Franco winced when he screwed the fresh cartridge home against the collar pin poised in his carotid artery. Anticipation of
the pain was worse than the fleeting over-pressure. He swallowed after, a grating activity while he acclimated, and took the
requisite ten slow, deep breaths. The day's dose of antigens coursed through his bloodstream, taking up position against the
hordes of exotic pathogens waiting at the gates of every exterior pore, duct, and - heaven forbid - break in the skin. He
prayed for another quiet day while he recovered his dirt legs. He would settle for a standard day. The local "lunar day"
was a week long.
While the discomfort waxed, he looked for distraction toward the picture window that dominated the
long wall opposite the headboard. The hotel's surroundings were beachy and burnt in the long day of an endless summer. Undulating
dunes of black sands rolled to the horizon, where a ribbon of phosphorescent emerald marked the distant sea. The sky above
was a hazy green vault dotted with the curious spade-shaped kites that floated effortlessly on thermals. A person did not
stray across the fine, black powder without a g-rig unless the risk of dry-drowning or being made the sport of a sandlion
appealed to his sense of danger, as apparently it did to the dune-skiers Gustavo had seen on the ride in from the spaceport
at Phalz. Courting death in recreational activities was one of the hallmarks of a confident and restless society. Gustavo
considered that thought as a possible hook for the stupid documentary he was supposed to make, along with his other duties.
Duties. Gustavo stared at the
scenery and longed to be outside. He had been cooped up in pods and corridors for almost two years, training. Before that
he had spent nearly a year on the Maya mission, aboard ship and in the extended debriefing exploring the mission's accomplishments
and complications. That was his life. Training for a mission, performing that mission, and living with the aftermath while
an appropriate new mission was selected for him.
Smears of red amid the dunes indicated patches of vegetation, most of which
supported dazzling white structures. Boardwalks overlaid the island with a spider-work of white strands that connected clusters
of habitation. If Gustavo blurred his eyes, the buildings seemed like a constellation in black space with lines drawn between
them defining asterisms. Islands on an island on a world that was itself an island in a three-dimensional void. Gustavo smiled
for the first time since awakening. His establishing shot...
Gustavo's room at the Crescent Suites was typical of
what a traveller might expect from a franchise hotel in a spaceport region: not squalid, not luxurious, but simply useful,
if a bit sad. It featured two full-sized beds with individual environment screens in case the companions had different preferences.
This outing he had the room to himself and the spare bed served as a lazy man's luggage rack. The bathroom was nearly all
stall with no tub. Gustavo ran his gaze over the living/bed room's sky-green relief appliqués with the texture of worn
corduroy softened the pre-fabricated, cell-assembly walls.
The accommodations contrasted sharply with Gustavo's
experience of the last few weeks, when he had travelled in high style for the first time in his life. He had come in on a
charter flight from Pavise via Leeds. The starliner was grand and the food had been great. Accommodations at the three-star
resort on the moon Cousteau during his quarantine had been even better, and he now thought of that interlude as something
of a convicted felon's last fling before a long incarceration.
Thinking about food made Gustavo hungry instead of instantly
nauseous, a sign his immune system was stabilizing. The Crescent had a serviceable-looking dining room that he had noted before
he crash landed in his room. He always needed a good, unbroken twenty hours after touchdown. Particularly when the gravity
was greater than Earth standard, as Outre Mer's was by about five percent. His body and mind were trained and seasoned enough
so that he awoke from such a marathon more-or-less acclimated to local mass and atmospheric pressure. Fortunately, all Crescent
kitchens offered a common menu. This was a major reason to pay the premium prices a stay commanded. Unless you were really
ready for it, local fare could leave you flat on your back for hours. Unfortunately, local sanitary protocol proscribed room
service for offworlders. That's what one side of the plastic card folded into the shape of a tent that sat on his bed stand
said, anyway. Reportedly, weird stuff grew alarmingly fast on food left lying around. So it was the common dining area or
The room's flatscreen buzzed up a call from the front desk. Since checking in, Gustavo generally had avoided looking
at the flatscreen as much as possible. Mounted on the wall opposite the bed, it had a difficult-to-decipher toolbar that was
more than he could manage in his current condition and so remained on a default display of an atrocious shimmer in an impressionist
style of an Earth dolphin. The creature emerged like a gray tongue lolling from an open blue mouth with foaming whitecaps
forming crooked teeth. The artist obviously had never seen a real live dolphin, so the piece had blown up on the impression
stage. Gustavo cleared his throat with a raspy, phlegmy cough.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Mr. Green, your art director
is here." The woman's voice was singsong formal.
"Would you like me to tell him to come
"No, I'll be right down."
The exchange had been in Taken Creole, which Gustavo
had found surprisingly easy to get used to. He had absorbed all manner of patois growing up in Brazil, and his facility with
languages was one of the things that had recommended him for the Outer Service Scouts.
Gustavo rolled out of bed and
dressed in a dour pullover, long pants, and boots. This was excessive by the local standards of decency. The locals wore sandals
and bright colors and showed a lot of skin. Gustavo hated wearing sandals, thinking they looked stupid on men. And besides,
a stubbed toe might kill him. He added a few items of social camouflage that seemed appropriate dirtside, such as a cheapie
travel bag that screamed tourist and a pink boonie hat. He looked in the mirror, swayed sickly, and decided that he looked
like a properly travel-lagged journalist. On the way out he patted himself for his money card and grabbed his press pass off
the dresser. He looked at the name under his dark, broad face: "Goose Green."
Gustavo's cover persona was registered
with the Outre Mer Provisional Authority as a documentary filmmaker. His travel trail went back to Sol, but that part was
fabricated. So was his media ID, although his permit to film a documentary was genuine, if based on the aforementioned fabrication.
Mr. Green had leave to move freely throughout the Archipelago to any island served by public or chartered transportation.
The Provos wouldn't give him a private vehicle license. And they specified that he had to use a local film crew. Gustavo smiled
at that. Of course they would be Provo agents.
There had actually been several documentaries by Goose Green in circulation
for years, although Gustavo certainly had nothing to do with them. Mr. Green himself was something of an enigma: He didn't
give interviews. His films were sympathetic to their subjects' local customs and cultures, and all carried a suitably anti-Earth
undercurrent. Not so heavy handed as to be transparent propaganda (hopefully!), but with a fashionably jaundiced eye cast
at the Established Order. Outer Service Intelligence had produced such films in preparation for a Scout cover that might be
useful someday. Now, Goose Green's day had come. Gustavo had been encouraged to get enough video and audio recorded so that
OSI could produce an actual documentary for distribution. If all went well, Mr. Green's services might be called upon again.
OSI had been anticipating some
trouble on Outre Mer in the run up to the first compulsory emigration flight. That was what iSUN was calling the relocation
program: compulsory emigration. The world was to be denuded of its local-born young people as they reached maturity. Their
Taken parents who had been settled three decades ago - ostensibly on a temporary refugee basis - were grandfathered and would
be allowed to live out their lives on their adopted world. The Outer Service Scouts wanted a Rat team to observe the implementation
of the emigration program, including someone dirtside they could push around. Gustavo exhaled a sick, tired laugh. Some trouble
Gustavo braced himself and opened the door. The air in the corridor was like windless flatulence
in his face: wet, hot, and persistent. The bowel-smell and subsequent wave of nausea almost staggered him. He had half a mind
to put a mask on. The traveller's guide said that many offworld visitors used masks. But Gustavo decided that intrepid documentarian
Goose Green would not want to filter his impressions of a world whose essence he meant to capture. He glanced back at the
dolphin shimmer in his room and thought that maybe the artist had gotten it right after all, from his perspective.
He made sure the door was locked
behind him and felt keenly vulnerable with neither a weapon in his pocket or a ship around him. There were skylights in the
corridor that stamped the hard floor with angular patterns of bright and shadow. Gustavo looked up, shielding his eyes against
the green glare. Somewhere high above, lying in the ring system of Adonis, his partner Amir "Aye-Aye" Zar had their
Rat-class Scout cutter all to himself. His partner's nickname had nothing to do with an agreeable nature. Aye-Aye's parents
had designed their child with some facial features of the famously ugly lemurs of their native Madagascar. It was fashionable
in some corners to reject idealized human forms.
Gustavo marveled that his partnership with Aye-Aye, not to mention their
friendship, had endured the aftermath of the Maya mission. But when OSI reassigned Gustavo to Delphi for the Outre Mer program,
Aye-Aye had requested to team with him without hesitation. Gustavo wasn't ashamed of how much that had meant to him. The Scouts
were his family and Aye-Aye was closer to him than any family member had ever been. But his partner was up in the ship, and
it would be several more hours yet before their first scheduled communication. For the time being, Gustavo was alone.
Despite the sunshine, it was
actually after-hours in terms of the local work schedule. The hall was deserted and Gustavo took the lift down by himself.
The lift doors opened and he saw a thin, ashen-faced man regarding him from across the lobby with a pair of gray-blue eyes.
The man had close-cropped dust-colored hair and he leaned on the front desk as if he might have been conversing with the young
woman behind it who now busied herself with something involving not looking at anybody.
The man straightened. He was
dressed in a short tan jacket over a white, v-necked pullover shirt. He had long pants that matched his jacket and beige moccasins.
Sandy, was the word that came to Gustavo's mind. The man looked like he has made of sand.
"Mr. Green?" the sandy
"That's right," Gustavo said.
The lift doors closed behind him and it was all Gustavo could do not to
jump. He started across the lobby, noticing that the clerk still hadn't greeted him or so much as looked his way.
"My name is Riad Laszlo,"
the sandy man said, meeting him halfway and extending his hand. He spoke in vaguely accented Universal. "Art director
for Parallax Views."
Gustavo reached for the man's hand after a quick check for sharp jewelry. Riad's fingernails were
well manicured. His grip was cool and strong, if perfunctory. Shaking hands clearly wasn't something that came natural to
him. Their personal assistants chirped acceptance of each others' business cards.
"I see we are compatible, Mr. Green."
"We're going to be working together, Riad," Gustavo said. "Call me Goose."
"Goose, then." Riad
nodded briskly. "Did you have a nice flight?"
"The flight was great," Gustavo said, smiling wanly. "It's
been the ground thing that I've been having some trouble with."
"You must be used to it," Riad said. "With
all of the planets you visit making films?"
"Doesn't mean I have to like it," Gustavo said.
"I suppose not," Riad
said. "Are you hungry, then? It's late but I know a place."
Gustavo felt a chill.
"You mean, outside?"
"It's just around the block."
Gustavo covered his unease with
a look of innocence. "Maybe something here in the hotel, if you don't mind? It's been a long trip."
"I'm afraid things are closed
down for the day here," Riad said with the barest of shrugs.
"I think the dining room's open around the clock."
Gustavo looked over at the desk clerk, who persisted in ignoring him. "Ma'am?"
Riad examined his immaculate
"Ma'am?" Gustavo said loudly. "Can we order something to eat?"
She looked at him furtively.
"Is the dining room open,"
Gustavo said, this time in Creole.
"No, no," the woman said. "The kitchen is closed."
She shrugged helplessly.
"Oh, that's fucking rich," Gustavo said, switching back to Universal. He looked at Riad
who met his gaze with a slight tilt of his moustache.
"It is better that we go out," Riad said. "I can show you
"Can a man get a drink?" Gustavo said, recovering his humor. "Something distilled
Riad smiled. "The vodka is exceedingly antiseptic."
"Lead the way, then."
"You're not carrying a recorder?"
Riad said, gesturing at his bag.
"I know the rules."
Gustavo followed his guide outside and fell in beside him on the sidewalk.
He looked around and took in details that had escaped him in the cab. The buildings in the area were all low, none over five
stories, with flat roofs and polarized windows. Facades were mostly stucco, washed in a variety of colors, with white and
pastels the most popular. It was difficult for Gustavo to identify what the storefronts and office spaces were for. His hotel
seemed to be the only franchise in evidence. The streets were deserted, which was incongruous with the clear, green sky and
All of the open-sky worlds humanity had settled were in the habitation zones of their stars. The
relative masses and orbital distances tended to make their periods of rotation similar in terms of the number of hours they
contained. Where this wasn't the case, such as in domed habitats on outer-system worlds or moons or in space stations, the
standard 24-hour day of Earth was often replicated by means of artificial light. Outre Mer was unique in that it was a moon
of a gas giant world in the habitation zone of its star, and its period of rotation was the same as its period of revolution
around the planet: 175 hours. Thus, Outre Mer had long days and long nights.
"Does everybody follow the same schedule
around here?" Gustavo asked.
"Is everybody on the same work schedule? Shifts, days off, that sort
"We are in what you might think of as the noon siesta, although it's five hours long," Riad said. "There
are 'forenoon' and 'afternoon' working sessions, each of ten hours. People usually work one or the other and are off for the
rest of the time. This makes for a 25-hour cycle. Most people sleep during the siesta, plus some time from their off-session."
Gustavo nodded. It intrigued
him that humans tended to settle into similar patterns of work and leisure.
"I still haven't been able to master
"We actually use the tilt of the Adonis' rings as a marker," Riad said, indicating the
horizon where the great planet floated on the haze. "I can tell by the rings where we are in the weekly cycle. Even what
hour it is."
Riad shrugged. "I've been doing it most of my life."
They were emerging from the side
street onto a wide, open boulevard. There was some life here, with vehicle traffic and a few pedestrians. The island in the
median had tall, fern-like trees with multicolored fronds. Periodically, each tree would receive a fine mist of water from
hidden spigots. The people they passed all seemed young and colorfully dressed. Ethnic features seemed to have been blended,
and in pleasing ways. Gustavo resisted the urge to stare at an exotic, raven-haired beauty who had green, almond-shaped eyes
and skin the color of a Siamese cat.
"They all have numbers," Riad said.
Gustavo understood. Their days on Outre Mer
were literally numbered.
"What about you?"
"We're in here," Riad said.
They left the heat of the boulevard
and descended a few steps into the cool of a cafe. Gustavo sniffed and found the air to be no worse than low tide. This was
a marked improvement over the great outdoors.
Gustavo's eyes darted around the darkened room. There was a long bar and
a section for booths and tables, most of which were empty. A bartender watched him suspiciously, although he exchanged a friendly
greeting with Riad. They took a corner booth. A pretty hostess attended them. She was petite and dark and reminded Gustavo
"We will have two Myrrha's Tears, neat."
"I'll have mine on the rocks, please," Gustavo said.
"Goose, you will risk ice?"
"I've got to start drinking
the water sometime."
The hostess departed with a moonlight smile. Gustavo thought he caught a hint of cinnamon in the
flourish of her dress. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a moment.
"I think I'm feeling better," he
Riad smiled. "I told you it would be good to get out."
"You were going to show me the light."
"I think you've seen it."
Gustavo smiled and settled back.
"So you didn't answer my question," he said.
"What question was that?"
"About your emigration number.
Riad was thoughtful for a moment. "I was four when I came out with the Atlantian Wave,"
he said. "My childhood memories are inaccessible to me. But yes, I am considered Taken. Does this make a difference to
Gustavo shrugged. "Not as long as you know your business. Can you show me some clips?"
Riad tapped his breast pocket.
"My business card will give you access to the Parallax portfolio. I've also taken the liberty of pulling some archival
material you might want to use: time-lapses, sun and star tracks, seascapes, that sort of thing. You have a flatscreen in
"Yeah, if I can figure out how to use it. What sort of work do you do, mostly?"
"Parallax specializes in
non-fiction productions. Nature films, interviews, histories. Sometimes we're retained to shoot advocacy pieces."
Gustavo smirked. "Propaganda?"
"Advocacy," Riad insisted.
"Provisional Authority work?"
"Ever do any shoots in Pangaea?"
"We don't have a Pangaea
permit," Riad said, darkening. "I was under the impression that you were doing a documentary about the Diaspora."
"I am," Gustavo said.
"I thought maybe you had some footage of the duranni."
"I see," Riad said. "Well, we don't have
any of that. Try the PAX Missionaries. Of course, all of their duranni footage has crosshairs."
"Hold on, hold on,"
Gustavo said, holding up his hand.
Fortunately, the hostess returned with their drinks. She placed an elegant flute in front of Riad
and sweating tumbler in front of Gustavo. He was ready this time and took in the girl's perfume along with hints of her hair
and other scents.
"She has a number, too," Riad said.
Gustavo raised his glass. Riad did the same.
Myrrha's Tears went down like cold fire.
"Do you have any children?"
"No, I don't," Riad
said. "But I know many who do. And none of them will be permitted to go with their children when Earth comes for them.
Your government doesn't trust the Taken."
"I'm not with the government," Gustavo said.
"It doesn't scare you that
my mind might have been warped by an alien intelligence?"
"Look, you don't have to sell me, Riad," Gustavo
said. "I'm here for a reason."
"And what reason is that?"
"To tell a story about a policy," Gustavo said.
"An Earth policy to load the youth of Outre Mer onto ships and take them away from their homes and families. About a
policy that will cause mothers and fathers to never see their children again."
Riad nodded and raised his glass.
Pleased, Gustavo took another swallow of vodka. He was starting to feel like his old self again.
Prologue, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26