Biotime Informal agent Jake Moonrath debates with his boss Devonte Ray, head of the Home Security Bureau of the Central Authority, how to respond to the killing of 10,290 people at the Hughes Procreation Center. Devonte tells Jake he’s on his own – only one other Informal agent is left alive. But when Jake arrives at the scene of the disaster he finds – nothing. Nothing whatsoever.
‘I can’t understand why he’s still President of the Central Authority. He hasn’t done a day’s work for two centuries.’
‘He is President, Jake, first, because he was a political appointee. Second, because there is no candidate to replace him. Third, and most important, during his time in office the Central Authority has thrived. Gone from strength to strength. A runaway success. He’s a figurehead. An icon. An institution.’
‘But why not put in someone with ideas?’
‘Never underestimate the desirability of doing nothing, Jake. Put in someone with ideas at the top, and anything can happen.’
Jake shook his head. ‘OK. So who’s my partner?’
‘No names,’ Dev said. ‘The agent will contact you.’ He looked to one side. ‘I must go.’
‘So it’s just me, and some jumped-up punk Informal. Dev, we need more back-up.’
‘No, Jake. No-one must know the Bureau are investigating. That we suspect this is a Biotime crime. Our only hope lies in secrecy. Stealth. A low profile. You are on your own, Jake. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.’ And with that, Devonte Ray vanished.
In the same instant, the navigation system announced that the Cheyenne had arrived at its destination.
Jake slumped forward. Devonte Ray had condemned him to death. How could he, a rookie Informal, defeat an crime ring – no, a veritable crime empire – which had murdered all his expert colleagues and ten thousand innocent people in a single morning?
Including Ed and Abigail.
Slowly, he raised his head. He must do what he could. He looked at his bracelet and pushed back his fringe. Michael Novak. He might have a window of a few hours before anyone could identify him. He was no longer the least experienced Informal. That distinction fell to whoever Dev Ray had promoted that morning. A desk jockey from headquarters. Some help. He stepped out of the car outside the Feeding Frenzy Milk Bar and surveyed the scene.
A deceptive air of calm lay over Santa Monica. So much so that the sea of emergency service vehicles gathered at the site entrance seemed to embody a fuss about… nothing whatsoever. Medics stood waiting beside empty red and white ambulances. Young plain-clothes officers wrote in notebooks. Someone with a pair of frying pans gestured towards a helicopter seeking a place to land. Jake joined the crowd of journalists and onlookers spilling out of the Feeding Frenzy and stared at the tumult. The futility of the exercise was clear. There could not possibly be anyone for the so-called rescue effort to rescue.
The razor-wire fence which had marked the boundary of the facility was still standing. The surrounding city sprawl had escaped unscathed. But the Hughes Procreation Center itself had utterly ceased to be. No trace remained of the classic Central Authority “accueillant” styling lines, whose supremely unexceptionable application of cottage architecture in a monumental context had played such an important role in easing the CA’s efforts to integrate very large structures into established urban settings from Anchorage to Atlanta. The fabric of the building, together with its human cargo, seemed somehow to have been liquidised into a pool of finely-textured syrup covering several blocks of prime Santa Monica real estate.
Jake stared at the smooth, flat surface. Were Ed, Abigail and ten thousand others somewhere in there? This wasn’t a Biotime crime. This was Biotime war. The thud of his heart felt so strong he half expected people to look in his direction. He exhaled to a count of twenty and took a deep breath. The best cure for loss was action.
On a traffic island by the entrance he saw a mobile office pod. Lifting cables still snaked from each corner. An outsized neon sign on the roof identified this as the RESCUE CENTER. Beyond a cordon, heavy equipment was pouring in by truck and helicopter: a forensic lab, an earth-mover, a pallet stacked with traffic cones. Beyond the stacks of equipment a media encampment had sprung up, broadcast vans topped with dishes. Holo crews stalked the scene, seeking subjects to interview.
Jake was pushing his way through the crowds of onlookers when his elbow collided with something unnaturally solid. He glanced back, rubbing his arm, and saw a blonde woman looking out over the glassy remains of Hughes. Jake stared. The woman was extraordinarily attractive. Her hair looked soft and natural; her pink lips carried a hint of vulnerability; her skin was so clear as to seem almost translucent. She had the huddled posture of someone overcome by anxiety: in other circumstances Jake might have been moved to comfort her. Yet his contact with her had hurt. He looked at his arm. Something about the woman was out of place. When he turned back, she was gone.
Two harassed traffic cops manned a gap in the crowd barrier. Jake marched up to them.
‘Where’s my wife?’ he said.
‘Have you lost someone in the gloop?’ A reporter with a microphone had materialised at Jake’s shoulder.
‘No admittance.’ The traffic cop was sweating.
‘My name’s Michael Novak. My wife and child are missing.’
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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