“Liberty, next to religion has been the motive of good deeds and the common pretext of crime...”~Lord Acton
The three men Edward and Epiphany had met with flew in at different times the evening before. Gretchen arranged for Limousine’s to pick them up, which brought them to the Four Seasons Hotel for their weekend stay. Professor Todd was impressed enough that he began to hope that maybe this wasn’t all just a hoax by some crack-pot outfit. Paul Wyczyk’s thoughts were centered on what it must be costing them. John Rydell wondered who it was they were trying to impress. (He still ordered a bottle of Champagne via room service and jokingly made a toast to “Socialism,” as he sipped it, surveying the view of the city from his window.)
West was unable to convince the White House to allow them the use of one of their conference rooms, so the three men, were taken over to the Executive Building to meet with Edward, Epiphany, Gretchen and West. The Vice-President looked over the guest list, giving it his rubber-stamp for security purposes.
“Christ, we’re being taken over by bloggers!” he muttered to himself, feeling that his boss’ strategy of keeping Edward, and his now growing collection of cohorts, close to the fold to be misguided at absolute best. All the same he couldn’t deny that as much of the contempt he felt towards Edward was grounded as much in his fear of him as anything else.
In the third-floor conference room, West leaned in close and handed Edward a DVD containing the video evidence from each of the suicides, as well as a copy of the manifesto they’d written in blood and an animation that one of the investigators creators showing it being assembled by each line, in order.
“Eddie, do you see the ID stickers? These are the originals, and they’re classified. It would be a good idea if I managed to put them back before anyone notices they’re missing!”
A second DVD contained the security videos of the holding cell Edward had occupied from the time they entered the room, until he was finally escorted out, two days later. Amazingly, as the camera was focused exclusively on the cell, Gretchen presence in the room would STILL manage to go unnoticed.
As West left to escort the three men upstairs, Edward turned to Gretchen, who was setting up Edward’s laptop with the overhead projector.
“Hey, Gretchen? Do me a favor, please. The DVD on that thing runs kind of slow and dodgy. So put the videos on the Hard Drive and run them from there, OK?”
“Sure , no problem.” An odd look from her.
“I appreciate it!” he smiled.
Finally Edward stood at the front of the room, facing the six members of what he would hope become his advisory council, seated around the table.
“I’d like welcome our out-of-towners to Washington. Thank you for coming, Gentlemen. I’d like to go around the table and have everyone introduce themselves. Please tell us a little about yourselves and, if you’ll humor me, please give us just a word to two that you feel sums up your political or philosophical outlook. It can be as specific or as general as you like, but please try to sum it up in one word or less.
“Epiphany Wolport, retired tech support. Author of ‘Feminist’s Rag.’ Feminist.”
“Agent West. Secret Service. Hawk,” he added, smiling. A nervous laugh from the room.
“Gretchen Randle. Executive staffer. Dove,” she said nodding at West. Considerably more laughter from the room.
“Um… John Rydell. Author of ‘Lefty’s Grove.’ Liberal.”
“I’m Paul Wyczyk. I’m an Accountant specializing in Fraud – detecting it, not perpetrating it!” Another good laugh at that, “And I’m a moderate Conservative and a Libertarian. I think I’ve read all of your blogs at one time or another.”
“Robert Todd, Professor of Philosophy, U.C. Berkeley. Skeptic.”
“And author of the most valuable website in existence: The Skeptipedia Britannica,” Edward added.
“Thanks. Always great to meet a fan.”
Edward continued. “Great now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s start in with was I’m sure you think you all came here to see. As you know, a few weeks back there was a serious of bizarre suicides. You may think them, ‘bizarre,’ solely because there were so many , on the same night, New Year’s Eve, 2010, and they all seemed to come from people exposing a certain brand of political philosophy – one that many in this room, everyone, I think, if may be so bold, has come to take issue with in recent years.”
A general mumble of consensus from the room on this point.
“What you do NOT know, because no one is letting the story be told, is that videotapes were found at each scene. These videos were confiscated by the Feds the minute this became a federal investigation, so local authorities never had the change to compare notes, but what these videos all show are the moments leading up to each incident. Gretchen, if you would?”
While West dimmed the light, Gretchen brought up a directory of files, projecting onto the screen the names of the 235 deceased.
“Let’s see… Why don’t you bring up Mister Glenn Beck’s?”
The first thing that they saw was an extreme close up of the pudgy politico’s face as he tried to ascertain whether or not it was recording, then a quick sweep of the room as her turned and propped the camera up on what looked like a crowded and chaotic, yet strangely organized, desk.
“Greeting, America. My name is Glenn Edward Beck, and for many years now…”
What followed was elaborate condemnation of most of the tactics and misrepresentations and sensationalism that he had built his very career on, as well as a condemnation of his purported political philosophy as one driven by superstition, fear and greed.
“Well, follks… Hopefully the pound of gold and pound of flesh I’m giving up will help to make amends for my sins.”
A wince from the room as the talk show host drew an exact-o blade from the desk drawer and made a 1 inch gash in his forearm. Gretchen turned away as the man watched in fascination at the sight of his blood pooling on the desk. A line was written with an old-fashioned fountain pen, followed by an exaggerated slash mark. The paper was then put aside.
“I leave you with these words of wisdom, and hope that what I do now will lead to my salvation.”
Strong inhalations from the room, as the 9 mm Glock Pistol was produced from under the desk, and placed in his mouth.
“Oh my God!”
“What the hell?!”
Edward reached over to the laptop and shut down the screen, Gretchen looked numb.
“What did you see?” Edward finally asked.
“Glen Beck blowing his fucking brains out,” John answered flatly.
“Three cheers for Captain Obvious. Yes, and I apologize for not warning you up front. But it is important that you see this, and understand what’s going on. DETAILS, people! What did you see?!”
“He wrote something down.” Paul offered.
“In his own blood,” John added.
“He appeared to be alone,” West out in. “You get a quick pan of the room when he’s setting up the camera. It might have gone too fast, but it didn’t look like anyone else was there.”
“It sounded almost like a... confession of sorts. And he mentioned a pound of GOLD as well… What was that all about?” Paul asked.
“We’ll get to that in good time,” Edward answered, “but well spotted. Professor Todd? A nything you picked up on?”
The academic stroked his beard. “Well… He wrote something, and then made a big slash mark at the end. That piece of paper was put aside, as if to keep it from getting… messed up. Do we know what it said? Was it recovered?”
“Indeed it was. And we’ll get to that in a moment. Anything else?”
“Was the door locked?”
“I believe it was, but door could have been locked before it was closed.”
“But it looked closed when the video started, and it didn’t sound like anyone came or went. So it seems he was alone. Which you’d expect, if he was committing suicide. What’s strange about that though is that he doesn’t appear the least bit nervous, or apprehensive about it. He talks like it just another day in the life of a broadcaster. That’s what got me the most: how normal he sounds.”
A general consensus in the room.
“All right well done. Now, based on your reactions, I don’t suppose anyone want to sit through 235 of these, so you can take my word for it, or we can examine each one, but these elements you’ve mentioned? They are identical, in every single one. Two hundred and thirty five. All videotaped. All with confession, and a note scribed in their own blood. All dead by pistol shot and all, at least where there was a clock or some kind of time stamp, precisely at midnight, Eastern Standard Time on New Year's Eve, 2010. Now… this might just be a coincidence, I don’t want to sound like a numerologist or anything...” he continued, winking at the skeptical academic, Robert, “But can anyone tell me how old this country is?”
Some quick counting on fingers. “235, right now,” Paul, the accountant, answered first. “But it would have been 234 at the time.”
“True, but there would be 235 calendar years that this country existed in. You know – counting the second half of 1776 as one.”
The Professor raises his hand. “What’s your point? Why is that important?”
“I don’t know that it is. It’s just weird, don’t you think?” A frown and rolled eyes from the skeptic. “Here’s the crazy thing. You asked if we could see what he wrote, what they all wrote. And we can. We also know what order to view them in. Each of them, was kind enough to number their contribution.”
“Contribution? Contribution to what?” Professor Todd asked.
Edward just laughed, and opened one of the scans of the blood letters at random.
“Just to makes sure now… You can see that it’s numbered. There’s a line – not even a complete sentence in this case, I might add. And…”
“That odd slash mark at the bottom.” The Professor was intensely curious to see where this was going.
“Correct. And each one contains the same thing. Well, the same ELEMENTS anyway, though they’re all different. Do you take my word for all of this, or do want to look at some more.”
“Humor me,” Professor Todd started. “Pull up three more at random. Letters... not videos, please.”
Gretchen did so, and each could see that the lines were numbered, each was in a different position on the page, and each had a single slash somewhere along the bottom of the page.
“Gentleman,” Edward continued, “This is where it gets… really weird. And this is where my involvement in all of this comes into play. You each know, or think you know, why you are here. But the following? Is why I am here…”
Edward nodded to Gretchen, who opened the animation that showed each new page overlaid on top of all of the previous ones. Gasps from the room as each line continued from the last. One after other, in order, each picking up where the previous one left off, often in mid-sentence. But there was only stunned silence when the collective slash marks finally coalesced into their eerie missive:
“I didn’t mention it when I introduced myself, but I guess you all know what my middle name is now.”
After almost a minute of silent order, the room exploded in conversation chaos. “He did it!” “How could he have?” “…alone at the time!” “Pull up another one!” “Look, there!” “No, that’s not!” “Impossible!” Edward just watched as it went for an hour, mostly to satisfy the inquiries of either the Fraud-Detecting Accountant or the World Renowned Skeptic, who had taken Edward's bet that he would not invoke the Divine (or any other) Fallacy.
In the end, neither was willing to concede the obvious implication: That even though this COULD NOT be a coincidence, and COULD NOT possibly be an act of any one man, this didn’t make it an act of God. All the same, the vigorous discussion ruled out any possible way Edward could have been involved. Gretchen and John spoke most enthusiastically in Edward’s defense on this point, while Paul and Professor Todd seemed to be making an effort to reserve judgment. No one seemed to notice that West and Epiphany just sat quietly, the only ones in the room who knew about the Tablet. They weren’t asked any questions, and so they told no lies. In end, the only point of agreement reached was that, no matter how you looked at it, it didn’t make any sense.
Once he was satisfied that the group's minds were sufficiently blown, and thus open to even greater possibilities, Edward had Gretchen shut the suicide videos down and open a different directory – one that contained the security tapes from the jail cell Edward had occupied. Seeing her mortified at look at the potential footage those videos might contain, he assured her that only the inside of the cell was visible. This wasn’t entirely true – with the cell door opened, you could see a person standing immediately outside but with it closed, due to the angle, the bars would obscure any view of the room, and thus protect any discretion she would have otherwise wanted to preserve.
Fortunately, for Edward, there was a view of the President in frame for a split second as the entourage walked past the cell door. Once Edward was in frame, albeit with his back to the camera, he had Gretchen pause the video.
“Anybody see a familiar face there? See... I woke up on New Year’s day with a full knowledge of what had transpired, and managed to obtain an audience with the President to try and fill him in,” Edward equivocated.
Again the discussion fires up about this could be possible and how Edward could not have been involved. (And, of course, how COULD HE have been?) At some point the conversation turned to the fact that the Secret Service must have felt that he was involved otherwise, he wouldn’t have been incarcerated.
Edward did pitch in on that point, “I apologize that this video has no audio feed.” Again, another look of simultaneous realization and relief from Gretchen. “So you can’t hear what we’re discussing. John, I would have made you proud: That’s me finishing up telling the President what a failure he’s been.”
John laughed at that. “Really? I bet that went over well.”
“Not exactly.” he nodded to Gretchen to have her continue.
A few seconds later, West’s gun came into the frame. It was not visible who the shooter was.
A flash, as the muzzle discharged.
Edward falling backwards, the blood leaving no doubt as to the authenticity of the wound.
After an initial gasp, they watched in silence as the medical teams tried to save him, and then gave up, locking him in there. This elicited some disbelief from even the most cynical among them, but Edward was willing to defend the White House staff on this point. “Please understand, gentlemen. In this instance I was literally asking them to do this. Let me show you…” Another nod to Gretchen.
As they skipped forward though the tape, the group watched as the date stamp changed from the first, to the second and then to the third of January. Finally Gretchen resumed normal playback speed, and the saw Edward stand-up and be released from the cell.
“What happened next?” Professor Todd asked.
“I was given a full medical examination, and debriefed by the FBI. Finally I was allowed to confront the man who shot me.” Though lost on everyone else, Edward could sense West’s discomfort and surprise that his role in this was going to be revealed. Questions followed, but eventually it was Professor Todd that poke for the group.
“Three questions: What did this the medical examination find?”
“No trace of the wound, and no bullet,” Edward answered flatly.
“Was it in the cell?”
“Nope. You saw that there was no exit wound. Nine millimeter round, if I recall. And you also saw, though we were going through it rather quickly, that I couldn’t have pitched it, or flushed it. Or, at least, you saw that I didn’t.”
“Wait a second, are you saying…”
“Yes. That it just disappeared. I actually have a theory as to how that happened, but lest put that aside for now. What’s your second question?”
“What did the FBI ask you? What did you tell them?”
“Everything I knew. That there were 235 deaths, and that each one left behind a video and a message written in Blood. I also had one of their folks assemble that message, so that they would see me named, as you’ve seen here. They confirmed what I thought I already knew, though not intentionally, and let me know that everything related to this event would be classified.”
“Probably so that I wouldn’t get any undue attention or celebrity from it. The last thing they need is me out there distracting the public from whatever message it is that they want to be sending out.”
Everyone mulled that over for a moment, before Professor Todd came back to his last question, “Who shot you? And what did you say to him?”
“He’s sitting right there,” Edward nodded at West. “And I apologized to him that he had to be involved in all of this.”
Again an uproar from the table. “It’s a hoax!” Professor Todd finally exclaimed. “And a trivial one! West shot you with a blank! It’s all faked!”
“And the blood?”
“Could have been a bag,” John offered, coming over to the Professor’s side a bit. “Elementary movie stuff.”
“No one FOUND one,” Edward reminded them. “You saw as they examined me. And you saw that I never discarded anything. And you should know: In a post-9/11 world, or even just a post-JFK world, if I was perpetrating a hoax that involved discharging a firearm in the presence of the President of the United States of America, I wouldn’t be in a conference room right now talking to you, I’d be in Federal Prison awaiting trial.”
While suspicion persisted, they had to concede on these points.
“And can we see these medical reports?” Professor Todd inquired.
“Well, as they’re classified, I’m afraid not. At least not at the moment.”
“That’s convenient,” he scoffed.
“Well, seeing as how we’re here so that I can allay your skepticism, I’d say it’s decided inconvenient,” Edward answered as Professor Todd rolled his eyes. “But I’ll tell you what… I want you to feel that I’ve been completely open to you, that I’ve given you every bit of evidence you want to examine. So… West? Do you think you can get the good Professor a copy of those reports?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“And since none of this will likely be forthcoming through a freedom of information act request – and you’d probably be investigated yourselves just for even knowing about it – please send all requests for such evidence through Agent West here. And he will considered it a personal favor to me to get you this information.” While there was some skepticism over whether or not West was an objective source, this went a long way towards satisfying the group’s suspicions.
“Why’d you do it?” Paul finally asked West, who looked to Edward for guidance.
“Go ahead West. Tell them what happened.” The emphasis made it clear to West that he was to omit any details about WHY it happened.
He shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain it. It was almost like being in a dream. I met Edward here at the East Gate that morning. I escorted him into the Oval Office – something that alone got me into some hot water with my employers. I listened to him loudly criticize the President for about twenty minutes…”
John laughed out loud again at this. “I would have LOVED to have seen that.”
“Oh, he was unbelievable!” West answered. A nod of agreement, with a smile, from Gretchen. “And then I shot him.”
“WHY?” Paul asked again.
“I don’t know. Again, it was like being in a dream; or more like someone else was controlling me. I was conscious of the fact that I was pointing my gun at him, but it almost seemed like I was watching someone else do it. I can’t explain it any better than that. It was like…”
“Being John Malkovich?” John offered.
West hadn’t thought of it that way, but after considering it for a moment, “Yeah… Yeah, it was a lot like that. Not exactly, but that’s as good an example as any.”
“This is absurd,” Professor Todd grumbled.
“And yet, there it is.”
“This isn’t PROOF!”
“ANYTHING!” the academic roared.
“What about your department’s secretary?” Edward asked slyly. “She seemed to be acting the same way, no?”
The Professor had no retort to that, having witnessed firsthand the woman’s confusion and distress.
Edward sighed. “Bob, I sympathize. And I hope I haven’t disappointed you, only showing you what I have so far. Please keep in mind – all of this information is classified. The Government doesn’t tend to invoke secret security over hoaxes. And even so… Is there really any rational or logical explanation for hundreds of people, all from the same side of the political spectrum, committing suicide at the exact same time, all in different places in precisely the same, orchestrated manner? Even if you throw out my claims of getting shot, West’s description just now, AND the manifesto written in the blood of all those people, with my name being formed at the bottom, you STILL don’t have a reasonable way of explaining any of it away. Do you?”
Professor Todd narrowed his eyes and frowned. “No, but I hardly have enough evidence to do anthing with it.”
“Nevertheless, even YOU have to admit that something… significant has happened.”
He shrugged in a grudging agreement.
“And regarding the other things, there really isn’t any motivation here that should scream ‘hoax,’ and if it were merely that, then there would be no reason to bring you all here, given you my hypothesis of what it all means, and offer you what I’m about to.”
Too many questions all at once. Edward held up his hand.
“What I think it means is simple: These men were being punished, for using all of their immense wealth, talent and power to bring about and maintain a social, economic and political system that was inherently unsustainable, and would lead to nothing more than inequity, suffering and death on a massive scale just so that they, and they corporate masters, could line their pockets a little deeper.
If there's deaths have a deeper meaning for society in general, it is there must be an seperation of church and state, and that religion must never be used for so cheap a matter as personal political ambition. Corporate influence must be attenuated or eliminated entirely. The Billionaires have already reaped there rewards, on the virtue of their financial success. No one should be handing them political power to boot. And we need to get back to truly serving the interests and needs of ALL people, not just the ones who can afford to fund political campaigns.
Now... I believe that was named, because I have a role to play in this world going forward,” Edward noticed the collection of skeptical looks at this point, “Hey: Roll your eyes if you want! But… One: These men named me. Two: I survived getting shot. Three,” Edward flipped his old driver’s license onto the table. It came to rest in front of Professor Todd. “THAT is what I looked like just before all this happened. FOUR!” Again, shouting over the murmurs of incredulous disbelief, “THAT is a gift I can GIVE to you. And FIVE: Each of the deceased made a significant financial contribution to fund the endeavor that I’m proposing.”
That got everyone’s attention, even to the point that the forgot about Edwards offer of giving them the gift he had received. It figured that it would be the accountant who spoke first on this matter.
"What do you mean? What kind of contribution?"
"Would you be satisfied with 'how much?'" Paul nodded. "By the time it was all under a single legal entity, it was in the hundreds of billions."
It was obvious who was buying it, form their looks of shock. "H-How...?" Paul finally managed.
Edward frowned and shrugged. "Don't know. Piff here checked the mailbox and it's overflowing with envelopes. Inside? Cashier's checks made out for just stupid amounts of money."
"Y-You... You can't..." Paul was grasping at something, but he didn't have enough information to complete his thought.
"Really? All of these transfers were made weeks before these men died. The checks themselves became legal tender the minute all assets were transferred, in full compliance with the law. And now? The money that these men, these small, evil, petty men... oh, and some women... used to perpetrate their tyranny and inequity and economic, social and spiritual superstitions on the American Public, propagandizing and outright BUYING Candidates and Votes as they duped the weak-minded into voting against their economic interests, giving up their Rights and even going so far as to alienate those who dared point this point out... is mine. OURS, if you'll help me. I mentioned to each of you a generous salary. I'm sure you'll find that our resources are more than satisfactory, but please remember: This money isn't really for US. The world needs fixing. And unfortunately? For now that will take money. Someday soon, I'm hoping that will no longer be the case. But for today I say, 'the devil's had it long enough!'" Edward hoped that Luci wasn't listening in from somewhere.
The discussion continued, and went from politics to whether or not they should believe him, to what 'really' happened and then back to politics. As Keynesian Economics, Anthropogenic Global Warming, Campaign Finance Reform, the Right Wing's War on Science, Social Justice and Equality and so many other matters were discussed, from so many different points of view, and even through bouts of fierce contention, but always ending up in the correct and most progressive place, Edward became convinced that this group would make an excellent start as a circle of advisors.
John's radicalism was tempered by Paul's conservatism. Epiphany's ruthlessness by Gretchen's gentler hand. And any superstitions, magical or unscientific thinking by Robert Todd's objective and academic wisdom. As he thought about how he would broach the subject of their potential immortality, tonight at dinner, he glanced at the Tablet, which had been hidden in plain sight, right in front of him, through the entire meeting.
Both of the traffic lights were now green again. Somewhere in the universe, he imagined that an angel was smiling at him.
"Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, we're probably going to be kicked out soon, but we have a reservation at La Bergeriei, so I hope you're hungry, that you'll join us, and that you like your wine."
West regretted that he would have to miss - partly because he had to get the two discs back to the archive. Gretchen took Edward aside to give her regrets as well, but added:
"I'm not stupid, you know."
"Huh?!" This caught him by surprise.
"'The DVD is dodgy? Just put the files on the Hard Drive?' Eddie, did you really think it would be lost on me that you're stealing the videos?"
Edwards blood froze. "And?" he asked with some trepidation.
"AND... I don't care." She sighed. "Look, I know I come off as this goody two-shoes, but I believe in you and in what you're doing here. You think I care that they're classified? Personally I think it's absurd that they're classified! So the Government can go hang here. If you need something? And no one's getting hurt for it? I'm in. Just ASK, OK?"
"OK. And I'm sorry. I didn't mean to deceive you."
"Yes you did, and you just did it again." Piercing eyes over the rims of thick glass lenses.
Edward deflated. "Fuck. Yeah, I did. Or I deceived myself maybe. I'm sorry. And I have no excuse."
A wry grin. "That's fine. Just don't let it happen again. It probably won't work, and it's unnecessary anyway. OK?"
"OK. Sure you can't come tonight?"
"I'd love to, but I've got this thing... And I'm pretty exhausted." Only one of those statements was true, but if Edward suspected anything, he let it go.
"All right then, " he smiled. "We'll be in touch, OK?"
Dinner was another round of politics and philosophy, with each discussion getting more spirited and less coherent as the night wore on and the bottles of wine went down. Finally, before most of his company was too inebriated to make a rational decision, he broached the last detail of the job he was offering them.
“Gentlemen, there’s still one thing we need to discuss. And Bob? I’m going to need my license back?” The professor hadn’t realized that he’s tucked it away with the rest of his things when they’d let the Executive building. “Thank you. You all saw the video. You saw me get shot. And yet here I am. And THIS…” Edward passed his old Driver’s License around for everyone to see, “is what I looked like not too long ago. Virginia doesn’t list the operator’s weight, but it was 210, on a good day, and it’s 165 now. And as much as I’m about to start channeling a snake-oil salesman, this profound transformation is all due to THIS.”
Edward placed the Vial of Tears on the table.
John leaned forward. “And what is that?”
“They’re called the Tears of Heaven. And they grant eternal youth and near immortality. One drop and you’ll never get any older, you will never get sick, and short of catastrophic bodily destruction, you won’t ever die. And if you are interested in anything I’ve said so far, please consider this to be both the greatest perk being offered as part of this job, as well as its greatest burden.”
“Where did you get it?” asked Professor Todd.
“Bob, if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Well, I’m not believing any of this anyway, but why do I get the feeling that you’re going to try and prove it to us?”
“Not TRY. I WILL… But only if you want me to.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Once granted, the only cure for immortality is death. So don’t take me up on this offer merely out of skeptical curiosity. Because if you wake up tomorrow convinced that all I’ve told you is true, I’m afraid that I will have to insist that you stay on as one of us. That is the price you pay. So… IF this is something you want, assuming I can deliver the goods, then I am happy to have each and every one of you in the fold. But: If you don’t want the JOB, then you don’t get to see any more of the PROOF.”
Paul cleared his throat, “And supposed we want to walk away. Are we free to go even now?”
“Of course. I have nothing to fear from any of you going out there and revealing any of my so-called secrets. If you tried telling anyone about this, you’d be dismissed as either perpetrating a very weak hoax, or insane.”
A broad smile from Professor Todd as he nods his head.
“But consider the implications of this very carefully. You can’t have twenty-plus years knocked off of your age, health and appearance and just go and show up for work on Monday. I couldn’t. Your old lives would be essentially over. No more Accountant Paul. No more Professor Bob. And as for your families? Well… I think you see where this is going.” Edward looked around the table as that last point sunk in.
“Well,” John started, clapping his hands on his things, “I’m pretty much the Black Sheep of my family anyway. So if they miss me? Meh – screw ‘em!”
“You laugh,” Edward answered him, “But don’t make your decision lightly.”
“I never married,” Professor Todd jumped in. “My parents are long dead, my only sibling, a sister, died of stroke a few years ago. I have friends and colleagues of course, but…”
“But it would be little different that if you changed Universities. All the same, I beg you not to say ‘What the heck?’ assuming it’s all a hoax.”
The academic stared back at Edward. “Kid, if what you say is true, I’d be interested only because I was nearing retirement anyway, and I think quite frankly you need my help rather desperately.”
“I do.” Edward replied evenly.
“So while I still ain’t buyin’ a word of this baloney sausage, hypothetically, I’m prepared for the consequences.”
“Given the odds that there won’t be any?” Edward raised an eyebrow.
All eyes then turned to Paul.
“B-But I HAVE a family! My mother… I help out taking care of her, and MY Sister is alive and well and has three kids… I never married myself, but we’re… CLOSE!”
“Paul, if you want to walk away you are still free to do so. “
“No… No it’s not that. You know… I think I might have erred but I’ve let myself actually BELIEBVE some… heck, maybe ALL, all of what you’ve said. I just don’t see any way to explain it all away, or account for it being a fraud. And if it’s all true, well then… I absolutely want to be a part of it! It’s just… so much to ask.”
“It is. But please understand why it is required. So much of the mess we’re in now is because our leaders, whether they be Politicians, the Military, Captains of Industry, whatever… are limited by their own shortsightedness. They are constantly required to please… the customer, the public, their bosses, etc… in the short term. They have no capacity for long term vision, because they are not rewarded for long term planning, nor are they punished for long term consequences. WE? Will be. We will always consider the long term implications of the policies we champion because there will be no doubt that we will be around long enough to live with the consequences.”
All three nodded in agreement.
“But if you’re not ready, I understand. I won’t go so far as to say that this is a one-time offer, but I also cannot promise that it will remain open indefinitely. The choice is yours.”
“OK. OK. I’m in.”
“Are you certain?”
Paul stared into his glass a moment longer. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
And just he had with Epiphany, Gretchen and West, Edward administered a single drop of Heaven’s Tears onto the tongues of John Rydell, Paul Wyczek and Professor Robert Todd.
At six O’Clock the next morning, after a heavy night of gluttonous levity, Professor Robert Todd awoke to the ringing of his wake up call. While he dreaded the thought of moving, fully expecting his joints to be aching from the unfamiliar bed and his head to be spinning from the rivers of wine that had flowed the night before, he was instead surprised to find no trace of a hangover and once fully aware of this, practically sprang to his feet.
Looking down at his hands, he received a shock: They looked young. Knuckles once gnarled and swollen with arthritis looked strait, and graceful. And then the second shock hit him: He was seeing the profound difference in perfect clarity, though not wearing his glasses.
Cautiously, he approached the mirror.
The face looking back at him, while not quite that of an undergraduate, was one possessed of an undeniable youth. Just the slightest hint of grey remained in his beard, and his hair was not only darker and thicker, but also curly – an almost forgotten trait from those long ago days. The only remaining evidence of his sixty five years of life that remained was in his eyes. The jaded shadows of experience remained, though his face was better suited for more wide-eyed and idealistic exuberance.
Finally putting on his glasses, he found that they only blurred his now perfect vision, no longer far-sighted with age. While he was already in decent physical condition for a man his age, he could not deny that he not only felt stronger, but also had an energy level that left him feeling almost high. And the parts of him that hadn’t woken up along with him in so long served to remind him why so many of his students could not keep their eyes on their work, but rather on the nearest attractor for their affections.
He felt alive in a way that he had forgotten was possible. He felt strong. He felt hungry.
He felt immortal.
A wry grin on his face as he picked up the phone and texted Edward.
“OK, Carpenter. I’m in.”