New Ceres Nights extract – “Tontine Mary” by Kaaron Warren


Extract from “Tontine Mary” by Kaaron Warren

New Ceres Tontine Group, Seventh Meeting

The President of the New Ceres Tontine Group opened the seventh meeting with the litany. “Two dead by hanging. Three by knife. One by gun, five by carriage, eight by illness, two by drowning.”

The people murmured softly, concealing their delight.

Mary scuffed her feet, bored already. She had expected a celebration; the seventh meeting was only three days after her seventh birthday and she had stepped into the great hall in her new button-up boots proud as a peacock and ready to be celebrated.

Her mother had some sweet ginger for her and hissed, “Mary, don’t be a goose. You’re done with birthdays for the year.”

Her brothers, the five of them, all older, sat around her, keeping her safe in their circle. They spoiled her each birthday. They made her toys, found her treasures money couldn’t buy. There was not a lot of wealth in the family, which was why only Mary was signed up to the Tontine.

The coffee men walked around the auditorium with their pots, dozens of them in shiny satin coats, pouring the coffee with stony faces.

“Look at that fool,” Mary’s father said. “Does he think we don’t know he’s working his father’s business? There should have been a test for quality of character for entry to the Tontine, and that fellow would not have passed.”

The man’s name was Calvin, Mary thought. There was a boy at school called Calvin, and he often tried to hold her hand, though the teachers had asked him not to.

Calvin marched between the coffee pourers, watching them as if looking for errors. These workers did not make errors. They knew how important the coffee was.

“Hot coffee! Hot coffee!” Calvin called. The adults tutted and looked away.

“Why he thinks he needs to sell I don’t know. His father never sells. He lets the business sell itself. It’s coffee, for Ceres’ sake.”

Mary felt sorry for the man. He had no friends, no parents with him.

“At his age,” her mother said. Mary thought he must be more than twenty-five, because her oldest brother was twenty-five and this Calvin looked older.

Her father was as distracted as ever. Other fathers shook his hand; they said, “Good job of a tough business, Charles.”

Mary knew they called him an Alienist, and sometimes ‘New Ceres’ foremost alienist’, but she was not sure what that meant.

“I want to go to the Market. They are handing out sweeties, my teacher said.”

“Hush, Mary. Your great-grandmother will give you a sweetie at home if you listen carefully here.”

The President glared at them. “And greetings to our own Tontine Mary, the youngest of us all. Don’t the newshounds love you, young one? You’ll make us proud, won’t you?”

Mary shrank from the expectations of the people in the room. She was too young for such responsibility.

It was late when they came out. Mary was so tired the lights of the street seemed to twinkle like stars. She loved the stars. She didn’t like the newsmen surrounding her, asking her questions about her favourite doll, why she wanted to be rich … silly questions for men to ask a girl.

Her father said, “The next person to come near my child will find themselves arrested and up before the courts.”

At home, Mary’s great-grandmother clapped her hands in Mary’s face. “Don’t blink,” she said. She was so weak the effect was lost; her hands were slow and barely created an impact.

Mary had time to prepare. The old woman told her, “You’ve got good blood. No reason you won’t live forever. The women live long in our family. Much longer than the men. And we can look after you, Mary, keep you safe. Nobody can keep boys safe. The only thing I ask of you, Mary, is that you birth healthy children to keep our line. We’ve got Coopers going back to the French Revolution.”

Mary squinted at her. If she asked what that was, Great-Grandmother would tell her for a very long time. It frightened her, the idea of great age. She felt nothing but horror and revulsion at her great-grandmother. How angry her parents were at her demonstration of such.

“She’s sacrificed a lot to buy you a place in the Tontine. You should be grateful.”

The woman was so old, her skin was almost transparent, and Mary felt ill at what she called ‘the insects’ inside her; her beating heart pushing blood through her veins, crawling. Her hair was still dark and thick, though.

“You have a direct, verbal link going back hundreds of years. The main thing you can bring, Mary, is long life. You need to stay safe, for the sake of the Coopers.”

Great-Grandmother winced; her stomach gave her pain.

“I’ll bring you a cackeral, Grandmother,” Mary’s mother said. Mary decided to hide away. She hated cackeral, the fish they cooked for those who needed to go to the toilet and couldn’t. She thought the fish was full of bowel motions, and she couldn’t understand why anyone would eat such a thing.

She sat on her swing outside, feeling sorry for herself.

Her family loved her dearly, and she knew that should make a warm place in her heart. People told her love keeps you warm and your belly full, but she had to disagree.


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New Ceres Nights extract – “Murder in Laochan” by Aliette de Bodard


Extract from “Murder in Laochan” by Aliette de Bodard

Zhongli Quan first realised something was wrong when Lu Dongbin called him away from the other Transcendents.

Quan went, meekly — for who could refuse their leader and not lose face?

Lu Dongbin’s rooms were the largest on Penlai Station, with a bay window overlooking the vast expanse of the planet of New Ceres below.

“We have a mission for you,” he said. Lu Dongbin always spoke in the plural, even though the decision was likely his alone.

Smugness, the Ancestor said within Quan’s mind. It’s not going to be a mission you’ll like.

Even without the input of his subconscious adviser, Quan would have guessed. “I already have a mission. We’re all going down…” Down, of course, meant planetside: to Dongjing, the capital of New Dragon — and into the Forbidden City itself, where the bitter struggle for the succession of the dying Emperor would have begun, every faction striving to eliminate its opponents in bloody purges.

Neither Quan nor Lu were aligned: their role was merely to monitor, to give the right nudges at the right time to make sure New Dragon was secure from offworld interference.

In other countries on New Ceres, they’d have been called Proctors. But here, in New Dragon, this careful, artificially preserved recreation of eighteenth century China, they styled themselves the Transcendents — the Eight Immortals, forever watching from their lofty heights.

Lu hadn’t answered Quan’s remark. No doubt his own Ancestor was busy grinding data, analysing Quan’s most minute reactions.

“We agreed on this,” Quan said, carefully, quietly. Buddha! he thought, exasperated. How he wished he was not so new amongst the Transcendents, so green and without authority. “My predecessor—”

“—was not head of the Transcendents,” Lu Dongbin said, smug as ever. “Our plans have changed, Quan. You’ll go to Laochan to investigate a murder.”


Small village, the Ancestor prompted, raiding the memories of Quan’s predecessors. Peach-Blossom Ward of Jiangxi Province, New Dragon.

In other words, so small it was barely on the register. “Did someone important die?” Quan asked.

Lu Dongbin’s lips stretched. Malicious amusement, the Ancestor said.

“Important enough to send you.”

In other words, probably not. Lu just wanted to assert his authority, to show the others that as leader of the Transcendents he could send Quan back and forth on trivial matters. The fact that one of Quan’s namesakes and predecessors had founded the order and raised Penlai Station in the sky meant nothing. Nothing at all.


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New Ceres Nights extract – “The Widow’s Seven Candles” by Thoraiya Dyer


Extract from “The Widow’s Seven Candles” by Thoraiya Dyer

“You are the Chandelier called Etienne? You’re the one who made the sunburst-shaped candles for the Lumoscenti?”

“I am.” He frowns. The sunburst candles had been destined for the private chambers of the Director-General. “How is it that you know of them, madame?”

She smiles a small, pointed, vixen’s smile. “I am the Widow Courboin.”

Etienne blinks. Charlotte Courboin controls her late husband’s trading empire. The Courboins founded Port Deeping’s coral harvesting enterprise and now have their hands on the copper, glass, cotton and marble monopolies. Chateau de Courboin is the grandest residence in Port Deeping, even more stately than Deeping Castle, the home of Duke Henry.

More to the point, half the waterfront belongs to her, including Etienne’s chandlery.

It is whispered that the Widow is part Veremaur witch. That she reads thoughts. That no man can resist her. That even the golden monks are not immune.

She knows of the monks’ sunburst candles. Etienne draws a deep breath. The urge to run for his shirt is almost overwhelming.

“How may I assist, Madame Courboin?”

“It will soon be the anniversary of my husband’s death, Monsieur Chandelier. I do not wish unhappy shades to linger at Chateau de Courboin. To flush them out, I am holding seven days of feasting and dancing. Each night will be such a ball as Port Deeping has never seen, and I require suitable lighting.”

“Candles, madame?” Etienne asks stupidly. The wealthy have gas lighting in their homes. They only purchase candles as required by law for lighting the streets where they live.

“Yes, candles,” the Widow says impatiently. “That is your trade, is it not? I require seven of them.”

Etienne has heard stories of the vast, gilded ballroom at Chateau de Courboin. “Will seven candles be sufficient, madame?”

“For my purposes, yes. You will have room for more than one wick in each candle. Like the moulded candles of the monks, I wish mine to have a certain shape.”

“What shape is that?”

“The shape of your naked body, monsieur,” she says brazenly.


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New Ceres Nights extract – “Debutante” by Dirk Flinthart


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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ANNOUNCEMENT: Table of Contents for One Small Step

I am so very pleased to announce the draft table of contents of the forthcoming anthology One Small Step: an anthology of discoveries. I can’t wait to share these stories with you, as they are amazing!

“Sand and Seawater” by Joanne Anderton & Rabia Gale

“Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti

“Firefly Epilogue” by Jodi Cleghorn

“The Ways of the Wyrding Women” by Rowena Cory Daniells

“The ships of Culwinna” by Thoraiya Dyer

“Shadows” by Kate Gordon

“By Blood and Incantation” by Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter

“Ella and the Flame” by Kathleen Jennings

“Original” by Penny Love

“Always Greener” by Michelle Marquardt

“Morning Star” by DK Mok

“Winter’s Heart” by Faith Mudge

“Cold White Daughter” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

“Baby Steps” by Barbara Robson

“Number 73 Glad Avenue” by Suzanne J Willis

Look for the book in early 2013!