Extract / Preview: Luna by Ian McDonald

CB - Go - Sep - Luna ONE
In a white room on the edge of the Sinus Medii sit six naked teen­ agers. 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 fire­walk, an ice­walk.

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 Lucas­ inho 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 moon­run. 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.

Dark now.

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 wing­beats she is a kilometre away, a fleck of gold against Orion Quadra’s monumental canyon­scape.

‘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 recrea­ tion 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 breath­bank. 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 earth­muscles. Even with no air in her lungs, she could take him; big pale fragile moon­flower.

‘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.

‘Madrinha Flavia?’

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 piss­ buyer: 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 every­ thing 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 wind­up bird orbiting a clockwork orrery. An orrery spinning in a stone cage.

‘I’ll take it.’

It’s catering.

‘I cater.’ She’ll do anything. She scans the contract. She’s bid herself low, but the offer is barely adequate. It’s her air­water­carbon­ network, and a little more. There’s an up­front 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 wonder­ ful. 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 host­mother, 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 spiteful­ nesses.

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 bossa­nova 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 moon­run. The reason is his secret: Lucasinho has heard that people who pry are punished, badly. ‘Emergency room team; ophthalmics, pneumo­ thoracic 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 heart­ break. Jinji shows Lucasinho himself so he can comb up the quiff to its full low­gravity magnificence; a deep­sea 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 second­generations. 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. Spider­silk 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 moon­runners. 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 Two­Face. 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 post­divorce 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 buy­outs 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, bullet­headed Yoruba, a kindly man and a brutal fighter. Joe Moonbeams – new immigrants – with their Earth muscle mass, make the best court­ room fighters.

‘I’ll take this one, Ishola.’ ‘No senhora.’

‘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.’

***

 

CB - Go - Sep - Luna You can check out more top September 2015 books on our highlights page here and more great Gollancz books from July to December 2015 on our dedicated page here. There’s more extracts from our pick of titles which you can see in order of most recent in our EXTRACTS ARTICLES CATEGORY  and below in order that we put them out…
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SKY PIRATES – Liesel Schwarz
BLOOD RED CITY – Justin Richards
RADIANT STATE – Peter Higgins
THE SUMMONER – Taran Matharu
MARKED – Sue Tingey
BETE – Adam Roberts
FOUL TIDES TURNING – Stephen Hunt
STEEPLE – John Wallace
CRASHING HEAVEN – Al Robertson
BENEATH LONDON – James Blaylock
OUR LADY OF THE STREETS – Tom Pollock
CAUSAL ANGEL – Hannu Rajaniemi
YOUR SERVANTS AND YOUR PEOPLE – David Towsey
THE SEVENTH MISS HADFIELD – Anna Caltabiano
DETECTIVE STRONGOAK AND THE CASE OF THE DEAD ELF – Terry Newman
THE RELIC GUILD – Edward Cox
FOXGLOVE SUMMER – Ben Aaronovitch
THE MOON AND THE SUN – Vonda McIntyre
PATH OF GODS – Snorri Kristjansson
TIME SALVAGER – Wesley Chu
REGENERATION – Stephanie Saulter
THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS – Edgar Cantero
THE RETURN OF THE DISCONTINUED MAN – Mark Hodder
THE MARTIAN – Andy Weir
KOKO THE MIGHTY – Kieran Shea
THE UNNOTICEABLES – Robert Brockway
IF/THEN – Matthew de Abaitua
THE SAND MEN – Christopher Fowler
THE DRAGON ENGINE – Andy Remic
YOUR RESTING PLACE – David Towsey
THE NIGHT CLOCK – Paul Meloy
MYTHMAKER – Marianne de Pierres
THE RETURN OF THE ARINN – Frank P Ryan
WAY DOWN DARK – J P Smythe
LIMIT – Frank Schatzing
DREAMLAND – Robert L Anderson
THE ARK – Patrick S Tomlinson
THE MYSTERIES – Lisa Tuttle
THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET – Becky Chambers
THE BOY WHO WEPT BLOOD – Den Patrick
THE DEATH HOUSE – Sarah Pinborough
THE THING ITSELF – Adam Roberts
CONFLUENCE: THE TRILOGY – Paul McAuley