Part 5: Dust - Chapter 2

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Geranium heard Maddy sit down next to her on the grass strip outside the restaurant, but didn't turn to look. The street was packed tight with people, but this part remained relatively free. The police made sure none of the new arrivals strayed far from their designated areas.

'They were mean,' she said, digging her fingers into the thin soil under the grass. Even in that moment she was surprised to think that this soil was from Earth. Real Earth soil, radiation free and capable of growing plants, had become a rare commodity. Perhaps there was more of it now on the Moon than the Earth.

'Yes, they were.' Maddy's hand touched Geranium on the shoulder. 'But they have different things to talk about. Different priorities.'

The two sat in silence for a while. A paranoid cruised past but didn't bother them: a scuffle had broken out further along the street where two men were arguing about something. In the light gravity of the Moon their punches and blows seemed weird and almost rehearsed. A small crowd had gathered to watch and shout, and refused to move even when the paranoid ploughed among them and barked orders in an attempt to break the combatants up.

'I think my priorities have changed,' said Geranium, twisting a handful of grass.

'Mine too. It's going to be an odd galaxy from now on.'

'I'm worried, Maddy. Worried about...'

So many things. Poor Fantasy and Wisdom, her siblings still down there somewhere in the hell of Earth; her friends like Danae—was she still alive?—her other relatives...in fact the whole population of Earth, which Geranium had never really given a shit about, had suddenly become a most precious thing. But other things too.

'Will they come after us?' she asked.

'Who?'

'The Talon.'

'The Talon is dead. And those Helots on the Shepherd Moon. And just about everyone else. But we're still here.'

'And Sarti.'

Geranium felt a tear trickle down her face. She didn't wipe it away. It reached the bottom of her cheek and was followed by another. Maddy's hand left her shoulder and curled around her as the woman pulled her closer.

'You couldn't have saved them,' said Geranium after a long moment. 'All those people. I don't mean Reed and Marshall and that lot. They deserved to die.'

'No one deserves to die.'

'I meant the people on Earth. You couldn't have saved them. There was no time. Other priorities, remember.'

A long pause.

'There's something I learned a little while ago,' Maddy said. 'After a stupid raid on a planet called Lizard that I got mixed up in. Did I ever tell you about that?'

'Mother told me her part in it.'

'Well, after I found myself alive after a lot of other people had died, after I had killed some of them myself, I felt lost and homeless too. But I thought that if all I had was my life, then that was enough.'

Geranium didn't know what she had anymore. Was her father still the fifteenth richest man in the galaxy, or had his fortune been destroyed by the asteroid along with everything else? Were they still a family of power or no more than Maddy here, refugees from a dead world? At least Maddy was used to it.

'Life is enough,' she found herself echoing.

'And life is a very good thing to have, even if most of the time it's shit.'

Geranium's fone beeped. 'It's Mother,' she said, and accepted the call.

Her mother had foned every day, many times a day, since the asteroid strike, but her voice still sounded welcome. This time, however, it was more excited than usual, so Geranium knew the woman was sober. But it was good news: her siblings had turned up, battered but alive. They were still in New York, and were in the care of a distant relative who'd found refuge in the subway system. The Marchioness gabbled on for a long time, but Geranium listened without interrupting.

Fantasy and Wisdom were alive! The evil dreams she'd been having lately could fade now, at least the ones about never seeing her siblings again. No doubt they'd be annoying her again soon, and she'd be yelling at Fantasy to stay out of her room and Wisdom would once again be making her groan at his stupid jokes that were never funny. Or maybe not—some things could never be the same as they used to be.

She could hardly wait to see them.

She closed the contact after her mother wound down and conveyed the news to Maddy.

'Mother's coming to pick me up in a couple of days,' she said. 'Fantasy and Wisdom will join us on Mars.' She didn't know what family Maddy had, who she might be grieving for. It didn't escape her notice, however, that a few weeks ago such a thought would never have occurred to her.

'Where will you go?' she added, when Maddy stayed quiet for a while. The ruckus down the street had dissolved; the paranoid trundled away looking for other disturbances. It was suddenly quieter than it had been for a long time.

Maddy straightened her legs out and shrugged. 'I don't think I'm going anywhere for a while. Agnes has to hand me over to some Admiral. After that...I don't know, probably prison somewhere.'

'You could...you know...come with me.'

The words emerged much to Geranium's own surprise, but she knew before she'd finished the sentence what the answer would be.

'An interesting thought,' said Maddy, and for the first time in a long while she smiled. 'You mean your parents could...'

'I don't know. Father probably still has some influence.'

'I guess so. Still, I don't think Mars is big enough for both your mother and me.'

'It's just that I regard you...' Geranium had no real friends, just socialite acquaintances like Danae. Why was it so hard to say something simple? She was coming across as a complete idiot.

'I tell you what,' said Maddy, suddenly standing up and holding out a hand to help the girl rise as well. 'You give me your fone details and as soon as I get a new one you'll be the first contact I enter into it.'

Geranium brushed the grass off her dress. 'Promise?'

'Promise,' said Maddy Hawthorn.


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