Here is the twenty-second droplet of my novel Biotime. We begin to have some inkling of what the man in the boat has planned for Sue Phu’s baby boy.
Don’t forget the “story so far” page, bringing together the excerpts published up to now.
The man in the boat’s real name was Doctor Boris Suleikin. He was an American citizen, although he had not visited the United States for over a century. He closed the door behind him as the boat drew away from Sue Phu’s house. Then he swung the crate containing her baby onto a metal trellis in the centre of the spacious cabin and snapped it into place. With practiced ease, he folded down the metal sides to make a crude table and stretched a rubber strap across the baby’s midriff to prevent it falling to the floor if the boat hit a patch of rough water. The child took a deep breath and began to scream.
Suleikin cursed and looked around the cabin. ‘Patel?’ he shouted. ‘Where are you?’
‘I am caring for the cargo, actually.’ A white-bearded man, wearing a turban and smoking a fat cigar, appeared from a staircase leading into a dimly-lit space below.
‘Move it. We need to chip and tap, fast.’
‘What is the hurry?’ Patel puffed on his cigar. ‘The way prices are going south, you may as well throw the little fellow overboard.’
‘Prices? What prices?’
‘A gram of Biotime has dipped below three million dollars on the futures markets. I do not see that a minute more or less before we chip and tap will matter either way.’
‘Three million bucks a year is still six dollars a minute.’ Suleikin picked up a vacuum-packed kit of tubes and needles. ‘Three hundred and sixty bucks an hour. Even in New York, that’s a meal out with your girlfriend. Four courses. And French wine.’ He washed his hands in a grimy sink, broke open the packaging and addressed the infant. ‘Take it easy, kid.’ He began attaching the colour-coded tubes to an array of apertures in the base of the crate. ‘You’ll feel better with some nutrients and a shot of Flurazepam.’ He pulled free two needles and gripped the baby’s arm. ‘Patel. I need you here.’
‘Relax.’ Patel rinsed his hands. ‘Personally, I think it is kinder to wait until he is unconscious before chipping him.’
Both men looked down at the baby, which was yelling lustily.
‘Sure,’ Suleikin said. ‘The important thing is to tap him right away.’
‘In order to ensure that supply outstrips demand still further.’ Patel chomped on his cigar.
Suleikin looked up at Patel. ‘Hold his arm, will you? He inserted the first needle and depressed the plunger. The infant stopped screaming for a moment, then resumed at twice the volume. ‘There’ll always be demand for Biotime.’ He slipped a second feed into the baby’s arm, and reached for a third. ‘It’s human nature.’
‘Even a Yale man must have heard of supply and demand.’ Patel, who had studied medicine at Harvard, was breaking out a thick, shrink-wrapped syringe. ‘The size of the world economy shrank in each of the last two years. Less money means less demand. Even a child knows it.’
On the metal table, the baby’s sobs were dying away as the sedative took effect. Suleikin heard the throb of the boat’s engines. He reached down and closed the infant’s eyes with his thumb. ‘I guess we’re ready.’
‘You go first.’
By now, the baby’s arm was thick with needles, each connected to a different tube and strapped into place with surgical tape. Suleikin took a cannula and eased it into a vein on the inside of the elbow. The infant did not stir. ‘Biotime is tapped at 15.43 and sixteen seconds,’ the blond doctor said. ‘Ready to ID?’
‘I am ready.’ Patel prepared the big syringe. ‘It is fortunate that this is not a US neonatal unit.’ He rubbed the small of his back. ‘The only thing harder than removing an ID chip from the spine is implanting it there in the first place. Fortunately for this fellow, any major muscle mass will do for us.’ He rolled the baby onto its side, jabbed the fat needle into its buttock and injected the contents. Finally, he passed a scanner over the child. The screen lit up with a stream of figures.
‘The boy now has an identity.’ Patel took a felt-tipped pen from his pocket and wrote three letters on the baby’s arm. ‘But to give him dignity, I name him Tho. It means longevity.’
Suleikin scowled. ‘You think that gives him dignity, writing a name on his arm? What’s wrong with Chip?’
‘I should have thought even you would tire of that joke.’ Patel picked up the crate. ‘I shall put little Tho in the fore cabin.’
The sides of the next room were fitted with a framework of metal supports. All were occupied except for a single space half-way up the stack. Patel eased the crate into the gap and pressed it downwards. He jiggled it to and fro. ‘There is no bloody contact,’ he said. ‘Ah, there we are.’
There was a click, and a green lamp blinked into life on the side of the crate. Patel beamed at Suleikin. ‘Hiep Phuoc, here we come.’
Suleikin turned off the overhead light. In the gloom, dozens of green lamps glowed from crates stacked on both sides of the cabin, rocking gently as the boat moved through the water. ‘Looks like we’re done.’
‘Good,’ Patel said. ‘Now, how about a beer?’
[Excerpt ends][Excerpt 23]
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.