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Back in his hopper, his on-board signaled Ethermail. He touched the keyboard, and Kit's arresting eyes and perfect complexion filled the screen. "Hi, Windy! If you don't want us, say so. One more should get us there, so this's your last chance.
"But first, stop worrying about what I'm going to have on under the suit. I am going to wear a bra. Guaranteed. Haven't you seen what zero-g does with boobs the size of mine? I have. They go all over, and believe me it's not a pretty sight. So I've got this wonderful little pink bra. You're gonna love it! The saleswoman got out a needle and pulled the whole, entire thing through the eye."
Kit had a charming laugh, and she used it. "Don't look at me like that, Windy. Put down that fatal eyebrow. Okay, it was a big needle like you might use on denim or leather. So it had a big eye. But she pulled it through, exactly like I said. I'll show it to you—by golly and geewhillikers, I'll model it for you. So if you don't want us you've gotta be quick."
March clicked REPLY. "Kit, darling, you know I want you more than life itself. Please hurry! Now don't get mad, but I'm a little bit curious. Why didn't I see your pal Robin Redd in the background. Is she really that ugly?"
He had hardly resumed his search for memorials when his on-board signaled a fresh Ethermail.
"She's in the can, Windy. That's all. She'll be out in a minute. Not bad-looking, either, if you dig redheads with bruised faces. So if you're all hot to fantasize, go right ahead. Just don't try to make 'em real, 'cause you know damn well there ain't space enough in your hopper for three bare-ass bodies playin' games.
"Speakin' of space, I got a li'l surprise. Have a look out your driver's-side window. Wanna couple?"
It was Kit's hopper, as he knew it would be, a new one gleaming with chrome and unscarred maroon paint and roughly the size of one of the compact pre-fabs older people still called mobile homes. Twice the size of his own hopper, in other words.
Suiting up again, he grabbed his line launcher and went out onto the hull.
A tiny figure emerged from the big maroon hopper, and the icom in his helmet buzzed and clicked. "You got a launcher, Windy? I didn't bring mine, but I can go back in and get one."
"Right here." He aimed his launcher, activated its laser guide, and launched, the solid-fuel rocket trailing a slender but strong Kevlar line.
"You got us, Windy. Want me to pull?"
March started his winch. "We'll just get it tangled. I'll reel you in."
"You gotta wench winch. Ever think of that?"
"Saying things like that cost you 'Building People for Kids.'"
"I didn't care. I'd already done the parts I liked. Got anything to eat in that tin can?"
"Self heats. Stuff like that."
"We've got that beat hands-down. Robin can't cook worth a damn. I, upon the other well-washed hand, am an internationally famous cheffettej. One who—"
March said, "There's no such word and you know it."
"There is now. One who, I was saying, knows there's nothing for getting the ol' pencil sharp like a real, authentic Caribbean pepper pot. Be ready in an hour or so, but if you'd like to come over now for a long-time-no-see kiss.…"
With their hoppers grappled, it was not necessary to turn on his suit jets to go from his own to hers. He kicked off, somersaulted in space, and landed feet-first next to her airlock.
"Nicely done, Windy," she said as he was taking off his helmet and just beginning to appreciate her flowery perfume. The long-time-no-see kiss followed, and lasted a good two minutes. When they separated, she added, "If you weren't wearing all that machinery, I think I might've raped you."
He leered. "Men aren't supposed to make jokes about rape. You told me that—"
"I'm not a man. You failed to notice."
"Therefore, madam, I will say quite seriously that if I had not been swaddled in all this gear, I believe I might have ravished you."
She had put her finger to her lips; he lowered his voice as he said, "You escaped by merest chance."
"Rape's a sensitive topic with Robin," Kit whispered. "I shouldn't have shot off my mouth. Only when a man does it, it's ten times worse. I think her ex raped her. Maybe a couple times."
"Okay, she'll cramp our style verbally. Not in bed. I'll see to that."
"So will I," March said. "Marry me, Kit. I mean it. How the hell do you kneel without gravity?"
"You meant it last time. I know that."
"And I mean it this time."
"I turned you down." Kit's face was somber. "Did I say why?"
"No. Just that you weren't ready."
"Then I'll say it now. I love you to pieces, but I've got a career and they print your name on the toilet paper in the executive washroom. You think I'm kidding?"
"Damn right I do." March opened his suit. "You've never set foot in the executive washroom."
"Wrong. When I was talking to Bad Bill about the cooking show I had to powder my nose, and he loaned me his key. It's on the paper."
March scowled, then chuckled. "And you used it."
It got him the sidelong glance and sly smile he loved. "I'm taking the Fifth, Windy."
"It wasn't a question. Speaking of washrooms, when are we going to see what's-her-name?"
"Robin. How would I know? She's been in there forever. Do you understand why I said no, Windy? You don't have to agree with it. Just understand it."
He shrugged. "Does it mean you'll be wearing a fake mustache when you narrate for me?"
"That's not the same thing, and you know it. I'm not with the network right now. Not officially. My contract's run out. It'll probably be renewed, but it might not be. Nobody's going to raise hell because I took a stop-gap job narrating a documentary. Besides.…" Her sudden silence betrayed the thought.
"Besides," March rasped, "'Vaults in the Void' may never be broadcast. Go ahead and say it. You'll be saying something I've thought a thousand times."
"There's not much market for documentaries, Windy," Kit was trying to make her voice kind, something she was not particularly good at. "Yours is sure to be a complete downer, even with me in it acting all respectful. So if—"
A latch clicked five steps away, and one of the flimsy doors opened and—very softly—shut. He turned.
"Hello, Marchy." The woman with her hand on the latch was a head shorter than Kit. The small face beneath the mop of blazing red hair looked pinched and white. One eye was bruised and swollen nearly shut; there was a second bruise on the cheek below it.
"Sue." March did not realize that he had spoken aloud until he heard his own voice.
"That isn't my name now."
Shrugging was difficult, but he managed it. "You've sued me so often that I don't see how I can call you anything else."
She drew herself up. "My name is Robin Redd."
"So I've heard."
"Hold it!" Kit edged (most enjoyably) around March to stand between them. "You owe me. Both of you do. Windy, I bought this hopper and came way the hell out here into God-forsaken outermost space just because you needed me. Tell me that's not right, and I'll head back home as soon as you clear the airlock."
"It's right," March said.
"Robin, you had to get away. I'd seen what Jim could do, and I stepped up like a Girl Scout. I never ran your card or asked a favor. I said why don't you come with me, I'll be glad to have the company. If you say that's not how it was, I'm hustling you back to Earth and shoving you out. Wasn't that how it was?"
"Okay. It's a mess. Even I, good-hearted dumb li'l Kit, can see that. But I don't know what kind of mess I've made, and I'm going to raise holy hell till you two fill me in. You know each other. How?"
March sighed. "We made the mess, Kit. Sue here did, and I did. Not you."
Robin whispered, "He's my ex, Kit."
"Jim?" Kit goggled at her. "I saw Jim. It was Wednesday night."
"Not Jim. Oh, God! I hate this!"
March said, "It's been years since the final decree, Kit, and the proceedings dragged on for a couple of years before that. I had abused her—verbally. I had said things that injured her delicate feelings. Things that were quoted in court, mostly inaccurately and always out of context. I had persecuted her—"
"Don't! Just don't! Don't say those things."
"Why not?" March was grim. "You said them to a judge."
"I had to!"
Kit threw up her hands. "Hold it. Stop right there. I'm making a new rule. You don't talk to each other. Each of you talks only to me."
She glared at March, then turned to Robin. "How many times have you been married?"
"T-twice." Her eyes were overflowing, their tears detached by minute motions of her head to float in the air of the hopper, tiny spheres of purest crystal.
"Windy was your first husband?"
Studying her without hearing her, March was besieged by memories. How beautiful she had been in the days when she still smiled, the days when her hair was long, soft, and brown. In his mind's eye, she was poised on the high board, poised for a second or two that had somehow become forever, poised above the clear blue water of some hotel's swimming pool.
"Windy? Did you hear me?" It was Kit.
He shook his head. "I was remembering, I'm afraid. Thinking how it used to be before it went bad."
Robin shouted, "Before you stopped paying attention!"
"Shut up!" Kit snapped. "Windy, she said you never hit her, but you abused her verbally and psychologically. Threats and put-downs. All that stuff. True or false?"
"True," March said.
"Is that all you've got to say?"
"Did you ever love her?"
He felt as though his feet had been kicked from under him. "Oh, my God!" He groped for words. "I was crazy about her, Kit. Sometimes she wouldn't speak to me for weeks and it just about killed me. She left me over and over. I'd come home from work, and instead of being there spoiling for a fight she'd be gone. She'd live with some boyfriend or other for a few days, maybe a week, and then—"
"Jim!" Robin cocked her head, her smile a challenge. "It was always Jim, Marchy."
"Shut up!" Kit turned to glare at her.
"That isn't what she said. Do we have to talk about this?"
Kit studied him. "You look like you've lost a quart of blood."
"I feel like it, too."
"My pepper pot ought to help. And I've made Cuban bread. That's easy. You ever eat stew out here?"
He shook his head.
"Me neither. I've got it simmering in hopsacks. Those clear plastic thingies. That's why you don't smell it."
"Sure." It was wonderful to speak of something else. Of anything else. "I've got some, too."
"So I figure we can drink the liquid, and there'll be little chunks of crayfish and pork and so forth in there too. When it's gone, we can open the hopsacks and eat the solids."
"Do you still love her, Windy?"
He shook his head.
KIT IN HER TRANSPARENT SUIT was simply incredible, lush curves that changed and changed again as the suit flexed, but in that light were never more than half seen. He shot her from the waist up, not quite always, knowing it would keep five hundred million men watching, waiting, and wondering.
"Hi. It's me again, Kit Carlsen. When I do a cooking show, I tell you—sometimes—about the chef who developed a recipe, or the person the dish was named after. Peaches Melba for Nellie Melba the opera singer. You know. Well, today we're going to visit the tomb of a lady who was her town's best, and best known, cook. I plan to ask her about her cooking as well as her life and death. You may think it's tasteless, but March Wildspring and I think you'll find it interesting if you'll just stick with us. March is our producer, so what he says goes."
With a wave and a beckoning smile, Kit entered the tomb. March grinned. After a moment he followed her, watching her image in the digicorder screen more closely than Kit herself.
That's me, there. The woman in the gray dress on the red chair.
The voice was without even the semblance of a living speaker, the picture calm, serious, and motionless.
My name was Sarah-Jane Applefield. I was sixty-three at the time of my demise. My parents were McAlister Rodney Applefield and Elizabeth Warren Weyerhaeuser. I bore three fine children in my time, Clara, Sheryl, and Charles. All were much loved. Would you like to hear about my early life?
"No, Sarah." Kit's voice was soft, coaxing. "We'd like to hear about your cooking. It made you famous all over Southton. Can you tell our audience something about that?"
Certainly. Would you like recipes, or the secrets of good cooking?
Kit smiled in her plastic bubble. "Your secrets, please."
I call them secrets because so few women seem to know them. They're secrets I tell freely to anyone, but they stay secret just the same. Do you cook?
"I do," Kit said. "I cook a lot, and so do a lot of busy women and men in our audience."
Good. The first is to release the inner self. We're all a little bit psychic, but we've been taught to pretend we're not. Let that go. Feel the dish. Sense what it feels. In the storybook, Alice talks to the food, and the food talks back to her. I read it to my children. Lewis Carroll wrote it, and he was an old bachelor. He cooked for himself, you see, so he knew.
Kit smiled again. "I need to read that book, and I will."
The second is to use your nose. Cooking would be difficult for a woman who was blind, but if she learned, she would be a better cook than a seeing woman who would not use her nose. Food may look very nice when it's really quite awful, but food that smells good is good, just about always.
The third is to taste. Spices lose their flavor. Two pieces of beef may be from different animals, even though both are beef. There are breeds of cattle just like there are breeds of cats, or one animal may be old and the next young. If you buy your beef at the store you have no way of telling. What it comes down to is that recipes can't be exact. The cook must taste, and taste again.
"That's very wise, I'm sure."
It is. Your name is Kit. Your husband told me when he was here before.
"He's not my husband." Kit's smile was warm. "But close enough."
If you were wise yourself, Kit, you would ask me what I should tell you. Whether it concerns food or not.
Kit glanced at March for guidance, and he nodded.
"Then I do, please. What is it I ought to ask? Pretend I did."
There is nothing close enough to marriage, Kit. I bore three children to the man who stands behind me in my picture. We were never wed. As time wears on, that will grow easier and easier for the man, Kit, and harder and harder for you. Look closely at my picture, and you'll see I wear a ring.
March zoomed in on it.
I bought that ring for myself, Kit, in a little shop that sold old jewelry. He begged me to take it off once, when we were going to bed. I did, and while we slept he hid it.
Kit looked stricken, but her voice remained smoothly professional. "I'm glad for your sake, Ms. Applefield, that he didn't keep it."
Don't you see? He would've had to give it to me if he had—would've had to give it back to me. Make the gesture he would never make.
"I've got it." Kit shook her head as if a blow had left her dizzy.
I like you. If I didn't, I wouldn't have spoken to you as I did just now. This will be easier for you to hear, but you must not discount it for that reason. There is another flying grave, like my own but larger than my own. It's on the other side of Jupiter today.
"One you think we ought to visit?" March sensed that Kit was breathing normally again. "Can you tell us what's there?"
I can't. Your man asked the same question. That's why I'm mentioning it now. I can look outside this grave. Did you know?
"No, Ms. Applefield, I certainly didn't."
I can. Hoppers park at that grave sometimes. I see them. People—live people like you—go inside. Pay attention now, Kit. They don't come out again, and pretty soon their hoppers drift away.
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Copyright © 1998–2008 Fantasy & Science Fiction All Rights Reserved Worldwide