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365. words unspoken

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“Holy shit,” says the latest copy. “Holy shite.”

Helena looks up from the candy wrapper she is folding into smaller and smaller squares. The girl who’s taken the seat across from her in the train car is goggling at her, eyes wide and smeared with eyeshadow. She can’t be older than sixteen, which is probably how old Helena is. Also: that’s a stupid thing to think, because she’s Helena’s copy, and so of course she’s Helena’s age. But Helena is hungry. Hunger makes her clumsy-stupid.

She looks back down at the candy wrapper. This copy isn’t Polish, so she isn’t who Helena is riding on this train to meet. Helena doesn’t know where to put her in her brain. She wasn’t on Helena’s list, so maybe that means she isn’t supposed to kill her? But a copy is a copy is. So. Helena is supposed to kill her dead. Probably.

“Hey,” says the copy – loud, like she wants to die. “You mute or somethin’? You’re seein’ this, right?” She leans into Helena’s face. “Who’s your mum? Where are you from? You dumped in the foster system too? You – you see it, yeah? We’re sisters.”

No we’re not, Helena thinks on instinct, but for some reason the instinct rings hollow. She wants this stranger to call them sisters again. That’s a terrible thing to think. She can blame it on the hunger.

She blinks. English is rust on her tongue and her hands are trembling.

The copy leans back in her seat, drums her foot against the ground. She’s wearing combat boots that are all scuffed up, like Helena’s. But she’s also wearing tights and shorts and she doesn’t look cold. Helena has only known her copies scared. Helena likes this one. She isn’t supposed to, but she does.

“You mute?”

The question jars her. She doesn’t know mute. She tries to communicate this with her face and fails.

“Gonna take that as a yes,” the copy mutters. “What the hell kinda scifi shit. Meet your bloody speechless twin sister on a train to Poland. Bloody hell.” She sounds annoyed but she keeps looking at Helena, like Helena is something that delights her. All the copies so far have done that, before Helena killed them, and it’s maybe her favorite part.

Wait. Mute. Speech-less. Oh.

“Not speech-less,” she says. “Hungry.”

Outside the scenery blurs by. Her copy blinks at her. “She speaks,” she says, and grins in a way Helena has never seen before. Like the way mothers smile at their babies. Like family. The copy ducks down, rummages in her backpack, pulls out a bag of crisps.

“Here,” she says. “I was gonna save this, but—”

It’s already gone. Four handfuls and nothing. Helena’s vision settles and brightens and then she remembers Eve, and she should probably throw this up, but instead she’s running her finger along the inside of the bag to hunt for extra salt. Oh. She is damned. Really: she was damned the second this girl sat down and Helena’s first thought wasn’t her knife. The weight of that settles in Helena’s belly, like potato chips.

“Thank,” she says, and tries handing the bag back. The copy just laughs. So. Helena keeps it.

“You lost?” the copy says, voice faint. “I mean – I – your family isn’t here?”

“No,” Helena says. “No family.”

Across the space between them the copy smiles. “Yeah,” she says, “me either.” She turns to look out the window. “They’re all shit. Saved all my money and bought a train ticket out but now I don’t even – know what to bloody do, do I? Haven’t got anythin’. I sorta—” (she lets out an embarrassed huff and Helena realizes she’s crying; she doesn’t know if the fact makes her curious or bone-deep sad) “—saw you across the train car and thought that would fix it. Like – my twin sister, right? Aren’t we all just – just lookin’ for family? For each other? Our whole lives? But then – you’re lost too. Of course. Stupid bloody genes.” Her voice gets quieter. “Of course you’re lost too.”

Helena isn’t lost. Helena has a mission. Helena doesn’t want to say any of these things; she wants to take the seat next to her own copy and let this girl with her tangled brown hair rest her head on Helena’s shoulder. Helena never has food but if she did she’d share it, so the both of them would only be a little starving.

The train makes a soothing sound and a voice tells them that they’re approaching the station. The crisps flex against the walls of Helena’s stomach, suddenly transformed by her belly into desperate animals. Once the train stops Helena won’t have a reason to not lure this girl away somewhere quiet and—

“Where you headed?”

—she has to, it’s her mission, God gave her this sheep so Helena could slit her throat, this has to be a test, she took food from one of her copies and that is her own original sin but she could fix it if she just killed her and the bad, bad, bad, bad thing is that Helena doesn’t want to.

“Hello? You mute again or what?”

If this copy wasn’t on her list that means Maggie and Tomas don’t know about her and if Maggie and Tomas don’t know about her that means God probably doesn’t want Helena to kill her, because God gave Maggie and Tomas a list. If God really wants Helena to—

“Look, I’m sorry, this is weird for me too, alright? Just – this is too much of a bloody coincidence to just – leave it! You’re my sister and we just met on a bloody train and—”

—then he’ll make them cross paths later. And then Helena will do it. Because this copy won’t be someone who is lonely and has crisps in her bag and feeds Helena when she’s faint from hunger and wants so badly for Helena to be her family—

“—you have to feel it, right? Don’t you feel anything?

—she’ll just be a copy. And Helena will kill her, and it will be easy.

But not yet. Helena looks up and meets her own eyes, teary and smearing mascara under a line of bristling eyelashes. She can’t help herself: she reaches across the space and wipes away the tears from beneath each eye with the tip of her finger. When she pops her finger into her mouth it tastes like salt, but she doesn’t know if that’s tears or just the crisps.

The copy is just staring at her. They’re pulling into the station, the train hissing steam to itself, and the two of them are just staring. Helena should be able to say something, some less blasphemous version of be safe and run somewhere I can’t find you. But she can’t think of anything.

“Bye bye,” she says, finally. When the train doors open she makes for them in a sprint and then she’s in the station, buried in a grave of other people, and if someone is yelling for her behind her then she wouldn’t know. She goes deeper into the station, and deeper. She has to meet Maggie and Tomas at a hotel seven blocks from here. She can make it there, now, because of the chips she ate. Helena remembers these things and nothing else. If there is a voice calling for her, it fades into the crowd until it’s gone.