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Luna: Moon Rising

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Luna: Moon Rising

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Author: Ian McDonald
Publisher: Tor, 2019
Series: Luna: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Avg Member Rating:
(27 reads / 12 ratings)


The continuing saga of the Five Dragons, Ian McDonald's fast-paced, intricately plotted space opera pitched as Game of Thrones meets The Expanse

A hundred years in the future, a war wages between the Five Dragons--five families that control the Moon's leading industrial companies. Each clan does everything in their power to claw their way to the top of the food chain--marriages of convenience, corporate espionage, kidnapping, and mass assassinations.

Through ingenious political manipulation and sheer force of will, Lucas Cortas rises from the ashes of corporate defeat and seizes control of the Moon. The only person who can stop him is a brilliant lunar lawyer, his sister, Ariel.

Witness the Dragons' final battle for absolute sovereignty in Ian McDonald's heart-stopping finale to the Luna trilogy.



Eight figures escort the casket across the Sea of Fecundity. Four to carry, one at each handle; four to guard the cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. They shuffle in heavy armoured shell-suits. Dust scuffs high from their boots. When carrying a casket, co-ordination is everything and the bearers have not yet learned the required rhythm. They lurch, they jolt, they leave smeared tracks, blurred footsteps on the regolith. They move like walkers unaccustomed to walking on the surface of the moon, to the suits they wear. Seven white shell-suits and one, the last, scarlet and gold. Each white suit bears an emblem out of time and place: a sword, an axe, a fan, a mirror, a bow, a crescent moon. The lead walks with the aid of a furled umbrella, silver tipped, the handle a human face, one half living, one half naked bone. The tip stitches precise holes in the regolith.

It has never rained in the Sea of Fecundity.

The casket has a porthole. This would be unseemly in a coffin; this is not a coffin. This is a medical life-support pod, designed to protect and preserve the injured on the surface of the moon. Behind the window is a young man's face, brown-skinned, high strong cheekbones, thick black hair, full lips, closed eyes. This is Lucasinho Corta. He has been in a coma for ten days; ten days that have rung the moon to its core like a stone bell. Ten days in which Eagles fell and rose, a soft war was fought and lost on the stone oceans of Luna and the old order of the moon was swept away by the new order of Earth.

These ungainly figures are the Sisters of the Lords of Now and they bear Lucasinho Corta to Meridian. Seven Sisters, plus one; the back-marker in incongruous scarlet and gold. Luna Corta.

'Is there word of the ship?' Mãe de Santo Odunlade tsks in frustration and peers at the tags on her helmet display, trying to identify the questioner. The Sisterhood of the Lords of Now by doctrine eschews the network. Learning a shell-suit interface is a sharp curve. The Mãe de Santo finally identifies Madrinha Elis as the speaker.

'Soon,' Mãe Odunlade says and raises the umbrella to point to the eastern horizon, where the ship from Meridian will touch down. The umbrella is the sigil of Oxala the Originator. With the sword, the axe, the mirror, the bow, the fan, the crescent, it is an instrument of the orixas. The Sisterhood bears not just the sleeping prince but the sacred emblems. All Santinhos understand the symbolism. João de Deus is no longer the city of the saints.

Ship on approach, the Mãe's suit says. In the same instant the horizon seems to leap into the sky. Rovers. Dozens of them. Fast, hard, bearing down. HUDs sparkle with hundreds of glowing red contacts.

The Mackenzies are here.

'Firm, my sisters,' Mãe Odunlade cries. The cortège marches forward towards the line of blazing headlights. The lights blind but she will not lift an arm to shade her eyes.

Mãe, the ship has committed to landing, the suit says.

A rover pulls out of the encirclement and swings in to confront Mãe Odunlade. She lifts the sacred umbrella high. The cortège halts. Seats descend, safety bars lift, figures in the green and white sasuits of Mackenzie Helium drop to the regolith. They reach for holsters across their backs and draw long objects. Rifles.

'This can't be permitted, Mother.'

Mãe Odunlade bridles at the familiarity. No respect, not even Portuguese. She locates the speaker on her HUD.

'Who are you?'

'I am Loysa Divinagracia,' says the woman at the centre of the armed posse. 'I am Head of Security for Mackenzie Helium, North-East Quartersphere.'

'This young man requires advanced medical attention.'

'Mackenzie Helium would be honoured to offer the services of our fully equipped company med centre.'

Sixty seconds to touchdown, the suit says. The ship is the brightest, fastest star in the sky.

'I am taking him to his father.' The Mãe de Santo steps forward.

'I can't allow that.' Loysa Divinagracia plants a hand on Mãe Odunlade's breastplate. Mãe Odunlade smacks the woman's hand away with the sacred umbrella, follows with a blow to the side of her helmet. Such insolence. Polymer cracks, atmosphere jets, then the suit heals and seals.

Guns level.

The Sisters of the Lords of Now close in around the life-support pod. The sword of Ogun is drawn, the axe of Xango, the bow, the razor-edged fan. How can the orixas be honoured, if their emblems are without practical use?

Luna Corta lifts her cumbersome arms to shoulder height. Sheathes unlock, magnets engage: knives fly to her hands and dock. The light of Earth in its first quarter, low on the western rim of the world, glints from the edges of the meteoric iron blades: the battle-knives of the Cortas.

We have protected them, Mãe de Santo Odunlade said, in the biolight-glow of the room where Lucasinho lay in the Mother House. Until a Corta comes who is bold, great-hearted, without avarice or cowardice, who will fight for the family and defend it bravely. A Corta who is worthy of these blades.

Carlinhos had been the family fighter. He had owned these knives before her. He had shown her the moves once, with chopsticks for blades. He scared her; the speed, the way that he became something she did not know.

Carlinhos had died on the edge of these knives.

Madrinha Elis steps between Luna and the ring of rifles.

'Put the knives away, Luna.'

'I will not,' Luna says. 'I am a Corta and Cortas cut.'

'Do as your madrinha says, wilful child,' Mãe de Santo Odunlade says. 'It is only the suit makes you big.'

Luna falls back with a sullen hiss but she does not reholster her beautiful knives.

'Let us through,' Mãe Odunlade says on the common channel, and Luna hears the Mackenzie woman answer, Give us Lucasinho Corta and you are free to leave.

'No,' Luna whispers and then she, the Sisters, the pod, the Mackenzie blades are drenched in blinding light. The dazzle breaks into hundreds of separate lights; rovers, dustbikes, the navigation lights of shell-suits and sasuits, all racing across the dark regolith. A vast plume of dust rises beyond them, casting moonbows in the diffracted Earth-light. They bear down on the Mackenzie encirclement. At the last minute blades and shooters flee as a wedge of rovers, dustbike outriders and a host of running dusters splits open the Mackenzie line.

From aerials and masts, from rigging wires and struts, from rovers and suitpacks and shoulder mounts, stencilled on the helmets and chestplates of surface armour, spray-painted, fast-printed, -graffitied in vacuum marker: the half-black, half-white mask of Our Lady of the Thousand Deaths, Dona Luna.

João de Deus has risen.

The wedge of dusters unfolds into a phalanx of pikes and spears. Dust-bikers brace polearms against footpegs. Luna saw a thing in a story like that when she was a very small kid, a crazy bit of old Earth: metal men sitting on big metal animals, with long spears tucked under their arms. Knight-in-armour, Luna's familiar tells her, remembering as she remembers. Knights with lances.

Blue lights flicker high above the encamped armies: the attitude thrusters of a VTO moonship manoeuvring over the Mackenzie lines to a safe landing site. The main engine gives a final, brief burn as the ugly amalgam of fuel tanks, radiator panels and structural beams comes in for landing.

Gauntlets and gloves tighten on spear shafts. Pikes brace. Fingers close on dustbike steering bars.

'Luna,' Madrinha Elis says.

'I'm ready,' Luna says. Luna's suit is primed, the power reserves activated. Give the word, and it will run, run faster than her own legs could ever carry her. She knows the feats a standard-issue suit can achieve: she used them when she carried Lucasinho, anoxic, by any standard dead, to the refuge of Boa Vista. 'I've done this before.'

The dust from the moonship's descent burn engulfs Santinhos and Mackenzies. Madrinha Elis shouts, Go, child.

Run, she orders but the suit is already in motion.

So are the Mackenzies. The moment of surprise is over; rovers peel off to outflank the Santinho dustbike cavalry and cut off the path to the ship. Santinho foot-soldiers charge to intercept the Mackenzie force and hold open the way.

A body falls. A figure in a sasuit twists and goes down. A shell-suit splinters into flying shards. The Mackenzie guns have opened up. A helmet shatters. A head flies into bloody smash; the banners of Dona Luna fall, one by one. Now Luna sees the blood, the plugs of flesh, the body fluids gouting into vacuum.

Sister Eloa of the Crescent of Iansa goes down at Luna's side, tumbling and rolling. The top of her head has been ripped away. Slugs are flying unseen all around Luna but she can't think of them, can't think of anything but the moonship, settling on its landing gear, unfolding a ramp from its transport pod.

'Luna!' Mãe Odunlade's voice on the private channel. 'Take the right side of the casket. The suit can handle it.'


'Elis will take the other side.'


'Don't argue, child!'

Her armoured hand locks on to one of the handles. The gyros stabilise the weight. She sees her madrinha lock on to the other handle.

Santinhs engage Mackenzies. Two, ten, twenty, drop under withering fire but there are always more spears, more pikes. Hand-to-hand violence, close, intimate, passionate as sex. Spear points drive deep, punch through bodies from front to back, tear suit, skin, bone, shatter visors and stab down through faces, skulls, brains.

'What's happening?' she asks on Madrinha Elis's private channel.

'They're buying us time, anjinho.'

The phalanx of spears reforms, links, locks, lunges in attack. The shooters break and retreat. In that instant, between the walls of pikes, Luna feels her suit tighten its grip on the handle of her cousin's casket, lean forward and sprint for the ship. She hits the ramp at full speed, brakes hard to avoid the rear bulkhead of the transport pod. Crew in sasuits secure the pod. Luna feels the deck vibrate through her boot haptics.

Main engine burn in ten nine eight...

Luna's final glance through the closing doors is of the remaining Sisters of the Lords of the Now, white suits back to back, the sigils of the orixas held high. Around them, a ring of pikes, and the bold banners of Our Lady of the Thousand Deaths. Beyond, the Mackenzies, numerous as stars. Then the engine fires and dust covers everything.

Mãe de Santo Odunlade watches the moonship lift from the blinding dust on a diamond of rocket-light.

Meridian will harbour them. Meridian will heal them. The Eagle of the Moon will take them under his wings.

The Santinhos encircle the Sisters with pikes and lances. So many down, so many dead. This is a terrible place to die.

Mãe Odunlade finds the icon for the common channel.

'The regolith has drunk enough blood,' she calls to every duster and Santinho in the Sea of Fecundity, to every blade and mercenary, to Bryce Mackenzie, wherever he hides himself.

The Mackenzie gunline stands firm.

'There is no need for anyone else to die out here.'

Two rovers start from the rear of the encirclement, accelerating with startling speed in pursuit of the moonship, now a constellation of hazard lights, burning westwards. Mechanisms unfold from the backs of the rovers; things with multiple barrels, belts of ammunitions. Gods and spirits, those things are fast. Already they are on the horizon. Streamers of light arc up--seeking the lights of the VTO ship. Mãe de Santo Odunlade does not know what she is seeing but she understands what it means. If Bryce Mackenzie cannot have Lucasinho Corta, no one will. And she understands another truth. There will be no mercy here for anyone who lifted hand and blade in the name of the Cortas.

'In the name of Oxala, light of light, ever-living, ever-fearful, ever-sure!' Mãe de Santo Odunlade raises the umbrella high above her head. Opens it. As one, the remaining Sisters lift high their sigils. The sword of Ogun, the fan of Yemanja, the bow of Oxossi, the axe of Xango.

The shooting begins.

Luna can't unlock her fist from the medical pod. Lucasinho is free, Lucasinho is safe; she should let go of him now, but the suit reads a truth she can't acknowledge and won't release her. This suit: she feels she has been in it forever. This suit, it has protected her, guided her, helped her. Betrayed her, endangered her.

A memory: Lucasinho wrapping tape around the joint seal where razor-edged moondust ate away the pleated fabric, step after step, kilometre after kilometre, until the joint blew out. She touches the knee joint, the glove haptics relay the rough imperfection of the binding. She had not noticed the patch when the Mãe-de-Santo had told her to come now, child, suit up, we are leaving.

Where are we going, Mãe?

Meridian. The Eagle has sent a ship for his son.

She pulled on a suit-liner, stepped into the huge hulk, the haptic rig embraced her and the shell sealed and she was back in the lock at Lubbock BALTRAN station and Lucasinho was calling her to step forward. The suit does all the work.

And even as she was clanking along the peripheral tunnel towards the lock she was back in the refuge at Boa Vista, under the green light and Lucasinho lying where she had laid him. The big suit could be so gentle. Lying, not moving. Not breathing.

What do I do?

The refuge showed her where to connect Lucasinho to the LSU, where to jack in the monitors, where to attach the refrigeration unit that would keep him in deep, saving cold.

He is very sick, the machines told her. He requires critical medical attention.

But all she could do was wait in the cold and the green light. As she waits now in the hold of a VTO moonship.

Freefall in three, two, one...

The launch burn ends. Luna's boots put out bristles to hook her to the micro-loops woven into the decking. She is anchored but free; she remembers the dizzy, sick-in-the-pit feeling of freefall from the BALTRAN. She hated it then. She doesn't like it any better when it is a VTO moonship on a sub-orbital trajectory to Meridian.

A series of bangs rattles up through Luna's boots. Centimetres from the heel of her left foot is a line of holes, precisely spaced. A clatter; another line of holes is stitched across the cargo hold bulkhead, bottom right to upper left. Earth-light streams through the perforations.

A third set of impacts, then a sudden acceleration rips Luna from the floor, tears her fingers free from their grip on her cousin's pod. Acceleration shifts, throws her towards Lucasinho's coffin, then she is floating free, swimming in mid-air.

We are under attack, the ship says. We have been penetrated by high velocity kinetic rounds. Hull integrity has been compromised. Number three tank was punctured and out-gassed, hence the unplanned acceleration which I have now stabilised.

Luna grabs hold of the life-support lines and hauls herself toward the bulkhead. Another burst of impacts drives an arc of holes through the decking and out through the roof. Two heartbeats ago her head had been there. There are holes in the roof. There are holes everywhere.

Luna turns and her boots once again anchor with the decking. She turns to look for Elis: there she is in a pile of white pressure plastic on the other side of the casket. She doesn't move, doesn't speak. Why is she down? Lady Luna, let there be no holes in her suit, no holes in her madrinha.

A sighing groan on the private channel. The heap of surface armour shifts, becomes a person in a suit. Madrinha Elis struggles to her knees.

Then the lights go out.

'What's happening?' Luna cries.

The main power connector has been severed, the ship says. Auxiliary power will come online momentarily. I should inform you that my processing core has been severely damaged and my functionality is impaired.

Emergency lights flash on, low and sickly yellow. Luna's helmet HUD is a mosaic of red alarms: the crew, up in the command module, in trouble. One by one they turn white.

White is the colour of death.


Her madrinha comes to her, opens her machine arms, embraces the monstrous, clumsy suit.


'Are you all right?'

'The pod,' Madrinha Elis says. 'The pod.'


Luna circles the casket, checking for holes, damage, the slightest graze. A near miss has drawn a valley across the bottom left corner of the pod. She presses her visor to the window. Everything seems to be working.

There has been a change to the flightplan, the ship says. I shall be making an emergency landing at Twé. Standby for turnover in three... two... one...

Micro-accelerations jostle Luna, then she is in freefall once more.

Standby for main engine de-orbit burn.

Weight returns; many Luna piled on her shoulders. The suit braces, stiffens but Luna feels her teeth grind, her blood heavy like lead in her veins.

Distress calls initiated, the ship says. Luna imagines fear in its calm, informative voice. My radiator panels have sustained catastrophic damage. I am unable to discharge excess heat.

On her trek with Lucasinho across the south-eastern quarter-sphere, Luna learnt the nature of vacuum. It was Lady Luna's favoured weapon, but she has other, subtler ways of killing than just the deep, suffocating kiss. Vacuum is a very fine insulator--the finest. The only way for heat to escape is by radiation. Her own shell-suit could deploy vanes from its shoulders to radiate away the heat of the suit's systems, and her own small body. A ship makes a lot more heat than a nine-year-old girl, most of all when firing its engines. Critical systems could overheat, fail, even melt down. To land safely at Twé the engine must fire hard and hot, heat that cannot be radiated away. Heat, adding to heat, building on heat.

The ship is shaking. She doesn't remember it shaking like this on launch. The engine cuts--she falls free for an instant--then relights. And off--the engine stutters, firing, misfiring. She can hardly see through the rattling, shuddering braking burn.

I am experiencing... Critical Systems Failures, the ship says. I am dying.

The shaking stops. Main engine cut out. Luna is falling towards the surface of the moon in a box, a shell, a hulk riddled with bullet holes.

White spirits float in the vacuum inside the transport pod. No ghosts on the moon, everyone knows that. What are these wisps of spirit, coiling up from every cable and duct, every decking fibre and vacuum-marker scrawl?

Then Luna notices her own temperature monitor. The decking beneath her feet registers one hundred and fifteen Celsius.

Volatiles are boiling off from the polymers and organics, the suit AI tells her. I estimate we will hit melting point in three minutes.

Her shell-suit is made of plastic. Strong plastic, tough plastic that can walk beneath the face of Lady Luna, good plastic doing everything it can to keep her cool, but she will bake to death inside her suit long before it runs out of air.

I'm directing maximum available power to environment control, the suit says. Radiator panels deploying.

Luna feels the click of fins unfurling from her back. Wings: magic wings like the Luna moth, her familiar.

Bracing for impact, the suit says suddenly.

Wha... Luna starts and then something hits her harder than she has ever been hit, so hard even the haptic rig cannot absorb the full weight of the impact. She slams hard against the floor and bulkheads of the transport pod. She hears wings snap, plastic crack. She is a tiny bean rattling inside a gourd.

I have sustained integrity-threatening damage, the suit says. Luna tries to inhale; she can't catch her breath.

Madrinha Elis hauls herself to her feet.

'Anjinho, we have to get out. Open the door. I'll get Lucasinho.'

The hold is hazy with fumes; conduits sag, trunking buckles. The deck tilts; the transport door is upslope.

The door will not open.

Luna slaps the red button again. The door will not open.

'Where is the manual override?' Luna asks her suit. The second rule of moonwalking: everything has a manual over-ride. Her Uncle Carlinhos told her that. Big smiling Tio Carlinhos who came all too rarely to Boa Vista, but when he did he would scoop her up and throw her high up into the air so that her hair flew out and she would scream even though she knew he would always be there to catch her. The first rule of moonwalking: everything can kill you.

Big, grinning Tio Carlinhos, back then when she had been a kid, before she took the knives and became the princess of Corta Hélio.

The suit highlights a small hatch. Inside is a handle.

'There's one on my side too,' Madrinha Elis says. 'Together.'

Madrinha Elis counts down on her fingers. Three, two... Luna pulls the handle. The door drops on its struts. Luna looks down over the edge. She stands on the lip of a three-metre drop to the regolith. The ship has come down on the edge of a small crater. Beyond the close rim Luna can see the dishes and mirror masts of Twé. It is an easy jump down to the surface. She skids back down the sloping deck and brakes herself by catching one of the casket's handles. Elis braces the head of the casket. Luna undogs the latches. The casket slides. Elis takes the strain, then Luna darts to the casket's foot and pulling, pushing, they move the heavy medical pod up the deck on to the ramp. To the edge.

There is no gentle way to do this.

Together, they push Lucasinho over the edge. He falls under the slow lunar gravity, strikes feet first and tumbles forward to land porthole down. Two steps behind, Luna and Elis leap from the platform and land in eruptions of dust. They are the only survivors of VTO moonship Pustelga.

Elis jabs a finger at the fallen coffin, mimes the act of lifting. The two shell-suits crouch and turn the casket over. The pod, the glass is intact. Lucasinho is slumped over on his side, still and unmoving. Luna can't tell if he is alive or dead.

'Get him away from the ship,' Elis says. Together they drag Lucasinho away from the wreck of the Pustelga. The ship lies like a crushed festival butterfly. Two sets of landing legs have failed, one folded by the off-centre landing, the other driven up through the hull. Every radiator panel has been shot out, empty wing-ribs outspread. The punctured fuel tank still jets vapour. One thruster group has been entirely torn away. The ship is pierced through and through with holes, stabbed a thousand times. Intersecting of fire stitched across the cargo module. Luna cannot believe they survived. The command module is riddled with . There is nothing left intact, nothing left alive. Batteries explode; debris clatters off Luna's shell-suit. Molten plastic drips from the bullet holes. As Luna watches, the ship collapses further. She can see a dull red glow from the engines. This ship is going to explode. The two women heft Lucasinho's coffin and make best speed for the far rim of the crater. They slip-slide down the loose regolith towards the domes and tanks and aerials of Twé, capital of the Asamoahs. The sun-domes, that let light feed down to the mirror arrays, are being cleared of the piled regolith that the LMA invaders had bulldozed over them, smothering them, shutting out the light to the silo farms.

Warnings blossom on Luna's visor. Her suit is dying by degrees, critical systems failing. She has seen this before, walked this dying walk before, out on the glasslands of Boa Vista, when her suit failed and Lucasinho patched her up and gave her the last breath in his lungs.

Twé must know. A damaged ship coming in, an emergency landing. Twé will send help. Twé has always been the friend of the Cortas.

Two plumes of dust appear on the horizon. Within seconds they become two tracks cutting in from the east. Luna waves: Here! Look! Here we are.

'Why are the Asamoahs coming from that direction?' Elis asks.

Luna can see the rovers now. She's seen them before; she's seen the chain-guns on the roof before.

'Run,' Luna yells

The suit shows Luna the closest entry lock but the suits are low on power and the casket is heavy and they can never run as fast as a Mackenzie Helium rover.

A dustbike cuts in front of Luna, a second, a third. A pack of dustbikes, each flying heraldic adinkra banners in the airless sky. Blackstars. The bikes encircle them. The rider directly ahead of her raises a hand. Stop. Luna and Elis stand still, the life-support casket slung between them. The riders on either side of the commander slip from their machines and run cables from bike to suits and casket.

White panels switch to red: Luna's visor fills with names, tags, identities, ranges, schematics.

'We have you,' the blackstar leader says.

'Set the pod down,' a voice says on the common channel. The Mackenzies have arrived. Luna shivers in rage at the Australian accent. She has had enough of these people, enough enough enough. She will not comply. She will not abandon Lucasinho. She switches her grip on the casket and turns to the uninvited voice.

The two Mackenzie Helium rovers are parked a hundred metres upslope. The crews drop from their seats and form a line. One carries a rifle. The rover-mounted chain-guns swivel, level, lock.

There is a blade in every blackstar hand.


Luna stamps her foot.

'I am Luna Ameyo Arena de Corta and I am a princess!' she shouts. 'Rafael Corta was my father, Lousika Yaa Dede Asamoah is my mother, Omahene of the Golden Stool of AKA. Touch me and you touch the whole Asamoah nation.'

'Luna,' Madrinha Elis whispers on the private channel but Luna is angry now, more angry than she has ever been in her life. A hundred angers from a thousand injustices, distilled into a pure and righteous rage.

'Go away!' Luna shouts.

Not a word on the common channel, but the jackaroos break and return to their rovers. The blackstars hold their defensive wall. Then the chain-guns flick and swivel away from their acquired targets. The rovers turn in rings of dust. In a breath they are halfway to the horizon.

'Luna,' Madrinha Elis says again, and on the common channel the blackstar leader says, 'You're safe now.'

But Luna stands still and solid, hand locked to her cousin's coffin. 'Go away go away go away,' she says. 'Go away!'

When the doors close, Finn Warne keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the lighted ceiling panel. The express elevator ascent of the western flank of Kingscourt takes twenty seconds but the speed is as much of the problem for him as the two-kilometre climb from the floor of Queen of the South to Bryce's private suite. It isn't professional for Mackenzie Helium's Head of Security to suffer from acrophobia. This way, hands behind back, gazing into the light, it looks as if he is meditating, gathering his inner resources.

Bryce could have done all this through the network. The modern businessperson does not need to personally instruct his First Blade. The nature of the oligarch is to have what you do not need.

Neither does a modern businessperson need a personal receptionist in a pure white dress behind a pure white desk. Finn Warne has always prided himself on his grooming; nails manicured, nasal hair trimmed, hair brillantined and combed in the current 1940s fashion. But Krimsyn behind the desk always makes him feel coarse and lax, tie knotted a fraction too loosely, a line of grime under a fingernail, shave a shade too blue. And he knows she knows he's scared of heights.

Finn gives the rubric for security clearance on the highest possible level. Krimsyn tilts her head, the least recognition she can give.

To ameliorate the disdain, Finn Warne imagines sex with Krimsyn. He likes to imagine that the perfect composure, the exquisite attention to detail extends to every part of her body and that, no matter how intense or rough or extended the sex, it would never break.

A click. The door to Bryce Mackenzie's sanctum is unlocked.

'Mr Warne.'

Bryce lies on the surgical bed by the glass wall. He is naked; a landslide of flesh, a mass of fat that rolls and laps on to the white upholstery. White, grainy stretchmarks stain his skin. The machines attend him like devotees at prayer, two at his shoulders, two attending his belly, two at the hips. Their long arms carry the needles and the suction devices that will lick away his body fat.

Finn approaches as close as he dares. The window overlook is monstrous: not the sheer drop--he has never dared look at that--but the panorama of the towers of Queen of the South; each spire, chop-stick slim, a reminder of how high he is and how much more stands above him until it merges with the machinery in the roof of Queen's lava chamber. Monstrous, but not as monstrous as the thing on the surgical bed.

'You didn't get him,' Bryce says.

'The rover squads were not contracted to engage the Asamoahs,' Finn says.

Bryce inhales sharply as the machines flex their arms and drive the needles into his flesh.

'Your job was to bring me Lucasinho Corta.'

'We issued hasty contracts. We had to move the instant the boy did,' Finn says. He can see the cannulas moving under Bryce's skin, tunnelling through fat.

'Excuses, Mr Warne?'

Finn Warne suppresses the clench of fear.

'And now Lucasinho Corta is at Twé, under the protection of the Asamoahs once again. We had two rovers armed with chain-guns. Remind how, how were the blackstars armed?'

'Dustbikes and blades.'

'Dustbikes and blades. Against chain-guns.'

'Our mercenaries' legal systems advised against provocative action.'

Bryce is pinned like a specimen, unable to move. He rolls his eyes to regard Finn Warne.

'Chain-guns that brought down a VTO moonship.'

'Legal services has received a claim for compensation from St Olga.'

A twitch, a grunt from the stainless table.

'Contest it. And contest the completion payment with the gun crews. Fucking mercenaries.'

'They had no authority to start a war with AKA.'

Yellow fat flows down the tubes to translucent sacks under the bed.

'Any survivors at João de Deus?'


'That's something. Our own losses?'

The needles pull out. Thin lines of blood leak from the wounds, then subtler robot hands go in to swab, sterilise, seal. The needles seek new targets and go in. Bryce gives another small gasp. It sounds sexual to Finn. The skin of his balls prickles.

'We weren't expecting a fight.'

'Show me the figures.'

A flicker of data, familiar to familiar.

'Mostly our own jackaroos,' Bryce comments. 'Good. Mercenaries are expensive. Standard compensation plus ten per cent. As you say, they weren't expecting a fight. So here we are, with no hostage, João de Deus hating me even more than they did before, and Yevgeny Vorontsov wanting me to spring him a new moonship. Bit of a fucking cock-up, isn't it, Mr Warne?'

'What are your instructions, Mr Mackenzie?'

'Mines, Mr Warne. Explosive ones. Take an engineer team and mine Lucas Corta's fucking precious city. I want everything to blow. Keep it quiet. You can do that, can't you? And have someone in technical services code a routine into my familiar. If anything happens to me, I want João de Deus a crater. He took my home; I take his.'

The cannulas pull out with an unctuous suck and search for fresh fat to sip.

Copyright © 2019 by Ian McDonald


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