Hamilton, Peter F – Mindstar Rising
Hamilton, Peter F – Mindstar Rising
Meteorites fell through the night sky like a gentle sleet of iceflre, their sharp scintillations slashing ebony overload streaks across the image Greg Mandel’s photon amp was feeding into his optic nerves. He was hanging below a Westland ghost wing, five hundred metres above the Purser’s Hills, due west of Kettering. Spiralling down. Wind strummed the membrane, producing near sublimina1 bass harmonics. Ground zero was a small crofter’s cottage; walls of badly laid raw stone swamped with some olive-green creeper, big scarlet flowers. It had a thatched roof, reeds rotting and congealing, caked in tidemark ripples of blue-green fungal growths. A two-metre-square solar-cell strip had been pinned on top. Greg landed a hundred metres downslope from the cottage, propeller spinning furiously to kill his~ forward speed. He stopped inside three metres. The Westland was one of the best military microlights ever built – lightweight, highly manoeuvrable, silent, with a low radar-visibility profile. Greg had flown them on fifteen missions in Turkey, and their reliability had been one hundred per cent. All British Army covert tactical squads had been equipped with them. He’d hate to use anything else. They’d gone out of production when the People’s Socialism Party caine to power, twelve years previously. A victim of the demilitarization realignment programme, the Credit Crash, the Warming, nationalization, industrial collapse. This one was fifteen years old, and still functioned like a dream. A time display flashed in the bottom right corner of the photon amp image, spectral yellow digits: 21:17:08. Greg twisted the Westland’s retraction catch, and the translucent wing folded with a graceful rustle. He anchored it with a skewer harpoon. There’d be no danger of it blowing away PITIR F. HAMILTON shot-gun down, resting its barrel on a stone, saving it from the mud. A man who knew weapons. ‘OK, you can turn now.’ His face was thin, bearded, hazel eyes yellowed. He looked at Greg, taking in the matt-black combat leathers, slim metallic-silver band bisecting his face, unwavering Waither. Edwards knew he was going to die, but the terrified acceptance was flecked with puzzlement. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Absolution.’ He didn’t get it, they never did. His death was a duty, ordered by guilt. Greg had learnt all about duty from the Army, relying on his squad mates, their equal dependence on him, It was a bond closer than family, overriding everything – laws, conventions, morals. Civvies like Edwards never understood. When all other human values had gone, shattered by violence, there was still duty. The implicit trust of life. And Greg had failed Royan. Miserably. Greg fired. Edwards’ mouth gaped as the maser beam struck his temple, his eyes rolling up as he fell forwards. He splashed into the thin layer of mud. Dead before he hit. Greg holstered the Walther, breath hissing out between clenched teeth. He walked back down the hill to the Westland without giving the body another glance. Behind him, the goat’s bell began to clang.
He refused to think about the kill while the Westland cruised over the countryside, his mind an extension of the guido, iced silicon, confirming landmarks, telling his body when to shift balance. It would’ve been too easy to brood in the ghost wing’s isolated segment of the universe, guilt and depression inevitable. Rutland Water was in front of him, a Y-shaped reservoir six and a half kilometres long nestling in the snug dark valleys of the county’s turbulent rolling landscape. A pale oyster flame of pejune moonlight shone across the surface. Greg came in over the broad grass-slope dam at the western end. He kept MINDSTAR RISING 5 low, skimming the water. Straight ahead was the floating village; thirty-odd log rafts, each supporting a plain wooden cabin, like something out of a Western frontier settlement. They were lashed together by a spiderweb of cables, forming a loose circle around the old limnological tower, a thick concrete shaft built before the reservoir was filled. He angled towards the biggest cabin, compensating for the light gusts with automatic skill. At five metres out he flared the wing sharply. Surging air plucked at his combat leathers; his feet touched the coarse overlapping planks which made up the roof, legs running, carrying him up towards the apex as the propeller blurred. He stopped with a metre to spare. The tart, scrumpy-like odour of drying water-fruit permeated the air, reassuring in its familiarity. The Westland’s membrane folded. ‘Greg?’ He watched Nicole’s bald head rise above the gable end. ‘Here.’ He shrugged out of the harness. She came up the ladder on to the roof, a black ex-Navy marine-adept dressed in a functional mauve diving bikini. He couldn’t remember her ever wearing anything else. Even in the moonlight her water-resilient skin glistened from head to toe; she looked tubby, but not overweight, her shape dictated by an all-over insulating layer of subcutaneous fat, protecting her from the cold of deep water. ‘How did it go?’ ‘All sorted, no messing,’ he replied curtly. Nicole nodded. Two more marine-adepts swarmed briskly up the ladder and took charge of the Westland. Greg appreciated that, no fuss, no chatter. Most of the floating village’s marine-adepts were ex-Navy, they understood.