Jake Moonrath, having adopted the identity of Michael Novak – a man killed in the destruction of the Hughes Procreation Center in Santa Monica – visits the rescue pod to try and find what has happened. Could the atrocity be linked to the fact that the killing of 10,290 mothers, infants medical staff and visitors has sent Biotime prices in the US rocketing? Since everyone in the US owns Biotime – in the form of their own lives – everyone just got richer. But who benefits the most?
Jake has an idea. Now it’s time to strike back.
‘My name’s Michael Novak. My wife and child are missing.’ Jake tapped his bracelet. ‘I’m grieving. I’m angry. And I’m coming in.’ A dozen holo crews were crowding around. Jake stepped forward. The cop hesitated, and Jake was inside. When the news teams made to follow, one of the traffic police unholstered a Big Fright, and everyone froze.
Except Jake. ‘You can’t disable me,’ he said. ‘I’m bereaved.’ He entered the rescue center before the cop had a chance to consider this further.
The interior of the pod was crammed with emergency personnel, communications equipment and holo images. Jake saw a huddle of men in one corner in what looked like army uniforms. Everyone seemed to be shouting.
‘Mr Novak!’ A man with a bushy moustache was approaching, wearing a bright yellow firefighter’s helmet emblazoned with the words John McNeill Chief Rescuer. ‘You’re alive! This is great news.’ He grasped Jake’s hand in a two-handed grasp and shook it vigorously. ‘You just doubled our survival ratio.’
Jake reached out for the man’s shoulder. ‘There’s another survivor? Who?’
‘I’m so sorry.’ McNeill’s moustache followed the corners of his mouth down. ‘There is no trace of any of your family. I know how hard this must be for you.’
‘Who is it? Who’s the other survivor?’
‘Hey, take it easy.’ McNeill reached up to break Jake’s grip on his shoulder. ‘It’s a medic. His name is Dr Alan Beasdale 110. He’s right here.’
Slowly, Jake turned. At the rear of the room, a young dark-haired man in a white coat sat muttering to himself. He looked oddly familiar.
McNeill nodded at the medic. ‘He’s a little confused.’
‘Whoosh,’ Beasdale said.
‘I need to talk to you,’ Jake said. The doctor did not move.
‘Press release.’ McNeill was talking to his bracelet. ‘Second survivor rescued. Name: Michael Novak. New hope for missing. Rescue efforts continue. Ends.’ He turned to Jake. ‘How did you escape?’
‘What’s wrong with him?’ Jake stared at Beasdale.
‘Alcohol trip,’ McNeill said. ‘Saw the place melt down.’ He looked at Jake’s bracelet. ‘Your blood pressure is high. You need medication.’
Jake walked to the window. What would Michael Novak have done now? Outside, two men in fluorescent jackets were prodding the surface of the site with the kind of net-on-a-pole used for cleaning swimming pools. The one with the net was skinny and tall. This made the other, who was tending to fat, seem absurdly short. The way the net was bouncing off the ground suggested that the substance had set solid.
Jake turned back to McNeill. ‘Tell me what happened.’
‘We don’t know,’ the Chief Rescuer said. ‘The Hughes Center had a fire drill every ten years. But they never planned for this.’
‘Whoosh,’ Beasdale said.
‘What’s that… goo?’ Jake said.
‘Lab boys say it’s a blend of everything that was on the site at 12.17,’ McNeill said. ‘Bricks, foundations, traces of surgical steel from the instruments, insects flying by…’
McNeill nodded. ‘Unless they happened to leave the facility at 12.16.’
‘Whoosh,’ Beasdale said.
‘What is your problem?‘ Jake realised he was shouting at the medic.
At last Beasdale turned and looked up at Jake with a half-smile. ‘Alan 110. Hi. You were outside too, huh? Astute move, as it turns out.’ The doctor shook his head. ‘Like me. I had a delivery at twelve, then I was due to meet a friend in the Frenzy for coffee – ‘
‘You had a delivery at noon?’ Jake interrupted. ‘Who?’
Beasdale frowned. ‘A woman. Abigail Zipper. She wanted to birth later. But I needed a shot of caffeine.’
Jake swallowed. He was Michael Novak now. Ed and Abigail were gone. It was up to him to find their killers.
‘But…’ Jake paused. ‘What did you see after you left the building?’
Beasdale’s face was vacant. ‘I’m walking out the front gate,’ he said, ‘when when there’s this smooth whoosh, right behind me, hardly a bang at all, and this rush of real hot air, like a desert breeze in Kingman.’
‘Kingman,’ Jake said. What kind of explosive made no noise?
‘It was hot, man. I was gone, at first I didn’t even turn round, I stood there looking straight in front of me, trying to work out inside my head what’s happening. Then slowly, I turn round and there it is: nada. A whole 40-storey building has melted into a kind of peanut butter. One ex-procreation facility. I had to get a drink. Alcohol. You know why?’
‘Why?’ Jake leaned closer.
‘Because my first thought was, great! It’s my lucky day! I’m stocked up, good!’
‘You’re stocked up?’
‘I feel so embarrassed. I’m sorry for everyone who died. For their families. I’m sorry for you, Mr Novak. But that’s what I thought. I have quite a stash of ‘Time, of course. Hell, I’m in procreation. I’m one hundred and ten years old. Supplies get tight, I get richer. I just made millions of dollars. Because of this.’ Beasdale gestured around.
‘Supplies get tight?’ Jake shook his head. ‘Why does that make you richer?’
Beasdale looked at him. ‘Biotime prices. Don’t you get it? Wipe out ten thousand people – especially infants – and all the Biotime they’d have produced in their lives is destroyed for ever. Removed from the market. Do the math. Haven’t you seen what’s happening in New York City?’
‘I have a couple grams.’ McNeill’s face wore an awkward smile. His fingers were on his bracelet. ‘Hold on.’
A holo appeared on the table, bearing the rubric Biotime Investment Channel 33. A man in a brightly coloured jacket was shouting into a microphone in a room full of data holos.
‘…it’s finger-burnin’ good, a wild market day here in New York, with institutional investors piling in to safeguard supplies and Biotime spot prices soaring from 2,994k dollars a gram at the time the Santa Monica mudpie effect kicked in, to 3,885 now, and rising.’ The man’s eyes were almost popping from his head. ‘The Central Authority Reserve Price has hit two new all-time highs in the past half-hour, up 140 thousand dollars a gram to 3,600 dollars, then again a few seconds ago to 3,800. The first time the CARP has breached the psychologically-important 3.5 million dollar a gram mark, and it’s smashed it to pieces!’
‘No kidding.’ McNeill extinguished the holo. ”Time’s up 800K a gram.’ He scratched his head. ‘I guess everyone in the US just got richer.’
‘People died, and you’re talking about Biotime prices?’ Instinctively, Jake’s hand went for his Big Fright, but he had left it in the Cheyenne. He reached for a chair to steady himself.
Now he had a motive. This was a Biotime crime, all right. Who gained if what had happened at Hughes made Biotime prices rise? McNeill was right. Anyone who had ‘Time, or a few years’ life expectancy, was better off. Practically everyone in the United States.
That made roughly four hundred million suspects.
But some people had more Biotime than others. More motive.
That could narrow the field.
Rose had said ‘Time prices were falling. Now the dealer on the Biotime Investment channel said they were soaring.
It was plain where he needed to start his investigation. But first, he had to do something which whoever was trying to kill him would never expect. He must strike first.
He reached out to Beasdale. ‘Alan 110, can you come with me, please? You’ve helped me a lot. But there is one more thing.’
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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