Life Lessons 2

Chapter 2: Family Ties

Arnold's lungs burned. His eyes burned. Everything on his body hurt, but his state of panic wouldn't let him stop running. All around, bright orange flames licked and roared as they devoured everything flammable in their path. And silently, the microbes eating away at the ship continued their mission, eating everything the flames hadn't, causing whole walls to buckle behind Rimmer, blocking off any chance of him turning back if he needed to.

I can't die, he lied to himself in a feeble attempt to ease his panic. God, even his own inner voice sounded shrill and unconvincing in his head, Death can't swing his scythe with his hands cupping his groin, now can he?

Of course, there was still that other voice. The defeatist, self-loathing voice that reminded him that it just wouldn't be him to actually win and get away to safety. The Grim Reaper was likely just waiting for him around a corner to swing his scythe and send him to whatever afterlife there was for him. Surely if there is a Hell, Arnold thought bitterly as he skittered aside to dodge a large, burning chunk of the ceiling that came crashing down, I'm certainly going there.

The rest of his thoughts were interrupted by his very audible yelp as hands yanked him into a side hall and spun him around to come face-to-face with...his own eyes. Except they couldn't be his eyes. They seemed stronger somehow, eyes that had gone to hell and back and came out stronger and wiser for it.

"What the smegging—"

"No time!" his better self yelled over the din of rending metal and roaring flames. Before Rimmer could argue, the other man grabbed his arm and pulled him down the hall towards the landing bay.

"Who the smeg are you?" Arnold screeched as he was being shoved behind the pilot's seat of his doppelganger's small ship.

The man leaned in close, his voice rising into an exact duplicate of Arnold's own. "I'm you, smeghead! Now get your arse in there so we can get out of this death trap before it blows!"

Arnold just gulped and sank back into the small space he was given, his dark eyes wide with fear and confusion. Nothing was making sense anymore, but then again, after that incident with Cassandra and the time wand, when did things ever make sense? "W-well," he stammered as the man climbed into the pilot's seat and fired up the engines, "You could at least give me you're name. It would be a lot better than calling you, 'hey you, with the silly fringe haircut' don't you think?"

"Arnold Judas Rimmer, but just call me Ace."

They stared at the stasis unit, dumbfounded. This was definitely not Lister’s reality, for in the little window his face would be staring back out at them, his hand held frozen in a sarcastic wave good-bye. Now, the window was empty.

“Aw, no,” Dave moaned, “In this reality, nobody was taken to stasis an’ so nobody survived. The human race is gone.”

The Cat rolled his eyes. “Tragic. Well, lets leave laundry-shoot nostrils here and he can be the last human alive.”

“And go where, you idiot?” Kris snapped, “That’s why we didn’t wait for Rimmer on the other side of that mirror. Red Dwarf is going to explode!”

The Cat’s brown eyes welled up with unshed tears that threatened to spill over. “My suits!” he wailed mournfully.

“You’d think after over a year without ‘em, he’d get over his obsession with suits,” Lister murmured to Kochanski as Cat sniffled and almost magically produced a small hand mirror to make sure he didn’t give himself a splotchy complexion.

“Just a moment, Mr. Lister, sir. There is someone in the stasis unit,” Kryten interrupted, peering down into the little window of the stasis unit, “She is just a very small human and was not tall enough to be seen in the window at first glance.”

Dave pressed himself up to the door of the stasis unit and peered in. In fact there was a very small human -- a teenaged girl to be exact – within the unit, frozen in time. He shivered at the sight; she wasn’t hideously deformed or anything, nor did she sport terrible wounds, however. It was her face, turned up slightly as if she had been calling on some higher power to help her, her small fists pressed hard against the metal as if she had been beating at it with all her tiny might. The girl’s cheeks were streaked with tears, one small drop of liquid glittering as it hung suspended in mid-air, where it was about to splash onto her tan, ship-issue technician’s shirt that was several sizes too large to have been hers.

Lister’s mouth dropped open as the final shock; the badge on the left breast of the shirt she wore read “Second Technician”, and on the right it read, “Rimmer.”

“A female, eh?” Cat spoke up, preening some more, “Maybe she’ll like some cat lovin’ after all this time!”

Lister shook his head, still numbly staring down at the girl as he spoke. “No, man, she’s just a girl. Too young for you.”

The Cat face returned to its former, mournful self. “Aw, man, I never get a female! Even in that parallel universe all I got was a dog!”

Snapping out of his state of shock for a moment, Dave hurriedly waved Kryten over. “Get this thing open, Krytes. This is just too weird.”

As Kryten nodded and fiddled with the controls on the stasis unit, Kochanski put her hand on Lister’s shoulder to calm him. “What’s wrong, Dave? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

“She’s a...Rimmer.”

He was about to relay the rest of the reason why she was quite a disturbing sight when his words were drowned out by the hiss of the stasis pod opening and a shrill, terror-filled scream bounced jarringly along the metal corridor.

“LET ME OOOOOOOUUUUUUUUT!” the girl wailed before stumbling back, realizing that the door was open. Immediately, she caught a glimpse of Kris, running and collapsing on the floor at her feet. “I’m – I’m -- I’m sorry Captain Kochanski!” she sobbed, clinging to a startled “Captain Kochanski’s” pant leg, who simply stared down at the girl with frighteningly familiar hazel eyes, “T-they threw me in the stasis pod! P-p-please don’t tell my parents! I’m begging you!”

Kryten bustled over and lifted the girl to her feet, practically clucking like a mother hen. Obviously the girl had seen a service ‘droid before, because she didn’t look at him as if he was a man with a rather disfiguring head injury. “There now, miss, you have us confused with the people of your dimension. You see, we used a device that should have sent us to a mirror image of our own dimension, but has apparently sent us to a completely different one,” the mechanoid continued to prattle on as the girl stared blankly at the torrent of words, once again completely failing at consoling a crying female, “We came after a man who we think might have come here by mistake as well. His name is --”

“Um, his name isn’ important right now, Kryten,” Lister interrupted hastily, not wanting to completely disturb the girl if she was who he thought she might be, “She’s been in stasis, remember? She wouldn’t have seen him come in.”

“Oh. Yes, of course,” Kryten said, nodding hurriedly to cover up his blunder.

Brushing her unruly hair out of her eyes, the girl took in a breath to calm her nerves. I’ve wandered into one of those old Twilight Zone shows, haven’t I? Either that or the whole ship is playing one big joke on me, she thought as she studied the people in front of her. She recognized David Lister, one of her father’s ex-coworkers, who had been promoted into his place when her father was fired. That was the ultimate humiliation for him, she remembered. A man so lazy and inept, and yet the Space Corps thought he could do a better job in his position than he did. Mr. Lister was nice enough, but she didn’t see much of him because Father forbade it. Well, that and he didn’t spend much time with anyone outside his drinking buddies.

And Kristine Kochanski. Captain Kochanski. High class all the way...which meant common shlubs like Anna were for the most part overlooked like one would overlook a speck of dust on the ground. The fact that she was here, now, startled her. Unless something catastrophic happened, letting out a girl who’d been thrown in the stasis lock by bullies would at the most be delegated to the Officers. Perhaps the ‘droid wasn’t a few chips short of a motherboard after all. Perhaps they weren’t the people she thought they were.

“What’s your name, dear?” Kochanski asked, her dark brows knitting together as she stared at the “Rimmer” patch on the technician’s shirt she was wearing.

The girl straightened, smoothing down her shirt. Even if Father wasn’t here, she wasn’t going to make a mockery of their he had. “Anna. Anna Rimmer.”

The Cat nearly fainted.