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Biotime 30: “There are no survivors”

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Here is the thirtieth droplet of my dystopic sci-fi novel Biotime.  If you’ve missed the rest, read the story so far here.

Jake searches Franco Ardizzione’s house; finds evidence of a Biotime crime; then sets off to meet his best friend Ed Zipper before Ed’s wife Abigail can give birth at the Hughes Procreation Center.  Before he can reach Santa Monica, a news flash interrupts all programming:

In a corner of the holo, Jake saw the anchor shaking her head. Her image disappeared for a few long seconds. When it reappeared, her cheeks and nose were red.

‘This is an announcement from the Central Authority.’ She paused, and took a deep breath.

Biotime Cover

Biotime.  The future, today.  Excerpt 30

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. The experts in Aspen would analyse every detail of the dead man’s credit, purchase and employment records, travel, communications and health. If they wanted, they could access his pulse, blood pressure and drug consumption record since the day was born. Soon they would know Franco better than the little man had ever known himself.

But Jake hadn’t come for Franco’s bracelet.

He checked the bedroom and the holo chamber, where he was distracted to find girl triplets from a romance weepy, undisturbed by the past hour’s events, still plotting their revenge on the cad who’d jilted all three of them. The hygiene area offered little scope for hiding anything; but the kitchen was a favourite place, packed with bulky electrical appliances. An inspection of an antique food processor revealed nothing untoward. The circuitry of the US-manufactured Dial-Eze ordering terminal seemed no messier than usual, and the home laundry center had obviously not been shifted since the house was built.

Jake stood in the centre of the kitchen. It was mid-day. The CA recovery team would be here any moment. “I got ‘Time,” Franco had said. Where did he keep it?

Jake opened the fridge. It contained, in addition to a half-eaten pack of European Company cheese spread, a tube of après-sun lotion and one beer: a Chinese brand. Jake peered at the bottle. He never drank beer himself. Many brands contained alcohol. That stuff aged you fast. But the bottle was interesting. He looked around the discoloured plastic of the fridge interior for any kind of alarm system. Nothing. Then, holding his breath, he reached out, ran his fingers gently down the glass and eased the base of the bottle off the shelf. Inside, he could see liquid moving. But the bottle was too light to be full of beer. Eureka.

In his hand, tilted, the top half of the bottle swung smoothly aside, an exquisite gravity-powered lo-tech design. It had to be Chinese: nothing so elegant had been made in the US for years. Within, nestling in a honeycomb of black insulation like so many chicks in a nest, were ten glass phials: centigrams worth about $30,000 apiece at market rates. Each contained enough Biotime to supply one lucky individual for 3.65 days. Jake’s fingers trembled as he withdrew one from its sheath and held it up to the light. The glass was clear. No manufacturer’s ID and date stamp as required by US law. And no CA logo – the coat of arms purchased from the British royal family centuries ago in return for the “eternal supply” of Biotime which the royals, now resident in Hawaii, were said still to be enjoying.

Standing alone by the refrigerator, Jake punched the air. Maybe this would help make up for Franco’s death. The last time he’d seen Black Biotime had been in the Rave case, two years before. The stuff was incredibly rare. That was hardly surprising, when possession was a terminable offence.

The fake beer bottle was just the job for getting your stash home discreetly. All the phials were full. What was the market price for Black Biotime? And where had it come from? All Biotime was identical. But once Jake shipped it to the Home Security Bureau HQ, the analysts in Aspen might be able to pin down the origin of the sample from traces of dust or pollen in the foam, or impurities in the fake beer in the neck of the bottle. He slipped the container into his pocket and sprinted out of the house. Next stop, Santa Monica.

Jake directed the Cheyenne to the Hughes Procreation Center. It was 12.15. He’d be less than half an hour late. As the car moved off, a convoy of CA recovery vehicles pulled up at the house. Another hour, and 137 South Clark would have been stripped bare, every surface dusted and recorded, a thousand artefacts prepared for evidence or resale when the house and contents were auctioned off. Jake smiled. It all helped meet the cost of crime prevention.

Would Ed take a holo from him now? Jake swivelled round to the darkened rear of the Cheyenne’s interior. But the unit had defaulted back to the Crime Channel.

On the back seat, ‘Time-expired Jennifer stood naked by the bed.

‘The Central Authority should outlaw the practice of Termination Contracts at once, she said. There was a flicker. ‘The Central Authority should outlaw the practice of Termination Contracts at once.’

The anchor’s face was grave. ‘An assault from a sentenced Biotime criminal on one of the central planks of the CA Constitution,she said. ‘Fritz?’

‘Well, Amber, Termination Contracts have been controversial since Breughel vs Jones.’ A man appeared, hovering above the words “Dr Fritz Kroene. Biotime Market Analyst”. His grey hair was interrupted by shiny bald spots above each ear. ‘It’s all very well allowing Biotime traders to buy someone’s remaining life from a fixed date in the future in exchange for a lump-sum cash payment for the donor to enjoy right away, but – ‘

‘Hold it.’ The anchor spoke over him. ‘We have reports coming in… a breaking news story.’

The holo split: Kroene vanished, the anchor moved to one side, and the rest of the rear seat was filled with pictures taken from a helicopter. Ambulances. Sea-front. Some kind of natural disaster. The scene switched to ground level: fluorescent jackets, churned-up mud, photogenic witnesses.

Jake searched for points of reference. The hubbub noise soundtrack was standard: sirens, pompous men barking futile orders, a snatch of inappropriate music from somewhere off-cam. The only thing missing from the recipe was the leavening of stoic survivors. Where was this? Beyond some palm trees, the ocean sparkled. Like Santa Monica without the Hughes Center.

Jake’s stared.

Santa Monica. The Feeding Frenzy Milk Bar had its door wide open, music blaring forth. What had happened? Where was the Hughes Center? Where were Ed and Abigail?

In a corner of the holo, Jake saw the anchor shaking her head. Her image disappeared for a few long seconds. When it reappeared, her cheeks and nose were red.

‘This is an announcement from the Central Authority.’ She paused, and took a deep breath.

‘At 12.15 Pacific Standard Time, an event took place at the Hughes Procreation Center in Santa Monica, California. It is not yet clear whether this was an accident, or a One Life Army atrocity; but the Center appears to have suffered catastrophic damage.’ The announcer swallowed. ‘According to DNA tab data, there were ten thousand, two hundred and ninety people in the Hughes Center at the time of the event, not including pre-natal or unchipped infants. Initial indications are that there are no survivors.’

[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.

If you’d like to read some complete fiction by me, see what you think of my “wonderful, feminist and dark” Hotel Stories.  

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