Authors: Christopher Farnsworth
Now he saw the truth. If Simon believed he could find the secret of the Water—or if, by some miracle, David actually succeeded—it would be more wasted years at best. At worst, it would be the end of their lives, because there was no way they could share the secret and survive.
If they were going to make the leap, if they were going to transcend their humanity, then they had to leave Simon’s dreams behind. The world would not tolerate men like them, if it knew they existed. Once the secret was out, their days were numbered, no matter how much of the Water they had.
Simon had to be made to face reality. One way or the other. Yes, they needed a replacement for the Water. But once they had it, they wouldn’t need David Robinton anymore.
AVID AND SHY
were at dinner, even though it was past eight. In this part of Florida, that was late. Most of the restaurant was empty, and the staff stood around, waiting for them to finish.
It didn’t help David’s mood any. It had been another maddening day in the lab, one false lead after another. After his meeting with Max, it seemed idiotic to run the same pointless tests again. He had never been this stuck before, and he wasn’t good at dealing with the frustration. He spent most of the meal in silence, pushing his food around on his plate.
“Is it the food or is it the company?” Shy asked, breaking him out of his reverie.
Shy was usually patient with him when he went off into his own head. But her smile always brought him back to her, in a way that felt like sitting in an airplane as it climbed off the tarmac.
They had been spending almost all of David’s free time together. He didn’t have much, but she had her own things going on as well, and she didn’t press him. For the first time in his life, he found himself making time to see her, actually breaking away from the lab in order to go by her place, or go for a run, or simply share a meal.
She would have him whenever she could—and that went for the sex, too. Shy wasn’t about to wait around for their schedules to allow them to sleep in the same bed. He learned this the second time they met, after their first date. She would put her arms around him, or grab his head and pull him in for a hard kiss, and then it was happening, no matter where they were. They would tumble into a bathroom in a five-star restaurant, her legs wrapped around him, her back up against the wall. She bent over on her desk naked in her office and told him to hurry, she had clients arriving soon. On one early-morning run, she grabbed him and pulled him off the path behind a row of hedges, pushing him to the ground. He almost felt like he’d been mugged, but he had trouble wiping the grin off his face for the rest of the day.
David was not a complete idiot. He knew there was an excellent chance that Shy was not a corporate recruiter but a corporate spy, sent by Conquest’s competitors. It was entirely possible she was using him.
He could rationalize that by telling himself he was using her, too. That he was being smart and worldly about the whole thing.
But on a deeper level, he knew that was crap.
Something in him sang when she was around. The pressure he’d always felt behind him, the constant feeling that he had to run to stay ahead, lessened when she was there.
Spy or not, he was surprised to find he didn’t really care. He was idiotically happy. And he wanted to hang on to that for as long as he could.
“Such a deep scowl on your face,” she said. “Is it that bad?”
“No more than usual,” he said.
“You put too much pressure on yourself, David. It’s not like the whole company depends on you. Conquest has a product that deals with this already.”
David shook his head. “Revita has problems. Serious problems.”
“Really? What kind of problems?”
“Cancer. The FDA has opened an investigation. I told Simon it was going to happen,” David said, and then realized he’d just spilled a huge corporate secret. He looked around, suddenly glad that they were the only people in the restaurant. “Um. Please don’t repeat that. It’s not public knowledge.”
Shy waved it off. “Who am I going to tell? Anyway, that’s not the point. You shouldn’t feel so responsible.”
“That is the point,” David shot back. The anxiety balled up in his chest. “I
responsible. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. This is my life’s work. And now that I have the chance to make it happen, I honestly don’t know if I can pull it off.”
It was the first time he’d ever said it out loud. The first time he’d ever considered it, really. He was used to solving the problem, used to success, used to winning. And it wasn’t happening this time. He could hardly believe he was saying it to Shy. He trusted her, he realized suddenly. More than lust or love, he had faith in her.
Her reaction, however, wasn’t what he expected.
“Maybe you shouldn’t,” she said while casually scooping a bite of the tir-amisu into her perfect mouth.
“Maybe this is so hard because what you’re doing was never meant to be done,” she said.
David was actually rendered speechless for a moment. Old-fashioned terms like “flabbergasted” and “struck dumb” bounced around his skull for a moment, while he tried to come up with an answer.
All he could say was “Are you serious?”
Shy gave him The Look, which once again made him feel like he was in junior high and she was the senior prom queen. Of course. She was always serious.
But David felt like he was on pretty solid ground here, for a change. This wasn’t about which restaurant to go to or what color tie to wear. This was his life’s work.
“I don’t think you understand,” he finally said. “I’m talking about an end to suffering. An end to senility, to pain, to loss . . .”
“To death,” Shy said. “Yes. I understand. I don’t think you do.”
Now David started to get angry. “Right. Because I’ve only spent a decade working on DNA, cell structure, and senescence. How could I possibly understand?”
Her face remained calm. “Sarcasm is a waste of time, David. Say what you mean. You think you understand the problem better because you think you’re smarter than me.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No, but you meant it. And maybe you are.”
Damned right I am, David thought. Three Harvard degrees beats a corporate recruiter in Florida.
“But I don’t think you’ve ever considered the larger implications of what you’ve been seeking all this time. You’ve attacked the problem without knowing what, exactly, you’re solving. Answer me this: what happens if you succeed?”
“I’m talking about giving people back their health. No more cancers. No more heart disease. No more random, pointless illnesses. All the stupid, preventable things that happen to our bodies, all the little twists in our DNA that evolution hasn’t gotten around to fixing yet. How is that a bad thing?”
“You’re going to keep people alive.”
“Forever?” Shy asked.
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Are you sure? Isn’t that what you’re offering with this? A way out of the rules? A way to cheat death?”
“There are no rules,” David said. “There’s what we can do, and what we can’t. That’s all. And I’m saying that I can do this. I know it’s possible.”
“And I’m just saying, again, that because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s right. There are limits on what we do. What happens to the population when all those people start living longer? What happens to the planet if they keep on consuming resources indefinitely? More important, what happens to them? What will it do to their souls? Did you ever consider that maybe we only live a certain amount of time for a reason? That maybe death is a part of life?”
David resisted saying something about New Age bullshit. But just barely. His voice was tight when he said, “Talk to me when you’ve lost someone close to you.”
Shy reached across the table, her eyes full of sympathy. She touched his cheek. He tried not to flinch. He was furious, and she seemed completely calm. It made him even angrier.
“We all lose someone eventually.”
David grabbed her hand, too quickly. He saw a brief flash of surprise—maybe even pain—in her eyes, and immediately regretted it. But he was still angry. Shy was too perfect, too unscarred, too young, to know exactly what was at stake here.
He stood up and opened his wallet, throwing some bills on the table.
Shy remained seated. “Are you leaving?” she asked.
“We’re both leaving,” he said. “I want you to meet someone.”
WHEN THEY ENTERED THE
hospital, the aging security guard at the reception desk didn’t even make them sign in. He smiled and waved at David. “Good to see you again, son,” he said.
Shy looked at David, a little amused, a little perplexed. “You come here often?”
They were in the lobby of All Children’s Hospital. David was still angry at her. He muttered something in return.
Shy kept her face calm, because she knew that if she smiled at him, he’d think he was being mocked. He was so very serious.
She let him lead her to the elevator.
They got out on the seventh floor, in the Pediatric Cancer Center.
Again, the nurses and doctors all waved at him. One pretty nurse, a blonde, gave her a sharp look before turning a radiant smile on David. “We haven’t seen you for a while, David. I wondered if you’d forgotten us.”
He gave her a distracted smile back. “Busy at work, that’s all. Is she up?”
The nurse rolled her eyes. “Constantly.”
“Okay if we head on back?”
“She’ll be delighted to see you.” With another unfriendly look at Shy, the nurse turned and went on her way.
David led her down another corridor, to a patient’s room. Shy felt an artificial wind as he opened another set of doors. The area maintained a negative-pressure environment, to keep germs and other contaminants out.
Shy was unprepared for the pain seeping from the rooms as they passed. Through the open doors, she got glimpses of the patients and heard snatches of the cartoons on their TV sets. Their parents sat in chairs by the beds, doing their best to smile, to put on their bravest faces.
What was worse were the kids themselves, most not yet ten years old. They had been scalded down to pale echoes of themselves by the toxic soup of chemicals pumped into their bodies in an effort to kill their diseases. They were bald and hollow eyed and thin, their skin pale and translucent.
Almost all of them were doing the same thing: smiling in an attempt to reassure their parents, to look brave.
It reminded her that she did not have any monopoly on pain. But life was pain, she knew. She didn’t need a reminder of that, if that’s what David was trying to do.
David knocked on an open door. A young female voice answered.
“No,” she said. “No more blood today! Vampires! Go suck on someone else!”
David laughed, and she saw the anger evaporate from him. He moved aside the curtain around the patient’s bed and revealed a young girl, maybe nine or eleven years old. It was hard to tell because of the shrinking effect of the chemotherapy.
But her smile and eyes shone, and she wore a multicolored scarf over her bald head, along with insanely bright Powerpuff Girls pajamas.
“David!” she squealed. She couldn’t quite rise up. Her IV tethered her to the bed.
David came to her and leaned in for a hug.
Over his shoulder, the girl’s eyes locked onto Shy.
“Oh, you finally got a girlfriend. About time, loser.”
She punched him, surprisingly hard, in the arm as he pulled away.
“Ow,” David said. “What was that for?”
“I haven’t seen you in a week. Don’t you know that my time is limited?”
His smile vanished. “Don’t talk like that.”
“Wimp,” she said, dismissing him instantly and turning to Shy. “Hi. I’m Elizabeth. David’s apparently too rude to introduce us.”
“I’m Shy,” she said, and shook hands. The girl’s fingers were like a bundle of straws and radiated a fever heat. She was right, whether she knew it or not. She did not have much time left. Shy could feel it.
David tried to smile and reclaim some good cheer. “I wanted you two to meet,” he said. “Shy didn’t know I volunteered here.”
“Yeah. When you can spare the time,” Elizabeth said sourly.
“Work has been busy. But you’re right. That’s no excuse. I’ll make more of an effort.”
She made a face. “I’m only teasing.” She turned to Shy again. “So. Is he a good boyfriend? Does he take you nice places? Has he asked you to marry him?”
Shy laughed. “It’s all right, David. Yes, he’s a good boyfriend. We don’t go out much.”
“Oooooh,” Elizabeth said.
David flushed a little bit red.
“And no, he hasn’t asked me to marry him. It’s still very early for that.”
“Has he bought you anything yet?”
“Ha! He’s bought me stuff.”
She pointed to a stack of books on the bedside table. “Mostly books, though.”
David looked offended. “What else could you want?”
“How about something pretty, dummy?” she shot back. “Girls like that stuff. Didn’t you know?” She gave Shy a look that said, Can you believe this guy? “So, how did you two meet?”
“Through work, sort of,” David said.
“I didn’t ask you,” Elizabeth said. “Be a dear and go get me a soda, will you?”
“Cancer loves sugar.”
“Then a diet soda.”
“Pretty sure you’re not allowed to have anything but ice chips when you’re on the IV.”
“Fine,” Elizabeth growled. “Ice chips. Don’t hurry back.”
David squeezed Shy’s hand on his way out of the room, his mood softened now.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?” Elizabeth said.
Shy laughed. “How old are you?”
“Eleven. I’ll be twelve in two months.”
Then a shadow passed over her face. As if she were actually considering the chance of seeing her twelfth birthday.
“How do you know David?” Shy asked.
The shadow flitted away and the brightness returned. “He comes by and helps out every now and then. I guess he’s a doctor, too, but not a medical doctor. I mean, they don’t let him do procedures or needles or anything. But he sits with the kids here when their parents need to get a shower, or something to eat, or sleep. He holds our hands when we puke and brings books and toys and stuff.”
“But not enough pretty things.”
“I know, right? I’m in here a lot, so we’ve spent some time together.” She looked around, then leaned in, as if imparting a deep secret. “Don’t worry. I won’t steal him from you. He’s too old for me.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate that.”
Shy laughed again. A chrysalis, she thought. A rosebud, about to bloom and flourish, already showing signs of the magnificence and color she’d display, given just a little more time.
Time she was not, Shy could see already, going to be lucky enough to get.