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The Year's Best Science Fiction
Eighteenth Annual Collection
By Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2001 Gardner Dozois
All rights reserved.
The Juniper Tree
Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel now lives with his family in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is a professor of American literature and creative writing at North Carolina State University. Kessel made his first sale in 1975. His first solo novel, Good News from Outer Space , was released in 1988 to wide critical acclaim, but before that he had made his mark on the genre primarily as a writer of highly imaginative, finely crafted short stories, many of which were assembled in his collection Meeting in Infinity. He won a Nebula Award in 1983 for his superlative novella "Another Orphan," which was also a Hugo finalist that year, and has been released as an individual book. His story "Buffalo" won the Theodore Sturgeon Award in 1991. His other books include the novel Freedom Beach, written in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, and an anthology of stories from the famous Sycamore Hill Writers Workshop (which he also helps to run), called Intersections, coedited by Mark L. Van Name and Richard Butner. His most recent books are a major novel, Corrupting Dr. Nice, and a collection, The Pure Product.
Here he takes us to a colonized Moon, humanity's newest habitation, for a taut encounter with some passions that are very old indeed....
THE JUNIPER TREE
One of the most successful transplants to the colony established by the Society of Cousins on the far side of the Moon was the juniper tree. Soon after Jack Baldwin and his daughter Rosalind emigrated in 2085, a project under Baldwin's direction planted junipers on the inside slopes of the domed crater, where they prospered in the low-moisture environment. Visitors to the Society today may be excused if, strolling the woods above the agricultural lands of the crater floor, the fragrance of the foliage, beneath the projected blue sky of the dome, makes them think for a moment that they are in some low-gravity dream of New Mexico.
It was under a juniper tree that Jack disposed of the remains of Carey Evasson, the fourteen-year-old boy he killed.
The blue squad's centering pass slid through the crease, where Maryjane fanned on the shot. The puck skidded to the boards, and Roz, who had been promoted to the red team for today's practice, picked it up to start a rush the other way. Carey spotted her from across the rink and set off parallel to her. They'd caught the blues off guard, with only Thabo between them and the goalie. Thabo came up to check her. Roz swerved right, then left a drop pass for Carey.
But Thabo poked his stick between Roz's legs and deflected the pass. While Roz and Carey overran the play, Thabo passed the puck back the other way to Maryjane.
Their breakaway was interrupted by the shriek of Coach Ingasdaughter's whistle. The coach skated onto the ice, yelling at Roz. "What kind of a play was that? You've got a two-on-one and you go for the drop pass? Shoot the Puck!"
"But if Thabo had followed me Carey would have had an open net."
"If if if!" She raised her eyes to the roof of the cavern far overhead. "Why do you think Thabo didn't follow you? He knew you would pass, because you never shoot! If you don't establish that you're a threat, they're always going to ignore you. For once, let the boy get the rebound!"
Roz's face burned. The blue and red squads stood around watching her take the heat. Carey was looking down, brushing the blade of his stick across the ice.
Coach Ingasdaughter suddenly grabbed Roz by the shoulders, pulled her forward, and planted a kiss on her lips. "But what can I expect from a girl whose parents were married?" she said, letting Roz go. Someone snickered. "Ten-minute break," Ingasdaughter said, and turned away.
Roz almost took a slash at her retreating back. Instead she looked past the coach to the bleachers where a few off-shift pressure workers sat, helmets thrown back over their shoulders, watching the practice. Beyond the rink, the floor of the cave was one huge mass of blue ice, humped and creased, refracting the lights and fading into the distance. The coach skated over to talk with her assistant. Most of the team went over to the cooler by the home bench. Roz skated to the penalty box, flipped the door open and sat down.
It was hard being the only immigrant on the hockey team. The cousins teased her, called her "High-G." Roz had thought that going out for hockey would be a way for her to make some girlfriends who could break her into one of the cliques. You needed a family to get anywhere among the Cousins. You needed a mother. A father was of no consequence—everybody had a dozen fathers, or none at all.
Instead she met Carey. And, through dumb luck, it had seemed to work. Carey's grandmother, Margaret Emmasdaughter, had known Nora Sobieski personally. His mother was Eva Maggiesdaughter, chair of the Board of Matrons, by some measures the most powerful woman in the colony.
Some of the players started skating big circles on the oversized rink. She watched Carey build up a head of steam, grinning, his blond hair flying behind him. On the next time around he pulled off his glove, skated past the penalty box, winked, and gave her five as he flew by. The heavy gold ring he wore left a welt on her palm; just like Carey to hurt her with his carelessness, but she could not help but smile.
The first time she had met Carey a check she threw during practice nearly killed him. Roz had not gotten completely adjusted to skating in one-sixth gee, how it was harder to start and stop, but also how much faster you got going than on Earth. Carey had taken the full brunt of her hit and slammed headfirst into the boards. Play stopped. Everyone gathered around while he lay motionless on the ice.
Carey turned over and staggered to his feet, only his forehead showing above his shoulder pads. His voice came from somewhere within his jersey. "Watch out for those Earth women, guys."
Everyone laughed, and Carey poked his head out from below his pads. His bright-green eyes had been focused on Roz's, and she burst out laughing, too.
When her father moved in with Eva, Carey became the brother she had never had, bold where she was shy, funny where she was sober.
Coach blew her whistle and they did two-on-one drills for the rest of the practice. Afterward Roz sat on a bench in the locker room taping the blade of her stick. At the end of the bench Maryjane flirted with Stella in stage whispers. Roz tried to ignore them.
Carey, wrapped only in a towel, sat down next to Roz and checked to see whether the coaches were in earshot. She liked watching the way the muscles of his chest and arms slid beneath his skin, so much so that she tried hard not to look at him. He leaned toward her. "Hey, High-G—you interested in joining the First Imprints Club?"
He touched her on the leg. He always touched her, seemingly chance encounters, elbow to shoulder, knee to calf, his forehead brushing her hair. "A bunch of us are going to meet at the fountains in the dome," Carey said. "When the carnival is real crazy we're going to sneak out onto the surface. You'll need your pressure suit—and make sure its waste reservoir vent is working."
"Waste reservoir? What for?"
"Keep your voice down!"
"We're going to climb Shiva Ridge and pee on the mountaintop." He tapped a finger on her leg. His touch was warm.
"Sounds like a boy thing," she said. "If your mother finds out, you'll be in deep trouble."
He smiled. "You'll never get to be an alpha female with that attitude, High-G. Mother would have invented this club, if she'd thought of it." He got up and went over to talk to Thabo.
God, she was so stupid! It was the beginning of Founders' Week, and she had hoped Carey would be her guide and companion through the carnival. She had worried all week what to wear. What a waste. She'd blown it. She tugged on the green asymmetrically-sleeved shirt she had chosen so carefully to set off her red hair.
Roz hung around the edges as Carey joked with the others, trying to laugh in the right places, feeling miserably out of place. After they dressed, she left with Carey, Thabo, and Raisa for the festival. Yellow triangular signs surrounded the pressure lock in the hallway linking the ice cavern to the lava tube. Roz struggled to keep up with Carey who, like all of the kids born on the Moon, was taller than Roz. Raisa leaned on Thabo. Raisa had told Roz the day before that she was thinking about moving out and getting her own apartment. Raisa was thirteen, six months younger than Roz.
The lava tube was as much as forty meters wide, thirty tall, and it twisted and turned, rose and fell, revealing different vistas as they went along. Shops and apartments clung to the walls. Gardens grew along the nave beneath heliostats that transformed light transmitted from the surface during the lunar day into a twenty-four-hour cycle. Unless you went outside you could forget whether it was day or night out on the surface.
Now it was "night." As they entered the crater from the lava tube, the full extent of the colony was spread out before them. The crater was nearly two kilometers in diameter. Even in one-sixth gee the dome was a triumph of engineering, supported by a five-hundred-meter-tall central steel-and-glass spire. Roz could hardly believe it, but the school legend was that Carey had once climbed the spire in order to spray-paint the name of a girl he liked on the inside of the dome.
Above, the dome was covered with five meters of regolith to protect the inside from radiation, and beneath the ribbed struts that spread out from the spire like an umbrella's, the interior surface was a screen on which could be projected a daytime sky or a nighttime starfield. Just now thousands of bright stars shone down. Mars and Jupiter hung in bright conjunction high overhead.
From the west and south sides of the crater many levels of balconied apartments overlooked the interior. Most of the crater floor was given over to agriculture, but at the base of the spire was Sobieski Park, the main meeting ground for the colony's 2,500 inhabitants. An elaborate fountain surrounded the tower. There was an open-air theater. Trees and grass, luxuriantly irrigated in a display of conspicuous water consumption, spread out from the center.
Roz and the others climbed down the zigzag path from the lava tube and through the farmlands to the park. Beneath strings of colored lights hung in the trees, men and women danced to the music of a drum band. Naked revelers wove their way through the crowd. Both sexes wore bright, fragrant ribbons in their hair. A troupe performed low-gravity acrobatics on the amphitheater stage. Little children ran in and out of the fountains, while men and women in twos and threes and every combination of sexes leaned in each other's arms.
On the shadowed grass, Roz watched an old man and a young girl lying together, not touching, leaning heads on elbows, speaking in low voices with their faces inches apart. What could they possibly have to say to each other? Thabo and Raisa faded off into the dancers around the band, and Roz was alone with Carey. Carey brought her a flavored ice and sat down on the grass beside her. The drum band was making a racket, and the people were dancing faster now.
"Sorry the coach is on your case so much," Carey said. He touched her shoulder gently. The Cousins were always touching each other. With them, the dividing line between touching for sex and touching just to touch was erased.
God, she wished she could figure out what she wanted. Was he her brother or her boyfriend? It was hard enough back on Earth; among all these Cousins it was impossible.
When she didn't answer right away, Carey said, "The invisible girl returns."
"You're disappearing again. The girl from the planet nobody's ever seen."
Roz watched the girl with the man on the grass. The girl was no older than she. The distance between the two had disappeared; now the girl was climbing onto the man.
Carey ran his finger down Roz's arm, then gently nudged her over. Roz pushed him away. "No thanks."
Carey tried to kiss her cheek, and she turned away. "Not now, OK?"
"What's the matter?"
"Does something have to be the matter? Any Cousins girl might tell you no, too. Don't act like it's just because I'm from Earth."
"I'm not going to rape you, High-G. Cousins don't rape."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Absolutely nothing. But you know how screwed up it is down on Earth."
"Lots of stuff people do here would be wrong on Earth."
"Right. And people there shoot each other if anyone touches them."
Cousins could be so arrogant it made her want to spit. "You've never even seen the Earth—let alone been there."
"I've seen you, Roz."
"You don't own me."
He smiled. "No. Your father does." He nuzzled her neck.
Roz hit him. "Get off me, you pig!" She got up and ran away.
Forty milligrams of serentol, a whiff or two of THC, and an ounce of grain alcohol: Jack Baldwin wobbled through the crowd of revelers in Sobieski Park. Beneath the somatic night, feeling just an edge of anxiety, he looked for Eva among the faces.
The park was full of young men and women, their perfect bodies in one another's arms. Sex was their favorite pastime, and who could blame them? They went about it as if their lives depended on the next coupling. That was biology at work, he supposed—but if it was just genes having their way with the human body, then why all the emotional turmoil—does she love me who's he sleeping with I can't stand it when she looks at him like that how unfair to treat me like a toy who does he think he is I can't stand it I'll die if I can't have her tonight ...
Where was Eva? He smiled. Apparently genes did not let go of your mind just because you were pushing forty. Sex had been a problem back on Earth—always some screw-up with women coworkers, hassles with his live-ins, distractions. Here, sex was the common coin of interpersonal contact, unjudged as taste in ice cream (but some people made a religion of taste), easy as speech (but speech was not always easy), frequent as eating (but some people starved themselves in the midst of plenty). Where did that leave him? Was he simply a victim of the culture that had raised him? Or was his frustration purely personal?
Where was Eva?
Men and women, naked, oiled, and smiling, wove their way through the celebrants, offering themselves to whoever might wish to take them. It was the one day of the year that the Society of Cousins fit the clichéd image of polymorphous orgy that outsiders had of it. One of them, a dark young woman—dark as Eva—brushed her fingers across Jack's cheek, then swirled away on one luscious hip.
But Eva was taller, more slender. Eva's breasts were small, her waist narrow despite the softness of the belly that had borne Carey, and when they made love her hipbones pressed against him. She was forty, and there was gray in her black hair. This girl dancing by could satisfy his lust, and perhaps if he knew her she would become a person as complex as Eva. But she would not be Eva: the combination of idealism and practicality, the temper that got her into trouble because she could not keep her mouth shut. Fierce when she fought for what mattered to her, but open-hearted to those who opposed her, with an inability to be successfully Machiavellian that was her saving grace.
He had met Eva a month after he and Roz had arrived at the colony. Jack was working on a new nematode that, combined with a gene-engineered composting process, would produce living soil from regolith more efficiently than the tedious chemical methods that had been used to create Fowler's initial environment. His specialty in nematodes had been the passport for him and Roz into the guarded Cousins society, the last bridge after a succession of burned bridges he had left behind them. He certainly had not planned to end up on the Moon. The breakup with Helen. The fight over Roz, ending with him taking her against the court order. The succession of jobs. The forged vita.
Eva, newly elected head of the board, chaired the environmental subcommittee. She had come by the biotech lab in the outlying bunker. Jack did not know who the tall, striking woman in the webbed pressure suit was. She asked questions of Amravati, the head of the project, then came over to observe Jack, up to his ankles in muck, examining bacteria through an electron microscope visor.
Flirting led to a social meeting, more flirting led to sex. Sex—that vortex women hid behind their navels, that place he sometimes had to be so badly that every other thought fell away and he lost himself again. Or was it finding himself? Eva's specialty was physics, some type of quantum imaging that he did not understand and whose practical benefits he could not picture. But a relationship that had started as a mercenary opportunity had, to Jack's surprise, turned to something like love.
As Jack sat on the edge of the fountain, hoping he might find Eva in the crowd, instead he spotted Roz. Her face was clouded; her dark brown eyes large with some trouble. "Roz?" he called.
She heard his voice, looked up, saw him. She hesitated a moment, then walked over.
"What's the matter, sweetheart?" he asked.
Excerpted from The Year's Best Science Fiction by Gardner Dozois. Copyright © 2001 Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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