a place of unspeakable beauty, a sublime experience from which no man could emerge unchanged. Or something like that. Rimmer did not remember that night very well.
The fifteenth time Lister had asked, as he lay in his bunk, pregnant, Rimmer had irately told him that it was, indeed, the fifteenth time he had asked. Lister had flopped halfway out of the bunk and wailed that he was smegging tired of going without cigarettes and beer, and he wanted a smegging story to distract him. Rimmer had smiled evilly - Lister had been such a sad, distraught sight! - and reminded him that he had only been two days without, and still had eight months and twenty-eight days left. Lister had groaned and flopped back onto his bunk, swearing, his question forgotten.
There was, Rimmer decided as he looked at Starbug's midsection table with distaste, no reason to ask fifty-six times. Especially since he had no smegging clue what the answer was. Holly had recreated him from the last brain-pattern traces the computer had of him - no, not of him, of that living fellow he had been modeled after - and of course, there are no brain-pattern traces after death. Rimmer felt like he knew what death was, but Holly had assured him it was all just pseudo-memories of his initial bootstrap as a hologram. Rimmer's forty-odd stories from the times he could not weasel out of the question therefore bore little resemblance to each other. Smeg it all. He had /died/, and he didn't even have a good story to show for it? Arnold Smegup Rimmer strikes again.
Ever since they had lost Red Dwarf, Rimmer reflected, Lister had asked that question much more often. It fell into the fetid, greasy atmosphere of Starbug like a lead weight into a cesspool, and Rimmer had gingerly avoided it with a distaste appropriate to same. It occurred to Rimmer that the last man alive might be getting a little tired of that status, but he dismissed that thought. Too unLister. But perhaps the thought of shutting down the terribly annoying hologram he had been saddled with was not; the hologram who sucked the faint supplies of morale and cheer out of the air as surely as he sucked the faint supplies of power from the lander. Perhaps, Rimmer thought as his paranoia crept upwards, Lister just wanted to reassure himself that sending Rimmer back where he came from was not a bad thing to do.
Those thoughts were in Rimmer's mind the sixtieth time Lister asked. He therefore did not answer right away; he sat on the chair he could not feel, tapping the nail on his forefinger against his teeth and flaring his nostrils as he looked up at the dingy, rust-streaked ceiling. "I don't know," he said, finally. "Before I died, I thought it was either complete nothingness or some place full of fluffy clouds and nubile women in white bikinis playing harps. It'll probably be the latter, for you. For the rest of us, I think it's the first." Rimmer shifted and put his arm out, holding it carefully to make it appear to rest on the midsection table. "I'm about halfway there already. I can't feel anything or taste anything, or smell too terribly well. I can't even remember what it's like to feel anything anymore. If I close my eyes, I'm down to hearing." Much as he complained about the noisy pipes in his room, Rimmer was rather grateful for them. At least he didn't worry that he was really, truly dead when he woke up to a dark room, unable to see or feel; Lister's snores had reassured him, back on Starbug, as what halfway reasonable afterlife would sound that phlegmy? "I might have gone space-crazy already. You can hear and see some pretty interesting things when you do, they told us, after all."
Lister nodded absently, popping the tab on a can of lager and picking up his comic.
Rimmer frowned. "Why do you ask?"
Lister shrugged. "Jes' curious." Rimmer looked at him, envy roiling in his computer-simulated viscera as Lister took a sip of lager and turned the page of a comic/. Rimmer shifted in the chair he could not feel. He was /damned if he was going to go to complete nothingness without first getting a body that could feel something, anything. Aliens, he thought, desperately - but no, the smegging Psirens had not even wasted their time trying to tempt him. Why would any alien worth its salt give half a smeg about a hologram wanting a body? He leapt to his feet with a muttered expletive, ignoring Lister's curious stare, and stalked back to his quarters. He sat on his bunk and stared at the stark grey walls. Smeg it all, he was halfway there already; his cowardice kept him in that limbo, but really, he thought as he listened to the pipes clang from Kryten's daily laundry run, could death be any worse than this?