Authors: Graham Storrs
Tags: #fbi, #cia, #robot, #space, #london, #space station, #la, #moon, #mi6, #berlin, #transhuman, #mi5, #lunar colony, #credulity, #gene nexus, #space bridge
Book design by
Graham Storrs. Cover design by Kate Strawbridge,
Dwell Design & Press
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This is a work
of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents
are either the product of the author's imagination or are used
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this book to my wife, Christine.
Rik Sylver 3
Drew clenched his teeth and swore to himself that if that child
screamed one more time, he would draw his stunner and shoot it –
and its parents, and everyone else in the gondola. His week had
been a disaster, his life was down the toilet, and the last thing
he needed just now was a wailing brat whose voice was drilling
through his skull and turning his brains to soup.
Come on, Rik. It'll be a
That had been
the thick Scottish accent of Greet-Greet McGregor in a bar in
Heinlein. The slimy little Radionuclidian had played every
wheedling card in his deck to get Rik to take the job, but in the
end, it was the big, fat fee that had cinched it. Rik was in the
kind of circumstances that only large slabs of credit could get him
out of. So, despite everything; despite the Turgu hunting him down;
despite his double divorce being finalised; despite the pain in his
head from that damned cheap cogplus upgrade he'd had done last
week; despite trusting Greet-Greet as far as he could kick him, he
took the job.
And that's how
he found himself on the old Florida Space Bridge, travelling
economy class, grinding slowly down to Earth and feeling
just wants you to pick up a wee package and deliver it to his
business associate.” Greet-Greet again, running in Rik's memory
like a dripping tap. “How hard can that be, big guy?”
if the size of the fee was anything to go by. But Rik was in no
position to argue. He hadn't had a client in weeks and, apart from
all his other troubles, the renewal of his PLEO license was due.
The Radionuclidian was a two-faced slime-ball, but he was the only
source of business Rik had left.
Business or no
business, if this job turned out to be dangerous, there wouldn't be
a crater on the Moon deep enough for Greet-Greet to hide in. He'd
hunt down the little rat and–
A woman's hand
touched his shoulder. He jumped and reached for his gun before he
saw that it was only one of the flight attendants. The seat beside
his was empty and the hostess was leaning in from the aisle,
“Are you all
right?” she asked.
What the hell
was this? “Of course I'm all right. Why shouldn't I be?”
took the full brunt his angry glare and swallowed hard. Rik was a
big man, and he looked like he'd as soon pull your head off as pass
the time of day with you. With a two-day stubble and his clothes
crumpled from three days of non-stop travel, he was enough to make
anyone think twice about approaching him. The young woman gathered
her resolve and went on.
“You were sort
of growling and muttering, sir. It was making the other passengers
looked around at the people nearby, all of whom quickly turned
“I'm having a
bad day,” he said loudly so they'd all hear him. “I'm having a bad
week. Hell, I've been having a really shitty five years, if you
want to know.”
their faces buried in whatever they could pick up and pretend to be
reading. Rik turned back to the flight attendant. “How long till we
land?” The view from the gondola windows was still black, airless
more hours, sir.”
back with a sigh and regarded the woman. He felt a wave of sympathy
for her, riding up and down in that stupid machine day after day,
having to deal with bored, tired, angry jerks like him.
what,” he said. “I'll try not to growl so loud. All right?” He
flashed one of his sudden, self-deprecating grins and the attendant
was surprised into smiling back.
New York was a
mess. A three metre rise in sea level and a big increase in wild
storms had led to what the newsfeeds had taken to calling
“Venicification.” Salt water, not tarmac, ran between the
high-rises in many parts of the city, and it had made islands of
several suburbs. Unfortunately, unlike ancient Venice, much of New
York’s infrastructure had been underground when the big floods
came. Now the subways were mostly used by cavers with aqualungs,
and most of the flooded suburbs had decayed into slums.
from the ever-advancing ocean, New York had retreated into the West
and North, leaving the precarious, storm-tossed wrecks of
Manhattan, Staten Island and Jersey City behind it. John F. Kennedy
Airport was a distant memory, a couple of conning towers and
derelict buildings poking up out of Jamaica Bay. Rik's flight
landed at Barak Obama Airport in Fairport, way out in the west.
He rented a
car and drove himself down to Newark. There, where the old Route 78
plunged into the waters of Newark Bay, Rik pulled into the drive of
a white, clapboard house that almost overlooked the sunken remains
of Newark Liberty International Airport.
He got out of
the car and leaned against it, enjoying the feeling of sunshine on
his face. He hadn't known he'd missed it until he felt it again.
Rik always dressed for summer, even in Heinlein, the underground,
lunar rabbit warren he called home. For once, his bright shirt and
white pants didn't look at all out of place. A sea breeze came off
the bay and he took a big noseful of it. It ruffled his light-brown
hair. Closing his eyes, he let the strain of his long, long journey
“What the hell
do you think you're doing?”
He cracked one
eye and saw Maria, his first wife, stomping down her porch steps
and then down the drive towards him. Despite the angry scowl on her
face, he opened the other eye and took a good, long look.
was a woman worth looking at. Tall and slender, she had the
long-limbed grace of a young colt combined with the sensual curves
of a catwalk model. She might not be pretty, the way some women
were – her face was a little too long, maybe, and her mouth a
fraction too big – but Rik knew from the ache in his heart that she
was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, or would ever see,
if he lived to be a thousand.
Nice to see you, too.”
She stopped in
front of him and glowered into his face, fists clenched. “You can't
just come around here any time you feel like it, Rik. I've got a
life. You remember what that is? Having a life?”
accent was beautiful, a kind of polished English that even ten
years of living in the States hadn't managed to touch. Rik could
almost wish she'd keep shouting at him, just so he could hear her
speak. But she didn't. She just kept looking at him, lips pursed
and eyes narrowed, waiting for him to explain himself.
He took a deep
breath and let it out. “I was in the neighbourhood.” Well, he was
on Earth, anyway. That was close enough. “I thought I'd come by and
see how you are. We can still say hello, can't we?” But, even as he
said it, he knew it wasn't true. The old pain hit him again and he
turned away, pretending to examine the street.
But Maria saw
it. She always saw right into him, as if his face was a viewscreen
showing pictures of his heart. Her manner changed in an instant.
She spoke his name in a tone so full of sympathy and regret that he
almost got right back in the car and drove away.
It had been a
stupid idea, coming to see Maria. What had he expected? That she'd
throw herself into his arms and forgive him? Again. And what if she
did? How many times would he let himself break her heart? How many
times could he do that before the pain of hurting her tore him to
pieces once more? Hadn't they already passed that point?
himself look her in the eyes, blue eyes beneath a mop of blonde
hair. “I'm sorry,” he said. She was so close, he could reach out
and hold her, pull her to him. “This was a mistake. I should be
going.” Despite his words, his face begged her to ask him to
he knew Maria could see just how much he wanted her to relent, she
gave a tight-lipped nod and said, “Yes. You should go.”
Then a man's
voice called from the porch. “Mare, honey, is everything OK?”
Rik winced and
slowly turned his head to find a tall, muscular man coming down the
drive towards them.
“This the life
you were talking about?” Rik asked. His voice was soft but full of
her eyes again. “Rik, this is David Miller, my boyfriend. David,
this is Rik something something something, I forget now. One of
those funny lunar names.”
at Maria's side, grinning, and slipped a possessive arm around her
waist. “Oh, right, you must be the ex. You got into some kind of
offworld group marriage thing, right? Man, you spacers are like
from another world or something! How's that working out, huh?”
away from the big, grinning boyfriend to give Maria a look that
said, “Are you really going out with this jerk?” As far as he could
tell, David wasn't being deliberately snide or provocative. He was
just a big, dumb ox.
a divorce,” Rik said, to Maria.
didn't know what to say, but David did.
thought you'd come around here and see how Maria was fixed? Thought
you might pick up where you left off, huh?”
was near enough to the truth that Rik felt a rush of embarrassment.
And that made him mad. “Look, pal, this has got nothing to do with
you, so why don't you just get back in your box?”
David took his
arm from around Maria and stepped up to Rik. Rik was big, but David
was bigger. Not only did he have a few more centimetres of height,
he also had several more kilos of muscle. Rik didn't feel the least
bit bothered by it. His experienced eye could see that David got
all his muscle from working out in gyms. He didn't have that hard,
fast, mean look of a street fighter. The look that Rik had in
don't hurt him,” Maria said, seeing what was coming.
at her with a puzzled expression.
keeping his eyes on David. “You see, you shouldn't have said that,
sweetie. Now you've hurt his feelings and he's going to have to try
and prove his manhood by taking a swing at me.”
I'll play nice.”
David pushed a
finger in Rik's face. “That's it. Get in your car and get on the
Before the new
boyfriend had any idea what was happening, Rik had doubled him over
with a straight-fingered jab to the solar plexus, then spun him
round and pushed him to the ground. The big man lay dazed and face
down on the drive, gasping for air.
Maria ran to
her boyfriend and knelt over him. She glared up at Rik. “Are we
enjoying ourselves yet?”
Rik found he
couldn't meet her eyes. “I just wanted...” But whatever he'd
wanted, it wasn't going to happen now. With a sigh, he turned and
opened the car door. “I'm sorry,” he said over his shoulder, then
got in and drove away.
too,” said Maria, watching him go.
himself all the way back to Fairport, where he boarded another
hopper – this time to Berlin. He wished now that he'd gone straight
there like he was supposed to, instead of making a complete ass of
himself by visiting Maria.
vertical take-off crushed him into his seat. That's another thing
he should have done: taken a few days to get used to standard
gravity again. After two years on the Moon, being on Earth felt
like carrying a couple more guys his size on his back all the time.
His body was geneered to adapt quickly – probably the one and only
investment he'd made that he hadn't grown to regret – but he'd been
pushing his luck to expect he could just walk off the space bridge
and start hopping around like he'd never been away.