As promised, the beginning of our serialized novel, Ageless!
A devastating world-wide plague followed by a brutal war 150 years ago has brought into existence a dystopian society that still has not recovered from the “Great Troubles” or “Great Holocaust” as that dark time is referred to by the survivors. One man, Dr. Lyle Stewart, through a miracle of science and biology (although he thinks of it as more of a curse), has survived it all and lives on. He has been alive for 256 years, he is: Ageless. He is the only person alive that knows what happened so long ago. The one man who can present the damning evidence against the entrenched family dynasty who seized power shortly after the war ended. A treatment he developed to cure cancer was blamed as the source of the plague but the reality was that elements within the government at the time (led by General Hyrum Sanders, the founder of the family dynasty currently holding power) released the engineered bio-weapon as a false flag “attack” that quickly became out of control. Dr. Stewart was chosen as the scapegoat. In a desperate attempt to prove his serum was not the cause of the plague, he injected himself with it and because of its properties and his own unique genetic makeup, he stopped aging and has enjoyed exceptionally good health ever since.
He has been on the run and keeping his true identity hidden for many, many years. Now, a top secret branch of the intelligence division of the government has rediscovered the doctor’s secret and has renewed their efforts to find him so that they can both erase the last link to their guilt in causing the “Great Troubles”and recreate the formula that will allow the elite, ruling class to live forever. They have assigned one of their top assassins to hunt down the good doctor, a woman named Lucy Haverling. Join us now as we take you on a journey we hope you’ll enjoy.
By James R. Colbert, Jr. & David R. Smith
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.
He met her on the roof of an abandoned office building in what used to be the lower east part of Manhattan. As her small ship came to rest, he felt an almost uncontrollable urge to fling himself over the edge and be done with the whole dirty business. After all, man was not meant to live forever. But before he could drum up enough courage to do the unthinkable the doors opened and she immediately went to him.
“You’ve got what you wanted,” he told her. “You can kill me now or send me off to die in one of those godforsaken detention camps of yours. But I promise that won’t be enough.”
Dr. Stewart’s blue eyes were pale with uncertainty. The thought passed through his mind that he should have jumped when he had the chance.
“Enough for what, Lyle?” Even in confusion Lucy’s face still held the soft understanding he’d come so accustomed to seeing.
“Enough to justify their hate for what I’ve done – what they think I’m capable of doing.”
“I’m afraid you don’t understand. That’s not what I came here for.” Lucy took an uneasy step closer to the man she was ordered to assassinate and yet the very same person she grew to admire, fearing at any moment he might turn and bolt.
“It’s not my fault! I never meant to hurt anyone.” He took a step closer to the edge as she approached.
“I know that,” Lucy replied. “But the others don’t. Nor do they care.”
Dr. Stewart’s face was grim. He’d come this far to finding a cure, to redeeming his once ‘good’ name, only to now watch his entire life’s work literally go up in smoke.
“Then I guess you came back for the wrong reason,” he said. “Letting me escape then just so you could find my laboratory was no crime. Helping me slip away into the shadows this time is.” He corrected himself, “If that’s what you’re after, I won’t let you. You have to arrest me.”
He paused for a moment and then stepped closer to the roof’s edge. “That or I’ll jump.”
Lucy froze dead in her tracks.
“The order has been called back… at least for now. The teams are looking for someone else.”
“What?” Dr. Stewart nearly collapsed at the revelation.
“They searched the lab, Lyle. The documents, the journal – they’re all missing!”
“What do you mean the documents are missing?” Dr. Stewart was in complete shock. Having his work destroyed by a wounded society out of ignorance and fear was one thing, but having it fall into the wrong hands was something altogether different.
“What I mean is that someone else got there first.” Lucy swallowed hard. “They think whoever it was might try to revive the ‘Plague.’”
Slowly, hesitantly, he made his way away from the edge. He was still pale and shaken and on his forehead, an ugly bruise was forming.
“They want him, Lyle. They want him even more than they want you dead.”
He stared hard at her for a long moment deep in his own thoughts.
“We’re already a dying race. Those of us who remain would never survive another epidemic.”
“What happened to you?” Lucy demanded. She looked pleadingly at Dr. Stewart’s blank expression. “After all this time have you finally stopped believing that you can still make things right?”
He looked her squarely in the eyes. “Maybe I have.”
“If that is so then we are truly lost.” She made a disgusted face.
“Perhaps I am guilty.” Dr. Stewart shot back.
“Sure you are.” Lucy’s response took him by surprise. “Everybody’s guilty of something. But you’re not guilty of plotting to destroy the entire human race. That crime belongs to someone else, someone who’s long since dead. You’re not responsible!”
“Why do you assert,” Dr. Stewart inquired, “that it’s not too late? My God, I have nothing! My notes, my experiments, the vaccine – they’re all gone.”
“Yes, but we get them back,” Lucy positively conceded. “And when we do we can prove your innocence. Together we can make things right.” She finished, “If you don’t at least try, we all lose!”
The irony of Lucy’s statement brought a sarcastic grin to his lips and at the same time almost made him chuckle. It was Dr. Stewart’s opinion that all had been lost a very long time ago.
“Are you not willing to try?”
Again, his expression turned somber, perhaps even a bit angry. “It’s too bad you publicized my existence. Most people thought I was just a bedtime story.” He shifted his gaze away from her. “If you had kept quiet none of this would be happening now.”
Lucy looked at him emphatically. “And for that, I am sorry.”
Dr. Stewart studied the woman before him for a long moment and then moved completely away from the roof’s edge. “I imagine you have data tapes recorded prior to the raid.”
Lucy nodded. She retrieved a small palm-sized electronic device from her pants pocket and held it up to the light. After opening a protective shield and typing in a specific code in seconds the tape-transport mechanism hummed to life, projecting a large holographic image between the two of them.
Instantly Dr. Stewart recognized the man on the screen. It was exactly what he had suspected.
Book One: Lazarus
Doctor Lyle Stewart watched the sunset and it looked particularly nice tonight. He’d lost count of how many times he’d seen the daily show, over 250 years now, still hard to believe. For at least the thousandth time he both wished for death and even more time. More time to clear his name and try to perfect his lifelong dream, and death so that his memories of his beloved wife and children, who he missed with all his heart, would mercifully end. Dr. Stewart had been a prominent researcher in the field of oncology before the plague hit, followed by the devastating war. Before the “Great Troubles,” as they were widely known, he had been conducting very promising trials of an unorthodox approach to treating cancer. It involved the introduction of massive IV doses of Vitamin C and Vitamin D, combined with an enzyme known as Telomerase. His research had shown that this combination, administered precisely, caused the cancer cells to die and within a few weeks, the patient was cancer free. The success rate had been an astonishing 100%. Every patient in the trial group showed no traces of cancer after following the protocol. It was unprecedented. He never did get to reveal this to the world, though. As it happened, a strange and especially virulent plague outbreak surfaced at the same time, just about 150 years ago now. That was the beginning of his long, strange journey through life.
For reasons he never understood, shortly after the plague outbreak began spreading like wildfire all over the planet, the finger of blame was pointing at him and his work. The pressure and persecution pushed the good doctor into a desperate place and he determined, rightly or wrongly, to administer the serum to himself in an attempt to prove his treatment was not the cause of the pandemic. What he’d never expected was what happened to him. For reasons he was just now beginning to understand, the serum gave his body the ability to stop the aging process in its tracks. He also enjoyed what amounted to exceptionally great health. He was 56 years old at the time and for all practical purposes, he had simply stopped aging. He’d always been in good physical condition to begin with and the treatment seemed to ensure it would always stay that way. At the time he didn’t know about this effect, he was simply trying to prove that his treatment did not cause the plague. It was only later, a number of years later, that he began to wonder why he felt, well…so damn healthy despite all that was happening. Ever since then, he’d never suffered more than some minor cold symptoms on a few rare occasions. In the end, his proof mattered not to those who blamed him and his freedom (and life) were in real danger. He and his wife decided to disappear until they could figure out a way to clear his name. Their children were off on their own by then and understood their decision. Then the war broke out and changed everything. It wasn’t long before some mastermind in charge decided using nuclear weapons would put a quick end to the bad guys, but they didn’t count on getting hit themselves. After a “limited” exchange of Hell on Earth, all sides had seen enough death and the war hero General Hyrum E. Sanders not only negotiated an uneasy peace treaty but came home to take charge of a now ruined nation. The Dr. and his wife, Janice, stayed undercover during this time. She, unfortunately, contracted one of the many mutated forms of the plague and died within a year of the end of the war. Lyle was devastated by her death. He seemed to be forgotten by the government and almost everybody else, they had other more important things on their mind, like surviving. He’d adopted an alternate identity and less and less people even recalled his actual name or associated it with the outbreak of the plague after a few years.
Lyle suddenly realized that it was getting quite dark, he’d been reminiscing long enough for the sun to have set and now only had the moon and stars to illuminate the night. He did not want to get caught too far away from his home after dark. Even now after all this time, bands of outlaw raiders were known to conduct “Gatherings” on occasion. These were loosely organized raids to steal any items they thought had value, round up captives they felt someone might pay a ransom for, or just take people for “entertainment” purposes. And, of course, sometimes they might just kill you because they felt like it. People really didn’t change very much. Lyle headed for his stoutly built home and opened the heavy, reinforced door.
“Arm security system,” he spoke softly into the display. A small light array went from green to red indicating the system was now active. He went inside and secured the door behind him.
Lyle walked over to a wood and glass enclosure that guarded one of his most precious possessions, a hardbound leather journal. It was a gift from his Janice oh, so many years ago. He’d recorded all his theories and formulations within those pages, these were the only records of the serum he had ever made. Janice would enter much of his work into a computer data storage program, but had never gotten around to entering the final formula and protocols for administration before she passed. This journal was the single source of that information and only he had it. He gingerly opened the top of the case and carefully removed the old volume. He had taken to always wearing clean cotton gloves before handling the precious thing and his supply was almost gone. Only recently were such things being produced again and they were not cheap. Luckily one of the trade wagons had a small number of them available and was willing to trade a few dozen for some of the dandelion wine he made to supplement his income. He always first read the inscription Janice had penned in the front page of the journal.
“For my Husband, and one true love. May these pages be filled with the greatness I know you’ll one day bring the world, I believe in you! With all my love, Janice”
She’d given him the hand bound journal at a particularly low point during his work. One of his latest papers had been rejected by a now long defunct medical journal because the theories he posited were not dovetailed with the status quo and that had bothered him more than he liked to admit. Janice had noticed and gave him the gift to cheer him up. It was just a few days after receiving the journal and began to record his work on the project in it that he had discovered the right combination of his serum. At times, he felt as though the book held an almost mystical quality, but then his logical side of his brain would just as quickly dismiss the thought. He missed her so much even after all these years!
Turning the page to the final formula recipe he once again went over his list of ingredients in his lab. For decades now, he’d been building his supplies and had been trying to recreate the cure without having the life extension effect. He did not want to subject anyone else to the curse of life without end. No one should live forever.
“I suppose I’d better get to work,” Lyle spoke his thoughts aloud.
He carefully closed the journal and placed it back in the case with reverence. After securing the case Lyle removed his gloves and set them aside. He moved to a door toward the back of the room and punched in a series of numbers on the small keypad. A clicking sound of a latch being released could be heard and Lyle pulled the door open to reveal a narrow staircase descending into darkness. He felt for the light switch and flipped it on. He began moving down the steps and closed the heavy door behind him, the auto locks dutifully reengaging. He had carved out his secret laboratory over the years and it was quite extensive, much larger than the modest abode of his residence above would indicate. Reaching the bottom of the stairs Lyle turned on a few more lights and the main room of the lab became fully visible. He walked over to an old salvaged refrigerator that he’d pieced together and opened the door. He scanned over the racks of test tubes and small glass jars until he found what he was looking for.
“Ah, there you are.” He said to himself. Lyle reached for the jar labeled “Sample X567” and removed it from the rack. It was about half-full of a semi-clear, gelatinous substance. “So, let’s see what secrets you’ll show me tonight.”
He closed the door of the refrigerator and walked over to one of the lab tables where he began another long night trying to solve a puzzle that only revealed itself one little piece at a time, but that was okay. After all, he had all the time in the world, didn’t he?
Book One: Lazarus
The identification card described her as one Lucy Haverling, a single freelance electrical engineer, drawing a weekly subsistence doing odd jobs, and possessing less than a hundred credits in assets. The sweat-stained ID card gave her permission to travel beyond her fixed address in the city as well as to slip virtually unnoticed from town to town. And for all Lucy knew she might still have a long way to go.
She rode upstate inconspicuously in an almost empty civilian transport whose better days had long since passed. During the nearly two and a half hour trip from Manhattan to Montauk, she studied the description on the identification card intently, devoting even the minutest detail to memory. It was quite obvious that her benefactors had made the card of some quality and its ability to persuade the most suspect of minds would never be brought into question. This, in and of itself, indicated to Lucy that a person with prestige beyond even her direct superior had a hand in its creation. Still, even the greatest of forgeries would be of little use to her should she not know her part and play it well. But, all the measurements fit: race, ethnicity, fingerprints, brain-wave pattern; each and every aspect of her being described in detail and able to withstand the most in-depth investigations. Indeed, the identification card could get her past the most scrupulous examinations, which was truly something when she considered both the many military and civilian checkpoints she had already traversed. Nevertheless, the success of this particular mission may rely on an oddly formed combination of her acting abilities and a fair amount of luck – except Lucy didn’t believe in luck.
Along with the card came fifty thousand credits, most of which was a good faith payment for a job well done; the rest, funds intended to cover any complications that might arise throughout the course of the mission. Hopefully, what remained upon completion would be enough to finally remove Lucy once and for all from the dreaded game of cat and mouse that had dogged her so far long a time.
She pocketed the card and turned to the neatly-typed message in which it had been enclosed. At first, she could make no sense of it and for a long time simply stared at the words perplexed. She had found, captured, and assassinated many fugitives thought impossible to ensnare – but, they were all living, breathing men. Never in her career had she been commissioned to trap a ghost, and the existence of a man nearly 150 years old struck Lucy as more than just irrational. Chasing after such an entity seemed downright insane! Still, a job was a job and she planned on giving this one her all.
The transport entered the vast slum known as Montauk, New York at dusk and slowly made its way through the badly damaged streets. The tumbled rows of decaying buildings left after the mass destruction of war now offered little more than broken-down shelters and slightly protected commons guarded by tiny makeshift militias. Gradually, the transport slowed to a stop, and Lucy got to her feet. As she left a few passengers idly observed her ragged effects and damaged clothing but beyond collecting the money due to him, the driver himself remained wholly uninterested. Ignoring them both, Lucy stepped out of the transport and into the rain-swept street, instantly heading for the first remotely secure looking structure she could find.
Without hesitation, she opened the doors and casually entered the dilapidated abode, then climbed the steps to the second floor and entered a narrow, musty-smelling room at the top of the stairs. The room was small but sufficient. Whereas most of the other lodgings had long ago been stripped entirely of their effects here a bed, dresser, desk, and chair still remained; albeit in less than ideal condition. Grateful, to have finally arrived she locked the door behind her and pulled the window shades down tight.
Lucy dropped her bag on the desk and threw herself heavily on the bed, then gently pressed the nearly invisible electronic device that lay hidden in her left ear. Playback began almost immediately and with it a succession of holographic images displaying surveillance footage that painted themselves across her eyes, like a film strip that only she could see.
“Dr. Lyle Eugene Stewart. Former research scientist and biochemical engineer, Institute of Disease Studies, Plum Island, New York. Height: 5’11”. Weight: 175 lbs. Hair: Gray. Eyes: Blue. Alias: Too many to list. Age: Approximately 200 years old.”
She paused playback and kicked off her boots.
“Jesus Christ,” Lucy muttered under her breath. “Are they for real?” She then delicately touched the ear bud, inciting the tiny device to continue.
“Using his advantage and high position, Dr. Lyle Eugene Stewart carried out one of the worst assaults in human history.” The announcer spoke, with professional indignation. “Because of his high office and the trust placed on him by the former United States Government Dr. Stewart was permitted to evade the normal process of detection for nearly 100 years. During which time, in the early part of the 21st century Dr. Stewart exercised this authority to create a rare strain of influenza as a means to decimate the world’s population, and in doing so became the sole person responsible for the ‘Plague’ and subsequent pandemic that followed, now commonly referred to as ‘The Great Holocaust.’
The voice faded slightly as Lucy rolled off the bed and got to her feet. Carelessly, she stripped off her coat and shirt and then reached over to retrieve her bag from the desk. Inside she found iodine and Band-Aids, a razor blade, comb, and toothbrush, among other small things she would need throughout the course of her mission. Her gun and essential electronic gear was kept at all times hidden on her person. After all, she was, for now, a freelance electrical engineer and not an armed assassin for anyone wishing to search her belongings.
In Lucy’s ear, the transmission blared on. Only subconsciously aware of the holographic images still dancing across her eyes, she stood in front of the cracked mirror and examined her naked body. Scars decorated most of her torso. Each a proud reminder of a mission successfully completed.
“…throughout the middle decades information regarding Dr. Stewart is considered to be inconclusive at best, and his disappearance from the annals of history resulted in many believing him deceased. Nevertheless, due in part to the partial restoration of the electrical grid at the beginning of this century data has thus been established indicating that Dr. Stewart is indeed still very much alive. The reason for his unnatural longevity, however, remains yet unknown. The likelihood of error in our computating Dr. Stewart’s existence and whereabouts is extremely low.”
Lucy picked a towel from out of the bag and wiped her face with it.
“…Recommendations regarding these matters is that any information in conjunction with Dr. Lyle Eugene Stewart is to remain confidential and all apprehension/assassination measures must proceed with extreme caution. Consideration: armed and dangerous. Be advised: positive identification must be reported prior to contracted engagement. As always, the Agency’s needs serve a vital function.”
Lucy turned off the recording and slowly paced around the tiny room deep in her own thoughts. The information she just received had concurred the quality underlying the identification card. But the orders were a rarity for any criminal, taking no chances in catching him.
Maybe Dr. Stewart was the ‘real deal,’ and then again maybe not. For the time being Lucy would have to assume that he was. Still, that couldn’t explain why the Agency obviously thought the man was of some importance. She had to find out more.
When Lucy finally fell asleep it was well after midnight.
Book One: Lazarus
Throughout his long and lonely life, Dr. Lyle Stewart learned to welcome the night, although from the confines of his laboratory he was never sure precisely when it came or went. Sometimes, he thought, if he listened hard enough he could hear the sound of people in the streets above and thus discern a rough estimate of time. Most likely this was really just the sound of his own staggered breathing, but the idea did carry with it a certain novel appeal. If he were a bit more analytical and less consumed with his work he might have even devised a better method of calculating the approximate hour of nightfall’s arrival and departure than basing such things on his stamina. Nevertheless, time itself was a thing of little concern and because of this for nearly a hundred years Dr. Stewart found no need for a clock.
He stood up and walked around the dull gray lab table and retrieved a small vial filled with a green viscous fluid from the counter on the opposite side of the room. As he went a pen dangled loosely from the corner of his mouth like an old fashioned cigarette trailing imaginary threadlike smoke past his shoulder. When he retrieved the vial he immediately held it up to the light and checked the color and saturation, looking intently for any changes that might have occurred. There were none. The substance remained unaltered.
“Now, isn’t that interesting?”
He then took the small vial and sat back down at the table where he picked up a jar labeled “Sample X567” and studied the two in comparison. The substance in both the vial and the jar appeared completely identical.
“…Very interesting, indeed.”
After recording his thoughts in a tattered leather-bound journal, he again stood up and walked across the room to the refrigerator. Here, the doctor opened the door and retrieved a tiny Petri dish filled with pink jelly. As he closed the door his distorted reflection stared back at him hard in the stainless steel mirror. The same ageless face, virtually unchanged for 150 years. Dr. Stewart despised it!
Slowly, he passed through the dim silence of his hideaway, turning left into a small hallway, and then left again into a larger room filled with books. Once these quarters were a sanctuary for the elite, filled with food and precious water, but that was a long time ago. Now it was a facility entirely functional, and over the course of the last century, he had converted it into an impressive scientific compound.
Inside the room, a long shelving unit covered almost an entire wall, on its hardwood top a stack of paper files stretched seemingly into infinity. Above that, metal racks cradling the tools and various electronic devices that Dr. Stewart used in his studies.
After a moment of meditation, the doctor reached up and took a medium sized black box from the rack, and then snatched out a few cords from one of the disordered bins that lay on the shelfs beneath. He then went back to the lab table and gently positioned both the cords and the black box next to his experiments.
For a while, he stood in front of his bounty just looking at it all in silence. He was a tall man, born of strong English stock, with features undistinguished except for the long, determined mouth and bright blue of his eyes. After a few minutes, he exhaled slowly and then retreated back to the library.
Quietly, he sifted through the files on the top shelf until he found what he was looking for and with it once again returned to the lab.
“After all this time could the answer be that simple?”
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