At the Hughes Procreation Center Athena, mysterious and inexplicably beautiful, prepares to commit an unspeakable crime. Inside, Abigail Zipper prepares to give birth, watched by her antsy husband, Ed. Abigail wishes Jake Moonrath could be there to keep Ed company. Meanwhile in Beverley Hills, Jake himself finds his efforts to reach Hughes in a hurry stymied by a medical officer watching a gladiator holo he’s set up on the roof of the cab.
It’s not looking good for Ed, Abigail and the new baby.
Across the road from the Hughes Procreation Center, the blonde woman in the Feeding Frenzy summoned an audio connection on her bracelet and began to talk. The communications link thus established was, by dint of superior processing power, twenty billion times more secure than anything the US government’s security agencies were capable of decrypting. But the organisation she worked for was not short of money; and what was left of the US government had just about given up trying.
‘I am ready,’ she said. ‘Time is 11.45.’
‘Good.’ A man’s voice. ‘Latest figures show over ten thousand inside.’
There was a silence.
‘Ten thousand about the minimum we need, actually,’ the woman said.
‘Yeah. Any problems?’
‘No problems. But we cannot be sure if both Informals – Moonrath and Zipper – are here.’
‘Right. So wait until 12.15, then go ahead.’
The woman rang off. Then she paid four dollars 66 cents precisely for her medlar and loganberry high-energy yoghurt beverage, and went outside to watch.
Abigail Zipper looked up into the face of Senior Obstetrician Alan Beasdale 110. Since he’d started her contractions she couldn’t see properly. Her eyes were stinging with sweat and it was hard to talk to a man whose face was covered by a mask. All she could see was bright blue eyes and a fringe of dark hair so thick it looked unnatural.
‘Abigail my dear! Be calm!’ Beasdale 110 gestured at a display showing Abigail’s vital signs. ‘Birth is in twenty minutes. Everything is fine. So why is your pulse on a roller-coaster?’
‘It’s not me.’ Abigail’s mouth seemed unable to form the words. ‘I’m worried about my husband. His friend Jake is late. I need him here to keep Ed calm.’
‘I’m afraid we can’t delay the birth.’
‘Sure.’ Ed was still gazing out of the window. ‘Don’t worry about me.’ His fists were clenched.
The obstetrician pursed his lips. ‘Who is this fellow Jake?’
‘He’s a friend. A brilliant young Biotime enforcement agent,’ Ed said. ‘He’s repossessing a stolen lifetime.’
‘That’s important work. But a delay wouldn’t be good for your baby.’ Beasdale 110 peered at Abigail. ‘Birthing is in progress.’
‘Bad for my baby?’ Abigail turned to Ed. ‘I’m sorry, my darling. We can’t do it.’
‘Also,’ the doctor said, I have another delivery at 12.30.’ When he raised his eyebrows Kate saw the skin around his eyes was perfectly smooth. ‘I can’t start juggling expectant mums.’
‘No. Of course.’ Abigail groaned. ‘Thank you, doctor.’
‘No problem.’ Beasdale nodded as a nurse entered the room. ‘In a few minutes, you’ll have a wonderful baby boy. He’ll have a whole lifetime to meet your friend Jake.’
Jake ran out of 137 South Clark to find a mobile contribution unit waiting in the street. Hurry. The medical officer, a corpulent man in an off-white apron, was watching a gladiator holo he’d set up on the roof of the cab.
‘Take receipt of ‘Time-expired Jennifer, disabled felon bound for Anaheim Contribution Facility?’ Jake said.
‘What about Ardizzione?’ The medic watched as a miniature bear charged out from behind the hazard light and ripped the intestines from a handsome, sweat-streaked gladiator.
‘Suicide. Big mess.’
‘CA won’t like that.’ The medic relaxed as a second gladiator, in a studded leather G-string, strode forward and transfixed the bear with a javelin. ‘Care to check the berths?’
‘What’s the rush?’ On the cab roof two lions were emerging from a gate. ‘Good-looking bunch of kids today. Mostly for the Holiday.’
‘My friend’s wife’s having a baby. In Santa Monica. He needs me there.’ And I need to talk to Ed about what the hell’s going on.
‘At Hughes? You can be there in twenty minutes.’
‘But there’s something I have to do first.’
‘What’s that?’ The two lions were engaging with a Christian.
‘I have to check the house for evidence.’
‘The recovery team will be here soon. Leave it to them.’
‘I can’t. This is special evidence.’
‘Sure. Special evidence. So that means you’re late for your friend?’
‘Get the stiff, will you? Hurry.’
‘Hey. Take it easy.’ The medic shut down the holo and slouched towards the house. ‘Want to speed things up? Open the back.’
Jake threw open the contribution bay and peered inside. Big day in Beverly Hills: nearly every slot was filled with the body of a dormant teenager. As the medic had said, most would be on their way to three years’ qualifying contribution at the nearest Central Authority facility. Others would have completed a spell inside, heading home to happy families and wild coming of age parties. Jake shook his head. Rich kids. They didn’t know what sacrifice was.
The medic, moving with infuriating slowness, carried the body of ‘Time-expired Jennifer out of the house. Then he laid her on an empty berth in the contribution bay and tapped her for Biotime. Jake watched in an agony of impatience. At last the truck pulled away down the street. If he left now, Jake could reach Ed and Abigail at Santa Monica only a few minutes late. But Franco had made that impossible.
Jake had no option but to re-enter the house. If the Central Authority recovery team were to find what Jake believed was concealed inside, news would leak immediately. That would spook Biotime users across the United States.
The front door gaped open. Would Ed ever forgive him for showing up late? As a friend, Ed would be gutted. But as a fellow Informal, he’d understand what Jake had to do now.
Franco Ardizzione’s body lay motionless beside the bed. It took Jake seconds to transmit the contents of Franco’s bracelet to the Home Security Bureau.
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.