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Ghosts

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In the beginning, Lister can't quite get used to having a hologram around. It's like having Rimmer's ghost, haunting him forever.

Why Rimmer? Lister constantly bemoans to Holly. He'd take anyone over Rimmer. Todhunter, Hollister, even one of the psycho inmates housed in the belly of the ship. Anyone is better than Arnold Judas Rimmer.

But Holly doesn't budge. He keeps calmly reminding Lister about algorithms and number of words exchanged per person per day.

"Doomed," Lister mutters after the latest argument. "I'm doomed to have that smeghead around forever!"

"At least he's not in stereo!" Holly says cheerfully.

-----

Lister finds he hates the middle of the night, even more than he hates Rimmer. When the last of the lager is gone, when, in theory, everyone else would have gone home, the melancholy sinks in. Lister's chipmunk optimism is chipped away as the night goes on. It's hard to think of the dawn when there is none.

So Lister sits, sometimes in the Officer's Club, sometimes in his room, sometimes in the Observatory. He nurses the last of his drink and thinks. In the cold, lonely night, he thinks. He thinks of all the things unsaid. All the times he couldn't get up the nerve to confess his love to Kochanski. All the friends he'd forgotten. Even all the things he never got to say to his father. If only he had someone to talk to. Someone to drink with. Someone to while away the endless hours on the Dwarf with. A real friend.

Lister idly runs his hand down one of his dreadlocks and sighs. He can feel himself going mad from the lack of touch. No more friendly bear hugs or slaps on the back from his mates, no more soft, warm, womanly curves to embrace.

But at least he can feel something. He can feel the can in his hand, the cool linoleum under his feet. Rimmer, he thinks, has it even worse.

Inevitably, on these cold, lonely nights, his mind turns to the subject of the hologram. How it must feel, or rather, not feel. To be a shadow of his former self, floating just slightly off the ground, able to touch nothing but his own self.

Sometimes Lister brushes up against–-no, into, Rimmer, just to see what a hologram feels like. There's a faint electric prickle, like rubbing wool socks on a carpet. Rimmer usually shudders and commands him to stop. But sometimes, when the loneliness is overwhelming, strong enough that they both can hardly take it, he lets Lister's hand stay. Lister's hand always ends up just where Rimmer's heart would be. For a few precious moments they stand silently, looking just past each other. Something flickers in hologram's eyes, a plea perhaps, but for what, Lister isn't sure. He pulls his hand away and walks away, while Rimmer just watches him leave. The scouser will stare at his hand after the moment passed, flexing it, feeling the ghost on his hand.

Back in their quarters, Lister tilts his head back and knocks back the rest of the lager. He wipes his mouth and belches. Rimmer grumbles in his sleep and rolls over.

In these cold, lonely nights, Lister can almost see the humanity in Rimmer. He feels pity, not spite. Lister realizes he's lucky compared to the hologram. He never knew his real parents, but at least his adoptive ones loved him. He had the memories of friends and lovers to hold on to. What did Rimmer have? A couple of swimming certificates and a photo collection of 20th century telephone poles. Maybe the hologram wasn't so bad. Maybe there was good in him, buried under all the smegheadedness.

He wonders if anyone ever figured out how to make a solid hologram. What would Rimmer feel like then? Would he be soft and warm, or would the shocks be stronger? Could he eat? Breathe real air? Could he...?

Lister swallows and looks down at his lap. He wants desperately those flickering moments of touch to last longer. He wants and feels things he'd never admit to during the day. "Stop it," he hisses to the frustrating bulge. "I don't fancy..." Even in these cold, lonely nights, he can never say it.

Finally, he stumbles into bed, but not before running his fingers in the space just above Rimmer's face.

In the morning, the cold, lonely nights are all but forgotten. But that aching need for touch remains.