The Station of the Twelfth

By Chaz Brenchley

In this Martian city, each stop along the monorail has a purpose behind its namesake. However, none are quite like the Station of the Twelfth, and if you decide to visit, you’ll be sure to learn why.

We’ve a monorail now that loops the whole of Cassini Crater, with stations all the way around. Not that the city’s reached that far, by half; most of the stations offer little more than a waymarker as yet, and the trains don’t actually stop at those unless there’s someone there to wave them down. But they’re there, ready for when the city catches up on its slow crawl around the rim: marked, mapped, and charted. And, even more importantly, even more potently, every single one of them is named.

For some, generally those that have always lain within the city’s narrow bounds, their names are plain and obvious, as declaratory as those on the London Underground: Thunder Falls, City Hall, Cathedral. They tell you where they are, and nothing more. As though they were a map themselves, on a scale of one to one.

Stay on the train, though, ride to the outskirts at either end of our crescent city, where the stations were marked out and the tracks in situ before ever the builders arrived. Now the station names grow more fanciful, some baroque and some farouche. Perhaps a miner staked a claim here back in the long ago, in the days of Happy George, and someone felt that he should be remembered; so we have Corfe’s Drift, and the Gap of Rags, and more. Perhaps a wagonload of pioneers and their army escort faced down a naiad, and the memory of blood remains; hence Baker’s Hell and Drowned Sorrow. We have many like that, meaningless in the context of what’s there now, but never mind. The stations give their names to their districts as the city swallows them down, like ink spilling across a page.

Farther out and farther round, where no city planner or architect has yet cast so much as a covetous eye, where all of Arabia Terra spreads before you and below you and the great lake sits patient at your back, quite undisturbed—well, here there is no known history to latch to and the names grow more self-consciously absurd, or more obscure. Sainted Aunt, anyone? Or Bletherspike, or Caryatid’s Curse, or Somnolence and Sleep, the two stations farthest out, that will presumably be the last we reach. Someone, some clerk in the engineers’ office was young at heart and foolish, having fun, and someone let them. So be it. Who remembers from where Paddington had its name, or Knightsbridge, or Shepherd’s Bush? They come to mean where they are, and that’s enough.

Here, though, at Cassini, the most obscure name on the line is the plainest of them all. We called it the Station of the Twelfth, and you’d never know why unless you asked. The full name is there on the signboard to greet you as you step down to the platform, but there’s no placard to explain it, such as we have at other stations, where we think they might be needed. Perhaps we want you to ask. Perhaps we feel that you should have to, it matters that much to us.

Perhaps it’s our story, and we want to tell it directly, face-to-face.

There’s always someone around who can do that. Not an employee; this isn’t their job. Sometimes it’s an old man, retired; he might wear a uniform. He might have been a railwayman before, and was almost certainly a soldier before that. Or maybe it’s a woman come from church; she does the flowers, maybe, on a Wednesday before choir practice, and then comes here to sit for an hour on the bench, in case someone asks.

Sometimes it’s a child after school: no little kids, but teenage, somber, dutiful. They like to sit their turn.

If there’s a roster, it’s informal and I don’t know where it’s kept, who keeps it. This seems less organized than that, and more instinctive. People check, I think, as they pass, when they have free time. If the previous tenant has been there long and long with errands waiting, they just take over. Should no one come to relieve them, they’ll wait for the last train just in case, but someone always comes. Sometimes more than one. It is also the case that teenagers like to smoke an illicit cigarette, sip a beer, talk with their friends late into the night. If a kid says they’re going to the station, few parents would stand in their way. Perhaps they’d go along themselves: there are two platforms, after all, two benches. They can watch, not interfere. Be ready for the question, should it come.

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