My name is Susan Boulton and like the song by The Police says, I was born in the 50’s and I had the unusual distinction of arriving into this world 200 yards from where, 37 years before, Tolkien spent time thinking about hobbits.
‘Your family is not left behind.’ It’s the unofficial slogan of the Commonwealth Expeditionary Force. Family units are supposed to be more stable for long-time missions, according to the higher-ups. I don’t think this can be applied to the Masons, somehow. Dad says ships like ours are really like small towns back home. All the good bits are on show for people passing through. The bad bits are hidden away behind closed doors and twitching curtains. Dad isn’t into people. He likes rocks, you know, anything from boulders to the layers that make up worlds. Mum, she likes bugs. Not bugs as in creepy-crawly types, with wings and feelers. She’s into the type that you can only see with a microscope, the ones that can either kill or cure you, depending on your luck I suppose.
Me? Well, I am into people. I love watching my fellow crew and listening to them. My teacher said I will make a good anthropologist someday. Listening when I wasn’t supposed to – that’s how I found out about the Masons. I mean, ‘reassigned mid-mission’? Did anyone in the crew really believe that? Come on. The way their quarters were sealed off for two days, and the first officer looking as yellow as a backer bat. I swear he was going to puke when I saw him in F section. Not to mention the way the senior staff talked in whispers for ages after the Masons were reassigned. Something really bad happened.
The reflection in the mirror isn’t me: the long blonde wig, the pose, the weapon. It’s all an act. Just like the discarded clothes on the bed. The neat, simple, “little black dress”. The plain but expensive jewellery. Both are parts I had to play, not me, never me.
I don’t let people know me. It’s too dangerous, and it would get in the way. I have to do things. Things that don’t make sense, not to you, not to any sane human being.
When you are presented with the facts – what could be, what mustn’t be – you can’t afford the luxury of getting involved on an emotional level. If you do, the world goes to hell in a handbasket very quickly.
I flick the chamber of the gun open and check the rounds. Five not six. Five shots were fired, have to be fired. If I loaded six I would be, could be, tempted to lose another round. Timing and placement are everything. One slip and the world fades away.
Damn this wig; the hair is heavy. Bad enough I had to grow my own for the first part of this, worse now I have to wear this damned wig. He liked to run his hands through my hair. It made me shiver, so unnatural, but then much here is to me. I have to accept it, live with it. It makes the path smoother. It’s my job.