Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Zone 23 by C J Hopkins + Excerpt

Zone 23 by C J Hopkins
Published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine and Cormorant in May 2017.

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ZONE 23 ... a darkly comic dystopian satire about being human, all-too-human, featuring two of the most endearing Anti-Social anti-heroes that ever rebelled against the forces of Normality. Set in the post-catastrophic future, in a peaceful, prosperous, corporate-controlled society where 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.

Meet The Author

C.J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays have been produced internationally, playing theatres and festivals such as Riverside Studios, 59E59 Theaters, Belvoir St. Theatre, Traverse Theatre, and the Du Maurier World Stage Festival, among others. His writing awards include: the 2002 First of the Fringe Firsts in Edinburgh, Scotsman Fringe Firsts in 2002 and 2005, and the 2004 Best of the Adelaide Fringe award. His debut novel, ZONE 23, was published in 2017 by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant. His political satire and commentary appears in CounterPunch, ColdType, The Unz Review, and other political journals, and on the Consent Factory blog

Connect with CJ
Amazon ~ Goodreads ~ Twitter


an excerpt from Chapter 24

Kyle Bentley-Briggs was feeling unwell. He was feeling less than overwhelmingly positive, significantly less than overwhelmingly positive. He was feeling this way about the past, and the present, and the future, and, well, pretty much everything. He'd been feeling this way for about three weeks. Kyle was having breakfast with Cramer on the 110th floor ("the top of the spire") of the Morloch-Malikov Broadcasting Tower, in the retro-trendy Overlook Café, which looked like a giant Christmas-tree ornament and was not quite imperceptibly revolving, widdershins (i.e. right to left), which for some reason felt incredibly weird. Cramer, who was sitting across from Kyle (so facing in the forwardly-traveling direction), and who was dipping into his bowl of Soygurt and assorted genetically-modified berries, was well on his way to completely forgetting those incessant and arguably unnecessary queries, and the constant Fleeps and Tweaks and emails, and calls, and other forms of media, people whose names he had already forgotten had routinely employed to interrupt him (while he was responding to some other idiot's query) and ask him when it really was. Such queries were no longer his responsibility. They were someone else's responsibility ... someone down on the 26th floor.

Cramer, immediately pursuant to his meeting with Kyle at Rosie's back in early March, where he'd promised Kyle he would contact the guy who knew the guy in Domestic Security and attempt to back-channel the Valentina problem, had fleeped a taxi and high tailed it back to District 12 Northeast Regional Headquarters. He'd taken the express to the 70th floor, submitted to a battery of Security procedures, clipped his pre-prepared Visitor's Pass to the breast pocket of his Paul Pratt suit, marched right up to Big Bob Schirkenbeck, and right there, right in the middle of the floor, with everyone peripherally looking at him around the sides and over the tops of their identically personalized workstation cubicles, informed him, Schirkenbeck, that he, Cramer, had a situation that needed his attention. Now this was a seriously ballsy move on Cramer's part, which Schirkenbeck noted, the situation being somewhat sensitive, involving as it did a personal friend, and technically part of his extended family, or in any event his cousin's wife, who Cramer felt he should probably mention he'd slept with once or twice at college, back when they were all in their twenties and no one was technically married to anyone. What Cramer needed to carefully convey, in a natural, unpremeditated way, was how his fervid and complete devotion to the vigilant 24/7 maintenance of Domestic and Interterritorial Security had overcome his natural reticence (being a human being and all) to report the extremely suspicious behavior, and disappearance without explanation, of his cousin's wife, who as it just so happened (and he looked straight into Schirkenbeck's eyes here) was the daughter of Catherine Rosenthal Briggs, who (as Schirkenbeck knew) was the illegitimate daughter of the mystery Terrorist Stanislav Barnicoat, whose story of course was the stuff of legend in Interterritorial Security circles. Schirkenbeck bought it hook, line and sinker, or at least he admired Cramer's acting skills, and his initiative, and his ruthless sense of priorities, and he elevated Cramer from the 26th floor to the 70th floor, where he clearly belonged.

Kyle was seated across from Cramer, so revolving backwards (i.e. right to left) at a pace that was slow, incredibly slow, but not quite slow enough to be imperceptible, which Kyle was finding increasingly unsettling, in both an emotional and physical way. His tie was hanging down into his bowl of gluten-free antioxidant oatmeal, which he hadn't touched and which was hardening into a disgusting, gray cement-like substance. He was staring across the table at Cramer, who was checking in on his All-in-One for the sixteenth time since the pretty young hostess had sat them at this rather prestigious table, after complimenting Cramer several times on the cut of his new designer suit.

"Sorry, buddy, just one second," Cramer mumbled, thumbing the screen.

Their table was one of several such exclusive Executive Dining tables positioned on the narrow spiraling tiers that ringed the upper reaches of the dome so that diners with Executive Dining cards could simultaneously gaze out over the endless sprawl of the megalopolis as the sun rose over the eastern horizon like a dazzling thermonuclear deathstar and look down on the other less-prestigious diners on the floors below. It was nestled right up to the curve of one of the massive ThermaSoak window panels, so that Kyle was forced to lean to his right, and to hunch down over his juice and gruel, whereas Cramer was leaning slightly to his left, keying the screen of his Viewer with one hand and dipping into his Soygurt with the other. All along the tier they were on other presumably Executive diners at other tables in designer suits were similarly slightly leaning and hunching and keying their Viewers as they drank their smoothies through plastic straws with bendable necks and ate their bowls of Soygurt and fruit, or oatmeal, or other gluten-free cereals. Suspended on a set of invisible wires from the stationary apex of the vertical axis of this giant revolving sphere they were supposed to be sitting there eating their breakfasts in, an orbicular array of video screens floated in space at different levels (i.e. the levels of the upper tiers), so that they seemed to be not quite imperceptibly revolving clockwise, so against the almost imperceptible counterclockwise revolution of the table itself ... all of which (i.e. this nearly constant diametrically circular movement, which also included the antipodal rushing back and forth along the tiers of the servers as well as the pretty hostess) was making Kyle increasingly sick. Many of these seemingly revolving screens (which of course, in reality, were not revolving, it was just a matter of Kyle's perspective) were running special Real-Time footage of various members of the mainstream media reporting from the lawn of some Cartwright estate, and they were intercutting other footage of people placing candles and flowers and pictures of Jimbo and hand-written prayers at the gates of his various other estates, and in the elevator bays of corporate offices, and in the entrances of Finkles retail locations. Other screens were running OUTBREAK!, a special edition of KILL CHAIN LIVE! wherein KILL CHAIN! players throughout the U.T. competed live on a regional level, pitting their skill-sets against each other to take down dangerous Terrorist targets (who were threatening to maliciously breach their quarantine) for the chance to advance to the global finals and win an assortment of valuable prizes. Susan Schnupftuch-Boermann Goereszky was jabbering frantically into the camera, and going live to nose-cone footage, and interactive maps, and hologram gizzies, and to handheld or possibly helmet-mounted right-in-the-thick-of-it action shots, and bringing in Dr. Roger P. Greenway to incomprehensibly holler nonsense whenever an operator took out a target. The obviously delirious Anti-Socials, whose end-stage Anti-Social disease had driven them to senseless Terrorist acts, and had filled their brains with rage and hatred, and whose suffering one could not imagine, were darting in and out of burning buildings, which were taking fire from Security forces, and were mounting pathetic and futile attacks on armored vehicles with stones and bottles, some of which they were filling with gas, or some other type of flammable substance, and igniting and lobbing into the ranks of Security Specialists marching toward them like a herd of identical faceless robots. Other Specialists (i.e. snipers or "Marksmen," and the gunners in the bays of Security choppers), were taking aim at the needlessly suffering Terrorists fleeing the advancing infantry, leading them slightly to account for the desperate zigzag patterns they were running away in, and finally mercifully cutting them down as quickly and as painlessly as humanly possible. Against the backdrop of all this chaos, and carnage, and agonized shrieking and so on, regional KILL CHAIN! quarter-finalists were laser-guiding precision missiles down out of the cloudless sky and into the open bedroom windows of high-ranking Terrorist leaders' apartments, and down into their basement bunkers, and through the walls of what looked like either torture chambers or nightclubs, or both, and down through the roofs of random buildings and various other high-value targets.

None of which of course was actually happening.

OUTBREAK!, like the rest of the KILL CHAIN franchise, was just an elaborate video game, a phenomenally expensive, interactive, "multi-player simulation," which aside from being just insanely popular and generating mondo revenue streams (there was spin-off Content, sporting apparel, little action figures for the kids, and so on), helped to relieve the chronic anxiety stemming from the constantly imminent threat of a sudden and devastating Terrorist attack with a nuclear device, or bio-agent, that the Normals were forced to perpetually live with. Basically, it let people blow off steam. Variant-Positives, despite the fact that most of them were medicated up the wazoo, and meditated two to three hours a day, and walked the Path(s) to Prosperity, and so on, were still just Homo sapiens sapiens, who sometimes needed to blow off steam. KILL CHAIN! allowed them to blow off this steam in a healthy compassion-associated fashion, as the virtual end-stage Terrorist targets whose bodies were being ripped to pieces, or vaporized into a pinkish mist, were beyond any sort of palliative care, so really this was the best thing for them.

Kyle was feeling increasingly unwell. Physically unwell. As in nauseated. As in he was going to uncontrollably vomit, in a sudden and shockingly projectile manner, either across the table at Cramer, who was smiling down into the screen of his Viewer, or off the tier and onto the heads of the non-Executive diners below. He turned away from the KILL CHAIN! horror and gazed out at the twinkling sea of lights stretching off into the horizon. He was moving backwards, north to west. He picked out the beacon of a tower in the distance and gave it his undivided attention.

"Sorry, man, what were we talking about?"

Cramer had finished whatever he was doing. He beamed across the table at Kyle like an infomercial appliance salesman.


"Oh. Yeah." He switched to his deeply concerned expression. "So ... how you doing with all that?"

"Not so good."

"But better, right?"

"Actually no."

"You're taking your meds, though."

Kyle nodded dutifully.

"What'd they give you?"

"Tribenzoline-something. I've got them at home."

Cramer had a piece of berry in his teeth.

"And you're walking your Path."

"Yeah. It's just …"

"Because that's the main thing."

"I know. I am. I …"

"Letting it go. "

"Right. I just …"

"What happened to your tie?"

"It's just a spot."

"Tonic water."

"No, it fell in my bowl."

"No. Tonic water will get it out."

The planet earth was rushing up into a screen in Kyle's peripheral vision.


"Something wrong with your oatmeal?"

"No. It's fine. My stomach's just funny."

"Send it back."

He scanned the tier, spied the server and eyeballed her over.

"No. It's fine. It's just a little ... it's just a little motion sickness."


"I'm just not feeling that well."

The server was standing there smiling at them.

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Everything's fine."

"Is there something wrong with your oatmeal, sir?"

The server's name was Hyancinth Wong. It said so on the display she was wearing. Her lips were bright red shapeless blobs and you could see all her bones beneath her skin.

"No. I just …"

"I can warm it up for you."

She was also wearing latex gloves.

"Thanks, but …"

"Let her warm it up for you."

As were all the other servers.

"Fine. Sure."

"I'll just warm this up then."

A woman was sobbing on a screen behind her.

"Thanks. Great."

"Was there anything else?"

"Not just now."

Kyle retched, just slightly. He reached for his glass of mineral water. Cramer quickly checked his Viewer.

"Anyway, great to see you, buddy."

"Yeah, I …"

"I meant to call you sooner, but then ... well, you know how it is. This whole promotion thing happened so fast."


"Long time coming. Shame it had to happen this way. Weird how things work out sometimes."


"The Will of the One and all that. Anyway, I thought we should probably talk. Process what happened. You know what I mean."

"Thanks for your Fleeps."

"Hey, don't even mention it. What can I say? I'm just so sorry."

"You don't have to keep apologizing."

"I know. I didn't mean it like that."


"I just meant ... I know you're hurting. But we did everything we could for her, right? You know this disease. It's like they say …"

Hyancinth was back with Kyle's warmed-up oatmeal.

"Here we go, nice and warm now."

Kyle grimaced and nodded.

"Was there anything else?"

A message tone beeped on Cramer's Viewer.

Kyle hadn't seen or spoken to Cramer since they'd met at Rosie's on 04 March. He'd rushed back home to Pewter Palisades, checked in quickly with Susan Foster to tell her everything was under control and that his cousin Greg, who worked at Hadley, had been advised, and was handling everything, and collapsed onto the living room couch, feeling drained but generally hopeful. A few days later he'd received a Fleep, SORRY ... WE MAY HAVE A PROBLEM. Two days later he'd received another one, REALLY SORRY. DEFINITE PROBLEM HERE. Two days later, INCREDIBLY SORRY. VAL DETAINED & DESIGNATED, followed by an animated sad-face emoticon.

The day after that he'd received a Tweak from someone by the name of Joralamon Gomm who apparently worked in the Records Department of the Family and Loved Ones Services Division of the Hadley Corporation of Menomonie, Wisconsin's District 12 Northeast Regional Headquarters, informing him that he was now divorced. Two hours later he received an invoice from the Family and Loved Ones Services Division for GD 984.50 for "processing fees and related services". Other communications followed. Most of which were also invoices, mostly for various Healthcare services and sundry legal and administrative fees. There was one for GD 16,000, the deductible for "emergency medical services," and another for GD 4,000.20, for "mobile emergency transport services." There were two in the GD 5,000 range for various "aggregated medical services," and one for GD 9,060.00 for "aggregated miscellaneous products of a non-exclusively medical nature related to in-patient care and comfort (including, but not limited to, disposable backless hospital gowns, non-slip footwear, moisturizing tissues, adhesive and non-adhesive dressings, nylon and/or dynaflex tubing, polyglycolide suture, etc)." There were charges for various records amendments, title transfers, releases, waivers, affidavits, statements, and so on. Finally, on or about the morning of Differently Mentally-Abled Persons Day, he'd received official confirmation of Valentina's designation as a Class 3 Anti-Social Person and her transfer to undisclosed Quarantine Zone. Also attached to this official email was a florally-embroidered digital greeting card extending the personal heartfelt condolences of the Board of Directors, Executive Management, Legal Department and Administrative Staff of the Hadley Corporation of Menomonie, Wisconsin on the loss of Kyle's unborn Clarion daughter, and praying that the One would take Kyle's hand and swiftly guide him down his hopefully short-term Path of Unimaginable Grief.

Throughout all this he had repeatedly called and fleeped and tweaked and texted and emailed his cousin Greg, to no avail. His Tweaks and Fleeps all went unanswered. His calls got routed straight to voicemail. Doctor Graell had prescribed a veritable pharmacy to help him through his grief, which he'd warned Kyle not to let himself wallow in, lest it mutate into clinical depression. The pills didn't seem to be doing very much, other than making him nauseated, so he was also taking all these antiemetics, which made him drowsy, so he was also taking several extra doses of Methylphenidril, and Benzehexophaline, and other stimulants, and drinking like three pots of coffee a day. He was quite a mess. His work was suffering. The Dean of Info-Entertainment Content had called him in to extend his condolences and suggest he take a few weeks off (or however many unpaid weeks he had to) to work through his unimaginable grief, which the Dean could only try to imagine, and then come back refreshed and ready to work, and resembling his normal, cooperative self. He assured the Dean he'd be OK and doubled up on his Methylphenidril (which he was already taking way too much of, and walking around the BVCC campus audibly grinding his teeth and smiling). He went back home and sat in the empty sunflower kitchen on Marigold Lane, where he muffled his agonized guttural shrieks, and his stomach-cramping convulsive weeping, with a dish-towel that smelled like Valentina, and that went with the color of the kitchen perfectly, and he prayed like a child alone in the dark for some magical power to turn back time.

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