Part 5: Dust - Chapter 1

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Agnes ran her eye over the line of refugees. They were a mixed lot, as all refugee groups were throughout history: men, women, children of all races; Sapes and Helots and a few Sirians who happened to be on the wrong planet at the wrong time. Weary, worried, destitute. And like all refugees, most of them clutched their entire worldly possessions with them.

Worldly possessions. That's a laugh. There is no world anymore.

The Moon was straining at the seams with the exodus from the shattered Earth. Ships arrived every hour of every day bringing more and more people to the closest sanctuary available. Here they could be shepherded on to Mars or Venus or other colonies, although where they all expected to find sanctuary was still a problem, three weeks after the planet's death.

Someone was going to have to figure out what do with all these people. The remnants of government were pretty much useless at long-term planning, trying to salvage what was left, enforcing damage control with desperation and martial law. Agnes was pleased to be out of the Navy for once; no one wanted to be responsible for anything right now, and she shuddered to think of herself using military methods to enforce unpopular regulations.

The line of people moved slowly through processing, but Dorac had told her Maddy and Geranium would be in a separate queue, since they had been in space when disaster hit and found refuge on a station. She turned from the long line and walked across the terminal.

There was the very gate she and Dorac had come through on their arrival on the Moon, carrying the bomb that Nancy Jong had planted on their car. Just emerging were two women; Agnes recognised the older, even though she'd only met her a couple of times a year ago. She knew the face from various classified files.

'Maddy Hawthorn?' she said, holding out a hand. 'I'm Agnes Lawson.'

'Hello,' the woman said. 'I remember you, of course. This is the Honourable Lady Geranium.'

Lady Geranium smiled weakly, but managed to say, 'Pleased to meet you.'

Agnes doubted she'd be referred to as Lady Geranium much longer. Titles meant little in the new world.

'Dorac apologises he couldn't meet you in person. He had some loose ends to tie up with the authorities. He's meeting us for lunch.'

It seemed odd that such things as a civilised lunch could happen anymore. But the President of the Moon had declared life should continue as normally as possible.

They had no bags to carry. All three headed to the main doors of the terminal and emerged into streets crowded with people. Police and evacuation officials were herding those fleeing Earth into some of order. They would be fed and housed temporarily until their ultimate fate could be decided. Armed guards and paranoids patrolled constantly.

'Nothing changes,' said Maddy.

She was right. But Agnes had her car waiting, and a security guard from her company was next to it to make sure it wasn't commandeered in her absence. It took them away from the terminal towards a restaurant further into town.

Dorac was there, and when he saw Maddy he rose and hugged her close. It was some time before they broke apart, the short, slight, red-haired woman and the hulking black giant. Agnes felt a pang of jealousy. Unlike her and Geranium, these two friends were not from Earth. The Moon, space and the colonies were where they belonged. It was Agnes herself who was now looking for somewhere to live. They were home already.

They sat down and ordered lunch. Geranium sat quietly, more quietly than Agnes thought the daughter of the Marchioness deForêt-Bassyngthwayghte might have behaved in public. She was wondering how to raise the topic of what would happen to her now, when Maddy said, 'Geranium's parents are safe. The Marquis and Marchioness were on Mars looking for her when the...when it happened. She'd been offered for ransom, of course, and they'd gone there to try and find her.'

'Well, that's good news,' said Agnes. She looked at the girl, who stared back, saying nothing.

'Unfortunately her younger brother and sister are still missing,' continued Maddy. 'When New York was hit there was a lot of damage.'

'I'm sorry, my lady,' Agnes said. 'I really am.' The girl nodded and stayed silent.

There would be a lot of this, the loss of family, friends; whole countries no longer existed. At least her husband Peter was safe on Ganymede, but for millions of other people the news would be dire. Entire families wiped out—entire nations. The festering wound of the asteroid strike would take millions of years to wear away. Black clouds of poison circled the Earth, which resembled little more than a dirty ball at the moment. It would be years before the atmosphere was clean again, before the toxins released from the strike would disperse enough for plant and animal life to exist easily on the surface once more.

Both Maddy and Geranium stared about them, as if incapable of believing they were alive. The authorities had questioned both of them and they weren't free yet—more interviews and possible detention awaited both. Agnes knew already that Maddy had killed Rix, but the precise reason she was on the Shepherd Moon in the first place was something that would take a long time to sort out. Admiral Manson was taking personal charge of investigations.

Agnes wished him luck.

Geranium just sat and stared at the food in front of her. The Marquis would arrive soon and take her to Mars or wherever the family would eventually end up. Unlike Maddy, she wouldn't be headed for detention due to her family connections. Perhaps they would return to Earth despite the ruin. It was their home after all.

Dorac had been talking; his voice now interrupted Agnes's thoughts.

'Of course, I was grilled pretty hard by the authorities, since I'm a known terrorist. But in the end the idiots offered me a job! Imagine that: me, work for the Syndicate again! As a Sirian consultant!' He laughed so loud other patrons in the café turned to stare. 'They want me to spy on my own people! I love it!' He settled down a bit. 'Of course I won't take it. Bloody Sapes. The backlash of all this on Sirius won't be good. We'll have to do something to protect our interests. I'm thinking maybe it's time we had Sirian representatives on the Board of Directors. Sirian Elite!'

'I've been in communication with your mother,' she said to Geranium over the top of Dorac's prattle. 'She said—'

But Geranium stood up and pushed her chair back.

'Excuse me,' the girl muttered and headed for the door. Dorac stopped talking and watched her run out of the restaurant. A second later Maddy had also risen and followed her out.

'Well done, Dorac,' said Agnes.

The Sirian paused with his coffee cup halfway to his mouth. 'What did I say?'

Agnes's fone beeped. Communications with Earth were still shit, and would be for a long time, but off-planet fone calls were still possible.

It wasn't Peter. The security firm she worked for had a link to the police network, and Agnes thought it might be wise to keep the channel open. It relayed police messages on the Moon at least, and she'd asked her fone to alert her to any important conversations.

'They've found her,' she said. 'Nancy Jong.'


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