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First pages

CHAPTER 1 - ACCOMPANIED BAGGAGE

Jonah never understood grief until his life acquired a hole the exact shape of Thomas: his brother, the graduate, the favoured son. Thomas, who was now an urn full of ashes nestled within Jonah's hand luggage.

The walls of the space elevator cabin curved away from where he sat. Jonah’s eyes followed the round ceiling, but returned to the luggage as it drifted in the storage rack. His stomach lurched at the thought of the urn breaking inside his bag. Dad would never speak to him again if he got this wrong. He grabbed for the bag. Even in microgravity the brass container was heavy with the memory of Thomas, bleeding out on the pavement while the ambulances took too long to come.

A subtle thump rocked the elevator as it came to a halt against the space-side terminator.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to space,” came the recorded announcement. “Please be aware that your belongings may have shifted as we entered zero gravity. Please ensure you have all belongings with you before you exit the elevator. Passengers for the Moon should exit through the blue hatchway. Terminator personnel are now safe to exit through core-side…”

A floor-to-ceiling window showed a sweeping view of the transfer shuttle docked alongside. Below, the dark bulk of the diamond fibre elevator cable disappeared into clouds far below them. Jonah's shuddered as his mind took in the impossible height. The port state of Singapore lay below those clouds.

The recording droned while people drifted across the cabin and pulled themselves through the hatchway. Jonah tried to do the same, but pushed off too hard and spun across the open space. People turned to look. Blushing, he noticed a handrail and hauled himself into the shuttle.

He strapped himself into his seat and closed his eyes, willing the unease of a weightless stomach to pass. Not long now, and he would take his first steps under the soaring domes of Chang'e, the First Lunar Palace of the Republic of Jiangnan. He allowed himself a short sigh of relief as acceleration pushed him back into the chair.

His thoughts returned to Thomas, the way a tongue finds a hole where a tooth used to be. Thomas playing with Jess, their big black Labrador; Thomas goofing off by a pool at Spring Break; fishing together at the lake with five-year-old Thomas. Hot tears sat behind his eyes and would not come.

Fifteen hours later, deceleration pushed him forward into his belt, and Jonah got his first glimpse of the Moon through the small view-port set across from him. Outside, the crystal span of Chang'e glittered in contrast to the harsh grey exterior of Mare Imbrium.

This was his chance to make things right; an opportunity to get away from disappointing his father, to say goodbye to the aching emptiness left by Thomas, and perhaps a way to leave his messed-up life for good.

The towering geodesic domes stretched across the lunar surface in a silent display of engineering prowess and all the wealth a vast supply of Helium-3 could bring.

The miracle fuel of the clean energy revolution was his ticket to redemption and a chance to set things right. Even more, it was a way to make a living far from everything that was a reminder of the cold urn in his luggage.

Jonah did not notice the shuttle docking until a gentle thump rocked his seat. The airlock and passageway had the familiar hallmarks of an Earth airport as it encouraged weary passengers to move along to better places with as much speed as possible. A yellow triangle icon blinked in his field of view.

Great, no signal. The memplant was useless without data. Jonah hoped he had enough credit for a local account.

He knew he had arrived when the dry dome air took on the faint electric-cinnamon smell of manufactured atmosphere. Beyond the passage, he emerged into a vast reception hall where an imposing building rose in tiered slabs of red and yellow aluminium. Signs in Global Standard announced it as ‘Administration’.

Above the stream of arriving passengers, triangular glass segments bound open sky in a dome wall that soared to elevations impossible in Earth's gravity. Jonah stopped and stared. The wide curve gave the impression of standing on an empty plain. Each segment of glass held a constellation of over bright stars against inky black. The jewelled arc swept across the sky to end in the sombre grey heights of the hills of Mare Imbrium.

“Welcome to the Moon. May I have your passport, please?” said a voice somewhere above him. A man stood behind a customs desk, towering over Jonah's stocky six-foot-two frame.

Jonah handed over his passport and, after a moment's hesitation, the authorisation to scatter Thomas's ashes.

He tried not to stare. He had heard descriptions of moonos, the overly tall, fourth generation children of miners living in the Moon's low gravity. The man's face had pale, birdlike features. Long delicate hands held up his passport for examination.

“Ah, Mr Barnes, my condolences on your loss. Administration has allocated temporary accommodation for you in Dome Seven and a representative will be in touch to help with the arrangements. How long do you intend to stay?”

“I don't know. I thought I might try and track down a job.”

A flash of contempt vanished behind the moono’s professional mask. “The Moon is not an itinerant worker's camp, Mr Barnes. You can have the standard two-week holiday visa. Your employer will arrange a longer work permit if you find employment.” He stamped Jonah's passport and turned to the next person in line.

Numb, Jonah moved on through a luxury shopping precinct that would not have been out of place in Earth's finest suburbs. Stalls selling premium Earth lines competed with Lunar jewellery and clothing.

Jonah stopped at a display window filled with titanium tinged pyroclastic glass jewellery. Pyroclastic beads came from the remains of ancient lunar volcanoes. The subtle combinations of red, yellow, and green shone in tasteful lighting. The display left him convinced he could not afford it.

An autovendor offered travel data packages at exorbitant rates. Jonah chose the cheapest package and waited for it to load to his memplant. The nano-organic memory implant flashed malware warnings within his visual cortex, then allowed the package to start. It appeared to work until, with an impulsive urge to buy a new shirt, he turned towards a shop.

He stopped mid-stride. Stupid malware, Panamerica had banned emotion hooks decades ago. He toggled the memplant to a higher security setting using the voluntary memory that felt like blinking, but wasn’t. Messy visual adverts replaced the desire to buy.

Dome Seven occupied the cheap edge of Chang'e. The dome’s side nestled against a small rock outcrop that blocked direct sunlight for most of the day. Deep shade left the air dry and cold. The accommodation was a functional slab set towards the back of the main dome building.

He checked in to his room, unpacked and sat on the bed, listening to the silence. Thomas would have filled the silence with laughter and his wry witticisms about the people around them.

When the emptiness became too much, he browsed online to see what was nearby. There was a sports facility called an airball court on the top floor, and a bar two floors below his room. Easy choice.

He staggered towards the bar and tried to walk with the confidence of the people around him. The simple action was a whole new skill in the low gravity.

Candy Silk was a dark plas-panelling kind of bar with soft lighting. Small groups of moonos lounged in comfortable booths. Muted conversation flowed over the clatter of a tile game. Two women in flowing moonsilk creations drifted past, heading for the bar. Jonah made a deliberate effort to lower his gaze. They were slim, elegant fantasy creatures with delicate high cheekbones and bright emerald eyes that had the slightest suggestion of an epicanthic fold. Low gravity blessed their curves with an absence of sagging.

A hint of spicy, deep-fried food reminded him he had not eaten since leaving Earth. He ordered a beer and winced at the price, but he needed a fix, even if it was just a beer buzz.

“You don't want that caatcha,” murmured a voice.

He turned to find emerald eyes regarding him. Unlike the other moonos, he wore a simple black utility suit that should have been shapeless, but emphasised a lithe frame.

“Why not?” he asked as he struggled to maintain equilibrium.

“Beer comes up the stalk for heavy credit.”

“What'd you get?”

The moono turned to the bar and ordered a bottle of shaoxing and five glasses. “You fresh up stalk?”

“Yeah, been here about two hours now.”

“Well, Shaoxing help you settle in,” he said and passed over a full glass, “I am Lucien.”

“Jonah. Nice to meet you. You're the first moono I've met.”

Lucien frowned, “We do not call ourselves moonos, Is Earther slang. If you say elsewhere, you end up being called thick or squat. We call ourselves Moon Folk.”

“Oh, Sorry.” Jonah blushed. He took a sip of the drink to cover his embarrassment and managed to swallow the liquid fire before he burst out coughing. “What is this stuff?”

Lucien grinned, “Too strong for Earth boy? administrator does not allow us many pleasures; enjoy good time while you can. Come meet my friends.”

He led Jonah to a booth occupied by three other Moon Folk.

“What you dragged in this time, Lucien?” said an older woman with emotionless, grey eyes.

“He calls himself Jonah, fresh up stalk.”

“Ah, another hopeful then. What you doing here, young man?”

“I'm looking for work…”

Lucien cut him off. “No real plans then.”

“Typical dirt-baller. Cannot walk, cannot talk,” murmured the man to the left of the older woman, loud enough for Jonah to hear.

Jonah rose to leave, but Lucien placed a firm hand on his arm and drew him back.

“Stay. We like to tease new Earthers.”

Jonah hid his embarrassment with another taste of the fiery liquid. The second sip was better. His shoulders dropped as a pleasant warmth spread through his core.

“I'm here to bury my brother.”

The group met his statement with stony silence.

Lucien took one of his hands.

“I sorry for your loss, but Moon Folk reserve burial for persons of note. Organic material is precious on Moon and we seldom surrender it. Most people recycled in garden systems.”

The older man did not soften his glare. “Your family must be in good with administrator for him give you honour like this.”

“My father doesn’t know the administrator,” said Jonah, “but he thinks money can make all kinds of problems go away. Even difficult sons like me.”

Lucien scowled at the man, and then turned to Jonah. “What do you do for fun?”

“I do martial arts.”

Lucien raised his glass. “I love martial arts movies. Have you seen Teacup Zen?”

“Oh yeah,” Jonah leaned forward. “I watched it on the shuttle. That scene where Mamma Buk takes on the ninjas is incredible.” He took another sip of the shaoxing. “Do you like the older movies? I saw Ong Bak and Ip Man a while ago and the fighting technique was so real.”

“Lucien,” the older woman stood. “We leave you to bore your new friend with kung fu.” She motioned to the other two, and they left.

Lucien shrugged. “More shaoxing for us.” He turned to Jonah. “I have not seen Ip Man, but the action never stopped in Ong Bak.”

The evening trickled past in the clink of shaoxing glasses and the chatter of new friends, until, hours later, Lucien bade him good rest, at the door to Jonah’s room. More drunk than he intended to be, Jonah climbed into bed. He wanted to think this whole tumultuous day through, but sleep fell over him like a black wave.

 

CHAPTER 2 – ADAPTATION

The next morning, he was roused by enthusiastic rapping on the door. He stumbled from the bed in his nightwear and opened the door.

Lucien reached in and shook him by the shoulders. “Wake up, lazy. You need fresh air and exercise.”

Jonah stood there with his mouth open.

“Get dressed. I take you to airball court.”

Jonah grabbed his clothes and stumbled across the room to the cupboard-sized bathroom.

Lucien stifled a laugh. “You need practice. Takes few days to master walking in low gravity.”

Jonah ran his sonic shaver over day-old stubble, then switched it to grooming mode and tidied up his hair. Satisfied with what he saw in the mirror, he changed into a self-sealing white shirt and dark pants.

Lucien led him to the top floor. The entire floor was a single well-lit room. A large dome constructed of a light metal mesh, so fine it was almost invisible, dominated the centre. Rows of stadium seating surrounded the dome, almost like a back to front basketball court. Two hoops set back to back in the middle, one painted red, the other white.

“This is airball,” said Lucien. He opened a gate and picked up a ball, about two thirds of the size of a basketball.

“You score by passing ball through correct hoop. I will take red and you have white.”

“Something like the basketball we play back at home?” said Jonah.

“Something like basketball, except you cannot score while your feet are on floor. That is why is called airball. Wanna try?” asked Lucien an impish grin on his face.

“Sure, but I should warn you, I shot a few hoops in college.”

“We shall see.”

They entered the dome and Lucien tossed Jonah the ball and told him to start. The ball was heavier than Jonah expected, the weight gave it a solid Earther feel. Jonah dribbled the ball cautiously as he got used to the low gravity. He jumped up and shot for the white hoop. The ball looped in a lazy arc that missed by a wide margin.

“Yeh, Earth boy, you do better than that, lah.”

Jonah gave him a sheepish grin. The low gravity was trickier than he expected.

The ball passed wide and bounced upwards. Lucien, instead of running for it, bounded up the opposite wall. His momentum carried him clear to the top of the dome. He caught the ball as he rose and shot straight through the red hoop.

“One to Moon lad.”

“No fair, you said our feet had to be off the floor.”

“Yes, floor, not roof. Still think you can take me Earth Boy?”

“Just watch me.”

Lucien flicked the ball to him. Jonah caught it and launched himself toward the top of the dome. He executed a half-turn to get his feet on the roof of the dome for a good shot. The low gravity surprised him and he spun around twice before he slammed his back into the dome and crashed to the floor in an ungracious heap. He still had the ball. He stood, planning to take another shot but Lucien's laughter brought him up short.

“Oh man, was so spectacularly bad. Are you sure you played basketball back on Earth?”

“Yeah, yeah. I didn't grow up in low gravity. Give me another go and I'm sure I can get it right.”

“One more try and then I send you for training with kiddies,” said Lucien with a smirk. “But only if you promise not to squash them.”

Jonah bit down on the retort he had in mind and tried to focus. He tried a small jump and shot for the hoop, watching with satisfaction as the ball slipped through the white hoop.

“Yes! Score one for the Earth boy.”

He had it now. He would play to his own strengths. If he kept the ball low, he could minimise Lucien's advantage in the low gravity.

Lucien tossed him the ball. “Don't get too smart. Winner is first to three points.”

Jonah jogged forward and shot for a point. This time he didn't wait to see if it went in, but hustled to where he thought it would bounce. The ball missed. Lucien appeared next to him, but Jonah’s forward thinking gave him the edge. He dodged around Lucien and caught the ball. His momentum carried him to the edge of the dome, so he went with it. He ran up the side and tried Lucien's trick of shooting from above the hoops. This time it worked. The ball sank through the white hoop.

“Oh yeah! That's what I'm talking about. Two to me.”

“Beginner’s luck, I say.”

Lucien picked up the ball and ran straight for the centre. Jonah saw him coming and blocked his path with his body. Lucien dodged around and scored.

“That is how pros do it.”

Jonah feinted left, then sprinted right. Lucien shadowed him, blocking his path.

“I am wise to Earth style now.”

“Still a few tricks I can show you.” Jonah twisted and ran for the walls. Lucien jumped high and landed with his feet on the dome. Jonah didn't stop to speak. He mustered his strength and jumped clear across the court, grabbing the ball to try for a far shot. He missed, and the ball bounced straight into Lucien's hands.

A small crowd had gathered to watch them play. Nice! Lucien would humiliate him in public. Not going to happen he told himself.

“Here we go. Moon style and speed for win,” Lucien said to the crowd at large.

Jonah didn't rise to the bait, but shadowed Lucien, watching for an opening. He didn't have long to wait. Lucien ran past him and up the dome wall. Jonah followed, he knew what Lucien would try. Lucien shot from near the top. Jonah had seen it coming and launched off the dome. He intercepted the ball in mid-air as he fell.

He slammed into the floor hard. The floor gave as much as a steel wall. The low gravity had done nothing to save him. He groaned. That would hurt later, but it had been worth it.

The crowd became silent, sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation. Lucien wasn't saying anything either, the trash talk put aside for a serious chance at winning. He wove towards the centre. Jonah shadowed him again. Lucien changed tactics and ran for the dome. Jonah followed. Lucien reached the side of the dome and sprinted sideways. Jonah changed direction to follow. Lucien, losing momentum, fell to the floor, and doubled back towards the centre. He jumped and shot. Jonah was fast enough to catch the ball. He turned and shot for the hoop. It was an awkward angle and bounced off the rim of the hoop.

Lucien charged for the ball. The crowd rose to their feet as one. Nobody wanted to miss what had turned into a fantastic game.

Jonah was too far from the ball to intercept Lucien. He ran towards the hoops, hoping to stop the ball before it hit the hoop, but he was too slow. Lucien rose into the air and spiked the ball hard. Jonah couldn't catch it, but got close enough to slap it out of the way. He hit hard, and the ball screamed off at right angles to its previous path. He launched himself like a flying ninja, at the opposite side of the court, without looking at the ball, and landed with catlike grace. The ball, travelling with the force of Jonah's slap, bounced off the dome wall straight to where he had landed. He caught it, jumped, and scored.

The little crowd erupted. Ragged cheers reached Jonah as he regained his breath.

“Not bad for beginner,” said Lucien. “Was quite impressive.”

“I have martial arts training, but the combination of speed and precision is all me.”

Lucien gave him an odd look, “We must have chat about skill of yours.” He turned to address the crowd at large.

“I think we just found new forward.”

The crowd roared its acceptance.

Jonah bounced back to his room, leaping in the low gravity. Lucien was right, he was awake now. Back in his room, the silent accusation of the urn waited. Thomas would have loved airball.

A timid knock interrupted his thoughts. He opened the door to find a willowy woman with the pale moon skin and glowing auburn hair. She had the kind of body he only knew from the wrong sort of dream.

“Are all Moon Folk so ridiculously sexy?” he said before he could stop himself.

She arched one elegant eyebrow, “Only the good-looking ones,” she said without smiling.

“Hello, Mr Barnes, I am Yesha, your appointed lunar representative.

“My condolences for your loss. The administrator requested I guide you outside the domes to scatter the ashes of your brother beyond the perimeter. Can you confirm you have the authorisation for this activity?”

Jonah handed over the administrator's paper.

“We can leave as soon as you are ready,” she said.

Jonah collected the urn.

Yesha looked at him, a moment, then turned and walked out.

Jonah followed her into the hum of a working day. Children sat in neat lines inside an open-air school. Mothers clustered around small tables drinking from glass mugs. A chatter of conversation flowed over them.

Yesha led him through the tunnel that connected domes to a small airlock on the edge of Dome One.

She helped him into a cumbersome exposure suit. It felt tight but puffed up when the airlock opened to the Moon's near vacuum atmosphere. They walked over regolith, the fine grey powder that covered the lunar surface. Thomas would have been able to describe the technical characteristics, but to Jonah, it was grey dirt.

The featureless landscape stretched out before them. A tall pile of dark rocks stood stark against the grey.

“What’s that?” He pointed to the simple cairn.

“An old historical site, Yutu's Monument. It is the landing place of the probe that marked the first moment of the glorious history of China's Moon exploration.”

It was such an inauspicious monument to such a proud historical moment, so different to what he had imagined would commemorate this occasion. Perhaps the Jiangnanese did not wish to emphasise a historical reminder of their ancient Chinese heritage.

They walked in a silence underscored by the hiss of their respirators. The quiet air outlined an absence of Thomas spouting exuberant opinions, boasting about the girl he met last night, or humming in that mindless way he had that drove Jonah nuts. Hot tears ran down his cheeks and pooled in the suit's neck seal.

He stopped and took in the endless openness. “Will here do?”

“Yes, Mr Barnes, here shall be fine.”

He unscrewed the urn and upended it. The ashes floated slowly down in the low gravity until they merged with the grey regolith and Thomas was forever an indistinguishable part of the Moon's surface. He knew his brother would have loved it.

Jonah tried to ignore the stab of pain that clawed at his heart. Thomas had always wanted to visit the Moon.

“Oh Thomas, what will I do now?”

Yesha placed a hand on his shoulder. A gesture at once both practical in the bulky suits and intimate in its closeness.

“Do you have somewhere to go, Mr Barnes?”

“No, I need to find a hotel and then a job in the mines.”

Yesha was silent for a while and they began the walk back to the dome. As they removed their suits in the airlock, she said “My uncle wants me to examine the New Karakorum accounts today. Meet me at the Imbrium Railhead at two o'clock and I will show you a mine.”

The sun reflected off her helmet, but Jonah thought he saw a faint smile.

 

The bare room in Dome Seven promised nothing but more time to think of Thomas. He placed the empty container in the small bedside niche. It wasn't Thomas. Thomas was one with this dry and dusty world. The urn was a mute accusation of unfulfilled wishes and words left unsaid. The silent urn stood in its niche, reflecting dull light.

Jonah went out. The door closed behind him with a sterile thump.

He needed a fix. Something, anything to blur the pain and guilt. He passed formal places designed by tidy minds for function rather than beauty. This part of Chang'e was too clean. Back at home, it was easy to find the small, dark men who waited in dingy bars. Here, Jonah didn't know who to ask. He settled for overpriced beer at a bar near the railhead and willed the time until two o'clock to pass.

 

The Imbrium Railhead turned out to be a railway station on the far side of the Dome One, the rail line an iron rod leading to the far hills. If Jonah expected something as polished as the domes, he was disappointed. The railway station was functional boredom, and the train a series of glass boxes.

Yesha saw him looking at the carriages. “This train is a Moon product. We have always had to make do without the hydrocarbons that Earth depends on; glass is much easier to manufacture than plastics. Our clever Moon engineers designed the train with extreme precision to allow high speed in the endless tunnels.”

“Endless?”

“The Moon Folk have been mining the hills surrounding Mare Imbrium for over a hundred years. There are now so many tunnels that many people live there.” She climbed aboard and patted the seat next to her.

The departure signal sounded, and as the doors were about to close another person jumped into their carriage and sat across from them.

“So? You want to see my world?”

“Lucien!”

“Hello Jonah, is wonderful, bright carriage. Who is your friend makes it shine like this?”

Yesha stiffened in her seat. “Greetings, citizen. Peace and order be with you,” she said eyeing Lucien with cool disdain.

“And with you,” said Lucien, far more at ease than she appeared to be. He winked at Jonah, “You thank administrator lah for granting us vision of loveliness.”

Yesha looked away and said nothing.

Outside, they passed through a gap in the first ring of hills and the track followed meticulous linear precision direct to the base of the second, wide band of hills.

The train entered the mouth of a tunnel and sped on through the darkness. Their faces reflected the dim light cast by small strips in the roof of their carriage.

After an interminable series of junctions, they docked at an airlock deep within the hills. They emerged into a gigantic cavern where large ceiling-mounted arc lights cast fitful beams into stygian darkness. A cacophonous wall of noise filled the air. Heavy machines rumbled through the gloom, materialising from one tunnel and disappearing into another.

“Welcome to New Karakorum, the original joint venture between the People’s Republic of Jiangnan and the Earth's best mining companies,” said Yesha as she slipped back into the role of tour guide.

“This is a central junction and the first of fifteen such levels. Miners are currently extending the tunnels to the right. The White Star Mining Company processes the resulting ore in the two tunnels you see before you. Workers use the older tunnels to the left for accommodation.”

“And that's my cue to leave,” said Lucien. “Come and see me when you escape.” He spoke to Jonah but looked at Yesha. “I am in Tunnel Three on Level Seven. Just ask, everybody knows who I am.”

Yesha frowned. “Citizen, I don’t think that is appropriate.”

“It is only dinner. Come and show our new friend how polite dome folk are.”

Yesha turned to Jonah and pointed towards a row of prefabricated huts. “I must work now. Those are contract company site offices. You might find a job there.”

The first door had a sign saying New England Minerals above it. Inside, three people sat working at metal desks. “Yes?” said a man looking up at him.

“Do you have any work available?”

“Bugger off. We don't have time for infants in nappies.”

Jonah wanted to argue his case, but the bored disdain on the man's face persuaded him to move on to the next company.

The second hut belonged to Ashanti Gases. The view inside was similar to the first hut, but this time, the man behind the desk gave him a thick sheet of forms. “Fill these in and see me when you're done.”

Jonah spent an hour with the complex, repetitive forms before handing them back to the man.

“Done any maintenance on a Series Three Tokatsu?”

“No.”

“How about longwalling; have you done any?”

“No.”

“Cryolitic blasters?”

“No.”

“Look, pal, lunar mining is a specialised business. I can't help you if you have no usable skills.”

“Is there nothing I can do?”

“You can try the other mining companies, but they will be the same. Try the service company up at the end of the row.”

Jonah tried the rest of the miners. Their responses ranged from open hostility to friendly indifference but the answer was always the same. No one wanted an unqualified Earther. At the end of the day-cycle, Jonah was hungry and thirsty, but he tried Samwuh Services, anyway. The man behind the counter looked a thousand years old. He chewed on something as he watched Jonah enter the hut.

He held up a dried twig. “Ethiopian khat, you want?”

Jonah accepted the twig in what he hoped was a polite way. If there was khat, there would be worse things. The astringent, green taste of the twig flooded his mouth as he explained that he was looking for work.

The man sat sucked on the khat as he looked over Jonah.

“You one big squat. Big enough to carry cleaning kit for Shenhua dormitory. I give you twenty credit a day-cycle. You come back tomorrow.”

Jonah agreed; the pay was terrible, but it was work.

He left and realised that he had walked around the mining huts for hours and had nowhere to go. The khat wrapped his hunger and weariness in a happy haze. He remembered Lucien's invitation.

The third tunnel on Level Seven had the dim light of an early evening. Lights shone out of the narrow slit-windows of homes dug as secondary tunnels off the main thoroughfare. The openings lacked glass, but the inhabitants had draped each window with colourful silks to reflect their personalities.

Jonah asked for directions and soon found himself in front of a plain aluminium door. It opened at his first knock.

“Oh, is you,” said Lucien. “You better come in.”

Jonah stepped inside to rooms that were carved hollows in the sombre rock of the tunnel walls. Rich layers of moon silk covered bare rock to give an impression of luxury. Outside, in the main tunnel, the controlling system had lowered the lighting to simulate night, but here, the rooms were lit in warm tones that complemented the silk. Low couches in a deep red surrounded a flat glass-topped table. An abstract statue, sculpted from black basalt, dominated the main living room. Jonah couldn't make it out until he realised that it was an interpretation of the ocean as imagined by someone who had never seen it. The effect was at once startling and poignant.

Yesha rose to greet him as he entered the living area. Jonah smiled at her, pleased to see a face he recognised.

Lucien turned to Jonah, “I have a bottle of special from Dome Seven. Would you like a glass?”

Jonah accepted and sipped it with more caution than he had used last night.

Yesha leaned back on a comfortable pillow. “What will you feed your Earth friend, citizen?”

“Only best, I have Dome catfish in spicy mushroom stew.”

“I am fortunate to be in your company then, citizen.”

“Not only is she beauty, Jonah, but so polite.”

Jonah sat himself on a cushion close to Yesha and lost himself in the way her liquid almond eyes glowed in the soft lighting. “I wanted to thank you for your comfort today. I felt so lost this morning.”

“My sympathies on your loss, Mr Barnes. It is always hard to say a final goodbye.”

“Please, call me Jonah. Mr Barnes is my father's name.”

“Well, I hate to break up special moment,” said Lucien, “but Jonah can I have opinion of my stew?”

Jonah grinned as he rose, and stepped over to the kitchen bench.

The mushrooms gave the stew a rich woody aroma that balanced the earthy catfish and a subtle salty soy flavour.

“Lucien, this fish is delicious.”

“Cooking is just one of my many talents. Can you cook anything?”

“Hamburgers, I guess.”

“Too sad. You won’t get much chance to show off in place with no beef.”

“Huh! I’m sure I can…”

A crashing thump, followed by shouting in the tunnel outside, interrupted Jonah.

“Quick! Hide at the back,” said Lucien pointing, “behind statue.”

Jonah ran through the silk hangings and found a modest bedroom and storage area. He heard Lucien shout. A sickening thud ended in silence.

“That's it, we have the one we want; clear the rest of the vermin.”

Jonah scrambled into the storage locker and shut the door. The blast that followed rattled his teeth. Stars filled his vision in the dark.

He lay there, in the darkness too afraid to move. Every sound threatened violence.

His memplant gave the yellow triangle of no connection, but it gave him the time. Jonah watched as the seconds blurred into hours. He wanted to be anywhere else, but every murmur from the corridor made him shrink from the door.

He tried the door when the memplant told him hours had passed. It didn't budge.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Carleton Chinner is an Australian born writer who spent his childhood in apartheid South Africa and left with a wealth of stories to tell. He has survived a gun fight, discovered dead bodies and dived with sharks. When he’s not slaving over a rip-roaring science story, he works as a project manager on large corporate programs.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
It’s amazing how far a story can move from its beginning. This started as a short Byronian character sketch, but the story would not leave me alone. At a deeper level, I wanted to explore what happens when the margins of society become organised and stand up for their rights.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Visit my website at http:\\carletonchinner.com or find me on Critters.org or BetaBooks.co where I sometimes hang out
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I'm a voracious reader of science fiction, fantasy and horror and typically read more than one book concurrently. Right now I'm reading David Mitchell's incomparable Cloud Atlas, and the oh so creepy Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

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Vampires aren't made...they're chosen!
The Gem Experiments
Seraphina Luxgrove is a liar - and a lie.