01.06.2018 / Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant / Satire / Paperback / 502pp / 978-3000555268
About Zone 23
ZONE 23 … a darkly comic dystopian satire about being human, all-too-human, featuring two of the most endearing and emotionally messed-up Anti-Social anti-heroes that have ever rebelled against the forces of Normality. Set in the post-catastrophic future, in a peaceful, prosperous, corporate-controlled society where virtually everything has been privatized and commodified, all dissent and non-conformity has been pathologized, and the human race is being genetically corrected in order to establish everlasting peace on Earth, ZONE 23 is a hilarious, heartbreaking affirmation of the anarchic human spirit, and a defiant departure from the norms of both the genre sci-fi and literary novel.
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Zone 23 – Extract
ZONE 23 by C. J. Hopkins
(excerpt from Chapter 13)
Breckenridge Village, “a Retirement Community,” a city-sized glass and chromium cluster of geodesic dome-like structures, rose up out of the surrounding suburbs like a squadron of alien Mayan spaceships. Home to just over two hundred thousand cognitively compromised Long-Term clients (and their doctors, nurses, aides and administrators), it provided the finest in Healthcare services, assisted living and social activities, in a thoroughly stimulating yet relaxing environment to which most of the clients were completely oblivious. The Breckenridge Group of HealthCare Companies had spared no expense on design and furnishings. The sumptuous lobbies, with their wall-to-wall mirrors, marble floors, recessed lighting, atrium gardens, flowers, fountains, half-glass elevators, artwork, et cetera, had all been individually appointed to reflect the various tastes and budgets of the clients’ loved ones when they came to visit, which they tended to do on Sunday mornings, approximately 8.6 times per year. The Residential Units themselves, which were slightly less sumptuous and much less mirrored, were segregated according to the clients’ or the clients’ loved ones’ abundance levels, the Weston Unit for the super-abundant, the Greenwich Unit for the seriously abundant, the Henley Unit for the very abundant, and so on down the abundance scale.
Valentina’s mother, Catherine Briggs, was a Breckenridge Village “Special Needs” Client. She shared a “semi-private” room (with adjoining dayroom and shower facilities) in Breckenridge Village’s “Seaview Unit” with thirty-two other Special Needs Clients. The Seaview Unit, which currently offered one hundred and twelve such semi-private rooms, was a twenty-eight story concrete tower out on the southernmost edge of the complex that was almost totally impossible to get to and which most people thought was a parking garage. Its windows (which were all the southern side, so facing away from the rest of the Village) looked out onto a fake lagoon, the surface of which was a solid layer of bright green algae and stagnant slime. Around the lagoon were some artificial palm trees, plastic herons and a couple of flamingos, which due to the heat had melted slightly. Catherine was up on the 20th floor. Up there with her, gumming their tongues, the wispy remnants of their burned-out hairdos jutting out at unfortunate angles, medicated past all need for restraints, were Dotty Drinkwater, Cindy Chu, Katja McGruder, Latonya van Buren, and the rest of Catherine’s Special Needs roommates, except for those whose turn it was to get their weekly bath and grooming, which was pretty much the highlight of everyone’s week. Due to their troubling medical histories, Special Needs Clients didn’t get many visitors. By the time their loved ones finally consigned them, usually after years of grief, stress, and social stigmatization, to Long-Term Care in the Seaview Unit, these loved ones felt they had done their duty and now, finally, it was time to let go. On top of which, no one was entirely sure that the clients even recognized visitors, or the aides, or even their fellow clients, preventatively medicated as they were.
For Special Needs Clients like Catherine Briggs, the Seaview Unit was the end of the road, a warehouse for the afflicted abundant. Virtually every Retirement Community operated one of these Special Needs units. They weren’t featured in the online brochures, but for those whose loved ones could afford the service, they offered around-the-clock Long-Term Care to drug-resistant family members who were facing an A.S.P. designation and relocation to a Quarantine Zone. As long as the patient-in-question’s symptoms hadn’t progressed to attempted violence, and one was carrying the proper insurance, or could otherwise demonstrate ability to pay, Special Needs clients could live out their days, in relative comfort and anonymity, in a pharmaceutically stabilized state, and spare their loved one the disesteem and embarrassment flowing from “designation.” Loved ones could choose from a range of levels of accommodations, menus, Content, personal hygiene and grooming options, creating customized Patient Care Packages according to their budgets and the patient’s needs.
Valentina’s father, Walter F. Briggs, a Junior Partner at Pincus, Sarkovsky, so fairly, but not quite comfortably abundant, had chosen the Seaview “Standard Plus,” one step up from the basic package, and even that had been a stretch. He’d had to liquidate most of their assets to cover the Up-Front One-Time Pre-Pay (GD26 million after rebate), and now, even with Valentina and Kyle helping out as much as they could, every year, come 15 January, he found himself struggling to make the deductible (thirty-eight percent of the annual fees). In order to bump up his billable hours, he had relocated, ten years back, to F.E. Region 124, learned a few words of Japanese, and bought a small condo with bamboo floors and a partial view of Lake Shikotsu, which during the winter you could sometimes swim in. Valentina hadn’t seen him for years, except of course on the screen of a Viewer. He’d fleeped her during the Christmas holidays, back when she was having those cranial zings. They’d chatted, briefly, about her pregnancy, and how happy Walter was for the two of them, and she’d casually inquired about her mother.1 Walter reported she was doing well.
In order to get to the Seaview Unit and pretend to visit and interrogate her mother, Valentina had to navigate the maze of the Breckenridge Village complex, which had clearly been designed to intimidate visitors and discourage any unnecessary wandering. The WhisperTrain ride from Pewter Palisades had taken approximately ninety minutes. She’d detrained smoothly on Level 12, ridden the escalator up to 11, slipped into the nearest private Ladies room and compulsively masturbated for less than ten minutes (after which the door automatically opened). Once she was done, and the coast was clear, she’d ridden the escalator up from 11 and into the main reception area, which was lit like the ballroom of a luxury cruise ship. One of the helpful Security Staff at a circular station in the center of the lobby bodyscanned her and gave her directions.
“You’ll need to go through Day Room 7. Stay to your right. Look for the signs. You’ll see one leading to Corridor D. Take that past the Roger and Marjorie Bainesworth-Bradley Breakfast and Games Room to Corridor 30. It’ll be on your left. Follow the yellow footprints on the floor. You’ll pass a big double door on your right. Don’t go through that. Keep on going. All the way down at the end of the corridor you’ll see a bank of unmarked elevators. Any one of those will take you to Seaview.”
Armed with these precise instructions, Valentina set out on her odyssey. Ten minutes later she was hopelessly lost. She’d circled around the Security station, traversed the expanse of the lavish lobby, and started up the central concourse, which seemed to be the only way into the complex. Weaving her way through the steady streams of doctors, nurses, healthcare aides, administrators, and other visitors (most of whom were deeply engaged with their Viewers, or talking to the back of the others’ heads) she found her way to Day Room 7, an overly lit, acoustically savage “daytime active recreation area,” roughly the size of an airplane hangar, where everything was done up in iris-punishing primary colors that gave her a headache. The day room was packed with Breckenridge Residents dressed in cheerful daytime attire and arranged in various “active” poses at tables of board games they were not playing. It looked like some kind of wax museum for affluent zombie golfers and their wives. Several of the more responsive Residents were pushing colored plastic pieces around in random patterns on their boards, or were picking their noses, or at scabs on their arms, but mostly they were just sitting there staring. Their cannula tubing had been discreetly taped into the folds of their flaccid skin, which appeared to have been sprayed, or possibly painted, with some kind of orange pancake substance, enhancing their overall “active” look. A few of the Residents saw her coming and reached toward her as she passed their tables. She drew her arms in close to her chest, dodged them, and crossed as fast as she could. She made it across, and out the doors, quickly located and took Corridor D, passed the Roger and Marjorie Bainesworth-Bradley Breakfast and Games Room on her right, completely forgot which corridor came next, took a wrong turn into Corridor 6B, descended an almost imperceptible downward incline that went on forever, went through yet another set of doors, down a hallway, which she knew was all wrong, turned a corner without any doors, and ended up in something called the “Long-Term Relaxation Area.”
Valentina, who was not at all squeamish (she sliced up cancerous organs for a living), and had seen a few things in medical school, and in her many years as a healthcare professional, had never seen anything remotely like the Long-Term Relaxation Area. Formerly active Breckenridge Residents, hundreds if not thousands of them, were lying in rows of single beds that stretched off past the visible horizon. They were lying on their backs, eyes wide open, arms at their sides, completely naked, their mechanically-ventilated rib cages heaving, section by section, in synchronized waves. Strands of plastic translucent tubing dangled down from the ceiling like vines, disappearing into mouths and nostrils, reappearing out of abdomens and genitals, finding their way to plastic reservoirs of dark brown urine and citrine excrement, which were fastened with clips to frames of each bed.
Valentina backed up into the wall behind her, hyperventilating. She closed her eyes and repeated her mantra. “The multiplicitous oneness of the …” Wherever this was (assuming it was real), it was definitely somewhere deep underground … some sub-subterranean network of caverns that ran beneath the entire Village. What were these people doing down here? She did not know. She was feeling dizzy. Her legs were trembling. Her thoughts were racing. Maybe they simply stored them down here until their loved ones called and scheduled a visit, then took them upstairs and arranged them somewhere and sprayed them with that orange stuff … maybe they were offering a time-share deal for clients whose loved ones were aspiringly abundant. Or perhaps these clients didn’t have any loved ones, but they had insurance, which was paying the bills.
An Viewer overhead and to the right of Valentina switched on suddenly. A face appeared … a blue-eyed nurse, obviously a Clear.
“Can I be of any assistance, Ms. Briggs?”
Valentina nearly wet herself.
“Yes. I’m lost. I’m trying to get to …”
“The Seaview Unit. You took a wrong turn. Walk back up the way you came. Take a left at the end of the corridor. Walk straight ahead to Corridor 30. Follow the yellow footprints from there.”
The image on the screen sort of flickered for a second.
“Thank you,” Valentina stammered.
“The Long-Term Relaxation Area is a Residents-Only Restricted Area.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“There’s a door to your right.”
Valentina bolted for it. She staggered out into the corridor. The nurse was there on another Viewer, the screen of which was also flickering … or maybe she was just a software program. She cocked her head and smiled professionally.
“Enjoy your visit, and have a nice day.”
Valentina retraced her steps, took a left at the end of the hall, found her way to Corridor 30, and followed the yellow footprints from there. They led to a bank of unmarked elevators. She took took one up to the 20th floor, and stepped out into another day room. This was definitely the SeaView Unit. Scores of female Special Needs Residents were seated in rows of sofas and recliners, facing south, toward the lagoon, a wall of tinted, unbreakable glass reflecting their peaceful, expressionless faces. They looked like an audience of elderly mannequins awaiting the start of an outdoor performance. A handful of professional Healthcare aides, dressed in cheerfully-colored scrubs and those perforated rubber hospital clogs, were huddled together in the nurses station, watching what like sounded liked a Finkles commercial.
Valentina tiptoed past them. She stood against a wall at the back of the day room scanning the reflections of the faces in the glass. The women, despite their disparate ages, appeared to be minor variations of each other. Each of them had the same beige pallor, EasyCare haircut, pale blue pajamas, bright pink lipstick and matching nails. One of the aides, an older woman, coming toward her with with a kidney-shaped pan, noticed Valentina and raised her eyebrows.
“Catherine Briggs?” Valentina inquired.
The aide took a look around the floor. “Third one up from the end,” she said. She smiled at Valentina like a shop assistant who knows you’re in her store by mistake, because you can’t afford whatever she’s selling, and headed back off to wherever she was going.
Valentina peered across at the group of Residents down at the end, three nearly identical older women staring blankly out the window. Apparently, the one on the end was her mother, unless the aide had made a mistake. Valentina studied the face of her alleged mother from across the day room, waiting for something to jog her memory. Nothing did. She looked like a stranger. Had she changed so much in fifteen years? Or maybe it was just that she was so far away. She took the long way across the room, hugging the wall around the periphery.
On closer inspection … yes, in fact, it was her mother … or what was left of her, or at least the body that had once contained her. Her dominant features were all intact, but inexplicably softened somehow, as if Valentina were looking at her through a sheet or filter of transparent gauze. Her hair had gone completely white. Or maybe it had always been white … she’d dyed it any number of shades of blonde and red throughout the years. In any event, it was snow white now, which went her eel-green eyes quite nicely. Oddly, although in her early eighties, she seemed somehow younger than she had in her sixties. She had gained some weight. Her skin was softer. The tension was gone from the muscles of her face.
Valentina pulled up one of the straight-backed chairs they left out for visitors. She sat down directly across from her mother, and stared into her bright green eyes. Catherine smoothly switched her gaze from some random focal point out the window to Valentina’s face, two meters in front of her, much like a camera auto-focusing. Her peaceful expression did not change. The other two ladies, Dotty and Katja, turned and adjusted their depths of focus. The three of them sat there staring at her. Their eyes, though obviously responsive, were vacant … they appeared to be simply tracking movement.
Valentina smiled. Catherine smiled.
“Mom? It’s me. It’s Valentina.”
Dotty and Katja were also smiling.
“Mom,” she asked, “do you recognize me?”
She checked Catherine’s eyes for any reaction.
Nothing. Not one flicker. Zero.
About C. J. Hopkins
C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning playwright and political satirist. His early plays and experimental stage-texts were produced during the 1990s in New York City. Since 2001, his plays have been produced and have toured internationally, playing theatres and festivals including Riverside Studios (London), 59E59 Theaters (New York), Belvoir St. Theatre (Sydney), Traverse Theatre (Edinburgh), the Du Maurier World Stage Festival (Toronto), Needtheater (Los Angeles), 7 Stages (Atlanta), English Theater Berlin, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Adelaide Fringe, Brighton Festival, and Noorderzon Festival (the Netherlands). His playwriting awards include the 2002 Best of the Scotsman Fringe Firsts (Horse Country), the 2004 Best of the Adelaide Fringe (Horse Country), and a 2005 Scotsman Fringe First (screwmachine/eyecandy). His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing/Methuen Drama (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. (US). His political satire and commentary has appeared on NPR Berlin, in CounterPunch, ColdType, and other journals, and has been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Zone 23 is his debut novel.
Thank you for coming by to check out another extract post here on ATIB. Zone 23 definitely comes across as a wild ride and an interesting perspective on the human condition. I really hope you all enjoyed the excerpt. I am grateful to all the authors who are allowing me to share their work with everyone here on my blog. I have plenty of extracts lined up to highlight new books coming from indie authors so come back for more in the future!