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Quantum Murder
     

Quantum Murder

4.0 2
by Peter F. Hamilton
 

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Peter F. Hamilton returns to the future world of Mindstar Rising with an engrossing new adventure of Greg Mandel, a freelance operative whose telepathic abilities give him a crucial edge in the high-tech world of the twenty-first century.

Professor Edward Kitchener, a double Nobel laureate researching quantum cosmology for the powerful Event Horizon

Overview

Peter F. Hamilton returns to the future world of Mindstar Rising with an engrossing new adventure of Greg Mandel, a freelance operative whose telepathic abilities give him a crucial edge in the high-tech world of the twenty-first century.

Professor Edward Kitchener, a double Nobel laureate researching quantum cosmology for the powerful Event Horizon conglomerate, has been savagely murdered. But was he the victim of industrial espionage, personal revenge, or a crime of passion by one of his handpicked team of live-wire students?

Event Horizon needs to know, and fast, so Greg Mandel, PSI-boosted veteran of the infamous Mindstar Battalion, must embark on an urgent investigation that ultimately leads him to an astounding confrontation with a past, which, according to the dead man's theories, might never have happened.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A second workout for Greg Mandel, veteran of the Mindstar Battalion (Mindstar Rising, 1996), whose implanted gland gives him the psi powers of empathy and intuition in a medium-future England beset by climatic warming and politico-economic chaos. This time, irreverent, bawdy old genius physicist Edward Kitchener has been murdered and horribly mutilated at Launde Abbey, where he ran a colloquium for budding physics whizzes, invented new drugs, researched wormholes, and generally raised hell. Julia Evans of Event Horizon, which funded Kitchener, requests Greg's input after the police confess themselves baffled: None of the six young resident physicists appear to be guilty, nor is it possible for an outsider to have come and gone undetected. Greg empathically interviews the six, and, sure enough, they're all innocent. So Greg's wife, Eleanor, volunteers to test a Kitchener drug that should enable her to view the past. She witnesses diffident genius Nicholas Beswick do the grisly deed, but Beswick denies involvement, as Greg's inquiries seem to confirm. What's going on? Well, psychiatrist James MacLennan has discovered how to project one personality on top of another—and one of his patients is convicted psychokiller Liam Bursken.

The intriguing backdrop and solid characters enliven what is otherwise an overlong, overstuffed, and not particularly believable investigation.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780330537759
Publisher:
Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Publication date:
10/28/2011

Read an Excerpt

1

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 that 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 favorable combination of temperature and humidity. Multi-spectrum photon amps tracked the tormented streamers of cloud as they streaked toward England, building in power, in velocity. The satellite channels had 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 kilometers 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 that had replaced the old seasons. The rotting trunks were now besieged by a tangled canopy of creepers and ivy, carrion plants feeding off the mulchy bark of the once sturdy giants they choked. Another, smaller, expired corpse 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 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 split of land that 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 kilometer past Hambleton, freewheeling his mountain bike down the sloping track to the Mandel farmhouse, tires slipping dangerously on the damp moss and loose limestone.

Greg Mandel caught a glimpse of the lad from the comer of his eye, a slash of color skidding down the last twenty meters 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-meter-high stakes that 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 had two hundred trees left to put in.

Greg had thought his early start would give him enough time to finish at least fifty before lunch: he was already resigned to carting the rest into the barn until the storm passed. But 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 laid out ready. Patchy clouds tumbled across the sky, and the reservoir'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 meters, 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 toward 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 Socialism 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 gray-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 Event Horizon giga-conductor cells instead of the old-fashioned high-density polymer batteries.

She gave him a tight-lipped look that 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 he, 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 that 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 labor 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 superb.

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 witness 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 onto the track, moving expertly through the gears as the tires 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. Intuition was one of his two psi faculties that were educed by neurohormones.

It was the English army that had given him a bioware endocrine-gland implant, a sophisticated construct of neurosecretory cells that consumed his blood and extravasated psi-stimulant neurohormones under the control of a cortical processor.

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 Defense'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 that 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 defense 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 Turkey.

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," 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 apparatchik."

"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 onto 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 that 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 subtropical zones as the year-round heat killed off native vegetation. Their shapes and colors were strange in comparison to the glorious old deciduous forests that occupied so many of his childhood memories.

The hurriedly enacted One Home Law had enabled the local council to commandeer the chalets and hotel to provide emergency accommodation for people displaced from low-lying coastal lands by rising seas. He had spent the PSP decade living in one of the chalets, telling people he was a private detective, a perfect cover occupation for someone with his ability. He even managed to attract a few paying cases to add authenticity. Then a couple of years after the PSP'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 favors 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 rundown 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.

• • •

A horse-drawn cart, piled high with bales of hay, was clumping slowly down Hambleton's main street as they drove in. Eleanor swerved round it smoothly, drawing a frightened whinny from the mud-caked shire horse and a shaken fist from the driver. If it wasn't for the glossy-black solar panels clipped over the slate roofs and a clump of well-established coconut trees in the churchyard, the hamlet could have passed as a rural scene from the nineteen-hundreds. Gardens seemed to merge lazily into the verges. Tall stumps of copper beech and sycamore trees lined the road, festooned in vines that dangled colorful flower clusters; a frost of greenery that brought a semblance of life to the dead trunks. But only from a distance; wind, entropy, and vigorous insects had already pruned away the twigs and smaller branches, leaving frayed ends of pale-gray, sun-bleached wood jutting out of the shaggy hide.

Roy Collister's home was one of the smaller cottages a couple of hundred meters from the Finch's Arms. It personified the retirement-cottage dream: gentrified during the end of the last century, yellow-gray stonework pointed up, windows double-glazed, brick chimney-stacks repaired. More recently it had acquired a row of solar panels above the guttering to provide power after the gas and electricity grids were shut down at the start of the PSP years. Three bulky air conditioners had been mounted on the side wall to cope with the stifling air that invariably saturated the interior of pre-Warming buildings. The front garden was given over to vegetable plots, and the fence had disappeared under a long mound of gene-tailored brambles, with clumps of ripe blackberries as large as crab apples hanging loosely.

Greg was already opening his door as Eleanor drew up outside. He was vaguely aware of pale faces in the windows of the houses opposite, interested and no doubt appalled by what was going on, but not doing anything about it. The English way, Greg reflected. People had learned to keep their heads down during the PSP decade; avoiding attention was a healthy survival trait while the Constables were on the prowl. A habit like that was hard to snuff.

The wooden gate through the dune of brambles was swinging slowly to and fro on its hinges, and two of the ground-floor bay windows had been smashed. When he reached the front door, he saw the wood around the lock was splintered; judging by the marks on the paintwork, someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. There was the sound of angry voices inside.

Greg walked into the hall and ordered a low-level secretion from his gland. As always, he pictured a lozenge of liver-like flesh nestled tumor-fashion at the heart of his brain, squirting out cold, milky liquids into surrounding synapses. In fact, neither gland nor neurohormones looked anything like the mental mirage, but he'd never quite managed to throw off the idiosyncrasy—Mindstar psychologists had told him not to worry, a lot of psychics developed quirks of a much higher order. His perception shifted subtly, making the universe just that fraction lighter, more translucent. Auras seemed to prevail, even in inert matter, their misty planes corresponding to the physical structures around him. Living creatures glowed. A world comprising colored shadows.

There were twelve people in the lounge, making the small room seem oppressively crowded and stuffy. Greg recognized most of them. Villagers, that same quiet, friendly bunch in the pub each night. Frankie Owen, the local professional dole-dependent and fish poacher, leaning on his sledgehammer, resting after a bout of singularly mindless destruction. He had set about the furniture, smashing up the Queen Anne coffee table and oak-veneered secretaire and dresser; the three-meter flatscreen on the wall had a big frost star dead center. Expressing himself the only way he knew how. Mark Sutton and Andrew Foster, powerful men who worked as laborers in the groves, were sitting on Roy Collister behind the overturned settee. The slightly built solicitor's clothes were torn, his face had been reduced to pulped flesh, cuts weeping blood onto the beige carpet.

Clare Collister was being held by Les Hepburn and Ronnie Kay. Greg hadn't seen much of her since he moved into the farm, she didn't venture out very often; an ordinarily prim thirty-five-year-old with rusty brown hair and a long face. She had obviously been struggling hard, one eye was bruised, swelling badly, her blouse was torn, revealing her left breast. Les Hepburn had a vicious grip on the back of p her head, knuckles white with the strain of forcing her to watch her husband being beaten.

And of course Douglas Kellam, chief cheerleader, standing in the tight circle of onlookers, a forty-five-year-old with a round face, slender mustache and fading brown hair, dressed in blue trousers and white shirt, thin green tie. Smart and respectable even now, although his face was flushed from the kind of exhilaration Greg was wearily familiar with: the thrill of the illicit. Douglas was the descendant of the original Victorian toff, a master of duplicity. Perfectly suited to attending a charity dinner, then going on to a pitbull fight, watching Globecast's Euroblue channel at night, condemning it by day.

The jeering and shouting cut off dead as Greg stepped into the lounge. Andrew Sutton froze with a fist cocked in midair, his knuckles wet with Collister's blood, looking up at Greg, suddenly pathetic with guilt.

With his espersense expanded, the group's emotions impinged directly into Greg's synapses, a clamor of blood-lust and anger and secret guilt. They were feeding off each other, building up a collective nerve for the finale. It would end with a shotgun blast, the cottage set on fire, consuming bodies and direct evidence. And the police would turn a blind eye; overstretched, undermanned, and still trying to regain public trust, to shake off the association with the People's Constables. They couldn't afford to be seen taking sides with PSP relics.

"What the fuck do you mink you're doing?" Greg asked, and there was no need to force a tired tone into his voice, it came all too easily.

"The bastard's Party, Greg," someone called.

"No messing? Have you seen his card? Was it signed by President Armstrong himself?" He was aware of Eleanor coming to stand behind him. Her presence sparked off a ripple of severe agitation in the minds around him.

"He's guilty, Greg. The Inquisitors said he was an apparatchik over in Market Harborough."

"Ah…" he said. The Inquisitors (actually, the Inappropriate Appointee Investigation Bureau) had been set up by the New Conservative government to purge PSP appointees from Civil Service posts, where it was feared they would deliberately misuse their positions to stir up trouble in their own interest. Identifying them had turned out to be an almost impossible task; a lot of records had been lost or destroyed when the PSP fell. Nearly all the old Party's premier grades had been routed out, they were notorious enough in their own areas for the Inquisitor teams not to need official datawork; but the small fry, the invisible Party hacks who did the committees' groundwork, they were hard to pin down. A lot of suspect names had been leaking from the In quisitors' office lately. Rough justice eradicated the trick problem of no verifiable evidence.

"An official charge has been brought against him, has it?" Greg asked.

"No," Douglas Kellam said. "But we've heard. Bytes that came straight from the top." His voice changed to a slicker, more appealing tone. In his mind there was still the hope that he could win through, a refusal to admit defeat. And nervousness that was beginning to churn up through his sub conscious, like all of them, all disquieted by Greg and the infamous gland.

Sometimes, Greg reflected, an unending diet of tabloid crap could be useful. He smiled humorlessly. "Sure they did Your cousin's friend's sister, was it?"

"Come on, Greg. He's Red trash, for Christ's sake. You don't want him around Hambleton. You of all people."

"Me of all people?"

Kellam squirmed, searching round for support, finding none. "Christ, Greg, yes! What you are, what you did. You know, the Trinities."

"Oh. That." No one in Hambleton had actually mentioned it out loud before. They all knew he had been a member c the Trinities, Peterborough's urban predator gang, fighting the People's Constables out on the city's sweltering streets; the stories, fragmented and distorted, had followed him over the water from the Berrybut estate. But the New Conservatives, as a legitimate democratically elected government, could not officially sanction the massive campaign of hardline violence that had helped rout the PSP. So Greg's involvement had earned him a kind of silent reverence, a wink and a nudge, the only gratitude he was ever shown. As if what he had done wasn't quite seemly.

"Yeah, me of all people," he said deliberately, looking round the troubled faces. "I would have known if Roy was Party. Wouldn't I?"

They began to shuffle round, desperately avoiding his eye. The high-voltage mob tension shorting out.

"Well, is he?" Kellam asked urgently.

Greg moved forward. Collister was groaning softly on the floor, fresh blood oozing out of the gashes that Foster's heavy rings had torn. Foster and Sutton exchanged one edgy glance, and hurriedly scrambled to their feet.

"Do you really want to know?" Greg asked.

"What if he is?" Kellam said.

"Then you can call the police and the Inquisitors, and I will testify in court what I can see in his mind."

Kellam gave a mental flinch, stains of guilt blossoming among his thought currents. Panic at Greg's almost casual reminder that he could prize his way into minds, triggering a cascade of associated memories.

"Yes, sure thing, Greg, that's fine by me."

There was a fast round of mumbled agreement.

Greg pursed his lips thoughtfully, and squatted down beside Roy Collister. He focused his espersense on the solicitor's mind. The thoughts were leaden with pain, sharp stings of superficial cuts, heavier dull aches of bruised, probably cracked, ribs, nausea like a hot rock in his belly, warmth of urine between his legs, the terror and its twin, the knowledge that he would do anything, say anything, to make them stop, a bitter tang of utter humiliation. His mind was weeping quietly to itself. There was little rationality left, the beating had emptied him of all but animal instinct.

"Can you hear me, Roy?" Greg asked clearly.

Saliva and blood burped out from between battered lips. Greg located a small flare of understanding amid the wretched thoughts.

"They say you were an apparatchik, Roy. Are they right?"

He hissed something incomprehensible.

"What did he say?" Mark Sutton asked.

Greg held up a hand, silencing him. "What were you doing in the PSP decade? Don't try and speak, just picture it. I'll see." Which wasn't true, not at all. But only Eleanor knew that.

He counted to thirty, trying to recall the various conversations he and Roy had had in the Finch's Arms, and rose to his feet. The lynch mob stood with bowed heads, as sheepish as schoolboys caught smoking. Even if he said Collister was guilty, there would be no vigilante violence now. The anger and nerve had been torn out of them, sucked into the black vacuum of shame. Which was all he had set out to do.

"Roy wasn't an apparatchik," Greg said. "He used to work in a legal office, handling defense cases. Did you hear that? Defense work. Roy was supporting the poor sods that the People's Constables brought into court on trumped-up charges. That's how he was tied in to the government by your bollock-brained Inquisitors, his name is on the Market Harborough legal affairs committee pay-slip package. The Treasury paid him for providing his counseling services."

The silence that followed was broken by Clare Collister's anguished wail. She ran over to her husband, sinking to her knees, shoulders quaking. Her fingers dabbed at his ruined face, slowly, disbelievingly, tracing the damage; she started to sob uncontrollably.

Douglas Kellam had paled. "We didn't know."

Greg increased the level of his gland secretion, and thought of a griffin's claw, rigged with powerful stringy muscles and tendons, talons black and savagely sharp. Eidolonics took a lot out of him, he had learned that back in his Mindstar days: his mind wasn't wired for it, which meant he had to push to make it work. On top of that, he hated domination stunts. But for Kellam he'd overlook scruples this once. He visualized the talon tips closing around Kellam's balls. "Goodbye," he said, it was a dismissal order. Black needles touched the delicate scrotum.

Kellam's eyes widened in silent fright. He turned and virtually ran for the door. The others filed out after him, one or two bobbing their heads nervously at Eleanor.

"Oh sweet Jesus, look what they've done to him," Clare groaned. Her hands were covered in blood. She looked up at Greg and Eleanor, tears sticky on her cheeks. "They're animals. Animals!"

Greg fished round in his overall pockets for his cybofax. He pulled the rectangular palm-sized 'ware block out, and flipped it open. "Phone function," he ordered, then told Clare: "I'll call for an ambulance. Some of those ribs are badly damaged. Tell the doctors to check for internal hem-orrhaging."

She wiped some of her tears with the back of a hand, leaving a tiny red streak above her right eye. "I want them locked up," she said, fighting for breath. "All of them. Locked up for a thousand years."

Greg sighed. "No, they didn't do anything wrong."

Eleanor flashed him a startled glance. Then understanding dawned, she looked back down at Clare.

"Nothing wrong!" Clare howled.

"I only said Roy was innocent," Greg said quietly.

She stared at him in horror.

"When the ambulance comes, you will leave with it. Pack a bag, some clothes, anything really valuable. And don't come back, not for anything. If I ever see you again, I will tell Douglas and his friends exactly whose mind is rotten with guilt."

"I never hurt anybody," she said. "I was in Food Allocation."

Greg put his arm round Eleanor, urging her out of the lounge. The sound of Clare Collister's miserable weeping followed him all the way down the hall.

• • •

Eleanor kissed him lightly when they reached the EMC Ranger. There was no sign of the lynch mob. Nor the watching faces, Greg noted. The only sound was the birdsong, humidity gave the air an almost viscid quality.

"Are you all right?" she asked. Her lips were pressed together in concern.

His head had begun to ache with the neurohormone hangover that was the legacy of using the gland. He blinked against the sunlight glaring round the shredded clouds, combing his hand back through sweaty hair. "Yeah, I'll live."

"That bloody Collister woman."

'tell you, she's probably right. Food Allocation was a little different from the Constables and the Public Order Ministry."

"They took away enough of the kibbutz's crops," Eleanor said sharply. "Fair and even distribution, like hell."

"Hey, wildcat." He patted her rump.

"Behave, Gregory." She skipped away and climbed up into the Ranger, but her smile had returned.

Greg slumped into the passenger seat, and remembered to pull his safety belt across. "I suppose I ought to sniff around the rest of the village," he said reluctantly. "Make sure there aren't any premier-grade apparatchiks lurking around in dark corners."

"That is one of the things we came here to get away from." She swung the EMC Ranger round the triangular junction outside the church, and headed back the way they came. "You and I, we've done our bit for this country."

"So now we leave it to the Inquisitors?"

Eleanor grunted in disgust.

They met Corry Furness on the edge of the village. Eleanor stopped the Ranger and lowered her window to tell him it was all right to use his bike again.

"Mr. Collister wasn't one of them, was he?" Corry asked. "No," Greg said.

Corry's face lit with a smile. "I told you." He pedaled off down the avenue of dead trees with their lacework of vines and harlequin flowers.

Greg watched him in the mud-splattered wing mirror, envying the lad's world view. Everything black and white, truth or lie. So simple.

Eleanor drove toward the farm at half the speed she'd used on the way in, suspension rocking them lightly as the wheels juddered over the skewed surface. The clouds on the southern horizon were starting to thicken.

"You'll have to give me a hand to get the lime saplings into the barn when we get back," Greg said. He was watching the way the loose vine tendrils at the top of the trees were stirring. "I'll never get them planted before the storm now."

"Sure. I've nearly got the undercoat finished on all the first-floor windows."

"That's something. It's going to be Monday before I'm through with the saplings. After this downpour it'll be too wet to get into the field for the next couple of days, and then we'll have to spend Sunday clearing up, no doubt."

"Better make that Tuesday. We've got Julia's roll-out ceremony on Monday," Eleanor said. "That'll cheer you up."

"Oh, bugger. I'd forgotten."

"Don't be so grumpy. There are thousands of people who would kill for an invitation."

"Couldn't we just sort of skip the ceremony?"

"Fine by me, if you want to explain our absence to Julia," she said slyly.

Greg thought about it. Julia Evans didn't have many genuine friends. He was rather pleased to be counted amongst them, despite the disadvantages.

Julia had inherited Event Horizon from her grandfather, Philip Evans, a company larger even than a kombinate, manufacturing everything from domestic music decks to orbital microgee-factory modules. Two years ago she had been a very lonely seventeen-year-old girl; wealth and a drug-addict father had left her terribly isolated. Greg had got to know her quite well during the security-violation case. Well enough for her to be chief bridesmaid at his wedding. Julia, of course, had been thrilled at the notion of adding a little touch of normality to her lofty plutocrat existence. The mistake of asking her had only become apparent when he and Eleanor had left for their honeymoon.

Every tabloid gossipcast in the world had broadcast the pictures. Greg Mandel: a man important enough to have the richest girl in the world as his bridesmaid. More millionaires than he knew existed wanted to be friends with the newly-weds; buy them drinks, buy them meals, buy them houses, have them as non-executive directors.

Julia had also developed a mild crush on him for a while. A hardline ex-urban predator and gland psychic, the classic romantic mysterious stranger. Of course, he had done the decent thing and ignored it. Hell of a thing, decency.

Greg found he was grinning wanly. "I don't want to try explaining to Julia."

Copyright &169; 1994 by Peter F. Hamilton

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Tad Williams
Peter Hamilton manages a very neat trick, combining deft scientific and social speculation with the page-turning appeal of the best thrillers.

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