Basin Blues

I swung the amphi-boat out from the jetty, took a shallow arc to port, and cranked her up when she was lining up just right. On cue, she responded, rising up slightly out of the water, fishtailing gently and then locking onto the straightahead as the prop found purchase in the grubby water.

The a-boat was standard cop-issue, but I knew I’d make good time. Clamped on the blunt prow of the boat was my own mini-sonar rig. Not cheap, but squeezing all that technology into something the size of a tin can costs money, even from the duty-free at Narita. I often used it to guide me along the best channels out here, avoiding last century’s submerged dreck & debris. Strictly against procedure, of course, but no-one was going to object to unauthorised navigation tech out here. There was no way Central was going to pay for it themselves.

My bespoke touches weren’t just electronic; a splash of home-distilled methanol always peps up a tired war-surplus outboard. Well, you gotta get your kicks. The job was hardly fun and games; it paid to put a stupid smile on your face occasionally. Screw the throttle down for a while and forget the twenty-first century.

The early dayshift is usually a gig for the antisocial, the pathologically shy, or the occasional grey-featured insomniac. But sometimes the early start had its rewards, like today’s stunning sunrise. I made a mental note to apply sunblock every half-hour.

First order of business was a standard floater – a legitimate enough way of whiling away half a morning. Pulling a corpse out of the Basin no longer sent me into a horrible frenzy of vomiting and dread. The first couple of months had worked that out of me. Now, it was just another part of the job of Intra-Maritime Patrol Officer. Perfectly mundane, like an office-serf tackling a spreadsheet.

I knew as little about this body as I knew about any number of others I had recovered over the months. Earlier, Central had given me the outline after the two-way radio had crackled into life on my bedside junk table. The call had come in around 4AM from a New Texan touring party, who had just left Terre-Nouvelle after seventy-two hours of hedonism. They were en route to the heliport, probably in an unlicensed taxi-hover. The fact that they even picked up the phone gave them away as obvious T-N virgins; most visitors simply ignore the detritus – human or otherwise – on their way back to the Real World. But these good ol’ boys had called it in. Apparently male, twenties, Caucasian ethnicity, floating face-up somewhere just south of the navigation channel a couple of minutes out of T-N. That was it – they hung up. No caller ID, no time for triangulation on the cell. They probably had to bribe the cabbie for the vague location to tell the dispatcher. Not much for Central to go on, but I know these waters well, so I got the shout.

In many ways, Terre-Nouvelle had a lot to answer for – certainly for people in my profession. But it was so perfectly of its moment, that it almost had to come along at some point. Enough already that it was one of the largest man-made structures in New Europe, that it grew from literally nothing to a self-supporting entity within three years, that its black economy shamed prosperous traditional towns throughout what remained of the region. For all its ills, T-N was a monument to unrestrained ingenuity, perverse imagination, and free-rein commercialism. Marx, Keynes, or Darwin could have studied for a lifetime here, and would still not have grasped much of its complexity.

The Torrent had ripped through in ’29, forever changing the region’s landscape. When the Basin formed in the days after, the media focused on those forced to flee their homes, businesses, holiday bolt-holes. Three coastal towns, twenty-eight inland villages and countless acres of farmland were overwhelmed in a matter of days, the Torrent breaching the creaking sea defences in four places and sloshing unimpeded across the flatlands and saltmarsh. Shrill voices called for government assistance and intervention, but beyond the immediate emergency effort – and later financial recompense – there wasn’t anything which any government could have done. What’s to do when the sea has reclaimed something which we only had on loan anyway? The county redrew its borders, with Acle as the most easterly mainland point, and with the Basin as the geographical feature we would all need to get used to. The displaced population moved inland and onward…

The boat was making good speed. The waters stretched for several miles either side, featureless except for the odd reminder of what lay beneath – the odd church spire or the ventilation gear of some industrial building poking out above the surface like history’s own periscope. I killed the outboard on two occasions to slash away seaweed & garbage from the prop. Ahead, I could make out the first platform in silhouette.

Terre-Nouvelle started in ’32 with a scruffy mob of idealistic, post-ratrace engineers, latter-day hippies, and the odd wealthy patron with a sense of the bizarre. The catalyst was the Anglian Basin Regeneration Act 2031. Passed by a Parliament terminally mired in conflicts – military, ethnic, civil – the Act was a last-ditch attempt to restart the economy of the desolated area. An official hands-off policy, the Act provided the legal basis for any interested party to colonise and construct in the Basin. Near-sovereignty for anyone crazy or foolhardy enough to build a settlement in this inhospitable and isolated place. A handful of half-hearted attempts followed, then in ’32, the big boys moved in. With useful lines of credit from their backers and a highly-skilled crew, the first three barges laden with girders, ferro-concrete and pile-drivers inched through the Acle Gap at the highest spring-tide that year, weighing anchor just east of the central point of the Basin. Work began within hours, the first foundations of Terre-Nouvelle piercing the subsoil, eight meters down…

The body was bobbing gently, wedged up against a floating clump of kelp and what looked like a shard of an ancient Broads cruiser’s hull. I throttled the engine back, and killed it entirely as I came alongside. The description from the cowboys had been accurate enough. Bracing against the boat’s struts, I hefted the body on board. Obvious rigor mortis, but no odour – probably died sometime late last night. A wave of the detector around the body’s left shoulder area told me there was no sub-dermal ID implant. Not a Brit then – we were the only nation using them. No documents in the pockets, either – just another John Doe.

I turned the body over and lifted up the soaking shirt. The exit wound halfway down the back was about the size of a fist – a high-velocity fragmentation-slug. Kicks no worse than a regular hollow-point when it’s fired, but makes mincemeat out of internal organs and bone on impact. Still, at least his family could have an open casket at the funeral – if we were ever able to trace them. I hosed down the back of the body with embalming foam, waited a moment for it to harden, then turned it over and completed the sealing-up. The foam would make a hermetic sarcophagus around the body, keeping any evidence intact until the pathology boys back at Central cracked it open. I scribbled the time and GPS co-ordinates on a dog-tag and attached it to the corner of the foam.


The shout startled me. I spun around, tensed. Then relaxed when I saw one of the Terre-Nouvelle Security launches nearing. Electric prop – no sound.

“You shouldn’t shout at armed cops like that, Taylor. Anyway, it’s Officer Gibson.”

“Whatever. What you got there?” He nodded towards the body.

“Dead guy, probably last night. Mean anything to you?”

“Sorry, Officer.” The familiar mocking smirk. “We have no records of anyone currently missing from T-N, and this location is beyond T-N Security’s jurisdiction”.

I shrugged. “OK, you know the score. I need to have sight of your records for the last seven days, check your security logs, the usual.”

“Follow me back. Security docks, north side.”

As I followed the launch past the western tip of T-N, I was again struck by the progress made in such a short period of time. Beyond the first platform, the main drag stretched out south-east, each level of superstructure arranged in vast ziggurats, stepping upwards above the original base-level. Several more layers had been added since my last visit, and I glimpsed the skeletal beginnings of a new platform (the ninth?) in the middle-distance. The north side served as the more utilitarian part of Terre-Nouvelle; delivery docks, sewage processing plants, hydroponic biodomes, the new, third-generation desalination rig I’d read about. We turned into the Security dock and tied up.

The walk to Taylor’s office took no more than a few minutes, but threw in more sensory stimulus than a month in the Real World could do. I followed him past countless bars, cybersex booths, fast-food stands, arcades, drug lounges, fight clubs, and old-fashioned flesh parlours. Every step was another assault on the senses; the bass-throb of some wartime industrial techno; aromas of food, alcohol and weed; sickening thuds as two tourists punched it out in a submission bout; the retinal afterburn of a pole-dancer picked out in green laser…

I accepted the courtesy coffee from Taylor’s secretary while another underling worked a terminal and brought up the past week’s visitor manifests. As expected, the data was totally useless – Terre-Nouvelle’s commitment to the record-keeping specified in the Act was cursory at best. But after twenty-five years of government laissez-faire, both Taylor and I knew the routine and didn’t feel the need to bother with any procedural dance or wasted words. Today’s John Doe was just another casualty of T-N’s survival-of-the-least-dead ecosystem – probably another naive newcomer trying to muscle in on someone else’s established turf.

As I was finishing my coffee, Taylor came out with what I’d expected since I saw him earlier.

“The offer still stands, you know. This is a good gig here, man. Free studio apartment, full-on lifestyle, good shift pattern, no paperwork. The best girls, the best booze, the best dope. Only the finest stuff is shipped in for the customers – and we get our share. With your experience, I could get you a Lieutenant stripe to begin with, six guys in your team. What do you say?”

“Same as last time – forget it. I’m not going to waste my life playing rent-a-cop in this place.”

“C’mon, man – rumours reach here as soon as they break cover on the mainland. Everyone knows you got passed up for that Regeneration project of yours out at the old windfarm off Yarmouth Island. You’ve had my offer on the table for six months, and still you want to play the frontiersman, stringing up platforms between derelict windmills. What’s your problem?”

“The Ventura settlement was about real terra-forming, not hanging around beating up wasters and skimming the profits out of drunk tourists. You chose your path, Taylor. I’ll choose mine. Thanks for the coffee.” I got up to leave.

As I untied the boat, my belt-computer screeched. This morning’s next job was to take statements in the aftermath of a suspected piracy raid on a Gaian Truth settler community under the Haddiscoe Causeway. I fired up the outboard and pointed the boat south.




Author: Chris Bardell

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