Anitra Starr has just come of age when she receives a visitor from another world with a grim message. Henceforward her life is in constant danger until she petitions the Goubernator for a grant of human rights.
But there’s a problem. The Goubernator’s Court sits in Nix City… on the planet Mars. Simply getting there will be an adventure.
It is 1994. Twelve years earlier Nurse GABY STARR helped the criminal genius PETER ZWILLINGE evade Moonforce in gratitude for piloting the stricken space vessel Prometheus back to the Moon. Ever since, PETER has helped GABY bring up ANITRA and her 8 twin-brothers in an obscure Durham pit-village to hide them from their off-world ill-wishers. They are the Stellans (“star children”): long-lived like the groubian mother they never knew, and having her characteristic colour-changing skin.
But the Stellans have come-of-age at 18 – and all hell breaks loose. The family bus carrying GABY and the boys on a day-out crashes off Bishop Auckland Viaduct into the River Wear. ANITRA’s brothers are missing, presumed drowned, and GABY dies on the way to hospital. But not before telling PETER by wristlink that it was no accident but an assassination.
ANITRA too is in wristlink contact with PETER who sends her for protection to Supreme Councillor DOLPOU ZVEZDA, an important groubian from Mars who visited them earlier that day. But DOLPOU knows that Commissioner NILSSON has come to Earth with a Moonforce snatch-squad to arrest PETER.
ANITRA and DOLPOU board a spaceplane to Selene, the Moon nation. They are met by NANOUD TOLCHOK, commander of the Groubian Echelon, a brigade of the Martian defence force Olvoi. ANITRA and NANOUD quickly become close friends. Visiting the Gaiascope in central Jordvik, ANITRA and NANOUD chance to meet HERMES KROV, the son of the Goubernator. Hastily terminating the encounter, NANOUD tells ANITRA she has in-effect told HERMES she is one of the Stellans.
Meanwhile PETER, knowing ANITRA is in grave peril until she reaches Mars, signs a comprehensive confession for NILSSON. No longer needing ANITRA for a witness, NILSSON deports her to Mars by fast-ferry from Lipsky Spaceport. But ANITRA and DOLPOU are hijacked aboard the space liner Oberon just setting out for Mars. CAPTAIN MOND assures them they are not prisoners but honoured guests.
ANITRA goes exploring and encounters PETER in the Speil: a fabulous ballroom on the lowest deck. DOLPOU connects PETER’S presence on the Oberon with why they have been hijacked.
While DOLPOU is away, ANITRA receives a beautiful pair of skates from an “invisible friend” she suspects is NILSSON. She goes down to the Speil to try them out. While skating she has an accident and is borne off the ice by HERMES. Later he brings her flowers, and they kiss. DOLPOU is furious: a relationship with the Goubernator’s own son could get their petition thrown out of court.
ANITRA receives an invitation to a party at which HERMES is present. The Martians are keen to know what it’s like to live on Earth, and ANITRA is keen to know how the Intensor takes the place of money on Mars. She takes a dislike to VIKTOR, a close companion of HERMES.
A General Assembly is called to discuss Oberon’s uncertain future. A proposal is debated to abandon the Moon/Mars run and participate in the Martian Project Tahiti to colonise the outer reaches of System Sol. DOLPOU sees a plot by PETER to stop ANITRA disembarking on Mars to present her petition. She gives ANITRA the lowdown on PETER, which the girl takes badly, abandoning the stateroom and moving back into her single cabin.
DOLPOU intercepts HERMES on his way to an assignation with ANITRA, subjecting him to an intensor-flogging. ANITRA quarrels with her about it, demanding to be taken back home. DOLPOU reveals that HR is waiting for her back on Gaia, with plans to imprison her for a thousand years to discover the secret of her anticipated longevity. Thoroughly frightened, ANITRA agrees to remain under groubian protection. DOLPOU tells ANITRA to write HERMES a letter of goodbye, which shatters him.
Mars is drawing near. ARNE, one of HERMES’S friends, is found dead in suspicious circumstances in the corridors behind the Great Stair. ANITRA, in what will be their last conversation, tells PETER she won’t stay on Oberon as he wants her to, but will go down with DOLPOU to Nix City to present her petition. Commissioner NILSSON finds ANITRA moping afterwards in the cafe near the Shrine of Saturn, and they talk about PETER, the Groubians and the dangers awaiting her in Nix City.
Once in Mars orbit, the entire Groubian Echelon commanded by General NANOUD TOLCHOK threatens to storm Oberon. In vastly excessive numbers for a guard-of-honour for ANITRA, they have also come to arrest PETER, anticipating a pitched battle. But NILSSON intervenes to vow he will not be surrendered to the Vratch, the feared Martian medical police, and PETER agrees to come quietly as Selene’s prisoner.
The Groubian Echelon speed ANITRA and DOLPOU to a safe house on the rim of a vast canyon on Mars. There, alone with a substantial buffet, they await the arrival of NANOUD, who has delivered PETER and NILSSON to the Selenean legation in Nix City. NANOUD arrives, to reveal that ANITRA’S favourite brother ANDREW is not dead, but is a prisoner of HR at an unknown location.
The story continues…
(See also: Anitra—the last passage read-out aloud.)