So I watched the first episode of Series XI, "Twentica," and this is the "ehh" bit my brain came up with. Try to enjoy it. ;-)
Kryten was still trying to calculate just how many years away from their original jump Starbug had landed upon returning to deep space through the wormhole. Star positions were no help, since even in three million years they didn't alter much. Lister insisted it wasn't that important; he was just relieved they'd only come out a couple of parsecs from their original position instead of half a galaxy away from their mothership. Red Dwarf was bobbing along somewhere not as far away as their luck usually would have placed them in past situations like this.
"Of course it's important," Rimmer sniffed, punching buttons through his own station like he could figure it out ahead of the mechanoid. "You need to know how many years off you are from when we were aboard this morning. Or maybe it was morning a week or six years ago."
"Right," Lister countered, tugging at the knot loosening his necktie and sweeping the fedora off his sweating head. "Because it's vitally important if the contents of that open can of Spam in the fridge is 10 years old or just slaughtered for 2.9 million years instead of three. Tastes the same."
"Sirs, I am closing in on the calculation," Kryten interjected, glancing significantly toward Mr. Rimmer's fingers tap-tapping his screen. While he wasn't honestly worried the crewman could find the answer first, you just never knew anymore. Once upon a time the hologram could be relied upon for total unreliability, especially with respect to maths. Since returning from his tour of duty as Ace, though, once in a rare while he exhibited some competence that gave the mech an inkling of worry about his own place of usefulness in the crew. Oh, sure, it was just once for every 260 of Kryten's contributions ... but it cut into his perfect record, and since developing his micro-ego under Mr. Lister's tutelage, such things bothered him in a way they never would have aboard the Nova 5.
Inspiration, or something very like it, struck Kryten then. "Sirs," he asked, interrupting Mr. Rimmer's potential flirtation with finding the answer first, "how in the galaxy did you know so much about America in 1920s culture? And Prohibition?"
Without a cue, without even glancing back, Lister started laughing, and at the same time Rimmer snorted, not even looking up. "Sirs?"
What he spotted upon entering the common quarters was Lister face down on the table, his arms stretched out up in the air beside him, rotating, fingers wriggling, as he muttered something into the table. Rimmer moved closer, hearing "nononononononono me brains" quietly, over and over. He paused and watched for a moment to the side, then crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow. "Must be Thursday again."
Lister took his time raising his head and leaning back into his chair. "History Night is a total pain," he bitched, drawing out the long-a sound in full Scouse. "Numbers, I do all right with. But this culture stuff; I mean, I get having to know what's going on around you where you are. Smeg, I like being social. What I don't get is why I need to know who was what and what they were dancing to eons ago, how that helps me fix the engines or swap out Kryten's microprocessor!"
Picking up the open book Lister had been pancaking a moment before, Rimmer thumbed back to the beginning of the chapter, entitled "Post-War America and Prohibition." "Isn't it obvious?" he asked.
Lister eyed him, then truthfully shook his head. "No."
"Well." Rimmer read a couple of paragraphs, then looked back up at him. "Beats the hell out of me, too." That earned him a laugh as Lister slid off his chair and briefly slid his arms around him in a hug. "Argghhhh," he muttered softly in Rimmer's ear. "Maybe I just need a break."
"Listy, you've used up your academic allowances already," he reminded the man, gently patting his elbow as Lister pulled away. "You only get two passes on courses you don't want to take, and I'm pretty sure you're still never going to be able to justify substituting 'Life Drawing' for 'Nuclear History.'"
"Possibly," Lister admitted, shrugging, then spotted Rimmer's ears turning pink, grinning. "You've got to admit, though, it was a great six weeks for us with the clay and paints, eh?"
"Quit distracting me," Rimmer muttered, deliberately walking around the other side of the table and reading the page before him. "Now look - it talks here about post-war scientific advancements being based on their perceived need as determined by problems Americans faced in World War One. That's why you need to study it, I'd say."
"Well and good," Lister admitted, walking around the room stretching his legs, "but what do I need with knowing dances and drinks and such?"
"It's on the test," Rimmer murmured; the one thing he knew from failing so many exams was that even the stupidest, most uninvolved facts were included, and one had better be ready for them. He paged to the back for the questions, and then went back to the text. "All right, here it talks about Prohibition. Now I'd think that might hold some interest for you - thirteen years when it was against the law for anyone to drink alcohol, in the entire country?"
"What?" Lister turned and frowned his way. "When?"
"Says here, 1920 to 1933. Was a national law, in the Constitution and everything." He skimmed the text, turned a page. "Repealed it thirteen years later for it being a massive smegging failure, looks like."
"Well, of course," Lister agreed. "You can't introduce a society to liquor and then tell them they're not allowed to have any. What smegging stupid pen-pusher came up with that?"
So, for a little while, Rimmer read aloud and Lister took the seat next to his, listening, and they both shook their heads every so often. "I can sort of see why these temperance people were so big on trying to get it outlawed," Rimmer said at one point. "Look how many people have gotten addicted to alcohol; and when they still used to drive, weren't there all those collisions from idiots too stupid to stay put?"
"Then you do things to make it harder for people to cause problems, and get help for the ones who do," Lister countered. "Liquor's been around as long as there's been grain, Rimmer. It's been used to get people to talk better if they refuse, at dinners and weddings and such. There's a reason it's called a social lubricant."
"There's nothing social about getting kishnookered in a shopping trolley three nights a week," Rimmer huffed mildly.
Lister was quiet long enough that he looked up, not taking it back but clearly worried he'd gone over a line. Rimmer's expression was mildly anxious, but determined. "Yes, all right," he finally said. "People can have problems with it. But I don't have a problem with it now, do I?" He remembered the darker time not many years ago when he still made a habit of getting bombed several nights a month. "You can have a problem with anything, I might point out. Doesn't mean it's wise to get rid of it altogether." He pointed at the book. "The Americans found that out."
"Yes, yes," Rimmer murmured, paging through the book slowly, looking for more information. Something in the questions had seemed odd. "Really?" he asked himself as he found the page with diagrams.
"Says here there's a physical component to the quiz." He snickered. "Dancing."
"Dancing?" Lister furrowed his eyebrows, then shrugged. "I can do that."
"This." He slid the book in front of Lister, watching with pleasure as his face fell. "The Charleston."
"What the hell is that?" Lister peered closer.
"Here, it says there's a vid with it." Rimmer picked up the remote scanner, passed the reader over the QR code on the page, and they both looked up as the room's vid screen came on and took a moment to tune to the correct library for a demonstration. A man and woman appeared, talked briefly in silence on the muted screen, then started dancing more or less in unison.
It was a more restrained sort of dancing than what Lister had been used to; sure, it was possible to see elements of later moves he could get into, but it was just so minimalistic and limited, he thought. "I've got to do that? Show me." Rimmer flipped to the questions page and pointed to Number 5. "They're taking the smeg," Lister decided.
"Yes, well, my lad, you'd better give them said smeg or you won't become an engineer on JMC records," Rimmer pointed out. Under the relatively newly-awakened, far too literal computer system, access to ship systems could be restricted by something as arbitrary as rank, not taking crew need or survival into account. "Go on now - just do what they're doing." He pointed a few feet away from the table and gestured toward the floor while using the remote to turn on the screen sound.
"Sure," Lister agreed, eyeing him closely as he dismounted his chair. "Let's." With that, he grabbed Rimmer's free hand and pulled him off his chair too.
"Wait, I'm not up for any promo-"
"Come on, Ace."
Lister seemed too gleeful about this. "Hadn't you better ask Cat? He's the dancer," he pointed out, resisting.
"In this case, I feel like Jim Beam might be a better instructor." Lister stopped, eyes widening. "Maybe that's why it looks so cocked-up; nobody could drink, and this is the kind of dancing you get with no rhythm!"
"Lister, it's not that hard." He sighed and stood next to the man. "Well, let's go, then. Bend your knees and get to-" He squinted at the screen, watching for a moment. "Wobbling, I guess?"
"Sure." Lister was looking pointedly at his legs. "You first."
"It's not my test."
"You want that sweet, sweet lightbee maintenance, you'd better get to stepping," he reminded the hologram, gesturing between them. "Tit for tat."
"Yes, well ..." Rimmer glanced up at the vid, then at his own legs, bouncing slightly to warm up. "Some days your tit is too big for my tat."
"Maybe later, babe. Get to spreading those knees, for now."
Half an hour later, Lister was feeling the burn in the backs of his thighs and pain in his stomach as he laughed at the increasingly silly moves Rimmer added to the Charleston. He barely managed to balance on his chair as he watched Rimmer shimmy in a circle, waving a pinky finger in the air while perfectly parodying the ultra-serious voice of the vid instructor, a deeply unfunny man who had treated the lesson and his onscreen partner like a series of rabies vaccinations required to survive to the next day.
"Sirs?" Kryten pressed.
Instead of answering, Rimmer popped off with, "Bend your knees!" in a slight American drawl.
"Ninety degrees!" Lister followed up.
"Scrub your knees!"
"Lean forward!" Both fell into more laughter at this point, and Lister used his tie to wipe at his eyes.
But, Kryten noted, Mr. Rimmer had stopped trying to figure out what year it was.