The Moon wants to kill you. Whether it’s being unable to pay your per diem for your allotted food, water, and air, or you just get caught up in a fight between the Moon’s ruling corporations, the Five Dragons. You must fight for every inch you want to gain in the Moon’s near feudal society. And that is just what Adriana Corta did.
Please enjoy this excerpt from Ian McDonald’s , publishing September 22nd.
In a white room on the edge of the Sinus Medii sit six naked teenagers. Three girls, three boys. Their skins are black, yellow, brown, white. They scratch at their skins constantly, intently. Depressurisation dries hide, breeds itches.
The room is tight, a barrel barely large enough to stand up in. The kids are wedged on benches facing each other, thighs pressed against their neighbours’, knees touching those opposite. There is nowhere to look and nothing to see except each other but they are shy of eye contact. Too close, too exposed. Each breathes through a trans parent mask. Oxygen hisses where the seals are inexact. Just below the window on the outlock door is a pressure meter. It stands at fifteen kilopascals. It has taken an hour to bring the pressure this low.
But outside is vacuum.
Lucasinho leans forward and once again looks through the small window. The gate is easily visible; the line from him to it is straight and open. The sun is low, the shadows are long and profound, thrown towards him. Blacker on the black regolith, they could conceal many treacheries. Surface temperature is one hundred and twenty Celsius, his familiar had warned. It will be a fire-walk.
A fire-walk, an ice-walk.
Seven kilopascals. Lucasinho feels bloated, his skin taut and unclean. When the meter reads five the lock will open. Lucasinho wishes his familiar was with him. Jinji could have dialled down his racing heart, stilled the twitching muscle in his right thigh. His eyes catch those of the girl opposite him. She is an Asamoah; her older brother sits beside her. Her fingers twist the adinkra amulet around her neck. Her familiar will have warned her about that. Metal can flash weld to skin out there. She might wear the mark of Gye Nyame as scar tissue forever. She gives him a fractional smile. There are six naked, good-looking teenagers pressed thigh to thigh but the chamber is a sexual vacuum. Every thought is turned to what is beyond the lock. Two Asamoahs; a Sun girl; a Mackenzie girl; a scared Vorontsov boy, hyperventilating; and Lucasinho Alves Mão de Ferro Arena de Corta. Lucasinho has hooked up with all of them but the Mackenzie girl. Cortas and Mackenzies don’t hook up. And Abena Maanu Asamoah, because her perfection intimidates Lucasinho Corta. Her brother though; he gives the best blowjobs.
Twenty metres. Fifteen seconds. Jinji has burned those numbers into him. The distance to the second lock. The time a naked human body can survive hard vacuum. Fifteen seconds before unconsciousness. Thirty seconds before irreversible damage. Twenty metres. Ten strides.
Lucasinho smiles at handsome Abena Asamoah. Then lights flash red. Lucasinho is on his feet as the lock opens. The last breath of pressurisation shoots him out on to the Sinus Medii.
Stride one. His right foot touches the regolith and drives every thought from his head. Eyes burn. Lungs blaze. He is bursting.
Stride two. Breathe out. Out. Zero pressure in your lungs, Jinji said. No no, it’s wrong it’s death. Breathe out or your lungs will explode. His foot comes down.
Stride three. He exhales. The breath freezes on his face. The water on his tongue, the tears in the corners of his eyes are boiling.
Four. Abena Asamoah streaks ahead of him. Her skin is grey with frost.
Five. His eyes are freezing. He daren’t blink. Eyelids would freeze shut. Blink is blind, blind is dead. He fixes on the lock, ringed with blue navigation lights. The skinny Vorontsov boy passes him. He runs like a madman.
Six. His heart is panicking, fighting, burning. Abena Asamoah throws herself into the lock, looks around as she reaches for the mask. Her eyes go wide, she sees something behind Lucasinho. Her mouth opens in a silent cry.
Seven. He looks over his shoulder. Kojo Asamoah is down, tumbling, rolling. Kojo Asamoah is drowning in the oceans of the moon.
Eight. As he lunges towards the blue lock lights, Lucasinho throws his arms out and breaks his headlong flight.
Nine. Kojo Asamoah struggles to find his feet but he’s blind, dust frozen to his eyeballs. He waves his hands, lurches, stumbles forward. Lucasinho grabs an arm. Up. Up!
Ten. The red pulses in his eyes: a circle of light and consciousness focused on the circle of the entry lock. A circle closing in with every pulse of the red in his disintegrating brain. Breathe! his lungs shriek. Breathe! Up. Up. The lock is full of arms and faces. Lucasinho throws himself at the circle of reaching arms. His blood is boiling. Gas bubbles in his veins; each bubble a white-hot ball bearing. His strength is failing. His mind is dying but he doesn’t let go of Kojo’s arm. He hauls that arm, hauls that boy; agonised, burning. He feels a shock, hears a shriek of blast-pressurisation
In the tiny circle of sight he has left he sees a tangle of limbs, skins, asses and bellies, dripping with condensation and sweat. He hears gasps turn to laughs, sobs to insane giggling. The bodies quiver with crazy laughing. We did the moon-run. We beat Lady Moon.
Another flash of vision: a splatter of red on the centreline of the outlock door: weird red on white. He fixes on it, a red bull’s-eye that draws all his awareness into a line between him and it. As his consciousness slips into the dark he understands what the red spot is. Blood. The outlock door has slammed shut on Kojo Asamoah’s left big toe, smashing it to a smear of flesh.
The winged woman soars out of the top of the thermal. Early light turns her to gold. She scrapes the very roof of the world, then arches her back, tucks in her arms, flicks her feet and stoops into a swallow dive. One hundred, two hundred metres she plummets, a black dot hurtling out of the false dawn, past factories and apartments, windows and balconies, cableways and elevators, walkways and bridges. At the last instant she flexes her fingers, spreads nanofibre primary feathers and pulls out of the dive. And up, sweeping high, her wings flashing in the brightening light. In three wing-beats she is a kilometre away, a fleck of gold against Orion Quadra’s monumental canyon-scape.
‘Bitch,’ Marina Calzaghe whispers. She hates the flying woman’s freedom, her athleticism, her perfect skin and tight, gymnastic body. Most of all she hates that the woman has breath to waste on recreation and Marina must fight for every sip of air. Marina has dialled down her breathing reflex. The chib on her eyeball shows Marina’s increasing oxygen debt. Every lungful costs. She is overdrawn at the breath-bank. She remembers the feeling of panic when she first tried to blink the new chib out of her eye. It wouldn’t go. She prodded it with a finger. It remained bonded to her eye.
‘Everyone wears one,’ the LDC Induction and Acclimatisation agent had said. ‘Whether you’re a Joe Moonbeam straight off the cycler or the Eagle himself.’
The status bars for her Four Elementals had ticked into life: water, space, data, air account status. From that moment they measured and charged every sip and sleep, every thought and breath.
By the time she gets to the top of the staircase her head is swimming. She leans against the low railing and fights for breath. Before her, the terrifying, crowded void, brilliant with thousands of lights.
Meridian’s quadras are dug a kilometre deep and obey an inverted social order: the rich live low, the poor live high. Ultraviolet, cosmic rays, charged particles from solar flares bombard the naked face of the moon. The radiation is readily absorbed by a few metres of lunar regolith, but high-energy cosmic rays spark off a firework cascade of secondary particles from the soil that can damage human DNA. So human habitats dig deep and citizens live as far from the surface as they can afford. Only the industrial levels are higher than Marina Calzaghe and they are almost completely automated.
Up against the false sky bobs a single silver child’s balloon, trapped.
Marina Calzaghe is going up to sell the contents of her bladder. The pissbuyer nods her into his booth. Her piss is scanty, ochre and grainy. Does she see tinges of blood? The pissbuyer assays her minerals and nutrients and credits her. Marina transfers the funds to her network account. You can turn down your breathing, pirate water, scrounge for food, but you cannot beg bandwidth. Hetty, her familiar, coalesces out of a spray of pixels over her left shoulder. She’s a basic free skin, but Marina Calzaghe is back on the network again.
Next time, she whispers as she ascends again, up to the fog trap. I’ll get the pharma next time, Blake.
Marina climbs the last few steps on hands and feet. The web of plastic was a choice scavenge; snatched and secreted before the salvage bots of the Zabbaleen could recycle it. The principle is ancient and trustworthy. Plastic mesh slung between support beams. Warm moist air rises and in the cool of the artificial night forms brief cirrus clouds. The mist condenses on the fine mesh and drips down the strands into drinkable amounts of water in the collecting jar. A sip for her, a sup for Blake.
There is someone at her trap. A tall, moon-thin man drinks from her collecting jar.
‘Give me that!’
The man looks at her, then drains the jar dry.
‘That’s not yours!’
She still has earth-muscles. Even with no air in her lungs, she could take him; big pale fragile moon-flower.
‘Get out of here. This is mine.’
‘Not any more.’ There is a knife in his hand. She can’t beat a knife. ‘I see you back here again, I find anything gone, I’ll cut you up and sell you.’
There is nothing she can do. No action, no words, no threats or clever ideas can change anything. This man with a knife has crushed her. All she can do is skulk away. Every step, every rung is wracking shame. At the small gallery from which she saw the flying woman she falls to her knees and retches with clenching anger. Dry and heaving and unproductive. There is no moisture, no food left inside her.
Up and out of the moon.
Lucasinho wakes. A clear shell lies over his face so close his breath mists it. He panics, raises his hands to beat the claustrophobic thing away from him. Dark warmth spreads through his skull, the back of his head, down his arms, his torso. No panic. Sleep. The last thing he sees is the figure at the foot of the bed. He knows it isn’t a ghost because there are no ghosts on the moon. Its rock rejects them, its radiation and vacuum dispel them. Ghosts are fragile things, vapours and tints and sighs. But the figure stands like a ghost, grey, hands folded.
The ghost looks up and smiles.
God would not punish the woman who thieves in desperation. Marina passes the street shrine every day on her way from the pissbuyer: an icon of Our Lady of Kazan attended by a constellation of pulsing biolights. Each of those blobs of jelly contains a mouthful of water. Quickly, sinfully, she jams them into her backpack. She will give four of them to Blake. He is thirsty all the time.
It’s only been two weeks but Marina feels she has known Blake a lifetime. Poverty stretches time. And poverty is an avalanche. One tiny slippage knocks on another, knocks loose yet others and everything is sliding, rushing away. One cancelled contract. One day the agency didn’t call. And those tiny digits on the edge of her vision kept ticking away. Sliding, rushing away. And then she was climbing up the ladders and staircases, up the walls of Orion Quadra. Climbing up from the weft of bridges and galleries, up above the avenues of apartments, up the ever-steeper staircases and ladders (for elevators cost, and to those highest levels, the elevators don’t go at all), up towards the overhanging stacks and cubes of Bairro Alto. The thin air smelled of fireworks: raw stone still fresh from the construction bots, sintered glass. Walkways lurched perilously past the door-curtains of stone cells, lit only by what light fell through their doors and unglazed windows. One false step was a slow scream down to the neons of Gagarin Prospekt.
Bairro Alto changed with every passing lune and Marina wandered far before finding Blake’s room. Apt to share; per diems pooled, read the ad in the Meridian listings.
‘I’m not staying long,’ she said, looking round the single room at the two memory-foam mattresses, the empty plastic water bottles, the discarded food trays.
‘They never do,’ Blake said. Then his eyes bulged and he doubled over into a wracking, sterile cough that shook every rib and spar in his sparse frame. The hacking cough kept Marina awake all that night; three dry, almost petulant little coughs. Then three more. Three more. Three more. The cough kept her awake every subsequent night. It was the song of Bairro Alto: coughing. Silicosis. Moon dust turns lungs to stone. Behind the paralysis comes tuberculosis. Phages treat it easily. People who live in Bairro Alto spend their money on air, water and space. Even cheap phages are a distant hope.
Marina. It’s been so long since her familiar spoke to her that she falls off the ladder in surprise. You have a job offer. The fall is a handful of metres; nothing in this crazy gravity. She still has flying dreams: in them she is a wind-up bird orbiting a clockwork orrery. An orrery spinning in a stone cage.
‘I’ll take it.’
‘I cater.’ She’ll do anything. She scans the contract. She’s bid herself low, but the offer is barely adequate. It’s her air-water-carbonnetwork, and a little more. There’s an up-front payment. She’ll need a new uniform from the printers. And a bath in a banya. She can smell her hair. And a train fare.
She has an hour to be in Central Station. Marina blinks up a signature. The contact lens scans and transmits her retinal pattern to the agency. Familiars handshake and there is money in her account. The joy is so sharp it hurts. The might and magic of money is not what it allows you to own; it is what it allows you to be. Money is freedom.
‘Take it up,’ she says to Hetty. ‘Restore defaults.’
Instantly the tightness in her lungs releases. Exhaling is wonderful. Inhaling is an exaltation. Marina savours the Meridian perfume: electricity and gunpowder and sewage tang and mould. And when she gets to where the breath should end, there is more. She draws deep.
But time is tight. To make the train she will have to take the West 83rd elevator, but that is in the opposite direction to Blake’s place. Elevator or Blake? There is no decision.
Again Lucasinho wakes. He tries to sit up and pain drives him down on to the bed. He aches as if every muscle in his body has been pulled away from its bone or joint and that space filled with ground glass. He lies on a bed, dressed in a pressure skin, the same kind he would wear for a sane, safe, ordinary walk on the surface. He can move his arms, his hands. His fingers walk up and down his body, stocktaking. The abs, the armour of muscle across his belly, his thighs tight and defined. His ass feels fabulous. He wishes he could touch his skin. He needs to know his skin is good. He is famous for his skin.
‘I feel like shit. Even my eyes hurt. Am I getting drugs?’
The mu-opioid clusters in your Periaqueductal grey are under direct stimulation, says a voice inside his head. I can adjust the input.
‘Hey Jinji you’re back.’ No mistaking the picky, butlerish speech of his familiar. Familiars have problems with ambiguity. He’s aware of the chib in the bottom right corner of his vision. Cortas don’t need to notice those numbers but he’s glad to see it. The chib tells him he’s alive, aware, consuming. ‘Where am I?’
You’re in the Sanafil Meridian medical facility, Jinji says. You’ve been moved from a hyperbaric chamber to a compression skin. You’ve been in a series of medically induced comas.
‘How long?’ He tries to sit upright. Pain tears along every bone and joint. ‘My party!’
It’s been rescheduled. You’re due another induced coma now. Your father is coming to see you.
White articulated medical arms unfold from the walls.
‘Wait, no. I saw Flavia.’
Yes. She came to visit you.
‘Don’t tell him.’
He has never understood why his father banished his madrinha, his host-mother, from Boa Vista the morning of Lucasinho’s sixteenth birthday. He just knows that if Lucas Corta learns that Madrinha Flavia has been here, his father will hurt her with a hundred spitefulnesses.
I won’t, says Jinji.
A third time Lucasinho wakes. His father stands at the foot of the bed. A short man, slight; dark and haunted as his older brother is broad and golden. Poised and polished, a pencil line of moustache and beard, no more; perfect but always scrutinising to keep that perfection: his clothes, his hair, his nails are immaculate. A cool, judging man. Above his left shoulder hovers Toquinho. His familiar is an intricate knot of musical notes and complex chords that occasionally resolves into half-heard, whispered bossa-nova guitar.
Lucas Corta applauds. Five clear claps.
‘Congratulations. You’re a Runner now.’ It’s known inside the family and out that Lucas Corta never made the moon-run. The reason is his secret: Lucasinho has heard that people who pry are punished, badly. ‘Emergency room team; ophthalmics, pneumothoracic specialists; hire of hyperbaric chamber, hire of pressure skin, O2 charges . . .’ his father says. Lucasinho swings off the bed. The medical bots have removed the pressure skin. The white walls open around him; robot arms unfold with offers of fresh-printed clothing. ‘Transfer from Meridian to João de Deus . . .’
‘I’m at João de Deus?’
‘You’ve a party to go to. A homecoming for a hero. Make an effort. And try to keep your cock out of someone for five minutes. Everyone’s here. Even Ariel’s managed to tear herself away from the Court of Clavius.’
Before anything else: the essentials. Metal studs and spikes slip into the careful holes in his flesh – each one the record of a heartbreak. Jinji shows Lucasinho himself so he can comb up the quiff to its full low-gravity magnificence; a deep-sea wave of glossy thick hair. Killer cheekbones and you could breaks rocks on his belly. He’s taller than his father. Everyone in this generation is taller than the second-generations. He is so freakin’ hot.
‘He’ll live,’ Lucas says.
‘Who?’ Lucasinho hesitates between shirts before choosing the soft brown marl pattern.
‘Kojo Asamoah. He has twenty per cent second-degree burns, ruptured alveoli, burst blood vessels, brain lesions. And the toe. He’ll be all right. There’s a delegation of Asamoahs waiting at Boa Vista to thank you.’
Abena Asamoah might be there. Maybe she would be so thankful she would let him fuck her. Tan pants with two-centimetre turn ups and six pleats. He snaps the belt shut. Spider-silk socks and the two-tone loafers. It’s a party so a sports jacket will be right. He picks the tweed, feels the prickle of the fibres between thumb and fingers. That’s animal-stuff, not printed. Insanely-expensive animal stuff.
‘You could have died.’
As Lucasinho slips the jacket on, he notices the pin on the lapel: Dona Luna, the sigil of the moon-runners. The patron saint of the moon: Our Lady of Life and Death, Light and Dark, one half of her face a black angel, the other a naked white skull. Lady Two-Face. Lady Moon.
‘What would the family have done then?’
How did his father know he’d pick the jacket with the pin on it? Then the arms take the rest of the clothing into the walls and he notices that every jacket has a Dona Luna pin on it.
‘I’d have left him, if it had been me.’
‘It wasn’t you,’ Lucasinho says. Jinji shows Lucasinho the total effect of his choices. Smart but not formal, casual but classy and on the season’s trend, which is European 1950s. Lucasinho Corta adores clothes and adornment. ‘I’m ready for my party now.’
‘I’ll fight you.’
Ariel Corta’s words carry clear across the court. And the room erupts. The defendant bellows: you can’t do that. The defence counsel thunders abuse of process. Ariel’s legal team – they are seconds now that the trial by combat has been agreed – plead, cajole, shout that this is insane, Alyaoum’s zashitnik will cut her apart. The public gallery is in uproar. Court journalists clog the bandwidth as they stream live feed.
A routine post-divorce custody settlement has turned into the highest drama. Ariel Corta is Meridian’s – and therefore the moon’s – leading marriage lawyer, both making and breaking. Her nikah contracts touch every one of the Five Dragons, the moon’s great dynasties. She arranges marriages, negotiates terminations, finds loopholes in titanium-bound nikahs, bargains buy-outs and settles swingeing alimonies. The court, the public gallery, the press and social commentators and court fans, have the highest expectations for Alyaoum vs Filmus.
Ariel Corta does not disappoint. She peels off the gloves. Kicks off the shoes. Slips off the Dior dress. In sheer capri tights and a sports top, Ariel Corta stands before the Court of Clavius. Ariel claps Ishola her zashitnik on the back. He is a broad, bullet-headed Yoruba, a kindly man and a brutal fighter. Joe Moonbeams – new immigrants – with their Earth muscle mass, make the best courtroom fighters.
‘I’ll take this one, Ishola.’
‘He won’t lay a finger on me.’
Ariel approaches the three judges.
‘There is no objection to my challenge?’
Judge Kuffuor and Ariel Corta have old history; teacher and pupil. On her first day in law school he taught her that Lunar law stands on three legs. The first leg is that there is no criminal law, only contract law: everything is negotiable. The second is that more law is bad law. The third leg is that a fly move, a smart turn, a dashing risk is as powerful as reasoned argument and cross-examination.
‘Counsel Corta, you know as well as us that this is the Court of Clavius. Everything may be tested, including the Court of Clavius,’ Judge Kuffuor says.
Ariel purses the fingers of her right hand and dips her head to the judges. She turns to face the defendant’s zashitnik down in the pit. He is muscle and scars, the veteran of a score of trials that have gone to combat, already beckoning her to come on, come down, come into the fighting pit.
‘So let’s fight.’
The courtroom roars approval.
‘First blood,’ shouts Heraldo Muñoz, Alyaoum’s counsel.
‘Oh no,’ roars Ariel Corta. ‘Death, or nothing.’
Her team, her zashitnik are on their feet. Judge Nagai Rieko tries to make herself heard over the tempest of voices. ‘Counsel Corta, I must caution you . . .’ Through the tumult, Ariel Corta stands poised, powerful, the calm at the heart of the storm of voices. Counsels for the defence confer, heads dipped, eyes flashing towards her and then back to their fast, low talk.
‘If the court please.’ Muñoz is on his feet. ‘The defendant withdraws.’
Not a breath is taken in Courtroom Three.
‘Then we find for the plaintiff,’ says Judge Zhang. ‘Costs against the defendant.’
A third time the court erupts and this time is the loudest of all. Ariel drinks down the adulation. She makes sure the cameras get every angle. She slides her long, slender titanium vaper out of her bag, snaps it to length, locks and lights and exhales a thin stream of white mist. She slings her jacket over her shoulder, hooks her shoes on a finger and stalks out of the court in her fighting gear. The applause, the faces, the hovering cloud of familiars: she devours them. All trials are theatre.
An outside view costs; entertainment costs even more so Marina sits in her bottom deck, centre-section seat and makes faces at the kid peeking at her between the headrests. It’s only an hour by high-speed train from Meridian to João de Deus. Amusing a kid is entertainment enough. This is the first time Marina has been out of Meridian. She’s on the moon. She’s on the surface of the moon, racing across it on magnetic rails at a thousand kilometres per hour, and she’s blind inside a metal tube. Plains and crater rims and rilles and escarpments. Great mountains and vast craters. All out there, beyond this warm, jasmine-scented, pastel-coloured, chattery interior. All grey and dusty. All the same, all short of magnificence. She’s missing nothing.
Hetty has full network access so when the kid is told to quit bothering the lady in the row behind, Marina passes the time with music and pictures. Her sister has uploaded new family photographs. There’s her new niece, and her old nephew. There’s brother-in-law Arun. There’s her mother, in the chair, with the tubes in the backs of her hands. She’s smiling. Marina’s glad she can’t see the airless mountains, the harsh empty seas. Against the treasury of leaves, the soft dove skies, the sea so green and full she could almost smell its depth; the moon would look like a white skull. In this train Marina can pretend she’s home on Earth and she will step out among the trees and volcanoes of Cascadia.
Mom starts a new course Tuesday. Kessie would never openly beg for money but the ask is there. Mom’s medical bills sent Marina to the moon. The Big Boom on the Moon! Everyone has their hands out. Everyone, every second of every day. Marina bites back the anger. It’s not the lunar way. If everyone acted how they felt, the cities would be morgues by nightfall.
The train slows into João de Deus. Passengers collect belongings. Hetty’s instructions are to present to security on Platform 6, from which the private tram will take her to the site. Marina feels a kick of excitement; for the first time she’s thought about what lies at the end of that private line: Boa Vista, the legendary garden-palace of the Cortas.
Outside Courtroom Three the entourage descends. Ariel Corta is never without admirers, clingers, potential clients, potential suitors of all genders. Attractive is the first thing people say about Ariel. The Cortas have never been deep beauties but no Brazilian has ever been ugly and every child of Adriana commands the eye with some grace. Ariel’s attraction is her bearing; she carries herself with poise and assurance, a cool confidence. Attention flows to her. Her colleague Idris Irmak pushes through the kisses and congratulations.
‘You could have died in there.’
Insect-sized cameras swarm above Ariel’s head.
‘No I couldn’t.’
‘He would have cut you open.’
Ariel’s hands move and grip Idris’s forearm. She locks his elbow. Her slightest pressure will pop the joint like a bottle cap. The entourage gasps. The cameras dart lower for a tighter angle. This is sensational. The gossip webs will be squealing for days. And release. Idris shakes out his agonised hand. All Corta children are taught Gracie jiu jitsu. Adriana Corta believes that every child should know a fighting art, play a musical instrument, speak three languages, read an annual report and dance a tango.
‘He’d have cut me to ribbons. Do you think I would have risked it if I didn’t know Muñoz would capitulate?’
Idris spreads his hands. Explain the trick.
‘The Alyaoums were clients of the Mackenzies until Betake Alyaoum insulted Duncan Mackenzie by not marrying Tansy Mackenzie,’ Ariel says. The entourage dotes on her words. ‘The Mackenzies withdrew their support. Without it: if Alyaoum had so much as scratched me, it would have been vendetta with the Cortas, without House Mackenzie behind them. They couldn’t risk that. All the way I was forcing a trial by combat, knowing they had to concede.’ She stops at the door of the Counsel Room to address the entourage. ‘Now if you’ll excuse I have a moon-run party for my nephew and I simply can’t go like this.’
Judge Nagai and a bottle of ten-botanical gin wait for Ariel in the Counsel Room.
‘Pull a trick like that in my court again, and I will order the zashitniks to gut you,’ the judge says. She’s perched on the edge of the washbasin. Counsel chambers are small and stuffy.
‘But that would be clear dereliction of due diligence,’ Ariel says. She dumps her armful of business suit into the deprinter. The hopper swallows it and reduces the fabric to organic feedstock. Beijaflor, Ariel’s familiar, has already picked out her party frock: a 1958 Balenciaga, shoulder straps, asymmetric cut, black floral print on deep grey. ‘The court failing to protect the interests of a contracted party?’
‘Why can’t you just mine helium like your brothers?’
‘They’re such dull boys.’ Ariel kisses her on each cheek. ‘Lucas has a negative sense of humour.’ Ariel studies the gin: a gift from her client. ‘Custom printed. What a nice touch.’ She tips the bottle towards Judge Nagai. A shake of the head. Ariel fixes herself a martini, blisteringly dry.
Rieko touches her left forefinger between her eyes: the accepted gesture to speak without familiars. Ariel blinks Beijaflor away: a half-seen hummingbird, a spray of iridescence constantly changing hue to match Ariel’s fashion. Rieko’s familiar, a blank sheet constantly folding itself into new origami models, blinks out.
‘I’ll not keep you,’ Judge Nagai says. ‘To be brief, you may be unaware that I am a member of the Pavilion of the White Hare.’
‘What’s it they say? Anyone who says they’re a member of the White Hare—’
‘—isn’t,’ Judge Nagai finishes the aphorism. ‘There’s an exception to every generality.’
Ariel Corta takes a debonair sip of her martini but every sense is alert and vibrant. The Pavilion of the White Hare, the council of advisers to the Eagle of the Moon, inhabits a place between myth and truth. It exists, it could not possibly exist. It hides in plain sight. Its members confirm and deny their membership. Ariel Corta does not need Beijaflor to tell her her heart rate has increased, her breath quickened. It takes all her concentration to keep her excitement from rippling across the surface of her martini.
‘I am a member of the White Hare,’ Judge Nagai says. ‘I have been for five years. Every year the White Hare drops two members. I am part of this year’s rotation. I would like to nominate you for a seat.’
Ariel’s belly tightens. A seat at the round table and here she stands in her underwear.
‘I’m honoured. But I do have to ask . . .’
‘Because you are an exceptionally gifted young woman. Because the White Hare is conscious of the increasing influence of certain elements among the Five Dragons on the LDC and desires to offset that influence.’
‘The Mackenzies.’ No other family is as nakedly ambitious for political power. Adrian Mackenzie, the youngest son of CEO Duncan, is oko to Jonathon Ayode, Eagle of the Moon, Chair of the Lunar Development Corporation. Robert Mackenzie, clan patriarch, has long campaigned for the abolition of the LDC and full lunar independence, free from the paternal oversight of Earth. The moon is ours. Ariel knows the political arguments and the players but has always remained disinterested. More than any other kind of law, lunar matrimonial law is a chaotic terrain of fierce loyalties, hissing resentments and unending grudges. It’s a volatile mix with LDC politics. But a seat at the hand of the Eagle . . . She may never have smelt moon dust on her skin, but Ariel is a Corta, and the spirit of the Cortas is power.
‘There are figures close to power who feel it’s time the Cortas gave up their isolation and became participating members of the lunar polity.’
Of all her family, Ariel has flown closest to political power. Rafa, bu-hwaejang of Corta Hélio, has economic power: Corta Hélio lights the night of Earth; Adriana, founder, matriarch of Corta Hélio, has moral power. But the Cortas are not universally adored among the older families. The Fifth Dragon; they are regarded as upstarts, crooks made good, grinning assassins, carioca cowboys. Cortas smile as they cut you. Carioca cowboys, helium hellions no more. This is their invitation to the table of power. This is the Cortas’ acceptance as a noble house. Mamãe will be scornful – who needs the approval of these degenerates, these soft parasites? – but she would be pleased for Ariel. Ariel has always known she was never the favourite, never the golden child, but if Adriana Corta is hard on her daughter, it is because she expects more of her than the sons.
‘So do you accept?’ Judge Nagai says. ‘Only I’d quite like off this wash-hand basin.’
‘Of course I accept,’ Ariel says. ‘What did you think I would say?’
‘You might have given it due diligence,’ Judge Nagai suggests.
‘Why?’ Ariel’s wide-eyed surprise is open and sincere. ‘I’d be a fool not to accept.’
‘Your family might have an opinion . . .’
‘My family’s opinion is that I should be back at João de Deus getting dusty and sweaty in a sasuit. No.’ She raises her martini glass. ‘Here’s to me. Ariel Corta, White Hare.’
Judge Nagai brushes her brow with her right forefinger. We may return to the recorded world. Ariel blinks Beijaflor back. The judge’s familiar Oko reappears. Judge Nagai leaves. The printer chimes. The Balenciaga party dress is ready. Beijaflor is already changing colour to match it.
Little Luna Corta is in a peony-print bubble dress. The dress is white, gathered at the hem, with a bold print of crimson flowers. A Pierre Cardin. But Luna is eight years old and tired of smart clothes so she kicks off her shoes and dashes barefoot through the bamboo. Her familiar is also Luna: a lime-green luna moth with great blue eyes on its wings. Luna moths are North American not South American, Grandmother Adriana told her. And you really shouldn’t give your familiar your own name. People mightn’t know who they are talking to.
Butterflies break from cover and swirl over Luna’s head. Blue, blue as the false sky, and wide as her hand. The Asamoah kids brought a party box and released them. Luna claps her hands in delight. She never sees animals in Boa Vista: her grandmother has a horror of them. Won’t allow anything furred or scaled or winged into Boa Vista. Luna chases the ribbon of slow-flapping butterflies, running not to catch them but to be free and floating like them. Air eddies, bamboo breaks whisper, carrying voices and music and the smell of cooking. Meat! Luna hugs herself. This is special. Distracted by the smell of grilling meat she pushes her way between the tall, waving canes of bamboo. Behind her, slow waterfalls cascade between the huge stone faces of the orixas.
Three and a half billion years ago magma burst from the living heart of the moon to flood the Fecunditatis basin; glugging slow in rilles and levees and lava tubes. Then the moon’s heart died and flows cooled and the hollow lava tubes lay cold and dark and secret, ossified arteries. In 2050 Adriana Corta came rappelling down from the access tunnel her selenologists had bored into the Sea of Fecundity. Her lights flashed out over a hidden world; an intact lava tube a hundred metres wide and high and two kilometres long. An empty, virgin universe, precious as a geode. This is the place, Adriana Corta declared. This is where I will create a dynasty. Within five years her machines had landscaped the interior, sculpted faces of umbanda gods the size of city blocks, set up a water cycle and filled the space with balconies and apartments, pavilions and galleries. This is Boa Vista, the mansion of the Corta family. Even on this celebration day the rock trembles to the vibrations of excavators and sinterers working deep in the walls, shaping rooms and spaces for Luna and her generations.
Today is Lucasinho’s moon-run party and Boa Vista has opened its green heart to society. Luna Corta weaves between amors and madrinhas, family and retainers, Asamoahs and Suns, Vorontsovs and even Mackenzies and people from no great family at all. Tall third-generations and short, squat first gens. Dresses and suits, turn-ups and petticoats, party gloves and coloured shoes. A dozen skin and eye colours. Wealth and beauty. Friends and enemies. Luna Corta was born to this, to the sound of falling water and the murmur of artificial wind through bamboo and branch. She knows no other world. On this special day, there is meat.
The caterers have set up electric barbecues under the overhang beneath Oxum’s bottom lip. Chefs poke and turn skewers. Greasy smoke rises up towards the skyline, set today for a bright blue afternoon with passing clouds. A bright Earth afternoon. Waiters ferry large plates of skewered meat to the guests. Luna places herself between a woman waitress and her destination.
‘Hey that’s a pretty dress,’ the waitress says in very bad Portuguese. She is short, not much taller than Luna, and square. She moves too much for the gravity. A Jo Moonbeam, fresh off the cycler. Her familiar is a cheap skin of unfolding tetrahedrons.
‘Thank you,’ Luna says, switching to Globo, the simplified English that is the common tongue. ‘It is.’
The wait-woman offers Luna her tray.
‘Chicken or beef?’
Luna takes a greasy, juicy beef skewer.
‘Careful not to get that on your lovely dress.’ She has a norte accent.
‘I would never do that,’ Luna says with immense gravity. Then she skips down the stone path beside the stream that runs through the heart of Boa Vista, pulling at chunks of bloody beef with her small white teeth. There is Lucasinho in his party clothes with his Dona Luna pin and a Blue Moon martini in his hand. His moon-run friends surround him. Luna recognises the Asamoah girl, and the Sun. Suns and Asamoahs have always been part of the family. It is easy to recognise the weird, pale Vorontsov boy. Like a vampire, Luna thinks. And that must be the Mackenzie girl. All gold.
‘You have beautiful freckles,’ Luna declares, butting in on Lucasinho’s group. She looks the Mackenzie girl full in the face. They laugh at her boldness, the Mackenzie girl most of all.
‘Luna,’ Lucasinho says. ‘Go and eat that thing someplace else.’ He makes it sound like a joke but Luna hears better. He’s pissed off at her. She is getting between him and Abena Asamoah. He probably wants sex with her. He is such a user. There is a line of upturned cocktail glasses at his feet. A user, and drunk.
‘Just saying.’ Cortas say what they think. Luna wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. Meat, and now she hears music. ‘I got freckles too!’ She touches a finger to her Corta-Asamoah cheeks, then runs on again. She darts over the stepping stones in the river in search of the music. She splashes up the river, kicking up slow-falling spray. Party guests coo and shriek and move away from the flying water but their faces are smiling. Luna knows she is irresistible.
Luna runs up to him and throws her arms around his legs. Of course he would be near the music. He is talking with the immigrant woman who served Luna the meat. She now bears a tray of blue cocktails. Luna has interrupted him. He ruffles Luna’s dark curly hair.
‘Luna, coração, you run on now. Yes?’ A little touch on the shoulder, turning her. As she slides away she hears him say to the waiter, ‘My son is not to be served any more alcohol. Understand? I’ll not have him drunk and ridiculous in front of everyone. He can do what he likes in private, but I won’t have him disgrace the family. If a single drop goes near him for the rest of the day, I will have every one of you back in Bairro Alto begging for second-hand oxygen and drinking each other’s piss. Nothing personal. Please convey this to your management.’
Luna loves her Uncle Lucas, the way he gets down to her level, his little games, his tricks and jokes that are just between them, but there are times when he is tall and far away, in another world that’s hard and cold and unkind. Luna sees the look of pale fear on the immigrant woman’s face and feels horrible for her.
Arms sweep her up, lift her high, throw her up into the air.
‘Hey hey anzinho!’
And catch her as she falls soft as a feather, her peony dress up around her face. Rafa. Luna presses close to her father.
‘Hey hey, guess who’s just arrived. Tia Ariel. Shall we go and find her?’ Rafa squeezes Luna’s hand and she nods her head vigorously.
In her killing dress Ariel Corta steps out of the station into Boa Vista’s great garden. The layers of her 1958 Balenciaga float in lunar gravity like petals. A murmur passes through the throng of guests. Ariel Corta. Everyone has heard of Alayoum vs Filmus. Luna bounds up to her tia. Ariel snatches her niece up in mid-bound, swirls her around while Luna shrieks in delight. Now her madrinha, Mônica, arrives. Warm embraces, kisses. Amanda Sun, Lucas’s wife. Lousika Asamoah, Luna’s mother. Rafa himself, snatching his sister up into the air so that she begs him to mind the dress. His other oko, Rachel Mackenzie, is in Queen of the South with their son Robson. She never sets foot in Boa Vista. Ariel is glad Rachel is not here. There is legal between them, and Mackenzies hold grudges. Next: moon-run boy himself. He’s awkward, gawky with his tia in a way he never is with his friends. Her finger rests a moment on his Dona Luna emblem, drawing his eye to the matching token on her corsage: imagine me naked, frosted, running across the bare moon.
Next the family retainers: Helen de Braga, head of finance – she has aged since Ariel last came to Boa Vista – and old, upright Heitor Pereira, head of security. Last of all, Lucas arrives. He kisses his sister warmly. She is the only sibling Lucas considers his equal. A whisper: he wants private words. Ariel’s gloved hand effortlessly snares a Blue Moon from a passing tray.
‘And how is Meridian this season?’ Lucas says. ‘I just can’t get the time to make it up there.’
Ariel knows that her brother thinks her disloyal for choosing the law over Corta Hélio.
‘Apparently I’m famous. Briefly.’
‘I heard something like that. Gossip and rumours.’
‘More rumours than oxygen, more gossip than water.’
‘I’ve also heard that a delegation from the China Power Investment Corporation is coming in on the Saints Peter and Paul. The rumour is a five-year output deal with Mackenzie Metals.’
‘I’ve heard similar myself.’
‘I also heard that the Eagle of the Moon is throwing a welcome jamboree for them.’
‘He is. And, yes, I am invited.’ Ariel knows her brother’s information network is powerful enough to have found about her counsel chamber chat with Judge Nagai.
‘You always had a skill for social politics. I envy that.’
‘Whatever it is Lucas, no.’
Lucas throws up his hands in mea culpa.
‘I merely repeated a few rumours.’
Ariel laughs like silver but Lucas is tenacious, Lucas is steel, Lucas has her trapped. Then, in a gust of peppery moon dust, a saviour arrives.
Maybe more meat. Maybe juice to drink. Lucas has cornered Tia Ariel. Uncle Lucas is boring when he talks with his face so close to another person. Then her eyes, her mouth go wide. She gives a squeak of excitement.
A figure in a sasuit strides down the ravine. His helmet is under his right arm, his left hand carries his LS pack. His feet are booted and the skin-hugging sasuit is a bright patchwork of logos and hi-visibility strips, navigation lights and race badges. His familiar rezzes, pixel by pixel, as he enters Boa Vista’s network. He sheds dust; a slow-settling trail of silvery black.
Carlinhos Corta sees his niece rush to hug him and steps back but she bangs into him, grabs his legs, sends up a huge cloud of dust that settles on her beautiful peony dress like soot.
Two steps behind Luna comes Rafa. He trades play-punches, knuckle-touches with his kid brother.
‘You came cross-surface?’
Carlinhos holds out his helmet in evidence. In his patchwork sasuit and bearing the spicy, gunpowder smell of moon dust, he’s a pirate at a cocktail party. He dumps his LS pack and snatches a Blue Moon, downs it in one.
‘Tell you something, after two hours on a bike, drinking your own piss . . .’
Rafa shakes his head in appreciation of lunacy.
‘It’s going to kill you, that dumb biking. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day the sun’s going to flare and you’ll be out on the surface on a dust-bike five hours from anywhere. And it will fry. Your. Carioca. Ass.’ Each emphasis driven home with a prod to the shoulder.
‘And when was the last time you were up on the surface?’ Carlinhos play-punches his brother in the stomach. ‘What’s that I feel? Belly. You’re out of condition, irmão. You need to get surface-fit. You’ve been to too many meetings. We’re helium miners, not accountants.’
Oldest and youngest Corta boys adore sport. Carlinhos’s passion is dust-biking. He’s a pioneer of the extreme sport. He developed the bikes, the customised suits. He’s cut trails all over the Imbrium Apennines and established the cross-Serenitatis endurance race. Rafa’s sport is safer and more enclosed. He owns an LHL handball team. They’re standing high in the Premier League. Rafa shares the mania with his brother-in-law Jaden Wen Sun, owner of the Tigers of the Sun. They compete with humour and ferocity.
‘You staying around after the party?’ Rafa asks,
‘I’ve awarded myself a furlough.’ Carlinhos has been out for three lunes on Tranquilitatis, winning helium.
‘Come to the game. You should see what we’re doing.’
‘Losing, is what I heard,’ Carlinhos says. ‘Where’s moon-run boy? I heard about the Asamoah kid. That was good work. If he ever wants a job on the outside, I could use him.’
‘That’s not in Lucas’s life-plan.’
Two steps behind Carlinhos is a second young man in a sasuit, dark as Carlinhos is fair, with beautiful cheekbones and narrow, hunter eyes.
‘Wagner, irmão,’ Rafa says. A second volley of knuckle-touching. Wagner, youngest brother, smiles coyly.
Luna clings to her Uncle Carlinhos’s leg, smudged and smutted with moon dust.
‘Let me see you!’ Ariel declares, arriving with her entourage. ‘Beautiful boys!’ She bends to kiss but does not touch. No smuts on this dress.
Lucas has arrived, tactically late. He greets Carlinhos politely but routinely. He gives his attention to Wagner. ‘I love parties. All those distant relatives we never see.’
‘Wagner’s here as my guest,’ Carlinhos says.
‘Of course,’ Lucas says. ‘My house is your house.’
Naked hatred arcs between Wagner and Lucas, then Carlinhos takes Wagner by the elbow and whirls him away into the party.
‘Luna, run on with Madrinha Elis,’ Rafa says.
‘We’ll get some of that dirt off you,’ Madrinha Elis says. She is a strong-faced, strong-built Paulistana, a head shorter than the moon-born generations. Earth bodies make strong hosts. The Cortas let none but Brazilians bear their children. She takes sooty little Luna by the hand and leads her away from grown-up talk to look at the musicians.
‘Lucas, not here,’ Rafa says softly.
‘He’s not a Corta,’ Lucas says simply.
A hand touches the back of Lucas’s hand. Amanda Sun is at his side.
‘Even for you, that was rude,’ she chides. Amanda Sun is third-generation; moon-tall, taller than her husband. Her familiar is zhen: ‘Shake’, in deep red. The Suns traditionally skin their familiars in hexagrams from the Book of Changes.
‘Why? It’s the truth,’ Lucas says. Society was surprised when Amanda Sun moved from the Palace of Eternal Light to still-raw Boa Vista. The nikah hadn’t specified it. The marriage was powerfully dynastic. Checks, balances, annulment clauses were in place. Yet Amanda Sun came to Boa Vista and has lived there for seventeen years. She seems as much a part of it as the peaceful orixas, or the running waters. Society – some parts of that still care – think she is playing the long game. The Suns were among the first settlers; with the Mackenzies, they consider themselves old stock, true lunar aristocracy. For over half a century they have battled the hegemony of the Peoples’ Republic, which would use the House of Sun as their bridgehead to dominate the moon. All agree that the Suns never marry without consideration.
For the past five years, Lucas Corta has lived in his apartment in João de Deus.
The music – soft bossa-jazz – stops. Glasses halt on their journeys to lips. Conversations die; words evaporate; kisses fail. Everyone is transfixed by the small woman who has stepped out from a door between the enormous, serene faces of the orixas.
Adriana Corta has arrived.
‘Won’t they be looking for you?’
Lucasinho has taken Abena Maanu Asamoah by the hand and led her far from inhabited ways, along corridors lit by gleams of light from other rooms – construction bots need light – through new-cut chambers and rooms that still hum with the vibration of digging machines.
‘They’ll be kissing hands and making speeches for ages. We’ve plenty of time.’ Lucasinho pulls Abena to him. Heat-lamps lift the permanent minus-twenty sub-surface cold but the air is chilly enough for breath to hang in clouds and Abena to shiver in her party frock.
The moon has a cold heart. ‘So what is this special thing you want to give me?’ Lucasinho moves a hand down Abena’s flank to rest on her hip. She pushes him away with a laugh.
‘Kojo is right, you are a bad boy.’
‘Bad is good. No, really. But come on – we’re moon-runners.’ His other hand strokes Abena’s Lady Luna, moves like a spider up to the bare upper slope of her breast. ‘We’re alive. More alive than anyone on this rock, right now.’
‘I saved your brother. I could have died. I nearly did die. I was in a hyperbaric chamber. They put me in a coma. I went back and I saved Kojo. I didn’t have to do it. We all know the risks.’
‘Lucasinho, if you go on like this you will kill it.’
He lifts his hands: surrender.
‘So what is this thing?’
Abena opens her right hand. Silver there; a glinting tooth of metal. Then she snaps her hand to Lucasinho’s left ear. He cries out, claps a hand to unexpected pain. There is blood on his fingers.
‘What did you do? Jinji, what did she do?’
We are outside Boa Vista camera coverage, Jinji says. I can’t see.
‘I gave you something to remember Kojo by.’ It may be the red glow of the heat-lamps, but Lucasinho sees a light in Abena’s eyes he’s never known before. He doesn’t know who she is. ‘Do you know what they say about you? That you put a pierce in for every heart-break. Well, with me it’s different. That pierce I put in your ear is a heart-make. It’s a promise. When you need the help of the Asamoahs – really need it; when you have no other hope, when you’re alone and naked and exposed, like my brother; send the pierce. I will remember.’
‘That hurt!’ Lucasinho whines.
‘Then you’ll remember it,’ Abena says. There is a smear of Lucasinho’s blood on her forefinger. Very slowly, very gracefully, she licks it off.
Adriana Corta is slight and elegant as a bird among her tall children and taller grandchildren. Age lies lightly under lunar gravity; her skin is smooth and unlined, her body is unstooped by her seventy-nine years. She bears herself with the poise of a debutante. She is still head of Corta Hélio, though she has not been seen outside Boa Vista for months now. She is as rare a sight to many of Boa Vista’s residents. But she can still muster a show for family. Adriana greets her children. Three kisses for Rafael and Ariel. Two for Lucas and Carlinhos, one for Wagner. Luna breaks free from Madrinha Elis and runs to her Vovo Adriana. Gasps about the smudges on Adriana’s Ceil Chapman dress. Adriana doesn’t wear a Lady Luna pin. In her wild-catting years she drank more vacuum than all the moon-runners in Boa Vista.
Lucas falls in behind his mother’s shoulder as she works the line of grandchildren, madrinhas and okos and guests. She has a word for everyone. Special minutes are spent with Amanda Sun and Lousika Asamoah, Rafa’s keji-oko.
‘Now, where is Lucasinho?’ Adriana Corta says. ‘We must have the hero.’
Lucas realises that his son is absent. He bites back rage.
‘I’ll find him, Mama.’ Toquinho tries to call but the boy is off-network. Adriana Corta tsahs in disapproval. Protocol will not be proper until she has congratulated the party-boy. Lucas goes down to the band; a small ensemble of guitar, piano, double bass, soft-shuffling drums. ‘Do you know Aguas de Marco?’
‘Of course.’ It’s a standard, a classic.
‘Play it sweet. It’s my mama’s favourite.’
Guitarist and pianist nod to each other, count in the subtle offbeat. Waters of March: an old and lovely song that Adriana Corta sang to her children when their madrinhas brought them and set them on her knee, sang over them in their cots. It’s an impressionistic autumn song about the rain and sticks and tiny living things, about the universal in the hand-sized, at once joyful yet spiked through with saudade. Male and female voices exchange lines; snapping up each other’s cues; vivacious and playful. Lucas listens closely, passionately. His breath is shallow, his body tense. Tears haunt the folds of his eyes. Music has always moved him powerfully, especially the old music of Brazil. Bossa-nova, MBP. Elevator music; MOR bland-out. Smooooth ball-less jazz. The ones who say that don’t have ears; don’t listen. They don’t hear the saudade; the sweet sorrow of the fleetingness of things that makes all joys sharper. They don’t hear the hushed despair, the sense that beyond the beauty and the languor, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Lucas glances at his mother. She nods to the sidewinding rhythm, eyes closed. He has distracted her from prodigal Lucasinho. Lucas will deal with him later.
The song’s highlight is the two voices playing capoeira over single words, cutting in on each other; tumbling and dodging. The man on guitar, the woman on piano are very good. Lucas had never heard of this combo before but he is delighted to have heard them. The song ends. Lucas chews back emotion. He applauds loud and clear;.
‘Bravo!’ he cries. Adriana joins him; then Rafa, Ariel. Carlinhos, Wagner. The applause ripples out across the party. ‘Bravo!’ Drinks come round again, the moment of embarrassment forgotten, the party rolls on. Lucas steps in for a word with the pianist. ‘Thank you. You have bossa, sir. My mamãe loved it. I’d like it if you were to come and perform for me, in my own apartment in João de Deus.’
‘We’d be honoured, Mr Corta.’
‘Not we. Just you. Soon. What’s your name?’
‘Jorge. Jorge Nardes.’
Familiars exchange contact details. And then the waiter, the norte Jo Moonbeam with the cocktail tray, makes a sudden lunge at Rafael Corta.
She likes the rough texture of the scab on Lucasinho’s ear. She enjoys tugging at it, undoing the healing, letting a little fresh blood seep. It gets Abena wet inside her Helena Barber ballgown. Now they’re back in Boa Vista’s network, Jinji has shown Lucasinho her gift; a chrome fang curving through the top arc of his right ear. Looks good. Looks hot. But she won’t let him even slip an arm around her waist.
Before they reach the window they both know something is wrong. No music, no chatter, no splashing of bodies in the waterfall pool. Shouting voices, orders snapped in Portuguese and Globo. The pupil of Xangô’s stone eye overlooks the length of the Boa Vista’s gardens. Lucasinho sees Corta security escoltas guarding groups of guests. The band and the wait staff have their hands on their heads. Security drones scan the sculpted walls; their lasers rest a moment on Lucasinho and Abena.
‘What’s going on?’ Lucasinho asks. Jinji answers in the same instant as Abena’s face turns to shock.
There has been an attempt on the life on Rafael Corta.
The edge of the knife lies against Marina Calzaghe’s throat. If she moves, if she speaks, if she takes too deep a breath, it will part her flesh. The blade is so insanely sharp it is almost anaesthetic: she would not feel the slitting of her windpipe. But she must move, she must speak if she is to live.
Her fingers tap the stem of the cocktail glass clamped upside down on the tray.
‘The fly,’ she hisses.
Flies didn’t move like that. Marina Calzaghe knows flies. She worked as a flycatcher. On the moon, insects – pollinators, decorative butterflies like the ones the Asamoah kids sent wafting through Boa Vista, are licensed. Flies, wasps, wild bugs threaten the complex systems of lunar cities and are exterminated. Marina Calzaghe has killed a million flies and knows they don’t fly like that, in a straight attack line for the exposed soft skin in the corner of Rafael Corta’s jaw line. She lunged with the glass, caught the fly millimetres from its target and clapped the empty martini glass to the tray. A cocktail prison. And in the same instant, a knife whispered out of a concealed magnetic sheath to her throat. At the end of the knife, a Corta escolta in a tailored suit with a perfectly folded square in his breast pocket. He still looks like a thug. He still looks like death.
Heitor Pereira squats stiffly to examine the thing in the glass. For a first-generation, he is a big man, square built. A big ex-navy man peering into an upturned cocktail glass would be comedy but for the knives.
‘An assassin bug,’ Heitor Pereira says. ‘AKA.’
In an instant blades ring Lousika Asamoah. Their tips are millimetres from her skin. Luna wails and sobs, clinging to her mother. Rafael hurls himself at the security men. Men in suits pile on him, pinion him.
‘For your own safety, senhor,’ Heitor Pereira says. ‘She may be harbouring biological agents.’
‘It’s a drone,’ Marina Calzaghe whispers. ‘It’s chipped.’
Heitor Pereira looks closer. The fly batters itself against the glass but in its moments of stillness a pattern of gold tracery is clearly visible on its wings and carapace.
‘Let her go.’ Adriana Corta’s voice is quiet but the tone of command makes every security man and woman flinch. Heitor Pereira nods. The knives are sheathed. Lousika scoops up the howling Luna.
‘And her,’ Adriana Corta orders. Marina gasps as the knife is removed from her throat and realises she has not inhaled since security grabbed her. The shaking starts.
Lucas is shouting, ‘Lucasinho? Where is Lucasinho?’
‘I’ll take that now.’ Heitor Pereira places his hand on top of the glass. He takes a pulse-gun from a small holster. The device is the size of his thumb, a silly, camp weapon in his huge hand. ‘Shut down your familiars.’ Up and down Boa Vista familiars wink out of existence.
Marina blinks off her own Hetty. That camp little gun possesses enough power to take down the whole of Boa Vista’s network. There is nothing to see or hear, but the little wired fly goes from moving to still and dead.
Lucas Corta leans close to his Head of Security and whispers to him.
‘They tried to kill my brother. They got into Boa Vista; into our home, and they tried to kill my brother.’
‘The situation is under control, Senhor Corta.’
‘The situation is that an assassin came within the thickness of a cocktail glass of killing Rafa. In front of guests from every one of the Five Dragons. In front of our mother. That doesn’t strike me as a situation under control, does it?’
‘We’ll analyse the weapon. We’ll find out who’s behind it.’
‘‘Well that’s not enough. There could be another attack any moment. I want this place secured. This party is over.’
‘Senhors, senhoras, there has been a security incident,’ Heitor Pereira announces. ‘We must secure Boa Vista. I have to ask you to leave. If you could make your way to the tram station. It’s now safe to relog your familiars.’
‘Find my son!’ Lucas orders Heitor Pereira. Lucasinho’s friends mill, lost and overshadowed. Their moon-run, Lucasinho’s saving of Kojo Asamoah, are eclipsed. Boa Vista security shepherd guests out of the gardens towards the station. A guard escorts Corta grandees indoors. Lucas Corta considers Marina Calzaghe with ice and iron. She is shivering with shock.
‘What’s your name?’
‘You work for the caterers?’
‘I work at what I can get. I am – I was – a Process Control Engineer.’
‘You work for Corta Hélio now.’
Lucas offers a hand. Marina takes it.
‘Talk to my brother Carlinhos. The Cortas owe you.’
And gone. Still numb with shock, Marina tries to work out what happened. The Cortas try to slit her throat, now she works for them. But: the Cortas. Blake, it will be all right. I can get you meds. We’ll never be thirsty again. We can breathe easy.
Copyright © 2015 by Ian McDonaldPre-order Luna: New Moon today: | | | | | |