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Read a sample from THE TOURIST by Robert Dickinson

THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY HAPPENED. With breathtaking plot twists that ricochet through time, The Tourist is the most original conspiracy thriller you will read this year.

’88

You’re staring at the wall when it’s announced. You spend most of your days staring at the wall. If anyone asked you’d say you were gathering your thoughts.

Visitor, says the voice.

Your thoughts scatter like cockroaches. You stand up so quickly you feel dizzy.

You don’t have visitors.

Room Six, says the voice. The door of your cell slides open. The corridor outside is white, brightly lit. There are no obvious doors in this corridor but you know they’re there, flush with the walls. Twice a day, when you walk to Room Two to eat, you knock against the walls as you pass. You don’t expect a reply but if there’s another prisoner they might take heart from knowing they’re not alone.

You don’t have visitors. Isolation is part of the sentence. Your captors have a horror of solitude and believe you share it. The only living things you see are the doctors (for monthly examinations) and the doctors’ guards, and, once a year, the Consideration Panel. The rest of the time there is only the voice. It tells you when to wake up, when to eat – always in Room Two, a room hardly bigger than your cell, where the food is left on a tray chained to the table and the table is bolted to the floor. It allows you an hour to eat before it tells you to return to your room.

The voice hasn’t changed in all your time here. You suspect it isn’t human. Synthesised, a machine. It sounds like your own voice, or how you imagine your voice sounds.

The corridor leads to an enclosed courtyard with an opaque glass ceiling. You can’t tell the colour of the sky, or if the diffused light is the sky. You stop for a moment and look up as you always do and wonder if what you can see is daylight.

The door to Room Six is already open.

Keep walking, says the voice.

Room Six is three times the size of your cell. The only furniture is a single metal- framed chair that faces three other chairs. All of them are bolted to the floor. This is where the Consideration Panel – a Safety, a Happiness, a Facilitator, different people each time – sit in judgement, with a guard standing by the door behind them. You’ve never seen that door open but know there must be another room beyond it with people watching. The meetings are the same every time: the Consideration Panel ask questions and you stare at them until they send you back to your room. This has happened seventeen times. Or eighteen: you seem to have lost count. Each time they expect you to talk about what they call your crimes. Saying nothing is a small victory.

Your visitor is sitting in the middle chair. He’s wearing the formal greys you expect for a Facilitator but his posture is military. He’s familiar. Your first thought is that you’ve noticed a family resemblance and he’s the son of an earlier guard. He’s eh, barely out of his twenties. You’ve been here long enough for that to be possible.

Sit down, says the voice.

You sit.

Your visitor looks at you carefully. His hair, you notice, is cropped and patterned in a way that was popular before your sentence began. The style must have come round again. “Karia Stadt,” he says. “I expect this is a surprise for you.” It’s small talk, meant to put you at your ease. It sounds rehearsed.

Normally you wouldn’t talk at all, but there is something different about this man. “I don’t get visitors. My people are dead.” Your voice sounds dryer than you expect. You wanted it to sound like a reproach but it comes out like self- pity.

“You grew up in City Two East.” He relaxes, but only slightly. “That’s the reason I’m here.”

City Two East is their name for your old home. It’s their way: give everything a number, erase the past. Pretend they had nothing to do with the old world. Your city had a name. You resist the impulse to correct him. “You’re military.”

“No.” He says it firmly, as if the suggestion is offensive. “I should introduce myself. My name is Riemann Aldis.”

The name stirs a memory.

“I’m with Awareness.” He follows his script. “I have been seconded to the Safety Executive in order to find one of their people and a high-status Happiness. The evidence suggests they’re in the vicinity of your old home.”

You don’t believe him. “And?”

“You’re the last person familiar with the terrain.”

“Don’t you have maps? Satellites?”

“Nothing reliable. Your people didn’t make maps and nobody goes there now.”

“Why should I help you?”

He blinks. “I’m giving you a chance to return to your home city.”

“How is it home? Everybody I know is dead.”

“The alternative is that you stay here until the end of your sentence. Twelve more years, isn’t it? This is your chance to leave.”

“Under what terms?”

“You’ll be in my sole custody. If you agree to help it will count at your next Consideration Panel.” He seems to realise this is a weak argument. “You can see your old home,” he adds quickly. “Or you could stay here.”

You realise why he’s familiar. It’s the way your memory works: you try to remember a name or a place and find a blank. Minutes later, when you’re thinking about something else, the name or place comes back, making you forget your latest train of thought. Riemann’s name is familiar because it’s the name of the man you met back in the 21st. That Riemann had been an older man, talking about an event in his past. Standing on a street in the 21st, asking why you were there, hinting he already knew. The memory is vivid. You remember the name because you were told to remember it. You had a good memory then. You’d been told to remember everything he said. One day, a long time from now, you meet me again. You assumed it was a lie, a trick to make you talk.

You study the face opposite you. It’s young, genuinely young, not reconstructed the way some of them are. You can tell by the eyes. Either it was a different man or the events you can remember are in this one’s future.

There’s a phrase they use: travel is confusing. You heard it all the time when you were pretending to be one of them. They say it as a joke. They say it and it stops the conversation. You can understand why: when you try to think of what his presence means your head starts to ache.

You decide to say nothing. If this is the man you once met it might be information you can use later. Or you might have misremembered. It’s been a long time. Your visitor could have given you any name and you would have adjusted your memory to make it fit. “When would I leave?”

He gives a thin smile. “We made the application for a temporary release before you were sentenced. It was approved five years ago.” The smile is familiar. “If you agree you will be out of here in the next two hours.”

It has to be a trick. “How have you done this?”

“That’s not your concern.” He’s pleased with himself. The other Riemann had been smug, keen to make it clear he knew something you didn’t. “Do you accept my offer?”

“Is this true?” you say aloud, not to him. “If I agree, am I free to go?”

You can go, says the voice. You are not free.

About the Author

Robert Dickinson lives in Brighton and his life to date has been  shockingly uneventful. His two previous novels were published by a small  press. The Tourist is his third novel.