Authors: Debbie Moon
Tags: #epub, #ebook, #QuarkXPress
HONNO MODERN FICTION
was longlisted for
Wales Book of the Year
Debbie Moon's TV series
won the RTS (Royal Television Society) award for best children's programme, and is nominated for 3 Children's BAFTAs in 2014.
Debbie Moon is personally nominated for a 2014 Children's BAFTA for best writer.
She was falling.
Looking down from here, it must be
eighty or ninety storeys to the ground. There was something wrong with her left arm, a weakness, a pain, perhaps broken, but she didn't remember â
Jude didn't remember.
For someone in her profession, that was unusual. She made a habit of not forgetting. Oh, she could remember her name, address, all the flotsam that would have gone in standard amnesia. But not how she'd got here.
You'd have thought that falling to your death was pretty memorable.
Her ears popped. She was cold; deep, biting cold, numbing her thoughts, sandpapering her bare arms. There was light, light from the windows, light from the sky, but no shapes. Just blurs that spilled from her vision before she could force them into recognisable shapes.
Her limbs swam against the air rush, thrashing for traction, and she couldn't stop them. She didn't have time to try.
She needed to concentrate.
She'd ReTraced her way out of bad situations before: from in front of the barrel of a gun; back ten minutes to unsay the words that had led her there, or to take a different short-cut, a later train; remake a fatal decision with the benefit of hindsight. Tracing the different permutations of her tangled life to find the best course of action, like some kid on an arcade game, using her limitless lives to test out each option, each risk, until she understood the pattern.
She was a ReTracer. That was what she did.
Why should this be any different?
Opening herself to the tangled skeins of time, Jude ReTraced.
Club Andro, Midnight
And the party was in full swing.
Jude liked Club Andro, though jumping straight in like this was a shock â straight into synthetic perfumes and sweat and the heartbeat thump of defiantly retro acoustic reggae-rock. The cold metal curve of the bar dug into her back; jostling her from the side, the generous rear end of a girl in leather, bent over a table to offer something illegal to a group of startled tourists who'd obviously misread the guidebook.
The video headlines â NEW SEX SCANDAL ROCKS EURO-PARLIAMENT â didn't offer any clues as to which garbled, dissolute night of the early 21st century she'd ReTraced her way back to. Neither did the homogenised fashion sense of the clientele; leather or fluorescent denim for the women, garish synthetics and heavy rouge on the men. Could have been any night in the past ten years.
Well. No rush. She could spend as much time as she liked in her past, and she'd return to her present-time body at the instant she'd left it. In the present, time was standing still. And she was hot and thirsty and restless â that defocused hyperactivity that drives you out onto the streets after dark, just to breathe in the night and consider the city spread out before you, yours for the taking.
And somewhere here, she'd find the key to her present-time dilemma, and change it, and everything would be fine.
Extricating herself from the leather-clad girl, Jude edged along the bar a little and took a look around.
It was tourist night. Big parties in from the army bases or the Hursts, to paddle in the shallows of big city decadence. They stood out a mile. Tourists wore Marilyns or Deans and thought they were fashionable. Tourists had popular catalogue partials â River Phoenix cheekbones or Van Damme pecs perched uneasily on their womb-bred bodies. She imagined them picking sections from the displays in the biotech clinics; one of these and one of those, and I must have what Eloise had, all the girls are talking about itâ¦
Tourists looked like Drossers. No style, no brain, no-hopers.
Fumbling with the Tequila pump, Fitch, the gamine Korean barmaid, looked Jude over and grimaced. No way to tell what she was mouthing, not over the final chorus of
My Baby Bought A New Face (And Left Me Feeling Blue)
, but Jude could guess.
Something along the lines of, âHow did you get in here dressed like that?'
No, she wasn't really androj enough for Club Andro, not even in her treasured reproduction velvet frockcoat. You dressed big for Club Andro; big, loud, and in direct opposition to whatever gender you were wearing that week. Or you broke the rules and hoped to be admitted as that night's fashion casualty, there for the beautiful people to smirk at.
Fitch shook her head, as disgusted by the doorman's negligence as Jude's lack of taste. In the warm yellow light behind the bar, she looked almost childlike, fragile and innocent. Jude blew her a kiss and for a moment, she almost looked like she was blushing.
They were friends, then. A lot more than friends, of course; but looking back, friends was the important part. That set a minimum on how far she'd slipped back. Maybe if she could drag Fitch away from the bar for a moment, she could wheedle some solid information out of her.
The leather-clad girl had finished frightening the tourists, who were casting longing looks towards the door. As Jude eased past, she spread a double handful of coloured injectors before her, smiling crookedly. âWanna trip? Safest on the planet.'
Turning away from a sudden flare of strobe light, Jude shook her head. âNo thanks,' she yelled above the thrash-metal intro for the night's first act: bioengineered hermaphrodites, performing something that might loosely be considered dancing. âI'm not wired for it.'
The girl studied her face for a moment, puzzled. âWired' was a throwback to an older and altogether cruder technology, but it was the standard term. More likely, the mere idea of someone frequenting Club Andro in their own unaltered birth body had shocked her into paralysis.
And led her to one inescapable conclusion.
âYou're a cop.'
Jude shook her head. Heads were already turning. âI'm a ReTracer,' she yelled, hoarse with dry ice and annoyance. âA ReTracer. Don't you read the newspapers?'
Someone screamed an inaudible introduction over the thrash and the static, and the leather-girl, finally understanding, wrinkled her nose in contempt and turned away. Government employees with bizarre time-travelling powers obviously didn't rate highly in her world order, but at least they were better than cops.
The crowd to her left parted and Jude seized her chance. With the slick expertise of the experienced clubber, she elbowed her way through an argument, around an amorous clinch, and out into what passed for a clear space.
âWoah, Judey-baby,' the female at the nearest table simpered, fluttering eyelashes that masked puppy-dog eyes green as grass. âLong time, no see, huh?'
Jude studied the clubber's long, fine-boned face in the treacherous light. There were familiar things: the last traces of a heavier jaw line, the habitual slight sag at the corners of a new, perfect mouth. All the little clues you learned to look for, when a trip to the clinic was as routine as a new pair of shoes and even your dearest friends couldn't be counted upon to look the same way twice.
âThe very same,' the soft female mouth replied. The voice was perfect â pleasant register, trace of a Scandinavian accent, very fashionable. But underneath, a quick ear could still pick out the mannered politeness of garbled Japanese ancestry. âHow do you like my latest?'
Miyahara had always been overly fond of stereotypes and his latest incarnation was pure Fantasy Swedish Blond; golden curls to her waist, legs to her armpits, breasts that could have suckled an entire orphanage. It reminded her of the first bioteched porn stars; of furtive magazine reading under the bedclothes, as much amused as aroused.
Always the same. Give them the chance to be anything, and they all want to look the same. It's like the world being packed with dirt-cheap designer clothing and all anyone wants to wear are plastic sandals and pastel-blue jogging outfits.
She still hadn't answered his question. âIt's â extraordinary.'
âYou're most kind. Won't you join me?'
She didn't remember having met Miyahara in this modification before â and it was pretty memorable. They could have missed each other a dozen times, any night of the week, in the swirling currents of humanity that filled Club Andro. But tonight, they hadn't.
That felt significant, and significance was exactly what she was looking for.
Jude eased herself into the chair opposite â bolted down and a tight fit, a reminder to the clientele that only the thin and the beautiful were welcome here â and signalled a passing waiterette. âScotch and soda,' she yelled and, to Miyahara, âYou look taller.'
âEleven centimetres,' Miyahara beamed, perfect teeth fluorescing in the insistent pulse of UV. âIt cost. And it hurt.'
The waiterette, bioteched to the five-foot South American tribal model that had become the club's trademark, sniffed dismissively and flounced off through the crowd, using her elbows to clear a path while balancing a tray in each hand.
âCute.' Miyahara watched her virtually naked buttocks vanish into the heaving ranks of leather and silk. âI've heard that the waiterettes are equipped both ways, you know.'
âYeah?' Jude murmured, distracted by a scuffle at the door. Metal claws flashed in a pulse of green light; someone screamed and the security staff waded in, the crowd closing nonchalantly around them as they quietened the brawlers with heavily reinforced fists.
âBut then, who isn't these days?' Miyahara yawned, hiding his mouth with the back of one long-nailed hand. âYou should really get with the action. Oh. Of course. You can't.'
Jude's turn to yawn. They had this conversation every time they met. Miyahara had even given up allowing her time to rise to the bait before ploughing on. âReTracers don't get to change. Just in case they damage that wonderful genetic accident that â'
âButton it, Miyahara. Some of us don't actually want to look like a reject from the Keep It Up All Night Channel.'
Miyahara spared her a smile that could have cut glass. âBio-engineering's not all it's cracked up to be, you know. Keeping up with the neighbours. The pressure. And frankly, I'm growing a little jaded. There are only so many permutations, even in the black market clinics. Though animal-human hybrids are looking quite promisingâ¦'
Images from old movies swam behind Jude's eyelids; impractically dressed women fainting as slavering creatures pawed at the windows.
âYou want to be careful who you let loose on your genes, Miyahara. Some of the stories I've heardâ¦'
âHeard them,' the female declared, with a dismissive wave of one hand. Ill-cut diamonds glittered across his knuckles. âAnd you shouldn't believe everything you read. Trust me, I should know. I invent most of it.'
The waiterette returned with the scotch, and Jude tucked a banknote into her synthetic snakeskin loincloth. The girl flashed a false smile, moaning and wriggling in affected arousal, the house style, then leant close to murmur, âFitch wants to see you. Room Eight, half an hour.'