an extract from the novel
by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
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 of 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 by the time she reached the Kodak vidbooth, her fingers 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 a single 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 soyburger MacDonalds to the cheap chrome facade 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; something cheap and automated, run out of a derelict basement in Bastille knowing Fixx. 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 backup 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 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 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.
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 realised, 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 stranger 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 school girl in transit on the moon?
St Lucius Academy was single-sex, classically-structured and based in its own full-gravity O'Neil colony. It also 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. The Pope should have 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 the dot now was. 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 15-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.
© Jon Courtenay Grimwood 1999
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