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Authors: Irving Wallace

The Pigeon Project

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THE PIGEON PROJECT

Irving Wallace

First published by

Simon and Schuster

April 10, 1979

For the past two decades,

every single Irving Wallace novel has

become a million-copy bestseller.

His phenomenal success is now

over the 100-million mark!

THE PIGEON PROJECT

____________________________________

The discovery, made by British-American scientist Davis MacDonald, was meant for all mankind. But his work was done inside Russia, and the KGB will kill to keep it. MacDonald escapes only as far as Venice, instantly sealed off by the city’s pro-Communist police. Those who know of the secret are trapped.

____________________________________

“FANTASTIC…THE PAGES TURN.”

—Chicago Sunday Sun-Times

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

I CORINTHIANS 15:26

For My Three Favorite Venetians

SYLVIA, DAVID, AMY

With Love

IRVING

I

As he took up his pen, momentarily holding it poised over the blank page of his daily journal dated August 15, he stared down at his veined hand crisscrossed with the delicate lines of age and he was surprised at its steadiness. He should have been trembling with excitement. After all, hadn’t the Greek mathematician Archimedes, upon sitting down in a bathtub and watching the water rise and thus discovering the principle of displacement, leaped out of his tub in joy and run naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting “Eureka”? But unlike Archimedes, he had seen his own discovery coming closer with every passing month. At first, with disbelief, and then with steadily diminishing doubt, he had seen it happening, and finally, fifteen minutes ago, it had happened. Absolutely certainty. Confirmation.

Eureka.

His firm hand touched pen to paper, and quickly, he began to record the momentous event, perhaps the greatest find in the saga of the human race. He wrote:

What Ponce de Lion so desperately sought in the land of Bimini, I have found in the Caucasus. After twelve years of ceaseless search and experimentation, in my native London, in my adopted New York, in places as far away as Vilcabamba in Peru and Hunza in Pakistan, I have found it in my laboratory outside Sukhumi, in the region of Abkhazia in Soviet Georgia. At 5:15 this afternoon, I was certain. It was as if I found the key, turned it, and the door to the prolongation of life had opened. From this day on, my formula, C-98, will extend the longevity of every human being on earth from an average age of seventy-two to an average age of 150. Perhaps the first step on the road to immortality. But for now, enough. To have more than doubled the lifespan of every man, woman, and child on earth—surely the most meaningful, the most desired, perhaps the greatest discovery in the history of science.

An afterthought: I am awed and humbled by the immensity of what has just happened. It is beginning to strike me. I must contemplate no more. A time for a small celebration, certainly. I will have Vasily bring out the champagne I have so long hoarded against this day. I will inform Leonid and have him join me in a toast. And next week—before the International Congress of Gerontology in Paris—I will make the announcement to the world
.

His hand was trembling now, and he laid down his pen.

For a man of seventy-four years, suffering slightly from arthritis in each knee, he came up out of the desk chair quickly and vigorously. The blood coursed through his head. He felt exhilarated as never before.

“Leonid!” he suddenly shouted across the living room. “Leonid, I have found it!”

* * *

Professor Davis MacDonald sat deep in the drag brown sofa, holding his empty wineglass and trying to bring into focus the two Leonids in the armchair across the coffee table from him.

He had not been this intoxicated in a half century, not since that night of his youth when he had left Oxford for London. It was a good feeling to be so light-headed, to let go of the thousand thoughts that until now had teemed in his mind and had now evaporated in the mist of champagne.

“Leonid,” he said to his laboratory assistant.

“Yes, Professor.”

MacDonald squinted and at last found one Leonid, also holding a wineglass, waiting attentively. He looked at his assistant fondly. The thirty-two-year-old Russian Jew, with his high forehead and bushy eyebrows and sensitive mouth, was one of the few persons in the U.S.S.R., in this remote corner of the Soviet Union on the Black Sea, whom he could trust and with whom he could relax. Six years ago, having been invited to lecture at the Institute of Gerontology in Kiev, MacDonald had requested permission to do research in the Abkhazian Republic, where, so he had read, a population of 500,000 contained a remarkable 5,000 healthy centenarians. Permission had been granted, as it had to other foreign gerontologists, who agreed to share their findings with the Soviet Union and scientists of all nations. MacDonald had traveled down to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, a quiet port city of 100,000, where he had rented a large cottage on the outskirts of the city, converting half of it into a laboratory. During the first week, he had visited Sukhumi’s Gerontology Institute, and there he had found Leonid and liked him and had received permission to hire him. Shortly after some government official had insisted that he must have a housekeeper and had brought him Vasily, a tall, silent native Georgian in his late twenties with the race of an Egyptian mummy. Like Leonid, Vasily spoke English. But unlike Vasily, who had been selected for him, MacDonald had himself selected Leonid, and therefore, he had trusted him from the start.

“Yes, Professor?” he heard Leonid repeat.

He tried to remember what he had wanted of his assistant and then he remembered. “The champagne, Leonid. Is there any left?”

Leonid stood up and lifted the bottle from the table. “More than enough for another round.”

MacDonald held out his empty glass, and Leonid filled it. MacDonald’s gaze followed the bottle down to the table. “G.H. Mumm and Company,” MacDonald said. “Good champagne.”

“Very good,” said Leonid.

Sipping his drink, MacDonald wearily made out the time on his watch. Over two hours had passed. They had been sitting, drinking, celebrating for over two hours. He tried to recreate what had taken place earlier. He had been in the laboratory with the test animals. The first of the mice and guinea pigs, injected with C-98 four years ago, had died in the afternoon. The average lifespan for a mouse was less than two years, for a guinea pig two years. Yet both sets of laboratory animals had lived healthily for double their lifespans after receiving shots of his formula. Even the special cages of animals with artificially induced terminal ailments, from various forms of cancer to heart deterioration, had survived to twice their normal lifespans. In every instance, the cancers had gone into remission, the heart diseases had been arrested, other sicknesses had been curbed, and the animals had thrived. New tests had finally confirmed the incredible. Given the same shots, human beings who might expect to live to seventy or seventy-two would now, barring accident, be certain to live to 150.

The magnitude of his discovery had not fully overwhelmed him until he had entered it in his daily journal. Only then had he been shaken and aroused. He remembered calling for Leonid, finding him, blurting out the news. He had wanted a private celebration, a marking of the historic moment, before all mankind would celebrate him.

He had gone into the kitchen to ask Vasily to open the magnum of champagne he had once bought in Paris, and carried with him ever since for this very occasion which for so long had seemed beyond the hope of any scientist. Although, truly, he had always believed it might come about in his lifetime. Once he had understood the DNA—deoxyribonucleic acid—molecules that inhabit every cell, once he had realized humans were programmed for death by aging genes, he had got himself into genetic engineering. He had sought to create synthetic genes that could be transplanted to replace aging genes. Here in Abkhazia, between the Black Sea and the dark range of the Caucasus Mountains, researching to learn what its 100- to 135-year-old citizens all had in common, he had stumbled on the secret. For his experiment labeled C-98, he had isolated the unique ingredients in the Caucasus drinking water. He had added these to his formula four years ago, and waited and watched and hoped. And today it had been confirmed. Of all the formulas, the unceasing trial and error, this one had worked. He had discovered the Fountain of Youth.

And it had been mini-celebration time, before all the world learned and sent off skyrockets. He had got the bottle of champagne from Vasily, whose phlegmatic countenance bore a rare question mark. He had not answered the unspoken question or explained the reason for celebration. Not to Vasily. He had not forgotten that Vasily had been sent to him, not selected by him.

MacDonald had returned to the living room and allowed Leonid to open the bottle.

Leonid had toasted him, and the luck of all the living who would now continue to live on and on, and they had begun to drink together. He had meant to have one glass, possibly two. But now the bottle was almost finished. And throughout it all, in a slurred drawl, MacDonald had talked, perhaps talked more than he ever had before to another human being in his life. Leonid, as always, but more so now, had proved a hungry and worshipful listener.

MacDonald had confided much to Leonid, but not his secret. He had never discussed his formulas with his assistant or anyone else. Leonid had been allowed to know the end, but not the means to the end. MacDonald had not even put the successful formula on paper. He had kept it in his head. Only next week, after he had stunned and thrilled the world with his electrifying announcement at the International Gerontology Congress in Paris, would he put it to paper for all humanity, who would start not a gold rush but a life rush—a rush by everyone on earth for the prolongation of life.

Instead, through the waning afternoon and early evening, MacDonald had reminisced about his early years, about his interest in geriatrics before his mother’s last illness, about his decision to specialize in gerontology after his mother’s death.

“They are quite different, you know,” he had explained to Leonid unnecessarily. “Geriatrics is the study of old people’s diseases. Gerontology is the study of means to prevent people from becoming old.”

For almost fifty years, he had been immersed in every aspect of gerontology. He had left his laboratory here in the Caucasus only three times in the last six years, and the last time over twenty-five months ago. He had enjoyed and admired the hearty and long-lived Abkhazians. They lived by the toil of their hands in the fields. Each of their homes had a vineyard, and they daily drank wine and grape vodka. They ate goat cheese and highly spiced boiled cornmeal patties, buttermilk diluted with water, and loaves of bread two feet long. They dwelt placidly, without tension, in close family units, with no words in their language for “retirement” or “old people.” And there were five times as many elderly in this tiny place who lived to be over 100 as there were in the entire United States.

Through them he had found the formula that would give their gift of long life to people everywhere.

“I’ve been talking too much,” he said suddenly. As he swallowed the last of his champagne, he caught a reflection of himself in the glass of the bookcase that protected his science textbooks. Usually, he did not mind seeing himself. Considering his seventy-four years, he was still well put together. His round face, crowned by short white hair with bald spots visible, was still relatively smooth. The bridge of his pug nose held ridiculous wire-framed spectacles. His short but full white moustache was distinguished. He carried his five-foot-nine-inch frame—only 158 pounds, with a small belly—erectly. But now, in the glass panel of the bookcase, he appeared a casualty of overwork and G. H. Mumm. His blue eyes were watery and baggy. His moustache was partially wet and partially dry and looked askew. His perpetual bow tie sat at an angle.

He turned back to Leonid. “It’ll take us a week to get ready, but next week we will go to Paris with our secret. I’m taking your along, Leonid.”

Leonid shook his head mournfully. “You forget, Professor. T am a Jew. They will not let me go.”

MacDonald puckered his lips. “You forget, Leonid, I am the new savior of mankind. They will do anything for me.”

“I hope so, Professor.”

“Yes, next week to Paris.” He set down his glass and rose unsteadily. “But right now, to bed. I must take a nap, sleep this off. Tell Vasily I won’t have dinner. I’ll make a sandwich for myself later.”

As he started for the bedroom, he added, “This is a great day for mankind, my friend.”

“My congratulations from the heart, Professor.”

“Congratulations to all of us.”

He had reached the bedroom door, begun to push it open, when unaccountably something he had read in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists—a statement by Kenneth Boulding, which had annoyed him at the time—came to his mind again: “Perhaps the biggest threat to the human race at the moment is not so much the nuclear weapon as the possibility of eliminating the aging process.”

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