A kidnapping, a school band competition and an electric cat that eats
everything in sight! Join intrepid young heroine Ravana O’Brien in a fast-paced
and witty science-fiction mystery of interstellar intrigue. Having fled civil
war sixteen light years away, Ravana and her father now live in the sleepy
commune of the hollow moon, a forgotten colony ship drifting around Barnard’s
Star. Yet what began as a minor escapade to rescue her electric cat soon leads
to an incredible adventure into the shady dystopian world of politics,
kidnappings and school band competitions. The evil Taranis, the dark architect
of destiny, has returned from the dead and Ravana must do all she can to save
Cover artwork copyright (c) Victor Habbick 2013
The author would like to thank Karen for friendship, wine and invaluable helpPrologue
; Victor for the front cover artwork; and of
course Sarah, who despite all evidence to the contrary, has kept me sane in
this big, bad city.
The Runaway Star
BARNARD’S STAR has another name, for some call it the
Runaway Star. In the skies of Earth this faint red sun lurks in the
constellation of Ophiuchus the serpent bearer; hidden to all but the
astronomers, yet close enough to tantalise the scientists, dreamers, crooks and
believers who saw in the heavens the age-old lust for adventure. This is a
story of the future, a time when human ingenuity has bridged the vast cosmos
and many millions have staked their claims where distant suns burn fierce in the
Drifting around Barnard’s Star was a monument to both the
imagination and the folly of humanity. Like the first tools of prehistoric
ancestors, the lonely crater-pocked asteroid had been shaped by human hands, an
inventiveness betrayed by the caldera-like cones of silenced engines, the
concrete carbuncles and single vast airlock shutting out the unforgiving vacuum
of space. Beyond this door was carved yet another niche for survival, an
incredible land of homes, farms, families and friends where there should be
none. This was the forgotten ark of a planet few cared about, circling a sun
too dim to see.
Yet for all humankind’s wondrous endeavours, the old
squabbles and struggles remained. For every traveller who came to explore,
another came to exploit. The strange hollow moon had become a place to hide, a
refuge for the runaways fleeing the rank and file of someone else’s great game.
Unbeknown to them all, their tiny world now turned upon the fate of a girl
barely sixteen, one whose quiet exile was about to be shattered by a story
driven by those who saw destiny as just another human invention, a tool harder
Barnard’s Star offered the only light in the black. It
was after all the Runaway Star.
Falling down the end of the world
RAVANA REACHED for the next hand-hold and pulled herself
higher, annoyed beyond belief at how easily she had once again let her wayward
electric cat lure her into such an idiotic predicament. The cliff was scarily
high; below her was a ten-storey drop to the rocky shelf left by a previous
collapse, which itself formed the top of a nasty slope of rubble that tumbled a
further three hundred metres to the ground. Her right leg was doubled up with
her knee against her chest, held there by bare toes wedged in a crevice just
centimetres wide. Her other foot was at full stretch and precariously poised
upon the narrow ledge that seemed to be the last decent foothold to the shallow
“Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow,” she muttered
tunelessly, inadvertently adding her father’s Australian twang to the Indian
tones inherited from her mother. It was an odd combination at the best of
times, which this definitely was not. “Why didn’t he buy me a bow-wow? I’ve got
a stupid cat, that’s acting like a…”
She cursed as her foot slipped and sent a cascade of rock
fragments rattling down the cliff. Trying not to panic, she forced herself higher,
then gave a brief grimace of triumph as her head finally appeared above the
floor of the cave.
Something small and furry slunk from the rocky shadows
and greeted her with a pathetic meow. Ravana blew out of the corner of her
mouth to dislodge an annoying strand of hair and glared at the cat with
“Electric pets are not supposed to lure their humans into
risking life and limb!” she scolded, feeling a headache coming on. “What do you
say to that, cat?”
The black bundle of fur looked at her and meowed again.
With one last determined effort, Ravana heaved herself into the shallow cave
and sat back against the cliff wall, breathing heavily. She was no athlete and
her slim body was not used to this sort of strenuous exercise. Her sweat felt
clammy upon the scar on the side of her face and her weak right arm ached
badly. Trembling, the cat jumped onto her lap, its pitiful whining subsiding as
she stroked its fake fur. It was impossible to stay mad at it for long, even if
Ravana did often wish the cat had an ‘off’ switch. Yet even electric pets had
rights these days.
She had first discovered the shallow cave just weeks
before; or rather, her cat had found it after a previous solo wander
cross-country. This was the second time it had homed in on this almost
inaccessible cliff-side perch. Whatever it was that lured her cat to this place
was also making it act very oddly. She had never seen her pet so agitated.
The cave was roughly a third of the way up the huge,
partially-collapsed cliff face at the end of the inside-out world that was the
. From this
high vantage point the whole interior of the hollow moon was laid before her.
It was a world hewn deep inside a spinning asteroid: a vast cylindrical cavern
five kilometres long and a kilometre wide, where the fields and the trees and
the stone buildings clung limpet-like to the rocky cavern wall. The position of
the sun was the strangest thing of all, for at this height she was almost level
with the tiny yet immensely-bright golden globe that sat suspended between
three radial pylons at the centre of the long cavern. The air was clear and
looking down she could see the tops of the trees dotting nearby grazing land, a
view that became increasingly dizzy as she followed the foot of the cliff with
her gaze until finally she was staring straight up. Directly above her, nestled
against the cliff face on the far side, was the Maharani’s palace, a place
strictly off-limits to people like herself.
Ravana’s gaze lingered upon the distant palace. Her
perspective shifted and now she was looking down upon the house and gardens, to
where a movement in the grounds had caught her eye. Two figures made their way
towards the main building; even from this distance, she was struck by the odd
way in which they moved. With a start, she realised they were wearing what
looked like lightweight spacesuits, albeit without helmets. This was unusual
enough within the hollow moon but more so here. It was said that the Maharani
had exiled herself from the modern world for good and looked down upon the
space-age trappings of the twenty-third century as she would something nasty on
the sole of her shoe.
Ravana frowned, wondering how her own life had ended up
like this, where watching two distant strangers had become the height of
excitement and adventure.
“Two spacemen,” she told her purring cat. “I wonder what
they’re doing? And why am I asking you? You only care about leading me astray!”
* * *
Unaware they were being watched, the two spacesuit-clad
figures continued their furtive progress through the palace grounds. Their
faces were pale and haggard, betraying a world-weariness echoed by their
patched grey survival suits.
Inari, the shorter and fatter of the two, moved with a
clumsy and hesitant air of bemusement. He was aware his slow progress annoyed
his colleague, who had crept ahead through the secluded undergrowth with a sly,
cat-like confidence, only to double back again upon finding Inari had fallen
behind. The palace ahead was an impressive building of carved stone, wooden
verandas and domed turrets, but as Inari stopped to stare it was something else
entirely that captivated his attention.
“Hey, Namtar!” he called. He gave a noisy sniff, wiped
his nose with a hand and used his sticky digits to tap the taller man on the
shoulder. “Funny, huh?”
With a sigh, Namtar turned to look at what his accomplice
had found so amusing. One of the Maharani’s gardeners, unhappy with his lot,
had planted the flower beds so that a rude word was spelt out in scarlet blooms.
“My dear Inari, could you please keep your feeble
utterances to a minimum?” whispered Namtar irritably. Like his colleague he
spoke English, albeit with a cultured Russian accent rather than Inari’s coarse
Greek tones. Neither man sounded entirely trustworthy. “It would greatly aid
our illicit enterprise if you could endeavour to concentrate what few brain
cells you own upon the task in hand!”
“Just looking,” Inari mumbled. “This place is weird.”
“It is as comfortable as any burrow could hope to be,”
said Namtar, urging Inari forward. “Perhaps you do not recall the squalid
conditions we tolerated in Lanka before the dome was removed. That this strange
hollow moon has succeeded as an independent colony more than makes up for any
superficial shortcomings, though I admit as a place of exile it is a somewhat
eccentric choice, given the Maharani’s rather exuberant tastes.”
Inari frowned as he deciphered the lengthy sentence,
wondering which bit he was expected to comment on. “I thought this was a
Commonwealth system,” he said at last.
“This rock has somehow escaped the attentions of the
government on Ascension,” Namtar told him. “Breathe this air, my friend, for it
is the same sweet taste of freedom we are fighting for on Yuanshi. Today, you
and I bring liberation one step closer!”
“Smells funny to me,” Inari observed, wrinkling his nose.
“If you ask me, living on all these different worlds is making people loopy.”
“Colonising the five systems has not changed humanity one
iota,” Namtar snapped tartly. “It merely brought us new lands to fight over,
new populations to enslave and new arenas in which to spread the same old lies
“Speak for yourself!” Inari snorted.
“I do,” Namtar replied coolly.
* * *
High above, sitting on the ledge of the cave, Ravana knew
she should be heading home but found her gaze reluctant to leave the distant
mysterious spacemen. All of a sudden she heard the flutter of wings and felt
the furry lump in her lap twitch nervously. Startled, she turned to see a large
white gull staring at her from where it had landed on the far side of the cave.
Its wings rested stiffly at its side and there was something unnatural about
the way its head moved. There were real birds which flew the skies of the
hollow moon but she suspected this was not one of them.
“Go away!” she said, waving a hand irritably.
The gull regarded her solemnly. “I am friend! Require
The bird’s squawk had a definite metallic ring. It eyed
the electric cat warily, making Ravana wonder just how much assistance a robot
gull could hope to provide.
“Are you spying on me?” she demanded defensively. “I am
sixteen, you know. I don’t need my father’s permission every time I leave
The gull did not move. Its blank mechanical gaze did
little to help Ravana’s growing unease. Spacemen and talking birds aside, she
had got herself into a tricky situation. What passed for gravity within the
hollow moon, the result of the centrifugal force generated by the
spinning on its axis, was barely half
that of Earth but still enough to make falling down the cliff an extremely
painful experience, if not terminal. Even the pleasant sensation of weighing
less in the cave than at ground level had lost its appeal, for it meant going
back down the cliff and into higher gravity was much harder than climbing up.
The descent could only get more complicated with an irritable cat.