Rita ora stala novoyu ge.., p.1

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  Jon Courtenay Grimwood

  LizAlec is wired for sound, speed and anything else that money can buy. But she's abducted. Her mother's a French minister, who moves Heaven and Earth to find her. Fixx fixes things — recordings, people, anything that makes money. Some of him is almost human. Now he has to find LizAlec



  Chapter One

  Aim to please, Shoot to kill

  “ Save the world, leave the planet...”

  “Yeah, right,” thought LizAlec, stuffing her hands deeper in her pockets.

  As a piece of logic it sucked. But then, the poster was there to sell lottery tickets, not win a Nobel prize for intelligence. Not that LizAlec would have been seen dead wasting $15 on an odds-off chance of blasting into space as the new Eve. Inflation or not, $15 still bought half a twist of crystal rage, which was exactly what LizAlec needed just then.

  It was New Year’s Day and LizAlec was having a mare.

  No one else getting off the budget shuttle gave the poster any thought, but it still kept on chanting Brother Michael’s slogan at any visitor near enough to set off its sensors, which was everyone approaching Customs. The hologram was fly-posted to a pillar in the Arrivals Hall, and the hall was busy 24/7.

  Brother Michael and Sister Aaron... Rumour said Sister Aaron was just another West Coast chick-with-a-dick until she met Brother Michael, the man who did what other ex-cons only dreamed of — burnt down the penitentiary at Rikers Island.

  Now Sister Aaron was rumoured to be in cryo, somewhere between Earth and Luna, while Eden was rebuilt around her. It took money to build a ring-colony — even a small one — and that meant donations. Tax-free and with the promise not just of salvation but of a chance in the lottery. A chance to float off into deep space, surrounded by trees, animals and fresh air... not to mention some shit-for-brains who happened to be the other lucky winner.

  LizAlec was already palming a gold HKS credit card by the time she reached the Kodak vidbooth, her ringers doing that come-down amphetamine dance that cuts in just before you get the full shakes. One call home to Mummy to say sorry was all it would take, but the fuck she would. This one was for Fixx, to remind the bastard what he was missing. Three weeks she’d been back in Paris with him all over her like a rash and then not even a goodbye call...

  LizAlec came out of the booth buttoning her school shirt, cotton blazer slung sloppily over one thin shoulder. Her deep violet eyes flicked over the hired bodyguard, and her WeGuard looked hurriedly away as LizAlec fumbled with pearl buttons, hunching her shoulders as she slipped a black tippet round her neck and knotted it neatly, like the regulations at St Lucius demanded.

  It was time to go find Ms Gwyneth.

  A year from now, if LizAlec wanted to, she’d be able to recall everything around her, from that crying brat with the McDonald’s soyburger to the cheap chrome façade of the franchised sushi bar.

  LizAlec shook her head, trying to wipe it of images. Most people summoned up scents, tastes or emotions to pluck memories from the brain’s limbic system. LizAlec recorded images only, eidetic-style. Cold clear images, perfect scans. No feelings to her memories, certainly no accompanying sounds or smells.

  Not now. Not for a long time.

  The chances of her e-vid ever reaching Fixx were almost zero, but at least she’d tried. The address she’d called was a drop box for his fan club; knowing Fixx, something cheap and automated, run out of a derelict basement in Bastille. She’d done what she could to make sure it got past her mother, used heavyweight crypt, forked out for a new coms card because her own was bound to be on a filter list. She’d even paid extra to bounce a back-up off a different orbital re-mailer.

  What else could she do? LizAlec already knew the answer to that. Niet, Nothing, Nada... Chances were, Lady Clare would still have her message intercepted and wiped clean by some web-bot, but then, that was just her mother for you. LizAlec buttoned her blue blazer and sunk her hands deep into trouser pockets, pushing down until the cloth was pulled tight across her hips.

  Up ahead was Luna Customs — two droids and a token human — not that getting checked was necessary. Without even knowing it, LizAlec had already been stripped, recorded, every cavity scanned by m/wave cameras as she stepped onto and off the shuttle. All she need do now was pass through the barrier and go find the prissy Ms Gwyneth.

  Except it wasn’t just Ms Gwyneth who was waiting. With the headmistress was a geeky little Chinese girl clutching a metal flower. That was who LizAlec was going to be sharing her room with and sending Anchee along was meant to make LizAlec feel at home. Instead it just made her feel sick.

  “Fuck it,” LizAlec muttered hoarsely, pushing her way through the Customs booth. Her voice had that cut-glass quality that says money no matter what language is used. But even LizAlec’s accent couldn’t disguise the fact she’d been crying for most of the flight, pretty much from blast off to landing. And the fact she was wired to hell probably didn’t help either.

  “Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it...”

  In front of her, Anchee frowned while Ms Gwyneth pretended not to hear. Not that it made any difference to LizAlec. What were the Sisters of St Lucius going to do? Tell her mother?

  As if LizAlec would care.

  Expel her?

  If only... But they wouldn’t. She’d already tried. LizAlec wanted out but it just wasn’t going to happen.

  “It’s not going to happen, is it?” LizAlec demanded loudly, staring at Ms Gwyneth. The woman was staring back like LizAlec was a freak. Actually, LizAlec realized, everyone was staring.

  LizAlec looked for her WeGuard, noted he’d freeze-framed in mid-stride and finally saw what had grabbed everyone’s attention. Though it wasn’t actually the man in the Mickey Mouse mask that Anchee, Ms Gwyneth and her WeGuard were watching: it was what he held in his hand.

  Rainbow-chrome barrel. A laser sight half as long as the barrel, riveted to the top. An enormous enamel cartouche braised to its ivory handle, the crest something triple-hatted, papal.

  Stolen or fake, LizAlec decided.

  It was an old-model ten-shot Heckler and Koch, retrofitted for the new lock-on slugs. Okay for some Parisian street gang, if they weren’t too choosy, but the Papal States were better armed than that. Besides, what quarrel could Pope Joan have with a schoolgirl in transit on the moon?

  St Lucius Academy was single-sex, classically structured and — as of now — based in its own full-gravity O’Neill colony. It also now kept a facility on the moon for low-gravity sports, a roofed-over crater 300 klicks from Chrysler City, 800 klicks from Fracture and a full 100 klicks from the nearest male human, guaranteed. No wonder her mother loved it. Christ, it had to be the only school in existence that still taught in Latin.

  The laser bead was moving now, dropping down LizAlec’s school shirt, ticking off the fussy pearl buttons one by one. And then the red dot began to move up again, until LizAlec could no longer see it. But it wasn’t hard to guess where it was now. Not if the expression on her WeGuard’s sweat-beaded face was anything to go by. Resting neatly on her forehead, probably. So she looked like some fifteen-to-a-room dothead from the projects out beyond Cluny.

  “Shit.” LizAlec sucked at her teeth in disgust. First Fixx, then her mother. And now just to wind things up, it looked like she was about to get slotted by some B-movie psycho in a plastic mouse-mask. What a perfect bloody start to the New Year.

  “You going to shoot, or not?” LizAlec asked. She smiled sweetly at the man, watching the glint of his eyes through the idiot mask hiding his face. The whole Arrivals Hall was holding its breath, LizAlec knew that. It was what she was counting on. She had one eye on the frozen crowd, one on the security vids busy record
ing everything that went down.

  “Please, no...” The tiny Chinese girl, Anchee, stepped forward only to stop dead as the muzzle of the man’s automatic rammed against her mouth in a cold ceramic kiss. Three years of priceless orthodontics went straight down the drain. LizAlec didn’t even blink.

  “Well?” LizAlec’s voice carried easily over the head of the silent crowd. She didn’t want her mother to miss a single dramatic moment. Come to that, she didn’t want her to miss how useless her locally hired WeGuard was either.

  “You going to do something about this?” LizAlec said to her frozen-faced black bodyguard. Very slowly, the man shook his head.


  “Get on with it, then,” LizAlec told the man in the mouse-mask and stepped back, giving him space. She counted off the time in fractions, the way she used to do back when she was a kid. He was furious, she knew that. And this wasn’t how hits were meant to go, she knew that, too. But LizAlec didn’t care.

  For three whole seconds, it almost seemed like the mouse-man might actually blast a little smart slug straight through her head. But then the gun’s muzzle swept over the frozen crowd and the man fell back on the words he’d been practising earlier, while he was still waiting for LizAlec’s Boeing to land.

  “Get down and stay down...”

  His words were digital, issuing from a kid’s translation box. The kind Toys ‘R’ Us piled high and sold cheap from wire baskets near the door. At least, that was the last place LizAlec had seen one, at the kiddie boutique right after you came through Sonic Cleaning & Immigration.

  LizAlec looked around at the Arrivals Hall. Everyone but her and the frozen bodyguard were busy falling to their knees, like they’d got instant religion — just add fear.

  LizAlec felt like asking Anchee what she thought of the blue mosaic on the floor, but now didn’t seem a good time. Anchee was face down on the tiles, sobbing. And from what LizAlec could see of the hand held to Anchee’s mouth, the only colour Anchee could see was red.

  So, instead, LizAlec made do with looking at Mickey’s long brown coat. Close up the coat wasn’t as stupid as it looked. Inappropriate, yes. A style insult, undoubtedly. But stupid...? No coat that combined a flame-proof, heat-dispersing outer layer with an anti-shrapnel, spider’s-silk lining could be called stupid.

  Maybe the WeGuard at her side wasn’t really a gutless waste of money at all. Maybe the man just recognized a true professional when he met one. For a second LizAlec was tempted to give her bodyguard the benefit of the doubt, but then decided not to bother.

  “You,” said the man, pointing at LizAlec. “Come with me.”

  LizAlec thought about it for all of one second, and then shook her head, heavy black curls briefly brushing her ears. Her decision was to cost someone their life, but LizAlec was still a full fifteen seconds away from knowing that.

  “If you don’t move,” said the man, taking a step towards her, “I will shoot you.” His words were dangerously quiet. Casually he brought the automatic up level with LizAlec’s face. And behind her, LizAlec’s WeGuard chose that moment to make his play. Fat fingers reaching for a 50,000-volt taser velcroed to his wide leather belt.

  It was a brave move but a seriously stupid one.

  LizAlec caught the flash but didn’t see the .38 ceramic rip through the bodyguard’s Kevlar-lined black shirt, opening a black hole over his heart that grew fist-sized by the time the slug exploded out of his back, showering fragments of spine and shredded lung over the stunned crowd.

  Sweet Jesus.

  Everyone started screaming at once, but it was Anchee that LizAlec immediately noticed. The tiny Chinese girl was up on her knees screaming so hard no sound came out of her bloodied mouth. “It’s okay,” LizAlec said harshly, crouching down beside the girl. “Hey, it’s okay.” It wasn’t. LizAlec knew that: she’d been there.

  Desperately, LizAlec stroked the other girl’s hair. Which wasn’t LizAlec’s style at all, but she was too shocked to remember that. And besides, she was too busy trying to wipe Anchee’s mouth clean of blood and fragments of tooth without letting Anchee know what she was doing.

  LizAlec was still wiping red spittle from Anchee’s lips when the Chinese girl blacked out in LizAlec’s arms, her silver flower clattering to the floor. Without thinking, LizAlec grabbed it and waves of darkness immediately swept in over her like someone had just invented the code.

  The last thing LizAlec remembered before the man hoisted her onto his shoulder was that Anchee’s silver flower closed itself up and slid over her bloodied fingers, until it locked itself around the outside of LizAlec’s wrist. And then the void came in, amphetamine-fast and twice as unforgiving.


  Medical droids carried Anchee to the St Lucius skimmer on a MediSoft stretcher, the Chinese girl’s mouth wide open with shock, blood and spittle dribbling down her once perfect face.

  It was classic trauma, announced the stretcher cheerfully, and Ms Gwyneth winced. Classic trauma was almost guaranteed to develop into full-blown post-trauma and cases of PTS got schools like St Lucius sued for billions. Not least because Anchee had been sent to school precisely to keep her away from such incidents.

  That Lady Elizabeth Alexandra Fabio had been abducted was a disaster... poor child. By the time they reached the shuttle, Ms Gwyneth had finally trained herself to think of LizAlec as poor child, though it didn’t come naturally, not after hearing about the little brat’s temper tantrums on the flight out.

  But, to be brutal about it, Lady Elizabeth’s disappearance wasn’t the disaster it could have been, or even would have been, only three months back... Paris would fall to the Reich, that much was now commonly accepted. And when it did, it would take the whole ossified Napoleonic empire with it, LizAlec’s mother and all.

  It was what had happened to Anchee that terrified Ms Gwyneth. Quite simply, if this was handled wrongly, it might mean the end of the school. St Lucius was in the business of education, not moral judgement. The school made it a point of principle not to enquire how parents came by their money. But Ms Gwyneth had heard rumours about Anchee’s father, dark unpleasant rumours. And Ms Gwyneth made a point of listening to rumour: one always heard so much of the truth...

  She would have to make contingency plans.

  She did.

  It took thirty-five per cent of St Lucius’s capital reserve to have ten per cent of Planetside’s m/wave surveillance cameras wiped by a freak bot that somehow bypassed all standard cut-outs and affected only the vids covering what took place in the Arrivals Hall. The old Cray bioAI put in place specifically to see that kind of thing didn’t happen didn’t turn a hair. It had been corrupted years back, and now spent most of its time watching reruns of SpaceHospital: The Final Years.

  Chapter Two

  Walk/Don’t Walk

  Even Lars thought of himself as the ratboy. Though the fact was that Lars had only ever been one-third of the ratboy, but the newsfeeds didn’t know that. They thought the ratboy was one psychotic little scavenger camped out in the heating ducts and service tunnels of Planetside Arrivals. But the feeds were wrong about that, as they were wrong about most things. Psychotic, yes. Scavenger, ditto. It was little that was way off target.

  The ratboy was famous. You could buy tri-Ds at tourist booths in both Arrivals and Departures. Lars had one, stapled to the wall of his bunker — in fact he was looking at it now. The picture showed a thin blond boy with spiky hair crouched near a vidbooth. It didn’t look anything like him at all.

  For a start, his hair was dark brown and flopped round his head as if it had been crudely hacked off with a molywire knife, which it had. His brown eyes bulged from a face wide enough to look square. Add heavy lower canines and a protruding lower jaw and even Lars could work out that when it came to looks he’d been dealt a lousy hand. Unfortunately, luck hadn’t bothered to add intelligence or a sunny disposition to make up a counterweight.

  He was the last third of the ratboy left. Causley had been the firs
t to buy it, caught in a blow-out, breath vacuum-sucked from his body in an airlock accident. That was what happened if you used tunnels reserved for tourist luggage. Which had left Lars and Ben, except Ben came up with a raid on LunaWorld: Ben was always coming up with shit like that.

  Usually he had the sense not go through with it, but not this time.

  Somewhere between Planetside Arrivals and LunaWorld, Ben lanced the bolts off a service hatch and slid down into the rough-hewn tunnel below. The tunnel was unlit, slung along its black walls with long snake-loops of obsolete optic fibre. The prints of crepe soles in the dust said some guy had been there before them. But this was Luna, no dust shifted unless it was made to. It could have been a hundred years since the tracks were made, or it might have been that morning.

  Lars had slid down behind Ben, protesting. He’d still been protesting when a suited-up, distant WeGuard kicked Ben’s leg out from under him with a burst of ceramic. It wouldn’t have happened if Lars had been doing his job, but he’d been too busy sulking to read off the infrared. That was how Ben got caught.

  The “fight” lasted all of three seconds, which was how long it took the guard to rip open Ben’s lungs with another burst. Sucking chest wounds are rough enough when there’s air around. Remove the oxygen and add in a near-vacuum and Ben never stood a chance. Roughly 350 million alveoli ruptured like exploding bubblepak and the inside of Ben’s lungs turned to foaming red sponge.

  Lars was in there and rolling across the floor towards Ben before he realized what he was doing. Slugs hit the rock face around him but nothing landed. Ignoring Ben’s frenzied thrashing, Lars dragged him down the tunnel, away from the guard.

  As soon as Lars could, he took a tiny side tunnel, pulling Ben after him, levering off a hatch to drop down another level, tossing Ben down ahead of him. As soon as Lars felt safe, he stopped and reached into the pocket of his bubble suit for a lightstick. Twisting the precious tube, Lars saw by its bioluminescence that Ben was already neatly vacuum-packed. The void had pulled the air out of Ben’s face bubble, sucking it down his throat and out of his ruptured lungs, sealing the mask to Ben’s face.

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