Here is the twentieth droplet of my novel Biotime. Martha O’Leary, Deputy Head of Mission at the US Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, receives an ominous message.
This is our first introduction to Martha, a single, idealistic, red-head worried about her fading good looks. She can’t afford Biotime. She is paid by the US Government.
‘The secure zone of the embassy was off-limits to everyone except US-based diplomatic staff, of whom Martha was at present the only example in the Republic of Uzbekistan.’
Don’t forget the “story so far” page, bringing together the excerpts published up to now.
[Chapter 4 continues]
At the US embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Martha O’Leary blinked at her computer screen and wondered what to do.
‘Is something wrong?’ Across the room the locally-engaged Biotime Attaché, Toxirov Ergash Gulomovich, had stopped typing.
‘You know I’m acting Chief of Mission in the Ambassador’s absence.’ Saying the words made Martha anxious. ‘I got a service message. There’s a DECOM holo coming in.’
‘DECOM? What is that?’
Martha glanced at her assistant. Working in Biotime enforcement made you paranoid, it was a fact. But Gulomovich always seemed to focus on the most sensitive aspects of her work. He also drove a late-model Tokyo Firestorm on a pittance of a salary. She decided to play it straight.
‘It means decryption by Chief of Mission only.’ She pushed back the Alice band designed to hold in place her unruly red hair. ‘But I’m not sure I should take the call.’
‘Like you say. You are acting Chief of Mission.’
‘But it could be personal. Medical, maybe.’
‘It is serving him right for falling down steps of Timur Night Club.’ When Gulomovich leaned back, his chair squeaked in protest. ‘That is why he is in United States, getting hip fixed. He want to be Chief of Mission, he stay here in Tashkent.’
‘I guess you’re right.’ Martha frowned at the dog-eared satellite photo on the wall, supposedly showing black Biotime factories in the foothills of the Tien Shan. ‘I’ll check it out.’
‘You do that.’ Gulomovich resumed his typing, fat fingers moving with surprising speed. ‘Remember, is probably highly classified. Be sure to tell local staff nothing.’ He grinned, showing his gold teeth.
Martha grabbed a handful of papers from her desk and hurried out. She let herself through the outer metal door of the two-stage airlock which blocked the passage and waited while the locking mechanism on the inner door interrogated her DNA tab and reassured itself that no-one else was present. Then, with a wheeze, the inner door opened. Ahead lay a corridor identical to that from which she had just come, but more decrepit.
The secure zone of the embassy was off-limits to everyone except US-based diplomatic staff, of whom Martha was at present the only example in the Republic of Uzbekistan. The carpet was dusted with flakes of paint from the walls and ceiling. The only cleaners and decorators permitted to work in the secure zone were US nationals. The embassy had employed none for years.
The communications centre, known as the Holo Hutch, was protected by a second security airlock and walls of solid steel. Martha entered, sat down at a small table, and logged in. Then she worked on her papers while the computer informed the secure communications community in government agencies across the US that the embassy in Tashkent was ready to holo. For a while, nothing happened.
The wait troubled Martha. The State Department bureaucrats who handled Uzbekistan out of Washington DC were Biotime-poor. They did everything in a hurry: working, eating, even sleeping. Surely they’d want to talk as soon as Martha was ready for them. Diplomats did not have the kind of cash you needed to stock up. So who was keeping her waiting?
Martha finished reading her papers and stared at the two metre by one metre holo void opposite her. She unwrapped a piece of gum and chewed it slowly. She wondered what Gulomovich was doing while she was in the Hutch.
At last the holo void lit up. She stared at it, expecting a high-definition three-dimensional image of her interlocutor to appear. But the space remained vacant. She checked the control panel and her eyes widened.
‘Hello?’ It felt foolish, speaking to an empty space. ‘This is Martha O’Leary at the US embassy in Tashkent. I’m here to take a DECOM holo.’
‘Hello, Martha.’ A man’s voice. Kindly. Old. ‘I apologise for contacting you in such an unconventional manner. I assume this connection is secure?’
[Excerpt ends][Next excerpt]
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.
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