Luna: Wolf Moon continues Ian McDonald’s saga of the Five Dragons—available March 28th from Tor Books.
Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward—virtually a hostage—of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished of the surface of the moon.
Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and more to the point—that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was the Schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey—to Earth.
In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war erupts.
1: Virgo 2105
The boy falls from the top of the city.
He is lean and lithe as a power line. His skin is the colour of copper, spangled with dark freckles. His eyes are green, his lips are lush and full. His hair is a shock of rust-coloured dreads frustrated inside a lime-green head-band. Two stripes of white gloss highlight each cheekbone, a vertical runs down the centre of his lips. He wears tangerine sports tights, cut low, and a white over-sized T-shirt. FRANKIE SAYS… declares the T-shirt.
It is three kilometres from the roof down to the floor of the great lava chamber in which Queen of the South stands.
The kids were running the top of the city; free-styling the old, automated industrial levels, swinging through the rigging of the world with breathtaking grace and skill; springing from rails and stanchions, bounding from wall to wall to wall, leaping, flipping, tumbling, flying across abysses, up and up as if weight were a fuel they burned to turn gravity back on itself.
The boy is the youngest of the team. He’s thirteen; brave, agile, audacious, drawn to the high places. He limbers up with his fellow traceurs down on Queen of the South’s wooded floor, but his eyes are drawn towards the great towers, up to where they join the sunline. Stretch muscles, pull grip-gloves on to hands and feet. Practice jumps to loosen up, step up on to a bench and in a thought he is ten metres up. A hundred metres. A thousand metres; dancing along parapets and bounding up elevator gantries in five-metre bounds. To the top of the city. The top of the city.
All it takes is an infinitesimal mistake; a fraction of a second slow in reaction, a millimetre short in the reach, a finger light in the grip. His hand slips on the cable and he falls into empty air. No cry, only a small, amazed gasp.
Falling boy. Back first, hands and feet clutching at the gloved hands reaching down from the tangle of pipes and conduits along the roof of Queen. There is an instant of shock when the traceurs realise what has happened, then they explode from their perches, racing across the roof to the nearest tower. They’ll never be fast enough to beat gravity.
There are rules of falling. Before he ever jumped, climbed, vaulted, the boy learned how to fall.
Rule one: You must turn. If you can’t see what’s beneath you, you are at best hurt badly, worst dead. He turns his head, looks down into the vast spaces between Queen’s hundred towers. He twists his upper body; cries out as he wrenches an ab turning the rest of his body face down. Beneath him is a deadly lattice of crossing bridges, cable ways, catwalks and fibre-runs woven between the skyscrapers of Queen. He must navigate those.
Rule two: Maximise air resistance. He spreads arms and legs. Atmospheric pressure in a lunar habitat is 1060 kilopascals. Acceleration under gravity on the surface of moon is 1.625 metres per second squared. Terminal velocity for a falling object in atmosphere is sixty kilometres per hour. Impact the floor of Queen of the South at sixty kilometres per hour and there is an eighty per cent chance he will die. Impact at fifty kilometres per hour and there is eighty per cent chance he will live. His fashion T-shirt flaps in the gale. And FRANKIE SAYS: This is how you live.
Rule three: Get help. ‘Joker,’ he says. The boy’s familiar rezzes up on the lens in his right eye, the implant in his left ear. True traceurs run without AI assistance. It’s too easy for a familiar to map out the best route, locate hidden hand holds, advise on micro climate conditions. Parkour is about authenticity in a totally artificial world. Joker analyses the situation. You are in extreme danger. I have alerted rescue and medical services.
Rule four: Time is your friend. ‘Joker, how long?’
The boy now has everything he needs to survive.
The overstretched abs hurt like hell and something tears in his left shoulder as he pulls the T-shirt off. For a few seconds he breaks his spread-eagle position and accelerates alarmingly. Wind tears at the T-shirt in his hands. If he loses grip, if he loses the shirt, he dies. He needs to tie three knots while falling at terminal velocity. Knots are life. And the 77th cross bridge is there: there! He goes into spread, applies his teaching: tilts his upper body forwards, his arms, shifts his centre of gravity above his centre of hang. Tracking position. He slides forward and misses the bridge by metres. Faces look up at him. Look again: they’ve seen fliers. This boy is not a flier. He is a faller.
He knots neck and sleeves into a loose bag.
Two minutes. I estimate you will impact at…
‘Shut up Joker.’
He gathers two fistfuls of T-shirt. This is about timing. Too high and he’ll have limited manoeuvrability to clear the cross-walks and conduits webbed between the towers. Too low and his improvised parachute will not have brought him down to survive-speed. And he wants to land very much slower than fifty kilometres per hour.
‘Let me know at one minute, Joker.’
The deceleration will be savage. It might rip the T-shirt from his grip.
Then he dies.
He can’t imagine that.
He can imagine being hurt. He can imagine everyone looking down at him dead and crying at the tragedy. He likes that thought, but that’s not death. Death is nothing. Not even not nothing.
He tucks his arms again to drift under the 23rd level cable-way.
He thrusts his arms forward. The T-shirt rattles and flaps in the gale. He ducks his head through the space between his elbows, thrusts his arms up. The knotted T-shirt balloons out. The sudden braking is brutal. He cries out as his strained shoulder is wrenched in its socket. Hold on hold on hold. Gods gods gods the ground is so close. The parachute leaps and tugs like someone fighting him, someone who wants to kill him. The strain in his arms, his wrists is agony. If he lets go now, he will hit hard and wrong: feet first, his hips and thighs shattered and driven up into his organs. Hold on, hold on. He cries, he gasps in effort and frustration.
‘Joker,’ he gasps. ‘How fast…’
I can only estimate from…
Forty-eight kilometres per hour.
That’s still too fast. He can see where he will hit, it’s only seconds away. A clear space between the trees, a park. People are running along the axial paths, some away, some towards the place where they estimate he will impact.
Medical bots have been dispatched, Joker announces. That bright thing, kind of big and bulky, what is it? Surfaces. Things poking out. A pavilion. Maybe for music or sherbet or something. It’s fabric. That might minus the last few kilometres per hour he needs. It’s also poky things; struts and stays. If he hits one at this speed it will go through him like a spear. If he hits at this speed, he might die anyway. He has to time this right. He tugs one side of the T-shirt parachute, trying to spill lift, trying to slide himself towards the pavilion. This is so hard so hard so hard. He cries out as he twists his agonised shoulder, trying to gain a last little lateral movement. The ground rushes up.
At the last second he lets go of the T-shirt and tries to tilt forward into spread to maximise his surface area. Too late too low. He hits the roof of the pavilion. It’s hard, so hard. A split second of stunned pain, then he punches through it. His drift carries him clear of whatever is inside the pavilion. He throws his arms up in front of his face and impacts the ground.
Nothing has ever hit so hard. A swinging fist the size of the moon smashes every breath, sense, thought from him. Black. Then he is back, trying to gasp, unable to move. Circles. Machines, faces, in the middle distance his fellow traceurs racing towards him.
He inhales. It hurts. Every rib grates, every muscle groans. He rolls on to his side. Medical bots lift and flutter on ducted fans. He tries to push himself up from the ground.
‘No kid, don’t,’ a voice calls from the circle of faces but no hand reaches to stop or aid him. He is a broken wonder. With a cry he gets to his knees, forces himself to stand. He can stand. Nothing is broken. He takes a step forward, a skinny waif in tangerine tights.
‘Joker,’ he whispers, ‘what was my final speed?’
Thirty-eight kilometres per hour.
He clenches a fist in victory, then his legs fail and he stumbles forward. Hands and bots surge to catch him: Robson Mackenzie, the kid who fell from the top of the world.
‘So, how does it feel to be famous?’
Hoang Lam Hung leans against the door. Robson had not noticed him arrive. He was occupied stroking his sudden celebrity. The word had gone twice around the moon while Robson was being transferred to the med centre. The boy who fell to Earth. He didn’t fall to Earth. This isn’t Earth. He fell to the ground. But that didn’t fill the mouth as well. And it wasn’t a fall. There was a slip. The rest was managed descent. He walked away. Only a step, but he took that step. But even if it was wrong the whole moon was talking about him and he had Joker scan the network for stories and pictures about him. He soon realised that the bulk of the traffic was the same stories and pictures shared and reshared. Some of the pictures were very old, from when he was a kid, when he was a Corta.
‘Gets boring after half an hour,’ Robson says.
‘Does it hurt?’
‘Not a bit. They’ve got me full of stuff. But it did. Like fuck.’
Hoang raises an eyebrow. He disapproves of the low language Robson learns from his traceur mates.
When Robson was a kid of eleven and Hoang twenty-nine they had been married for a few days. Tia Ariel had dissolved it with her legal superpowers, but their one night together had been fun: Hoang had made food, which is always special, and taught Robson card tricks. Neither of them much wanted to be married. It had been a dynastic match, to bind a Corta into the heart of Clan Mackenzie. An honoured hostage. The Cortas are gone; scattered, vanquished, dead. Now Robson has a different family status, as one of Bryce Mackenzie’s adoptees. That makes Hoang a brother, not an oko. Brother, uncle, guardian.
Robson is still a hostage.
‘Well come on, then.’
Robson’s face says a what?
‘We’re going to Crucible. Or had you forgotten?’
Robson has forgotten. His balls and perineum tighten in dread. Crucible. Hoang brought Robson to Queen of the South to put him beyond Bryce’s appetites and Mackenzie family politics but Robson’s great fear is the twitch on the thread that pulls him and Hoang back to the citadel of the Mackenzies.
‘The party?’ Hoang says.
Robson collapses back on to the bed. Robert Mackenzie’s one hundred and fifth birthday. A gathering of House Mackenzie. Hoang and Joker posted ten, twenty, fifty reminders but Robson’s eyes were on handholds and grip soles, traceur fashion and how to style himself on his first free run, maxing up his fitness and getting to his running weight.
‘I’ve printed you up something to wear.’
Hoang slings a suit pack on to the bed. Robson unseals it. Perfume of print-fresh fabric. A Marco Carlotta suit in powder blue, a black v-neck T-shirt. Loafers. No socks.
‘Eighties!’ Robson says with delight. It’s the new trend, after the 2010s, after the 1910s, after the 1950s. Hung smiles coyly.
‘Do you need a hand dressing?’
‘No I’m fine.’ Robson flings back the sheet and swivels out of the bed. Diagnostic bots retreat. Robson drops to the floor. Goes pale. Cries out. His knees give. Robson steadies himself on the edge of the bed. Hoang is at his side, supporting him. ‘Maybe not.’
‘You’re purple from head to toe.’
Joker accesses a room camera and shows Robson his brown skin mottled black and yellow, a blossom of bruises spilling into each other. Robson winces as Hoang slips his arms into the jacket sleeves. Pain stabs as he pulls on the loafers. A final touch; at the bottom of the suit bag, the last treat, is a pair of Ray Ban Tortuga Aviator shades. ‘Oh, glorious.’ Robson slides them up his nose, adjusts the sit with a tap of forefinger between the lenses. ‘Ow. Even they hurt.’
There is one final touch. Robson rolls the sleeves of his Marco Carlotta jacket up to the elbows.
A dazzling light burns on the horizon: the mirrors of Crucible focusing the sun on to the smelters of the ten-kilometre-long train. As a child, Robson loved that light, for Crucible could only be minutes away. He would rush to the railcar’s observation bubble, press his hands to the glass, anticipating the moment he would pass into the shadow of Crucible and look up at the thousands of tons of habitats and smelters and loaders and processors above his head.
Robson loathes it now.
The air had been foul – thick with Co2 and water vapour – by the time the beams of the VTO rescue team came lancing through the frozen, empty dark of Boa Vista. The refuge was rated for twenty. Thirty-two souls were packed into it; shallow-breathing, conserving every movement. Cold condensation dripped from every edge, beaded every surface. Where’s paizinho? he shouted as the VTO squad bundled him into the transfer pod. Where’s paizinho? he asked Lucasinho in the moonship hold. Lucasinho looked across the crowded hold at Abena Asamoah, then took Robson to the head. These words must be private. Wagner is in hiding. Ariel is missing, Lucas has vanished, presumed dead. Carlinhos is hung by his heels from a São Sebastião Quadra crosswalk. Rafa is dead.
His father was dead.
The legal battles were furious and, for the moon, brief. Within a lune Robson was in a Mackenzie Metals railcar hurrying across the Oceanus Procellarum, Hoang Lam Hung in the seat opposite and a squad of blades deployed at a discreet distance, serving no other purpose than to embody the power of Mackenzie Metals. The Court of Clavius had ruled: Robson Corta was a Mackenzie now. At eleven-and-some Robson could not identify the look on Hoang’s face. At thirteen he knows it as the face of a man who has been forced to betray the thing he loves. Then he saw the bright star on the horizon, the light of Crucible blazing in endless noon, and it changed from the star of welcome to the star of hell. Robson remembers the orixas of Boa Vista, their immense stone faces carved from raw rock a constant presence and reassurance that life resisted the cold brutality of the moon. Oxala, Yemanja, Xango, Oxum, Ogun, Oxossi, Ibeji the Twins, Omolu, Iansa, Nana. He can still name their counterparts among the Catholic saints and list their attributes. In the Corta’s private religion there was little divinity, less theology and no promise of heaven or hell. Endless return. It was natural, spirits recycled as the Zabbaleen recycled the carbon, water, minerals of the discarded body. Hell was pointless, cruel and unusual. Robson still cannot understand why a god would want to punish someone forever when there was no possibility that the punishment would achieve any good.
‘Welcome back,’ Robert Mackenzie said from the depths of the life-support system that kept him alive. The breathing tube in his throat pulsed. ‘You’re one of us now.’ At his left shoulder, his familiar Red Dog. At his right, his wife Jade Sun, her familiar the customary Taiyang I-Ching hexagram: Shi Ke. Robert Mackenzie opened his arms, opened his hook-fingers. ‘We’ll look after you.’ Robson turned his head away as the arms enfolded him. Dry lips brushed Robson’s cheek.
Then Jade Sun. Perfect hair perfect skin perfect lips.
Then Bryce Mackenzie.
‘Welcome back, son.’
Hoang has never spoken about the deals he made to relocate Robson from Crucible to the old family mansion of Kingscourt in Queen of the South but Robson is sure the price was heavy. In Queen he could run, in Queen he could be who he liked, hold the friendships he liked. In Queen he could forget that he would always be a hostage.
Now he comes again to Crucible. The glare of the great train’s smelter mirrors swells until it blinds, even through the photo-chromic glass of the observation bubble. Robson lifts his hand to shade his eyes, then darkness. He blinks away after-images. On either side of him rise the bogies that carry Crucible above the Equatorial One mainline; a thousand of them stretching ahead of him, curving down over the close horizon. Traction motors, power cabling, service platforms and gantries, access ladders: a maintenance bot scurries up a support truss and Robson’s eyes follow it. The stars of this sky are the lights of the overhead factories and accommodation modules.
A third generation moon kid, Robson doesn’t understand claustrophobia – confined spaces are comfort, security – but today the windows and spotlights and warning beacons of Crucible press down like a hand and he cannot shake the knowledge that above those lesser lights is the white-hot focus of the smelter mirrors and crucibles of molten metal. The railcar slows. Grapples descend from the belly of Crucible. There is only the slightest tremor as the clamps lock and lift and slide the railcar towards the dock.
A touch on his shoulder: Hoang.
‘Come on, Robson.’
There he is, there he is!
The tram lock opens on to faces, all turned to him. Within five steps Robson is surrounded by young women in their party dresses: short and tight, rah-rah and puffball; glossy hosiery, deadly heels, hair back-combed to halos. Fuchsia lips, eyes winged with liner, cheekbones highlighted with straight strokes of blusher.
‘Ow!’ Someone has poked him. ‘Yes it hurts.’ Laughing, the girls marshal Robson toward the end of the car where the young people gather. The conservatory – Fern Gully in Mackenzie lore – is large and complex enough in its winding paths and planting zones to allow a dozen sub-parties. Wait-staff with trays of 1788s – the Mackenzies’ signature cocktail – sway between the arching ferns: all of a sudden a glass is in Robson’s hand. He swallows it, bites back the bitterness, enjoys the warmth spreading through him. Ferns rustle; aircon units stir the humid atmosphere. Live birds pick at fronds, flit half-seen from bract to bract.
Robson is the centre of a circle of twenty young Mackenzies.
‘Can I see the bruises?’ asks a girl in a stretchy tight crimson skirt she keeps pulling down and dangerous heels in which she keeps testing her balance.
‘Okay, yeah. Robson slips off his jacket, lifts his t-shirt. ‘Here and here. Deep tissue trauma.’
‘How far up do they go?’
Robson pulls the t-shirt over his head and there are hands all over him, boys and girls alike, eyes wide at the yellow mass of bruising across his back and belly, like a map of the dark mares of the moon. Each touch is a grimace of pain. A doodle of cool across his belly: one of the girls has drawn a smiley face in pink lip gloss on his abs. In an instant girls and boys pull out their cosmetics and assault Robson with pink and fuchsia, white and lime florescent yellow. Laughing. All the time laughing.
‘God you’re skinny,’ a freckled, red-head Mackenzie boy says.
‘Why didn’t you break in bits?’
‘Does this hurt? Does this, this; what about this?’
Robson cowers, back turned to the stabbing lip-sticks, arms wrapped around his head.
A light tap on the shoulder from the titanium wand of a vaper.
The hands pull back.
‘Put some clothes on darling. We’ve people to meet.’
Darius Mackenzie is only a year older than Robson but the kids step back. Darius Mackenzie is the last surviving son of Jade Sun-Mackenzie. He is short for a third gen, dark, his features more Sun than Mackenzie. No one on Crucible believes he is the product of Robert Mackenzie’s frozen sperm. But he has the old master’s tone of command.
Robson pulls on his shirt, rescues his jacket.
Robson has never understood Darius’s affection for him – he is of the same blood that killed Darius’s brother, Hadley, in the arena of the Court of Clavius. But if he has a friend in Crucible, it is Darius. On those occasions when Robson returns from Queen of the South – birthdays, Hoang’s unspoken obeisances to Bryce – Darius always hears of Robson’s arrival and finds him within minutes. It is a relationship that only exists in Crucible, but Robson appreciates Darius’s favour. He suspects even Bryce fears Darius Mackenzie.
This is what Robson hates about Crucible; the fear. The naked, shaking fear that infests every gesture and word, every thought and breath. Crucible is an engine of fear. Lines of fear running up and down the ten kilometres of Crucible’s spine, twitching and whispering, pulling and tugging on the hooks of secrets and debts buried in the skins of every one of the great train’s crew.
‘They’re jealous really,’ Darius says, drawing deep on his vaper and slipping an arm around Robson’s waist. ‘Now, come along. We have rounds to make. Everyone wants to meet you. You’re a celebrity. Is it true none of the runners came to see you in med centre?’
Darius knows the answer to his own question but Robson says yes anyway. He knows why Darius Mackenzie asked it. The lines of fear run all the way from Crucible to the old quadras of Queen of the South. Even traceur kids know the legend that the Mackenzies repay three times.
Robson hates the chummy, Australianised contraction of his name. He does not recognise this coterie of high-fashion, big-haired young white women but they seem to assume some claim of kinship. Their hair is intimidating.
‘Suit, Robbo. Marco Carlotta, classy. Got the sleeves right. Heard you had a bit of an accident.’
The coterie hoots with laughter. Robson recounts his story to appreciative oohs and eye-rolls but Darius has surveilled the next social group and, begging protocol, steers Robson on.
Under a canopy of fern fronds, 1788 cocktails loose in their hands, Mason Mackenzie and a group of young males talk handball. The Mackenzie way is for the women to talk in one group and the men in another. Mason is the new owner of the João de Deus Jaguars. He’s signed Jojo Oquaye from the Twé All-Stars and he is boasting to his friends about how he put out the eyes of Diego Quartey in Twé. Robson hates to hear Mason talking about his team. It’s not Mason’s team, it never will be his team. They are not Jaguars; they never will be Jaguars – what is a Jaguar anyway? – they are the Moços. The guys, the girls. You can steal a team but you can’t steal a name. The name is cut into the heart. He remembers his pai lifting him up on to the rail of the director’s box, handing him the ball. It sat in his hand naturally, heavier than he imagined. Throw it in. All the players, all the fans and visitors in the Estádio da Luz were looking at him. For a moment he almost whimpered and wanted paizinho to lift him down from the rail, away from the eyes. Then he lifted the ball high and threw it with all his strength and it sailed out, much further than he had thought it could, over the upturned faces of the people in the terraces below, towards the rectangle of green.
‘The Moços will never win for you,’ Robson says. The men break off their conversation at the interruption. A moment’s anger, then they recognise the kid who fell from the top of the world.
Darius links Robson’s arm again.
‘Okay. Enough.’ Darius has spotted bigger game among the frond-shadows. ‘Sport is crass anyway.’ Cousins and more remote relatives pass and compliment Robson on his clothes, celebrity and survival. None ask to see the lip-gloss-smeared bruises. A live band plays bossa nova. It’s been bigger than ever since the fall of Corta Hélio; a global music. Guitar, acoustic bass, whispering drums.
Robson freezes. Clustered between the band and the bar are Duncan Mackenzie and his okos Anastasia and Apollinaire, Yuri Mackenzie the CEO of Mackenzie Fusion, Yuri’s half-brothers Denny and Adrian and Adrian’s oko, Jonathon Kayode, the Eagle of the Moon himself. Darius tugs gently on Robson’s arm.
‘Work the room.’
Anastasia and Apollinaire’s delight at Robson’s adventure is effusive. Hugs, kisses, making him stand and turn one way then the other to check injuries – his complexion is better than yours, Asya. Yuri is smiling and unimpressed, Duncan disapproves; a fall from the roof of the world is a blatant breach of family security, but his disapproval bears no weight. Duncan Mackenzie carries no authority since Robert Mackenzie took back control of Mackenzie Metals. Yuri is CEO of the helium-3 company Mackenzie Metals scavenged from the corpse of Corta Hélio. Denny is a tense, set-jawed twitch of energy as constrained as helium in a fusion pinch-field. Denny is a link in a chain of vengeance: Carlinhos killed his uncle Hadley in the Court of Clavius; Denny slit Carlinhos’s throat in the sack of João de Deus. Seize your enemy’s fallen weapon and turn it against them.
The Eagle of the Moon wants to know Robson’s secret. You fell three kilometres and walked away? Robson is starstruck. He has never seen the Eagle in the flesh: he’s taller than Robson imagined, almost as tall as a gen three but built like a mountain. His formal agbada robes only magnify his gravity.
The secret? Darius answers for tongue-tied Robson. Try not to hit the ground.
The voice is quiet and refined, low in pitch and soft but it silences even the Eagle of the Moon. The Mackenzie men dip their heads. The Eagle of the Moon takes the offered hand and kisses it.
‘Jonathon. Duncan; Adrian.’
From time beyond remembering, the Dowager of Taiyang has been Lady Sun. No one knows the true age of Sun Cixi – none would dare ask. Her years may rival even Robert Mackenzie. Not for Lady Sun 1980s retro. She wears a faux-wool day suit from 1935, skirt to below the knee, wide-lapel led hip-length jacket, single button. Fedora, wide band. Classic style is never out of fashion. She is a small woman, even by first generation norms; dwarfed by her bodyguard of handsome, smiling Sun boys and girls, fit and fast in their fashionable powder-blue Armani suits and killer Yohji Yamamoto coats. She compels every eye. Her every movement communicates will and intent. Nothing is unconsidered. She is poised, electric, crackling with potency. Her eyes are dark and brilliant, seeing all, reflecting nothing.
A hand extended, a cocktail arrives in it. A gin martini, barely hazed with vermouth.
‘I brought my own,’ Lady Sun says, taking a sip. Not a lipstick mark on the glass. ‘And yes, it is terribly rude but I simply cannot drink that piss you call a 1788.’ She turns her needle eyes on Robson.
‘I hear you’re the boy who fell the height of Queen of the South. I suppose everyone’s telling you how wonderful you are for surviving. I say you’re a damn fool for falling in the first place. If a son of mine did a thing like that, I’d disinherit him. For a month or two. You’re a Corta, aren’t you?’
‘Robson Mackenzie, qiansui,’ Robson says.
‘Qiansui. Corta manners there all right. You always were smooth, you Brazilians. Australians have no finesse. Take care of yourself, Robson Corta. There aren’t many of you left.’
Robson purses his right hand and dips his head the way Madrinha Elis taught him. Lady Sun smiles at his Corta decorum. An arm around Robson’s shoulders, a wince of pain. Darius steers him onward through the party.
‘They’re going to talk politics now,’ Darius says.
Robson smells Robert Mackenzie before he sees him. Antiseptics and antibacterials barely mask the piss and shit. Robson catches the oily, vanilla perfume of fresh medical electronics; hair grease, caked sweat, a dozen fungal infestations and a dozen more antifungals fighting them.
Plugged and socketed into his environment unit, Robert Mackenzie inhabits the green, whispering-fern pergola at the centre of his garden. Birds chirp and whirl through the ferns, glimpses of flashing colour. They are brightness and beauty. Robert Mackenzie is a man old beyond age, beyond the limits of biology. He sits on a throne of pumps and purifiers, lines and monitors, power supplies and nutrient drips, a leather purse of a man at the heart of a pulsing tangle of pipes and lines. Robson cannot bear to look at him.
Behind Robert Mackenzie, the shadow behind the throne, Jade Sun-Mackenzie.
‘Darius, that vaper. No.’
The thing in the chair croaks and convulses in a dry laugh.
‘I hate it when you say that, it makes me sound like my great-aunt.’
Words now from the thing on the throne, so slow and creaking Robson does not at first realise they are addressed to him.
‘Nice one, Robbo.’
‘Thank you, Vo. Happy birthday, Vo.’
‘Nothing happy about it, boy. And you’re a Mackenzie so speak the fucking King’s English.’
‘Still, nice trick, falling three kays and walking away. I always knew you were one of us. You getting any off it?’
‘Puss. Cock. Neither. Whatever it is you like.’
‘You’re never too young. Always capitalise. That’s the Mackenzie way.’
‘Pop, can I ask you something?’
‘It’s my birthday, I’m supposed to be magnanimous. What do you want?’
‘The traceurs – the free runners. You won’t go after them?’
Robert Mackenzie starts in honest surprise.
‘Why should I do that?’
‘Because they were there. A Mackenzie could have died. Repay three times, that’s the Mackenzie way.’
‘It is, Robbo, it is. I have no interest in your sports mates. But if you want it official, I will not touch any of your free-runners. Red Dog, witness that.’
Robert Mackenzie’s familiar, named after the town in Western Australia where he built his fortune, once wore the skin of a dog but over iterations and decades has changed like its owner to become a pattern of triangles: ears, a geometry that hints at muzzle, a neck; slash eyes: an abstraction of a dog’s head. Red Dog tags Robert Mackenzie’s words and forwards them to Robson’s familiar, Joker.
‘Thank you, Pop.
‘Try not to make it sound like sick in your mouth, Robbo. And give your pop a birthday kiss.’
Robson knows that Robert Mackenzie sees him close his eyes as he brushes his lips against the scaly, paper-crisp cheek.
‘Oh yes. Robbo. Bryce wants to see you.’
Robson’s belly tightens. Muscles clench painfully. His stomach seems to open on to nothing. He looks to Darius for help.
‘Darius, give your mother five minutes,’ Jade Sun says. ‘I hardly ever see you these days.’
I’ll find you, Darius messages through Joker. For a moment Robson considers hiding in Fern Gully’s maze of paths and brakes but Bryce has anticipated that: Joker rezzes a path on Robson’s lens through the short dresses and big-shouldered suits and bigger hair.
Bryce is talking with a woman Robson does not recognise, but from her height, her discomfort in lunar gravity, the cut of her clothing, he guesses she is from Earth. The People’s Republic of China, he decides, from her confidence and aura of customary authority. The woman excuses herself. Bryce bows to her. For a big man, an immensely big man, he is light on his feet. Dainty.
‘You wanted to see me?’
Bryce Mackenzie has eight adoptees. The oldest is thirty-three-year-old Byron, protégé of Bryce in the finance department. The youngest is Ilia, ten years old, orphaned after a habitat breach at Schwarzchild. He survived eight hours in a refuge coffin; corpses and rock piled on his faceplate. Robson can understand that. The refugee, the needy, the abandoned, the orphan: all swept into Bryce Mackenzie’s family. Tadeo Mackenzie has even married, a woman too, but those same lines of power that Robson feels nerving the sun-bleached skeleton of Crucible are stitched through the skins of every adopted son. A tug and all are drawn together.
The full name. The cheek offered, the filial kisses.
‘I am very very cross with you, you know. It may take me a long time to forgive you.’
‘I’m all right. Just a bit of bruising.’
Bryce looks him up and down. Robson feels eyes peeling away his clothing.
‘Yes, boys are extraordinarily resilient creatures. They can absorb incredible amounts of damage.’
‘I missed a hold. I made a mistake.’
‘Yes, and physical exercise is so very important, but Robson, really. Hoang was responsible. I put you in his charge. No, I simply can’t take the risk again. You’re safer in Crucible.’
Robson thinks his heart might have stopped.
‘I’ve bought you a present.’ Robson hears excitement in Bryce’s voice. He could vomit with fear and loathing.
‘My birthday’s not until Libra,’ Robson says.
‘It’s not for your birthday. Robson, this is Michaela.’
She turns from the conversation in which she has been engaged, a short, tight-muscled white Jo Moonbeam. In her time on the moon she’s learned Mackenzie etiquette: a brief dip of the head.
‘She’s your personal trainer, Robson.’
‘I don’t want a personal trainer.’
‘I do. You need building up. I like muscle on my boys. You’ll start tomorrow.’
Bryce breaks off, looks up. Robson sees it too, a shift in the angle of the light.
The light never moves. That’s the power of Crucible: unwavering noon light focused on the overhead smelters.
The light moved. Is moving.
‘Robson, come with me if you want to live.’
Light-footed Bryce is also fast. He snatches Robson by the arm and almost flies; great soaring lunar leaps as the alarms sound and every lens is over-ridden by the emergency alarm. General evacuation. General evacuation.
Sunlight touches Duncan Mackenzie’s face and he looks up. Every Mackenzie in Fern Gully looks up, faces striped with the sudden shadows of fronds. Lady Sun lifts an eyebrow.
As she speaks, Esperance, Duncan Mackenzie’s familiar, whispers the one word in his ear he has dreaded all his life.
The apocalypse myth of Mackenzie Metals: the day the tons of molten rare earths in the smelters rain down. No one on Crucible has ever believed it possible. Everyone on Crucible knows the word.
‘Lady Sun, we have to evacuate…’ Duncan Mackenzie says but the Dowager of Taiyang’s entourage has formed a phalanx around her, pushing without hesitation through the startled party-goers. They shove Jonathon Kayode out of their path; the Eagle’s guards drop into a tight phalanx, hands reaching for holstered blades.
‘Leave that, get us out of here!’ Adrian Mackenzie shouts. The swirl toward the lock to the next car is becoming a stampede. Shouts into screams. ‘Not that way you idiots! The drop pods!’
‘Adrian, what’s happening?’ the Eagle of the Moon asks.
‘I don’t know,’ Adrian Mackenzie answers, crouching in the shelter of the ring of bodyguards. Knives drawn, the Eagle’s guards push dazed, lost party-goers out of the way. ‘It’s not a depressurisation.’ Then his eyes go wide as his familiar whispers the same word to him: Ironfall.
‘Mr Mackenzie.’ Duncan Mackenzie’s Chief Blade is a short Tanzanian, Jo-Moonbeam-muscular. ‘We have lost control of the mirrors.’
‘All of them.’
‘Sir, in just over a minute the temperature will hit two thousand Kelvin.’
The light through the fern fronds is as bright and hot as fresh forged knives. Every bird, every insect in the fern jungle has fallen silent. The air burns Duncan’s nostrils.
‘Sir, I’m tasked with your protection.’
‘Where is my father? Where is my father?’
Excerpted from Luna: Wolf Moon copyright © 2017 by Ian McDonald