Jake Moonrath learns of the destruction of the Hughes Procreation Center and its 10,290 born and unborn occupants. He discusses with his boss, Devonte Ray, whether the terrorist organisation The One Life Army (slogan: Extreme suffering justifies extreme measures) could be responsible. Jake also learns that he is the only Informal agent of the Home Security Bureau who is still alive. And whoever destroyed Hughes is out to kill Jake, too.
Dev Ray – a man legendary for having known Roland Nelson personally – is one of my favourite characters in Biotime: “After centuries as a bureaucrat, Dev had a tendency not only to speak extremely slowly, but to say everything in triplicate.”
In response to popular demand, and as Easter is coming, this droplet of Biotime is longer than previous episodes. Enjoy!
‘My first impression? Like a gigantic dried-up clam and tomato dip, spiced with Tabasco.’
Schlaraffenland Broadcast News reporter Dusty Oldman describing the remains of the Hughes Procreation Center
‘Speak to me, Jake. Speak.’
Jake raised his head. Devonte Ray, head of the Home Security Bureau, appeared to be sitting on the black plastic of the Cheyenne’s rear seat. His short, tightly-curled hair was pure white. His lips were chapped. A line of sun-block ran down the centre of his nose. He looked way older than his 65 biological, Jake thought. If Dev Ray hadn’t known the great Roland Nelson personally, you’d have thought he was a One Lifer.
‘You know?’ It was all Jake could manage.
‘Yes. I know.’
There was a silence.
At last Jake spoke. ‘Is Ed really dead?’
‘Everyone on-site.’ When Devonte Ray frowned, the wrinkles which crowded his face collapsed into one another. ‘Each person. Without exception.’
‘We do not yet know.’
Jake leaned forward. ‘I’m on my way to Santa Monica now. But you’re not calling about Ed and Abigail, are you, Dev?’
‘Are you OK, Jake?’
‘There’s only one way I’ll get any better.’ Saying it, Jake felt stronger.
‘I know how hard this must be for you.’
‘This is a job for the Home Security Bureau. I feel it. This isn’t the One Life Army. This is a Biotime crime.’
The white-capped head tipped forward. ‘You are reminding me why you are our most promising Informal, Jake. A number one sleuth. An ace Biotime nose. Tell me why you think this is a Biotime crime.’
‘You know the OLA’s slogan?’
‘Extreme suffering justifies extreme measures. Are you telling me Hughes is not extreme?’
‘It’s extreme. But remember the history. The OLA have that slogan because they were founded after the massacre at Pax. The OLA pledged to stop it happening again. They can’t have killed thousands of people at Santa Monica.’
‘So who was it?’
Jake rubbed his eyes. If you see anything strange, let me know. Again he had a sense of the ground beneath his feet shifting. Rose was a One Lifer. She’d said the world was on the brink of a cataclysm. Could she have known this was about to happen? Could she even know something about the One Life Army? He put his hand on his bracelet, which was blazing red, and looked at Dev. ‘Does the Bureau have any leads?’
‘Hughes is inexplicable.’ Devonte Ray peered back at Jake through thick, glass spectacles. ‘To take one life is a terminable offence. To take ten thousand lives is beyond crime. Beyond reason. Out of order.’ After centuries as a bureaucrat, Dev had a tendency not only to speak extremely slowly, but to say everything in triplicate. He was also the only centenarian Jake had ever heard of who did not use his age tag.
‘Who’s on the case?’
‘Just you and me, Jake. We are the HSB.’
‘The purpose of the Home Security Bureau is to fight illegal Biotime. Black Biotime. ‘Time produced without the permission of the Central Authority. Such Biotime does not, so far as the general public is aware, exist.’
‘What do you mean, we are the HSB?’
‘Calm down, Jake. Steady. Take it easy.’ Jake’s boss removed his glasses and polished them on his ancient jumper, rumoured to have been hand-knitted for him by a deceased One Lifer lover. There was a clump of melting snow on his shoulder.
‘I’m as calm as I can be.’ Jake clenched his teeth.
‘You are aware of the upsurge in small-scale seizures of Black Biotime in recent months. This has been absorbing more and more HSB resources.’
‘How can you and me be the Home Security Bureau? There’s just one Informal bracelet out of use, right? That means eleven officers.’
Dev ignored him. ‘One of the mysteries surrounding these seizures has been the quality of the infrastructure associated with them. I’m talking about the absence of forensic traces on evidence. High-grade communications equipment. Advanced – ‘
‘I found some Black ‘Time today,’ Jake interrupted. ‘It was stored in a fake beer bottle. Beautiful thing.’ He hauled the container from his pocket. ‘I’ll send it to Aspen.’
‘From the house of Franco Ardizzione?’ Devonte Ray said. ‘A case in point. His tab data showed no connection between Ardizzione and any known producers or consumers of Black Biotime. No leads whatsoever. The trail goes dead. It is as if we are up against a criminal organisation with resources greater than our own. Yet the quantities of Black Biotime we have seized are tiny. It’s a discrepancy, Jake. A mismatch. A dissonance.’ Dev paused. ‘And don’t send the ‘Time here, Jake. Have nothing to do with us. Cut yourself off. Operate independently.’
‘What do you want me to do with it?’ Jake stared at the bottle. ‘It’s still $350,000 of ‘Time.’
‘Jake.’ Dev’s voice rose. ‘Ten thousand people died today. Ten cents of ‘Time don’t matter any more. Drop it. Dump it. Ditch it. You’re the only one who can avenge these people, Jake. Who can solve the crime. Start with this Franco character.’
‘Ditch it? It’s evidence, Dev. It belongs to the Central Authority.’
‘So take it with you. I don’t care.’ Dev’s voice rose further. ‘Tell me about Franco Ardizzione.’
‘OK, OK.’ Jake stuffed the bottle back in his pocket. ‘Franco was waiting for me at the house.’ Jake thought of the delay at Culver city. Had it saved his life? ‘He was meant to kill me. And he knew something was happening at Hughes.’
‘You survived, Jake. Until this morning, you were the Bureau’s least experienced Informal.’ Dev smiled grimly. ‘I guess Franco wasn’t their top man.’
‘Until this morning?’
Devonte Ray’s gravel voice sank another notch. ‘That’s the biggest mismatch of all, Jake. Our senior Informals have been following up leads on Black Biotime across the US for the past two months. This morning, in the space of four hours, nine of them were murdered. Plus Ed Zipper at Hughes, where you should have been also. You’re my last extant agent, Jake. The Bureau’s only asset. The sole survivor.’
Jake blinked at the holo image of his boss. ‘I’m on my own?’
‘If you don’t want the job – ‘
‘I want to terminate them, Dev. Whoever killed Ed and Abigail and all those people. And – ‘ Jake felt the jolt of a connection made. ‘Ten Informals killed the same day as Hughes.’
‘They executed your colleagues to prevent us striking back.’ Devonte Ray brushed the melting snow from his shoulder. ‘There must be a link. But what is the motive? Who would gain by killing ten thousand innocent people?’
Jake felt a chill. ‘They must know I’m still alive. I broadcast Franco’s death.’
‘They will know. Have you changed ID?’
‘Do it now.’
‘I never changed ID before.’
‘You have been fitted with an Informal bracelet for three months and you never changed ID? What do you think it is for, Jake?’
‘Up to now, no-one ever tried to kill me.’ Jake stared at his bracelet. When Devonte Ray had fitted him with the antique band of electronic circuitry at the Home Security Bureau HQ in Aspen three months earlier, identical in appearance to a standard bracelet, it had felt like the key to the candy store. Now it seemed like a death sentence clamped to his wrist.
‘Unless you change ID, the people who did this will find you within an hour.’ Devonte Ray touched his bracelet. ‘I’m calling Suzy Stew in the Identity Laundering Division now.’ For a moment the display froze. Then he was back. ‘There. It’s done. You are now a local government official from Orange County who entered Hughes at 10.30 this morning to visit his wife. Only a handful of people inside the Central Authority know he never left the building. But change again as soon as you can. Whoever killed our agents must have someone inside the CA. An infiltrator. A mole.’
‘OK.’ Jake glanced at his bracelet. Michael Novak, the display read. ‘But if they have access to the Federal Unitary Control Computer, they can track me whatever ID I take on.’
‘Change often,’ Devonte Ray said. ‘Stay away from the cops. Forget Jake Moonrath. Report only to me.’
‘I’ll need money.’
‘I am setting up a special account for you and your partner. You need all the help you can get, Jake.’
‘My partner? You said they were all dead.’
‘I promoted another Enforcement Agent to Informal this morning. Someone from a desk job here in Aspen. Someone I know I can trust.’
‘He’s even less experienced than me? Why not promote a few more?’
Devonte Ray shook his head. ‘We have no more bracelets.’
‘Only two are left?’
‘The number of Informal bracelets was kept to twelve when the HSB was set up after Pax Vobiscum. It was for tax reasons. The IRS wanted law enforcement officers to have ID tabs and tax codes like anyone else. I supported the restriction. I believed if we created too many, the existence of Informals would become public knowledge.’ Dev sighed. ‘The US no longer has the technology to manufacture new bracelets.’
‘Can’t you ask Thomas 469 for help?’
‘Devonte Ray smiled thinly. ‘Don’t be absurd.’
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.