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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘And you. Keep in touch.’

Oh, I will.

She put down the phone, and tried to think this through.

It was hard to focus on anything outside her own, failing body. As if she was a self-obsessed character in some daytime soap.

But, it seemed, she was still engaged with the world.

Outside, the light of day was gathering, but the ugly wound in the sky that was Venus was barely dimmed.

She put through a call to the White House.

Even after a week the light of new Venus, bright in the blue sky of a Scottish morning, made Jane Dundas shiver.

Anything so far out of the natural order made her shiver.

Or then again, maybe it was just this place. She looked up at the tower block. Its faceless windows reflected Venus a hundred times over, somehow without generating a shred of beauty. She clung a little harder to the hand of Jack, her ten-year-old son, and stepped forward.

Cordley Road was the site of some of Edinburgh’s more notorious blocks of council housing. Even here, at the entrance, the block was intimidating: evidently repainted and fitted with entry-phones, but a leaking overflow had stained the entrance with damp, graffiti was splashed over the hall, and the shrubbery outside, newly planted, was littered with lager cans and cigarette packets.

The irony was the location here should be prized. Cordley Road was less than fifty yards from the perimeter of Holyrood Park, which contained Arthur’s Seat – Ard Tor, the greatest of the extinct volcanoes on which Edinburgh had been built. She could see the Seat now, a lumpy shoulder of rock looming high to the east; just here she was in the shadow of the Salisbury Crags, a cliff-like extrusion of compounded ash from the old eruptions, glaring over the city like the guns of a battleship.

But what went on in the tower blocks here had nothing to do with anything so wonderful as extinct volcanoes.

Billy Macrae was here to let them in. Billy, ten years old, was one of Jack’s friends from school, and brother to Joe, eleven, who was the kid who had been killed in the lift shaft. Billy had a pixie face compressed under a mat of black hair, and he looked like a wee rascal, as her father might have said. But today he looked subdued. No trouble at all, in fact.

Billy led them to his family’s flat, which was, ironically, on the ground floor. The father let them in. Alan Macrae was a tired-looking man who was probably younger than Jane. No sign of a mother, Jane noted.

He waved them to the sofa. The place was sparsely furnished but clean enough, no more than the usual clutter kids created. Macrae offered them tea but Jane declined.

‘We don’t want to keep you.’

‘Aye. I’m sorry we couldn’t have wee Jack to the funeral. We tried to keep it small. Just family.’

‘I understand.’

Macrae made an effort to smile at Jack. ‘Joe used to talk about you.’

‘We played soccer,’ Jack said.

‘Aye. Not in the hall here, I hope.’

‘No.’

Jane nudged her son, and he produced his gift, a little parcel. Billy Macrae came forward and unwrapped it. It was an elephant, carved of black stone.

Jane smiled. ‘Jack chose it himself from my shop. The rock’s basalt. Lava. The youngest rock on the planet. So it’s appropriate.’

Macrae nodded, and put the knick-knack on the shelf over the gas fire. ‘We got a lot of flowers. People put them in the lift. But they get robbed, of course. The council say they will put steel plates on the lift doors to stop the kids breaking in, fat lot of good that is now.’ He eyed Jane. ‘You’re the one who runs that shop in Waverley Market. Rocks and stuff. Crystals.’

‘That’s right.’

He looked at the elephant. ‘I saw it, you know.’

‘What?’

‘I was on the seventh floor, talking to a mate up there. The windows in the lift shaft doors are broken there. So I saw him fall. Terrible crashing and screaming.’

Jane sat silently, and the boys looked at their feet miserably. It sounded as if Macrae was beyond grief, as if he’d told this story a hundred times over already, as if he couldn’t stop telling it; his voice and face were empty of expression.

‘Lift surfing, they call it,’ he said now. ‘Bloody stupid.’

Jane forced a smile. ‘I used to play chicken on the motorway. All kids are stupid, until they learn better.’

Macrae didn’t seem to have heard. ‘They jam open the shaft doors, see, and that stops the lift going down. Then they get on the roof, and they know how to set the engineer’s switch to “test”, so they can control the lift. Joe got his bloody hand caught, and for some reason the lift started going down, and he fell down behind it, in some kind of maintenance shaft. And that’s what I saw. Crashing and screaming. The thing of it was, at the bottom, he looked all right. Except for his mangled hand. Just asleep …’

And so on.

She stayed for a while longer, letting him talk out his grief a little more. Jack was restless, but she made him sit through it. Survival lesson, she thought. Listen and learn.

But it was hard. It seemed a long time before little Billy led them out.

In the yard, they all cast double shadows from sun and Venus, twin stars, and Jane shivered again.

‘It was our Hamish,’ Billy said unexpectedly.

‘What?’

Hamish turned out to be the elder brother of Billy and dead Joe. Eighteen years old. Jane realized, in retrospect, that there had been no sign of Hamish in his father’s flat.

Hamish, it turned out, had led on the others.

‘Hamish used to take stuff up there,’ Billy said.

‘Stuff?’

‘Lager. Ciggies and things. He even had a seat, so he could sit on top of the lift and ride up and down.’ Even now, even after all that had happened, Billy smiled faintly at the bravado and daring of his brother, and Jane realized anew how very, very difficult it was to restrain boys from following the pack, all the way into the jaws of death.

‘But it was Hamish’s fault,’ Billy said.

‘It was?’

‘He saw that planet thing.’ Billy pointed. ‘When it flared up, like. Hamish saw it through a window. That’s why he let go of the doors, and the lift started going, and Joe fell down.’

This boy will have to live with this. ‘Billy, Hamish is really just a kid too. Nobody’s to blame –’

‘Hamish says it’s not his fault. It’s the fault of that.’ And Billy’s small, grubby hand pointed straight at Venus.

… And elsewhere in Edinburgh, a young policewoman called Morag Decker was pulling on her uniform, about to start her tour of duty. She was on attachment to a community policing unit that night, and would be working with drug addicts. Not an assignment she was looking forward to, but a major problem in Edinburgh. When Venus had first flared up it had caused a problem, as the full-Moon types had crawled out from under their rocks to howl at the new light in the sky; and tomorrow the local Emergency Planning Officer was going to brief them on Scottish Office guidelines on radiation poisoning and other stuff … But all that seemed to be fading, like any other nine-day wonder. For tonight her head was full of apprehension, and she tried to comfort herself with thoughts about the video and takeaway Chinese meal and bottle of wine she’d treat herself to tomorrow night, and she scarcely noticed Venus any more …

… And to Debbie Sturrock, a trainee firefighter based along the coast in Dunbar, Venus was invisible, a light in the sky masked by the tower of flame she and her fellow students were trying to control, under the growling command of an unsympathetic station master. Fire in the sky meant nothing when you were confronted by fire on Earth …

… And in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, Jenny Calder had tried to follow the news – she had been interested in astronomy and science and stuff as a kid, and the Venus incident was strange and somehow disturbing – but now the kids were fighting again, this flat in the Gorbals, renovated or not, was just too small for all of them, and William, her husband, was worrying that if his new employers found out about his record he’d be kicked off the oil rig again, and so she pushed her hair from her eyes and stumbled from crisis to crisis, never quite falling over, and Venus was just too far away and too strange to deserve her attention …

… And around the world, in the US, an Air Force pilot called Garry Beus test-flew an enhanced F-16 over the baked desert of California and looked up at Venus, smeared and distorted by his canopy in an eggshell sky, and thought with wistful sadness of his dying mother Monica, and how she must be fascinated by this … And in Los Angeles, a journalist called Joely Stern, dismayed by yet another rejected job application, stared up at a Venus made Mars-red by filthy LA smog, and she stared at it, wishing she was up there, up in space, anywhere but here …

… And in Japan, a geologist called Blue Ishiguro watched the evolving light in the sky, fascinated, and wondered if he should call his friend Henry Meacher at NASA who might know more about this – but then he’d heard Henry was leaving NASA, not to mention Geena, and it mightn’t be a good time … And, atop a Japanese mountain called Nantai, a Buddhist monk – originally from Ireland, called Declan Hague – stared at the strange light and wondered what it might mean for his self-imposed exile and the guilt that still racked him …

… All around the planet, as it turned in the wash of Venus light, human faces were lifted to the sky, shining in the strange light like coins in a well, amused or puzzled or wondering or indifferent …

… And in Houston, Tracy and Jays Malone spoke in hushed tones, so as not to wake the kids.

More than three decades after his Moonwalk, a few years into a whole new century, and here was Tracy with kids of her own, kids to whom Apollo was some sort of Cold War relic – not even that, something prehistoric and incomprehensible, something their grandfather had done. For somehow, as if mocking the old dreams, the space program had become a thing of the past, not the future.

But her name was undoubtedly, famously, written on the Moon – she’d seen photographs of it – and it would indeed be there for a million more years, less the few summers she had spent growing up since Jays came home.

So there had been only one place to come on this strange and cosmic night.
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