Authors: Dave Hutchinson
Tags: #Science Fiction
Europe in Autumn
‘The author’s authoritative prose, intimate knowledge of eastern Europe, and his fusion of Kafka with Len Deighton, combine to create a spellbinding novel of intrigue and paranoia.’
‘This awesome concoction of sci-fi and spies—picture John le Carré meets Christopher Priest—is an early favourite of the year for me.’
‘The map of Europe has been redrawn, and its cartographers remain at work... the continent now exists as a patchwork of small nations and polities... for all that people want to carve out their own discrete realms, perhaps the greatest gift in Dave Hutchinson’s future Europe is the ability to cross borders.’
‘Thundering through endless crosses and double-crosses,
Europe in Autumn
is pretty much unlike anything else I have ever read.’
Europe in Autumn
is an astounding piece of fiction.’
‘My best reads from the past year... [include]
Europe in Autumn
, by Dave Hutchinson, set in a future Europe fragmented into mini-states.’
First published 2015 by Solaris
an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd,
Riverside House, Osney Mead,
Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK
Copyright © 2015 Dave Hutchinson
Cover art by Clint Langley
The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.
N CHILL MISTY
mornings, I liked to walk down to the river and fish for a while. I never caught anything, but that didn’t matter, particularly. It was relaxing just to stand on the bank and cast and watch the bright orange tip of my float drift downstream. Arblaster, my Residence’s Porter, provided me with sandwiches and a Thermos, and I could quite happily stay there all day. Sometimes I could almost forget about the other things I should have been doing.
One day the hook snagged on something huge and sluggish. I fought it up from the bed of the river, thinking about dead logs and old bicycles. There was said to be a huge pike on this stretch of the river, almost a century old and well over six feet long, but this wasn’t him. What bobbed to the surface instead was one of the Escaped, bloated up with rot, its thick coat stretched tight across the shoulders and punctured by six ragged holes.
I had that part of the river dragged, and three more bodies came to the surface, all of them similarly swollen, all of them similarly holed.
“There’s supposed to be some big old fucking pike around here somewhere,” John Holden told me as we watched his team casting the drag into the river again.
I nodded. “I heard that.”
“I bet we scared that old sod away today.”
“If he’s got any sense he’s gone somewhere else.”
I heard his waders make a sucking sound in the mud below the riverbank. “There’s fuck all to eat around here, that’s true enough. I don’t know why you bother fishing here.”
“It helps me think.”
John sucked on his pipe and watched his team scrambling around on their flatboat. The drag, mounted at the stern, consisted of a steam-driven winch from which dangled a long chain. At the end of the chain was an old brass bedstead with huge blunt hooks brazed to it. John and I had been standing here on the bank watching the operation for three hours, and in that time two of his students had fallen into the river and one of them had had to be taken off duty because the things that came up on the drag kept making him sick.
“Silly sods,” John said, shaking his head, and I didn’t know if he meant the students or the bodies we were bringing up out of the weeds.
“They might have made it,” I said, deciding to be charitable towards the boys and girls on the boat. “It was always worth a try.”
John shook his head. He took his pipe out of his mouth and gestured with it across the river. “Even the kiddies knew not to try a blitz here.”
A long time ago, someone had dubbed this part of the river Runway Four, a virtual highway of failed escape attempts even before I was born. The river was broad and slow here, easily swimmable. The meadows on the other side, prettily hidden beneath drifting horizontal panes of mist, were full of boobytraps that we still hadn’t got around to clearing. Thirty or forty miles beyond them was the Abbotsbury Forest, of which there may or may not have been maps somewhere in the Apocrypha, and which was similarly boobytrapped. And beyond them were the Mountains. From my office in the Administration Building I could sometimes see, if the weather was right and the air was particularly still, snow on high peaks. Only a lunatic would have tried Runway Four. And the files I had inherited from my predecessor recorded that we had produced plenty of lunatics. More than seventy people had lost their lives here, or in the meadows, or in the forest, in the past two decades. Nobody had made it as far as the Mountains.
“I don’t understand why they kept trying,” I said.
John looked up at me. “What do you mean you don’t understand?”
Well exactly. I put in a request to the Apocrypha, and to my surprise within a month a slim extract file landed on my desk. Bound in a buff folder with a red Restricted stripe across one corner, it detailed the exploits of one ‘Escape Group 9’, who had decided to use the chaos of the Fall to cover their blitz.
It was a sad read. You had to take the Apocrypha with a pinch of salt, but if the file was even remotely accurate Escape Group 9 might have been our very last attempted escapees. If they had waited a few more weeks they might not have bothered, but I remembered those weeks and I couldn’t blame them for trying.
I put the folder away, thinking it would make a sad little footnote to our collective History, but at the next Board meeting Chris Davenport said, “If this was Escape Group 9, what happened to the other eight?”
Everybody looked at me, and I responded by groaning and leaning forward until my forehead touched the tabletop.
“You’re supposed to think about this kind of thing,” Rossiter told me mildly.
“Yes,” I said, sitting up and making a note. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
“Because the other eight might have made it,” Chris went on, not caring that he was further complicating my life, which was already complicated enough.
I made another note. “I’ll have the river dragged again.”
“I mean,” said Chris, “why call yourself Escape Group 9 if there haven’t already been eight of them?”
I looked around the table. Everyone was looking at me. “Why not?” I tried weakly.
Everyone started to talk at once, but Rossiter raised a hand for silence. When everyone had quieted down, he looked at me.
“All we’ve got is a reference,” I said. “It’s from an unattributed Residence History; we don’t know where it came from and we don’t have names.”
Rossiter caught on to what I was talking about, and he said, “No.”
I put down my pencil and clasped my hands on the table in front of me. “I can’t spare anyone, Richard, and I can’t do it myself. I’m busy.”
,” he told me. “I’ve a stack of memos from Harry Pool wanting people to go out and deal with the flu thing on the South Side.”
“I’ll do it when I have time,” I promised.
“This is the sort of loose end that causes all kinds of trouble,” he said, looking at me over the top of his spectacles.
“And stop calling me ‘sir.’”
time to worry about Escape Group 9. There was always too much to do, and every time I made anything more than tangential contact with my in-tray it seemed that there was more work waiting for me. I put in another request for the Apocrypha to be checked for anything and everything that might give us a clue to the names of EG9’s personnel, but nothing came up. A month or so after my ill-fated fishing expedition, it started to look as if EG9’s security had been better than most. Which made it all the more a shame that they hadn’t managed a home run.