Now listen, all of you — for all we know, that’s a brand new life form over there, and if it’s come inside to discover us, then what’s it found? This little bunch of humans. What do you amount to? Murder? ‘Cause this is where you decide, this is when you decide what you are. Could you actually murder her, any of you? Really?
Or are you better than that?
Winfold Hobbes knows everything.
That’s what Angie used to say, when he corrected her. (Her grammar, her manners, her maths homework.) “Oh, Winnie,” she would say, sarcastic and tapping ragged fingernails against the tabletop. “You know just about everything, don’t you?”
She’d chewed her fingernails, bitten them down to the skin; he’d forgotten that.
He doesn’t think of his sister often. She’d been stubborn and stupid and never listened to the things he told her (the things he said for her own good) and he hadn’t heard from her in more than two years when she died.
(It hadn’t been grammar or fingernails or maths that had caught up to her in the end — at least, he didn’t think so. It would always bother him not to know for sure; she hadn’t left a note.)
But every morning, just after he has his breakfast and just before he leaves his University rooms, he stops in front of the mirror. “Why, Professor Hobbes,” he says, straightening his own collar. “You know just about everything, don’t you?”
Dee Dee Blasco likes things that are lost.
All sorts of things: moons and socks and keys. Lost hope and long lost love. She has a fondness for absences, and the tiny ache she feels behind her ribs when something that should be there, isn’t.
(The Doctor says he’s just travelling, but Dee is a connoisseur of these things — she knows it’s more than that.)
The funny part (which is really only funny if you don’t think about it too much) is that, in all her life, Dee has never lost a thing. Her grandfather passed when she was four but her only memories of him are of pipe smoke and overcooked green beans, and he’s the only person she’s ever known who died.
Her glasses have slipped down her nose; she pushes them up. Stares at the seat in front of her and thinks, Crusader Tours? What sort of a name is that?
Jerusalem, she remembers (she knows), was a city lost. Lost and won and lost and destroyed and rebuilt and maybe if she thinks about sieges and conquering armies and maps drawn carefully by hand, she’ll forget that she now has two more people to add the list of things lost.
She presses her palm hard against her chest, over the space behind her ribs, and for a long moment she doesn’t feel anything at all.
When Mrs. Val Cane was in school, her best friend was a girl named Mendy. Mendy had dark braids and skinned knees and Val’s mother called her the neighborhood menace, which is why Val wanted to be friends with her in the first place.
(It was Mendy who started things — she sat beside Val on the bus one day and said, Are you going to finish that sandwich?
Mendy was always hungry.)
Val and Mendy were twelve years old, eternal and inseparable, and (as if even that small ‘and’ between their names were an unbearable separation) they called themselves Valmendy, a name they could share.
It sounded, Mendy said with some authority, like the name of a famous, long-dead Old Earth opera composer. Though neither of them knew quite what Old Earth opera sounded like, they would warble their way through faux Italian arias, flying down summer streets on their bicycles (Val always falling slightly behind) and shouting out their shared name like a battle cry.
(That girl is trouble, Val’s mother would say. Just you wait and see.)
Before she met Mendy, Val could never say what she wanted to say when she wanted to say it. Her voice would slip away, unheard, and she’d be left behind to nod and smile and it made her want to scream, but what could she do? (Well-brought up little girls speak when they’re spoken to, Val’s mother said.)
One day Mendy took Val’s hands, squeezed them hard between her bony fingers, and said, “Look, when you clam up like that, just say what you think I’d say. Use my words.” She’d grinned, and tightened her skeleton grip. “I think I’ve got enough voice for the both of us.”
When they were sixteen and they wore the same strawberry lip-gloss and black eyeliner, Mendy fell in love with a tall, sandy-haired boy in their gym class. For the first time in her life, Mendy didn’t know what to say.
Val had been speaking with Mendy’s voice for years, and it was almost shamefully easy to take the sandy-haired boy for herself. She didn’t like him much (he was in science club and his taste in music was positively primeval) but it was nice not to be the one falling behind, for once.
Three hours and forty-seven minutes spent on the Crusader 50 that day, and Val Cane doesn’t think of Mendy at all.
Biff Cane met the future Mrs. Biff Cane in a bar.
She’d stumbled into him, clutched his shirtfront with the hand that wasn’t holding a drink, and whispered into his ear, “You look like a bloke who can’t turn down a dare.”
This is not a story he will ever tell Jethro.
Jethro Cane has always loved books.
When he was small, his mum would read to him before he fell asleep — pull a book from the shelf and sit beside him on his bed, hip to hip. Some nights she would use different voices for different characters and they would laugh so hard that Dad would come upstairs, jolly but pretending to frown, to see what all the noise was about. Some nights he would stay, and he would do voices too — big, deep ones for the bears and knights and kings, and high, silly ones for the mice and the birds.
One night his mum closed the book with a satisfied snap and Jethro said, “The ending is wrong.”
His mum’s smile disappeared. “Don’t be silly,” she said.
“It is, though,” he said, and explained that the giant shouldn’t die because he hadn’t done anything wrong, not really. Jack was stupid and greedy, and if he’d stolen Jethro’s magic harp (which always told the truth), Jethro would’ve run after the little boy, too.
“It’s not fair,” Jethro said. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“He’s a giant,” his mum said.
“So what?” Jethro said. (He’d never said anything like that to his mother before, and he could tell that she didn’t like it.)
“Giants eat people, Jethro,” she said. Her voice was high and a little too loud. “They grind their bones to make their bread.”
“He just says that. He doesn’t hurt anybody, not in the whole story. People say things they don’t mean — they do it all the time.” He took the book from his mum’s hands and stared at the picture on the cover. A beanstalk, reaching into the clouds. “You should change the ending, Mum. This one isn’t fair.”
She pulled the book from his hands and stood. He remembers that her hands were shaking. “You are obviously too young,” she said, “to understand this story.”
She dropped the book into the paper recycling port in the wall, shut off the lights, and left the room without another word.
And Jethro lay awake in his bed, thinking of clouds and golden harps. “Fee fie foe fum,” he whispered to the dark, “I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive, or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.”
The Hostess likes to speak from a script.
When they hired her, Crusader Tours gave her a booklet with all her words written out for her — cheery, focus group-tested, company-approved words for every situation. (Except this one, of course, and now the only words she has are the ones she’d thought she’d left behind.)
The Hostess can’t stop thinking about that booklet, that flimsy little thing shoved between the pages of a novel in her nightstand drawer at home. She can’t stop thinking about the booklet, and the way Claude flirted with her — shamelessly, clumsily — and how cold she was in return. (There was a script for this, too, and it never included the word ‘yes’.) She and Joe used to laugh about it, though Joe felt sorry for the boy, and said so.
She and Joe laughed about all sorts of things. She isn’t the sort of person who laughs very often, so each joke seemed bigger and more important than it really was. She tries to remember one now, and all she can think of is sunlight.
Joe is dead, and Claude is dead, and that makes these people her responsibility, and hers alone.
Molto bene, Mrs. Silvestry says. Allons-y.
They are going to kill that man — the Doctor, the man with no name. They’re going to throw him off the ship and turn him to dust (like Joe, like Claude) and Mrs. Silvestry is speaking with his voice. Those are his words.
Mrs. Silvestry — no, the thing inside Mrs. Silvestry — meets her eyes and she sees it looking back at her, the empty, eating mind that took her friends and took his voice and who knows what it will take next, from the rest of them? From all the thousands of people on Midnight?
She looks the thing in the eye, and then she looks to the emergency exit release button.
The Hostess opens the door and begins to count.
The words come easily.
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