Couplets Out Of Rhyme
by Kyra Cullinan

She forgets, sometimes, that he isn't her Dave. Not, of course, when he's talking. Or eating. Or even existing for the most part. But there are moments when she sees him out of the corner of her eye and she's halfway to touching him before she realizes it. She'd long ago stopped noticing the difference between a person and a hard light hologram, but there's something about this one's sheer corporeality which draws her -- or draws something in her subconscious she can't resist, no matter how hard she tries to excise it. She catches herself being far too aware of the heat his body produces when they're close. And his smell. Curry and lager and clothes which should've been washed last week, but underneath all that just the warm, real smell she can only vaguely remember her own Dave having before he died.

She knows she's just a little too strident in her rejections of him. She tries to tell herself it's because he's so obvious about wanting her that she has to work extra hard to keep him at arm's length. The possibility that it's because she doesn't trust herself around him doesn't bear thinking about. It's hard though, because she misses her Dave so much. Thinks about him a thousand times a day, things she could say to make him laugh, and then has to squeeze her eyes shut on sudden unshed tears when she remembers. And even though this Lister is all wrong -- shabby and uncouth and everything her Dave isn't -- he smiles the same. His entire face lighting up. His voice can be just as gentle and his hands are too familiar, down to the scar on the left thumb knuckle they both got when they were eleven. She has to bite her lip -- to keep from smiling or crying, she's not sure -- when he plays the guitar, because the look of intense, oblivious joy is far too familiar, completely independent of any actual talent. That, at least, hasn't changed across universes. When he plays, sometimes, she sits in the hallway outside his door and listens, eyes closed and head resting on the wall and pretends. Pretends that when the music stops she'll walk in and it'll be her Dave, who'll smile at her and ask what she wants for dinner and all of this will be a bad dream. The rusty, tiny ship and bizarre crew and all the other horrid differences.

And it's so strange, because she remembers him like this, if dimly. Remembers those first long nights (and days) of cheerful, exuberant sex, a Lister who might not have taken his socks off in bed, but could kiss her senseless and make her actually like chutney. She hasn't thought of him in years, takes for granted the gradually genteeled, improved hologram version of himself he's become. Holly tried to explain to them once how it had all happened, but he got muddled partway through and for once in her life, who was she to question? She does wonder now, though, when Lister pauses in the doorway as if to speak to her before losing his nerve. Did his years as a softlight hologram add something ineffable and gentle to her Dave or did it strip away some of the rawness, make him the sum of his possibilities? Is her lover trapped somewhere inside the man who drinks cold curry sauce for breakfast or has he yet to be realized in this universe's Dave Lister?

She thinks of these things at night, in the solitude of her bunk, more than she'd like to. Face flaming a little in the darkness at what feels suspiciously like a crush more juvenile than any she's had since she was in Cyberschool. Thinks of that one, mistaken kiss when she first came aboard, how she knew almost right away that this was the wrong Dave, just from the way his mouth tasted, spicy and alive. Couldn't quite tear herself away, still. Because it's not really cheating, anyway, is it? Same exact person, and what's a dimesional barrier between lovers, really? She knows this Lister won't massage her feet, but she's fairly sure he could make her toes curl.

Because she's spending all her free time scanning space and crunching numbers, trying as hard as she can to find a crack between the dimensions to slip back home again. But even her hope is dwindling, and she's not sure she can handle this existence. Millions of years and miles from everyone she's ever cared about, trapped on a tiny vessel with a mechanoid who hates her, Exhibit A in the display on evolution gone wrong, and the Cat. This is her life, she tells herself. This is her life, without bathtubs or cottage cheese or anything else to make her feel good. And sometimes that's all she wants, really, warm arms around her, a few hours of feeling good. She's not sure how long she'll be able to resist.


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