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Authors: Peter F. Hamilton

A Window into Time (Novella)

BOOK: A Window into Time (Novella)
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A Window into Time
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

A Del Rey Ebook Original

Copyright © 2016 by Peter F. Hamilton

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

D
EL
R
EY
and the
H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Published in the United Kingdom by Pan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London.

ebook ISBN 9780425286494

Cover illustration: Kathleen Lynch, based on images © CHAINFOTO24/Shutterstock (buildings) and © ovi 801/Shutterstock (clock)

randomhousebooks.com

v4.1

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Chapter 1
Memory Trigger

My name is Julian Costello Proctor, and I have The Best memory. I remember everything. Well, almost. There are some things I don't remember because I wasn't paying attention at the time. But that's rare; I'm normally always paying attention. Unless something bad's happening. And I'm used to low-level bad every day, so it would have to be really bad. Like I said, that's rare. Thankfully.

To give you an illustration of me forgetting stuff, I'm going to start with the worst day of my life, because that's a day when there's a couple of big gaps in my memory.

See, I can remember all sorts of stuff right back from when I was really little. The Internet says most people have scattered memories that can be triggered by association because the way their brain stores them is completely random. But all my memories are stacked up neatly in my head. I can pull them out easily. I also have triggers, which makes my recall even faster.

I have two associative trigger recalls for the worst day ever. Well, three, actually, but the first is connected to the second, which is why it doesn't really count—sort of like 1a and 1b.

So event number one (a) trigger that marks the day: It was my thirteenth birthday. Everyone remembers their birthdays, even ordinary people. But this birthday was reinforced by event one (b): It was David's wedding day. David is my dad. Yes, really. He did that. Apparently no other day was possible.

“The hotel is booked up for nearly a year in advance,” he told me four months before. “Someone canceled, so we were really lucky to get this. Rachel can't wait, and it's not fair of me to ask her. You understand, don't you, son?”

Understand
wasn't what I felt. The complete opposite, actually. I knew it would be Rachel who arranged it. She'd been Dad's new girlfriend for eleven months, and she was nothing like Mum. Nothing. She wanted “a new start” for both of them. And now, thinking about it, that's event one (c): I wasn't invited to the wedding.

Which must make Dad's present event one (d): a new PlayStation. I wanted a new-model Xbox. I told him that. All my games are Xbox, and they're retro-compatible with the new model—obviously. Didn't he think of that? Too busy thinking of Rachel, I guess. Ever since he met her I'd seen less and less of him. I was supposed to spend every second weekend, and one week in three of the school holidays, with Dad. That's what the court decided. At the time he fought hard for that; both he and Mum spent a fortune on lawyers. Mum was always crying after every hearing. But she said she was happy with the final verdict, because a boy needs a father figure.

For the first year, he'd turn up on time for every weekend and holiday week. Then he met Rachel. She's a personal wealth manager at his bank. After that he began to miss our weekends. I can plot his attendance rate in my head, and it's a big decay curve going down. In the two months before the wedding, he saw me only on a single weekend. And that was the one when Rachel was on her hen weekend in Malaga.

I didn't care. Well, that's what I told Mum, because she was really upset about it.

So it was my thirteenth birthday. Dad was forty-four, and getting married to someone just nine years older than me. I had a PlayStation that I didn't have any games for. And I had a party I had to go to.

I hadn't had a birthday party for the last six years. I don't like them. I don't like them because other people, especially ones my age, are really stupid. And some of them are nasty with it. I'm not interested in hanging out with them.

I told Mum that, and she said I mustn't be so prejudicial. Everyone was different. It was easy for her to say; she didn't have to go to school with Scrap Owen and Mods Haffla.

So I didn't do parties. Not even Laser Quest, not after Rod Johnson's party when they scragged me behind a camouflage ditch. I cleaned my teeth three times that night, and I could still taste the mud.

But Mum insisted. “You're only thirteen once,” she said. “You need to do something nice. Especially given what your father's doing today. Help take your mind off it.” Sometimes I think she never believed that I remember everything. I can't take my mind off anything; it's not possible. My mind is always on.

Anyway, she fixed it for me to go and see the new Marvel Avengers film at the Peterborough Showcase cinema, which actually was a nice thing. The catch was, Colin Stafford and Chan Ritchol were coming with me.

I didn't really like them, and I knew they didn't like me. But our mums all met up while we were at school. Sometimes they'd go out at night as well. I didn't like that; afterward, Mum always came home drunk, then spent the next day feeling sorry for herself, and I had to do all the housework and get the meals ready and stuff, which wasn't a part of my routine.

—

Mum drove us to the cinema, which was about fifteen minutes from our house in Yaxley. We pulled up outside Chan's house first, and Mum used the horn. It was loud and I didn't like it. I had the passenger window open to get some air—I get carsick a lot—so it sounded even louder.

Chan and his mother came out. He looked really narked. His mum gripped his arm—tight; I could see her knuckles go all white. Chan's mouth opened in protest.

“Now behave,” she hissed. “It's his birthday.”

“So?” Chan grunted. Chan always talked in grunts. He was huge for his age. His dad took him to rugby club practice every Sunday morning. Boys on the other teams were all scared of him when he came charging at them to tackle.

“Be nice for once!” his mum said.

“But he's weird.”

“He's thirteen. You're all awkward, sweetheart.”

“Yes, Mum.”

Chan glared at me when he got in the car.

Peterborough's Showcase was ancient, but the screen resolution was okay, and Mum had bought us the nice leather seats at the back. Afterward, we went across the road to Pizza Hut. Mum had given me forty pounds to spend on the meal.

So: This is why other people are stupid. You're supposed to talk at meals; having a conversation is normal. I contributed. I told them that Iron Man's suit was all wrong, that he wouldn't be able to fly in it.

“What?” Colin said. “He flies the whole time, dickhead.”

“There aren't any fuel tanks,” I told him, thinking he'd get it then.

“Idiot,” Chan said. “The suit is powered by the arc reactor in his chest. It doesn't need fuel tanks.”

“The arc reactor only provides power to the suit,” I said slowly. “It heats up the rocket exhaust.”

“So then it doesn't need a tank,” Chan repeated.

“He's got to use mass,” I said. “Rockets need mass to expel through their nozzle. That's Newton's law. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

“Which is what makes him fly,” Colin jeered. “Rockets, innit?”

“But they need mass to work with. Either a liquid, which is stored in a tank—which the suit doesn't have—or air like in a jet engine.”

“That's your answer then,” Chan said. “The rockets heat up air with power from the arc reactor.”

Chan got 63 percent in last term's science exam, and really truly believed because of that he understood science. And this wasn't even science, just common sense.

“But the suit doesn't have air inlets,” I explained, common-sensically. “So there's no air for the power to heat up. It won't work.”

After that they basically ignored me and talked about sport. I don't like sport. I'm no good at it, and I don't see the point in “following” football teams. Results are completely random. That's so typical of the stupids. If they'd just listen to me, they'd learn something for once.

When our ice cream came, I sent Mum a text like she'd told me to. By the time we'd finished the ice cream, she would have driven from home to collect us. She didn't reply, so I sent another text. She didn't reply to that one, either. But then she doesn't always.

We finished the ice cream, and she still hadn't turned up. I sent another text. The waitress came over with the bill. It was thirty-eight pounds, seventy pence. I gave her both twenty-pound notes and told her to keep the change. Mum said to make sure I left a tip. The waitress was all right about us staying at the table until Mum came. They were open for another twenty minutes, she said.

Ten minutes later I phoned Mum, but she didn't take the call.

The manager was okay about us waiting inside after they closed up, he said, but we'd have to go when he left. That was another thirty minutes. Mum still wasn't picking up.

Chan phoned his mum, and she arrived to take us all home. She wasn't happy about it. She insisted on coming into the house when she dropped me off. I didn't want her to; I knew she and Mum would have angry words. I could see the way her lips were all pressed together like they get when she's in a temper.

“I'll just have a quick word with her,” she said as I unlocked the front door.

I called out when we were inside, but Mum didn't answer. Chan's mum walked into the kitchen. There was a light on in there. I was going to check the lounge when I heard her scream.

I ran to the kitchen. Chan's mum was in the doorway, crying. She put up her arms to stop me, going: “No. No, don't. Stop, Jules. No!”

But I barged past her and rushed in.

Mum was lying on the floor. There was a huge pool of blood around her head, which had turned nearly black. When she slipped she must have hit the back of her skull on the edge of the work surface. Our kitchen has granite work surfaces. She wasn't breathing. Her skin was so white it could have been snow. That color is called a deathly pallor—I checked on the Internet.

That's when I have a gap in my memory.

Next were police officers trying to talk to me. I was crying and screaming. One of them, a lady constable, was holding me and rocking me gently. She kept asking me where my dad was. But that was at eleven thirty
P.M.
The flight taking him to the Maldives for his honeymoon had left at six twenty that evening.

I curled up on the sofa and sobbed. There were lots of ambulance people and police going in and out of the house. I didn't want to see them. I didn't want to see Mum. She wasn't Mum anymore. Just a dead body.

That's the second gap.

I must have been asleep, because I woke up just before dawn, when Uncle Gordon arrived to take me to his house.

But apart from those two gaps I remember everything. I remember that when I went into the kitchen I saw a smear of chocolate icing on Mum's sole. That's what she slipped on.

That afternoon, I'd dropped a bit of chocolate icing from my birthday cake onto the kitchen floor. Mum had said not to worry, that I shouldn't spend my birthday on my knees wiping up bits of icing. Birthdays were to be enjoyed. She'd do it later.

Obviously she didn't.

So you see, that's my second trigger for the day of my thirteenth birthday; and it doesn't have any (a)'s or (b)'s or (c)'s, because it's really simple: I killed my mum.

BOOK: A Window into Time (Novella)
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