The limits of capitalism have yet to be reached. My satirical thriller “Eternal Life” explores how those limits might be reached and breached.
Here is an excerpt from the second half of Eternal Life, which is available on Amazon.
“Eternal Life”: excerpt
In the stainless-steel kitchens of Pandang, a woman’s voice rang out.
‘Charlene 38 speaking. VVIP is here. 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.
‘Banquet is ready to go,’ an under-chef said. ‘Any time he gets hungry.’
‘Security teams are picking up their food.’
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 that had expired ninety years earlier. The worker transferred the meals onto a wooden pallet. The irradiation of food was a wonderful thing.
A buzzer sounded and a light flashed over a hatchway. 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 shook his head. ‘Don’t know.’
‘Take the food. Go on. Take it.’ The kitchen worker pushed the packages across the counter.
The soldier nodded. 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 stood every few metres. Medical trolleys lay everywhere, alongside piles of metal-framed cots. One bore the word “Tho”.
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.
Within, thirty-eight young men dressed in fatigues sat around a concrete plinth. No-one reacted to the arrival of the food: all gazed at a single set of condiments in the middle of the pitted surface. A dozen places were empty. An officer stood at the head of the table, as though about to say grace. For almost a minute, no-one spoke.
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 shook 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. ‘Quick. Or you’re next.’
The soldiers hustled 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 touched his bracelet to a panel outside.
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, 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? Where is our new donor?’ He looked 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 led the man inside. Hundreds of concrete pedestals packed a broad, low-ceilinged cavern, stretching away into the gloom. Each supported a young naked man. With no contribution sacks, flies clustered 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 and lay 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, so we can 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. He pulled out a padded armband attached to a mass of see-through plastic tubing.
‘I assume this is clean,’ he said to Olivia, who wore 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,’ 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. Patel reached across to the controls at the head of the bed, and depressed a button. With a hum, fluid flowed 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.
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 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. Further fighters clustered by the door. Olivia and Kylie fussed around a nearby donor, wiping his face with a cloth. The woman KY had called O’Leary exhibited classic shock symptoms: heavy sweat, pale skin, and a glazed expression. 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, 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.
The limits of capitalism
I’d welcome your views on “Eternal Life”, including whether I’m being unkind to suggest that the limits of capitalism inevitably involve exploitation and extreme inequality. Thoughts welcome! You can read the first two chapters of “Eternal Life” on this blog.
If this post has prompted a taste to explore more, do take a look at “Eternal Life” on Amazon.