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Authors: Christopher Brookmyre

Pandaemonium

BOOK: Pandaemonium
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Pandaemonium
CHRISTOPHER BROOKMYRE
Hachette Digital
www.littlebrown.co.uk
Table of Contents
Also by Christopher Brookmyre
QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING
COUNTRY OF THE BLIND
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
BOILING A FROG
A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY
THE SACRED ART OF STEALING
BE MY ENEMY
ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL
ATTACK OF THE UNSINKABLE RUBBER DUCKS
A SNOWBALL IN HELL
Pandaemonium
CHRISTOPHER BROOKMYRE
Hachette Digital
www.littlebrown.co.uk
Published by Hachette Digital 2009
Copyright © Christopher Brookmyre 2009
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
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, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which it is published and
without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
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.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 7481 1476 4
This ebook produced by JOUVE, FRANCE
Hachette Digital
An imprint of
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY
An Hachette Livre UK Company
For David MacDonald, David White and Gary Hunter.
Be glad you went to PGS.
ADNAN’S QUICK-REFERENCE GAMER GUIDE
[CLAN AFFILIATION]
PLAYER
NAME
[ADNAN’S MATES]
RADAR
AKA RAYMOND GALLAHER
EWAN
LAUCHLAN
CAMERON
MCNEILL
MATTHEW
WILSON
[HEIDTHEBAWS]
DESO
AKA STEPHEN CONNOR
MARKY
AKA MARKUS FLYNN
BEANSY
AKA MICHAEL MCBEAN
FIZZY
AKA PHILIP O’DOWD
[THE HARD TEAM]
KIRK
BURNS
DAZZA
AKA DANIEL MCINTYRE
ROCKS
AKA PAUL ROXBURGH
[THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE]
JASON
MITCHELL
LIAM
DONNELLY
REBECCA
CATHERWOOD
SAMANTHA
COULTER
[BACK-BITING BITCHES]
YVONNE
MCGUIRE
GILLIAN
COLE
DEBORAH
THOMSON
THERESA
LEARY
JULIE
MEIKLEJOHN
[GOD SQUAD]
ROSEMARY
BRESLIN
MARIA
PEARCE
BERNADETTE
GELAGHTLY
CAITLIN
BLACK
[SPLENDID ISOLATION]
MARIANNE
SEVERIN
[MOSTLY HARMLESS]
MICHELLE
SHARP
ROISIN
O’HARE
RUTH
ANDERSON
CAROL-ANN
WELSH
[THE STAFF]
DAN
GUTHRIE
STEWART
KANE
HEATHER
ROSS
FATHER CONSTANTINE
BLAKE
[NOT PRESENT]
DUNNSY
AKA ANDREW DUNN (DECEASED)
ROBERT
BARKER
(DECEASED)
Prologue The Resurrectionist’s Price
‘We’re going to Hell for this.’
It is one of the soldiers who speaks, talking almost under his breath to the similarly sculpted muscular redoubt standing beside him. Their arms are bare from the shoulders down, dark green sleeveless slips the only clothing between the skin of their chests and sweat-streaked grey tabards of body armour. Their biceps are taut from the weight of their weapons, or maybe that’s just how it looks, because Merrick knows what those things feel like to hold; knows a weight in them that derives from more than simply mass and gravity. Those muscles are US military: built, trained and maintained. You could sling a feather duster across those forearms and the musculature would look just as pronounced, just as swollen and primed.

Merrick recalls a detached fragment he glimpsed surfing the digital channels, showing a poster from the Weimar Republic. It depicted an Aryan god of an athlete above the slogan: ‘A healthy body houses a healthy mind’. To which some seditionary artist had added: ‘but often a very small one’.

All of the soldiers in here look like gay porn. So much muscle on show, all of it glistening with moisture, fresh beads of sweat pooling for a moment, then suddenly swooping in rivulets in response to a slight movement, a shift in stance, and not infrequently a nervous shudder. It’s the heat: that’s why they’re dressed that way. It’s so hot in this place, so infernally hot, always. No amount of venting seems to make a difference. He’s stood right next to the giant fans at the base of the intake regulation shaft, walked beneath the coolant transit vessels in the heat-exchange orbital, several miles of insulated alloys thrusting through a circular tubeway engirthing the primary accelerator chase. You can put your left hand next to the vent outlet, or up close to the transit vessel, remind your fingers what cool air feels like; but if you place your right hand a few inches further back, then they might as well be in any other room in the facility, as they’ll feel no change. It’s like the principles of conductivity have been suspended, or some inexhaustible energy supply keeps pumping more warm air in to replace every atom that gets cooled.

Merrick’s going through tubs of Vaseline trying to reduce the chafing of his thighs and where his arms brush his sides, and that’s just wearing trousers and a shirt, sometimes a lab coat. What must it be like for these guys, strapped, clipped, belted and burdened until they look like cyborgs and gladiators?

Not that the soldiers would be complaining. They didn’t complain, they didn’t argue, they didn’t question. But that didn’t mean they weren’t sweltering, didn’t mean they weren’t blistered worse than Merrick, and most certainly didn’t mean they weren’t scared.


Going
to Hell?’ replies the second soldier. ‘We ain’t going. We’re standing down all border patrols and letting Hell come to us.’

They don’t know he can hear them. They’re talking in whispers and the sound of the machine - the incessant sound of the machine - would make it hard enough to catch anything below a shout from the other side of the chamber. Merrick, however, is picking them up through his headphones from one of the directional laser-mikes he’s deployed, monitoring a range of sound frequencies calibrated far outwith the spectrum of human hearing. He’s also running all pick-ups through a counter-frequency interference filter, which cancels most of the frequencies coming from the tooth-rattling, pulsatile hum that is as unresting a constant of this place as the stifling heat. It’s only with his headphones on and those filters running that he can escape it, can hear a human voice resonate like it would in a normal room in a normal building back in the lost innocence of the normal world.

Maybe he was mistaken, however, and the soldiers said nothing. Maybe all he heard was the words inside his own head.

We’re going to Hell for this
.

I’m going to Hell for this.

This
is
Hell.

Here beneath the world, held fast by adamantine rock, impenetrable. Here impaled with circling fire, yet unconsumed.

He recalls the words of a senior cleric a few years back, in a predictably alarmist harangue of Merrick’s fraternity.

‘One might say that in our country we are about to have a public Government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion - without many people really being aware of what is going on.’ Thus he had warned the nation about the unchecked recklessness of those mad scientists, still grasping for that apple despite God having been quite unequivocal on the subject. Or as every monster-movie aficionado knows, ‘there are some things man was never meant to tamper with’.

This moral colossus had gone on to suggest that he might even be willing to help redeem the scientific community by stepping down from on high and granting an audience to a delegation of their representatives.

‘In agreeing to such a meeting my only condition would be that the scientists were also willing to accept instruction from our Churches and peoples of faith on basic morality.’

Merrick still feels the smouldering embers of his indignation at the way he and his peers were being maligned as so many Mengeles, as Frankensteins unfettered by any consideration of morality, driven remorselessly by the pursuit of discovery at any cost. But now he would concede that perhaps it had angered him so much because, like a stopped clock hitting the right time, amid his automatedly dogmatic declamations the cleric had stumbled on to a nasty little truth.

There was a question you could never answer while it remained purely hypothetical, a measure of your character you could never record until it was truly put to the test. That question was: how far would you be prepared to go, what sacrifices would you be willing to make, and most pertinently, what values would you be prepared to compromise, in order to know that bit more, in order to glimpse that bit further than anyone had before you?

It was a question, a test that would only ever be truly faced by a tiny few; but not, he understood now, a lucky few. Those were the ones who would have to live with the consequences of their choice: to pass up seeing what was behind the curtain for personal ease of conscience, or to accept that an eternal burden of shame and guilt might be the price they must pay as individuals in order to secure greater knowledge for all - albeit with no guarantees that this knowledge would be a blessing or a curse.

Merrick knew the cleric was right, because so many had taken the latter choice. Where would we be otherwise? The myth of Prometheus, like all myths, had its root in a human truth. Scientists had forever defied the values of their societies in order to get that elusive further glimpse, but let’s not sugar-coat it as a question of shifting mores and challenging attitudes. They had sometimes done what they knew to be wrong: horribly and hideously wrong. They had robbed graves, or paid the resur rectionists to do it for them. And when the likes of Burke and Hare got creative, they had asked no questions. The promise of that glimpse compelled them to override their morality. Merrick knew this now, knew how little that cleric truly understood with his debates over whether the end justified the means. It wasn’t about justification. It was that the promise of the glimpse could obviate the very need for a justification. The glimpse could become its own supreme, unchallengeable justification.

The researcher sacrificing laboratory animals could justify his practices to himself on the grounds that the resultant understanding protected his species. Natural selection had put us in this superior position, he could tell himself, and his responsibility was to his own kind. But Merrick’s compromise in this was something far worse than a reluctant vivisectionist’s guilt. Maybe the Mengele comparisons weren’t so hysterical after all. And the worst part was knowing he’d make the same decision, accept the same tainted deal, if the choice was offered over again. Galling as it was that the glimpse be so small, so needlessly small, and the shame he was party to so utterly unnecessary, if it was the only way to get a glimpse at all, he knew he’d still do it again.

So he’d have to confess that, in the end, that churchman was right, more right than he could possibly know. Look at the compromises he was party to, how far he had stooped here, what dominion he was genuflecting beneath in order to get that glimpse. How vindicated would the cleric feel if he knew what tainted hosts Merrick was prepared to get into bed with, just for a tiny chance to forward his research.

Here in this dark, opprobrious den of shame: this is its own punishment.

This is Hell.

He glances up from the console and takes a lingering look at his surroundings. The hardware. The boy-toys. Technology so beyond the state of the art that the private sector doesn’t know it even exists, never mind the consumer. Weaponry that may not see a battlefield for ten years, if ever. Soldiers so electronically bedecked they look part-android. The mikes, the cameras, the computers, the arrays of screens, the banks of consoles bearing keyboards, tracking devices, laser-mapped 3D motion-capture grids. Not to mention enough medical monitoring and sensory instrumentation to give a hospital accountant a seizure were he to see it thus assembled in an NHS theatre. And all of it contained by walls of crisp white panelling like it’s Moon Base Alpha. Twenty years ago, throw in Maria Whittaker in an unbuttoned lab coat and this would have been close to his idea of heaven.

The panelling has a distinctive sheen, partially reflective in certain light. It’s almost like china. It was developed for heat resistance on the new generation of ICBMs, so it’s very tough. It’s also easy to clean. That’s the thing here. Easy to wipe down. But there are places where you can still see live rock visible through gaps between the panels. The reality of this location, of this circumstance, can be masked off, but it’s still there, inches behind the spotless veneer. Beneath the façade of science is a sin of selfish curiosity. Stains cannot be wiped away so easily from the live rock. The taint endures.

Merrick is slapped from his grim reverie by all of the screens giving that simultaneous hiccup he’s never got used to, despite the regularity of its rhythm. The images all shudder like some digitally manipulated wave-pulse effect, accompanied by a high-pitched pinging sound. All attempts at shielding have been powerless to prevent it during the surge phases of the machine’s cycle. Across the room, he sees Avedon adjusting the focus on a hand-held digital video camera: just in case they miss anything on the dozen other CCTV and infrared cameras. They’re all digital; magnetic tape having proven . . . problematic. The white panelling in here is also lead-lined and thus supposedly anti-magnetic, but Steinmeyer himself has confessed that they still don’t know what other forces the machine might be generating or even simply interfering with. Merrick just hopes nobody in here has plans to father any future kids.

Steinmeyer is hovering restlessly, close to the table, inspecting the surrounding instrumentation with simmering disdain. He looks apt to start knocking things over, to go hauling out tubes and cables and clamps. He’s got a headset mike in place so that he can communicate with the rest of the physics and bio teams, but he’s been in here forty minutes and so far he hasn’t uttered a word.

Lucius Steinmeyer: one of the leading scientific minds of his generation, but not one many people are likely to have heard from in a decade unless they hold sufficient security clearance. A man who thought he had long ago faced The Question when he accepted that only military resources could facilitate his ambitions. A man who remains haunted by a vivid dream he had, in which he was the person in charge of what was taking place here. Merrick could have sworn he had the same dream too, but now they’re both wide awake.

Whatever Merrick might be feeling, he knows Steinmeyer’s feeling it far worse. Merrick is merely head of the bio team. It’s Steinmeyer’s lifetime project that’s been hijacked and sub-hijacked in a rude awakening to what the phrase ‘eminent domain’ truly means;
whose
domain, and more pertinently, whose eminence. The physicist has come to realise that after a decade in bed with the devil, everything up until now has merely been foreplay. However, he’s not ready to surrender, not yet prepared to accept the renegotiated terms in which the glimpse gets smaller while the price gets higher. Steinmeyer is still fighting to wrest back control, and that, more than any practices doom-mongering clerics might find abhorrent, is what makes him dangerous;
that
is what genuinely designates him a ‘mad scientist’.

Bowed down over the consoles, Merrick’s perspective is flattened so that the table looks like just that, with a number of metal objects sat upon it. It’s only when he raises his head again that it resumes its true shape, and the metal objects reveal themselves to be welded and bolted into place. All around it, Merrick’s equipment stands in wait, like so many siege engines.

He runs another systems-diagnostic. He knows everything is good to go. Everything has been triple-, maybe quadruple-checked. It’s no more than a nervous fidget; no purpose to it beyond finding something to keep his mind occupied, keep his fingers busy. Glancing at what’s cradled in those sweat-streaked arms, he hopes the soldiers don’t have the same problem. What’s making the systems-diagnostic more redundant is that he won’t even be permitted to use half of this stuff, and of what remains, much of it might be unable to tell him anything anyway. On a trolley next to the table, for instance, there is a Swan-Ganz catheter for measuring pulmonary arterial pressure and an arterial line for invasive blood pressure monitoring, while next to those is an oesophageal Doppler for monitoring cardiac output. What he doesn’t have - for they have thus far allowed him insufficient opportunity to determine - is any guarantee that there will be a heart, lungs, oesophagus or arterial system present to be monitored.

BOOK: Pandaemonium
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