Here is the twelfth droplet of my novel Biotime.
I’m publishing a slightly larger droplet today, in honour of the festive season. Comments welcome as always.
I’m also publishing a “story so far” post for infrequent readers, bringing together the excerpts published up to now.
Guggenheim Museum, New York City – Photo Robert Pimm
Biotime. The future, today. Excerpt 12
[Part 2, Pax Vobiscum, continues. Roland Nelson is speaking]
‘I figured the worst thing that could happen was I’d be a few bucks lighter or a couple years older,’ he said. ‘Instead, what happens that same day is, I come back to the apartment and they’re gone. Marlene and Rocky.’
I stopped walking. ‘Gone? What do you mean, gone?’
‘I found a note. If I wanted to see Marlene again I should quit Morningside. But – ‘ Roland took a deep breath. ‘They said they’d keep Rocky. Like a hostage. For twenty years. Twenty years. The note said – get this – during that time, he’s worth more to us than he is to you. It was signed by something called the Style Soviet.’
I stared at Roland. He’d spoken those last few words slowly, like he was laying down a trump card at the end of a hand.
Trouble was, the game was hardly started. And from what he was telling me, it sounded like this Style Soviet crew held more aces than there were cards in the deck.
I found myself glancing round the park too, wondering who was watching us and how many minutes we had left.
‘Worth more to us than he is to you?’ I said. ‘Just so we know we’re thinking the same crime, here – are you sure?’
Roland nodded slowly. Then he leaned in close again and lowered his deep dark voice. ‘Sure I’m sure. I’ll tell you why.’ And for the next fifteen minutes, that’s what he did. He ended with the famous words. ‘Are you in?’
When you see the guy playing Roland Nelson in the movies ask the fellow playing one of his new recruits, ‘Are you in?’, you can be sure that part is real. I heard him myself.
Like I said, when Roland started his pitch my strongest emotion was that it was time to run for the nearest hills. By the time he’d finished, I was thinking no mountains on earth were high enough to save me and those I loved from the enemy he described.
So – it shames me to say it now, but it’s the truth – I answered back to Lieutenant Roland Nelson: ‘I’d like to help you find Rocky. But no. I have kids, too.’
The big man didn’t seem surprised. ‘Dev, I quit Morningside the day I read that note. But that ain’t the end of the story. If you want your kids to be safe in the long run, join me.’
‘I can’t do it.’ At that moment I felt a prickling on my scalp, like five guys with hunting rifles had the back of my skull in their sights. ‘Sorry, man.’
‘No sweat.’ Roland reached out his hand and gripped mine for a second. ‘But if you change your mind, let me know.’
And with a shrug of those wide shoulders, he turned and headed back into Harlem.
Now I know you want to hear about Pax, and the organ music, and the conveyor belt. I’m coming to that. But first you’ve got to know what I was thinking as I walked back to my piece of shit, as Roland had called it.
This was before ID tabs were universal in the US. They’d had the electronics for decades without ever using it – sometimes it seemed Roland was right and technology was going backwards. But the idea of surgically implanting in the spine of every citizen a device which would check that citizen’s DNA and location one hundred times a second, and report it to a government computer, had been blocked by Chief Presidential Candidate Melanie and the New Democrats and for more than a decade. Something about civil liberties, I guess.
After Pax, everyone was begging for DNA tabs.
But before we had foolproof ID, it was commonplace for citizens simply to vanish off the face of the earth. In those days you didn’t need a data-shielded building to hide from law enforcement agencies, or from your wife, or even from cold callers. You went out of eyesight, turned off any electronic devices about your person and pouf! You were invisible.
Hard to imagine now, ain’t it?
I guess the idea that citizens should have the right to conceal their location and identity had a tradition in the US going back to the Wild West and the Pilgrim Fathers. A lot of these disappearing types were kids running away from home, hoping to make a buck in the big city, aiming to show that mom didn’t always know best. No-one made much of a fuss about it, before Pax.
Sometimes, though, mom did know best. Throughout US history, many of the missing became victims – as in, someone made them stay missing. Dismembered limbs formerly in the ownership of disappeared persons had a tendency to turn up in the garages and deep freeze cabinets of psychopaths and freaks. War veterans with blue eyes and three kids would drink too much and admit to murdering whole busloads of college co-eds. Old ladies passed away, leaving behind attics heaving with decay. But no-one wanted a police state. It seemed like freedom had its price.
Of course any black guy can tell you: the cost of one man’s liberty is often another man’s enslavement.
[Excerpt ends][Next episode]
I hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from my novel “Biotime”. If you’re interested in hearing about further episodes, follow this blog by e-mail (top right, “click here”); or follow me on Twitter @RobertPimm (left hand side). I can promise you a fun ride.
If you’d like to read some complete fiction by me, see what you think of my “wonderful, feminist and dark” Hotel Stories.