Here is the fourteenth droplet of my novel Biotime. The true extent of the horrors within the Pax Vobiscum funeral parlour in Harlem begin to come to light. But there is still no sign of Roland Nelson’s son, four year-old Rocky.
Today’s excerpt brings us towards the conclusion of Pax Vobiscum, which, together with Part 1 of Biotime, Breughel vs Jones, sets the scene for the main part of the novel. If a new life sciences product was causing a catastrophic crime wave and abuse of human rights on a sickening scale, you’d ban it, right? Or would you license and control it? If so, how? What lessons can we learn from Biotime?
Don’t forget the “story so far” post, bringing together the excerpts published up to now.
Guggenheim Museum, New York City – Photo Robert Pimm
Biotime. The future, today. Excerpt 14
[Part 2, Pax Vobiscum, continues]
The first truck hit the centre of our barrier rolling at sixty miles an hour. The truck’s tyres were gone, but the momentum carried our entire chain of vehicles half-way across the junction, opening up a space between the blockade and the street corner. Roland ordered a squad car to plug the gap. Two brave officers obeyed without hesitation.
Without those two guys, thirteen trucks might have escaped that day.
Instead, the squad car met fifty tons of truck travelling at sixty miles an hour in a head-on collision.
The two police officers died instantly. Their vehicle was flipped onto its back and the truck straddled it as it ground forward, crushing the cruiser against the asphalt.
The police cruiser and the truck were still moving when the cruiser’s gas tank exploded. I saw a ball of flame rise up and engulf the cab. The driver jumped out before the truck stopped, his hair and clothes alight. Someone who’d known the dead officers shot him down.
If we’d known more, we would have let him burn.
I guess we were lucky, someways. The two damaged trucks blocked the roadway. A couple of smart guys hemmed in the back of the convoy with police cruisers. Part of the business, it seemed, was done.
But we weren’t finished yet.
At the funeral parlor, resistance was fierce. The defenders knew how much trouble they were in. If we’d known what was happening inside, we might have intervened more decisively. The fight lasted over two hours. This was great news for the news companies: America hadn’t seen combat like that in years. Former war correspondents assigned to living death in the home news columns dusted off their designer fatigues and rushed to what had become a battle front. War raged in the streets of Harlem. A secret operation had broken cover, big time.
Roland Nelson had counted on this. While the fighting continued at the funeral parlor, and cops directed ambulances to the scene, he took a look inside a couple of undamaged truck trailers. Then, his face displaying a horror he didn’t have to fake, he unleashed the biggest weapon we had in our armoury.
He gave a press conference, within sight of the two broken trucks – and their cargoes.
Roland opened proceedings by stating that Pax Vobiscum had been a production facility for illegal Biotime, produced from donors kidnapped by an organised crime syndicate known as the Style Soviet and forced into contribution against their will. The trucks, he said, had been transporting the contents of Pax Vobiscum to another, unspecified, location. Based on an initial inspection of the trucks, he said, he believed many of the donors were teenagers, some identified as missing persons whose disappearance went back five years or more. Some were older; others, younger.
No-one asked Roland about little four year-old Rocky. No-one knew about Rocky, except us. But we were all thinking of him as we looked at the shattered remnants of the first two trucks and their trailers.
Someone asked how many people had been stored as donors in Pax. Roland said he did not know; but with fourteen trucks, each holding up to one hundred bodies, he believed the figure could be as high as fourteen hundred people, held illegally and forced to contribute against their will.
The production syndicate, Roland said, must have recognised the risk of detection. So they had kept their production facility stashed in truck trailers, ready to move out within seconds of an alarm being raised. The bodies were secured individually in steel pallets, each of which could be slotted using commercial storage technology into an alloy lattice inside the trailers. While the trailers were parked at the facility, inputs and effluents were processed externally. In transit, a storage system allowed the trucks to stay on the road for several hours before being re-connected to the equipment needed to maintain Biotime production.
Behind the press conference, an awful scene was unfolding. Hundreds of ambulances were gathering. Medical crews were picking from the wreckage the remains of those donors whose life-support machinery had suffered damage during the attempted breakout. The majority of the captives, crammed into the rear trucks, were lucky; their flow of nutrients would continue for as long as the engines continued to run. Further forward, the streets were strewn with smashed equipment and dead or dying donors, mercifully unaware of their fate.
Everyone knows those awful pictures from the holo documentaries. But it’s hard to describe what we saw that day. Fragments of flesh and bone poked through jumbled cables. Infants festooned in tubing lay placidly in broken steel baskets as their young lives dribbled forth. Rescuers with pneumatic cutters fought to disentangle bodies from the metal packed inside the trailers. This would have been grisly footage in a foreign war; but we were on Manhattan Island. Many images were edited into oblivion that morning. But many more turned up on breakfast bulletins from coast to coast.
While Roland was laying the foundations with his press conference for the regurgitation of cornflakes nationwide, the fighting continued at the Pax Vobiscum Funeral Parlor a few blocks away. Roland had guessed that as soon as it was clear a major conflict had erupted, the National Guard would be mobilised to relieve our mish-mash of lightly-armed NYPD officers. The enquiry into Pax later revealed that National Guard commanders had received orders at the highest level to hold their fire when they reached the facility. Only good fortune prevented a delay giving the defenders time to destroy more crucial evidence.
Like most soldiers, the National Guard were spoiling for a fight. When a stray shoulder-launched missile fired from the funeral parlor happened to fry up the first troop-carrier full of men to arrive on the scene, the charitable instincts of their comrades were much reduced. An ultimatum to the occupants of Pax elicited no answer. Then combat units moved in and, in a show of force, crushed all remaining resistance. Of the two hundred defenders nearly half lost their lives, and none escaped unhurt. Police losses were never announced. This, I know, was to disguise the effects on the force of later purges. In the aftermath of the raid, the mood at station level was ugly.
The rest of the nation was dismayed, too. What we discovered inside Pax was abuse of human rights on a sickening scale.
[Excerpt ends][Excerpt 15]
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.