Authors: Gardner Dozois
Table of Contents
Edited by Gardner Dozois
THE DEMON TRAP
Peter F. Hamilton
Taken from the Short Story Collection “Galactic Empires” (2008) edited by Gardner Dozois
Prolific British writer Peter F. Hamilton has sold to
Interzone, In Dreams, New Worlds, Fears,
and elsewhere. He sold his first novel,
in 1993, and quickly followed it up with two sequels,
A Quantum Murder
The Nano Flower.
Hamilton’s first three books didn’t attract a great deal of attention on this side of the Atlantic, at least, but that changed dramatically with the publication of his
The Reality Dysfunction,
a huge modern Space Opera (it needed to be divided into two volumes for publication in the United States) that was itself only the start of a projected trilogy of staggering size and scope, the Night’s Dawn trilogy, with the first volume followed by others of equal heft and ambition (and also raced up genre best-seller lists),
The Neutronium Alchemist
The Night’s Dawn trilogy put Hamilton on the map as one of the major players in the expanding subgenre of the New Space Opera, along with writers such as Iain Banks, Dan Simmons, Paul McAuley, Gregory Benford, Alastair Reynolds, and others; it was successful enough that a regular SFpublisher later issued Hamilton’s reference guide to the complex universe of the trilogy,
The Confederation Handbook,
the kind of thing that’s usually done as a small-press title, if it’s done at all. Hamilton’s other books include the novels
Misspent Youth, Fallen Dragon, Pandora’s Star;
A Second Chance at Eden;
and a novella chapbook,
Watching Trees Grow.
His most recent book is a new novel,
Coming up is a new collection,
The Dreaming Void.
Here he takes us to the fabulous Confederation universe, to a place where you can take a
to the stars, for a tense investigation of an act of terrorism whose ultimate implications turn out to be very far-reaching indeed
Nova Zealand was the world chosen for the massacre for exactly the same reason that the party of youthful Dynasty members had chosen it as their funtime holiday destination. It barely qualified as H-congruous, capable of supporting human habitation; but that bad geophysics gave it some astonishing scenery that simply begged to be exploited by extreme sports enthusiasts. There was a small population without any real industrial base; its commerce was the leisure industry. Yet in case of a genuine emergency, the Intersolar Commonwealth with all its fabulous medical and technical resources was only a single fast train ride away.
The trains came in at Compression Space Transport’s planetary station on the north side of the capital, Ridgeview (population 43,000). They arrived through a wormhole that provided a direct link back to EdenBurg, an industrial planet, owned by the Halgarth Dynasty, and one of the major junctions in CST’s interstellar transport monopoly. None of the trains went any farther than the station; Nova Zealand didn’t have the kind of road and rail network common to most Commonwealth worlds. All medium-and long-distance travel was by plane.
It was midmorning when the train from Hifornia pulled in at the station. The first three carriages were for passengers, while the last two were vehicle carriers. Once it drew to a halt, large malmetal doors on the vehicle carriages retracted and ramps extended out from the platform. The sound of highly tuned engines firing up was unusual enough to turn the heads of the ordinary passengers as they disembarked. Five customized cars growled their way out onto the ramp. The first was a glowing orange Jaguar roadster, with faint blue flames stuttering out of its exhaust pipes as the engine revved. With a final roar of power, it sped off the bottom of the ramp with a showy wheel spin. Second was a silver Cadillac that was half bonnet, with front scimitar fins and a rear variable-camber spoiler; then came an eight-wheeled stretch limo; followed by a hundred-year-old V-class Mercedes; and finally, a brutish Lexus AT PowerSport, hydroskis retracted against its burnished gold sides.
The convoy raced off out of the station, a show of casual affluence and arrogance that brought grimaces of contempt from those watching. After a discrete minute, the rest of the party’s vehicles slid quietly out of the carriage; seven long luxury vans that carried the necessary domestic staff and assistants, along with luggage and sports equipment. The Dynasty members never traveled without their home comforts close by.
Ridgeview’s airport was five miles from the planetary station, a disappointingly short journey for the owners of the custom cars, hardly far enough for them to jostle and race along the road. They drove over to the waiting Siddeley-Lockheed CP-450, a subsonic cargo/passenger combi plane operated by a local tour company. Inside the vast cargo hold, electromuscle damps curved out of the floor to secure the fancy cars. Doors opened, and the brash young things sauntered out, filling the air with overloud taunts and calls to each other. Their girlfriends accompanied them, tall slender beauties, terribly young to be dressed in such sensual couture. Stewardesses smiled impassively at the braying sexual harassment they were casually subjected to, and showed their haughty passengers to the upper deck’s Imperial Cabin.
The vans purred smoothly into the plane. Staff found their seats in the mid-deck lounge. Within ten minutes, the big rear doors swung shut and the plane taxied onto the runway.
Ridgeview air traffic control cleared them for takeoff to Nova Zealand’s arctic continent. It was a nine-hour flight that would take them to the notorious Fire Plain, a hundred-kilometer circle of wet swamps just short of the pole itself, whose abnormal climate was created by a ring wall of active volcanoes. Visitors to the resort could watch glowing lava flowing into the constricting cliff of the polar glacier, spurting out phenomenal jets of superheated steam all the way up to the ionosphere, while down in the weird wetlands of giant ferns, huge dangerous creatures left over from an earlier geological era wallowed in the mud and ate anything that moved.
The Siddeley-Lockheed CP-450 rose into the air, folding its undercarriage away neatly. It curved toward the north through a clear azure sky, bright blue-white sunlight shining on its green fuselage. Below it, the harsh scrub desert fell away to the sea in long rumpled folds and sharp ravines.
Five minutes after takeoff, the plane was climbing through ten thousand feet as the pilot watched the flight management array throttle the duct fans back to cruise power, at which point one of the Dynasty heirs decided it was time to renew his membership of the mile-high club. It wasn’t in his nature to retire discreetly to the washroom. The rest of the party gathered round his reclining couch to cheer as his obedient girlfriend stripped off. Scandalized stewardesses peeked from the galley, trying not to giggle.
A red star alert flared in the pilot’s virtual vision. The plane’s array was issuing a proximity alarm. It took the pilot a shocked couple of seconds to analyze the data that the radar was presenting him with. An object barely a meter long was streaking toward them at mach five. Disbelief froze him for another second as he struggled to admit that he was seeing a missile. He managed to yell: “Mayday!” into the open channel as he slammed his hands down onto the manual control pads. For someone who hadn’t physically flown a plane for over two decades, he managed his evasion maneuver remarkably well, ramming on the power and initiating a steep dive. It delayed impact by a good
seconds, long enough for everyone on board to realize that something was disastrously wrong.
The missile struck the fuselage just below the port wing root. Not even modern superstrength materials could withstand the blast. The wing was ripped off, sending the fuselage into a fast spin. It began to disintegrate immediately, scattering fragments and bodies as it plummeted out of the sky.
Before the first pieces even hit the ground, a shotgun message entered the Unisphere, attempting to infiltrate the address stores of every person who had an access code—about ninety-live percent of the human race. The carrier format was new enough to avoid the majority of commercial sentinels, though the Unisphere’s node management programs soon adapted to the intruder and blocked its progress. Before that happened, it managed to reach several billion people who were annoyed to find the small file slipping into their stores. Most were unisphere-savvy enough to have their e-butlers delete the pest. Those that did open it were shown a simple text.
The Free Merioneth Forces announce the eradication of more Dynasty parasites. Our team on Nova Zealand have today successfully struck against our oppressors. Until our planet is liberated from the financial bonds that the Dynasty leaders have shackled it with, our campaign will continue.
We urge all Dynasty members to exert your influence and compel your leaders negotiate with our government. Failure to comply with our requests for freedom and dignity will result in the further elimination of your worthless kind. We will no longer tolerate our taxes being spent to uphold your decadent lifestyle.
Senior investigator Paula Myo’s e-butler deleted the shotgun as soon as it reached her Unisphere interface; it was the newest adaptive version with a real-time update facility to the Serious Crimes Directorate RI, so it knew what it was dealing with. At the time, she was trying to be polite with the decorator who was gazing around the lounge of her new apartment, shaking his head as if he’d been confronted with restoring the Sistine Chapel.
“Next month?” he suggested with a typical Gallic shrug.
Paula was only surprised that he wasn’t wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette; he’d certainly polished the rest of the Parisian indifference routine to stereotype perfection. “That’s fine.” She’d been in the apartment a week, and even she acknowledged it needed sprucing up. It wasn’t much: bathroom, bedroom, and a lounge with a tiny kitchen alcove. The building was a typical Paris block, centuries-old, with a pleasant central courtyard. She really didn’t care about the aesthetics. All that counted was its proximity to the office.
“What color scheme?” he inquired.
“Oh… whatever: white.”
“White?” From his blatant dismay she must have deliberately insulted his French ancestry all the way back to the royal era.
“Yes.” A priority communication icon popped up into her virtual vision. She touched it with a virtual hand she’d customized to a red skeletal outline; her physical fingers twitched in mimicry as parallel nerve impulses ran along the organic circuitry tattoos on her wrist.
“Grade one case coming in,” Christabel Agatha Halgarth said. “The Director wants us on it immediately.”
“On my way in,” Paula replied.
“No, don’t. I’m going for a car now; I’ll pick you up. Three minutes.”
“All right, transfer the case files over.” Paula dismissed the decorator. Perhaps it was because of her carefully controlled mix of Filipino and European genes, which had given her such a delightful face that he assumed he could bluster and intimidate as he usually did with single female clients. The stare she gave him froze the protest after just a couple of words. He nodded compliance and retreated, counting himself lucky she hadn’t actually said anything.
Paula pulled on a gray suit jacket and picked up her small shoulder bag, moving instinctively as the files from the Directorate slipped into her virtual vision. She read the scant details on the plane crash as she hurried down the worn stone stairs to the courtyard below.
One of the Directorate’s dark sedans pulled up outside the block’s main entrance. The gull wing door pivoted forward, and Paula got in. Christabel was sitting on the rear bench, a brunette with an Asian ancestry a lot stronger than Paula’s clinic-manufactured heritage. She was Paula’s deputy; they’d known each other since their training academy days.
“Wow, you look great,” Christabel enthused. “Positively jailbait. I’d forgotten how pretty you are when you’re young. You shouldn’t wait so long between rejuvenations.”
“I can’t spare the time,” Paula said automatically. Her hand went up to sweep her raven hair away from her face. With rejuvenation returning her biological age to late adolescence, her hair had grown very thick again. Every time, she was tempted to have it trimmed to a shorter style. But this fitted her, along with the simple-cut business suit and plain black shoes she always wore to work, defining what she was. It was as much her identity as her modified genes.