I am making good progress revising my new novel “Corona Crime”, to prepare it for publication. What might happen in a future world long after COVID-19, COVID-21 and COVID-35? Here is an all-new excerpt from Chapter 31 of the novel.
Before you read this excerpt, I would welcome your thoughts on the title of the novel. My working title has been Coronatime. But I have the following alternatives:
- Corona Time
- Corona Crime
- Slow Death
- Death: Gone
Which do you think would be most intriguing to potential readers? Just send me an e-mail, if you have my e-mail, or contact me through this site (see “Contact me” tab). Please contact me, too, if you would like to be a test reader for Coronatime. Finally, do share this post! I am keen to publicise what I am hoping will be a remarkable new novel.
Here, without further ado, is an excerpt from what is, for now, Coronatime:
Corona Crime: excerpt from Chapter 31
In the stainless-steel kitchens of Pandang, a woman’s voice rang out.
‘Charlene 38 speaking. VVIP is here. No programme. Hospitality and Training Centre are ready to provide guest services. Security, Production, Transport: expect surprise visits. Anyone who fails to impress will be terminated. End of message.’
‘Banquet status?’ the head chef shouted.
An early sketch for the cover
‘Banquet is ready to go,’ an under-chef said. ‘Any time he gets hungry.’
‘Security teams are picking up their food now.’
One of the ancillary kitchen workers opened an oven door and withdrew forty pre-packaged meals, stamped with a red cross and crescent, a slogan in Burmese, and a best-before date which had expired ninety years earlier. The worker transferred the meals onto a wooden pallet. The irradiation of food, she reflected, was a wonderful thing.
A buzzer sounded and a light flashed over a hatchway at the far end of the kitchen. The kitchen worker ran to the opening, slid back a steel bolt and raised the heavy shutter.
Two soldiers stood outside. One of them, wearing a badge saying FOOD MONITOR, saluted and touched his bracelet. In the kitchen a display flashed up. “No. 53 Platoon, Credit $80. Forty TV @ $2, debit $80, remaining credit $0.”
‘Looks like you need to raise some cash,’ the kitchen worker said.
The soldier with the badge looked at him blankly. ‘Don’t know,’ he said.
‘Take the food. Go on. Take it.’ The kitchen worker pushed the packages across the counter.
The soldier nodded. Then he picked up one end of the pallet, waited for the second soldier to take the other, and departed at a run.
The soldiers ran for three kilometres down a broad, cool corridor, its walls lined with rough-cast concrete. High steel doors were set into the walls every few metres. Outside some doors were clusters of steel medical trolleys. Outside others were wooden pallets stacked with cots, each encased in a metal framework.
The soldiers halted outside a door on which the words SECURITY 53 had been stencilled in olive-green paint. The soldier with the badge touched his wrist and the door slid open, releasing a dank odour of poor sanitation.
Within, thirty-eight young men dressed in fatigues sat silently around a concrete plinth. No-one reacted to the arrival of the food: all eyes were on a single set of condiments in the middle of the flat, pitted surface. A dozen places were empty. An officer stood at the head of the table, as though about to say grace, watching the soldiers. For almost a minute, there was silence. Then one of the would-be diners licked his lips and turned pale.
‘That’s it,’ the officer said. ‘Take him to Gate 326. The rest of you, enjoy your meal.’
The soldiers on either side of the lip-licker hustled him to his feet. He was shaking so much he could hardly stand.
‘Scared,’ he said. ‘Scared.’
‘Don’t worry, son,’ the officer said. ‘Happens to us all.’ He nodded to the two men on either side of the offender. ‘Quickly. Or you’re next.’
Now there were three soldiers hustling towards the corridor, ashen-faced squaddie in the middle. Behind them, the rest of the company settled down to eat.
Gate 326 looked like every other door in the underground complex, except in having “Contribution 326” stencilled on it. One of the accompanying soldiers pressed a button like a doorbell, then touched his bracelet.
An intercom squawked. ‘Security 53? What have you got?’
‘I’ll call a medic.’ The voice on the intercom chuckled. ‘Platoon losing money, is it?’
‘Prices are up. We’re paying one hundred and eleven dollars a day for males in the 15-20 age bracket.’
The men had been waiting in the corridor for five minutes when the white-bearded Indian doctor arrived, riding a woman’s steel-framed bicycle and smoking a cigar. At once the door opened. Two old women, smelling of antisepsis, stood in the entrance.
‘Thank you for coming so quickly, Doctor Patel,’ one of them simpered. ‘Is there anything special we can offer the Chief Medical Officer on duty?’
‘The opportunity to chat with my favourite nurses is more than enough,’ Patel said. He dismounted and leaned his bicycle against the wall of the corridor. ‘Kylie, isn’t it? And Olivia? Now, where is our new donor?’ He looked brightly around the five people present, drawing further titters from the two nurses, before settling on the middle of the three soldiers. ‘Aha! Let me guess. It is you, isn’t it?’
‘Scared,’ the soldier said.
‘Come with me.’ Patel took the man by the arm and led him into the contribution room. The broad, low-ceilinged cavern was tightly packed with hundreds of concrete pedestals stretching away into the gloom. Each was occupied by a young naked man. There were no contribution sacks. Flies were clustering around the faces of the donors.
‘Shoo! Beastly creatures,’ Kylie said. ‘Always looking for somewhere new to lay their little eggs.’ She smiled at Patel. ‘Don’t worry, doctor. Olivia and me take the best possible care of our young men. Don’t we, Olivia?’ Her companion giggled.
‘Take no notice of my girlfriends,’ Patel said to the soldier. ‘You will be fine. Either you will wake up a little older, or you will not, that is all. Neither option is as bad as all that. Do you have any questions, before I put you to sleep?’ He gestured to an empty berth.
The soldier hoisted himself onto the concrete surface, then lay down flat on his back. ‘Wash?’ he said.
‘You’ve done this before, haven’t you? No, we changed the procedure last year. Kylie and Olivia will undress and wash you once you’re under. It enables us to begin contribution a few minutes earlier.’
‘Wake up?’ the soldier said.
Patel did not answer. He touched the bracelet on the soldier’s wrist, and examined a screen amidst the machinery at the head of the berth. Then he pulled out a padded arm band attached to a mass of see-through plastic tubing.
‘I assume this is clean,’ he said to Olivia, who was watching proceedings with a dreamy smile.
‘Of course, doctor. Came out of the package this morning.’
‘Good.’ Patel turned to the soldier. ‘I am going to put you out, now,’ he said. ‘Good luck.’
He slid the bracelet over the man’s wrist, inserted several needles beneath the skin, and taped them into place. The soldier lay still, his eyes wide open. Then Patel reached across to the controls at the head of the bed, and depressed a button. There was a hum, and fluid began to flow down the tubes.
The doctor broke off two more strips of adhesive, closed the soldier’s eyes, and taped them shut.
‘You will sort out the sanitation, I suppose?’ he said.
There was no answer.
Patel looked up to find himself staring into the eyes of KY Sutanto. The doctor cleared his throat, took a step back from the plinth, and bowed.
‘Welcome to Pandang,’ he said. ‘It is an honour.’
‘The honour is mine,’ KY said. He turned to a red-haired woman standing next to him. ‘This man is the Chief Medical Officer on duty, Doctor Patel.’ He turned back to Patel. ‘Please describe to Ms O’Leary what is happening here.’
Patel took a deep breath. Behind KY Sutanto stood two armed men in combat fatigues. Two further fighters stood by the door. Olivia and Kylie were fussing around a nearby donor, wiping his face with a cloth. The woman KY had named as O’Leary was sweating profusely. Her skin was pale, and her face wore a glazed expression. Classic shock symptoms, Patel thought. Would KY Sutanto want him to point this out? Probably not.
‘326 is a temporary contribution room for the unpaid security workers,’ he said. ‘All male, castrated, typically taken out of long-term contribution in their twelfth year for a thirty-six-month education and training programme. It seems the temperament of a toddler and the body of a teenager make for the perfect soldier.’
For more background on Coronatime, see my recent posts: What will happen after coronavirus? My new novel CORONATIME (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog); Coronatime: Peter Pan and Steve Jobs; and Coronatime: Red London buses and the meaning of life.
“Things can only get better?” Nope.