Biotime enforcement agent Jake Moonrath sets out to take a tour of the Central Authority Buildings in Harlem, New York to view the production facilities and “confidence and security building measures”. He soon discovers that something is deeply wrong at the birthplace of Biotime; and that his guide, Sylvester, has a disturbing sense of humour.
“Build Your Future on a Rock Biotime Futures PortfolioTM. Warning: Biotime prices can go down as well as up”
Rock Savings Corporation: advertising brochure
The moment Jake stepped out of Cleo Czernin’s office he began to plan his new ID. Dr Andrew Brown was compromised. He must leave the Central Authority Buildings as someone else. Nowhere was safe. But the numerous exits of the CAB were designed to offer visitors maximum privacy – coming in or going out. There were also at least two hundred and sixty five thousand identities available downstairs, many of whom would not be leaving the data-shielded structure for years, if ever. The challenge was to reach them before someone else reached him.
Security within the CAB was overwhelming. Jake had to pass through four ID-operated doors between Ms Czernin’s office and the emergency staircase. Each one would be transmitting to the CAB’s security log the fact that authorised visitor Dr Andrew Brown had just passed through. But who had access to that information? When he reached the stairs he used his Informal bracelet to turn off his ID, and began to run down. It felt a futile gesture: he had to become Dr Brown again when a set of security doors blocked his path every ten storeys. But you had to do what you could.
Jake found the security comforting. The Central Authority, at least, was still in perfect working order. His parents would be safe, slumbering in Culver City. But it was too late for Ed and Abigail. He stopped at the foot of the stairs to catch his breath. He, Jake Moonrath, was still alive. Whoever had destroyed Hughes and murdered the other ten Informal agents hadn’t reckoned with that.
The receptionist at the CAB visitors’ entrance was a pretty young black woman with long straight hair. She seemed delighted when Jake appeared. He couldn’t help returning her gaze, however pointless it might be.
‘Dr Brown, welcome,’ she said. ‘Do you need a viewing suite?’ She waved towards a series of doorways. ‘Give me the name you’d like to check on, I’ll pick them right out for you. Or you can hook up a screen and browse. Many visitors drop by just to check out who’s in. You might see someone famous entering contribution.’ The receptionist beamed. ‘It happens all the time.’
‘I’d like to see Sylvester. For a tour.’
‘You want to go inside? No problem.’ She leaned forward and yelled into a microphone. ‘Sylvester! Visitor for you!’ She winked at Jake. ‘He’ll be along in no time. Please make yourself at home.’
Jake nodded. He was thinking about what Cleo Czernin had said.
‘What’s the weather forecast for this morning? In London?’
‘I can do that. Although it’s afternoon in London, as I’m sure you’re aware.’ She nodded. ‘Cloudy, mild, with a 46 per cent chance of precipitation in the next four hours. Better pack an umbrella.’
Jake heard a footfall behind him and spun round. But there was no-one there. How stupid was he being, talking about London? He turned back to her. ‘OK, how about snow conditions? In Tibet? Mount Kailash area?’
‘Perfect. Two metres on the lower slopes. Up to twelve metres on the glacier.’
‘Thanks. I’m ski-ing later this week.’ Jake smiled again and looked around the lobby. He felt exposed, standing by the desk. The door to a viewing suite stood open. He ducked inside. The lighting was so dim that at first he could see nothing. There was a powerful smell of unwashed bodies. As his eyes adjusted he became aware of dozens of men lounging in armchairs, illuminated only by the holos they were viewing. Most featured naked female bodies, swathed in transparent plastic. It wasn’t like any viewing suite he’d ever seen in California.
‘Welcome to Harlem Central Authority Buildings!’
Jake spun round. In the hush, the voice was nerve-jangling. One or two men looked up from their delectations.
‘I am sorry. Did I disturb your viewing experience?’ Sylvester was short, with a thick bull neck and large, powerful hands. He didn’t look sorry at all.
‘My name is Dr Andrew Brown from Morro Bay, California,’ Jake said. ‘I’d like to visit the contribution rooms.’
‘It’s a privilege to meet you, Dr Brown. It’ll be my pleasure to show you round.’
‘When’s the tour?’
‘Any time you like.’
‘Only you, and you alone. You’re the first tour-ist today. In fact, you’re the first guy this month wanted to look around inside, in person that is. Most folks are happy with the holos.’ He gestured to a nearby chair, where a man seemed to be examining a magnified image of the inner thighs of a sleeping woman. The viewer had set the holo parameters to project the display in the air above his face, so that he appeared at first glance in danger of death by suffocation. But when Jake looked more closely he saw that the man, too, was asleep.
‘What are they looking at?’
‘Well, now. Are we starting the tour?’ Sylvester folded his hands behind his back as if beginning a speech. But his face was set in a sardonic smirk. ‘The purpose of these viewing suites is to allow friends and relatives of contributors to check that their loved ones‘ – Sylvester made the description sound somehow degrading – ‘are alive and well. This was the first ever CA facility, remember. So they built in every so-called confidence- and security-building measure they could think of, then added some more.’ He lowered his voice and winked. ‘Strange, ain’t it, that so many men should call to check up on their daughters, wives and sisters at one time? We have a thousand viewing suites here at the CAB, and you know what? Some people use it as free entertainment.’
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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