In episode 40, Jake enters the ancient and intimidating Central Authority Buildings in Harlem, where mass production of Biotime was introduced in the US hundreds of years earlier. Assuming a false identity, he meets 480 year-old Dr Cleo Czernin, the CA’s top Biotime economist, to see if she can help him identify a motive for the murder of 10,290 people at the Hughes Procreation Facility in Santa Monica…
‘Harlem’s cocktail of indolence and frenzy owes much to the presence of the Central Authority Buildings. Several factors led the Authority to locate here its first foray into large-scale Biotime manufacture. Most important were the low Absolute Wealth Levels, immortalised in the famous Harlem refrain, “What we got? We got fuck AWL”.’
Kool’s New York – Zenon Kool, Schlaraffenland Press (out of print)
When Jake entered the Central Authority Buildings, the audible warning that he was now inside a shielded facility was followed by a stream of New York State legal disclaimers. These notified him that any harm which might arise from his bracelet being unable to communicate with external medical monitoring services, bookmakers and stockbrokers would not be the responsibility of the Central Authority. Jake had to smile. For most citizens, being cut off from the outside world was uncomfortable. For Jake, incommunicado was where he wanted to be.
Cleo Czernin 480 occupied a corner office on the 45th floor of the tower, looking out over the fashionable brownstones of the city. Jake entered the room slowly. Could someone searching for Home Security Bureau Informal Jake Moonrath have zeroed in on Dr Andrew Brown’s meeting with the Central Authority’s top Biotime economist? But the only person in the room was a small, bright-eyed, dark-haired woman, biological mid-40s, standing behind a massive old wooden desk. When he entered, she hurried forward to greet him.
‘I’m so glad you could make it, Dr Brown.’ She spoke in a high, birdlike voice. ‘Come in, come in.’ She waved him into an office chair of angular construction. ‘So. This new Morro Bay facility. You must be some kind of smart guy. Hughes melts down, ‘Time spikes up, and you have a proposal ready two days later? Tell me how you moved so fast.’
Jake hesitated. Cleo Czernin was by no means beautiful. Yet the way her face lit up with intellectual curiosity intrigued him. This ancient being knew as much as anyone alive about the relationship between ‘Time and money. ‘Tell me about that beautiful desk,’ he said.
A smile softened Czernin’s face. She ran her finger-tips across the pitted leather set into the surface.
‘I was allocated that piece,’ she said, ‘the day I moved into this job. One hell of a long time ago. Continuity of office, continuity of office furniture, I guess. It was an antique even then. One of the pet theories I hold, if you’ll forgive me taking it out for a walk, is that the political and technological stability of the Biotime era should lead to increased life-expectancy for manufactured products.’
Jake stared at the desk. His Cheyenne was only two years old, and was already due for replacement.
‘Wealthy people with hundreds of years of life expectancy,’ Czernin said, ‘should be able to surround themselves with a perfect environment. Technology is stagnating, hell, in the US it’s going backwards. There’s nothing new to buy. That should mean beautiful consumer durables fit to last forever, like these Wassily chairs. Instead, all we see is the same old mass-produced trash.’ She was staring at Jake’s tie. ‘So.’ There was a blip of energy as she refocused her attention. ‘Morro Bay.’
Jake began to describe the investment potential of a fictitious 500-berth contribution facility north of San Luis Obispo. Long-term price trends were crucial to profitability. That made the Central Authority, with its remit to stabilise prices, a key player. How, he asked, had the CA reacted to Hughes?
‘That scene at Santa Monica, I saw it on the news holo.’ Czernin shook her head and stared at Jake.
Jake looked back. Might she recognise him from his cameo as Michael Novak? It was unlikely: if his bracelet identified him as Dr Andrew Brown, that was who she would see.
But the economist was seeing something else entirely. ‘It was horrible,’ she said. ‘So many lives destroyed. A huge financial resource transformed into the most expensive mudpack in history. And yet we kept the system stable. Without the Central Authority, everything would fall apart.’
Without the Central Authority, everything would fall apart. Jake nodded at the little economist. ‘You intervened?’
‘Big-time. The CA holds Biotime reserves so that it can smooth the troubled waters of the ‘Time markets when conditions are rough. I can’t give you details; for us to manage the markets it’s in everyone’s interests for us to leave the other players in the dark about what we’re doing. But we’ve been active.’
‘Did Hughes cost the CA money?’
‘Excellent question.’ Cleo Czernin touched her bracelet and blocks of figures appeared, hovering over her head like fireflies. ‘You don’t have to be Einstein to see that the direct loss to the Central Authority is 3 years’ contribution for each of the four thousand infants lost. That’s what we would have made on their Puberty Holidays. If a healthy teenager produces around one point three five grams of ‘Time a year, the loss to the CA from Hughes is around 16,000 grams. At today’s opening batch price, that’s 55 billion dollars. Straight off the Central Authority’s bottom line. If we had one.’
‘But prices have risen. So the CA’s stocks of Biotime must be worth more.’
‘Correct. And the US public lost far more Biotime at Hughes than the Central Authority. From age 18 to expiry, which we now see averaging a hypothetical 83, that’s 65 years times four thousand individual infants, plus adult victims, all times a multiplier representing future price rises – something the analysts on Wall Street spend a lot of time trying to forecast.’ As she said the word “forecast”, a further swarm of figures began circling her head. ‘In short, a huge quantity of Biotime has been taken permanently off the market. What’s more, everyone knows it’s gone: they all saw the Hughes clam dip live on holo. So they’re buying like crazy.’
Jake nodded. ‘A long-term increase in Biotime prices would strengthen the case for investing in my new production facility in Morro Bay.’
‘Economic theory would indicate that. It’s no longer strictly true that in the long term we’re all dead. But prices should stay firm for a while.’
‘You think in theory someone with a lot of ‘Time could have destroyed Hughes? To increase prices?’
Czernin looked at him. ‘I thought it was the One Life Army.’
‘That’s what they say. But – ‘ Jake remembered the One Life Trust print-out Rose had given him and licked his lips. ‘Does anything about Biotime price movements over the past few days strike you as odd?’
‘Well.’ Czernin sat back in her chair and gazed at a point above Jake’s head. ‘Most of the market reactions have been predictable. With one exception. Prices have risen on the international ‘Time markets. Shanghai, Tokyo, London. Particularly London.’
‘Why is that, do you think?’ Jake leaned forward.
‘It makes no economic sense. The London Treaty prohibits international trade in Biotime. So price developments in the US should have no impact on the rest of the world.’
‘I’ve heard rumours about Biotime smuggling.’ Jake remembered Franco Ardizzione’s tiny stash.
‘Forget it.’ Czernin shook her head. ‘The media always fantasise about Black Biotime. But do you know how much the Home Security Bureau has actually found in the past five years? I’ll tell you. Less than ten grams. Ten years of ‘Time. There’s no significant smuggling of Biotime into the United States.’
I know, Jake thought. ‘Maybe I should talk to someone in London,’ he said.
‘Sure. You could holo them. Or fly over there.’ Cleo Czernin laughed.
‘Fly.’ Jake laughed, too. But was sweating already. What if he did have to go to London? How would he get there?
‘Do you suffer from high blood pressure?’ The economist was looking at Jake’s bracelet.
Jake glanced down. The red light was showing. ‘Yes.’
‘You should see someone about that.’
‘Yes.’ Jake tried to focus on Dr Andrew Brown. ‘What else could affect Biotime prices?’
‘Nothing, compared with what we’ve seen in the past few days. It’s hard to imagine further supply fluctuations on the scale of what happened in Santa Monica.’
‘Some CA facilities are bigger than Hughes, aren’t they?’
Czernin nodded. ‘The Central Authority Buildings have a capacity thirty times greater than that the Hughes Procreation Center. We have two hundred and sixty five thousand donors on tap right now. That’s why the security of this installation is so crucial.’ She looked at Jake. ‘Have you been on the tour? You can see how we look after our customers.’
‘I like security. And I’d like to meet some of your contributors.’ Jake rested his hand on his bracelet. ‘Biotime was born in Harlem, right?’
‘We don’t like to talk about Pax Vobiscum around here.’ When Cleo Czernin frowned, she looked older. ‘But you’re right, the Central Authority Buildings was the world’s first purpose-built contribution center. You might pick up some tips for your new facility.’ She took Jake by the elbow and guided him towards the door. ‘Ask for Sylvester. He’s been doing the tours for over a hundred years.’
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.