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Authors: Ken MacLeod

Intrusion

BOOK: Intrusion
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B
Y
K
EN
M
ACLEOD
 

The Fall Revolution

The Star Fraction

The Stone Canal

The Cassini Division

The Sky Road

Engines of Light

Cosmonaut Keep

Dark Light

Engine City

Newton’s Wake

Learning the World

The Execution Channel

The Night Sessions

The Restoration Game

Intrusion

COPYRIGHT
 

Published by Hachette Digital

ISBN: 9780748128778

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 Ken MacLeod

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

Hachette Digital

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY

www.hachette.co.uk

Contents
 

By Ken Macleod

Copyright

1 Concerning Hope

2 The Science Bit

3 Hugh

4 A Scar of Thought

5 The Railway Walk

6 The Bright Land

7 Second Life

8 Subject Positions

9 Paper Tigers

10 May Day

11 Another Light

12 Ticking Boxes

13 Genetic Information

14 Joining Dots

15 The Stornoway Run

16 The New Woods

17 There Are Many Rooms in My Father’s House

18 Not Even God

19 Workaround

20 Conversations

21 Tunnel Vision

22 The Light at the End of the Tunnel

23 Hope Abandon

24 The Good Cop

25 The Unsmoking Gun

26 The City Burners

Acknowledgements

To Sharon

 
Concerning Hope
 

Like any responsible father, Hugh Morrison had installed cameras in every room in the flat. You bang them in like nails, the work experience had told him, and bang them in Hugh did. The internet said they transmitted to the police station. The bubble pack said they recorded. Hugh knew which to believe, and banged them in without a worry. You could only pick them up on the house wifi. The bubble pack said that too.

That March morning, the cameras in the kitchen recorded Hope. Hope Morrison, née Abendorf, sat at the kitchen table, staring into space. She wore wraparound glasses with clunky earpieces. Now and again she tapped her fingers on the table, typing, or moused the tip of her forefinger about. She had a job in China, answering queries to a help screen. She couldn’t read Chinese. The query translations were automatic and most of the answers – all of them, if necessary – were also automatic,
chatted out by a software module called Searle, but rewording the occasional answer did something positive to the site’s traffic, so there you were.

Around about eleven the nursery called to say Nick had the sniffles, and could she
please
take him home before he infected the faith kids? Hope sighed and agreed. As she flipped the phone clip off she indulged a resentful thought that Nick had probably got the sniffles
from
the faith kids.

Hope toggled her screen-work to Searle, took off the glasses, and left the kitchen table. She kicked off her mocs and stepped into her Muck Boots, pulled an open-mesh wool jacket over her loose cotton top and long linen dress and a cagoule over the lot, olive green over shades of berry. She parted the sides of her hair over the front of her shoulders, zipped up and hooded, sidled past the hedge of handlebars in the hall and headed out into the rain.

Up the green, slippery, worn sandstone steps from her basement flat she went, treading carefully, to the pavement. Victoria Road, like (it seemed) half the streets in Finsbury Park this March, was obstructed by machinery: small JCBs digging out stumps, lorries carrying away felled trees, cranes and lifts steadying old trees as the chainsaws bit through their trunks, more lorries bringing New Trees to plant. In the hundred yards between Hope’s front gate and East West Road she passed a dozen New Trees, planted as saplings in November and already sixteen feet high. God only knew what they’d be like in the summer. Each tree as she passed under it held off the pelting rain like an umbrella, making the last fall of leaves from the old trees slightly less slippery underfoot.

The nursery was a couple of hundred metres to the right along the southern side of East West Road. Hope crossed at the lights, dodging whirring cars and whizzing bikes whose smugly green owners thought the red didn’t apply to
them
. Past the high plastic scenery-printed screens around the nursery, through the metal-detector and biometric-scan gate, and into the joyous uproar of indoor playtime.

Was it possible, Hope wondered as she looked for Nick’s hurtling trajectory amid the skein, was it possible
at all
to tell the difference between on the one hand faith kids and nature kids (of which Nick was the only one here) and on the other the rest, those you might call, under your breath of course,
New Kids
? Were these a centimetre taller than others of their age, a glimmer brighter of eye, a syllable more articulate? A step ahead in the race, a pace more sure-footed? A decibel less loud?

At this moment, she couldn’t tell. She scooped Nick up. He howled and stretched out his arms for the teacher who, three hours earlier, had had to prise him off Hope’s leg. Hope inserted Nick’s arms into the sleeves of his big yellow cagoule (several times), lifted his camo lunch box from a high shelf in the lobby and reminded him of what was inside it, waved goodbye to the teachers, and departed. Nick had the sniffles all right, sneezing into the crook of his elbow several times, and just barely amused by watching the rain wash the snot off the sleeve of his cagoule. He only brightened when he got inside and his toy monkey ran to meet him.

‘Hello, Max,’ said Nick, picking it up and cuddling it.

‘Hello, Nick,’ said Max, its arms curling around Nick.

Hope made Nick a GenSip and parked him at the other side of the table with Max on his lap and his lunch box open in front of him. She unfolded Mummy’s Special Glasses That You Mustn’t Touch and put them on. Searle had dealt with a score of enquiries, not all of them well. Hope sighed and got back to work. When she’d cleared the backlog, she warmed the kettle again and made herself a cup of instant coffee, and took a break by flicking to ParentsNet. She opened the Forums page and found it topped by a new thread with a slew of postings:

Nature Kids Now Illegal?

The incept story was a BBC item about a messy marital conflict. The couple were Iranian doctors, and (no surprise) militant atheists. The woman was six months pregnant. The man wanted her to take the fix. The woman, for reasons she refused to elaborate, didn’t. She wanted a nature kid. If she’d claimed a conversion to one of the sects – Druze, Hassidic, Mennonite, Sedevacantist or even any old New Age Earth Mother nonsense, the sort of thing she could have made up on the spot – she’d have been covered by the conscience exemption. But she hadn’t, and wouldn’t. Her husband’s insistence was equally stubborn.

And, to everyone’s surprise, the judge in the family court had ruled in his favour. Or rather, as those on the judge’s side of the argument kept insisting, in the future child’s favour. Comments were already in the thousands – Hope tapped the Sense icon and watched a half-dozen animated talking heads summarise the main views.

She sat back, hands lightly clasped over her belly, and thought for a bit. Then she got back to work.

‘Well I’m not bloody doing it,’ she told Hugh, that evening after dinner and Nick’s bedtime.

‘That’s fine,’ he said. He didn’t look or sound like he needed to say anything more. Hope, beside him on the sofa, head-butted his shoulder. It was like hitting a car tyre.

Hugh had taken off his work overalls hours ago, as soon he’d parked his bike in the hall. He still smelled of wood, which Hope liked. She didn’t like finding sawdust or tiny curls of wood-shavings snagged in the hairs of his chest or groin or head, which she sometimes did, even after he’d had a shower. She accepted the inconvenience, though, as part of the package. Hugh came as a package, all right, but what he didn’t come with was baggage. What you saw was what you got, and what you saw was a big bluff guy with a shock of sandy (as well as sawdusty) hair already giving way to male pattern baldness that exposed, to close inspection, freckles on his scalp. The only reason he wasn’t fat was that he worked so hard and so physically he turned every spare calorie to more muscle.

He’d grown up on a wind farm on the Isle of Lewis. Father an incomer, mother a native. Like his parents, Hugh and Hope had met at university, where Hugh was studying wind turbine engineering. When, halfway through his degree, the bottom had dropped out of that market, he’d calmly turned to carpentry.
He’d been doing that for a year when he and Hope had met. There was good money in carpentry, he’d explained, what with the China business and all the new kinds of wood. He took her on walks through whole forests of the stuff. His bike frame had grown in one.

Hope and Hugh. H+H. H2. H4H. That was what Hugh used to carve on trees. Maybe still did, for all Hope knew.

‘So what are we going to do about it?’ Hope said.

Hugh gave her a puzzled look.

‘What
is
there to do about it?’ he said. ‘If you don’t want to do it, nobody can make you do it.’

‘Have you been listening to a word I said?’

‘Yes, I have,’ said Hugh. ‘It’s a decision, not a law. Nothing’s been made illegal.’

(He said the last word with a slow lingual and a long nasal vowel, like this: ill-
lee
-gal. It was from the maternal half of his accent, which showed up now and then like a mitochondrial gene.)

‘The point is,’ said Hope, irritated at what seemed wilful obtuseness for its own sake, ‘it sets a precedent. In effect the fix becomes compulsory.’

‘In effect, yes. But only if someone sues.’

‘Oh, come on. You know what’ll happen to insurance, social services, and everything like that.’ Hope waved her arms as if fending off midges. ‘It all closes in. And then they’ll make a law, like they did with pregnant women smoking and drinking.’

‘Yeah,’ said Hugh. ‘There is that.’

He stood up and walked over to the stove. The air in the room smelled resinous for a moment as he opened the stove door and loaded some new wood in. He worked the lever that ejected a brick of soot, added the brick to the stack by the stove, and then sat down again.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I suppose that just means we’ll have to break the law.’

Hope had been half-expecting him to argue, to suggest some compromise. He didn’t share her opposition to the fix, and had now and again expressed some mild irritation at the succession of infant ills that its absence left Nick exposed to. He had once pointed out that the medicines to cure these ills were themselves very similar in principle and effect to the fix. Having found herself pushing at an open door, Hope stumbled and flailed.

‘We could always claim we had a faith issue with it,’ she said, half in jest.

BOOK: Intrusion
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