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A Quantum Murder

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A Quantum Murder

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Author: Peter F. Hamilton
Publisher: Tor, 1994
Series: Greg Mandel Trilogy: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Cyberpunk
Hard SF
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(39 reads / 11 ratings)


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.



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.

Copyright © 1994 by Peter F. Hamilton


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