Authors: Ian McDonald
For terms relating to lunar marriage customs and corporate titles, see the glossary on page 393.
founder and choego of Corta Hélio
Carlos de Madeiras Castro:
oko of Adriana (d)
Rafael (Rafa) Corta:
oldest son of Adriana. Hwaejang of Corta Hélio
oko of Rafa Corta
keji-oko of Rafa Corta
son of Rafa Corta and Rachel Mackenzie
daughter of Rafa Corta and Lousika Asamoah
second son of Adriana. Jonmu of Corta Hélio
oko of Lucas Corta
son of Lucas Corta and Amanda Sun
daughter of Adriana Corta. Prominent lawyer at the Court of Clavius
third son of Adriana Corta. Surface work manager and zashitnik for Corta Hélio
Wagner ‘Lobinho’ Corta:
fourth (disowned) son of Adriana Corta. Analyst and moon wolf
Corta Hélio surface worker, later assistant to Ariel Corta
Helen De Braga:
Head of Finance Corta Hélio
Head of Security Corta Hélio
Dr. Carolina Macaraeg:
personal physician to Adriana Corta
Steward of Boa Vista
host mother to Rafa Corta
host mother to Lucas Corta
host mother to Ariel Corta
host mother to Carlinhos, Wagner and Lucasinho Corta
host mother to Robson and Luna Corta
founder Mackenzie Metals; retired CEO
oko of Robert Mackenzie (d)
oldest son of Robert and Alyssa Mackenzie, CEO of Mackenzie Metals
oko of Duncan Mackenzie
youngest daughter of Duncan and Anastasia, oko of Rafa Corta and mother of Robson Corta
keji-oko of Duncan Mackenzie
oldest son of Duncan and Apollonaire; oko to Jonathon Kayode, Eagle of the Moon
youngest son of Duncan and Apollonaire: head of Mackenzie Fusible, the helium-3 subdivision of Mackenzie Metals
younger son of Robert Mackenzie, Head of Finance for Mackenzie Metals, father of numerous ‘adoptees’
Hoang Lam Hung:
adoptee of Bryce Mackenzie and briefly oko to Robson Corta
second oko of Robert Mackenzie
son of Jade Sun and Robert Mackenzie; zashitnik to Mackenzie Metals. Half-brother of Duncan and Bryce
dark-amor of Wagner Corta in his dark aspect
Head of security at Mackenzie Metals; replaced by Hadley Mackenzie
oko to Rafa Corta, later member of the Kotoko Abena Asamoah: Moonrunner
Colloquium colleague of Lucasinho Corta and Moonrunner
Ya Afuom Asamoah:
party-goer at Twé
Adofo Mensa Asamoah:
Omahene of the Golden Stool, head of the Kotoko
oko to Duncan Mackenzie
oko to Lucas Corta
Jaden Wen Sun:
owner of Tigers of the Sun handball team
Jake Tenglong Sun:
CEO of the short-lived
Fu Xi, Shennong, the Yellow Emperor:
the Three August Ones: high level AIs developed by Taiyang
founder of VTO, has spent the last fifty years in free fall aboard the cycler
Sts. Peter and Paul
Nicolai ‘Nick’ Vorontsov:
commander of the VTO moonship fleet
(briefly) amor and shelterer of Lucasinho Corta
LUNAR DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Eagle of the Moon: President of the Lunar Development Corporation
Senior Judge on the Court of Clavius and Ariel Corta’s law teacher
Senior Judge of the Court of Clavius and member of the Pavilion of the White Hare
economist and mathematician, White Hare and Lunarian Society member, independence campaigner. Developed the Three August Ones with Taiyang for the Whitacre Goddard corporation
SISTERHOOD OF THE LORDS OF NOW
Confessor to Adriana Corta
joined the Sisterhood after her exile from Boa Vista
Mãe-de-Santo Odunlade Abosede Adekola:
Matron of the Sisters of the Lords of Now
MERIDIAN/QUEEN OF THE SOUTH
bossanova musician and amor of Lucas Corta
researcher at the University of Farside
Mariano Gabriel Demaria:
director of the School of Seven Bells, an assassin’s college
trade delegate from the China Power Investment Corporation
freelance nanoware designer for Smallest Birds
leader of the Meridian Blue Wolves pack
Sasha Volchonok Ermin:
leader of the Magdalena pack from Queen of the South
light-time pack amor of Wagner Corta
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 transparent 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.
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.
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.
. 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-carbon-network, 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.