Hamilton, Peter F – Quantum Murder, A
Hamilton, Peter F – Quantum Murder, A
It was the third Thursday in January, and after a fortnight of daily drizzles the first real storm of England’s monsoon season was due to arrive sometime in the late afternoon. The necklace of Earth Resource platforms which the Event Horizon corporation maintained in low Earth orbit had observed the storm forming out in the Atlantic west of Portugal for the last two days: the clash of air fronts, the favourable combination of temperature and humidity. Multi-spectrum photon amps tracked the tormented streamers of cloud as they streaked towards England, building in power, in ve1ocity~ The satellite channels bad started issuing the Meteorological Office warnings on the breakfast ‘casts. Right across the country, in urban and rural areas alike, people were hurrying to secure their property and homes, lead animals to shelter, and protect the crops and groves. Had the Earth Resource platforms focused on the county of Rutland as the dawn rose, any observer would have been drawn to the eastern boundary, where the vast Y-shaped reservoir of Rutland Water was reflecting a splendid coronal shimmer of rose-gold sunlight back up into the sky. The Hambleton peninsula protruded from the reservoir like a surfaced whale, four kilometres long, one wide. Hambleton Wood was sprawled across a third of the southern slope, its oak and ash trees killed off by the torrid year-long heat of the Warming which had replaced the old seasons. The rotting trunks were now besieged by a tangled canopy of creepers and ivy, carrion plants feeding off the muichy bark of the once sturdy giants they choked. Another, smaller, expired copse lay broken on the northern side, adding to the general impression of decay. But a good half of the remaining farmland had been converted to citrus groves, sprouting a vigorous green patina of life. The peninsula was an ideal location to grow fruit; Rutland Water provided unlimited irrigation water 2 PETER F. HAMILTON
during the parched summer months. Hambleton itself, a hamlet of stone houses with a beautiful little church and one pub, nestled on the western side, the whale’s tail, above a narrow spit of land which linked it with the Vale of Catmose. There was a single road running precariously along the peninsular spine; grass and weeds nibbling away at the edges of the tarmac had reduced it to a barely navigable strip. At quarter-past nine in the morning, Corry Furness turned off the road a kilometre past Hambleton, freewheeling his mountain bike down the sloping track to the Mandel farmhouse, tyres slipping dangerously on the damp moss and loose limestone. Greg Mandel caught a glimpse of the lad from the corner of his eye, a slash of colour skidding down the last twenty metres of the slope into the farmyard, clutching frantically at the brakes. Greg had been out in the field since half-past seven, planting nearly thirty tall saplings of gene-tailored lime trees in the sodden earth, binding them to two-metre-high stakes which he hoped would given them enough anchorage to withstand the storms. When it was finished the lime grove would cover half a hectare of the ground between the farmhouse and the eastern edge of Hambleton Wood. The planting should have been safely completed a week ago, but the saplings had arrived late from the nursery, and the mechanical digger he was using had developed a hydraulic fault that took him a day to fix. He still bad two hundred trees left to put in. Greg had thought his early start would give him enough rime to finish at least fifty before lunch: he was already resigned to carting the rest into the barn until the storm passed. Fit watching Corry barely miss the side of the barn, then shout urgently at Eleanor who was painting the ground-floor windows, he knew even that small hope had just vanished. Eleanor pointed at him, and Corry ran over the shaggy grass. Greg switched off the little digger and climbed out of the cab, wellingtons squelching in the mud. He was on the last row, just twenty saplings and stakes left to go. They were all A QUANTUM MURDER laid out ready. Patchy clouds tumbled across the sky, and the reservc~ir’s far shore gleamed from last night’s rain, wisps of mist already rising as the day’s heat began to build. ‘Sir, sir, Dad sent me, sir,’ Corry shouted. The lad was about ten or twelve, his face ruddy from exertion, fright and exhilaration burning in his eyes. ‘Please sir, they’re going to kill him, sir!’ He slithered the last two metres, and Greg caught him. ‘Kill who, Corry?’ Corry struggled to gulp down some air. ‘Mr Collister, sir. There’s everybody up there at his house now. They’re saying he used to be a Party Apache.’ ‘Apparatchik,’ Greg corrected grimly. ‘Yes, sir. He wasn’t, was he?’ Greg started walking towards the farm. ‘Who knows?’ ‘I liked Mr Collister,’ Corry said insistently. ‘Yeah,’ Greg said. Roy Collister was a solicitor who worked in Oakham; an unobtrusive, pleasant man. He came into the village pub most nights. Someone who moaned about work and the price of beer and inflation. Greg had shared a pint with him often enough. ‘He’s a nice man.’ And that’s always the worst thing about it, Greg thought. Four years after the People’s SociaJjsm Party fell, ending ten years of a disastrous near-Marxist style government, people found it hard to forget, let alone forgive the misery and fear they had endured. Hatred was still simmering strongly below the surface of the nation’s psyche. As for Collister, Greg had seen it before: the allegations, the pointed finger. One hint, one whispered suspicion, was all it took: the serpent of guilt never rested after that, gnawing at people’s minds. Even the informants working for the People’s Constables weren’t as bad; at least they had to produce some kind of evidence before they got their blood money. Eleanor was already backing the powerful four-wheel-drive English Motor Company Ranger out of the barn when he reached the yard. It was a grey-painted farm utility vehicle, with a squat boxy body on high, toughened suspension coils; the marque was the first of a new generation, powered by~ 4 PETER F. HAMILTON Event Horizon giga-conductor cells instead of the old-fashioned high-density polymer batteries. She gave him a tight-lipped look which said it all. It took a lot to upset Eleanor. They had been married just over a year. She had been twenty-one years old the day she walked down the aisle of Hambleton’s church, seventeen years younger than him, although that had never been an issue. Her face was heart shaped, liberally splattered with freckles; a petite nose and wide green eyes were framed by a mane of thick red hair which she brushed back from a broad forehead. Physically, she was an all-out assault on his preferences. An adolescence spent on a PSP-subsidized kibbutz where manual labour was emphasized and revered had given her the kind of robust figure a channel starlet would kill for. Eleanor didn’t see it quite in those terms, though she had come to accept his unending enthusiasm and compliments with a kind of bemused tolerance. Even now, dressed in a paint-splattered blue boiler suit, she looked tremendous. Greg climbed into the Ranger’s passenger seat, and shut the door. ‘I want you to walk back into the village,’ he told Corry. ‘Will you do that for me?’ He didn’t want the lad to wimess the lynch mob, whatever the outcome was. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘And don’t worry? ‘I won’t, sir.’ Eleanor steered the Ranger out of the farmyard and on to the track, moving expertly through the gears as the tyres fought for traction on the treacherous surface. ‘Did you know about Collister?’ she asked. ‘No.’ Which was odd. Not even his intuition had given him an inkling. And it should have done. Intuition was one of his two psi faculties ‘liich were educed by neurohormones. It was the English army which had given him a bioware endrocrine gland implant, a sophisticated construct of neurosecretory cells which consumed his blood and extravasated psi-stimulant neurohormones under the control of a cortical processor. A QUANTUM MURDER 5 He had been transferred out of his old parachute regiment when the combined services’ assessment test graded him ESP positive and shoved straight into the newly formed Mindstar Brigade, along with five hundred other slightly befuddled recruits. Psi-stimulant neurohormones had been demonstrated the year before by the American DARPA office, and Mindstar was the Ministry of Defence’s eager response to the potential of psychics providing the perfect intelligence-gathering corps. An idea the tabloid channels swiftly dubbed ‘Mind Wars’. It was a pity nobody paid much attention to the number of qualifiers in the early DARPA press releases. Based on the assessment test results, Mindstar expected Greg to develop an eldritch sixth sense, a continent-spanning X-ray sight which could locate enemy installations, no matter how well concealed. Instead he became empathic. It was a useful trait for interrogating captured prisoners, but hardly warranted the million and a half pounds invested in his gland and his training. He wasn’t alone in disappointing the Mindstar brass. The assessment tests only indicated the general area of a recruit’s ability; how a brain’s actual psychic faculties would develop after a gland was implanted was beyond prediction. The results were extremely mediocre: very few Mindstar recruits produced anything like the performance expected. The brigade had been reluctantly disbanded a few months before the PSP took its ideological knife to the defence budget. Greg’s claims that his intuition had also been enhanced by the gland were discounted by the sounder minds of the general staff as typical squaddie superstition. He shrugged and kept quiet: never volunteer for anything. But intuition had saved him and his tactical raider squad on more than one occasion when he saw action in Thrkey. So why hadn’t it given him any forewarning about Ray Collister? ‘Nobody expects you to be perfect,’ Eleanor said quietly. He nodded shortly. She could plug into his emotions with the same efficiency as his espersense rooted around in other people’s minds. ‘I’ll bet Douglas Kellam is leading the pack,’ PETER F. HAMILTON 6 he said. Douglas Kellam, who fancied himself in the role of local squire, the village’s loudest anti-PSP Momus. Now it was safe to speak out. ‘From the rear, yes,’ she agreed. He grunted wryly. ‘Who would have thought it, you and I rushing to rescue an appanuchik.’ ‘But we are though, aren’t we? Instinctively. It’s not so much what Collister was, but what Kellam’s mob will do. There’ll be hell to pay the morning after, there always is.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘But?’ ‘What if he turns out to be one of the high grades?’ ‘He won’t,’ she said firmly. ‘You would have known if he was anything important.’ ‘Now there’s confidence.’ He hoped to God she was right. The EMC Ranger lurched out on to the road. Eleanor gunned the accelerator, wheels tearing gashes in the tarmac’s thin moss covering. Fans of white spray fountained up as they shot through the long puddles which lay along the ruts. Greg looked out of the window. On the other side of the reservoir’s broad southern prong he could see the Berrybut Spinney time-share estate sitting on the slope directly opposite the farmhouse. It was set in a rectangular clearing above the shoreline, a horseshoe of wooden chalets with a big stone clubhouse and hotel at the apex. The spinney was a mix of dead trunks festooned with creepers and new trees, tanbark oaks, Californian laurels, Chinese yews, and other varieties imported from tropical and sub-tropical zones as the year-round heat killed off native vegetation. Their shapes and colours were strange in comparison to the glorious old deciduous forests which occupied so many of his childhood memories. The hurriedly enacted One Home Law had enabled the 1 Local council to commandeer the chalets and hotel to provide ~ emergency accommodation for people displaced from lowlying coas% lands by rising seas. He had spent the PSP Jecade living in one of the chalets, telling people he was a private detective, a perfect cover occupation for someone with A QUANTUM MURDER his ability. He even managed to attract a few paying cases to add authenticity. Then a couple of years after the P5P’s demise Eleanor came into his life, and at the same time the gigantic Event Horizon company hired him to clear up a security violation problem. The case had turned out to be far more complex and involved than anyone had realized at the start, and the bonuses and favours he and Eleanor were given by its extremely grateful owner, Julia Evans, were enough to retire on – enough for their grandchildren to retire on, come to that. Multi-billionairesses, especially teenage ones, he reflected, had no concept of gracious restraint, certainly not when it came to money. It left him and Eleanor with the problem of what to do next. Lotus eating was fine, they both agreed, providing it was in the context of a break from real life. They had sunk some (a fraction) of their money into the run-down farmhouse with its neglected fields, and moved in after their honeymoon, both of them eager for the kind of quiet yet busy life the citrus groves would give them. He could see a pile of ash just below the chalets, a pink glow still visible. The residents lit a bonfire each night, using it to bake food, and as a focal point for company. An undemanding style of life; not quite the archetypical poor but happy existence, but damn close. Geography wasn’t all the move across the water entailed.