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Lucania Publishing House



Edited by Jennifer Blaine

Cover Design by Krisp Designs (Krispin Davies)


Copyright © 2014; All Rights Reserved.


Warren Dean asserts all rights to be identified as the author of this work; no part of it may be copied or distributed in any way without the prior written permission of the author.  The events, names, and characters depicted in this story are fictional and any resemblance to any event, person, or alien living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.


Cover incorporates Centaurus A: Credit ESO WFI (Optical); MPIfR ESO APEX A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre); NASA CXC CfA R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)




For Jenny





Soon, everyone was talking about the Faerie Folk.

Even David Herald, usually disinterested in the news, caught up with the story on his way into Boston.  He sat at a window of the bullet-train's executive carriage, and watched the suburbs flash by.  His ear-mote chimed and he looked at the screen of the wrist-link he wore to see who was calling.  It was Pris, who was probably still at home.  He pressed the 'mote more firmly into his right ear and muttered, "Answer," in the slightly sheepish tone of someone talking to an electronic device in public.

"David, are you at the Factory yet?"

"No, the train is just going through Dedham.  Why, what's up?"

"Everyone is glued to a story breaking on the Personet.  Watch it on your 'specs, if you've got them with you."

"Which channel?" he asked.

"All of them.  I've just switched on and they are talking about some weird people who have been found in central Asia.  The news channels are all taking it seriously so it doesn't seem to be a hoax.  Call me later."  She disconnected the call without giving him a chance to say anything else.

He fished through his jacket pockets for his video-specs but, as usual, had left them at home.  He would have to wait until he got to the Factory to watch the video footage.  For now, he would have to make do with an audio broadcast.  He pressed the stud on his 'link which opened the Personet media menu and said "CNN News".

The voice of an excited reporter broke in loudly over his 'mote.  "Volume down," he commanded and, after a short pause, "Replay current segment".

The newsflash replayed from the beginning.  A reporter summarised recent events in an animated tone.  Her voice was moderately accented but he could not place its origin.

"Early this morning, four tall, slim figures walked into the admissions hall of the Achtan Hospital in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator.  They all wore hooded scarlet capes, within which their hands and faces were carefully concealed.  The security scanner at the entrance detected nothing harmful and did not prevent them from entering.  Three of the strangers waited in the hall.  The fourth approached the receptionist on duty and asked to see the hospital administrator.  We do not know what language was used.  The administrator immediately quarantined the strangers in a private ward.  The police were called and have cordoned off the building.  We have been told that the administrator is aware of growing concern in the city about the quarantine.  There is no word yet of the reason for it and we have been promised that she will issue a statement soon."

The reporter paused for breath, or perhaps she was listening to more information coming in.

"We have been looking for eyewitnesses who may have seen the strangers before they entered the hospital.  A municipal contractor, Mr Nergui Gerel, has been interviewed by a reporter from the UB Post.  Gerel says that he first saw the strangers crossing the railway tracks south of the city.  They were on foot and did not stop to do anything or speak to anyone.  He saw them again in Peace Avenue, just before they reached the hospital.  As he drove past them in his truck, one of them removed a hand from its cloak and pushed back its hood slightly.  Gerel caught sight of thin, elongated fingers and a sharp, cat-like face with very bright eyes. He drove quickly away, watching them cross the road in his rear view mirror.  He has been asked to give a description to a graphic artist and we hope to bring you the results as soon as they are available."

David's carriage slid silently into Boston's South Station on its magnetic rails and the doors popped open.  The sound from his 'mote was instantly drowned by the noise of the busy platform. He pressed the stud on his 'link to switch off the channel.  He could watch the broadcast in peace once he got to the Factory.

He stepped onto the platform amidst a gaggle of executives and made his way out of the station.  He had to slalom his way through the commuters, more and more of them becoming distracted from their morning dash to work by the surreal story coming out of Asia.  He activated his 'link again to call for his driver, and walked a short way down Atlantic Avenue to the usual pick-up point across from Dewey Square Plaza.

Some people were wandering absently along the sidewalks, watching the news on their 'specs, while others crowded into coffee shops or clustered around store-front windows to watch it on their wall-screens.  When he got to the Plaza, the black limousine was waiting and Carlo opened the back door for him.  "Morning sir," he said in his customary clipped tone as David slid into the plush seat.  Carlo climbed into the driver's seat and drove down the avenue, turning left at the intersection with Pearl Street.

David realised that he hadn't called Pris back and activated his 'link.  "Call home," he said.

She answered after the first ring.  "Hello, have you been watching the news?"

"Not yet, Carlo has just picked me up, but I heard some of the story on the train.  So, have the strangers been identified yet?"

"No, but that is not stopping the Personet reporters from speculating.  The most sensible theory so far is that they are from some long lost tribe of nomads living in a remote area of the steppes.  It would explain the hospital's decision to quarantine them.  Apparently a sample of their DNA has been taken for testing and a statement is going to be made any time now."

Carlo stopped the car alongside a large concrete plinth emblazoned with the name 'Forever Incorporated' in bronzed capitals.  No-one used that name much anymore and he often wondered why he and Pris had bothered to come up with the catchy title at all.  When Pris first suggested it, he vetoed the name, believing that something less ostentatious would be much less embarrassing if the corporation didn't last very long.  Pris simply vetoed his veto, and Forever Incorporated it became.

After its first few successes, a Personet reporter overheard some of its staff jokingly referring to their place of work as 'The Factory'.  The name had stuck and spread like wildfire, as things tended to do on the Personet.  Ever since then, every branch of the now multinational corporation, no matter where in the world it was situated, was simply called the Factory.

David waved good-bye to Carlo and stepped out onto the sidewalk.  With a familiar nod to the building doorman, he walked through the double doorway, straightening his jacket and increasing the volume of his 'mote so that he could still hear Pris. He passed through the security scanner and headed for the bank of cylindrical elevator chutes at the far end of the cavernous reception hall.  "I'm about to get into the chute," he said to Pris, "so I might lose contact with you".

"I can't believe you still haven't asked the guys in IT to upgrade your 'link," she sighed.  "The new ones don't lose connection inside chutes or subway tunnels.  I had better get going anyway, I have a lecture to give at nine, although I don't know how many of my students will be there with all this going on.  Are you seeing anyone famous today?"

"Not really, a Texan oil billionaire and his wife this morning, and a Canadian businessman this afternoon.  They have already had their medicals and I'm pretty sure they will decide to go ahead once they've seen the full presentation."

"They would be silly not to," she sniffed, and disconnected the call.

He walked between the wood-panelled reception area on the left and the similarly themed waiting lounge on the right, his footsteps echoing on the polished marble floor.  The morning sunlight streamed through skylights nine storeys above, feeding the hanging plants arranged artfully along the balconies of the various mezzanine floors.

Heidi waved cheerfully to him from behind the reception desk.  "Morning Dr Herald, have you heard about the Faerie Folk?  Those reporters say they are from outer space, but surely that's nonsense.  Why would they go to Mongolia of all places?  And where is their space ship?"

"The Faerie Folk?  The reporters don't waste any time assigning clever nicknames do they?"

She smiled, and winked at him before answering an incoming call.  Heidi was the ultimate receptionist; articulate, efficient, pleasant and just a little off the wall.  No-one else at the Factory could wink at him like that and make him feel like a favourite nephew.  Her chronological age was the same as his, although he looked ten years younger.  She had only recently taken advantage of the Factory's substantial staff discount on the price of the Forever Gene.

He asked her once why she had waited so long before having the treatment; she had been with the Factory since its inception and qualified for the discount after five years of service.  She could have pegged her genetic age at forty-four, but waited until she was fifty to do so.  She laughed and said that she thought she would look more distinguished with a little grey in her hair.  Then her smile faded and, in a rare moment of introspection, she told him that she had never thought much about life and death, and simply intended to grow old gracefully.  But after her first grandchild was born, the desire to re-live her motherhood was irresistible.  She realised that she had the opportunity stay young enough to help him grow up, and to be there for any brothers and sisters he might have.  She could even be there to see them have children of their own.

David, of course, was someone who had thought deeply about life and death.  Not just that he wanted to live and didn't want to die, which was about as far as most people got.  He had seriously thought about it.

When he was six his mother dressed him in his best clothes and took him to the New Calvary Cemetery for his grandmother's funeral.  He stood quietly next to his brother James throughout the ceremony, staring at the wooden coffin and wondering if Gran was really in there.  When the coffin began to slide gently into the grave, and his mother began to cry, he decided that she must be.

"How long does she have to stay in there?" he asked James in a stage whisper.  James was thirteen and would know.

"Forever, dummy," was the cynical reply.

Later, after everyone had finished offering his mother their condolences, they went back to the station.  No-one spoke on the train home, but at least his mother's tears had dried by the time they got back to their apartment.

"Boys," she said briskly, "is there anything you would like to know?"

James said nothing.

David said, "Is Dad also going to be dead forever?"  At first he didn't understand why his question started her tears flowing again, but the desolate expression on her face had stayed with him, and later he thought that dying must be really awful to cause such unhappiness. With the iron resolve of a six-year-old, he decided that when he grew up he would make sure that people would not have to die anymore.

Unlike most juvenile fantasies, David made his a reality.  It did not happen in the way he had visualised as a child and it came too late to save his mother, who died of heart failure a few years before the Forever Gene was fully developed.

When it first became available for sale to everyone, or at least to everyone who could afford it, the storm of controversy was certainly predictable.  The introduction of genetic technology which could extend human life indefinitely raised a seemingly endless series of legal, ethical and religious questions.  The politicians, lawyers and Personet reporters were not slow to worry at the subject like a pack of dogs with a whole carcass of bones.  But not even the four-year long rigmarole of having the technology approved by the authorities prepared David for the weeks and months of interviews, chat shows and press conferences, not to mention being called everything from Peter Pan to the Anti-Christ.

Despite all of his careful preparation, however, the very first question asked at his first press conference took him completely by surprise.  He had anticipated having to deal with whether the Forever Gene would make having children redundant, or would lead to catastrophic overpopulation, or would be offensive to people's religious beliefs.  Politicians voted into office by less affluent constituencies found themselves horrified at the thought of the rich living longer than the poor.  They felt compelled to campaign vigorously against the exorbitant cost of the treatment.  Some of them even went as far as having the treatment themselves in order to extend their tireless efforts to make it available to their less fortunate constituents.

The earnest young Personet reporter who had won the right to ask the first question wanted to know how old a person with the Forever Gene would be.  Would an 'immortal' have to give his or her genetic age or chronological age when, for example, applying for health insurance or retirement benefits.

David managed to avoid cringing at the casual use of the term 'immortal', but was unable to avoid being nonplussed by the question.  He certainly hadn't thought about it.  "Er, I don't know," he stammered frankly.  It was an inauspicious beginning for the fledgling rock star of the genetic world.

He remembered thinking that Chunky Tyler, his long-time friend and partner, would have been able to come up with a snappy retort to salvage the situation.  Quite a lot of thought had gone into who the face of the technology should be when it was introduced to the world.  Chunky seemed the logical choice, he was intelligent, creative and likeable, with a wicked sense of humour which he often used to extricate himself from almost any difficult situation.

Unfortunately, he was also brash and over-confident and tended to be the manufacturer of the very situations which required his extrication.  David, on the other hand, was calm, studious, and reliable and it was decided that he should be the one to deal with the serious questions.  As Pris put it, potential patients would be more likely to take the Forever Gene seriously if it was being presented by someone who acted like a university professor than by someone who acted like a university student.  Despite having endured similar taunts from his younger sister over many years, Chunky couldn't help responding in kind and a minor family spat ensued.  It was one that Chunky lost however, the evidence of past misdemeanours counting against him.

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