TITLE: Moonskin
GENRE: science fiction, horror
WORD COUNT: 50,274
SUMMARY: A jaded mechanical engineer inherits his great-uncle's vacation house in Nowhere City. But there are more terrifying things lurking on Triton's ex-mining colony turned tourist destination than the strange temperamental plumbing in the depths of his new home.


With a bag of groceries in his left arm, Banner slouched against the lamppost in front of his great-uncle's vacation house and watched the burglar punch in a code on the front door panel. The woman was wearing a black thermal suit with a hood which covered her hair. Her glove covered fingers swept the keypad in quick ease. A second later, the door hissed open.

“Bravo,” Banner said, finally breaking the silence. “That took you about ten seconds.”

The woman paused and turned her head. The hood shadowed part of her face, but he could tell she had a burnished complexion and familiar eyes the color of twilight. “It would have taken two if you had not changed the code.” The voice wasn't so familiar. It had the texture of dark wind.

“I could ask you what you are doing here.” He straightened and walked forward. The woman didn't move, even when he stood toe to toe with her. “This is my home now.”

She regarded him solemnly. “In his will, Jorge Helado gave me an open invitation. I was under the impression that the new owner wasn't going to be here until a week from now.”

“Well, you're mistaken.” She seemed cool and collected, as if she wasn't perturbed at all that she had been caught breaking and entering. “I wasn't informed of this.”

“You can contact my lawyer if you want proof that I'm telling the truth.”

“I think I will.”

It was then that she moved back, but instinctively, he reached out to touch her elbow. She froze.

“What are you doing here?” This time, he wasn't referring to the reason that she had given before.

Her lips faintly thinned. “Perhaps you should invite me in.”

The last time he had met with Cimarron Tong-Radcliff had been almost fourteen years ago, at a party his great-uncle had thrown for him before he shipped off to his first job on Makemake. Ordinarily, he would not have noticed her as a gangly teenager except for her violet hair. It wasn't dyed, but it wasn't exactly natural either. Her parents, a renowned geneticist and an Alpha Centauran diplomat, had introduced her as their daughter. She had features from both her parents, but then again, there was something about her that came off as wrong. The hair color was just the tip of it.

Later, Uncle Jorge had casually mentioned that she had been altered beyond her or her parents' control by a now defunct biotechnology company that had stolen embryos to be used in an experimental project to produce “courtesans” for well-heeled businessmen. Her parents were attempting to raise her to overcome her unnatural genetics by enrolling her into science programs. Other than those terse facts, he didn't give specifics and Banner hadn't asked. But sometimes, his great-uncle would repeat rumors.

Banner motioned for her to precede him, and after he stepped through the threshold, the front door slid shut. With their presence, the interior lights brightened, revealing a hexagonal receiving room painted blue and sparsely decorated with solid white panels along the wall. Next to the door was a window facing the interior of Nowhere City's South Dome which was peppered with a row of utilitarian buildings. The dome itself was invisible, allowing the distant sunlight to filter in.

Opposite of the front door was an archway to the interior of the house—a living room washed in beige merging with what looked like a metallic kitchen bay. Banner placed his bag of groceries on the counter in the kitchen before taking off his knit cap and unzipping his jacket. Cimarron slowly approached the living room and took off her hood before casually glancing around.

“You took his sculptures down?”

He leaned against the counter to watch her. “No. They weren't here when I got here.”

She crossed her arms. “Last I heard you got sent to Tartaros without a chance for parole.”

Banner took a deep breath and tried to unclench has hands which had latched themselves to the edge of the kitchen bay when she had mentioned the prison planet on Epsilon Eridanus.

“Well, someone got me out, out of the goodness of their hearts. So what are you doing here? Before I got dumped on that hell hole, I heard you were doing a doctorate in computer science at some swanky university and was engaged to some high-flying socialite.”

She shrugged. “My plans changed. I decided to ditch the university and the fiancé. And decided to do a stint at a Tibetian convent.”


“So are you or aren't you going to contact my lawyer to see if what I'm saying is true?”

“Sure. But first, let's assume that Jorge did give you that open invitation. Why come here now?”

“Would you believe me if I said sentimental reasons?”

“Not really. But then again, I don't believe anyone anymore.” He turned and walked to the other side of the kitchen bay to give a command which opened a view screen on the opposite wall. He slanted her a glance. “Your lawyer's name?”

She readily gave up the information which he used to contact the lawyer. In a few moments, he had him on the line and confirmed what Cimarron had told him. After a few questions, he also confirmed that she had an open invitation despite the fact that he was now the owner of his great-uncle's vacation house.

“Why am I not surprised that this all comes down to a loophole,” Banner said when he signed off the communication. “I suppose I'll have to resign myself that you'll be staying here.”

The corner of her mouth quirked upward, finally revealing some sort of emotion. “You don't have to worry about me imposing on you. I have a room reserved at the local hotel. I was merely visiting.”

“Breaking in, you mean. But I have a feeling the authorities will believe you more than they do me,” he replied cynically.

copyright © 2001-2012 S. Y. Affolee