2040 - Rosslyn Castle, Scotland.
Jean-Richard has a rare invitation to a clan gathering of the Sinclairs, only to find that his presence has dark ulterior motives. But first, he has to learn some unpleasant truths about his ersatz family's business.
Durscheimer looked almost sheepish.
“Heng are pulling out of some big contracts. They'll have to settle, but that's not the point.”
He glanced at Jean-Richard almost confidentially.
“They can't renege. My place on the Committee.”
Jean-Richard had to ask, even though he was expected to know.
“The Committee of Three Hundred. But you know about that.”
“I... just needed to confirm it was the Committee you were referring to.”
“Yeah, well it ain't the town planning committee, that's for sure. We have heavy investment in the equipment that supplies parts to Heng, and maintenance to all their top customers. That's a lot of business.”
“And there are no other takers for your offering?”
Durscheimer looked as though he'd rather not have had to explain.
“There is only one taker now, John. The world. We've been supplying the chemistry that drives the transhuman agenda. All across Europe and North America, we've sourced and synthesised the primary supply of human hormones that's driven Heng since it came out of China after the war. That's a lot of glands to harvest.”
Suddenly, Jean-Richard felt he knew the family secret. If they were the 'primary supply,' then Durscheimer was the hidden hand behind Aftercare. The system that had replaced prisons with a period of 'medical adjustment'. He had heard that it was where everyone went, once a crime had been assigned to them, and they were harvested 'for the greater good.'
Jean-Richard looked at the cold face of concern for lost business, and mumbled a response.
“Have they found another... supplier?”
Durscheimer breathed in heavily and then out with a sigh.
“Maybe, or their cockamamie dreams of purely synthetic hormones have come to fruition. Either way, they call it evolution and get a pass out from the rest of the Committee.”
“I see. How does this change your mind about relocating to Switzerland?”
“Because I just got smacked in the nuts with another blow to my labs. “Sir” Roly Tumble just died the other day. You know who I mean?”
“Well his business just got took over by the banks and his creditors are screwed to the wall like that moose-head up there.”
Jean-Richard had a sinking feeling.
“You had dealings with Roly Tumble?”
“Not entirely, directly. Personally, I couldn't stand the creep. One of my labs, Centromere 22, took... raw material from his children's hospitals, through your National Health Service, and supplied the chemists at the MI. They produced enough joy juice to keep Hollywood flying, the government swimming and Royal gadflies, like yourself, partying.”
Jean-Richard had gone cold.
“You mean adrenochrome?”
Durscheimer seemed distracted.
“Yeah, Chrome, or Pinks, whatever you want to call it. That seems to be what the MI are producing with it. Well, now he's dead, the whole operation has just stopped on a dime. You interrupt a just-in-time supply chain like that and it sets off an earthquake.”
He suddenly leaned forward to make his point to Jean-Richard.
“Nobody knows how powerful that shitstorm is going to get. Nobody. The whole fleshbot army built from the bones of the humans they replace is gonna be nothing to when the world runs out of rabbit piss. People are gonna go nuts. Half the people don't even know they're taking it.”
“I'm not familiar with its effects. I don't use drugs.”
Durscheimer looked at him with mild incredulity.
“You're some kind of boy scout, Johnny? It's the rocket fuel of the world’s movers and shakers. Your doctor must have prescribed you Pinks at some stage.”
“I prefer not to take medications, unless they're absolutely necessary.”
“If you're under enough pressure, you would. Pinks remove anxiety and replace it with confidence. It takes fear and turns it into euphoria. It tricks the body into thinking it's young again. Invulnerable! Hell, it even makes you look younger.”
Jean-Richard shook his head.
“I've heard stories of psychosis and mental collapse. Or was that more than just Pinks?”
“That was schizophrenia. A feature of the world's greatest leaders throughout history. You can't fix madness, inbred psychopaths, and a delusional god complex with a hefty dose of the same. But you can't stop 'em, either. They see it as a way to be immortal, and they don't just want it... they demand it. Now Pinks, well, they are just an... adulterated form of the drug. Whether it's in a bottle or a pill. It's just a gateway to the pure. And, for the moment, that gate has been closed.”
Durscheimer seemed to have pictures in his mind.
“I don't deal in the host mechanism. Just the extract. The active ingredient of the real thing has only a brief existence. If you want the big hit, it must be ingested as soon as the host medium is saturated. Passed from body to body like a transfusion.”
Durscheimer mistook Jean-Richard's quiet horror at the confirmation of the rumours, to be derision.
“Listen, boy, when you're simpering over some nature movie of a lion ripping apart a young gazelle, it's not just homage to the glorious food chain. That killer is eating the pain and drinking the fear. You think that lion is nodding out afterwards because it has a full belly? Think again. It's high as a kite on the chemicals that raged through the prey's bloodstream, when it literally gave up its essence in a last bid to survive. One time, we all ate raw meat, the minute we caught it. Mankind only changed when we started cooking out the active ingredients to make it last longer. It wasn't just the animals that became domesticated, it was us.”
Jean-Richard's mind was back in Switzerland, on the wooded estate outside Lucerne. His thoughts drifted to Eleanor and Lorelei. The beauty of the place was surrounded by wild animals.
“So, Brock, what's going to happen if the fresh supplies of your chemicals are interrupted for any length of time?”
Durscheimer rubbed at his forehead in a gesture of confusion.
“A lot of accountants are gonna get their asses handed to 'em, that's for sure. The big boys go totally nuts on cold turkey. The rest of us get cranky because there are no Pinks around...”
He looked at Jean-Richard, with a warning.
“...and all the boy scouts uncover the first real scandal since the pandemic... that the kings of this world are cannibals!”
Random Skies: The Zura Contract is the tenth episode in a series of speculative fiction set in a parallel world where the surely unthinkable has already started to happen.