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The Last Enemy - Part 4 Volume 1 - 2055-2070

 

The Last Enemy

 

 

Part 4 – Volume 1

 

2055-2070

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luca Luchesini

 

 

Edited by Isabel Spinelli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Luca Luchesini

Disclaimer

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, business establishments, events and locations is entirely coincidental.

 

Part Four

 

The New Order

 

Chapter 1

 

Nicolas Playan took his place in the pilot seat of the Elevator transport module number 41. Next to him, on his right, sat Waddah Al-Mofeez, the polyethylene space expert from the Arabian Union, and on the left there was Albert Goltsmann, the Russian space-drilling guru. They exchanged a greeting, and then Nicolas signaled to the control center they were ready for take off. The two people were the only passengers of that flight, the only other cargo was the usual 20 tons of compressed carbon dioxide to be released in high Earth orbit.

“Even though we went through the lift-off briefing procedure for first timers like you,” Nicolas said, “you will be surprised to see how uneventful going into space has become. Just relax and enjoy the view.”

He had barely finished the sentence when a slight bump signaled that the module had been put into motion. After a brisk acceleration, the speed was stabilized at the thirty-miles-per-hour cruise that would take them to the intermediate station, two-hundred miles above sea level. Due to cloudy weather, the rainforest of Equatorial Guinea quickly disappeared from their sight. Half an hour later, the module was entering the stratosphere. The crew started seeing the amazing curvature of the Earth, as the sky turned into a deeper blue.

“Are those blinking lights above us the intermediate orbit station or a module on the way back?” Albert asked.

“It’s a module like ours on the way back, the station is still far away,” Nicolas replied with some amusement. He was always getting the same questions, but he enjoyed answering them. “As you know, the Guinea Space Elevator now has thirty-five cables in service, which keep the intermediate station anchored in position while acting as guides for the transport modules like this one. The Elevator manages to send twenty-five shipments a day into outer space. We keep building new cables, just like the sister Elevators in Guyana and Kenya, and the new carbon nanotubes tethers allow bigger payloads.

“The Plan calls for a capacity of one million tons per year by 2070, correct?” Waddah remarked, “That’s what we were told during the briefings.”

“I think we will do more,” Nicolas replied, “After the war, the decision was made to build the three facilities along the Equator, under the respective control of the United States and Brazil, the Euro-Russian Federation and China and India. It turns out that each of the powers is constantly increasing the budgets, and China and Japan have recently announced they will build a fourth Space Elevator station in Malaysia.”

“Have they overcome the challenges of building the Earth station in highly seismic areas?” Albert turned away from the Earth’s surface and joined the conversation.

“Apparently so, but nobody really knows how they managed. There is still a lot of work for secret services to do,” Nicolas laughed. He then noticed that Waddah was looking up where the Mecca was on his smartwatch.

“I beg your pardon, it’s prayer time,” he said, then stood up and moved toward the rear of the crew module. “I will be back soon,” he added. Albert and Nicolas interrupted their conversation and waited until Waddah was back. When he returned, he broke the silence first.

“I am really glad that the restoration work at the Holy Mosque is progressing well. Next year, the remaining war damages should be repaired, inshallah. Then it will be back to the splendor it was at the beginning of the century.”

“I am sure your government will make it on time,” Albert conceded, “After all, it is the most significant project to legitimate your new Union, that is stretching from the Turkish border to Oman. It won’t fail.”

“One always fails if he goes against God’s will”, Waddah rebutted, then he fell silent, as if regretting his tone. Nico chimed in.

“Well, it’s a similar situation in Europe, with the development plan of Budapest, the new seat of the Euro-Russian Federation. The city now has four million people and is growing, luring people from all corners of Eurasia. It’s now twice as big as London, or Paris, or my hometown, Madrid. Who would have said that twenty years ago, at the onset of the war?”

“No one,” Albert whispered, looking outside the window. He deactivated his translating earbuds and continued in his very decent English, looking at Waddah. “The only thing that did not change in the upheaval is your quarrel with the Jews, which continues the same as before the war, right, Waddah?”

Waddah smiled, and switched to English as well. “What used to be the State of Israel, is now occupied territory of the Jewish Republic of Cyprus within the Arab Union. And what used to be occupied territory of the State of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, is now part of the Arab Union. To me, this more proof of the truth of the Holy Koran, which says that things will be settled once and for all only at Judgment Day.”

“I think we already came too damn close to Judgement Day,” Albert snapped back, “and realized just in time we did not like it. My family lived in Moscow for five generations. They survived the Nazi attacks in World War 2, but could not bear the climate change and epidemic waves that the war brought about. We had to flee South, toward the Black Sea coast. The richest branch of the family made it to Greece. Now the government is trying to reverse the trend, feeding throngs of government employees with fat wages to bring them back to Moscow. Yet I was there last week, and believe me, with barely two million people living there in the city center, you can still feel the weight from those dark war days. I wanted to go back, but I have not yet made up my mind.”

“I am sure you will go back sooner rather than later,” Waddah said, “Your new czarina is as determined to revive Moscow as our King Yusuf is to restore Arabia and the Levant to the splendor of the Abbasids.”

Albert smiled. “I agree. Irina Kanchelskaya first saved us from the Chinese invasion, then negotiated the deal to merge the Russian Federation with what was left of the European Union. Somehow, she made a blessing out of two wreckages,”

“And then,” Nico jumped in, laughing, “she made Telomerax legal so that she can rule forever! Look, we are approaching the low orbit station. Prepare to shift gears, we are going to accelerate to outer space speed!”

Albert and Waddah looked at the data projected by the systems on their retina, expecting some bumps on the road, but there were none. The module left the cable and activated the electromagnetic engines as it flew through the half-mile length of the station, where some modules were parked at the docking fingers, offloading payloads.

They felt instead the acceleration of the engines, but it was no stronger than a sports car, except that it lasted much longer. Nicolas noted that their passengers all started looking at the clock.

“If you forgot to start your timer, I can tell you, it will last exactly twelve minutes and fifty-one seconds. Enough to accelerate us at the speed of nearly six thousand miles per hour to take us to the geostationary station in little less than four hours.”

“Will we stay at this speed as we cross the two remaining intermediate stations? Those from which we launch the planet drilling vehicles?” Waddah asked

“Yes, but do not worry, there is no other transport ahead of us we could bump into, nor are there any passengers waiting on the platform to see our train pass.” Nicolas chuckled. “Intermediate stations are huge structures like this one we are crossing, but it will take us less than a second to speed through them.”

It was exactly as Nicolas predicted. As they approached their destination, the atmosphere changed and Nicolas asked his passengers once again,

“I read in the flight plan that your mission is not classified. So, what are you going to do up there?”

Waddah was the first to answer.

“It’s a routine job. I need to check the performance of the last generation of drilling heads, that we have installed three years ago on the methane-extraction vehicles. Telemetry data gave us good results, but I need to physically inspect the system before we decide to send it back to the Jupiter moons for another methane-harvest trip or even bring it back to Earth for repair. You need to be on site, just like with the old oil wells in the desert.”

He then looked outside the window. In front of them, there was now only the darkness of outer space, adorned with stars. Looking out of the back window, it was possible to see the blue glow of the Earth behind them. Stunned by the sight, Waddah paused long enough to let Albert think he was finished.

“I am instead working on the plastic production, just like in the old days,” Albert said, “except that the polyethylene factory is now twenty-thousand miles above sea level. It took a while to build it. It was clear since the very beginning that there was no point in bringing the raw hydrocarbons back to Earth, when you could manage the whole process in outer space. We now know you can dump the waste without worry, as long as it is disposed of in the Sun.”

“Until some alien civilization will find the garbage and come looking for us,” Waddah laughed, “I hope that by that time, we will all be dead.”

“Is that the reason why you guys of the Arabian Union banned Telomerax? You want to spare yourselves from the first alien invasion?” Albert snapped back. Nico thought the remark was quite rude, and hoped he did not have to report to the mission commander, in case the conversation went downhill.

“It’s not only the Arabian Union, you know,” Waddah politely rebuffed. “There is also the Egyptian Federation, Turkey, the Empire of Iran and many nations in Africa, many of whom are not Muslim at all, if this is what you are implying. Lastly, Telomerax remains strictly regulated in China.”

“To be fair,” Nico completed, “there are also many places in Europe and America that refuse to take Telomerax, mostly for moral or religious reasons. You are not forced to take Telomerax, it’s an option.”

“Yes, except that at some point in time they will get old in a world of young and they will feel increasingly disconnected and unwelcome,” Waddah added, “Have you read about the Polish community in Alexandria, Egypt? Devote Catholics that felt that a Muslim country was a better environment for the last part of their lives and..”

“I think the sunshine and seaside also played a role there,” Albert chimed in with a smile, “on one thing I do agree with you, Waddah, nowadays people are choosing the place where they want to live based on their soul’s preferences rather than anything else, such as race or language, and..”

Albert stopped in the middle of the sentence, as soon as he felt the beginning of the deceleration. Graphs and numbers appeared on the screens of the three crew members, as Albert and Waddah were surprised by the flow of data. Nico quickly configured the module for the docking.

“You see that blinking spot, right next to the group of four stars in front of us? It’s Geo Orbit 1, our destination. We will arrive in exactly…” Nico checked again, ”..sixteen minutes and thirty-five seconds from now.”

He looked at his passengers. Albert and Waddah were busy doing the pre-landing checks, and they had forgotten about the conversation. Nico was relieved. For a few minutes, he had feared the situation might get worse, like it did the week before, when his passengers were…who were they? He thought for a fraction of a second, then he recalled. Yes, the German physicist and the Nigerian doctor. That time the argument had grown so nasty that he had had to electronically isolate the passengers and denounce them to mission control. This time, doing his job was much easier.

 

Chapter 2

 

Louis was looking outside the Skydeck on the 67th floor of the Donau Tower in Vienna, Austria. Below him, the Donau River and the highway A22 ran in parallel, cutting the Vienna Metropolitan area in half. At 7:30 in the morning, the traffic was at its peak. From his view, Louis could spot the boroughs that still lay abandoned, as they casted their shadows of darkness crossed only by the pools of light from the street lamps. Ten years had passed since the end of the war back in 2055, yet Vienna was still struggling to recover, like many other cities. He used his mind to launch a search with his wifi helmet, and information started to flow on his retina lense. He quickly found what he was looking for. A third of the population of Vienna was still missing, only the city center and the most elegant residential suburbs had come back to pre-war population levels. All the rest were either underpopulated or empty.

He had to appear in front of the Telomerax Regulation Commission of the World Federation in about half an hour, in the old United Nations complex which was next to the Donau Tower. He decided there was no point in making his guests wait. He nodded to the bodyguards who had always followed him, and started walking to the elevators, immediately followed by the escort team.

Twenty minutes later, he cleared the security checks and entered the spacious room that would host the hearing. He was ten minutes early, and was not surprised to see that most of the commission members had not shown up yet, but he was glad to see that Dinesh Kheradpir was already at his place. Dinesh stood up, and approached him smiling. He stopped respectfully at an arm’s length away, slightly bowed and politely extended his hand for Louis to shake, following his Indian culture.

“Good morning, Dr. Kheradpir, I’m happy to see that you have been appointed as chief scientific adviser to the Commission,” Louis cheered, “I hope you can bring some common sense to the discussion.”

“Dr. Picard, it is always a pleasure to see you. I can tell you that all the Commission members are particularly nervous about the size and rate of growth of the population of the immortals.”

“All the Commission members? Are you sure?” Louis was puzzled, “Even the Americans and the Eurorussians?”

“All of them. You will see, here they come.” Dinesh turned towards the door, as the members started to enter. He shook hands with Louis one more time, wishing him good luck, and he sat at his assigned desk, leaving Dr. Picard alone.

The Chinese delegate opened the meeting, introducing the six other members, each one representing the main political blocs of the Security Council of the World Federation. He then asked Dinesh to start his presentation on his findings.

Louis was aware Dinesh’s research. Basically, there was no way to easily know how many people had become immortal. Louis and the children of his early partners were obviously among them, but hundreds of thousands of people had been exposed to Telomerax long enough during the Prohibition Era to develop and pass on immortality to their offspring. Many had perished during the war, but there were still some left. The calculations developed by Dinesh guessed that there was somewhere between one to two million ‘native immortals’ in the world, with a large majority of them unaware of being so.

“Is there a way we can develop a test to detect these people?” the representative from the Arab-African Republic of Egypt asked Louis, pausing the hologram that Dinesh was projecting. “After all, it is a genetic modification, there must be a way to map and detect it.”

Dinesh looked at Louis, waiting for his support.

“It is not mapped to a specific gene,” Louis answered, “It is kind of spread over the whole DNA, and all DNA strands are different, so…”

“Then how were you able to discover that you and your relatives had developed immortality?” The member from the Sub-Saharan African Union interrupted Louis in the middle of his sentence.

“If you let me finish my sentence, I will tell you,” Louis replied, without hiding his irritation. “I discovered that my family and I had become immortal, because I ran a long series of experiments on biological samples, both mine and those of my closest relatives. After doing so I saw that somehow our DNA had morphed into something new. So yes, you can run a test, but it will take six months, you will need to be invasive, and it will cost some money. In short: you can find out if someone is immortal but it will be much more complicated than it seems.”

“This means that this new species, let’s call it the ‘Homo sapiens immortalis’, will silently become dominant, as they will pass immortality on to their offspring and over time there will be no more mortals.” The remark came from the European member.

“That’s correct,” the American member jumped in, “and while this might not pose a problem to the blocs that have fully legalized Telomerax, it is a major problem for all the others which are still banning the drug. Over the centuries, their populations will become immortal, too.”

“I fully appreciate you realizing the extent of the problem, if we can call it so,” Louis commented in the silence that followed, “Even more, I do not understand what you are expecting of me. I shared all I knew about Telomerax, and I cannot compete with any big corporation like the one of Dinesh, or the ‘Prosperity’ conglomerate in China, when it comes to doing new research. Nowadays, I am more part of history than someone that can help chart the way into the future.”

“You indeed went a bit too far with sharing your knowledge,” the Indian delegate said, “to the extent that private organizations can now run the immortality test procedure, for those that are curious enough and are willing to pay for it. They just need to spend a few weeks visiting one of the many clinics that are popping up in countries where Telomerax is allowed.”

“Well, that should actually help you,” Louis snapped back sarcastically, “I am sure governments have found a way to sneak into the clinics’ databases. Over time, you will get to know who is immortal and who is not. To be more precise, governments will eventually know something about other countries’ citizens, as people tend to take these tests abroad, just to make sure that their own government does not know about it. Don’t expect me to feel guilty, I’ve held Telomerax secrets for a long time and in retrospect I think it was a big mistake. Or is the World Federation thinking about arresting and prosecuting me for publishing all my works?”

“We have no intention of accusing you, Dr. Picard,” Palmerston Carbone, the commissioner from the Latin American League said with a broad smile. “The war left five billion dead. Even places like my country, Brazil, that were outside the combat zones, had to endure the epidemics and pest storms and ultimately paid a huge price in terms of lives. We all know there were no culprits, or maybe too many agents that interacted in a catastrophic way. However, our concern today is that this new immortal strain of humanity might bring back recrimination and resentment, and draw new divisions between people. That’s why we are seeking your help and advice.”

“But that’s exactly what we should have overcome with the Beijing Treaty of 2055 that ended the war,” Louis replied, “where basically every major political bloc accepted the decisions the other blocs made with respect to Telomerax adoption and control, and at the same time the individuals were granted the right to opt for the bloc they preferred. It was decided so, and I agree that in order to avoid major differences dividing nations, and groups within nations, it’s necessary for this to be in effect. Again, if you opt to live in a bloc where Telomerax is somehow legal, there is virtually no difference between an immortal and a non-immortal person that gets her periodic Telomerax shot. Bear in mind that immortal does not mean eternal, as I painfully experienced with the loss of my wife, Dora. Over time, even if you are immortal, you will incur some accident and die anyway. In fact, we have massively increased average life duration, and made it possible to live longer according to one’s physical health and with ever increasing intelligence. The big drawback is that death, unlike in the past, will mostly be sudden and unexpected.”

“That’s undoubtedly true,” Dinesh chimed in to reinforce Louis’ message, showing a video on the screen from the World Health Organization, “We have run several simulations, based on available mortality statistics. Average lifespan is now anywhere between 170 and 280 years, depending on where you live. The two dominant causes of death are now strokes of all kinds, followed by cancer and other incurable illnesses. Medical reasons are just a notch more frequent than murders and other violence-inducted deaths, while car and other transport accidents have virtually disappeared, thanks to autonomous cars. Then we have a long list of any sort of accidents, from slipping in the bathroom to accidentally falling off a cliff – in a nutshell, bad luck. Really bad, if you are immortal.”

“Ok, that is understood,” the Chinese chairman was trying to conclude the hearing, “yet the mere existence of the immortals, and our relative inability to track and deal with them, is increasingly stirring the public opinion, for different reasons in different countries. Dr. Picard, we just want to avoid any risk that this might spin out of control again, as mankind would likely not survive another catastrophe like the last one.”

Silence fell in the room. Louis took a moment to collect his thoughts, then moved his eyes back to the chairman and spoke.

“I had a free half day yesterday, and I decided to spend it at the Capucines’ Crypt, where Austrian emperors and their families used to be buried till the beginning of last century.” Louis continued, “It is a remarkably gloomy place, made of several underground rooms full of coffins and funeral monuments, all immersed in an eerie silence. I do not know why I made the decision to go there, maybe because I already knew the other landmarks of Vienna, but it was a good choice. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on how our relationship to death has changed over just a few centuries.”

Louis paused and looked at the commission, all of the members were looking somewhat estranged. He then quickly loaded some pictures from the Internet and projected them on the holographic display, and continued.

“Those black, iron coffins you see piled next to the walls are for the children. You can tell from their size. They date back to the Seventeenth century and if you read through the captions, you will learn that one of the first emperors of the Habsburg dynasty lost four of his babies before they reached age three. A similar fate happened to other rulers. The point I want to make here is that infant mortality was already considered a scandal at the end of the last century, and was a regular part of life, for even the elites.”

Louis looked again at the commission, to see baffled expressions turning into surprise and wonder. He let another moment pass to let them process.

“I think you are getting my point. Telomerax might not be the accidental gift or curse devised by a single mind and perfected by technocrats, tycoons, and the occasional gangsters, but it could simply be the natural next step in the history of mankind, a history that you can also read as an endless rebellion to our mortal fate. It’s high time you stop looking at me either as a savior or a scapegoat, and start doing some serious research on yourself first.”

Louis stood up, without waiting for the chairman to call the hearing off. He shook hands with all the members, making sure the last one he greeted was Dinesh Kheradpir, who was beaming with pride, and left the room. The bodyguards were waiting outside the door, and looked surprised when Louis came out of the room. The escort leader looked at the Chinese chairman, who nodded. He then moved his eyes back to Louis.

“You see, Herr Lansky,” Louis politely said, “we can go back to the airport now. My convertiplane is waiting to take me to my home in Sicily.”

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Helena was leaning on the terrace of the rooftop bar of the old Hilton hotel in Athens. It had been completely renovated after the war, and from the bar it was always possible to see the Acropolis, that the new Greek government was about to complete rebuilding to be exactly as it was at the times of Pericles, in 500 B.C.

She was thinking about the twists of history, when she heard the soft opening of the elevator doors. It was easy to detect any noise, since she had reserved the whole floor for her meeting. Yaakov walked out of the elevator, looked around, and started moving toward the table where Helena was sitting. He did not spot any bodyguards, but he had not even walked a few yards into the bar lounge, when the drone-sensored glasses he was wearing projected several notifications on to his eyes.

“Okay,” Yaakov thought, “at least twenty devices, from communication jammers to killer flies. American and European versions, pretty obvious she would not use Israeli stuff on this occasion.”

Yaakov reached the table, and sat in front of Helena. Tea and drinks were already served on the table.

“I know you are clean, Yaakov,” Helena smiled at him, “but I have to take my precautions. I always need my aura of micro-robotic guardian angels to protect me.”

She paused for a while, her face turning serious.

“In hindsight, you donated a big contribution to getting these devices started, didn’t you?”

“We did,” Yaakov conceded, “and we were soon overtaken by many imitators. We are not here to discuss the history of the nano-weapons, though.”

“No, we are not,” Helena continued briskly and then paused again. “You know what, Yaakov? This is the third time I am staying in this hotel in Athens, and I always play the mediator role. I was here for the first time in 2010, as envoy of my bank to the International Monetary Fund, during the first Greek debt crisis. There were no gleaming skyscrapers across the street like now, just a rather worn-down hospital. Then, I was back just after the war, in 2057, as envoy of the United States government. I was there for the talks that formalized the birth of the Euro-Russian Federation and the end of NATO. By that time, the hospital had been razed, and the construction frenzy had begun, fueled by the massive immigration from the inner parts of the Continent to the Mediterranean shores. Finally, here we are. Today, I am doing a favor for Irina. I hope I can help you both reach a deal.”

“Well, at least it’s way cozier than the place we negotiated at last time, somewhere in the Chicago suburbs,” Yaakov grinned back, “Even though I am afraid the distances are greater now. You know, the Jewish Republic of Cyprus, or the JRC as it is called now, we just cannot accept that Israel is being reduced to a tiny strip between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That is our land. We might talk about the West Bank, or a special status for some parts of Jerusalem. Otherwise, we will keep supporting the struggle of the Remnants against the Arabian Union.”

“That’s how you see yourself now, Yaakov?” Helena asked, “A remnant? Someone left behind?”

“I am a remnant, Helena. I still live in the Old City of Jerusalem. From time to time, I miss the war. It created a unique bond among all of us who survived there, Arabs and Jews, like in the movies of the alien invasions. Then, we were back to our rivalry. Imad, the guy who shared the house with me, moved back to Jericho just a few weeks after the last wave of pests were annihilated in the Jordan Valley. We just cannot give up the fight.”

Helena looked at Yaakov. A thin, white beard encircled his face, and some wrinkles on his shaved head hinted that Telomerax had frozen him in his late fifties. She wondered for an instance if he also was one of the immortals, then went back to the point.

“Listen, the message from Irina is clear. Russia has been welcoming throngs of American Jews, who have been fleeing the States in the aftermath of the Second Civil War, but Irina does not want to see a repeat of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with swapped sides on the ground, and Russia playing the role of the savior like the United States long ago. Either you find a deal with the Arabian Union, or the door to additional Jewish immigrants from the United States will be closed.”

“That is hardly acceptable,” Yaakov observed calmly, “It would mean forcing millions of Jews to stay in the North American ghettos. We cannot take them all to Cyprus or in the Tel Aviv strip, at least not now.”

“That is why she asked me to deliver the message in advance,” Helena continued. “The official meeting between Irina and Eli Mahlab, your prime minister, is in two weeks. You have time to think it over and come up with a proposal. Remember: Irina does not want to see history repeat again. She knows that the JRC has shipped a large order of micro-drones to the Tel Aviv strip. That’s why she has sent troops to Lebanon and Jordan, to help the Arab Union react to a first strike. It’s not against you, it’s to prevent an escalation and force you to take a seat at the negotiating table. She does not want another war without a clear end, like it happened in 1948, and all that followed.”

“History repeating itself again,” Yaakov laughed, “Now it is even more likely than before. Have you ever thought about it? People living much longer just means they will make the very same decisions time and again. Change will come at a steeper price.”

“I do not agree, Yaakov,” Helena interrupted him, “I lost my second husband in the war, in one of the last locust attacks that swarmed throughout Mexico. I am trying to rebuild a life for the third or fourth time now, and I’m not the same Helena of one hundred years ago, even if I may look like it.”

“I hope you’re right, Helena,” Yaakov replied, “Maybe I have been doing the same job for way too long and I am biased. You know why I made the decision to use Telomerax, a few decades back? I thought it was the only possibility for me to see the end of our struggle with the Arabs – a struggle I grew up with. We saw the shadow of the Armageddon, and yet the struggle goes on.”

Helena offered a cup of tea to Yaakov, who took the cup close to his mouth but did not sip. He instead looked at the Acropolis. She waited until Yaakov turned back to her, then she softly laid her cup of tea on the table and asked Yaakov, without taking her eyes off her cup of tea,

“Are you still haunted by what happened to Sally? She was a sayanim of the Mossad, after all. She knew she was facing risks.”

“In her case, the loss was more difficult to bear than in others,” Yaakov answered immediately, “I asked Avi Eitan several times why she was told to go to the Crown Heights’ synagogue a few hours before the attack. No one will ever admit that it was done on purpose, the official version is that it was a routine check with the Mossad’s Brooklyn station. We knew the CIA was using the Afro-American gangs as cover, we were just lucky to end up with the perfect, almost innocent victim, at the right time and in the right place.”

“Well, it’s the loss that eventually led the war to an end, or at least made the peace process easier to manage,” Helena commented. “Just like in the other case, it’s better that one dies so the nation of Israel survives. This death did not only save Israel, this death helped save the world.”

“I know this, Helena,” Yaakov said, “and it helps only up to a certain point. Maybe I am getting too old but Telomerax does not seem to help.”

“I think you just need some rest,” Helena said, “You have never quite stopped meddling with the security of your country, one way or another. The worst is over; you can now just step aside, and watch others run the show. It does not have to follow the plot we already know. It’s a new beginning you and your people can take.”

“You might be right, Helena,” Yaakov stood up and grinned. “I might consider your suggestion to take some well-deserved rest. Either for the new beginning that Irina is seeking, or the repeat of history she is trying to avoid, I will deliver your message. I have to tell you, though, Eli does not like to be forced to an agreement, and neither do the Palestinians on the other side.”

He made a slight bow toward Helena and headed towards the elevators. Helena stared at the empty space in front of her. Some tea had spilled over from the cup that Yaakov had put down on the table.

She leaned back on the chair and thought about how the day after, she would be joining Louis and Tarek in Salina, Sicily. She also needed some well-deserved rest.

 

Chapter 4

 

The hydrofoil approached the pier of the small harbor of the island of Vulcano, Sicily. From the pilot deck, Helena immediately spotted Tarek and his family, who were waiting to board the ship.

She looked at the happy throng, then as she glanced around she noticed the surroundings. The harbor was dug, or rather sculpted, out of sulphur rock, with slim, yellow pinnacles growing out of the sea and pointing toward the sky. Even the sailor, who was handling the mooring hawser, had a hellish look; a giant, tanned figure with his face cast in a long, dark beard, and his hair modeled in long, chaotic waves by the salty winds.

For a second, she thought this place could well be the gateway to Hell, then hearing the ruckus of the Tarek’s family, who had jumped onboard, took her back to reality and in no time she found herself in front of a cheerful Tarek.

“My dearest friend, it’s been three years since we met each other,” Tarek was beaming. “You should come back to Marsa Matruh, Egypt. I have finished the family compound, now. It’s beautiful.”

“We will have time to go through the details, Tarek,” Helena said, while kissing his cheeks to greet him. “Now please take a seat, we have to leave for Salina.”

“Alright, but first let me introduce Ghada to you. We are getting married next year. You know, the whole process of..”

“No need to tell me,” Helena winked, “I know that divorce papers take some time to take effect. You can bet I will attend your marriage!”

“Thanks, I appreciate that,” Tarek chuckled, “Even though we made the decision together, it was painful both for me and my former spouse. After all, we spent more than 74 years and had nine children together….that’s why I conceded to each and every request she made.”

“Okay, stop it now, please, Tarek,” Helena said, a finger on her mouth, “we are already late, I told you! There will be lots of time for catching up in the next few days.”

She then nodded at the pilot, who ordered the hellish seaman to undock the ship from the pier. Five minutes later, the hydrofoil was speeding at 40 knots on the calm sea surface, towards its destination.

“Now, Tarek, you can show me your compound. I heard it is more similar to a city.” Helena asked, enjoying small talk.

Tarek took out a small ball from his pocket. It was one of the latest virtual reality immersive devices. Two flashing lights popped up on the side of the ball, Helena and Tarek stared at them. The laser beams locked on their eyes, and started the projection, fully replacing their vision. The initial images of the compound had been shot from above, and it was just like flying. The only thing Helena was able to still see of the surrounding reality was the face of Tarek, who was explaining the virtual tour.

“This is the birdseye view. The compound stretches for four miles along the seaside, and has an overall surface of twenty square miles.” Tarek was visibly proud of his large village. “Half of it is covered by the solar generators and the desalination devices, then I built about four square miles of moresque gardens.”

“I assume the villas that pop up between the gardens are where you live?” Helena said, stunned by the richness of the vegetation.

“Indeed, indeed, there are seventy-three villas, one for each of my children and randchildren! I left a good square mile free for future expansion. I have been a great-grandfather for two years, now!”

The smile on Helena’s face faded, then she pointed at the perimeter with her hands.

“How do you manage security? I guess you are all immortals, yet Egypt has banned Telomerax and you need to trust a lot of people to run a compound that large,…” Helena then stopped, “…oh, I’m sorry for spoiling your show, Tarek! After so many years I have grown obsessed by threats, real and imaginary.”

“Helena, I know you mean well,” Tarek continued unfettered. “We run the compound ourselves, with the help of an array of droids and robots. All we have to do, is take care of our house, teach our children, look after our assets, and throw a good party from time to time. Oh, and of course the occasional trip abroad to visit old friends, like this week.”

“So the government is not bothering you?”

“Why should they? First, we do not use Telomerax. We don’t need it. Second, they owe me quite a few big favors from the wartime. I just have to be quiet and stay out of the political arena, and in exchange they will protect me. By the way, I am not the only immortal in Egypt. The Telomerax ban is actually little more than verbally-paid respect to the Islamic and Christian authorities, believe me.”

“I was in Cairo a few weeks ago,” Helena continued, “You smell the money and the economy booming everywhere, just like in Athens and in all Mediterranean cities.”

The comment made Tarek even more enthusiastic.

“You see? It’s like paradise! Egypt is the only country on Earth to be named in all the holy books of the major religions! It’s clear that God loves us, and now we have the proof!” He bursted into laughter, disconnecting his eyes from the slideshow ball. The sea appeared again, replacing the vistas of the Marsa Matruh complex.

“Okay, Tarek, let’s behave now, the party has not yet started,” Helena tried to contain the enthusiasm of her friend. “By the way, I thought Louis would have organized this party last year, on his 135th birthday. Why has he invited us now, almost one year later? I mean, Sicily in May is beyond beautiful, yet there is nothing special to celebrate these days.”

“All I can tell you,” Tarek answered, recovering some posture, “is that this is not about Louis. You know he has not been celebrating his birthdays since he lost Dora. No, this is about Dorian. He has made the decision to run for office in Sweden, so Louis organized a kind of farewell party before he permanently leaves to Sweden with Camilla and his family.”

“Run for office in Sweden?” Helena could not conceal her surprise, “He spent a lot of time there, helping rebuild the country, but why did he make the decision to enter politics?”

“We will hear from him tonight, I think there are several reasons,” Tarek paused to recap thoughts. “He’s been working there for several years, as you said. Then, Sweden was a very liberal country in the pre-war days, with lots of people using Telomerax, and at the same time one of the worst countries affected by the war. Today, there are fewer than one million people living there, and it seems that more than half of the population is made up of immortals.”

“I see,” Helena replied, “Well, maybe Dorian, a very well known immortal, wants to turn Sweden into the first immortal country, and become a kind of representative of the new species. Of our new species.”

“We will see,” Tarek replied, “Personally, I think it is another ill-fated adventure. Why keep stressing the differences? Just get along with them.”

“Yeah, just get along,” Helena echoed, and then changed tone. “How do you think Egypt will react if something bad happens in the Contended Territory of Israel?”

Tarek’s smile disappeared. He took the ball back into his pocket and pondered an answer.

“It’s clear that Egypt will support the Arabian Union, that’s no secret. I hope the Israeli Remnants do not pursue some plot. They should be happy with the land they managed to preserve during the war, and the JRC is their new safe haven. They made the decision to leave their country, after all, and now they cannot complain if somebody else settled there, defying all pests and epidemics.”

“Assume they do,” Helena continued, “Obviously, people are working to prevent any conflict, but you never know how things can pan out. We learned that the hard way. Do you think Egypt would go to war?”

Tarek lit a cigarette, ignoring the signs forbidding smoking.

“You’d better put that out,” Helena warned. “Otherwise a fire extinguisher microdrone will fly over your head in seconds and spray you with foam. On the other hand, if you want a free shampoo, that would be the quickest way.”

Tarek quickly put the cigarette out in the seat garbage tray, then sat back in his chair, in frustration.

“Another war could definitely be possible. Despite the disasters, claims have not ceased. The Arabian Union is claiming to have Dubai and Fujairah back from the Indo-Pakistanis, South Korea wants half of North Korea back from China, China does not like Mongolia to have become a province of Russia….let’s stop it here. It could trigger a chain reaction, like before.”

“Like before,” Helena whispered, “Five billion people perished, there is a new immortal strain of people, and we have overcome all energy and resource issues for the next few hundred years, yet things continue just like before.”

Helena sat back in her seat too, her eyes staring at the hydrofoil’s ceiling

“Is this the reason why you arrived here a day later than Aurora?” Tarek asked, “Some meetings you had to attend?”

“Yes, for some meetings,” Helena nodded. “Now let’s stop it. My holiday is just about to start, and I won’t let bad thoughts spoil it. Look, the harbor of Salina is just in front of us!”

Tarek looked out of the window, the harbor was a few hundred yards away. The village around it was completely dwarfed by the two cones of the volcanoes on the island. The hydrofoil slowed down, preparing to dock.

 

Chapter 4

 

The hydrofoil approached the pier of the small harbor of the island of Vulcano, Sicily. From the pilot deck, Helena immediately spotted Tarek and his family, who were waiting to board the ship.

She looked at the happy throng, then as she glanced around she noticed the surroundings. The harbor was dug, or rather sculpted, out of sulphur rock, with slim, yellow pinnacles growing out of the sea and pointing toward the sky. Even the sailor, who was handling the mooring hawser, had a hellish look; a giant, tanned figure with his face cast in a long, dark beard, and his hair modeled in long, chaotic waves by the salty winds.

For a second, she thought this place could well be the gateway to Hell, then hearing the ruckus of the Tarek’s family, who had jumped onboard, took her back to reality and in no time she found herself in front of a cheerful Tarek.

“My dearest friend, it’s been three years since we met each other,” Tarek was beaming. “You should come back to Marsa Matruh, Egypt. I have finished the family compound, now. It’s beautiful.”

“We will have time to go through the details, Tarek,” Helena said, while kissing his cheeks to greet him. “Now please take a seat, we have to leave for Salina.”

“Alright, but first let me introduce Ghada to you. We are getting married next year. You know, the whole process of..”

“No need to tell me,” Helena winked, “I know that divorce papers take some time to take effect. You can bet I will attend your marriage!”

“Thanks, I appreciate that,” Tarek chuckled, “Even though we made the decision together, it was painful both for me and my former spouse. After all, we spent more than 74 years and had nine children together….that’s why I conceded to each and every request she made.”

“Okay, stop it now, please, Tarek,” Helena said, a finger on her mouth, “we are already late, I told you! There will be lots of time for catching up in the next few days.”

She then nodded at the pilot, who ordered the hellish seaman to undock the ship from the pier. Five minutes later, the hydrofoil was speeding at 40 knots on the calm sea surface, towards its destination.

“Now, Tarek, you can show me your compound. I heard it is more like a city.” Helena asked, enjoying small talk.

Tarek took out a small ball from his pocket. It was one of the latest virtual reality immersive devices. Two flashing lights popped up on the side of the ball, Helena and Tarek stared at them. The laser beams locked on their eyes, and started the projection, fully replacing their vision. The initial images of the compound had been shot from above, and it was just like flying. The only thing Helena could still see of the surrounding reality was the face of Tarek, who was explaining the virtual tour.

“This is the birdseye view. The compound stretches for four miles along the seaside, and has an overall surface of twenty square miles.” Tarek was visibly proud of his large village. “Half of it is covered by the solar generators and the desalination devices, then I built about four square miles of moresque gardens.”

“I assume the villas that pop up between the gardens are where you live?” Helena said, stunned by the richness of the vegetation.

“Indeed, indeed, there are seventy-three villas, one for each of my children and randchildren! I left a good square mile free for future expansion. I have been a great-grandfather for two years, now!”

The smile on Helena’s face faded, then she pointed at the perimeter with her hands.

“How do you manage security? I guess you are all immortals, yet Egypt has banned Telomerax and you need to trust a lot of people to run a compound that large,…” Helena then stopped, “…oh, I’m sorry for spoiling your show, Tarek! After so many years I have grown obsessed by threats, real and imaginary.”

“Helena, I know you mean well,” Tarek continued unfettered. “We run the compound ourselves, with the help of an array of droids and robots. All we have to do, is take care of our house, teach our children, look after our assets, and throw a good party from time to time. Oh, and of course the occasional trip abroad to visit old friends, like this week.”

“So the government is not bothering you?”

“Why should they? First, we do not use Telomerax. We don’t need it. Second, they owe me quite a few big favors from the wartime. I just have to be quiet and stay out of the political arena, and in exchange they will protect me. By the way, I am not the only immortal in Egypt. The Telomerax ban is actually little more than verbally-paid respect to the Islamic and Christian authorities, believe me.”

“I was in Cairo a few weeks ago,” Helena continued, “You smell the money and the economy booming everywhere, just like in Athens and in all Mediterranean cities.”

The comment made Tarek even more enthusiastic.

“You see? It’s like paradise! Egypt is the only country on Earth to be named in all the holy books of the major religions! It’s clear that God loves us, and now we have the proof!” He bursted into laughter, disconnecting his eyes from the slideshow ball. The sea appeared again, replacing the vistas of the Marsa Matruh complex.

“Okay, Tarek, let’s behave now, the party has not yet started,” Helena tried to contain the enthusiasm of her friend. “By the way, I thought Louis would have organized this party last year, on his 135th birthday. Why has he invited us now, almost one year later? I mean, Sicily in May is beyond beautiful, yet there is nothing special to celebrate these days.”

“All I can tell you,” Tarek answered, recovering some posture, “is that this is not about Louis. You know he has not been celebrating his birthdays since he lost Dora. No, this is about Dorian. He has made the decision to run for office in Sweden, so Louis organized a kind of farewell party before he permanently leaves to Sweden with Camilla and his family.”

“Run for office in Sweden?” Helena could not conceal her surprise, “He spent a lot of time there, helping rebuild the country, but why did he make the decision to enter politics?”

“We will hear from him tonight, I think there are several reasons,” Tarek paused to recap thoughts. “He’s been working there for several years, as you said. Then, Sweden was a very liberal country in the pre-war days, with lots of people using Telomerax, and at the same time one of the worst countries affected by the war. Today, there are fewer than one million people living there, and it seems that more than half of the population is made up of immortals.”

“I see,” Helena replied, “Well, maybe Dorian, a very well known immortal, wants to turn Sweden into the first immortal country, and become a kind of representative of the new species. Of our new species.”

“We will see,” Tarek replied, “Personally, I think it is another ill-fated adventure. Why keep stressing the differences? Just get along with them.”

“Yeah, just get along,” Helena echoed, and then changed tone. “How do you think Egypt will react if something bad happens in the Contended Territory of Israel?”

Tarek’s smile disappeared. He took the ball back into his pocket and pondered an answer.

“It’s clear that Egypt will support the Arabian Union, that’s no secret. I hope the Israeli Remnants do not pursue some plot. They should be happy with the land they managed to preserve during the war, and the JRC is their new safe haven. They made the decision to leave their country, after all, and now they cannot complain if somebody else settled there, defying all pests and epidemics.”

“Assume they do,” Helena continued, “Obviously, people are working to prevent any conflict, but you never know how things can pan out. We learned that the hard way. Do you think Egypt would go to war?”

Tarek lit a cigarette, ignoring the signs forbidding smoking.

“You’d better put that out,” Helena warned. “Otherwise a fire extinguisher microdrone will fly over your head in seconds and spray you with foam. On the other hand, if you want a free shampoo, that would be the quickest way.”

Tarek quickly put the cigarette out in the seat garbage tray, then sat back in his chair, in frustration.

“Another war could definitely be possible. Despite the disasters, claims have not ceased. The Arabian Union is claiming to have Dubai and Fujairah back from the Indo-Pakistanis, South Korea wants half of North Korea back from China, China does not like Mongolia to have become a province of Russia….let’s stop it here. It could trigger a chain reaction, like before.”

“Like before,” Helena whispered, “Five billion people perished, there is a new immortal strain of people, and we have overcome all energy and resource issues for the next few hundred years, yet things continue just like before.”

Helena sat back in her seat too, her eyes staring at the hydrofoil’s ceiling

“Is this the reason why you arrived here a day later than Aurora?” Tarek asked, “Some meetings you had to attend?”

“Yes, for some meetings,” Helena nodded. “Now let’s stop it. My holiday is just about to start, and I won’t let bad thoughts spoil it. Look, the harbor of Salina is just in front of us!”

Tarek looked out of the window, the harbor was a few hundred yards away. The village around it was completely dwarfed by the two cones of the volcanoes on the island. The hydrofoil slowed down, preparing to dock.

 

Chapter 5

 

“…and that’s why I believe I will be able to turn Sweden into a model of coexistence of mortals and immortals, with no discrimination whatsoever and equal opportunities and rights for all.”

Dorian finished his speech, and the small crowd that had gathered on the terrace of the Santa Marina Hotel burst into applause. He noticed that one of the most excited faces belonged to Celine, the granddaughter of Aurora, who was forced to flee South Africa with her family. Now, at age ten, she was trying to jump onto the shoulders of her great-grandmother, Helena, who was sitting in the first row.

Dorian turned towards his father, who was on his left at the conference desk. Behind them, the sun was setting over the sea, cooling down the mild May evening. Louis stood up to say something, visibly proud of the challenge Dorian was taking on.

“Thank you very much, Dorian, I think we can now let our guests enjoy their dinner. We will be hanging around here for a while, the media can wait until tomorrow for the interviews.”

He tapped on his smartwatch and the small storm of video-streaming drones that had been flying around the speaker’s podium, broadcasting the conference on the Internet, landed on their ide pads behind the desk.

He then stood up, and noticed that Tarek had gotten ahead of all the people in the first row in reaching out to Dorian. He was shaking hands with him vigorously, and congratulating him in Arabic. Louis scanned the terrace.

A small crowd had formed around Camilla and her children, and another one was forming around the mayor of Salina, the biggest one, Louis could not help notic without some amusement, was building up in front of the buffet. He waited a few seconds, feeling relieved that for once he was not in the spotlight. After all, he was among friends and relatives. Even the people of Salina were now starting to consider hime part of the community. He turned towards the sea, while Dorian and Tarek continued to discuss and move towards the buffet, following the rest of the crowd.

Louis partially closed his eyes, anticipating the moment where the evening calm would claim back the corner of the terrace where he was standing, when a hand gently rested on his back.

“I thought you were still looking after Celine, Helena,” Louis said, without taking his eyes from the sea. “She is incredibly lively and bright. She paid full attention to the whole speech of Dorian.”

“She is,” Helena quipped, “Aurora says she is her favorite granddaughter.”

“You seem far less excited than she is for Dorian taking initiative,” Louis said with a smile, then turned his eyes to Helena. “The same applies a bit to me, too.”

“You know what I think, Louis, and I told Dorian this several times,” Helena said. “He is looking for trouble, for him and for his family.”

She took Louis under the arm and started guiding him downstairs, away from the crowd.

“I agree, it’s difficult. But he has a good chance of being elected and entering the Swedish government, as minister of social affairs. I think he can help shape the discussion in the right fashion, bridging this growing rift between mortals and immortals. If you think at the end there is no meaningful distinction, at least in countries where Telomerax is legal, that is really crazy.”

They walked outside the building, moving towards the harbor. Helena got closer to Louis, turning her voice into a whisper.

“Listen, Louis, the rift is just getting wider. You see what type of pseudo-scientific crap is being circulated on the Internet. The immortals are being accused of transmitting immortality without controls, creating once again the risk of pest storms. Then, there are the claims that are actually true, for example, about the intelligence gap becoming apparent beyond age fifty, even if you use Telomerax. The war being a vivid memory nonetheless, conflicts are on the rise everywhere.”

“So what are you suggesting to do?” Louis asked, stopping at the beginning of the pier. “Should I tell Dorian to just retire on an island, like I did? By the way, do you also keep meddling with politics and power, or am I wrong?”

“I am not suggesting anything, I am just afraid he might become a target,” Helena replied, sighing, “As for the meddling, you are right. It’s just that I cannot help myself. I tried to retire several times, but somehow there is always somebody coming to you with a new request, a new problem to fix, a favor to be returned, and it never stops…”

“It never stops because you want it to continue, Helena,” Louis interrupted her, then softly asked “Would you do it, if Guillermo was still with you?”

“You know I would,” Helena replied immediately, “I think you wanted to ask me something else, though.”

She stopped in front of him, her eyes staring at him.

Louis hesitated, shocked by her response. He looked around, then stared back.

“You are right, that’s not what I meant,” he pulled her close to him, “What I actually meant is, would you continue your life, leaving me alone for long days on this remote island?”

She reached up and kissed Louis. She then leaned back, keeping him in her arms.

“Don’t ask me to promise what I cannot keep,” Helena whispered, then kissed Louis again, “All I can promise you, is they won’t be long days….just a few trips from time to time.”

“Alright,” Louis laughed, “Looks like you are placing the burden on me, to give you reasons to stay on the island.”

Helena was beaming, she hugged Louis again.

“I know you will do your best, Louis,” she whispered into his ears, as he petted her hair, “but I will have to go at some point, you know it.”

Louis kissed her again, then he turned toward the village. “It’s time to go back to the reception. I am sure people have noted our absence by now.”

Helena slapped his back vigorously,

“Dr. Picard, you have been fighting with the Mossad, the pest storms and survived the Third World War, and you fear some smalltown gossip?”

“Yes, Madam,” he snapped back, hurrying toward the hotel, holding Helena’s hand firmly, “Believe it or not, it still gets on my nerves. Even at the age of one-hundred-thirty-six.”

Chapter 6

 

Tarek was observing the mummy of Ramses, in the brand-new, mile-long building of the Egyptian Museum, that stretched along the Giza Pyramids site, when a European tourist stopped next to him, to join him.

“How ironic that the first people that organized all their society to prepare for life after death, are now the few that do not want to come to terms with death’s defeat?”

The person addressed him in English with a mild Greek accent, yet Tarek answered in Arabic.

“Maybe. Or maybe we are just holding ourselves true to that original intuition, that life is nothing but a preparation for death, and we are avoiding dangerous delusions.”

The tourist stayed silent and smiled, staring back at the mummy. Tarek waited for a while and spoke again, this time in Hebrew.

“I was expecting you to ask me why I am not abiding by the laws of my country.”

The tourist did not take his eyes away from the mummy, and snapped back.

“Well, I guess maybe you just need a bit of extra time to prepare yourself?”

Tarek laughed and moved away from the mummy, walking down the corridor of the huge Pharoah’s Room. The tourist followed him, navigating through the crowds that were buzzing in the museum’s halls.

Tarek took the escalators to the third floor, and he ended up on the half-mile-long balcony that was overlooking the Pyramids. The musem was located to the west of Giza, and the sunset was painting the desert a pinkish hue. He stopped to take in the view.

The tourist came up next to him on his left, and pretended to shoot some pictures from his drone camera that was flying nearby.

“You see?” Tarek said, “It has always been a marvellous place, yet your ancestors made a fuss until they managed to get back to their Promised Land. Apparently, things haven’t change since, except I agree that Cyprus nowadays is a far less attractive place than Egypt used to be under the Pharoahs.”

The tourist chuckled.

“You know we are restless people, Tarek, we are never at home except in our land of honey and milk.”

“You are not only restless, Yaakov,” Tarek thought it was time to get to the point, “You are also damn clever. That’s what makes you dangerous to yourself and to all the others around you. Then you call me from time to time, to bring in some wisdom….”

“Look,” Yaakov interrupted Tarek, as if he expected the comment, “I know at Mossad they tried to stop those fanatics of the ‘Moshe brigade’ before they could carry out their attacks, but it was too late, they had already seized control of the autonomous vehicle control system of Beirut..”

“…and they turned all the cars of the city into attack devices – running over pedestrians, crashing into buildings, half-destroying what has become again the pearl of the Mediterranean, and further exacerbating the tensions with the Arabian Union.” Tarek said, finishing his sentence, “It took me weeks to persuade my contacts that it was a terrorist fringe in the Tel Aviv Strip, with no connection with the JRC or the Mossad.”

“I hope the help we gave you to stop the attacks and identify the culprits was evidence enough to support your efforts,” Yaakov whispered. “Eli Mahlab does not want a clash with the Arabian Union. He still believes that an acceptable deal can be settled to rebuild Israel without a war with the Arabian Union.”

“There are now fourteen thousand dead bodies too many between Eli and that deal,” Tarek commented coldly, “but we have time to bridge the gap, don’t we?”

“Yes, if it does not get wider, Tarek. That’s why I am here.”

“You mean, you have not been able to eradicate all the extremists?” Tarek was shocked, “You are telling me we shall expect further attacks?”

“It’s worse than that, Tarek, just wait a second,” Yaakov switched on a button on his watch, and the camera drone projected a holographic shield around them, making them invisible to bystanders. “The problem is, we have a mole at the Mossad. He, or she, we have no idea who it might be, is working for the terrorists, feeding them precious information, and thwarting our attempts to get rid of them.”

“That explains why you have had relatively little success, so far, but how can we help you identify him?” Tarek asked, “If you are not able to keep your house in order, how can we?”

“We know that the mole feeds the information to the ‘Navibahai’ sect, to their West African headquarter at Yamassoukro, in the former Republic of Ivory Coast, and from there it reaches the extremists in the Tel Aviv Strip. You know that the Navibahais have a temple in Haifa, which they inherited from the previous sect, the Bahais.”

“I know the story,” Tarek cut short, “and I know why you are telling me. You want me to use Ali, my nephew.”

“I know I am asking a lot from you, Tarek,” Yaakov said, “I do not want you to put his life at risk. Yet Ali is in the inner circle of Farlimas, the head of the sect, and he might know something helpful for us.”

“I wonder why we still call it a sect,” Tarek pondered, “After all, with more than three-hundred million believers, it should be considered a religion. It is already much bigger than Judaism, for instance.”

“Well, most religions are born as sects of another religion, until they either disappear or they get big enough to create their own title,” Yaakov did not react to the provocation. “I think we are just in that phase. Do not forget that the Navibahais claim to be the heirs and synthesis of all major world religions, so they have lots of people interested in dismissing them as a sect. Yet they are growing very fast.”

“Let’s leave that aside, Yaakov. The bottom line is, you would like me to show up in Yamassoukro, and ask my nephew Ali if, by chance, he did not talk with Farlimas about plots involving the Mossad. Should that be the case, I will urge him to tell me whatever he knows. A bit too simplistic, isn’t it?” Tarek said, widening his arms in disbelief.

“I know it cannot work that way, Tarek,” Yaakov puffed, “All I can tell you is, we will give you evidence that Farlimas, or someone in his inner circle, is part of the terror plots. Ali may, or may not, know, and you do not have an obligation to do anything, much less put his life in danger. Yet you are our only chance to know more, quickly.”

“Alright, but let me be very clear,” Tarek felt cornered. “If by chance Ali is involved in the plot, he won’t suffer any consequences. Is that clear? Even if he turns out to be the mastermind of all of this.”

“I do not think he is, anyway it is a fair request,” Yaakov thought, “I do not think this will be the biggest problem, though…”

“You are right, Yaakov, this won’t be the biggest problem..” Tarek continued where Yaakov had hesitated, “The biggest problem is, what are we willing to give in exchange, if we have to make a deal.” Tarek stopped, looking at the Pyramids.

“I discussed it with my government,” Yaakov answered immediately, “We can help Farlimas in consolidating his authority over the West African government, and foil the plots of his enemies. From Makkah to Washington, from Delhi to the Vatican, he is on the black list of many people. Our red line is clear, we just cannot handover any information that could jeopardize the security of the JRC. We are, however, prepared to take calculated losses.”

“I know that,” Tarek said, “I am just wondering if a deal can be reached.”

“I think it can,” Yaakov used the most confident tone he could manage. “I believe he is only tactically helping the terrorists in the Strip, just to keep the world tension high and attract more people to his new cult. If we offer him other ways to secure the future of his sect, he might just leave the extremists to their destiny. We just need to help him find a new, more suitable enemy.”

“A more suitable enemy,” Tarek echoed, “are you sure it won’t turn into a more difficult problem, Yaakov?”

“No, I am not,” Yaakov replied, “Yet I do not see any other option, do you? We have to be prepared for some reasonable sacrifice.”

“Yes, that’s the magic word; reasonable.” Tarek replied abruptly, closing the discussion, “We will discuss at length about how reasonable the requests of Farlimas might be, but we will never put into question the sacrifice.”

Tarek turned back towards the Museum halls, leaving the hallway. Yaakov turned off the electronic shield of the drone. They materialized out of thin air, next to one of the tables of the cafeteria of the terrace, unnoticed by most of the tourists, except for a three-year old toddler, who saw them from his stroller and started crying.

 

Chapter 7

 

Helena parked her electrical scooter on the panoramic lot overlooking the gulf of Pollara in Salina, and started descending the stairs to the rock pier that, roughly one-hundred yards below, led directly to the sea. Louis followed her, enjoying the warm morning sunlight of early June.

“It will soon be too hot on the beach, we will have to swim to the boat,” he said, as he rushed to keep up with Helena’s pace.

Helena slowed down, she took him by his arm and whispered in his ears.

“How awful! How will you ever survive? Forced to use your boat to escape the heat of the beach!”

“Um, now that it comes to my mind, this rocky pathway is quite uncomfortable, too..” Louis continued, “Be careful not to step on sea urchins. They are everywhere around here, I never quite got used to them.”

Helena leaned an Louis, making sure he could feel her entire body pressed on his.

“Oh, poor Louis, I think I will inflict on you another burden, you won’t be allowed to swim until you have rubbed sunbathing cream on me.”

Louis kissed her, and as soon as they reached the pier he threw his backpack on the ground and plunged into the crystal-clear waters of the Pollara gulf.

He heard Helena diving behind him, so he kept swimming until they were far from the shore. He turned back towards Helena, who threw her arms around his neck, pretending to be angry.

“You bad boy, I believe I told you to do something, I am now thinking of what horrible punishment you deserve…” She swam closer to him and they kissed. They kept playing, enjoying the warm waters and the mild sea breeze that was blowing towards the coast.

Eventually, they reached the boat moored about two-hundred yards from the pier. Louis climbed the stairs to get on board, and turned back to help Helena but quickly realized she would not appreciate the gesture. Her pride did not allow her to accept help in moments like these. He moved to the surveillance display, as Helena jumped on board.

“Anything wrong on the reports from the bots?” Helena asked, as she squeezed the water out of her hair.

“No, everything is Ok and under control…” Louis answered, “No threats whatsoever, apart from the island’s volcanoes , and…”

He stopped for a second, enough for Helena to detect his hesitation.

“Don’t start checking emails now!” she hissed, “You promised to be disconnected today, remember!”

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry..” Louis admitted his fault, “I just could not resist looking at this message…it’s from Dorian…”

“Is it? Let me have a look, then!” Helena moved close to him to read the screen, letting seawater drip from her hair onto the monitor.

The title confirmed Louis was not lying, as it read “The bill has passed!”.

Helena looked at Louis and asked, “The vote planned for tomorrow, wasn’t it? Wasn’t there supposed to be the parliamentary debate today?”

“You mean that you would stay home to watch the vote and not come with me?” Louis rebuked, as they read through the email. Unfortunately, Dorian had not added much detail, just a link to the official site of the Swedish parliament, that announced the approval of the laws to discipline coexistence between mortals and immortals, the first country on the planet to achieve this.

“That’s the goal Dorian was hoping for,” Louis added, visibly proud of his son, “There is now no difference in front of the law. Same rights, same duties. If mortals make the decision to withdraw from Telomerax, and age and decay till death, they accumulate extra rights until they die. So, for instance, they get the right to stop working after their body reaches the biological equivalent of age seventy, they have free medical care and obviously, all terminal illness and burial charges covered by the government.”

“What if they get back to Telomerax after they retire? They keep getting money from the state?” Helena asked. She already knew the answer, yet she liked to allow Louis to continue his lecture.

“Well, in theory, yes. The assumption is that someone that decides to let aging proceed, won’t change idea afterwards. Only time will tell, though, Dorian made sure the law can be revised. In a nutshell, he understood that the only way to get immortals accepted, was to make mortals privileged in the last part of their life.”

“Dorian is starting a new chapter in the history of mankind. Just like you did, Louis.” Helena looked straight into Louis’ eyes, smiling.

“I hope he is more successful than me,” Louis turned his eyes away from the display. He then embraced Helena and took her on the deck with him, jumping into the sea.

As they emerged from water, Helena tried to pretend to be angry.

“Don’t do that again, you asshole!” she shouted, splashing Louis, “I was warming up, and you throw me into the cold water!”

They climbed up the boat ladder and stretched out next to each other, on the boat deck at the bow side. Louis started pinching at Helena’s arms, ignoring all her warnings.

“What if I do it again? Will you leave me?”

Helena did not answer, she grabbed Louis’ hand with a swift and firm grip and moved it gently over her womb.

“I won’t, yet you have to be more careful with me from now on. You have to know, I discovered I am pregnant last week. It’s our new child, Louis.”

Louis stood up, the news did not come unexpected. He looked at the young body of Helena.

“How do you feel, to be a mom again at age….one-hundred and ten years old?”

“I guess a bit like you, dad again at one-hundred-thirty-seven. Oh, sorry, you are twenty-seven years older than me, I forgot. The looks always fool me.” She laughed, then turned more serious. “You know what, Louis, it’s a bit weird. At times, I feel I am thinking like a great-grand mother, yet I have the chance to start over again.”

“You are going through the list of the mistakes you made in raising Aurora, if any, and vowing not to repeat them again, aren’t you?” Louis enquired, “If you wonder, that’s what I am doing…there are so many things Dora and I got wrong with Dorian.”

“Not really, Louis.” Helena replied, “I told you, I would love to repeat the mistakes every parent makes….what I am afraid, is that I will be more like a grandmother. Memories and experiences have accumulated, and Telomerax deprived us of experimentation.”

“I see your point, Helena,” Louis replied, “But I won’t be so scared. After all, Telomerax did not prevent us from falling in love again, our new beginning.” He hugged her as he finished the sentence.

“You are right, Louis,” Helena kissed him, “I am just growing too cynical with time….you need to cure me.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Tarek left the customs area of Abidjan Intercontinental Airport, in the West African Federation, followed by the self-driving trolley that was carrying his luggage. The customs’ doors opened on the huge arrival hall, whose semi-transparent vault was sustained by glass and stone, palm-shaped pillars, that built intricate patterns, glowing with the late afternoon sunlight.

He spent a few seconds looking in amusement and awe at the ceiling, then he turned his eyes to the colorful crowd that was welcoming travelers, looking for Ali, his nephew.

He moved through the crowd, and then spotted three men wearing the unmistakable attire of the navibahais near the exit gate. He started walking towards them.

They were dressed in white, wearing sandals, a skirt to their knees, and a short waistcoat that made the Farlimasians, so they were popularly called, look like a bizarre cross between an ancient Egyptian and a Wild West cowboy. On their biceps, midway between the elbows and their shoulders, they wore two thick bronze bracelets, the one on the left arm carved with the symbol of their old religion, while that on the right invariably bore a theory of asatyas, the symbol of the navibahai faith.

While the dressing code was extremely strict, the new belief left its followers completely free with hairstyle. As he approached the trio, Tarek noted that Ali had the typical Arabic goatee, while the second man, around six-foot tall and very stout, had short, dark hair, without any beard. In contrast, the last member of the group showed off long, curly blond hair, a flowing beard and a remarkable seven-foot height, that made him tower over the other two like a Barbaric warrior.

“Grandpa, this is Zhelko and Volker. They are from Serbia and Germany, and will make sure we are safe on our journey to Yamassoukro.”

They all shook hands with Tarek, never losing sight of what was going on around them.

“Bodyguards,” Tarek thought, “Who else could they be?”

“They are not only bodyguards,” Ali said suddenly, as if he had read into Tarek’s thoughts, “They belong to my fraternity group. Our families live in the same compound on the outskirts of Yamassoukro, and as they work in security they volunteered to come with me.”

They left the building and got into a car that was waiting for them. Strangely enough, Tarek noticed that there was a driver, this time an African navibahai.

The car left the airport complex and sped down the Expressway, crossing the lagoon which Abidjan was built around.

Tarek watched the flashy condos pass by, built in the new Ivorian style, like giant huts gleaming in glass and synthetic wood, and the posh marinas that were punctuating the coastline. Ali looked at him and asked,

“How long has it been since you last traveled here? It’s changed a lot over the last ten years.”

“I was here about fifteen years ago, a few months after the end of the war. It was clear that the city would develop quickly, but, my God, who could have imagined this…” Tarek replied, admiring the malls and office blocks along the road.

“It’s one of the places to be of Africa, now, thanks to the abundant energy supply from the solar farms up in the desert, and its proximity to the space elevator of Guinea,” Ali continued, proud to describe the country that Farlimas, his leader, had chosen as seat for the new religion’s headquarters, “Prosperity allowed to wipe out tropical illnesses like malaria and yellow fever, and this in turn led to more immigration from Europe. Everybody now wants to come to the lively sunshine of West Africa, leaving behind the gloomy cities of Northern Europe or the overcrowded and expensive Mediterranean shores.”

“Expensive and increasingly hostile to your new religion,” Tarek jumped in, “While here your leader managed to make good friends with the government, one way or another, hahaha.”

“Don’t be so mean, Tarek,” Volker calmly interrupted him, “Farlimas came here from Ethiopia with a vision, and he was able to mobilize the best people to transform the country and attract the brightest people from outside. It’s normal that the government shows some gratitude. On one thing you are right, though, he also has a lot of enemies.”

“For instance,” Tarek commented, “the Roman Catholic Church, which had to surrender the great cathedral of Notre Dame at Yamassoukro to the new cult…I see riots continue to this day.”

“Why keep an empty cathedral when all your flock has jumped ship?” Ali retorted, “By the way, it was legally purchased. In addition to the money, the Pope got fifty years of free electricity for the Vatican in Rome, not a bad deal at all. As for the riots, there are always violent fringes that love to live with the nostalgia for the bygone days. We will see more of the same also in Abu Dhabi, now that the Great Mosque is being converted to our cult. Time will show who is on the right side.”

Tarek shook his head, feeling he did not want to continue the conversation, when he noticed that the urban landscape had changed. The car was now driving in an area of rather run-down large apartment blocks. He took the opportunity to switch subjects.

“I thought the suburbs of Abidjan were made of small homes? What is this?”

Zhelko, who was sitting in front of the car next to the driver, provided the answer.

“Indeed, this is the new area for the immigrants, the wave of arrivals has been quite large and real-estate developers sacrificed space and convenience to the speed of building, not to mention the money.” He paused, to make sure Tarek was taking a good look around, “I also spent several months here before moving to Yamassoukro, and I can tell you it is not fun at all. It is mostly a white-people area, with a lot of illegal Telomerax smuggling. That’s why you see a lot of police checkpoints. They pretend to keep the situation under control.”

Zhelko had barely finished the sentence, when one of the officers at the checkpoint in front of them pulled them over, ordering their car to stop by the roadside. The policeman then walked to the right side, where Zhelko was sitting, ignoring the driver. The Serbian did not lose his posture, just before opening the window he turned to Tarek and said,

“Just let me handle this, and do not talk unless I tell you to do so.” He then addressed the officer in French, ignoring the assault rifle pointed at their car.

Autorité, autorité, what is the problem? We are going to Yamassoukro, the brothers and I. The one in civilian clothes is our guest.”

“You always say that, you Farlimasians,” the policeman replied, softly, “I am indeed interested in the guy sitting in the back. Where is he coming from?”

Zhelko slowly waved his left hand, prompting Tarek to hand over his electronic passport. The policeman grabbed the document from Tarek’s hands, the gun always pointed at the car. He analyzed it with his scanner, then handed it back to Zhelko.

“It looks Ok, your friend is not on the list of suspected Telomerax smugglers,” he said, “You can go. Watch out for hitchhikers.”

The policeman dropped the gun and gave a loud laugh. Tarek concealed a smile, enjoying the involuntary irony of the officer. As the car drove off, he asked Zhelko.

“Why didn’t he ask for your papers?”

“We are known to the authorities and considered safe. You are not, and you might be exploiting our good faith to try to get Telomerax into the country illegally. There have been cases in the past. As much as the authorities, we do not want our movement to get tainted with the traffic. It is one of the few things that drive Farlimas furious.”

“And other things does he not like?” Tarek asked, “I am going to meet him soon, so I better be prepared.”

Volker grumbled something next to Tarek, then his voice got clearer.

“Well, he does not like all the speculation around who is really behind him, the origins of his fortune, you know, all the conspiracy crap that old religions and atheists of all kinds are spreading around,” he paused for a while, “The story is very clear; he was born in Ethiopia, his father made a fortune with solar farms, he then had to live his life as an immortal billionaire, and when he made the trip to India, was when he got the Revelation.”

“Well, he was never very detailed about that kind of experience, if you pardon me,” Tarek interrupted, turning towards Ali, “Sorry to tell you, my dear nephew, but we know a lot more of what happened to our Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him, than to your..um….guru….um, sorry..I am a bit tired for the trip.”

“It’s not the first time we hear this,” Ali replied, “You will see for yourself. Farlimas made sure that his experience could be replicated and shared. You have to judge by yourself, not by what you hear.”

“You mean that, before meeting Farlimas,” Tarek jumped to the conclusion, “I will be allowed to take part in the Ritual? I will skip the long initiation course?”

“It’s not a favor we do just because you are kind of a prestigious tourist, grandpa” Ali commented calmly, “It’s just that Farlimas thinks you need to experience it before your talk. It will give you a better perspective.”

Tarek looked out of the window. They had left Abidjan and the car was now humming along the three-lane highway toward Yamassoukro. He took the opportunity to enjoy a short nap.

 

Chapter 9

 

Yaakov was enjoying the view of the Old City of Jerusalem from his new home nearby the Mount of Olives. Right in front of him, the Dome of the Rock was glowing under the early sunlight of the day. It was Friday morning and the valley below was completely still. Yaakov left the porch and went back into the kitchen, setting up the coffee machine to prepare two long, black coffees. As the hot liquid started to flow into the cups, he noticed a large, black Sedan which quietly stopped in front of his gate. A bearded man dressed in a long, black Orthodox suit got out, and walked towards the house door. Yaakov switched it open with the remote control before the visitor could ring the bell and noticed that it was as if he expected this. While his guest entered the living room, he hurried to prepare a tray, adding a few bagels to go with the coffee.

When Yaakov entered the living room, he found his visitor looking at the Old City in the very same place he was before. He laid the tray on the table and then pointed at his guests’ hair.

“It looks too real to be a hologram,” he said, “You still trust old-fashioned makeup more than microdrones, Mr. Avi Eitan.”

The guest took off his black hat, and then a wig, and sat at the table. Yaakov took the seat opposite to him.

“I will keep the beard on,” Avi said, “It took me half an hour to get it fixed with the help of the hairdresser, and I am afraid I would not be able to repeat the same job here, before I leave.”

“Why this masquerade?” Yaakov commented, “There are no more Arabs in Jerusalem now, they all went to Galilea and the West Bank. On this side of the city, it’s mostly Jewish remnants from Samaria who have moved in.”

“The head of the Mossad is not supposed to visit Jerusalem every so often,” Avi lectured, “It’s a frontline, a fortress, the point from which we want to rebuild our nation. I am supposed to stay in Larnaca, and lay low. Suspicion would arise if someone noticed.”

“Well, for that matter, you just need to ask me in Cyprus.” Yaakov countered, “I have just got my license and I love flying my small plane.”

“The same applies to you. Someone would notice and ask why the former head of Mossad and notorious Jerusalem remnant is visiting his old office.”

“Nostalgia, maybe?” Yaakov grinned. Avi did not appreciate the humour.

“We have no room for that.” Avi managed to keep his tone away from sounding rude. He then grabbed a cup of coffee, without waiting for Yaakov’s offer, started sipping nervously and asked.

“Any news from Farlimas?” Avi sipped again. “It’s about time they speak up.”

“I thought you would ask for news about Tarek,” Yaakov replied, openly showing his disappointment, “He is the agent in the field, after all.”

“He is the messenger,” Avi corrected, “He has to bring the news about the mole, hopefully.”

“Why are you bullshitting me, Avi,” Yaakov whispered into his cup, “You found the mole a few days back. A guy called Shlomo Bakran, if my informants at the headquarter are right. This makes me think you were already closing the circle around him, when you sent me to Cairo to beg for Tarek’s help.”

Avi stayed silent for a while, looking at Yaakov, who seemed focused on eating one of the bagels.

“What are you implying, Yaakov?” Avi asked. “You think I deliberately lied to you?”

“It would not be a scandal,” Yaakov was looking at the ceiling, openly enjoying his bagel, “You have the right to withhold information. It’s just that I am curious. Was Tarek’s trip to West Africa just another attempt at finding the mole, a parallel track, or was it part of a deal you struck with Farlimas?”

“You said it, Yaakov,” Avi felt suddenly relaxed, “I have the right to hide things, and even the right to lie, at times. I wonder if you care more about Tarek’s fate or the potential damage to your credibility.”

“Look, Avi, my credibility has not mattered for a long time. I sacrificed the position you have now a long time ago, when you were still a computer security geek working in the basement of Ben Gurion airport. In a world without Telomerax, I would not have lived enough to see your career, and it would be a good thing for me, good enough to maybe give up this immortality.” Yaakov stopped to take another bite at his bagel, and continued, with his mouth half full, “I cannot make up any answer from you, yet there is one thing I need to tell you. If you have made a deal with Farlimas, it’s a big mistake and you should fix it right away, if you can.”

“There are no deals, Yaakov,” Avi put his cup of coffee, still half full, back down on the tray. “There are just common interests. Farlimas is one of the few forces that is challenging the new order, and we need to leverage that, if one day we want to restore the State of Israel to its pre-war status. As for Telomerax, it has big drawbacks for me, too.”

Yaakov looked puzzled, Avi seized the moment.

“You might agree that it is a bit frustrating to live up to age eighty-two, achieve something in life, with all the mistakes that come along with it, and still risk facing at any time the criticism of somebody older than you. Somebody that, unable to provide a bad example any longer, can only resort to provide good advice, all the while, deep down in his soul he thinks you are a moron.”

Yaakov smiled.

“I agree with you except for the last statement. I do not think you are a moron, Avi. Not at all. You are taking your own risks, and you might have good reason to do so. I took mine as well, some paid off, many others didn’t. It’s just my gut feeling, that Farlimas is just too big of a danger for us, to ever consider making a deal.”

“Why would he be such a big threat?” Avi was genuinely surprised, “After all, he is only ranting against the JRC, like any other state that tolerates Telomerax. It’s nowhere close to the level of his fury against Europe, Russsia or America. Also, thanks to the Orthodox Jews, by the way whose dress I am using, we are one of the nations with the highest percentages of people that refuse Telomerax.”

“He is the founder of a new religion, Avi, remember?” Yaakov looked outside the window and pointed at the Dome of the Rock, “and every new religion invariably turns itself against its fathers. Nobody knows this better than us.”

“That may be a concern in the long run,” Avi admitted, “Right now, however, he has helped us stabilize the Strip and he has put a wedge between the Africans and the Arabian Union.”

“Let’s stop here, I won’t lecture you anymore, nor you will give me more details about why you think Farlimas is a good bloke,” Yaakov sipped the remaining coffee left in his cup. “Back to the reason of your trip, I have not received a message from Tarek since he left Cairo. Do you know something else about this?”

“He arrived in New Abidjan, and our agents there confirmed he was picked up by Ali and two other Farlimasians, unknown to us.” Avi answered, relieved that the conversation was taking a more conventional path. “The group then went to Yamassoukro and there we lost all contact, for about three days.”

“You mean, you have no agents in Yamassoukro?” Yaakov was surprised.

“We do, but very few, and not in the inner circle. It’s a black hole for us, literally.”

“And….” Yaakov hesitated for a while, “…do you expect our messenger to send back a signal from the black hole? Or was this a mission without return?”

“I have no idea.” Avi wondered whether it was a good idea to go further into the disclosure, then said “All that Farlimas asked for, was to send him Tarek on a mission of ours, and he assured that he did not have any hostile intentions against him. He pretended that Tarek was the only go-between he could trust.”

“Fuck!” Yaakov stood up, hissing at Avi, “then you made up the mole story to make it more credible, so that I could sell it to Tarek. I hope you got an amazing deal in exchange, Avi.”

“It was not a light-hearted decision,” Avi was firm, “That’s why I am here, to tell you the background story. I need you to know the entire truth if the situation takes a wrong turn. Otherwise, I could have asked you by email or phone.”

“Thanks for your trust, Avi. What if nothing happens?” Yaakov took the tray off the table, and went back to the kitchen.

“Well, it was a wrong track, where we might have lost an expendable goy.”

Avi waited for an answer from Yaakov, but all he could hear were the sounds of dishes being loaded into a dishwasher. He stood up from the chair and went to the exit, fixing his beard and putting his hat and wig back on. As Avi walked past the kitchen door, he peeked his head inside, and said,

“Thanks once again for you help, Yaakov. Have a nice Shabbat.”

He did not wait for an answer he was not expecting, so he left the house and hurried to the car.

 

Chapter 10

 

Ali knocked at the door of Tarek’s room at 6:15 in the morning, just before the morning prayers. Tarek left the small apartment assigned to him and started walking down the hallway, on the third floor of the residential block. He headed to the stairway that led to the spacious main courtyard.

The courtyard was about the size of a football field, and was covered with a glass structure that stemmed from the top of the five-story building, like the one Tarek had seen at the airport. It served to shelter the interior from the heat of the sun.

The prayer started immediately after Ali and Tarek reached the ground floor. The crowd started to chant the hymns, and Tarek stayed silent but followed the script through his smart glasses. The psalms were written in a mixture of languages, reading aids made it possible for the faithful to recite in unison, while soft background music, incense and other scents flooded the space. Tarek could recognize the tenets of the new faith, interleaved from quotes of all the holy books. He recognized some verses of the Quran among them, he was about to join the recitals, when the script suddenly switched language to an Italian hymn of the Middle Ages. He stumbled on the pronounciation, and, at that point, got so frustrated that he disconnected his glasses. He noticed that all the others, including Ali, were following through with the rythm.

When the prayer ended, Ali took Tarek to one of the corners of the hall.

“Farlimas will meet you at noon, in the Meditation Building, the one close to the Temple.” Ali stated.

Tarek looked at his watch, and could not contain his impatience. What the heck was he going to do for the next five hours? Observe another session of prayer?

“In the meantime,” Ali said, “there is a friend of yours who heard you’re visiting, and asked to meet you. We will go to see him now, if you wish.”

“A friend of mine?” Tarek was puzzled, “Aside from you, I do not know anybody here, Ali. I mean, anyone I can consider a friend.” Tarek started scanning through the list of people he had met who had joined the new religion, while following Ali.

Ali stopped in front of apartment 193, and rang the bell. A long minute passed, then the electric door slid open. Tarek looked at the man in front of him, leaning on his stick, the face crowned in long, grey hair but without a beard, and a series of scars on his torso visible through his white waistcoat.

“It’s not possible..” Tarek muttered, “You died a long time ago…we never heard anything about you since the incidents of Rome..”

“I am not a ghost, Tarek,” the figure replied, “It’s really me, I’m Valerio. When I heard that you were coming, I knew this was a sign from the Lord.”

Valerio welcomed Tarek inside, while Ali smiled and politely closed the door, leaving the two old friends alone to catch up.

The apartment was a simple one-room studio. The walls were covered in books and Navibahai symbols. Tarek and Valerio sat at the table in the living room.

“You died in Rome, we all saw your last video. You were soaked in blood.” Tarek said, still in disbelief, looking at Valerio’s scars.

“Didn’t you wonder why my body was not found?” Valerio asked back.

“The riots in Rome were a total mess, there were thousands who died, so when your corpse did not turn up we thought it was just one of the hundreds gone missing….” Tarek recalled those frantic days, looking back once again to see if he had overlooked something, “…you were not even reported in the wounded list that we checked so many times, either.”

“You do not have to apologize, Tarek,” Valerio smiled cheerfully at his old friend, “After the farewell call I fainted, but then I was rescued by the Vatican team that collected the body of the Pope. When I woke up in the emergency ward of the Vatican’s first aid clinic, I asked them to remove my name from the register of casualties. You could not find me in any of the lists because I was not there.”

“You were very quick to seize the opportunity to disappear…” Tarek’s thought was trying to rush to conclusions “But why didn’t you ever check back? Were things so bad among us? I mean, why not reach out to me at least? I would have kept the secret from the others, if you had asked to.”

“Don’t be jealous, Tarek,” Valerio continued, “I seized the opportunity, and initially I thought I would soon return to the team, to you, Louis, and Helena, after a short pause for reflection.”

“And then?” Tarek was pushing Valerio to continue, “It looks as if, the more you thought about it, the lesser you wanted to return. You got old in the meantime….is Telomerax no longer working with you?”

Tarek was overwhelmed.

“You remember how quickly the world went crazy. Then I knew we had made a huge mistake with the whole Telomerax story. Coming back to you, it would mean helping you continue along that way. Yet I did not want to betray you, in any case the war was going to settle lots of issues, the hard way.” Valerio voice got softer and softer, then he paused and raised it again, “I spent a few months in Italy in the aftermath of the riots, then I made the decision that I would self-exile myself to a remote place, waiting for my fate. In 2029, I moved to Ethiopia, where I bought a small farm about a hundred miles to the southwest of Addis Abeba, and I soon became the leader of the local community. When the Indian Army invaded the Horn of Africa in 2045 to try to outflank the resistance in the Arabian Peninsula, they flooded the region with millions of toxine-carrying microdrones. People and animals usually died or were severely injured when hit by the drone, but in my case I managed to survive its sting with a kind of degenerative disease that made my body age at an accelerated rate. I was kind of put back to normal. I was the only survivor of my farm. My Ethiopian wife, my two children and our servants, all died in the attacks. I had to start over again and moved to Addis Abeba.”

“That’s where you met Farlimas?” Tarek kept jumping from Valerio’s hints to conclusions, eager to complete the picture, “When was that? If he is really 64 as he pretends to be, you should have met him as a boy”

“I met him shortly after the war ended, in 2057, when I was trying to help rebuild the country, ravaged by the war and the pest epidemics.” Valerio answered. “He was the son of a prominent landlord from Northern Ethiopia, he struck a deal with the Chinese to build solar farms. The rest is well known.”

“So….this was before he started preaching…how did he come up with the new religion? Why did you convert? Because you did convert, didn’t you?”

Tarek felt time was running out, so he kept flooding Valerio with questions.

“I did,” Valerio replied with a smile, “I did, because I met him. No need to talk about theology, or how Farlimas got his revelation. You are going to meet him too. I wanted to say farewell to you, my friend. My time is running out.”

“How do you know?” Tarek gaped, “Ok, you got older, yet you look healthy….you still have some years in front of you.”

“I don’t, it’s the toxin. It started a process that cannot be stopped. I know exactly how I will die, and when. It’s very soon, I won’t tell you more. How ironic that one of the first immortals also has the privilege to know the exact time of his exit from this world.”

“I cannot believe this,” Tarek said, trying to restrain tears, “I am sure there is a way to block it. Just come with me to Alexandria, I know the best doctors there.”

“I don’t have time, I told you,” Valerio replied quietly, “Also, it’s not what I want. I am fine with this fate. Remember what I told you a long time ago? I wanted to have the time to see new things happen, maybe the dawn of a new era. I got it, along with lots of great joys and great pains. It’s time to go now, my friend. This was my last wish, to say farewell to you, and for a long time I feared it would go unfulfilled.”

“So,” Tarek asked, “Why didn’t you call me before? What if I did not come here to meet your prophet?”

“I am just a small part of a big design, and I do not have the right to change it for my wish,” Valerio answered, his eyes turning tough. “This just made my joy bigger when I learned that my wish was part of the grand plan of God.”

Valerio stood up, immediately followed by Tarek. He started moving hesitantly towards the door, and Tarek took him by his arm. As they walked to the exit, Tarek noticed that Valerio started panting. The door opened and Tarek saw that Ali was still there, leaning on the balcony, waiting for him.

Tarek turned to Valerio, and hugged him with all his might.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

Tarek entered the hall of the Meditation building and followed Ali down the vast, dimly lit space. About the size of two football fields, the main hall was sustained by five rows of white columns and its floor was covered with carpets. Individuals, sometimes gathered in small groups, prayed wherever they found room.

Ali veered towards the right, then opened a small door. They found themselves in front of an elevator. Ali scanned his retina on the detector, and the elevator doors opened. The ride up took several seconds. Tarek calculated that they must have reached the ceiling of the structure. The elevator doors slid open and a long, white corridor lay in front of them. They walked for more than five minutes, until they reached a circular room, covered by a dome roughly fifty feet high. Light was entering through seven small triangular windows at its base. As they cut through the middle of the room, a door opened in the wall in the front of them. Before they entered the doorway, Tarek knew that was where Farlimas was waiting for them.

The room was rectangular, built in light pink granite, with two rows of thin columns splitting it in even sections, and no windows nor furniture. Farlimas was sitting on the floor next to the left wall. Tarek wondered if he had to shake his hand, but Ali stopped him when they were still a few yards away. Ali bowed, then looked at Tarek and motioned for them to sit on cushions placed in front of Farlimas. Tarek slightly bowed, and sat down.

The light brown complexion of Farlimas stood in contrast to his white navibahai dress, but what struck Tarek most was his tall figure. It was difficult to determine his age.

“I am extremely happy to meet you, Mr. Tantawy,” Farlimas greeted Tarek cheerfully, “I only wish this meeting was under better circumstances.”

“I also wish so, Mr.., well, Mr. Farlimas,” Tarek answered with some hesitation, “I believe Ali talked to you about the reasons for my visit. You can call me Tarek, if you wish.”

“Of course he did, Tarek, and please call me Farlimas, too. Mr. Farlimas sounds a bit too much like a Hollywood movie character.” Farlimas replied with a slight smile, “My first reaction when Ali asked for this meeting, was that there was no need for you to come, but somehow your nephew insisted and I gave in.”

“What do you mean, no reason for the trip?” Tarek tried to conceal his surprise, “You seem to be the only one to know how to stop the information leakage that is fueling turmoil in Palestine. At least, that’s what I was told.”

“The name of the mole, you mean?” Farlimas looked at the ceiling, bored. “There’s no such secret mole. It was just a pretext to send you over there, to me. I was afraid you would not accept a direct invite from me, so I took the first opportunity I found.”

“Why wouldn’t I have accepted an invitation from you?” Tarek was pondering the implications as he continued. “It is always worth meeting interesting and important people like you.”

“Yes, you would have accepted, no doubt,” Farlimas said, “Yet you are too clever not to understand the value of attitude. If I invite you, I have to manage your expectation. Instead, you kept wondering all the time about what I might expect from you, didn’t you?”

“And…if the mole is not a reason, what do you expect from me, then?” Tarek was growing uneasy.

“In a nutshell, nothing. I would be happy if you realized that your dear colleagues, Yaakov and Helena were involved in a plot to sell you to me. Unwillingly and unknowingly, they gave me the opportunity to show who your real friends are.”

“My friends did not sell me,” Tarek roared back, “I am sure they did their best, based on what they knew.”

“No, they didn’t, trust me. They made a choice – at least some of them. I won’t bother you with evidence you may not believe. The fact is, they pushed you here, taking advantage of your kinship to Ali and your sense of responsibility and obedience.”

“So be it,” Tarek said. “I traveled here due to the betrayal of my friends, you really have nothing interesting to tell me, so we can end the conversation here. Or am I supposed to be your hostage?”

“You are no hostage, you can leave anytime you like, Tarek. I told you, I wanted to meet you, and give Valerio the chance to bid you farewell. He did not tell you, but he is going to leave us soon. Very soon.”

Tarek connected the dots.

“Valerio is dying from a toxin that is seemingly able to stop Telomerax. You plan to use it to bring the world back to where it was, don’t you? That’s your secret weapon to take the clock back one-hundred years and get rid of us, the immortals.”

“My secret weapon!” Farlimas body shook shortly in amusement, “If it was, how long do you think it would last before somebody comes up with an antidote? Tarek, I do not rely on technology, I try to build the future on souls, if you haven’t realized it yet. The war wiped out three-quarters of mankind, and most of the survivors are today living like happy pigs, planning their next holiday while automation is relieving them of all chores. Obviously, a few megacorporations control the automation, which means the lives of all the others, but everybody seems to be OK with this. Everybody except for a few fools and dystopians like me. I am just trying to bring back to mankind a bit of the sense of awe and mystery that made us different from animals. A true sense of self-awareness, if you wish. I hope God the Almighty allows me to achieve this mission, at least partially.”

Farlimas darted a look around the room, first at Tarek and then at Ali, who nodded in agreement.

“So, this justifies your support of terrorists of all kinds? The attacks in Beirut that occurred last year?” Tarek was running out of arguments.

“Support of terrorists!” Farlimas sighed, “I have never, ever, deliberately supported any of those fools. You know what? I am only guilty of giving them the right arguments to challenge the current order. Then, it’s all left to the tangled web of mutual conspiracies and revenge, with lots of people taking advantage of it, without taking the risk of showing their real interests. But because I speak my mind, I am left in the open to take the blame. Love of truth is very inconvenient at all times.”

“I do not follow you on this, Farlimas,” Tarek thought he had spotted the weakness. “You do not support attacks, yet you admit to inspiring them. Even if just one tenth of what I have been shown about you and your organization is true, you have more than a moral responsibility in the issues our world currently faces.”

“Responsibility I do have indeed,” Farlimas snapped back. “It all stems from the priority of protecting your people. Have you ever accepted compromises to defend your family and friends? I think you understand what I am referring to. Let me tell you one thing, we have heard of attacks being conceived right now that will bring tension and strife to a level never heard of before in our history. We are trying to foul it, but we have not yet realized who really is behind it.”

“So….why did you invite me here?” Tarek asked. “You have no secrets to share, nor does it seem like I have something you are interested in.”

“You are wrong there, Tarek.” Farlimas replied. “First of all, this trip revealed to you a few secrets about your supposed friends. Most importantly, I am interested in where you are, spiritually. Ali and I thought this would be a good opportunity for you to reflect on your life and your destiny.”

“You want me to convert?” Tarek could not hide his surprise. “I think I have grown too old and saw too many things to be captured by some finely chanted hymns, or inspired by the example set by dying friend.”

“We talked enough today, Tarek, and more words are of no use. We will talk again tomorrow, just after the Ritual.”

Farlimas stood up and walked briskly to the side of the room opposite to him. He was barely half a yard away from hitting the wall when a door materialized and Farlimas disappeared into the corridor where it led.

 

Chapter 12

 

As Tarek and Ali entered the apartment block, on the way back from the meditation building, Tarek veered towards apartment 193. Ali hesitated, then he followed his grandfather. As soon as they got in front of the door, Tarek rang the bell but nobody answered. He quickly grew impatient.

“What happened to Valerio?” Tarek muttered towards Ali, “Why is he not opening?”

“Maybe he’s out,” Ali tried to calm Tarek down, “Or maybe he’s just sleeping and we are disturbing him.”

“He cannot be out, he can barely walk. What if he got in an accident?” Tarek wondered, as he was fiddling with the handle. “Maybe he needs help.”

“All apartments are connected to the emergency system.” Ali explained, with some impatience. “In case of need, medical services are alerted and people brought to hospital. We would know. He’s just out. We will be back in three hours, after the evening Ritual. He’ll be back then.”

“The Ritual,” Tarek thought, “The much talked-about ceremony to which only the initiated are invited. Ali is one of them, and for some reason Farlimas wants me to attend, although I am a huge exception to the rules.”

“Ali, explain something to me,” Tarek switched subjects, “The Ritual is famous because, so far, nobody who took part in it has ever revealed what the hell is going on behind closed doors.”

“That’s right,” Ali replied and anticipated the next question from Tarek. “So you wonder why Farlimas invited you, since you could expose the secret?”

“Exactly. I just would not like to have to be abducted, for the secret to be kept.” Tarek continued, “Maybe it’s better I do not attend.”

“Farlimas told you, grandpa,” Ali reminded Tarek, “You are among your true friends here, and you will be free to leave and do whatever you want after the Ritual. We are sure you will keep the secret, as all the others did. It’s time to go now, we do not want to be late. I just ask you to wear this, it’s exactly your size.” Ali took a navibahai white dress from his backpack. “I hope you understand there is a ceremonial code to respect.”

“Absolutely, Ali, absolutely,” Tarek answered, and entered the first public toilet he found to change clothes.

After a few minutes, they were walking on the vast esplanade, opposite of the meditation building, that led to the Temple, which was the old, refurbished cathedral of Notre-Dame. The former church had been renovated and added onto, making it now the biggest religious building on the planet. Despite the improvements over the last several years, Tarek noticed that the tall dome was still the fulcrum of the building.

Tarek and Ali walked for several hundred yards, in the late afternoon heat. Small groups of faithful in navabahai dress joined them until, gradually, Tarek realized they were in the midst of a large crowd, that was now entering the Temple.

The light and heat of the outside suddenly gave way to a cool, shadowy atmosphere, permeated by incense and other fragrances. Almost immediately, hymns started rising up in the background, and the crowd began to chant. Tarek followed Ali, they found space in one of the many circles that were forming around the altar at the center of the Temple, just underneath the dome.

As the chants and scents grew stronger, holographic images and scripts appeared in mid-air to keep the prayers in sync. Tarek found that the Ritual was easier to follow than the prayer session of the day before, in the courtyard of the apartment blocks. Directors alternated on the altar, Tarek tried to read along with the prayer script but found it was not adding much to what he already knew about the navibahai faith. After a few minutes, Ali took his left hand, and Tarek automatically sought the one of the person to his right. He exchanged a quick glance with his neighbor, an Asian, but did not spend any time wondering where he exactly was from. The chants and the perfumes grew stronger, and the crowd started to follow the rhythm, the circles around the altar vibrating in uniform waves.

Then, a figure materialized behind the altar and the music of the hymns subsided. The crowd slowed down but did not stop altogether. The holographic beamers projected the face of Farlimas around the hall, just below the dome.

“Hello, sisters and brothers, it is time again. One of us is going to join the Almighty today, and we will stay with him to the very last second….” He then paused. “….so that we experience the sacrifice and the joy of the Passage…”

Tarek tried to make sense of what Farlimas was saying, but it was punctuated with so much religious vocabulary he could not grasp a lot of it. Then, a stretcher flew up from the back of the Temple, all the way above the altar. It was suspended in the air by four drones, the holographic beamers switched from the image of Farlimas to the person laying on the hovering stretcher.

It was Valerio. Tarek felt the incense scent was intensifying, while he could now hear, mixed with the music and the hymns, the faint breath of Valerio, progressively losing strength and rhythm. Tarek held the hands of Ali and of the man next to him tighter.

The projectors were of such quality that Tarek could see and almost feel the face of Valerio right in front of him, his eyes slowly closing, his breath struggling to keep the pace. From time to time, Valerio seemed to remain still, but then with the blink of the eyes, or the spasm of the body he made it clear he was still alive. The chants had died down, Tarek could hear the heavy panting of his friend and, he thought he heard a note, as if Valerio was whistling his last tune.

Tarek lost sense of time, and his mind was overwhelmed by all the moments he had spent with his friend. The joyous dinners on the terrace along the Lake of Geneva when they met for the first time, at Louis’ beauty clinic, the lively discussions over the dunes of the Arabian deserted flooded by the moonlight, the gloomy drink he had in the pub of Canary Wharf, when the Telomerax business was starting to spin out of control, and the several fishing trips done together when Valerio moved to Dubai, in the last years of quietness before the world broke apart.

Just then, Valerio’s face contracted and eventually relaxed in immobility, as if a wave spread along his body. He was dead. Struck by the sudden transition, Tarek kept his eyes on the image of Valerio, then he realized that the music had stopped and silence was flooding the entire Temple.

The eyes of the crowd were still on Valerio, when a slow hymn resumed, and Farlimas approached the stretcher. The drones gently lowered it to ground level, so that Farlimas could make the farewell sign of the navibahai faith over the face of the dead.

Farlimas then stood up again, reaching the podium next to the altar.

“Tonight, we thank the Almighty for having accepted again one of our brothers at the other end of the Passage, and having given us the opportunity of admiring his graceful Transition. The world outside wants to deny this simple reality, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to our brothers and sisters who accept to turn their own individual passage into a public testimony. On their free sacrifice and nothing else rests our Faith!”

The crowd responded by erupting in unison with the joyful notes of the hymn of the conclusion, while the ventilation system started humming, removing the scents from the Temple. The outer circles of the crowd started to break apart, and the faithful started to flow toward the exit.

When the circle where he was standing broke, Tarek did not follow the crowd. He noticed the Asian man that had stood next to him leaving out of the side of his eyes, and felt that Ali was behind him, waiting for his move. Tarek knew it was not yet over and kept his eyes on the empty altar.

Having lost the sense of time, he looked at his watch. The Ritual had lasted for nearly an hour, and now it was about another half an hour until it was over. The Temple was nearly empty and dark, most of the lights had been switched off and outside dusk was quickly giving way to the night.

Then a deep voice materialized from behind Tarek, striking him in the back like a fist.

“Dear friend, I hope you have appreciated this new perspective.”

Tarek turned to the voice, and he saw Farlimas standing next to Ali. He immediately moved towards them, then he stopped when he was about a couple of yards away from Farlimas. Tarek found himself fighting to resist the urge to cry, overwhelmed by the passing away of such a close friend. Farlimas gently opened his arms and smiled, while half closing his eyes he said to Tarek.

“Come, my son. You have seen, Valerio is preceding us on the path to eternal joy. He is with us forever, although we no longer see his body.”

Tarek took the last two steps and bowed at the feet of Farlimas, who embraced him and patted him gently on the shoulders. Tarek erupted into tears.

“Get your pain out of you, my son. Let it flow through you. You need to build your new awareness…”

Tarek sobbed and tried to say something at the same time, while holding on to Farlimas dress.

He cried out, “Valerio, Valerio, where are you now? Why didn’t you tell me you were so close to leaving me again?”

Farlimas hugged Tarek towards his chest, lulling him like a baby, and whispering in his ear.

“Let it out, let it out. You will understand, over time. All will be clear, my son. Everything happens for a reason.”

Ali was observing the scene, and found himself envious of his grandfather for a fleeting moment. He immediately pushed this feeling back into the darkness from which it came.

 

95


The Last Enemy - Part 4 Volume 1 - 2055-2070

“The last enemy to be destroyed shall be death”, wrote St. Paul in his letters. But what if someone has already managed to defeat it? Thirty-four years have gone by since an ingenious biochemist, named Louis Picard, invented the ultimate anti-aging drug in 1981, that is known as Telomerax. Louis was obliged to form a selected group of technology entrepreneurs, finance mavens, and secret service professionals to help strategically spread knowledge of the drug. The discovery of Telomerax carried obvious dangers with it, eventually leading to the collapse of society and the near-extinction of mankind, in the ruthless war that broke out. Survivors set out to design a new society, specially designed for the half-gods that individuals were becoming. An action-packed and thrilling apocalyptic novel, “The Last Enemy”, brings to light many issues that we face today, from the clash between the power of the state and the right of citizens, to respecting our limits and controlling the human drive to push ourselves beyond those very limits.

  • ISBN: 9781370514519
  • Author: Luca Luchesini
  • Published: 2017-08-07 18:05:13
  • Words: 20810
The Last Enemy - Part 4 Volume 1 - 2055-2070 The Last Enemy - Part 4 Volume 1 - 2055-2070