Title: The Fallings
Characters: The crew of TIP/TSP- namely Zach, Ida, Danny, Jefferson and Toby
Summary: The stories behind what the Devil said.
Zach -‘the captain so scared of command’
The volcanic planet was the worst place Zach had ever been to, and perhaps it always would be. Twenty years later he would look at the WELCOME TO HELL scrawled on the wall of the base he was captain of, and think you don’t know anything.
It was hot in the room. Much too hot.
“Zach,” Captain Johnson said. “We’ve got some bad news.”
“What?” eighteen-year-old Zach asked. He realised uncomfortably that everyone in the room was looking at him- and there were a few people not there who should be.
“Where’s my sister? Where’s Kara?”
“Well, you see-” Captain Johnson explained, “-the cable snapped-”
“It was old,” said a random rebellious crewmember. “Needed replacing.”
“Shut up! But she’s down there, Zach. Her and a couple of the others. ”
“…and…we can’t get to her. You know the rules. We all need to get out before the next explosion, or everyone’s life is very seriously at risk.”
“You’re sorry?” He was terrified now, but trying not to show it. “She’s my sister, and I’m not leaving her behind.”
There was an explosion somewhere in the distance.
“I really am sorry, Zach. But people die on these missions.” Never had Zach felt simutaniously so much hate and so much sympathy for someone. He wouldn’t want to be a captain, after all, and have to tell somebody that. “We can’t reach her and we have six people up here and down below there’s only her and two others. Six versus three. You must understand.”
Zach did and he didn’t, and he was scared and he couldn’t just stand there. “We have to try. Please, Captain. She’s all I have.” Cliche but true. He was willing to beg, to try anything. To go down there himself. She was his sister, and she was only fifteen.
“I’m sorry,” came the answer. One of his more sympathetic crewmates, a girl of about twenty-one called Nellie, put her hand on his shoulder. He shook her off.
“They’re down,” said the communications officer, a man called Rat. “I’m sorry.”
The room was growing hotter and the situation worse. Nellie was wiping tears out of her eyes, crying quietly. And then there was another explosion, closer this time.
“Please! There must be something! More cable.”
“There’s more in Base 56/TA- but the link is down and the people there died, remember? It’s not safe. Not safe in the slightest. And even if you did- there just isn’t time. Buckle yourselves in, everyone.”
Some people started to that, and Zach just stood there helplessly and the thunder rolled outside. It was raining ash out there now.
Rat yelled above the noise, “Comms are back up!”
Zach raced to the nearest one, and shouted into the reciever. “Kara! Kara! Are you there! Can you hear me? Kara!”
“I’m here,” said a weak voice. “We’re going to die, oh god, Zach-”
“No you’re not,” he shouted, as an explosion shook the room. Captain Johnson was climbing into the pilot seat. “Just hold on! I’ll get you, alright?”
A crackle and then nothing. And then-
-for a second it was so hot he thought he was dying, and there was horrible screeching in the air. It seemed to go on for a lifetime, and suddenly the lesser heat came back. But people were still screaming.
Something had happened. Something had exploded. And there was a dead body lying feet away from him. For a second everything went quiet- he had seen dead bodies before, but not like this, not blackened and burned and missing pieces. It was the Captain.
Zach panicked. And then he stopped panicking. And he ran. Maybe they’d all die anyway, but he had to save Kara.
“The other rocket!” someone who might have been Nellie shouted. “It’s still there- Zach, you can’t save them! I don’t want to leave them either, but you have to-”
But he didn’t hear the rest. He could see the other base in the distance and he ran towards it, over cracking ground. Kept running and running and running, and burst in through one of the doors, which was hanging off its hinges and fell to the floor.
He knew he was covered in burns, and that he might even die. Everything hurt, but he barely noticed. So far, anyway. But there was a cable- there was a cable somewhere-
He picked it up and then screamed into the comm on the wall, hoping Kara would hear. But it wasn’t working.
The nearest enterance to the caves below was outside- wouldn’t it be filling up with lava now, or something? But he had to try. He connected the cable up to all the right places- the first thing he’d learnt to do- and started feeding it through. He screamed into the comm again several times, and hoped and prayed that the others in the other rocket would wait for him. They probably wouldn’t. But he needed to hope.
“KARA!” he screamed.
There was a crackle from the comm. “Zach- it’s too hot down here- it’s too hot-”
“Hold on! I’m sending down a cable!”
The base started to shake.
“You have to tie it to the lift! Can the others help you?”
“One of them’s dead…”
“The other one. What’s his name? Who’s down there?” He’d used up all the cable.
“There was me…and Olle…he’s dead…and Joe.”
“Hey,” came Joe’s voice, very weak, over the comm.
“Both of you!” Zach yelled. “Tie the cable!”
“Joe’s bleeding,” Kara answered, panic still in her voice. “He can’t stand up-”
“Do it yourself, then! Please, Kara!”
There was a whine of feedback from the comm, and Zach thought he heard the rocket taking off- but he couldn’t be sure. It might just be something falling down or collapsing or something.
Kara’s voice came back. “I’ve done it! I’ve done it!” she screamed. “Take us up!”
Zach turned on the machine that would bring up the cable, and slowly, so slowly, it came up. He prayed the rocket would wait. Literally prayed, though he wasn’t religious. Prayed for hope, for intervention from a passing god, anything.
The capusule attached to the cable came into view, and then came all the way up and Kara stumbled out, sobbing. Joe was right behind her. She fell into Zach’s arms, crying on his shoulder.
“Oh my god I was so scared I thought we’d all die thank you-”
“We have to run.” Zach interrupted. “To the backup rocket. And they might have taken of without us.”
They ran from the base, over the ground that was starting to boil, half-convinced they’d all die any minute. Zach carried Joe, and ran over things in his head. Was there one more rocket, perhaps? This was a well-funded mission, and perhaps the budget had been stretched…
oh please oh please oh please…
The rocket was still there, and someone was screaming. They ran to the ladder, and someone reached down to take Joe.
The noise was unbearable. Zach dragged himself up into the cockpit, taking Kara with him. He staggered and nearly fell over, then someone slapped him.
“You stupid bastard!”
He couldn’t take it and fell into a chair. Kara fell into the one next to him.
“Where’s Joe?” she asked, still slightly hysterical.
“Taken to the medical bay,” someone said, at the same time Rat, the communications officer (and, now Zach thought about it, a good friend of Joe) said to Zach, “Nellie went out after you!”
“And she didn’t get far! Got hit by a rock, killed instantly- you idiot-”
Zach flinched. His vision started to blur and he thought he might be sick. He leaned back in his chair.
“-she’s dead, and it’s indirectly your fault, and I shall report this when we get back.”
He didn’t care about that. He did care about Nellie, though- she had been so nice– not the sort of person who ought to die like that…
“I want to go home,” Kara whispered.
“Don’t worry, you will.” he whispered back.
Back on Earth, a day or so later. Zach and Kara waited in a cold white waiting room. They waited five minutes and then ten.
Rat came out.
“Your job is safe for the moment,” he told Zach cooly, “on the grounds that we should have taken off and left you and we didn’t. Largely thanks to Nellie, who is of course now dead.”
Zach nodded glumly.
“As for Joe,” Rat said, turning to look at Kara, “He’s fine physically. Still grieving, though,” he added, turning to Zach.
“Nellie was his older sister. Didn’t you know?”
He turned and went down the corridor and left them behind.
“I’m not going! I’m not leaving him!”
Rose was still kicking and screaming and shouting. Zach advanced towards her with the sedative.
“Then I apologize,” he said, and he stuck it in her arm. “I have lost too many people today- I am not leaving you behind.”
He slung her over his shoulder, and felt a grim sense of satisfation. He sometimes wished someone had done that to him- taken the decision away.
Only sometimes. Not, of course, when Kara was around him. Then he’d feel guilty for even thinking he’d rather have been forced into leaving her.
There was not an easy answer to the question can she be sacrificed for the greater good? He knew that. The right choice seemed obvious, of course-
-but not when the chooser was you.
Ida -‘the scientist still running from daddy’
Winters were long in her tiny part of Earth. Long and cold and intolerable and cruel. Ever since her mother died it had been like that, and she had died only two years ago.
Her father was reading to her.
“That is why there is no Devil,” he finished triumphantly. “Merely a God. He is higher than all of us, we are but dust to Him.”
Ten-year-old Ida shuddered at that. She didn’t want to be dust to anybody.
“Every death is nothing to Him. Every life is nothing to Him. We are but dust to Him, for we all have evil in our hearts. Every death to Him goes unheeded.”
It sounded like a prayer to the little girl- a frightening prayer- but she could not escape.
“Amen,” her father said.
Many years later-
“You are not marrying her,” her father said.
Ida stood her ground. “I am.”
Her father snorted. “She’s a nobody. Sorry to say it, but you know it’s true. No morals. No faith.”
“I do not, and she is not,” She was staring at him, not blinking, trying to be strong. She had hated this man before, wanted to hurt him, wanted to run from him. But now she was standing before him, purely because of circumstances and religion. And love, of course. Love for a woman who wasn’t like her- not so helpless.
Said woman was called Lillian. Ida had met her at a party. She didn’t often go to parties. She had heard that would-be scientists were not party people. Lillian was not a would-be scientist, though, she was a singer.
“That woman is a slut,” said Ida’s father. “I don’t want you anywhere near her. And,” he added, as Ida opened her mouth, “do you really think I’m going to just let you walk out of here now, now I know your intentions? You must think I’m fucking stupid. Do you?”
“Yes,” Ida spat, and she ran for the door. The door, however, instantly slammed shut, and she pulled the handle but it didn’t open. She whipped around again.
“Remote control. Oh, hell.”
“Oh hell is right,” her father said. “Do you think that’s where I want you to go, Ida? Because that’s exactly where you’ll go if you marry that bitch-”
Ida screamed, but it did no good. He picked her up- literally picked her up- and swung her over his shoulder, and dragged her to her room. She kicked and yelled and punched but it did no good- she was thrown into her tiny childhood bedroom and the door was locked.
“This is for your own good, Ida!”
Ida pulled herself to her feet. “It is not!” she screamed. And then, because she could and because this room was easy to escape from, “I hate you!”
There was a pause on the other side of the door. “Oh, you don’t, Ida,” came her father’s voice at last. “You’ll understand some day, when that woman abandons you but God is still at your side.”
Ida swore at him and turned to the window. It was such an obvious means of escape it made her worried. Maybe there were people outside, waiting to catch her, or something…
She pulled it open and looked out: nobody. She could go down one of pipes on the side of the house- it was risky but she was willing to take any risk.
“Ida!” her father shouted, suddenly alarmed. “You won’t leave through the window-will you?”
She ignored him utterly, and put her foot through and found a pipe. She took a deep breath.
“Ida, you’ll slip and die.”
“No I won’t.”
She carefully slid outside, and hung onto the windowsill. She was a long way up.
Down she went.
She imagined her father had left the room and was running downstairs to catch her- when she was more than halfway down, she thought what the hell and jumped the rest of the way. She landed perfectly, thank God (or perhaps not him) and she ran. And her father came round the corner, going as fast as an old man could.
“Come back, Ida! I am your father!”
“Go to hell,” she shouted back, and ran.
She lived happily with Lillian for two years. Only two years, then that too went to hell.
“I’m leaving,” Lillian said fiercely. She was racing to cupboards and ripping stuff out- clothes, jewellery- and reacted with fury when Ida pushed a button and all the doors shut. “You’re a bitch. A useless goddamn bitch!”
Ida shook a little, frightened or furious or both. And she could think of nothing to say, but when that woman abandons you was in her head and soul.
Lillian threw some things into her handbag. “I’m gonna go back to my parents for the night,” she snarled. “I’d rather fucking die than come back.”
“Lillian,” Ida said, forcing herself under control, “please-”
“No!” Lillian said viciously, “I’m sick of it, sick of you assuming you’re better than everyone else, wanting people to pity you because of your childhood– it’s fucking pathetic-”
Ida did not shout. “I gave everything up for you.”
“Liar! You didn’t give up anything you didn’t hate! See, that’s your problem, right there, you just figure you have a right to do anything, ’cause God’s on your side, even if he’s so fucking not-”
A pause. Then Ida hit her. Hit her right across the face, viciously. Lillian recoiled and fell on the bed, gasping. And Ida nearly hit her again- and again and again and again til she begged.
But, luckily, she didn’t.
“Oh my god,” she gasped, and she was the one who left right there and then: running once more.
She never saw Lillian again, and she never forgave herself, but she did recieve a letter from her father.
Ida- HAVE HEARD THAT THE SLUT LEFT YOU. YOU ARE WELCOME HOME, BUT THERE ARE CONDITIONS YOU MUST AGREE TO. I WILL NOT LET YOU BE TAKEN AGAIN. I WILL COME AFTER YOU IF I HAVE TO.
She screwed it up and threw it in the waste disposal and listened to it burn. Then she sat, alone, on the bed in the cheap hotel she had run to. She would have to report for work the next day, and she would have no-one to come home to. Maybe she could get herself sent out on an expedition- they were difficult but rewarding, and she needed a change of scene. A change of life. Something to believe in again.
She lay down on the bed and thought about people- about the mother she’d lost many years ago. About Lillian. About the father she hated so much.
You’ll understand some day, when that woman abandons you but God is still at your side.
God was, however, not at her side. She would have to do without him.
She wanted a better life.
“Ida! See you again, maybe.”
“I hope so.”
And within seconds they were gone- and the three of them were left.
“You have no idea how glad I am to see you, Ida,” Danny said quietly. “No idea.”
She smiled. “You have no idea how glad I am to be alive.”
“We’ll get back to Earth within hours, yeah? And do our best to explain all this.” Zach said. “And then- I guess it’s up to us what we do with the rest of our lives.”
“I think after that,” Ida said thoughtfully, staring off into the stars, “I’ll keep my mind open to anything. Might even drop by to see my father- stop running.”
They zoomed through space towards their home.
Danny- ‘the little boy who lied’
There were not many trees or gardens left on Earth, but Danny’s family had one. They were extremely lucky, in addition to being extremely rich.
The garden was the only green thing in the neighbourhood. There were some flowers round the edges, planted by the Barlock’s own Ood servant. A high-tech swing was in one corner, and at the back there was a big tree.
Ten-year-old Danny Barlock was a fairly adventurous kid- so long as things never became too frightening or out of control- and he climbed the tree many times. He also invited his friends round to climb it, because none of them had trees of their own. He was the only one.
That was where the trouble started.
At school- he went to a school that levitated high above the city city slums, he was that well-off – he met a boy called Ike. Ike was just a kid and easily awestruck, and he was awestruck by Danny and the Ood he brought to school with him and his descriptions of trees and just him in general. Ike wasn’t particularly rich, that was the problem- he was descended from space travellers and his parents had saved for years so he could attend a good school. Danny loved the attention, and invited him round to see the tree.
Danny and Ike had tea with Danny’s parents. Danny’s father frowned at Ike, but then again Danny’s father frowned at anything.
“Your grandparents were spacers, eh, boy?”
“My great-grandparents,” Ike answered quickly.
“Ha! Are there Martians in your family, boy? Hmmm?” He laughed. “Perhaps you’re desended from Danny’s Ood.”
Danny’s Ood (Danny called it Martin) merely blinked at this statement, and asked Danny’s father if he wanted more potatoes.
Ike blinked more.
They went out into the garden after tea, but Danny’s mother stopped them.
“Have you done your extra-curricular studies? Your ethics lessons?”
“Yeah, course,” Danny lied.
They ran through the garden like kids on olden-day Earth did, and Ike climbed the tree. Danny had to give him a leg-up, because he was so short, and then he went to find Martin to tell him to get the trampoline out for him to play on later. But he found his dad instead, shouting at Martin for something. He was always shouting.
“Dad, I want Martin. He’s mine, you always said he was mine.”
“Go with the boy,” Danny’s father told the Ood, and then he turned to Danny himself. “That boy out there- I don’t know why on Earth you invited him. I don’t want him here again.”
“I hope you’re not his friend.”
“No, Dad.” He wasn’t sure if that was the truth or not. “I mean, he’s weird and I think he smells, you know, because his lot were spacers, but he’s not mean.”
“You don’t know the meaning of mean. Take your Ood and go and play.”
Danny scrambled up the tree to meet Ike- he could climb in five seconds what Ike had climbed in five minutes. They sat on a branch. They talked for maybe five minutes about school and girls, and then Ike said “Danny, I don’t like your dad.”
Danny was surprised, and perhaps a bit annoyed. Everyone liked everything about his family. “What? Why?”
“He’s mean. He looked at me like I was an Ood or something.”
“No,” Danny corrected him, “he said you were related to one.”
Ike frowned and looked, for a second, somewhat hateful. “I don’t want to talk to him again.”
“Alright,” said Danny, also frowning. “C’mon- let’s keep climbing.”
So they did. And halfway to the top Ike said. “Um. Danny. You are my friend, aren’t you?”
Danny thought about what he’d just said about his dad. It wasn’t right. Everyone was always supposed to be nice about everyone in their family. “Yeah,” he lied. “You’re my friend.”
They reached the top, and Danny inched out along a branch. They were quite a long way up.
Ike looked down.
“Oh-” He swallowed. “I want to go back down.”
“Don’t be a wimp! Sit down!”
Ike sat down, clinging to the tree with whitening knuckles. Danny held on with one hand, to show he wasn’t a wimp. “Don’t you want to talk?” he demanded. And he found a subject right away- he said idly, “How’d your parents get enough money to get you into my school?”
“They worked like hell.”
“Don’t say hell!”
Ike rolled his eyes a bit, and Danny decided he didn’t like him at all, really. “I can say whatever I want,” he snapped at him. “No-one cares.”
“I want to go back down,” Ike demanded.
“Well, go back down then. Wimp.”
“I’m not a wimp! You are!”
“I am not!”
It was a stupid fight between two small boys- that was all it was. And it shouldn’t have turned out the way it did. But Danny shoved Ike- just a bit- and Ike, furious, actually took his hands off the branch to hit Danny. Danny screamed loudly to attract his parents, and pushed Ike again.
Ike fell off.
It was a long way down- he screamed all the way and Danny never forgot that scream. The Ood might have been able to catch him, possibly, but he was still dragging Danny’s trampoline out to the garden. (quite a hard job, for one single Ood.) So no-one could do anything- and Ike hit the ground with a crunch.
Danny screamed again- properly, this time.
Danny looked up. It was his mother. His father was nowhere in sight, and just for one second that he’d never admit to, Danny was glad about it.
“Danny, you have to tell us what happened. For the police, and for Ike’s parents.”
Danny felt like crying. He wanted to throw up.
“Danny? Please tell me the truth.”
But he couldn’t, because some kid he didn’t like had fallen to his death and it was all Danny’s fault. Danny had pushed him. He was a murderer, like the people with laser guns he saw on the news, dragging people out of the bad part of town. A killer. They would lock him up. They would lock him up for the rest of his life, and his parents might not visit, they’d be too ashamed, he’d die in a prison…
“He fell off. That was all, he just fell off.” He sobbed, and his mother hugged him. “He just took his hands off and he slipped. I couldn’t do anything.” He cried and cried and cried, and the world blurred out.
The next day it occured to him that he must be not only a murderer but a liar as well, and he cried some more.
Two days afterwards he was hungry- he hadn’t eaten much since what had happened happened. He went to the kitchen and called Martin to make him some breakfast.
“Martin isn’t here anymore, dear,” his mother said, sticking her head around the door. “Your father sold him.”
“Because he failed to prevent…um…failed to prevent…the tragedy. Ood are supposed to look after humans at all costs, and he didn’t. He was lucky your father didn’t shoot him.”
Danny had horrible visions of his father shooting him. “Alright,” he muttered. “I’ll make my own breakfast.”
He thought no more about the Ood. He didn’t even care much when he heard it’s new master had shot it through the head for a simple mistake. All he cared about were the images and words flashing through his head each day, bringing him down.
Before he left home he cut down the tree. The world was now down one more natural thing, but it made him feel slightly better.
And he tried his hardest to never lie again. The one he had told was enough for a lifetime.
“…alpha 50, deceased, with honours.” Zach finished. He sat back in exhaustion for almost a minute, then he turned around to the others.
“Well,” he said flatly. “It’s over.”
Ida nodded fiercely, and ran a hand over her face. Danny sighed.
“I should have done a better job.”
“Danny, if we start talking like that-”
“No, I mean…I was in charge of the Ood. Ethics officer, for god’s sake, and it didn’t even…I didn’t care.”
“None of us did,” Zach said. “We’ll know better next time. Get it, next time.”
“I suppose we will,” Danny said, and he hoped it was the truth.
Jefferson -‘the soldier haunted by the eyes of his wife’
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
He heard the door opening from down the corridor, and heard Julia giggling, and threw the book of ancient poetry across the room in frustration. Then he shifted right over to the other side of the room, next to the beds, so Julia wouldn’t guess he’d been listening for her. Listening to see if she was with anybody.
She quite obviously was.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Harry!” she called cheerfully. “Good night.”
The door creaked open.
“Hey, darling!” Julia called, coming in and unloading the contents of her bag onto the shelf. “Have a nice day?” she asked.
“Brilliant,” Jefferson said dryly. “Spent a whole day stopping some crazy teenagers with guns using the Ood for target practise.”
“Aw, the poor things.”
Jefferson went to pick up his book while Julia took off her shoes and threw them in a corner. “I had a chat with Harry today,” she said merrily. “He’s got some very interesting theories on the formination of these stones.” She took one out of her pocket. “I mean, look at this– it’s the only blue one- isn’t it beautiful?”
“What else did Harry have to say?” Jefferson asked, more sharply than he intended. Julia blinked.
“Well, not much. Asked how you were…”
“Oh, did he?”
“Yeah…asked how I was…talked about rocks…mostly just talked about rocks, really. But I find it fascinating, you know that.”
Jefferson nodded grimly. Any stray bits of information about this Harry were things to be taken note of. “I do know that.”
“He also said we’ll all be leaving soon…I bet you can’t wait to get out of here.”
“Not so long as you’re happy here. And you are.”
She gave him a peck on the cheek, and put the blue rock in his hand. “That one’s for you. Look after it.”
Two days later he saw her with Harry again. They were coming out of the laboratory, holding rocks and giggling. They looked like a couple. They didn’t notice him.
Jefferson told himself quite firmly that his imagination was playing tricks on him. Just because Julia was younger than him and everyone loved her, it didn’t mean…
He ought to trust her. He wished he did.
He watched her disappear around the corner with that irritating young man, and with a sigh wandered back to the Weapons and Security Department.
In the dining hall he always dined alone, because Julia spent her lunchtimes working. She would go out to the planet surface and explore- it was dangerous, but she was always careful and took her gadgets with her.
She was pretty much a workaholic, when it came down to it. But then again, so was he.
Harry and a gang of loud, obnxious friends were at the table next to him.
“…well, what about Harry?” one of them said, shouting to be heard above the general noise of the dining hall. “He’s been sleepin’ with a married woman!”
“I haven’t!” Harry snapped back. “Fergodssake! Just cos you do-”
“-never did anything with with her!”
There was more giggling and laughing and crude insults, and Jefferson left the room. Nobody notced.
He knew how Julia would take it if he asked her anything- if he checked, just checked, that nothing had happened with Harry- she would be upset. Or possibly angry. She wouldn’t like the idea of him not trusting her. He knew she hated to not be trusted: her parents had been from one of the poorest places on Earth, places so poorly looked upon that she had been treated throughout her childhood like a common criminal. She would hate it.
But he hated it as well.
He was careful not to watch her and Harry too much. He watched them going in and out of the lab- sometimes they were talking happily, like friends, and sometimes they weren’t even talking much at all.
He wondered if he was becoming paranoid.
On the hottest day of the year, when everyone was packed inside grumbling about the heat, Jefferson walked casually past the lab to check on what was going on in there. And that was when he saw Julia with another one of those blue rocks- he saw her hand it to Harry. And then she said something, but he wasn’t sure what.
He stormed off.
The night after that, he had to ask her.
“Julia,” he whispered. It was dark.
“There’s something I need to know.”
“What?” She yawned.
“Um.” He didn’t say ‘um’ often. “It’s about Harry. Are you sleeping with him?”
“What?” Julia hissed, and she slid out of the bed. “Are you serious?”
“I was only-”
“You- I don’t believe that! Nice to know no-one in the damn universe ever had faith me not being a liar or a slut.” She was knocking stuff over, looking for her clothes.
“I do,” he said, and it was beginning to dawn on him how much he’d screwed that up. He hadn’t expected that reaction- maybe he should have. “Don’t, love. I was just checking…”
“You shouldn’t have to check!”
She marched to the door and went out.
The next morning she was back- Jefferson was woken up by her coming in.
“I shouldn’t have been so angry,” were her first words. “I’m sorry.”
Jefferson started to speak, but she held her hand up.
“But- I just can’t believe you’d think that. Don’t you have any faith in me?”
“It doesn’t sound like it,” she said glumly. “It doesn’t sound like it at all.”
“I do have faith in you. I swear. Will you forgive me?”
She paused for a second. “Yes. I forgive you.”
The following summer some people off the old base were transferred to a new one, on a planet called Raxi. Jefferson and Julia went, and so did Harry. Some new people joined as well, including a young woman called Lillian. She was pretty, a former singer, and close to his age.
And one quiet day in the dining room, Lillian happened to sit to him.
“Hi,” she said to him.
“Hello,” he answered. He was reading.
“Isn’t this a fascinating place?” she said eagerly. She batted her eyelids, just a bit. “You must find it really interesting.”
“It’s not bad.”
“Did you know,” she went on, “this place used to be called Raxicoricofalapatorious? But then there was a war here, and everyone died, and we took over and called it Raxi.”
“Yes,” Jefferson said. “I know about the war. I have been outside, you know.”
Lillian was quiet for a minute, and examined her painted nails. “That woman,” she said, “the one who studies rocks…”
“She’s my wife.”
“Everyone thinks so,” she said with a smile. Then she stuck her hand out. “My name is Lillian Em.”
“John Jefferson,” he answered, and shook her hand.
Lillain Em came to talk to him every day, when Julia wasn’t around. And often she wasn’t. You needed all sorts of equipment in order to go outside, and so she mostly just stayed in her new (and much better) laboratory. With Harry.
“The funny thing about the war,” Lillian said, “is that nobody knows how it happened. It was like the planet was here one day, and gone the next. And almost everyone was dead.”
Jefferson shrugged. “We’re not concerned about how the war was started. We just want to pick up all the things that got left behind.”
Lillian smiled flirtily. “You think that’s right?”
He looked away. “I’m just doing my job. And what’s your job, Miss Em?”
“Operations. I work machinery all day. Drills and stuff.”
“But I’m not really interested in it. I came here looking for someone. This woman I used to know. Heard she was going to work for the Torchwood Archive.”
“Mmmm. Find her?”
“No. I just want to say sorry to her. I was really…horrible to her, this one time.”
Jefferson thought about the fact that he never saw Julia anymore. “Well,” he said, “we may have one thing in common.”
Julia woke him up one night, having come back from work very late. “Hey,” she said. “I found this on the floor.” She held up the blue rock. His one. “What was it doing there?”
“I don’t know, it must have fallen off the shelf.”
She sighed. That annoyed him.
“Do you lecture Harry about these things too? ‘Cos he’s got a shiny blue rock same as that one.”
“Yes,” she said pointedly. “Because he is my friend.”
They looked at each other. They both simutaniously decided they didn’t want to fight.
“Come to bed,” Jefferson told her irritably. “You’ve been working too hard.”
“So Julia,” Lillian said one day, “where’s she from?”
“South Australasia.” Jefferson answered.
“The poor half of it?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Sorry. I was just gonna say- I’m impressed if that is where she’s from, ‘cos she must have come such a long way. She’s so clever.”
“She is extremely clever.” Jefferson said, somewhat wistfully.
“Did you…you know…fall out?” Lillian whispered. Jefferson gave up telling her not to pry: she seemed to be genuine.
“Yes. In a way.”
“That’s too bad.”
“It was entirely my fault,” he added.
“I’m sure it wasn’t.”
“No,” he corrected her. “It definately was.”
“No, it was cos of her and Harry, wasn’t it?” she said, and Jefferson could only stare at her in shock. “Right?” she went on. “I heard them talking about it- not Julia, Harry and his friends- Harry was saying how much he…liked her. I thought he’d slept with her or something.”
Jefferson nearly had a heart attack, but he didn’t show his horror- he just got to his feet. “I see.” he said thoughtfully. “I see.”
But he was too afraid to ask Julia straight out- and reacted by avoiding her instead. She clearly noticed something was wrong, but she also said nothing, just talked about her work.
“There might be another earthquake in a few days. We’re hoping it might open up some of the caves…”
“It would be brilliant. So…well, I’ll be quite busy for the next few days. Might go outside the base some more. Is that alright, love?”
“Sounds fine,” he muttered. “Take Harry with you, you know, to look after you.” As if he hasn’t looked after you enough already.
He and Lillian sat close together in his office.
“So,” she said sweetly, “you’ve had an interesting life, haven’t you? It always sounds like it.”
“Interesting isn’t the word. Before I met…before I got married, I was a Torchwood soldier.”
“Ooh, you have to be good to do that.”
“I don’t know. But I did get promoted to Captain, so I must have done something right.”
“Well, I haven’t done anything interesting with my life,” Lillian said. “Just a few failed love affairs.”
Jefferson sighed and didn’t object when she took his hand. “Well,” he said sadly, “we may have one thing in common.”
Three days passed. There was a very minor earthquake, but it was enough to send Julia out of the house and to the planet surface. She kissed him before she left. He saw her walk away with Harry, all excited.
“So Julia’s gone then,” Lillian said, when the two of them were alone in the office.
“Who knows what she’s getting up to out there?” she said with contempt.
“Well,” Lillian went on, and she leaned across the desk, “if she’s not gonna be back for a while…”
“No, Lillian. I can’t.”
“You can,” she said, and she dragged him over and kissed him, and he kissed back. He was surprised to feel no guilt at all…
…only pleasure, because she felt just like Julia in his arms. Except a better Julia. One who wouldn’t leave him for anyone or anything.
“Oh, you’re perfect,” he whispered. “Thank you for everything.”
When he returned to his and Julia’s room, he trod on something, and heard it crack. He looked down in the dark and picked it up- it was a piece of blue rock.
His heart sank, and he went slowly towards the bed, following the trail- pieces of blue rock covered the whole floor. And on the bed was a note.
Harry and me came back early- there was warnings about another earthquake. I went to our room and Harry went out, and he saw you with that girl. Clearly you never quite had faith in me after all, and perhaps I shouldn’t have had any in you.
Harry, being a good friend, is letting me stay in his room. We will discuss things properly when we are back on Earth.
He took the note to Lillian. He couldn’t think of anything else to do. She read it eagerly.
“A good friend,” she said. “Rubbish.”
Jefferson frowned. “I don’t know what to do, Lillian.”
“Well, she’s left you- not much you can do.”
“I didn’t want her to leave me.”
She shrugged. “You just weren’t cut out for each other. You should be happy- you’ve gotten rid of her.”
“Lillian. I didn’t want to get rid of her.” Suddenly the reality of the situation hit him. “I don’t believe this. Why did you ever-”
But he couldn’t finish, and headed towards the door.
“Don’t be stupid,” Lillian called. “You fancied me!”
“For a few minutes. It’s Julia I love.”
Lillian scowled. “Well, she’s hardly gonna listen to you now, is she?”
“I’m still going to try.”
He closed the door on her.
But Julia was still down on the planet surface, and he could do nothing. He didn’t have access to the central comms system, which was the only way he’d be able to talk to her. So he sat back and waited, and put the stone back together. It didn’t look right.
He read for a bit. And then he went to bed, alone.
He was woken up at midnight by someone knocking on the door. Cursing, he went to open it. He expected it to be Lillian, but it wasn’t- it was one of the young kids, one of Harry’s friends.
“Um,” he said. “Mr Jefferson…”
“Something happened…down on the planet…”
His heart jumped into his mouth. “What, exactly?”
“We got Harry on the comm…he said the planet just sort of shifted, and weird things were happening…”
“Julia! What about Julia?”
“Um. Could you come with me, sir?”
They went down the corridor, and it seemed, though they were running, that they were moving painfully slow. Jefferson opened the door to Central Communications, and stumbled in.
“I need to talk to Julia. Now!”
He heard someone telling him to calm down, but didn’t give it much thought. “Give me a comm.”
“They’re not working all that well,” the communications officer said, regretfully. “The planet’s so unstable, it’s interfering…in truth, sir, I think we might all have to leave soon. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, no. I’m not leaving.”
Someone handed him a comm then, and he put it to his ear then only to hear Harry.
“-war- paintings down here- this weird things with guns, guns and lasers-oh my god-”
“Harry. This is Julia’s husband. Let me talk to her.”
He had to repeat that message three more times, and then he heard Julia’s voice.
“-whatever war it was here it never ended!” Her voice crackled. “-some massive war- it’s like someone reached through time- said goodbye…”
“Julia! Listen to me!” Jefferson shouted, above all the other shouting that was going on in the room. “You need to get out of there.”
Someone else- the captain, of all people, a man called Captain Walker- came bursting in then. “Right,” he said, and even he was struggling to make himself heard. “Everyone out of this room straight away. We’re getting out of here- things have gotten unsafe.” He looked at Jefferson. “It’s a pity about everyone not in the base, and I’m sorry but we have to go. Everyone! Now!”
Jefferson was a soldier and trained to follow orders, but he stayed by the comm anyway. “Julia!” he tried, shouting loudly as he could. “I’m so sorry!”
“-sorry too- John!”
Someone pulled the comm away then. “Whole bloody planet’s falling apart!” someone shrieked from outside the room, and the ground began to shake. Jefferson thought about the blue rock- it would have fallen off the table and broken again.
But she was gone, and he knew that. His brain turned itself off anyway, and he ran out with the others- he was faintly aware of Lillian finding him, and clinging to his arm.
And then he was safely in the base’s one rocket, heading away from Raxi, and Julia was not there.
He shuddered, and began to cry. It was only just really dawning on him. She might be down there somewhere…still alive down there, waiting to be killed.
He put his head in his hands, shaking uncontrollably. It was five minutes before he could stand to even look up…and he saw Lillian, sitting just across from him. She wasn’t looking at him…she was looking away, and smiling a devilish smile. A now my rival is dead sort of smile.
He wanted to kill her. He did not.
We will discuss things properly when we are back on Earth.
“Oh god,” he said out loud. He gained a few sympathetic glances, nothing more. He leaned his head against the window,
And the guilt threatened to crush him to pieces.
“Thank you, sir.”
Jefferson leaned his head against the metal door and waited for the oxygen to go. One of the Ood gasped in the disappearing air, and dropped dead to the floor. He couldn’t bring himself to say or think good riddance– he felt sorry for it.
He switched the comm off. He had, after all, said everything he needed to.
His mind began to swim, and he closed his eyes, and said-
But nobody heard.
At least, not yet. The devil was a liar- Julia was strong enough to forgive him. She had to have done. He had faith.
Toby- ‘the virgin’
By only the fifth day of the Torchwood Archive expedition, the tempers of all the crew were frayed. It always turned out one of two ways: within two weeks everyone would either be getting along fine again or absolutely hating each other.
Toby didn’t really hate any of them. He didn’t like Danny much, because Danny seemed like the sort of overgrown child who’d mock you behind your back, but the rest seemed alright. Especially the girl who was his age- Scooti Manista, her name was. He liked her. Quite a lot. But she had a kind word for everyone, and he had nothing for anybody- and he watched her slide out of sight.
He worked in his cramped bedroom for hours on end, and didn’t know that something, somewhere, was starting to call for him.
“My mum was finally able to raise enough money then,” Scooti said, “and she got me an education and then- bit later- I came here. Promised everyone that I’d work hard.” She grinned. “Probably won’t.”
Ida, sitting next to her, laughed. Scooti turned to Toby then.
“And what about you, Toby?”
Toby looked up and just as quickly looked away: he couldn’t believe she was willing to start a conversation- and he also couldn’t believe she’d be interested in what he had to say.
“Um. I’m nothing special. Not rich like Danny, or anything…just had an average upbringing and everything, went to the University of Mars…”
“Ooh! I’d have killed to go there!”
“…studied archeology…graduated…that’s it.”
“What about your parents?” Scooti asked. She did sound interested, although Ida clearly wasn’t.
“Died. When I was younger. In one of the Plagues.”
“Oh my god. I’m sorry.”
Toby shrugged. “Thanks. But it was a long time ago.”
Everyone around the table lapsed into silence, until Ida got up and announced she had to get back to work, and invited Scooti to join her. Scooti declinded, and sat back and ate the remainder of her meal.
“My parents are dead too,” she said. “Mum in one of the Plagues, Dad…well, I never really met him- I heard he died, put it like that.”
“I’m sorry,” Toby said, almost automatically, and wishing he could come up with something more meaningful.
She smiled. “I guess we’re all a bunch of orphans and wanderers, aren’t we? Most of us seem to be missing something.”
“Missing something,” Toby repeated. “Yeah.”
Things esculated from there.
They had several conversations during times where they were both free- sometimes Ida was there and occasionally she wasn’t, and Toby liked it when she wasn’t. They talked about science and literature, all the stuff everyone Toby knew thought was boring, and then, one day, he tried to kiss her.
He hadn’t meant to. He’d wanted to for ages, but hadn’t. But she came in one day wearing makeup -a complete luxury on the hell-hole where they were- and a low-cut top, and she smiled at him like she always did. His heart leapt- she looked Hot, to use an old phrase. (Hot as hell?) Either way…
She sat down with him like she always did, and Ida came along too. Toby wished she would leave him and Scooti alone- why couldn’t she see what was obviously going on? But she stuck around for ages, chatting with them both, until finally heading off. And then Toby and Scooti were on their own, apart from one of the security guards in the corner, eating lunch.
“Um,” Toby said shyly. “You look really nice, you know?”
“Thank you,” she said cheerfully, turning around to get up.
Toby tried to kiss her then. Tried to and got it all wrong. She was getting out of her chair- he aimed for her lips, and missed. Only got her cheek. And she swore in surprise.
“What the hell are you doing?” she almost yelled, leaping away. “Jesus!”
“Sorry,” Toby cringed. “Sorry- thought you…”
“Thought I what?”
“Thought you got all dressed up…for me.”
Did he imagine the pity in her eyes? “I got all dressed up,” she said, “for Ida.”
“We’re…um. Going out. Seeing each other. Doing it. Whichever one you like.” She backtracked a little then. “But you’re a good friend, don’t get me wrong. Shit…”
She had been subtly backing away, and now she walked to the door. “I’m sorry, Toby,” she said, while not looking at him. “I didn’t mean to…lead you on. But I’m not interested. I’m sorry.”
She hurried through the door.
Toby sat there for a few minutes, baffled and hurt. An Ood wandered in and cleaned the tables. The security guard at the other side of the room gave him a questioning look, but he didn’t even bother looking back- the security guards hadn’t even been picked by Captain Walker, they were employed by the Archive and there purely to keep order. He wished that there had been no witnesses at all to what he’d done, though. He wanted to crawl away and die.
Eventually he slouched out of the dining hall to his bedroom.
That night the words she’s a fucking lesbian slut echoed silently around the room, and he woke up thinking them. They lurked in the back of his mind, although he never said a word.
He never got a chance.
She stood on the other side of the window, and raised her hand like she was in a trance.
“No.” said Toby, but the Beast didn’t care. There was a crack, and somewhere glass began to break. And he was more powerful than anything else in the universe right now, he could hear glass breaking everywhere. On Earth, on that strange war-planet Jefferson had talked about, on Mars, back home, everywhere from space stations orbiting the sun to buildings in Old London shattering to a million pieces. But all he could really hear was what was happening in front of him, to someone he might have cared about.
she’s a fucking lesbian slut.
“No!” Toby shrieked, but no-one heard. There was a scream, and the glass broke, and it was all over.
Toby did not die then- he didn’t want to, he wanted to fight. He put up quite a good one, despite knowing he wouldn’t win- and he didn’t.
The Beast got him, in the end. Indirectly took down a few of the others, too. Would have destroyed them all in a second.
It was pure fortune that a passing god happened to bring him down. And strange, too…
…because in the end, that god- he was just another orphan and wanderer.