In the last decades of the Terrestrial Age, when humanity had figured out how to leave the planet of their birth but not quite why they’d want to bother, the majority of the world’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of very few. This was not, in and of itself, remarkable: this pattern had repeated, over and over again, throughout human history. Whenever a civilization stood upon the verge of transformation, its riches about to be transformed through the alchemy of achievement into something casual and commonplace, there were always those who reacted to the uncertainty of the times by grabbing for everything they could hold, and then some. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the newest incarnation of robber barons and oligarchs stood tall, believing they had finally found a legacy on which the sun would never set.
In time, of course, they died, many with their fortunes still intact, thrusting their descendants into boardrooms and onto committees, startled shareholders who had, in many cases, bought into the fiction that told them they would never inherit, for theirs were the parents who would find a way to live forever, who would learn the secret routing numbers and hidden bank accounts that would allow them to buy themselves free of death. Fearing insurrection from within—for those who would be eternal kings observed the ways of succession—many of their dearly departed parents had refused to do anything to prepare their children for the world outside their carefully guarded gates. Those children had been allowed the protracted adolescence so many of their contemporaries had never been able to afford, and so found themselves in their twenties, thirties, forties, with more money than the mind could comprehend and less experience than the average eighteen-year-old.
Some of them were brutish and cruel, emulating the only role models they had ever had available to them. They spent their money on making more money, and because they had so much to begin with, even failure too frequently bore fruit. They perched like ticks atop the shuddering corpse of the Earth, contributing nothing, amplifying pain.
Some of them were idealistic and hopeful, so shielded from the pain of the world that when they had the chance to choose kindness, they chose it with both hands, opening and emptying their purses for as long as their accountants would allow. They built roads and hospitals and schools; they purchased and reclaimed land for wildlife conservation. They still saw promise in the planet of their birth, and they pursued it, spoiled sweet instead of rotten.
And some were the eternal children their parents had wanted them to be, looking for bigger, better toys, bigger, better entertainments. They bought movie studios and fashion houses, publishers and toy companies and a thousand other ways to distract themselves.
One of them, a woman-child named Wendy May, looked to the sky, and imagined she could see the twinkling beacon of the biggest, best, brightest toy of all.
Her father had been one of the best robber barons of his age, had gathered and hoarded his money with the fervor of a modern Midas, an unrepentant Scrooge. He had filled accounts and ledgers with his riches, and upon his death at the age of sixty-five—unexpected, unavoidable; had there been any warning of the massive aneurysm which claimed him, he would have found a way to push it aside—he had left them all to his only child. Wendy had been raised in a shell of perfect indulgence, catered to by nannies, personal assistants, and paid companions who were distinguished in her mind from “normal” friends only in that they could make a living out of traveling with her, following her to parties, and living their lives as an adventure. She wanted adventures. She wanted adventures for everyone.
When Miss Wendy May, age thirty-seven, decided that what she wanted most of all, more than anything else in the known galaxy, was one of Saturn’s moons, she set her army of lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists to acquiring it for her. She didn’t know what most of those people did, only that they did their jobs efficiently and well and got her the results she asked for, as long as she worded her requests clearly and with little room for interpretation. They were her personal djinn, and she allowed them the freedom they needed to do what she wanted done.
They secured air rights and mineral rights and land rights and a dozen other rights from a dozen governments, until one day the world blinked its collective eyes and discovered that somehow, without concealing her intentions in the slightest, a private citizen had secured sole ownership of Titan, largest of Saturn’s moons.
How could this happen? the public demanded; the sky was meant to belong to everyone. Corporations, thinking of mineral rights and mining and the virtues of being the sole owners of a planetary body, threw their support behind Miss May. Governments, trying to conceal their involvement with what may well have been an illegal sale—there had been so many moving parts that no one really knew for sure, and that had been part of the plan all along—stated that the paperwork was good.
Miss May, in the single surviving interview from her post-purchase, pre-orbit period, smiled when asked about her intentions for Titan. It was a large piece of real estate, after all, considerably larger than Earth’s single natural satellite, but it lacked certain amenities, like an atmosphere. It was the ultimate in useless accessories, too large to be ornamental, too ostentatious to be concealed.
“Oh,” she said, “I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
• • • •
“Come on, Dad, come on come on come on.” Each plea was accompanied by another tug on Michael’s hand, his daughter pulling hard enough that it felt like she was trying to remove his fingers completely.
Naturally, he slowed down, allowing the artificial gravity of the parking structure—almost Earth-standard, for the comfort of the widest possible range of patrons—to anchor his heels to the ferroglass floor. Isla squawked and pulled harder on his hand, bouncing on her heels, trying to force him to follow.
“I don’t know,” he said languidly. “We’ve come an awfully long way. I’m such an old, old man, and I’m tired. Maybe I’ll take a little rest here before we head for the admission kiosks.”
Her second squawk was practically a moan. “No, Dad, no, Mom and Mum and the twins are already inside.” Her tone implied that they were having all the fun without her, using it up and leaving none for anyone else.
Michael laughed. Maybe it was cruel to find amusement in his youngest daughter’s pain, but it had been so long since the family had come together, and so long since he’d been able to anticipate seeing his wives with his actual eyes, and not through the intimate lens of a camera, that he couldn’t help it.
“Well, when you put it like that, I guess we have to go,” he said, and resumed walking.
All around them, he knew, people were arriving in their transports and shuttles: even a few privately owned planetary cruisers, although those were mostly anchored on the other side of Titan, in docking structures specially constructed to account for their bulky shapes and gravitational needs. Only the junkers would be pulling into a docking structure this far from the core enrichment centers of the moon, where the people who’d chosen the cheapest possible ticket options came to play.
“Cheap” was a relative term. In all the solar system, there was nothing else like Titan, nothing constructed with the single-mindedness and clear goal of the full enclosed, enriched, transformed moon. The May fortune had been enormous for its time, and Wendy May, an untrained oligarch with no designs on leaving a penny of her father’s money for the non-existent next generation, had spent it with the open hands of an inspired artist. She had been chasing a dream, and had she still been alive to see it—had she not died, comfortable, at the age of two hundred and eighty-three, tucked into her bed in the Timeless Tower at the center of the Peach Orchards of Immortality—she would have been more than content with everything that dream had become.
In order to make it self-sustaining, to keep the vultures from swooping in and gutting her creation before her body was even cold, it had been necessary to incorporate, to invoke the arcane magic of shareholders and lawyers and profitability. Back then, in the beginning, people had laughed—oh, how they had laughed. Little Miss Wendy May, selling shares in a dream that everyone knew would never come true. Earth was home. Earth was the place where mankind belonged. Space, when it was claimed, would be exploited for the things it could supply to the homeworld, and then it would be left behind, another wrung-out resource with nothing to offer.
In her idealistic rush to make something beautiful, Wendy May had been one of the greatest visionaries of her age, because she had seen the potential, not in the stars, but in the territories so much closer to home. Her architects and scientists had spent the better part of a decade drawing up plans. Sometimes they demanded technology that didn’t exist, that hadn’t even been considered before it became necessary for them to move forward; when that happened, she sent out feelers, funded scientists, purchased labs, and got them what they needed. Over and over, she got them what they needed. The sky wasn’t the limit, not for a woman who had already pinned her heart to the distant, shimmering sphere of another planet’s moon.
Titan had taken shape one innovation at a time. Ferroglass struts, clear as crystal and stronger than any natural metal, driven into the shifting ground by rovers that sampled the unblemished ecosystem to assuage scientific guilt, even as they destroyed it forever. Gravity generators, bringing Titan’s lower gravity closer to Earth standard, while never quite getting it all the way there. This was meant to be a paradise, after all, and in paradise, tired bones could rest, children could tumble without fear of injury, and most of all, someday, fly using wings of plastic and aluminum and physics. Piece by piece, the skeleton had gone in, and the shareholders—many of whom had bought their shares anticipating the day Titan could be carved up and sold for its component parts, a beautiful corpse for them to divide—began paying closer attention.
“Terraforming is a myth” had been the rallying cry of her detractors. “Whatever she’s trying to do up there, it’s never going to happen.”
Ferroglass panels, each a mile or more in diameter, had been placed atop the struts, creating a greenhouse, scaling the world like a sleeping dragon. Beneath them, the artificial soil had rolled out across the world, and the atmosphere generators had begun to pump out their programmed mixture of gases, gradually forcing the natural gases of Titan away, up and out and into the space above the sphere. In less than twenty years, Titan had become a spinning crystal, shining like the star it had never aspired to be.
And then the real construction had begun.
Isla ran, and Michael followed, and even their “cheap” surroundings were spectacular beyond anything an asteroid farmer or a Plutonian colonist would have seen before. This had been one of the first docking structures on Titan, built for Wendy May herself; the ship that had carried her forth from Earth was still cradled near the transit corridors, a permanent attraction for selfie-hungry guests. There was a small queue waiting neatly off to one side, parents holding tight to the hands of children who were already anxious to move on to the real adventure on the other side of the gravity tunnel.
“Dad, no, Dad, come on,” babbled Isla, clearly seeing the risk of another delay.
“All right, comet, all right,” he said. The doors to the gravity tunnel were ahead. He stopped again, tugging her to a halt. She whirled to give him a petulant look, which faded when she saw how serious his face had become.
“What?” she asked.
“We have to go through those doors independently,” he said. “The admission kiosk is on the other side, along with all the security systems Titan has. When you land, I need you to stay right there, all right? Don’t move. Don’t go to look at anything, don’t ask anyone where the gates are, don’t follow a parade if there’s one passing by. I will be with you as quickly as I can. Do you understand?”
Isla nodded, eyes wide and fearful. That was good. That was important. Fear kept body and soul together.
“Here we go, baby girl,” he said, letting go of her hand and gently pushing her toward the doors. “I’ll see you on Titan.”
She gave him one last frightened look before walking toward the doors, which slid silently open to let her pass. Once she was through, they closed again, and she stood there for a single bewildered moment before the floor dropped out from under her feet and she fell, down into the depths of the gravity tunnel, down into the windy world below.
Michael caught his breath, struck—not for the first time—by how unnecessarily dramatic the descent was for families who chose this particular docking structure. Families with infants, travelers with physical disabilities that would be exacerbated by the descent, people who could afford a more costly berth—they all landed closer to the surface, in glimmering constructs of ferrosteel and glittering crystal, where sliding stairways could carry them through the shell and onto Titan. For the poor, for the nostalgic, for the thrifty, though, there was the separation, the plummet, the jaw-dropping moment of what felt like genuine freefall.
Sometimes he wondered whether Wendy May’s original design had called for the fall because she knew it would impress the investors who already believed she was going to fail. Go big or go to hell, that had been her motto by the time Titan had been ready to receive her first visitors, her first human suitors not already in love with the moon and its potential. By the time the gravity tunnels had been ready, the advertisements had been going out, opening day still ten years in the future and tickets already on sale, hoarded by those who thought they were a funny gag gift and those who recognized them as the treasure they were at the same time.
Michael stepped up to the doors, held his breath, and stepped through. They closed behind him, and the floor dropped out from under his feet, and for a moment—a terrifying, tantalizing moment—he was in genuine free fall, plummeting toward the crystal dome below, nothing to catch or keep him but the air that rushed around his body, holding him square in the middle of the tube. Bodies flashed by on all sides, other pilgrims taking the plunge toward the solar system’s secular holy city, where the only thing people ever swore by was the moon, the constant, inconstant moon, land of dreams, paid for by a woman who had never needed to learn that “impossible” meant anything more than “try harder.”
The wind caught him, clutched him, bore him up, and his plummet became a gentle glide as the gravity reasserted itself, turning him into a snowflake drifting through the winter sky. It snowed on most planets with an atmosphere, and if the snows of Saturn or Uranus weren’t as kind to human life as the snows of Earth had been, it was still an image capable of invoking wonder.
The crystal shell shimmered with rainbows as he dropped closer and closer, until he could see glimpses of the satellite beneath it, a single moon divided into dozens upon dozens of distinct, impossible worlds.
The greatest theme park in the solar system.
The gravity tunnel dropped him into open air above the arrivals plaza, and jets of carefully conditioned microgravity lowered him the rest of the way, until his feet touched down on the brick, carefully crafted to look like something from a pre-Collapse picture book, homey and quaint and antiquated in a way that nothing built off-Earth had any business being. He caught his breath, tasting the sugary, cookie-flavored air of Titan for the first time. Somewhere in the distance, a brass band was playing. From another direction, he could hear a sitar belling through the air, sweet and sharp and syrupy.
The admission kiosks loomed, each within its own ferrosteel shell, each colored to look like a different gemstone, ruby and sapphire and emerald. Within them, bright-faced human attendants waited to check genomes against registered entries for the day, performing full medical scans at the same time to prevent any infectious diseases from making their way past the arrivals plaza. Behind them were glittering tunnels of light, each capable of performing security sweeps more thorough than any biological guard could dream. Wendy May had placed a great deal of importance on living staff, on keeping the bright, shining face of Titan front and center in her perfect world of the coming future, of the dreaming past, but even before her death, she had earnestly agreed that security should be automated and updated whenever possible, sparing no expense. People who entered her lunar wonderland should be able to put the real world behind them without concern of war or plague or anything else interfering.
And there was no Isla.
Michael spun in place, scanning the crowd for signs of his stubborn, Titan-loving daughter. There were children everywhere, from all worlds, all walks of life, children in grubby station jumpsuits with asteroid dust still on their feet, children in the glitter-graphic spun-silk taffeta of the Venusian elite, children of every kind and color, and none of them were his.
The security tunnels kept people from carrying weapons past the gates, making Titan a paradise for parents and children and people of all professions. But those tunnels didn’t scan people as they entered the plaza. And anyone who knew Titan knew that the gravity tunnels were configured for a single passenger at a time. That children of poorer families would arrive on the moon alone, if only for a matter of minutes, dropped into spectacle and chaos and so many strangers, so many people who had no idea who belonged with which child, who wouldn’t recognize an abduction if they saw one.
Michael dropped to his knees, barely even aware that the screams he was hearing were his own.
• • • •
Wendy May’s acquisition of Titan had seemed, at first, like a blow for corporate interests: after all, if people could own planetary bodies, what was to stop a sufficiently large coalition from purchasing Jupiter, from locking down the mineral rights on Mercury? Titan was seen as the bellwether for a universe in which everything would finally be in the hands of the people who deserved it. Wealth was a signifier of virtue, after all, and that meant that the richer a person was, the more they had earned the right to take and consume all the good things in the universe.
But Titan’s purchase came at the very end of the old era and the dawn of the new. It was, in many ways, the final extravagance of a dying aristocracy, and the world rose up to secure the solar system for all humanity, not for the few who could afford a natural satellite as a weekend home. Because the purchase had been legal when it was made, and because the populace wanted a reminder of what happened when the rich forgot they were people too, it was allowed to stand: Wendy May would keep her prize, even as her peers were forbidden to do the same for themselves.
Perhaps there was a small element of wistfulness at play in the decision to let her keep her moon. Her plans were becoming known, whispered about, discussed in amused tones over dinner tables, and no one could fault the idea of an amusement park large enough to span a world. Science fiction was filled with tales of “pleasure planets,” and the first tottering steps were being taken toward freedom from the green hills of Earth. Why not make one more imaginary thing real?
The first colony on Mars was founded the same year that Titan opened its first “world” to hopeful explorers who could afford the transport, who could pay their way past the gates. Rather than being tied to a media company, with stories that would inevitably age and sour in the mouths of consumers, whose mores and standards and ideals would continue to evolve year upon year, Wendy May had commissioned her architects to fill her private moon with all the things Earth’s dreamers had placed upon their own Moon.
Rabbits and peach orchards and kindly old men; aliens who bore more resemblance to friendly green Sea Monkeys than anything actually extraterrestrial; Grecian temples and Lunar goddesses in sparkling silver gowns; a childhood wonderland of buildings and entertainment experiences sculpted from “cheese,” where the restaurants grilled and melted and sliced a thousand preparations of the iconic foodstuff. Titan was a moon, with no real folklore attached to its orbit, but under the hands of Wendy May, it became the moon, radiant and rare and crystal-bright.
Michael sat in the small security office, head bowed, hands tucked between his knees, and wondered whether he would ever be able to look at a moon—any moon—again without seeing the shining face of his little girl, who had barely stepped through the portal into wonderland before being snatched away.
The door opened. Two women rushed inside, one tall and gangly in the way of those raised in zero gravity, the other short and compact, with the thick arms and muscled frame of an asteroid miner. Michael leapt to his feet, scanning the space behind them. His heart sank.
“Where are the boys?” he demanded. “Did you—”
“We dropped them off in Phoebe,” said Kim, walking quickly across the office to fold her arms around her husband. Ange followed more slowly, scowling at everything in sight. “They’re perfectly safe. They’re perfectly safe and perfectly happy and they don’t know that Isla is missing.”
The word “yet” hung in the air between them, unspoken.
It was Ange who broke the silence. “What happened?”
“We came in through the gravity tunnels. You know they require individual transits.” It had seemed like such a good idea when they were planning this trip. Take the gravity tunnels. Arrive on Titan the way Wendy had arrived, back when everything was shining and new and perfect. “I was right behind her, I swear. She said she’d wait for me. She was supposed to wait for me.”
“She’s smart. She knows that when we give her an instruction, it’s for a reason.” The plaza, with all its hustle and bustle and oh, God, she was gone, she was gone, she’d never even made it past the gates.
The door opened again. All three of them turned to see a security officer in the glittering silver uniform of Titan’s permanent staff standing there, a frown on their long, seamless face. The gravity was low enough, and the ferrosteel dome blocked enough harmful radiation, that those who lived on Titan often looked decades younger than their actual ages, even before rejuvenation treatments. Some people joked that Wendy May had found a way to get the actual peach trees of immortality from the Chinese heavens, and that the orchards planted in that “world” could keep people alive long past their appointed time.
“Mr. May, Mrs. May, Mrs. May-Xiang.” The officer nodded to each individual in turn with the utmost politeness, almost managing to conceal the awe in their eyes. “We had no idea you were coming to inspect the property.”
“It isn’t an inspection,” said Michael. “It’s a vacation. We’re taking our children on vacation.”
The youngest three. The elder three were off living their lives, Chi in a research lab orbiting Pluto, working on deep space biochemical sampling; Mara swimming the oceans of Jupiter, her body transformed through some of her sister’s techniques, until she could travel the length of a continent without surfacing for air; and John tucked in a minor role in the Titan Corporation, learning the family business from the ground up. All of them had made this same pilgrimage to Titan, had fallen through the gravity tunnels, had walked the worldlet their family owned with their hands in their pockets and their identity beacons falsified, allowing them to experience their great-great-great-grandmother’s dream the same way everyone else did.
The security officer inclined their head, but it was clear from their expression that they didn’t believe Michael’s claims. No one ever did. No one could ever believe that he, the last surviving heir of his generation, would walk away from the lunar wonderland crafted in his honor, his parents’ honor, the honor of every May descendant to walk the worlds with open hands and hungry eyes, looking for something new to carry home to their heart’s own home on Titan.
He could have tried to explain. He could have said that Wendy May had been very clear in her will, asking her children and their children and their children’s children to travel, to see things, to live their lives outside the literal manifestation of the bubble she had been raised in. She had been a wide-eyed rich girl who pinned all her hopes on a distant moon she had never seen, but whose surface, she had been assured, was geologically stable enough to carry the weight of her dreams. Everything she’d built, not designing but asking to have designed, had been inspired by the stories she’d read as a child. Those stories would change. The signs had already been out there in the world, for the people who knew how to see them. For Titan to speak to the future as it already spoke to the past, new dreams of the moon would have to be collected, cataloged, and brought home.
Two new “worlds” had been designed and opened their gates since Wendy May’s death. Her daughter had been responsible for The Sea My Home, a watery paradise inspired by the stories told by children orbiting Jupiter, looking at the ceaseless seas below them. In it, guests donned rebreathers and swam through blood-warm “oceans,” dove deep for pirate treasures, and dined on seafood farmed across the solar system. Not to be outdone, her grandson had ordered the construction of The Moon on Fire, Mercury’s contribution, where the skies were gray with synthetic ash and columns of flame jetted up to surprise and delight the tourists.
Michael’s father was still working on the construction of his new world, a glorious, jungle-themed tangle of flowers and fantasies, and Michael’s sister was waiting in the wings for her turn, planning a low-gravity wonderland where everything would soar, unfettered, free. The Mays built the solar system’s playground, and to do that, they had to keep wandering. They had to see.
What was Isla seeing now, he wondered. Was she seeing the inside of a box, the back of some broken-down junker of a transport ship, or the heart of a fusion-powered incinerator? Was she still there for them to find, or was the thought that they might see their little girl again just one more dream on Titan?
“Regardless,” said the officer, finally seeming to shake off the confusion at hearing a member of the May family call visiting Titan “a vacation,” when surely they came and went as they pleased, “you should have notified us of your arrival. We would have cleared priority docking space for you, closer to the surface, and there would have been no need—”
“Stop,” said Ange, pleasantly enough. “If you don’t, I’ll remove your sternum through your stomach, and that’s not usually something people survive.”
The officer stopped. Blinked. And tried again. “Mrs. May-Xiang, if you would just—”
“Stop.” This time, Ange’s voice was less pleasant. “I don’t want to hear what you think we should have done, or what we didn’t do to your satisfaction, or whatever other bullshit you’ve been trained to peddle. I want to know where my daughter is, and I want to know now.”
The officer looked from Ange to Kim to Michael, confusion written clearly in their eyes, along with an almost paralyzing fear of saying the wrong thing. “We’re reviewing the footage now. Surveillance in the plaza is . . . complicated.”
“We discussed the security systems on Titan before we agreed to Michael’s proposal,” said Kim. Her voice was, as always, calm and level. The people of Charon never shouted. Their homes were too narrow, too echoing for raised voices. Her spouses, though, could see the rage in the angle of her jaw, and wisely kept their distance. “Not only the proposal that we visit—the proposal of marriage. We entered this union with open eyes. We are fully aware of the security coverage of the plaza, and more, of the fact that nothing there goes unrecorded. I suppose this means the question is . . . why has the Titan Corporation stolen our child?”
It lasted for a few seconds—five, perhaps, no more than eight—before the officer whirled and grabbed the doorknob, trying to yank it open. Just as quickly, Ange was there, slamming them up against the door, her hand tight around their throat, her eyes narrow and blazing.
“Not the right answer,” she said.
The officer whimpered.
• • • •
Very few of the megacorps to form on Earth during the last pre-Collapse years survived the transition to orbit. The resources were too different, too undependable, and most of all, too difficult to monopolize; they were forced first to specialize, and then to carve themselves up and portion themselves off to the highest bidders, forsaking size in favor of survival. Families that once controlled continents found themselves controlling single asteroids, or measured percentages of the mining rights of a world whose yields failed to meet projections cycle after cycle, or single shipping lanes. Fortunes could still be made and lost, but in a wider universe, they were made and lost on narrower bands, at least until merchant and monetization came together—as they always had, since the dawn of humankind—to find new ways of doing business. So many of them weren’t new at all, only the same old deal in a spectacular new shell, but oh, how the money rolled in.
In little more than a decade, new dynasties rose, and the moguls at their heads began narrowing their reproduction as their predecessors had done, restricting themselves whenever possible to a single heir, for who wanted to see their empires carved up and scattered to the solar winds when so much effort had gone into creating them?
Some, however, saw the possibility of dynastic conflict as a good thing, a way to be sure their empires were always held by the strongest, and not simply granted to their sole heirs by default. Others believed that their children and their children’s children would be able to find a way to share. There was plenty, after all. There would always be plenty. Why shouldn’t a fortune feed as many as possible?
Wendy May had fallen somewhere between the two camps. She had sunk every penny of her personal fortune into Titan, and there had been no guarantee that her investment would ever bear fruit. At the time, she had been content with the idea that she might travel to her privately owned moon and die in the arms of an amusement park barely half constructed, its gates never opened to the awestruck masses of the solar system. If anything, she had been as surprised as anyone else when Titan had managed to catch the hearts and minds of people everywhere, luring them into Saturn’s orbit as they raced for the chance to sample its wonders for themselves.
By the time her creation had opened its gates, she had been married to one of its primary architects, a gentle man who made chemical bonds dance to his whim. They had had three children before he died, and she had seen them all into adulthood and starting families of their own before she followed him.
Not all of their children had chosen to have children: by Michael’s generation, there had only been six potential heirs to the family business. Two of them had gone into other lines of work, accepting lucrative positions with rivals or with firms whose interests more closely matched their own. One had disappeared in the Kuiper Belt, and had been missing almost long enough to have been declared dead. His sister, Margaret, had accepted the position of heir apparent, and was happily learning the ropes of everything it was to be the latest guardian of Titan, while remaining happily childless. Let her brother produce the next generation of administrators. She had work to do.
That was the problem. Wendy May had been very clear about one thing: as long as there was a suitable heir born to the family line, they would inherit. Her shares in the corporation were protected by a hundred laws and layers of red tape, and unsnarling all that complicated legislation—some of it written solely to protect what she had made—would have been impossible to do without being caught. Her empire was safe in the hands of the children she had made to keep it safe.
What she hadn’t considered was that, by making blood the only requirement of being accepted as CEO, she had placed her eventual descendants in the position of living in constant fear of kidnapping becoming a form of corporate espionage.
Ange slammed the officer against the wall again, knocking their head into the ferrosteel. The officer whimpered. Ange rolled her eyes.
“I’ve only done soft tissue damage so far. That could change. Where is our daughter?”
The officer made a soft choking noise.
“If I let you go, will you tell us?”
Vigorous nodding followed the question. Ange pulled her hand away, allowing the officer to collapse against their desk, clutching at their wounded throat and wheezing. Ange took a step back, watching impassively. Michael and Kim were silent.
“Sir,” wheezed the officer. “This is entirely improper. My staff is loyal.”
“To whom?” asked Michael.
The officer paled, looking to Kim as if she might provide a way out.
Kim looked calmly back. “Charon is a quiet place,” she said. “Out of necessity, yes, but also out of cultural expectation. I know a dozen ways to hurt you so profoundly that it steals your breath away. You won’t scream if I have to track you down. You won’t have time. Where is my daughter?”
“Our daughter,” said Michael.
Kim waved his objection away with one hand. “Well? I’m waiting.”
“Sir, Miss May—”
“My sister did not kidnap my daughter,” said Michael. “But by now, she knows Isla’s been taken.”
It didn’t seem possible for the officer to pale further. They did. “S-sir?”
“All our children have subdermal medical sensors,” said Ange. “Isla is a fairly excitable child, and when she was snatched, hers probably spiked hard enough to set off the alarms. Margaret knows. She’s probably on her way here right now with her private security firm, the ones who don’t answer to anyone but her. Think she’ll be angry? Because I think she’ll be angry.”
“She’s always angry when she has to leave her office,” said Michael. “She doesn’t like going outside.”
“And she owns an amusement park,” scoffed Kim.
The security officer was looking between them in increasing horror. “You can’t be serious.”
“You’ve enabled the abduction of her niece. She’s not going to be happy about that. How much money did they offer you? Was it worth your job? Was it worth your life? None of the other megas are going to take you after you betrayed one employer and failed another. Hope you enjoy asteroid mining in a habitat that loses atmo as fast as the gennies can make it, because that’s about the only option you’ve got left.” Michael’s voice took on a jeering note. “They love it when they get softies kicked out that way. No adaptations, no hardening of your skeletal structure, no other options. They’re going to break you, and my whole family is going to cheer.”
“Or,” said Ange.
The officer whipped around to stare at her. “Or . . .?” they repeated, voice trembling.
“Or maybe nothing happened,” said Ange. “Children get lost all the time. Maybe Isla got lost.”
Slowly, the officer nodded. “I know just where to look.”
• • • •
Isla was asleep in a storage pod waiting to be loaded onto an outgoing freighter. She woke to her mothers bending over her and her father standing nearby, voice low as he conversed with her beloved Auntie Margaret. Isla shook off the last, lingering shards of her confusion and fear and launched herself at her aunt, already laughing, already forgetting the unfamiliar arms that had gripped her tight and pressed the sedative patch to her throat.
She flung her arms around Margaret’s legs just as the older woman said, “—body will never be found. Don’t worry. Here on Titan, we’re still the law. Anyone with May blood is untouchable.”
Michael’s smile bordered on feral. “Thanks, Gramma Wendy.”
“Can we go ride the rides now?” demanded Isla.
“Of course, comet,” said Michael, his smile softening as he looked down at his daughter. “They’re all going to be yours one day.”
He swept her up into his arms and walked toward his wives, Margaret by his side. Somewhere in the distance, a coaster swept by. Tourists cheered, and their voices blended with the artificial air of Titan, wafting upward and away, breaking against the ferrosteel shell of a world turned into a dizzying amusement, fading into the endless manufactured summer of Wendy May’s dream.
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