Issue #1 of this collection of free books to read online.
James Hartley, Peter F. Hamilton, Andrew Males, Wayne Summers, Richmond A. Clements & Samantha Frankenstein. Plus...
An interview with Michael Carroll and Superhuman reviewed.
Softlight Sins. by Peter F. Hamilton
Ghosts drifted through Douglas McEwan's mind as he drove down the long road towards the execution. There were four spectres, the family of Adrian Reynolds, his mother, his abominable father, and his two lovely young sisters. The forensic team's in situ video had shown them in their beds, captured in a frozen pose that feigned sleep: eyes closed, lips relaxed, fingers splayed like albino starfish. In each case their throats had been slit open, black yawning gashes that had sprayed thick jets of blood across the sheets.
The phosphene mirage was broken when Douglas's police escort switched on their lights and sirens. The five-car convoy was motoring along a thin ribbon of road that cut through the heavily wooded Ling common to the north of King's Lynn. Tall pines and slim silver birch trees stood sentinel duty on either side, their small yellowed leaves swirling through the air like a rusty snowstorm, settling on the grass verges where they formed a soggy mantle. Twin lines of parked press vehicles were backed up a hundred metres from the entrance of the Clinical Rehabilitation Institute.
A dense knot of people was blocking the road ahead. The media circus. And to Douglas's eyes they did look like clowns, dressed in their bulky garishly coloured parkas, noses and cheeks raw from the chill morning air. A double rank of police in blue-grey riot tunics had linked arms, creating a barrier to hold them back from the road.
A hundred shouted questions merged into a single unintelligible bawl as Douglas drove past. Cameras zoomed in.
Protesters had taken up the prime sites on either side of the Institute's gate, their stamping feet pounding the mown grass strips into rucked quagmires. The police were three deep here, forming a funnel down to the gate, both lines visibly wavering from the pressure of the protesters' bodies.
On Douglas's right was the LIFE! group, opposing any form of capital punishment. From what he could see a majority of them were women. They held hundreds of white candles aloft, ranging from small nightlights to elaborately carved half-metre columns of wax. A ragged chorus of defiant voices sang Abide With Me.
Gobs of mud pelted the car. Douglas switched his wipers on, smearing the windscreen with brown streaks. It was the TRUE JUSTICE group on the other side launching the deluge. Trim young men in the main; hair cut close to the skull, wearing olive-green military-style sweaters, a red crucifix stitched on the breast. And so much hatred leaking from their hard young faces. They were carrying a forest of placards; obscene demands for Adrian Reynolds to be hung, fried, shot, gassed, guillotined, poisoned... The gallows erected next to the Institute fence had a straw-stuffed effigy of Adrian dangling in a noose. As soon as Douglas's car swept through the gates someone put a torch to the wooden structure. A well planned optical bite for the cameras.
Then he was through, the gate closing behind him. Something about the savagery of the protesters bolstered his own determination.
And what an irony that is. Me, the man who prides himsel