Doctor Suleikin – the man in the boat – and his accomplice Dr Patel check a cargo at Hiep Phuoc Port Industrial Park. ‘It turns out the case for throwing production units overboard is very weak, actually,’ Patel says. ‘Since our last round in the Mekong Delta, prices are up twenty five percent. It seems that there will, indeed, always be a demand for Biotime.’
Doctor Boris Suleikin stood up as the blood-red sun sank behind the dilapidated warehouses of the Hiep Phuoc Port Industrial Park.
‘We need to start loading. Think it’s dark enough yet?’
‘No.’ Dr Patel was watching the New York Biotime markets. ‘We must wait for nightfall.’
‘The amount we pay these people, they’d see nothing if we loaded the ship in broad daylight.’
‘It is not the local authorities we need to worry about. It is the Americans. They still have a few functioning satellites.’
‘I still can’t see why Pandang want us to ship tonight, with only half a load.’
‘It is to do with prices.’ Patel looked up from the holo. ‘Have you seen what is happening in New York?’
‘Don’t tell me. You see an investment opportunity.’
‘I was simply going to point out that you were right, and I was wrong.’ Patel smiled. ‘It turns out the case for throwing production units overboard is very weak, actually. Since our last round in the Mekong Delta, prices are up twenty five percent. It seems that there will, indeed, always be a demand for Biotime.’
Suleikin shrugged. ‘Going back early suits me. They’ll have fresh access products for us to test-drive.’
‘Access products.’ Patel smoothed his moustache with a wetted finger. ‘That is one area where I defer to your expertise. Meanwhile, pending the darkness, perhaps we might check that the containers are ready for loading.’
A strip of rainwashed concrete separated the office from the wharf. The ship tied up nearby was so rust-streaked and filthy that it seemed at first sight to be derelict. Only a thin plume of smoke from the battered funnel suggested otherwise. A single gantry crane stooped over the empty cargo bays. A man in a peaked cap sat in the cabin of the crane pouring tea from a flask.
Suleikin jerked a thumb at the ship. ‘Now, that’s what I call a thing of beauty. Double hull, four new auxiliary engines, upgraded cam shaft.’
‘Come inside.’ Patel opened a heavy, insulated door in the side of a warehouse.
‘The new containers are cute, too. Self-contained for up to forty days.’
‘The point is not the containers, Boris, or the ship. The point is the cargo.’ Patel stepped inside.
The air in the warehouse was cool and fresh after the humidity of the night. Two dozen battered cargo containers stood on a floor patterned with the tyre tracks of a straddle carrier which stood at one end of the line, a steel unit already locked in place beneath it. Each container was painted with the logo of a different shipping company. All were sealed except for one, a little apart from the rest, whose doors stood open. Patel and Suleikin approached it.
‘First time we ever shipped a half-empty container,’ Suleikin said.
‘You check the left side. I’ll do the right.’
The two men pushed through the sheet of plastic which hung over the end of the container. Inside, the air was warm. The standard 2.44 metre width of the container provided space for a narrow aisle between a mass of machinery whose sophistication belied the weathered exterior. The sides of the aisle were studded with metal plates and handles, like the drawers of an immense filing cabinet. From half-way along, a green light glowed beside each handle. Patel walked quickly down the centre of the space, looking up and down the rows on the right-hand side.
‘This all seems to be in order. We might even have time to…’ His voice trailed off. He consulted his bracelet, then pulled on a handle at knee-level. A drawer slid open. ‘Ah, yes. Little Tho.’ He reached inside. ‘All ship-shape, I think.’
Suleikin turned. ‘You should wipe the marker off his arm before we seal the doors.’
‘Nonsense. A proper name will help him build identity at Pandang.’
‘Have you seen the contribution rooms there lately?’
‘Hm.’ Patel looked down. ‘Perhaps you are right.’ He reached into his pocket and broke open a wet-wipe. Then he reached into the drawer, where Sue Phu’s baby boy lay motionless amidst a confusion of tubing. Carefully, the doctor raised the tiny arm and wiped away the three letters he had written there. He took a final look at the child, and pushed the drawer closed. ‘All lights burning your side?’ he said.
‘Well, then.’ Patel pushed back through the plastic sheet. He extinguished the overhead light in the container and slid home the bolts which secured the steel doors. Finally, he entered a code on his bracelet. There was a clunk as an electronic locking mechanism deployed. For a moment, Patel watched the display on his bracelet. He turned to Suleikin.
‘You bet.’ Suleikin raised a thumb towards the straddle-carrier. There was a roar of engines and the massive vehicle trundled forwards. Simultaneously, a loading door at one end of the warehouse began to roll upwards, revealing the inky blackness of the tropical night.
‘So,’ Patel said. ‘Darkness has, indeed, fallen.’
[Excerpt ends][Next excerpt]
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