New Ceres Nights extract – “Debutante” by Dirk Flinthart

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Extract from “Debutante” by Dirk Flinthart

Celestine’s kidnapping worked right up to the point where her kidnapper poked her with an antique ballpoint pen and said he’d stuck her full of nano-dissassemblers. Until then, she’d been a bit afraid, or at least wary. Even if he was cute, he’d been waving a flintlock around, and the way he threw her guard out of the coach suggested he was a tough customer. Celestine knew the drill. She’d been brought up with it. Cooperate. Keep it easy. Daddy can afford the ransom.

Except Mister Cute-But-Dumb Coleridge didn’t want a ransom. He wanted Celestine to smuggle him through security at Hylden House so he could confront her father with details of some sort of plot to take over New Ceres. And to get what he wanted, he poked Celestine with a pen and left an ink-dot on her forearm. Why were the cute ones always dumb, or crazy, or both? Bad enough she had to flit halfway across the known universe, from cosmopolitan, vibrant, fashionable Earth to rustic, backwards, boring New Ceres. Worse, Sir Roger Mayhew — Celestine’s father, and the Governor of New Ceres — had engineered a win for the anti-tech idiots, and written New Ceres permanently into the Eighteenth Century. Suddenly, even her hairdryer was illegal, and she’d had to smuggle it out of the spaceport at New Prosperine. And then to be kidnapped by an amateur?

“No, I have no idea what Daddy will want with him,” she snapped at the guard captain on gate duty. It was Ronnie Talbot, who’d had a five-star crush on her since forever, back when they were in school together. He looked pretty good in the blue coat and black tricorn, but his leggings were all wrinkled and saggy. No artificial fabrics in the Eighteenth Century, of course. “Stick him in a secure cell until Daddy’s done with this big meeting of his. Oh, and make sure he’s got some paper to draw on, since he likes his pen so much.” She made a face at the man who’d tried to kidnap her; Coleridge, if that really was his name. “I knew it was a pen, stupid. Earth education, remember? And nano-dissassemblers? Ha! Physics 201, Old Oxford: at the nano-scale, the laws of physics get in the way of each other. You can’t make complex nano-machinery like that. Next time, try infecting me with a ‘disease that only you can cure’, or something.” She waved a sardonic bye-bye, just a little flip of her fingers as Coleridge was hauled away by two burly guardsmen.

“Shall I escort you to your father, Selly?” Talbot looked at her hopefully. Celestine tried not to wince at the schoolyard nickname. She’d forgotten all about it in four years on Earth.

“I prefer Celestine, Ronnie,” she said. “And I think I can find my father by myself. I managed to cross umpteen zillion light years on my own to get here, didn’t I? And I only got kidnapped once.”

“Well — Hylden House is rather large,” said Talbot, glancing back over his shoulder. It was, too — a ludicrous monster of a thing with turrets and three floors and gardens and a courtyard and enough wings to practically take flight. It was Sir Trevor Ponsonby’s idea of an eighteenth century English manor; fat Ponsonby who owned banks and controlled half the shipping on New Ceres. He was Sir Roger’s right hand man, and one of the main architects of the Eighteenth Century thing. Ponsonby loved dressing up in the ornate clothes and wigs that went with the era, even though most of his money was offworld and very definitely modern. Privately, Celestine thought he looked like a transvestite pervert, and his big, gaudy house was all about compensating for something else a little undersized…

“No, I’ll be fine, Ronnie,” she said. “Besides, they need you down here. Daddy’s got his big secret meeting going on. You and the lads have to be here so idiots like Mister Ballpoint don’t burst in and … do whatever it is people like that do when they get close to Governors.” She put her arms around Ronnie to give him a quick cuddle. Not that he’d get much fun out of that, with all the layers of eighteenth century clothing they both wore. Another good reason to like Earth, where you could dress up pretty much however you liked, and nobody would dream of arresting you for it. Then, with a last glance at Ronnie’s dishevelled tights — were codpieces authentic Eighteenth Century? — she said goodbye, flipped her hair saucily, and lifted her voluminous skirts so she could dart up the wide marble steps into Hylden House proper.

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