Published in Postscripts anthology #22/23, ‘The Company He Keeps’, edited by Pete Crowther and Nick Gevers, 2010.
Jacob Stone is the nominal captain and sole crew member of an interstellar cargo ship that is so totally automated his job is mainly to sit alone and wait for emergencies that never happen. The job pays well because few people can tolerate the prolonged isolation, but Jacob is a misanthrope and a miser who lives only to accumulate wealth. On one stopover he encounters another solitary ship captain, a young man with a brighter future than his own. Jacob is jealous and brags about the passengers he is carrying in his cargo hold, a group of aliens on a religious pilgrimage who travel in a kind of “dry sleep” from which they are rehydrated at the end of the journey.
They were transparent too, and hard and fragile. But these were little people nearly half a metre tall, people that resembled human beings, with hands and feet and little faces. And they weren’t really empty shells either, even if they looked that way.
Jacob continues on his journey, but now he has become obsessed with the little aliens, helpless in their dehydrated stasis; he comes to hate them just because of the way the other man admired them.
The title refers to Jacob and the shriveled state of his heart, a man who cares for nothing but himself and not even himself very much. It is the banal and casual nature of his evil that makes this one effective horror.
Lois Tilton, Locus.
(Collected in The Peacock Cloak from Newcon Press)