Peter F. Hamilton’s groundbreaking Mandel Files series concludes with The Nano Flower, a tour de force of unbridled imagination and cutting-edge scientific speculation.
Greg Mandel is a psychic detective whose skills have been augmented by powerful but dangerous biotechnology. Those abilities have won him success and almost killed him many times over. Little wonder that he has settled down to the life of a gentleman farmer.
But Greg’s former employer, the mighty tech company Event Horizon, needs him once more. After Royan, hacker-genius and husband to company owner Julia Evans, mysteriously vanishes, a business rival suddenly boasts an incredible new technology. Has Royan been kidnapped and forced to work for his captors, or is the truth far stranger? The answer may lie in a gift of flowers received by Julia—flowers with DNA like nothing on Earth. Greg already has his hands full with corporate killers and other unsavory characters. Is he going to have to add aliens to the list?
The Greg Mandel trilogy—which also includes Mindstar Rising and A Quantum Murder, available in Volume 1—set a new standard for science fiction when it first appeared in the 1990s. The Nano Flower is every bit as gripping today—and even more timely.
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Peter F. Hamilton is the author of numerous novels, including The Temporal Void, The Dreaming Void, The Evolutionary Void, Judas Unchained, Pandora’s Star, Fallen Dragon, and the acclaimed epic Night’s Dawn trilogy (The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God). He’s currently at work on his new novel, Great North Road. He lives with his family in England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Suzi crapped the Frankenstein cockroach into the toilet bowl, then pushed the chrome handle halfway down for a short flush.
She concentrated on the neural icon which seemed to hover at the periphery of her consciousness, and marshalled her thoughts into a distinct instruction sequence. Activate Sense Linkage and Directional Control, she ordered her bioware processor implant.
When she closed her eyes the ghostly image from the cockroach’s infrared-sensitive retinas intensified to its full resolution. There was a moment of disorientation as she interpreted the picture being fed along the optical fibre plugged into her coccyx ganglion splice. It was a hazy jumble of Mobius topology, shaded red, pink, and black, a convolution through which green moons fell. The cockroach was clinging to the bottom of the sewer pipe directly underneath a shower of droplets from the toilet down- pipe. Directional graphics superimposed themselves across the picture, resembling an aircraft pilot’s command display.
Suzi guided the cockroach up the side of the sewer pipe until it was out of the water channel, then set it walking. Optical fibre began to unspool behind it, thinner than a cobweb.
Perspective was tricky. She allowed herself to believe she was walking through some baroque nether-world cathedral. The fluted walls had a black-mirror sheen, carved with a fabulous abstract glyph. Above her, the curving roof was punctured by elliptical ebony holes, all of them spitting phosphene-green globules. A small river slithered down the concave floor, bearing away unidentifiable lumps of pale fibrous matter. She was suddenly very glad Jools the Tool hadn’t stitched any olfactory receptors into the Frankenstein cockroach when he was putting it together for her.
Pressure-sensitive cell clusters detected the rush of air, warning her of the approaching flush. She scuttled the cockroach right up to the roof of the sewer. The burst of water churned past underneath her. A turd the size of a cargo ship rode the wavefront, trailing ribbons of disintegrating paper.
She waited until the surge had gone, then brought the cockroach back down the curving pipe and carried on forwards. Fungal growths were blooming out of cracks in the concrete, moonscape mattresses of slime. The cockroach clambered over the humps without even slowing, all the while spinning out its gossamer thread.
Up ahead, where the pipe contracted to a black vanishing point, she thought she saw something move.
In a way, Suzi considered the Morrell deal as a vindication of the way she had lived the last twelve years. There was no violence involved, not even a hint of it. Violence had launched her into the tekmerc game after she got out of prison. Organized violence, deliberately and precisely applied. It was her trade, all she knew.
Her teens and early twenties had been spent in the Trinities, an anti-PSP gang operating out of the Mucklands Wood estate in Peterborough during the years when the People’s Socialism Party controlled the country, a long dark decade of near-Maoist dictatorship just after the Greenhouse Effect ran riot.
She had joined up the day after a squad of PSP Card Carriers ransacked her parents’ hotel, stripping out the fittings, stealing the booze. Her father had been pistol whipped, a beating which left him partially paralyzed down his right side. Her mother had been gang-raped, a trauma she never recovered from. They were middle-aged middle-class suburbanite innocents, well-to-dos who couldn’t believe what was happening to their green and pleasant England, and didn’t know how to stop it.
The only reason Suzi had been there when it happened was because the PSP had shut down Welbeck College, the British Army’s officer cadet boarding school. A military career was all she had wanted for as long as she could remember. An ambition subtly reinforced by her slightly disreputable maternal grandfather who spun enticing stories of glory and honour back in the days when he’d served in the Falklands and the Gulf. Gaining one of the fiercely contested places at Welbeck, despite her physical stature, had been the zenith of her young life.
She had wanted to fight that afternoon when the Party militia came, young struts with their red armbands and bright new cards that had President Armstrong’s signature bold along the bottom to say whatever they did was official. Fresh from her four terms of unarmed combat classes and rifle shooting and square bashing she considered herself invincible. But her father, bigger and stronger, had forced her into a storeroom and locked her in. Suzi hammered on the door in rage and humiliation until sounds of the looting penetrated, the crash of breaking glass merging with anguished screams. Then she shrank into a corner, hugging herself in the dark, and praying nobody smashed down the door to find her.
The police discovered her the next morning, all cried out. As she saw the wreckage that was once her home and her parents, rage turned to demonic hatred. She could have prevented it, she knew. If she’d just been given the chance, been given the weapons hardware to complement her determination and amplify her size.
The Trinities were led by an ex-British Army sergeant, Teddy La Croix, called Father by the kids under his command. He put her to work as a runner.
Peterborough in those days had a raw frontier-town edge to it. Over fifty thousand people had descended on the city, one step ahead of the rising sea that was slowly devouring the Fens, and more were on the way. The polar melt and thermally expanded oceans eventually sent the muddy water to lap at the city’s eastern suburbs, turning the lush Nene valley into an estuary. This on top of an indigenous population still struggling to adapt to the year-round heat, the imminent collapse of public gas, electricity, and water grids, food rationing, and austerity economics.
Suzi flittered about the congested streets, soaking up the buzz of grim determination everyone seemed to possess. She watched the old temperate vegetation die in the steambath atmosphere exhaled by the Fens quagmire, only to be replaced by the newer more vigorous tropical plants with their exotic blooms. She walked entranced along the rows of stalls which sprang up along each road as the traffic faded away, stealing often, eating well, and fighting with the barrow boys.
Nobody noticed her, one more kid running wild in a city teeming with thousands of her kind. She thrived in her environ- ment, but all the while she moved with purpose, keeping tabs on Party members, watching who went in and out of the town hall, acting as a sentry for raids on Party offices. At nights she would be there in the riots organized by the Trinities, an incongruously small skinny figure compared to the rest of her platoon, which aimed for muscle bulk and favoured combat fatigues and leathers.
She learned tradecraft from Greg Mandel, another ex-Army man working with Father to overthrow PSP oppression; how to make Molotovs that didn’t go out when they were thrown, how a platoon should deploy to jump a police snatch squad, what to use against assault dogs, the correct way to break riot shields, a long interesting list of tactics and weapons no one had ever mentioned at Welbeck.
She killed her first man at sixteen; a People’s Constable who was lured out of a warm pub on to a dark building site by a halter top, a mini skirt, and a smile that promised. The rest of her platoon were waiting for him with clubs and a Smith and Wesson. They were all blooded that night.
Suzi threw up afterwards, with Greg holding her until the shudders subsided.
‘You can go home now,’ he said. ‘You’ve had your revenge.’ But she glanced at the broken body, and answered, ‘No, this is just the hand, not the head. They’ve all got to go, or what we’re doing will be pointless.’
Greg had looked terribly sad, but then he always did when anyone talked about vengeance, or let their grief show. It wasn’t until years later she found out why he always seemed to be hurt so much by other people’s pain.
The next morning she cut her hair, spiked it, and dyed it purple. Standard procedure; a lot of people in the pub would have given her description to the Constables.
The Trinities taught her discipline and self-confidence, as well as a hell of a lot about weapons, filling in all the technical gaps Welbeck had left. She was young enough to be good at it, and smart enough to use her anger as inspiration rather than let it rule her.
There were gangs like the Trinities in every town in the country, battling to overthrow the PSP. Suzi considered herself to be part of a crusade, making everything she did right.
Then they won. President Armstrong was killed, the PSP was routed, the Second Restoration returned the royal family to the throne, the first elections gave the New Conservatives a huge majority, and everything suddenly became complicated. The PSP relics, their Constables and apparatchiks, banded together as the Blackshirts, went underground, and turned to ineffectual civil disobedience that petered out after a few years. The Trinities fought them, naturally. But it wasn’t appreciated any more. They were too crude, too visible; people were looking to cut free from the past.
It ended as it had run on for ten years, in bloodshed. A two-day firefight between the Trinities and the Blackshirts that left Mucklands Wood and Walton in ruins. The government had to call out the army to put a halt to it.
Suzi survived to be picked up by the army. Her barrister was the best available, paid for by sympathizers of the anti-PSP cause, of which there were plenty. She got a twenty-five-year sentence, because the New Conservative government wanted to demon- strate it was showing no favouritism. On appeal, held quietly and unpublicized by a co-operative press, it was reduced to five. She served eighteen months, fifteen in an open prison that allowed weekend leave.
The closed universe of the sewer was familiar enough now for any abnormality to register; Suzi had almost forgotten the limp reality which lay outside. And there was definitely something else in the pipe with her. A cool pulse of excitement slipped along the optical fibre as the cockroach hurried onwards.
In front of her the bloated hump which was blocking a quarter of the pipe glowed a rich crimson, flecked by weaker claret smears. It was a rat, gnawing at some fetid titbit clasped between its forepaws. Huge glass-smooth hemispherical eyes turned to look at Suzi, the nose twitched.
She remembered all those fantasy quest novels she used to read as a child, princess sorcerers and fell beasties. Grinning wryly, none of them had ever gone up against dragon-sized rodents.
Initiate Defence Mode.
A pair of flexible antennae deployed on either side of the cockroach’s head, swinging forward, long black rods curved like callipers. The rat hadn’t moved, staring seemingly in surprise at the intruder in its domain. Suzi halted twenty centimetres away, antennae quivering at the ready.
It came at her with a fast fluid grace, mouth widening to reveal serrated tombstone teeth, forepaw reaching out to pin her down, black talons extended. The descending paw brushed against the cockroach’s erect antenna tips. Suzi’s vision was wiped out in an explosion of sparkling white light as the electroplaque cells below the cockroach’s carapace discharged through the antennae.
When the purple mist cleared she could just see the rat’s beefy hindquarters pumping furiously, tail held high, whipping from side to side.
A quick systems check showed she had enough charge left in the electroplaque cells to fend off two more assaults. Guidance graphics told her there was another twelve metres to go before she reached the junction she wanted.
Suzi moved forwards. This underworld was no different to her own, she thought, except it was more honest. Down here you either ate or got eaten, and everything knew where it stood in relation to everything else, the knowledge sequenced into its DNA. In her world nothing was so simple, everybody wore a chameleon coat these days, status unknown.
After prison she had picked up work on the hardline side of tekmerc deals, the combat missions which were launched when covert penetrations and clandestine data snatches had failed.
At first it had been as part of a team, then as word got around about her competence and reliability she commanded her own. She began to add dark specialists to her catalogue – hotrods,
’ware spivs, pilots, Frankenstein surgeons, sac psychics. Companies with problems sought her out to organize the whole deal for them. She was the interface between corporate legitimacy and the misbegotten, the cut-off point.
She had picked up the Morrell deal four months ago. It was straightforward enough, a simple data snatch. Morrell was a small but ambitious microgee equipment company in Newcastle, a subcontractor supplying components to the giant kombinates for their space operations.
Space was in vogue now, the new boom industry; ever since the Event Horizon corporation had captured a nickel-iron asteroid and manoeuvred it into orbit forty-five thousand kilo- metres above the Earth.
Because Event Horizon was registered in England, the rock came under the jurisdiction of the English parliament, who named it New London and established a Crown Colony in the hollowed-out core. New London ushered in an era of ultra-cheap raw materials, which were eagerly consumed by the necklace of microgee factories in low orbit above the equator, doubling their profitability virtually overnight. Mining chunks of rock from New London was easy enough, but refining metals and minerals out of the ore in a freefall environment presented difficulties, that was where the real money lay.
It was a problem which had led Suzi to a second-floor bistro in Peterborough’s New Eastfield district on a muggy day in January. She was thankful for the bistro’s smoked-glass windows and air conditioning; the building opposite was buffed white stone, inlaid by balconies with mock-Victorian ironwork. It gleamed like burnished silver from the low sun. The street below was a flux of people, men in spruce shirts and shorts, salon-groomed women in light dresses, most of them with wide- brimmed hats, all of them with sunglasses. Silent cars glided down the rain-slicked road, bumper to bumper Mercs, Jags, and Rollers. New Eastfield had been ascendant even in the PSP years, but since Event Horizon cracked giga-conductor technology and reindustrialization went into overdrive the district had become a beacon for the smart money and the brittle, propitious lifestyle which went with it.
‘Morrell have developed a cold-fusion solution to ionic streaming,’ said the man sitting opposite her. He was in his late thirties, with a gym-installed muscle-tone to complement his salon manicure. An image as tabloid as his power-player attitude. The name he gave her was Taylor Faulkner.
Suzi’s tame hotrod, Maurice Picklyn, had run a tracer on him for her, and that actually was his name. Working for Johal HF in their orbital refinery division, executive rather than technical.
‘Cold fusion?’ Suzi asked.
‘Pie in the sky,’ Faulkner sighed. ‘Too good to be true. But somehow they’ve done it, boosted efficiency and lowered power consumption at the same time. Old s...
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