Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapter Thirty: Cambridge

I'm not religious in the normal sense. I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.

~Stephen Hawking

Once settled into their hotel in Cambridge, Edward and Epiphany found themselves completely stuck. It turned out to be a far more difficult affair to gain an audience with the famous author and physicist than simply making a phone call or sending an email or even crashing his office and manipulating his secretary.  The first problem was that he travelled around rather a lot for any man, let alone one who was wheelchair bound, and required as much care as he did.  Complicating this was the fact that he did most of his work out of his home. His secretaries and handlers took care of most of his correspondence, scheduling meetings and lectures months in advance.  What’s more, they were not publicly known people, so Edward could not simply whip out the tablet and be penciled in.  And given the scientist's celebrity, they had to be careful how they went about their inquiries, lest they draw any unwanted attention to their endeavor.  It would be over a week before they even had a name to work with.
Back in Washington, in a make-shift office in the Executive Building that West was able to arrange on a temporary basis, John Rydell was feeling overwhelmed, buried in stacks of papers, all written in the most indecipherable legalese, that were supposed to be describing a National Health Care system, but may as well have been plans for a time machine, powered by macaroni, written in Aramaic. In the off chance that he found something remotely intelligible, it was three lines in before he was being referred to some other document… page 342, Paragraph 3, Sub Paragraph 2, Line 7, etc…  And then there were the constant revisions.  The bill was not even close to being out of committee and so every little thing they could cram into it they were trying to, to avoid having to vote on it later.  And as often as not he’d just stumble across yet another cross reference to another part of the document that he didn’t yet have the latest revision to.
“AAAH! No wonder nothing ever gets done right around here, who the fuck can decipher this shit?!” he exclaimed to no one in particular before throwing the unstapled pile of papers against the wall, then cursing his impatience as he would now have to put them all back in order.  He was about to get up and get started when Gretchen walked in.  “Hey, Gretch.  Another revision?”
“Yeah, sorry!” she offered him a sympathetic smile.
“Don’t mention it. It’ll save me the trouble of putting the last one back in order!”  They both shared a good laugh about the papers strewn around the office floor. “Fuckin’ Eddie, man! Flies off halfway around the world, and leaves us to do all the work!”
“Well,” Gretchen started, smiling as she sat down on one of the few uncluttered spots on the desk, “I do have something that might help you out.”
“I’ve been following along with these revisions myself, and I’ve kind of developed a system.  I’ve put colored tabs on all of the sections that get referred back to in other sections, and marked those referrals with appropriately colored highlighter.” John was impressed at both simplicity of this and the level that she had gone to. “And I’ve included a few note pages of my own, here and there, summarizing what each subsection is all about.”
“Wow, that’s…”
“…AND, I’ve taken the liberty of putting a green sticky-note on the sections that I think are working out exactly as Eddie would want them to, and red-stickies on the ones that I know he’ll want revised.” John’s mouth hung agape at the amount of work she had put into this. “We… spent a lot of time discussing it, and I had to be able to sell it to potential Congressional Sponsor, so I’m pretty familiar with what he had in mind.  There are some sections that get pretty crazy with the legislation-speak, so I’ve tried to include some notes in the margins to work through that. You might find those helpful.  And FINALLY, there are a few sections where there are some ‘TBD’ areas, like how to allocate newborns among  the various bidders, proportionately but as a function of their pricing. Stuff like that, you might want to put in your own proposal, if you have any relevant ideas for it, that is.  It’ll make things easier for you later on, if they use it. I’ve have those area’s marked with Yellow stickies.”
“Oh… My… God!  Gretchen, this… this is a life saver! You’re the Queen!”
Gretchen blushed and smiled, bashfully. “I, uh…  I didn’t have much else going on, so I figured I’d help out.  I did the same for this Paul with the old McCain-Feingold bill, which he wanted to start from on Campaign Finance Reform.”
“Wait a second… You’ve done this… on both bills?” Did this poor girl ever sleep?!
She was a bit embarrassed now.  “Well… I don’t know… I’m just trying to…”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… This… This is fantastic.  This is going to save me so much… Shoot, this is going to make this actually POSSIBLE!  I was dead lost just a few minutes ago. THANK YOU. This is really great work you’ve done.” John flipped through the pages.  The number of notes was almost frightening, but they were written with such clarity that John had no doubt that they would be helpful, crucial even,  in deciphering the proposal. “This is awesome. You totally rock, girl!” More blushing from Gretchen. “Hey, Paul and I are going to grab some lunch soon.  You, uh… what to join us?”
“I’D LOVE TOO!” Gretchen answered, way too enthusiastically.  Shoot! Now he’s going to realize that I’ve been here two years and almost never get asked to go to lunch! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!’ she thought, beating herself up, mentally.
“Great! As soon as Paul’s back, I’ll give you call, or just come by your desk, OK?”
“Sounds great. Where is he, anyway?”
“Went over to see if West wanted to go, or have us pick him up something. He’s been gone awhile though.”

Paul Wyczyk stood behind the empty chair in front of West’s desk. It faced away from the door, and his lap-top was open.   There was a website on the screen: The Feminist’s Rag.  He wracked his brain through feelings of deja-vu before he realized that this was Epiphany’s old blog.  It was what he saw on the screen that startled him.

It was a copy of the same manifesto, written by the two-hundred, thirty-five dead politicians, preachers  and pundits, in their own blood, before they took all their own lives.
It wasn’t a perfect copy.  But his fraud detection skills recognized the subtle plagiarism for what it was. Clearly it had been embellished, but every line that he was reading on the screen now was present in copies that Edward had distributed to them.

“To inspire you, in your noble work,” he had told them, only half sarcastically, before reminding them that this was a copy of a classified document that no one had seen.
So why was he looking at it now?!

He checked the date at the bottom of the post…
September 19, 2005.

Over six years ago.

He noted the URL, pulled out his iPhone and punched it in.
‘No results found’ was all that came back, despite many suggestions from the search engine for OTHER pieces of political musings that Epiphany had published over the years.

“What the…Hah!” He was suddenly startled by a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry about that!” It was West. “Didn’t mean to startle you.  Can I help you with something?”

Paul didn’t know where to start. “Well, no, I… I was coming by to see if you wanted to join us for lunch, or if we could pick you up something.”
“Oh, I appreciate it, but I brown-bagged it. Thanks though!”

“You, uh… reading Epiphany’s old blog?” This question was a big gamble, Paul thought.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Eddie’s too.” West laughed. “I’ve got John’s on here as well. Yours never quite made it though.”

“Made it through… to what exactly?”
“Well, it’s kind of funny now, looking back on it, though I’m sure John wouldn’t see it that way. Back in Bush administration, we discovered that Al-Quaeda and other groups were using social media and blogs to communicate with each other.  So at one point, there was this huge push to document EVERY blog or website that had ANY kind of political lean to it, especially if it was critical of the Government.”

“Wow. That seems… almost Orwellian. That was Constitutional?”
“Well… we weren’t shutting anyone down, or using the evidence directly in any criminal proceedings, just looking for sites that we should be monitoring. These guys… well, they all hit the radar, with all their criticism of Bush, and a Iraq and Halliburton and… well, you name it!  But they were all cleared as being nothing more than harmless, if somewhat pointed, commentary and quickly placed in the ‘no worries’ file.  I’m just going through now, seeing how many of you guys were actually IN that file back in the day. Turns out Eddie, Epiphany and John all were, you and Professor Todd were not. I… don’t think Gretchen even had a blog.  And I wasn’t part of the team that reviewed Thesis papers.”

“You reviewed Thesis Papers?”
“Once they were published, and if they were critical of Government policy, yes. But it was pretty short-lived. Especially that part. As for the websites…? Meh. We’ve got better search technology now. So we don’t need to go monitoring them individually anymore, taking in copies of their content for analysis.”

“Yeah…” Paul answered absently as ‘then why can’t I see this page on my phone?’ floated across his mind. “Well, I’m going to get going, John waiting for me. You sure you don’t...?”
“I'm fine, thanks!” West’s friendly smile did little to put Paul at ease.

But then… he made his living being suspicious of people.
He walked back and leaned in the doorway of the broom-closet turned office that he and Paul shared. Despite his fastidious nature, he said nothing about the papers strewn over the floor.

“Oh, hey, welcome back!” John greeted him from behind his cluttered desk, “Let me call Gretchen and we can…”
“Can I talk to you a second?” His nervousness was evident enough to give John pause.

“Sure.  I assume this is about something more pressing than the papers on the floor then?”
Paul looked around, and laughed. He’d been so deep in thought that he hadn’t even noticed them.

“Let’s take a walk.” 

John agreed and the two stepped outside. “So what's up? What’s this all about?”

Paul looked around, as is he suspected they might be followed. “I was in West’s office just now, well… the one he’s squatting in anyway, and I saw something on his computer.”

“It was a page from the blog the Feminist's Rag…”
“Epiphany’s old blog?”

“Yeah, exactly. And it had something on it… it was… well, in my humble opinion, it looked a hell of a lot like the manifesto that Edward gave us.”
“The one that that all those dead Republicans wrote in blood?”

“Yeah. That one. The uh… Blood Manifesto, if you will.”
“That was supposed to be classified... She put it on her blog?!”

“Yep… In 2005.”

“Oh yeah,” Paul nodded, “It wasn’t an exact copy, mind you. It was like a shorter version, but I promise you every single line on that screen was included in the manifesto, verbatim.”
“Oh my God… Can you pull it up here?” he asked, motioning towards his phone.

“No. This is where it gets really weird! I tried pulling it up on my phone earlier? It doesn’t exist! It's simply not there!”
John gave him a skeptical look. “So then… How does West have it on his screen?”

Paul explained about the old Intelligence program that monitored blogs, keeping copies of their content.  After being interrupted by several cries of “Fascist bastards!” from John, and trying unsuccessfully to rationalize it to him, as West had done, he finally asked , “So… What do you make of it?”
“I’m going to make a god-damned fourth amendment case out of is what I’m going to make of it!”

“NO! I mean… of the manifesto?”
John paused and looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t know. What do YOU make of it?”

The accountant squinted as he rubbed his fingers over his temples. “I don’t know.  I mean… Edward’s name, Epiphany’s words… that she’s since taken down…” He shook his head. “What if…?”
“What?” John cocked an eyebrow, challenging the accountant o just come out with it.

“Well, what if the Feds are right? What if Edward and Epiphany actually DID do all of this?”
A sharp inhalation, and a skeptical frown from the southerner. “I don’t see how they could have.”

“He showed us a LOT of things we can’t explain. Forget about the HOW for the moment.  Do you think he could have done it?”
John thought for a moment, but if he had an answer, he kept it to himself. “Did you ask West about it?”

“Good Lord, no! John, you see how West is around him! For whatever reason? West is HIS MAN.  And he’s ex-military and Secret Service. So I'm NOT messing around with him!  If Edward or Epiphany DID do this? You can bet West was in on it!”
John held up his hands, and then patted Paul on the chest, “All right, all right, let’s take it easy here, your conspiracy theory is growing by the minute. Next thing you’ll be saying Gretchen’s involved.”

“Well, you see how she…”
“STOP. She’s been a HUGE help to us. And I don’t think…”

“Just answer me this: Do you trust him?”
“Who, Eddie? Why should I? I’ve still basically just met him!  I mean, yeah, I’ve known him online for years, but…”

“So… Do you trust him?”
“OK, fine, no. No I don’t. But I don’t trust people easily, and I should mention that I don’t suspect him either.  Tell you what… Why don’t we just keep this between you and me right now, OK?  We’ll keep our eyes and ears open, see if anyone else says anything first.  No reason to go throwing around accusations just yet.  Besides… While I have no idea how he plans to get any of this stuff through congress? The fact is, if he DOES then we’ll all be all the better for it, and so will the country. Agreed?”

Paul sighed. “Yes, agreed.”
“So… let’s keep doing the good work here, and just keep our wits about us in the off-hours. Sound good?”

Paul nodded.
“Great. Now let’s go back in. It's freezing out here, I forgot my coat, and we need to call Gretchen.”


After many days of snooping around, Edward and Epiphany were welcomed into the home of one Doctor Henry Starling by his nurse, who left immediately thereafter.  Edward winked at Epiphany, giving the tablet a soft tap.  The nurse never once looked at their faces.  Taking a deep breath they found the professor at work in his study, composing his next paper one letter at a time using on the motion of his eyes.  The nurse would only be gone a short while, and Edward wanted to be gone before she got back.
"Doctor Starling? Hello, I'm...  I'm Edward Carpenter.  I e-mailed you."

Edward sounded nervous talking to this man, one of his idols, and for the first time since Epiphany had known him.  She found this to be very off-putting.

"I represent a small but influential think-tank of sorts that was formed in the wake of all of those suicides on New Year's Eve over in the States..."
He explained briefly what their political agenda consisted off, and they felt that his ability to understand complex scientific findings and communicate them in a way that the public can understand is something that they would very much value.  He mentioned that, if the Professor was interested, he would set him up with a research budget that would be many times what he currently works with.

"...And there's one more thing.  Now... this is going to sound a little... strange. But... Um..."
Epiphany was getting really annoyed at Edward's continuing to verbally stumble through this. It may have been the piercing and constant stare of the nearly ruined man sitting before them, or his complete lack of motion, but she could hardly believe that this was the same Edward who so easily sold so many others on this job before.  As she sat behind him, her impatience went unnoticed by Edward, but it was not lost on the paralytic Professor, who was growing increasingly concerned about her, and finding it hard to keep listening to Edward.

"...Well... You're not going to believe this, but you needn't go any farther with us if I fail to deliver.  I'm going to cure your disease, and restore all of the strength and mobility you had when you were 20.. before you were diagnosed I mean.  What do you say?  Will you consider seeing what we're all about and lending us your voice, if I can deliver that?"
For several minutes they sat in silence as Doctor Starling composed his response.  Each letter selected electronically by just the movement of his eyes. Each letter took no less than five seconds to select, and each word had to be carefully and fully spelled out. Typo's meant confusion, and he had to be clear.

Two minutes... Three minutes... Total silence between them.  Edward knew he would need this time to reply. That nothing this man did anymore was anything short of a herculean labor.
But Epiphany had finally had enough.

Snatching the Vial from Edward's hands, she crossed the room and unceremoniously shoved the stopper into his mouth.

She shoved the Vial back into the hands of a stunned Edward and stormed outside.  Edward stood agape, not knowing what to do next.  He approached the professor.
"Sir... Don't worry that wasn't poison. I meant what I said when I said that I'd cure you.  I'm leaving my number with you, here.  I promise you that I intend neither a joke, nor any disrespect when I say that tomorrow morning you will call me, on the phone, under your own power, and we can discuss what to do next.  I am so sorry that just happened. I... I'm going to have a word with her. We'll leave you alone now. You're going to be fine, really!  Better than fine... Better than possible, actually. So CALL ME, PLEASE!"

Edward found Epiphany waiting on the front stoop. Furious, he grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to their car, eager to get the hell out of there.
"What the fuck was that?!" he hollered at her crossly.

"Oh my fucking God, WHAT?! Are you fucking kidding me?! How long..."
"Do you have any idea the effort it takes for that man to communicate?!  And what the fuck did you mean, 'We can give you your shitty life back' anyway, huh?"

Epiphany looked at him as if the point should have been obvious. "Eddie: The Tablet? Just use it to re-inflict him with ALS, and restore the date of death that you saw before.  Seems easy enough to me. He can be relieved that 'terrible burden' of immortal youth,  and eternal good health and you needn't even be worried that you're somehow shortening his life or prolonging his suffering. Duh!"
Edward was stunned. He pulled the car onto the shoulder.

"What are you doing?"
He held up a finger, brought out the Tablet and fired up the messenger ap.

'Luci? Question 4 U'
Her response came back in seconds. '???'

'Can I inflict a disease on someone w/ tablet?'
'what?! Y???'

'Long story. Can it be done?'
'Hmmm... Yes. As part of changing their fate.'

'Huh. Wow. Thx.'
'RU planning 2?'

'Hope not. ThkU!'
He shut it down. "I had no idea I could do that."

"Seemed obvious to me."
"Well you're fucking cracked.  The nurse might not have seen us, but he sure as hell did. What if they call the cops?"

Epiphany shrugged. "Change hotels," she suggested with complete nonchalance.
"If I do THAT, then how will he call us?!  You really fucked us in there, you know that, right?"

"Dude fuck off! That guy wakes up tomorrow and gets out of bed for the first time that he can remember, you really think he's NOT going to join up? I did you a favor and saved us a hell of a lot of very tediously spent time, so get of your high horse, OK?!"
Edward took a deep breath. "OK. Your right.  And you're right about the hotel thing too.  Which is why YOU will be staying at a different hotel, and keeping THIS." He handed he the Tablet. "In case the cops pick me up."

"You're not pushing me away because you're mad?"
"Nah," he answered, half-lying. "Given the circumstances, it probably the best option." Now he was fully lying.

He put the car back in gear and continued down the country lane.


At four in the morning, the world's most well known physicist woke up, choking.  His first thought was that his inhibitor had failed, and that he would soon suffocate. But he still breathing. The problem was that his gag reflex - something  he could not remember the last time he'd felt - was choking on the breathing tube. What happened next shocked him...
He reached up and grasped the tube with his hands.

 Not knowing is he dreaming or already dead he decided that the tube had to be removed. So he gave it mighty tug.

Then... relief.

He could breathe. He was no longer choking.  And he could move his arms.
It took a great effort, but there was no doubt that they now worked. And they hadn't in years, decades even.

Wondering what else he could now do, he tried sitting up in bed.
And there he was.

He wasn't ready to walk just yet, but he found that he could move his legs now as well.
He put his feet on the floor and sat up.

"NNNnnnngggh. MMMmmmmnnngh... My. God. What. Has. Happened?"
He could speak, although the words came out with the same metallic tone and mechanical cadence of the electronic vocabulator that he had depended on to express himself for so many years.  Was that his voice now? Had his brain been so accustomed to hearing its thoughts expressed that way that this was just how he now sounded?

Lost in the euphoria of the moment, and giddy at the idea that he was even having this discussion with himself, he did something else that hadn't done in so many years:
He smiled, and he laughed out loud.

An hour later he was strong enough to walk, albeit gingerly and leaning on walls and furniture as he went.  Finding a mirror, he was shocked to see his face. While his jaw was still jutted forward, and his cheeks were still sunk in, whatever was happening to him had clearly erased many years of the damage done by his condition.  Then he felt the slightest bit of panic: What would happen when the help arrived in a couple of hours?  What would they say? How would they react? Would they even recognize him? Or believe it was him?  Would they call the police? What would happen then?
As the questions swirled in his head, flirting with the various implications of such sudden, and unwanted, celebrity he strode back through his house, boldly this time and without assistance.  He looked at his phone. It was still a corded, radial dial version. He’d never updated it, because he'd never had any use for it.  He was halfway surprised when he picked up the receiver that he actually got a dial tone.

Now where what that card that Edward had left…?


Edward and Epiphany raced back to the Professor’s country estate in record time.  It was now 5:40. In just twenty minutes, his nurse would arrive to wake him.  That didn’t leave them much time, and he was not the kind of person who could just disappear without someone noticing.
They were greeted by Starling, who had apparently been waiting for them by the door.

“Good morning. Please come in.” his voice flowed more smoothly than it had earlier, but it still sounded as if he was doing a poor impression of what he used to sound like. He got right to the point. “What did you do to me?”
Edward explained about the Tears as best as he could, and hinted that the effects could be undone, if he really wanted to return to his old life.  He’d hoped that there wouldn’t be too many questions as to HOW this would be accomplished.  He also explained that if he chose to keep this new life and body, that he would have to agree to become part of Edward’s organization. In exchange, Edward reiterated his commitment  to make good on his promise of an enormous research budget. “Anything you need, now that there’s nothing to hold you back.”

Starling thought it over for a minute before replying. Epiphany, feeling a bit ashamed of her behavior the day before, waited in silence this time. “I’ve lived with death my entire adult life. They gave me ten years, tops. I took almost fifty. And over that time I grew accustomed to the idea that it could all end at any time. I was keenly aware that I was, in fact, reaching the end of my days, and now you tell me that nothing can hold me back.” He gave an odd smile and shook his head. “How can I turn that down?”
“Well… You probably won't be able to take credit for any future research. Not under your given name, anyway.”

Starling waived that off. “I could care less about that at this point.  I do have one question. If I understand you correctly, about this stuff you shoved in my mouth yesterday,” he was staring directly at Epiphany, who looked away, “Why are you bothering with all this?  Why aren’t you going around to every hospital curing everyone? Why not announce this medical miracle to the world?”
Edward took a deep breath. “There is a finite supply, and there is no human way to make any more. Also, I did a lot more than merely cure your disease.”

“Go on.”
“You may not have noticed, the effect hasn’t been as quick with you since there was so much more damage to repair, but you’re not only getting stronger, but younger as well.  I have effectively granted you immortality. In any case, you’ll never be sick, you won’t grow any older, and you won’t ever die.”

“Yes. You probably don’t fully believe that now, but I’ll bet you will in time.  And, as you’re a reasonably intelligent man, I think you can see the implications of that.  Which reminds me… Your nurse will be here in about five minutes. What do you want to do?”

“I have no idea. What can I do? It is not like I can just disappear without anyone noticing.  I’m kind of well known.”
Edward put his engineering hat on and looked around, first at the gas range in the kitchen and then at the numerous oxygen canisters spread around the den. “Oh… I think I can come up with something…”

The nurse was just a quarter-mile away when she heard the blast.

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