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Gardner Dozois

The Years Best Science Fiction, Vol. 18

The Juniper Tree - John Kessel

Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel now lives with his family in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is a professor of American literature and creative writing at North Carolina State University. Kessel made his first sale in 1975. His first solo novel,Good News from Outer Space,was released in 1988 to wide critical acclaim, but before that he had made his mark on the genre primarily as a writer of highly imaginative, finely crafted short stories, many of which were assembled in his collection Meeting in Infinity.He won a Nebula Award in 1983 for his superlative novella “Another Orphan,” which was also a Hugo finalist that year, and has been released as an individual book. His story “Buffalo” won the Theodore Sturgeon Award in 1991. His other books include the novel Freedom Beach,written in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, and an anthology of stories from the famous Sycamore Hill Writers Workshop (which he also helps to run), called Intersections,coedited by Mark L. Van Name and Richard Butner. His most recent books are a major novel, Corrupting Dr. Nice,and a collection, The Pure Product. Here he takes us to a colonized Moon, humanity’s newest habitation, for a taut encounter with some passions that are very old indeed…

The Juniper Tree One of the most successful transplants to the colony established by the Society of Cousins on the far side of the Moon was the juniper tree. Soon after Jack Baldwin and his daughter Rosalind emigrated in 2085, a project under Baldwin’s direction planted junipers on the inside slopes of the domed crater, where they prospered in the low-moisture environment. Visitors to the Society today may be excused if, strolling the woods above the agricultural lands of the crater floor, the fragrance of the foliage, beneath the projected blue sky of the dome, makes them think for a moment that they are in some low-gravity dream of New Mexico.

It was under a juniper tree that Jack disposed of the remains of Carey Evasson, the fourteen-year-old boy he killed.

Ice The blue squad’s centering pass slid through the crease, where Maryjane fanned on the shot. The puck skidded to the boards, and Roz, who had been promoted to the red team for today’s practice, picked it up to start a rush the other way. Carey spotted her from across the rink and set off parallel to her.

They’d caught the blues off guard, with only Thabo between them and the goalie. Thabo came up to check her. Roz swerved right, then left a drop pass for Carey.

But Thabo poked his stick between Roz’s legs and deflected the pass. While Roz and Carey overran the play, Thabo passed the puck back the other way to Maryjane.

Their breakaway was interrupted by the shriek of Coach Ingasdaughter’s whistle. The coach skated onto the ice, yelling at Roz. “What kind of a play was that? You’ve got a two-on-one and you go for the drop pass?Shoot the Puck! ”

“But if Thabo had followed me Carey would have had an open net.”

“If if if!” She raised her eyes to the roof of the cavern far overhead. “Why do you think Thabo didn’t follow you? He knew you would pass, because younever shoot! If you don’t establish that you’re a threat, they’re always going to ignore you. For once, let theboy get the rebound!”

Roz’s face burned. The blue and red squads stood around watching her take the heat. Carey was looking down, brushing the blade of his stick across the ice.

Coach Ingasdaughter suddenly grabbed Roz by the shoulders, pulled her forward, and planted a kiss on her lips. “But what can I expect from a girl whose parents were married?” she said, letting Roz go.

Someone snickered. “Ten-minute break,” Ingasdaughter said, and turned away.

Roz almost took a slash at her retreating back. Instead she looked past the coach to the bleachers where a few off-shift pressure workers sat, helmets thrown back over their shoulders, watching the practice.

Beyond the rink, the floor of the cave was one huge mass of blue ice, humped and creased, refracting the lights and fading into the distance. The coach skated over to talk with her assistant. Most of the team went over to the cooler by the home bench. Roz skated to the penalty box, flipped the door open and sat down.

It was hard being the only immigrant on the hockey team. The cousins teased her, called her “High-G.”

Roz had thought that going out for hockey would be a way for her to make some girlfriends who could break her into one of the cliques. You needed a family to get anywhere among the Cousins. You needed a mother. A father was of no consequence-everybody had a dozen fathers, or none at all.

Instead she met Carey. And, through dumb luck, it had seemed to work. Carey’s grandmother, Margaret Emmasdaughter, had known Nora Sobieski personally. His mother was Eva Maggiesdaughter, chair of the Board of Matrons, by some measures the most powerful woman in the colony.

Some of the players started skating big circles on the oversized rink. She watched Carey build up a head of steam, grinning, his blond hair flying behind him. On the next time around he pulled off his glove, skated past the penalty box, winked, and gave her five as he flew by. The heavy gold ring he wore left a welt on her palm; just like Carey to hurt her with his carelessness, but she could not help but smile.

The first time she had met Carey a check she threw during practice nearly killed him. Roz had not gotten completely adjusted to skating in one-sixth gee, how it was harder to start and stop, but also how much faster you got going than on Earth. Carey had taken the full brunt of her hit and slammed headfirst into the boards. Play stopped. Everyone gathered around while he lay motionless on the ice.

Carey turned over and staggered to his feet, only his forehead showing above his shoulder pads. His voice came from somewhere within his jersey. “Watch out for those Earth women, guys.”

Everyone laughed, and Carey poked his head out from below his pads. His bright-green eyes had been focused on Roz’s, and she burst out laughing, too.

When her father moved in with Eva, Carey became the brother she had never had, bold where she was shy, funny where she was sober.

Coach blew her whistle and they did two-on-one drills for the rest of the practice. Afterward Roz sat on a bench in the locker room taping the blade of her stick. At the end of the bench Maryjane flirted with Stella in stage whispers. Roz tried to ignore them.

Carey, wrapped only in a towel, sat down next to Roz and checked to see whether the coaches were in earshot. She liked watching the way the muscles of his chest and arms slid beneath his skin, so much so that she tried hard not to look at him. He leaned toward her. “Hey, High-G-you interested in joining the First Imprints Club?”

“What’s that?”

He touched her on the leg. He always touched her, seemingly chance encounters, elbow to shoulder, knee to calf, his forehead brushing her hair. “A bunch of us are going to meet at the fountains in the dome,” Carey said. “When the carnival is real crazy we’re going to sneak out onto the surface. You’ll need your pressure suit-and make sure its waste reservoir vent is working.”

“Waste reservoir? What for?”

“Keep your voice down!”

“Why?”

“We’re going to climb Shiva Ridge and pee on the mountaintop.” He tapped a finger on her leg. His touch was warm.

“Sounds like a boy thing,” she said. “If your mother finds out, you’ll be in deep trouble.”

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