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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 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.”


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