Read Spares Online

Authors: Michael Marshall Smith

Tags: #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction


Critical Acclaim for Michael Marshall Smith and
“No wonder Hollywood’s DreamWorks SKG has snapped up the film rights. This darkly atmospheric sci-fi thriller, long on technological wizardry and futuristic grotesqueries, makes excellent fodder for the big screen…. In his American debut novel, Smith masterfully moves the whodunnit toward the future, opening up refreshing vistas for a genre rooted in the present.”

Blade Runner
in this future noir thriller, a compulsively readable melding of hardboiled narrative and hardware invention…. Both a disconcerting portrait of a future that might be, and a poignant study of one man’s fight to resist it, this novel augurs a promising future of another sort for its author.”

Publishers Weekly
“Inventive and horrifying.”

The Rue Morgue
“Highly recommended.”

Mysterious Galaxy
“A dark but witty futuristic thriller that combines Raymond Chandler and Robert A. Heinlein… Race down to the bookstore to grab this stunning debut.”

Flint Journal

For Paula,
who lights up the forest.

Thanks to Steve Jones, for whom I wrote the story which contained the seed of what follows; to the Chiselers and Chiselettes, for valued misery and chiseling; to arch-Miserablists Kim “Crispy” Newman and Paul “The Duck” McAuley for good advice (which I’m going to start taking); to Rob and Steve for helping me not to finish too early; to Clive Barker for kind words, and to Neil Caiman for helping me to not get sued; to Kingsley Amis and Tori Amos for very different inspirations; to Rachel Baker, Dick Jude, Chris Smith, Paul Landymore, and others for putting their weight behind the first one, and to the reps of HarperCollins for being a bunch of absolute stars; to Howard and Adam and Jenny and Les and Val and Mandy and Jo and Richard and Suzanne and Zaz for damaging my health; to Jane Johnson for putting up with me, and to Jim Rickards for being a hard bastard; to Ralph Vicinanza, Lisa Eveleigh, Linda Shaughnessy, Nick Marston and Bob Bookman; to Margaret and David and Tracey and Spangle and Lintilla for being who they are; and finally to Nana Harrup (Get through that defense) and Grandma Smith (oh, bother it) for being who they were.
Our kind. Us people. All of us that started the game with a crooked cue, that wanted so much and got so little, that meant so good and did so bad.
Jim Thompson
The Killer Inside Me

Wide shot.

New Richmond, Virginia. Not the
Richmond, the historic capital of historical old Virginia, that sprawl of creaking tedium, but the New. The old Richmond was destroyed over a century ago, razed to the ground during riots which lasted two months. After decades of putting up with dreadful shopping facilities, a bewilderingly dull Old Town and no good restaurants to speak of, the residents suddenly went nonlinear and strode across the city like avenging angels, destroying everything in their wake. It was great.

Spin doctors blamed downtown decay, crack wars, the cast of the moon. Personally, I think everyone just got really bored, and either way good riddance to it. The old Richmond was a content-free mess, a waste of a good, level patch within sight of the pleasingly pointy Blue Ridge Mountains. Everyone agreed it was much better off as a landing strip, a refueling point for the MegaMalls.

The MegaMalls are aircraft—five miles square, two
hundred stories high—which majestically transport passengers from one side of the continent to the other, from the bottom to the top; from wherever they’ve been to wherever they seem to think will be better. The biggest oblongs of all time, a fetching shade of consumer-goods black, studded with millions of points of light and so big they transcend function and become simply a shape again.

When oblongs grow up, they all want to be Mega-Malls.

Inside are thousands of stores, twenty-story atriums, food courts the size of small towns, dozens of multiplex cinemas, and a range of hotels to suit every wallet which has a Gold Card in it. All this and more arranged round wide, sweeping avenues, a thousand comfortable nooks and crannies, and so many potted plants they count as an ecosystem in their own right. Safe from the rest of the world, cocooned 20,000 feet up in the air.

Heaven on earth, or cruising just above it: all of the good, clean,
things in life crammed into a multi-story funhouse.

Eighty-three years ago, MegaMall Flight MA 156 stopped for routine refueling on the site of old Richmond, and never took off again. At first, it was merely a bureaucratic problem—the kind that the massed brains of all time could never have gotten to the bottom of, but which some poorly paid clerk could have solved instantly. If he’d had a mind to. If he hadn’t been on his break.

After a few hours, the richer patrons started leaving by the roads. They didn’t have time for this shit. They had to be somewhere else. Everybody else just complained a little, ordered another meal or bought some more shoes, and settled down to wait

Then, after a few more hours, it transpired there was a minor problem with the engines. This was a little more serious. When you’ve got a problem with a car, you open the hood and there it is. You can point at the errant part. When the engine’s the size of the Empire State
Building on steroids, you know you’ve got a long night ahead. It takes fourteen people just to hold the manual. The engineers sent repair droids scurrying off into the deep recesses, but eventually the droids came back, electronically shaking their heads and whistling through their mechanical teeth. It was only a minor problem, the engineers were sure, but they couldn’t work out what it was.

More passengers started to leave at that point, but on the other hand, some people decided to stay. There were plenty of phones and meeting rooms, and the Mall had its own node on the Matrix. People could work. There were enormous quantities of food, consumer goods and clean sheets. People could live. There were, frankly, worse places to hang around.

They never got the engines going again. Maybe they were fixable, but they left it a little too late. After a couple of days, people started to make their way in from the outside; people who’d been homeless since old Richmond went up in flames; people who lived in the backwoods; people who’d heard about the food courts and just wanted a spot of lunch. They came off the plain and out of the mountains and hammered on the doors. Initially, security turned them back like they were supposed to, but there were an awful lot of them and some were pretty pissed. For them the only thing worse than having to live in Richmond had been not having it to live in anymore.

The security guards got together and came up with a plan. They would let people in, and they would charge them for it.

There was a period, maybe as long as six months, when Flight MA 156 was in flux, when no one was really sure if it was going to take off again. Then the tide turned, and people knew it was not. By then they didn’t want it to. It was home. Areas inside the ship were knocked through, torn down, redeveloped. The original passengers staked out the upper floors and began to build on top of the Mall, competing to see who could
get farthest from the mounting poor on the lower levels. A secondary town grew up around the Mall at ground level—the Portal into the city.

Eventually, the local utility companies just plumbed the whole lot in, and New Richmond was born. Apart from its unusual provenance and extreme oblongness, New Richmond is now just a city like anywhere else. If you didn’t know, you might think it was just a rather bizarre town-planning mistake.

But it’s said that in a lost room, somewhere deep in the bowels of the city, there remains a forgotten suitcase, left there accidentally by one of the first families to leave old Richmond, a mute testament to the city’s birth. Nobody knows where this room is, and most people believe it’s just an urban myth. Because that’s what Flight MA 156 is, these days. Urban.

But I’ve always believed in that lost room, just like I wonder if sometimes, on some nights, the city itself must raise its eyes when it hears the other MegaMalls trundling slowly overhead. I wonder if it watches the skies, and sees them pass, and knows in some way that’s where it should be. Up there in the heavens, not battened onto the Earth. But then which of us doesn’t believe something like that, and how few of us are right.

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