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The Journey of Rick Heiden
All Rights Reserved © 2019, Rick Haydn Horst
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I hadn’t appreciated the disadvantage of the unfamiliar environment. The instant my eyes leveled with the marble of the third floor, I scanned all around me. The smell of cooked food lingered in the cool air. The cage jerked to a stop. I retracted the accordion door, and the empty room fell silent. I stood in a vestibule shaped like a 6-meter cube with 5-meter wooden double doors before me. Knockers of polished bronze, like the left and right forearms of a giant, hung on the mullion of each, their oversized fists gripping an orb. I rapped the door with the left knocker and waited.
Gabe cracked open the door. I noted that he hadn’t adhered to the strict dress code; he wore his Trust uniform. In just shorts and shoes, I felt a little underdressed. He looked around the vestibule and then opened the door to let me inside.
Most of the third floor held a great room, decorated in a classical style, with marble and mosaics of mythological creatures on the walls and plenty of Roman furniture throughout the room. To the right, a table with ten chairs had the remnants of a meal on one end.
Amaré lay on a platform bed, tucked in a recess of the room. I rushed to him to find him in the same condition as Neal. Horrified, I clung to the side of the bed rather than hugging him, although I almost did.
“I found him on the floor of his home last night,” said Gabe.
“Why?” I said aloud to myself.
“We need to talk, Rick.”
I turned to face him and backed away. “Can I trust you? How do I know you didn’t do this?”
“What can I say to convince you?” Gabe asked. “I am David’s man. If he asked me to do something, I would do it. Amaré trusted you, David, and me most.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to ask you for your help. I can’t do this alone.”
“How can I know you’re honest?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I could tell you what you wanted to know at Laurel’s lab. I know why the population declined when Aurum invented the Youth Enhancement. Why don’t we sit?” He glanced at the seating.
I nodded. Cautious, I followed him. He sat in a chair while I sat on a lounge. “Okay, I’m listening.”
“Aurum invented the Forever Young enhancement,” he said, “and when it became available most of the population found it abhorrent and opposed the idea. The elders of the time, including my parents, felt it crossed a line they were unwilling to cross, even for transhumanists. Most of the younger generation wanted and received the youth enhancement, led by Amaré, Meridia, Dmitry, Dai, Ruby, and me. No one older than us received it, and the three of our eldest, Amaré, Meridia, and Dmitry, convinced everyone between the ages of 15 and 24 to receive it by their 25th birthday, and everyone between the ages of 25 and 30 received it. In reaction, the older generations at the time, convinced as many people as they could, including Aurum himself, to not get the enhancement and to side with them when they chose to stop having children. Those of us with the enhancement felt we had plenty of time and an enormous reluctance to have children of our own. This began an era of profound change for Jiyū. The population plummeted from 6 million to 500 thousand in less than 200 jears.”
So far, his story comported with what Pearce had told me. I had one question. “Why did the older generation stop having children?”
“That’s complicated.” He leaned back, pausing a moment to gather his thoughts. “At the time,” he said, “the people of Jiyū had already eliminated a great deal of struggle and uncertainty to life, and the elders knew humans require the change and growth that comes from occasional struggle as well as an element of uncertainty. It’s part of the push and pull of positive and negative forces if you will. These are the things of which lives are made. It can result in harsh circumstances, but it’s what keeps us motivated, empathetic, and functioning as people and as a society. They also recognized that endings had the same importance as beginnings. They believed that physically living forever would one day make life vapid and meaningless. They believed that adding a potential everlasting life to the box of contentment, harmony, and order, the population had already created for themselves would cause curiosity to diminish and that both discovery and innovation would go with it.
“They believed, with luck, we would come to realize our self-made purpose wasn’t enough. The only genuine, sufficient change and growth that we could experience would have to come from forces outside ourselves to color the world we live in, providing contrast, thereby making life itself meaningful. They didn’t istanbul travesti want to condemn more children to what they believed would become a path to self-destruction, or worse, a life of mediocrity from living in a hellish perpetual serenity. Their decision to stop having children embodied their most honorable choice, and they concluded that maybe by doing so, it would teach us a lesson they believed we needed to learn.”
“Isn’t serenity a good thing?” I asked.
Gabe considered that for a moment. “Do you know why we can enjoy experiences?”
I shook my head, not knowing where he was going with it.
“We can enjoy them because they end, even if just for a while,” he said. “People find a ride at a fairground fun, but would it remain fun if it never ended? Too much of any given experience, including living in serenity, is bad. Even parents, who love their children, require the contrast of time away from them to keep them a joy in their lives. Our elders wanted to teach us a lesson in moderation. Life devoid of struggle is anemic, as it became on Jiyū, but too much struggle is soul-destroying, as it has become for far too many people on Earth.”
“So, what happened?”
“Much later, after Amaré became Prime, the population growth rebounded.”
“Yes, I have already surmised what Amaré had to do to compensate for that problem. So, the elders were right in their assessment.”
He nodded. “Yes. Despite our search for knowledge and inventive ways of thinking, we needed something else. Jiyū vacillated between excitement and a complacency that bordered on apathy for jears. Amare’s efforts helped to lift us out of that cloud, and it lifted further when you and David returned from Earth with Amare and Aiden, but it hasn’t lifted fully and not permanently.”
“Amaré tried to tell me of the portal’s importance,” I said. “It is important.”
He nodded. “The portal has helped to keep us from remaining complacent,” he said. “Change comes in the form of occasional newcomers and news from Earth. When they arrive, things become different, if just for a while. Aurum knew Jiyū would have this ongoing problem. I have awaited the time when someone comes and effects such change a shift of consciousness occurs, altering life here.”
“If you knew what Jiyū needed,” I asked, “why haven’t you done it?”
He shook his head. “I recognized the problem, but as a product of this world, I didn’t know how to help correct it.”
“What would you have me do?” I asked.
“Keep doing what you’re doing,” he said, “much of the change here centers around you and David.” He leaned forward. “If you know how Amaré compensated, then you know about the Prime Sharer.”
“Yes, where did you hear about it?”
“Amaré told me long ago,” he said. “Where did you hear it?”
“Yes. Pearce knows of that, and the entrance to Aurum’s secret and what’s hidden there, or rather I should say ‘knew’ of the entrance; no one can access it now. He wrote about it in journal number eight, which Meridia stole 36 jears ago, according to Neal.”
“What is?” I asked.
“Amaré told none of us the location, not even me, so secrecy alone has protected it, and if Meridia has had the book all this time, she didn’t share it with Amaré because he would have told me of that.”
“Might she have what Aurum hid there?”
“No,” he said, “knowing how to find the entrance is one piece. I shouldn’t, but I’m sure I stumbled upon a piece when I dropped something once, and I know Meridia doesn’t know of it. You said no one can access it now?”
“Yes, I’m sure the Master Builder blocked the entrance. A thewsbot must have done the job.”
“If the Master Builder closed the entrance, she would create another one elsewhere. How did Pearce discover its location?”
“Pearce told me Amaré hid the memories with him as a child, and he believes Amaré made himself forget them.”
Gabe closed his eyes and exhaled. “Yes, of course. That means, despite that Amaré has kept him close, he doesn’t trust Dmitry. I suspected as much. After Amaré’s tenure as Prime, next will come Dmitry’s tenure. I wondered why Amaré hadn’t retired long ago. He never would tell me.”
“Amaré told me it felt as if he had taken on a task that he couldn’t entrust to anyone else,” I said, “I assume he meant Dmitry. He said it must end, but he must make it right. He’s going to end the need for anyone to compensate ever again, isn’t he?”
Gabe closed his eyes. “Oh, Amaré, what have you done?”
“Did Amaré destroy Rom, or did Dmitry? Or Meridia, perhaps?”
“What motive would Dmitry or Meridia have?”
“I don’t know, but Amaré and Neal didn’t do this to themselves. Is this about Aurum’s secret? Or is it about Amaré wanting to correct a mistake he made long ago? Either way, I’m willing to bet Dmitry or Meridia did this to him. But Meridia is Amaré’s cousin, why isn’t she one of the people he trusts?”
“They still istanbul travestileri speak with one another,” he said, “but he no longer trusts her. I’m not sure why.”
“I almost suggested we take Amaré to the hospital, but we can’t, can we?”
“No, we can’t,” he said. “No one can know of Amaré’s incapacitation. Dmitry cannot become Prime. He would inherit Aurum’s home.”
That phrase caught my attention. “Aurum’s home…you mean the home Amaré lives in, don’t you?” I thought for a moment. “Aurum was Italian, wasn’t he? I thought the sculptor depicted his statue as rather Romanesque. So, that’s why Amaré lives in that Italianate home; practical reasons, as he told me.” Then I realized. “Aurum hid a piece of his secret there, didn’t he? That’s where you happened upon it. Amaré lives there to protect it.”
“You need to stop right there,” Gabe said.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “How would the Prime Sharer abilities get passed to Dmitry?”
“They wouldn’t,” he said. “The previous Prime, Francine Stabliano, gave Amaré the abilities. I watched him drink the last vial. There isn’t anymore.” He took a deep breath. “Can we help Amaré and Neal?”
“Viral nano code has caused their condition, and the technician told me we couldn’t help them.”
“Dmitry is a horticulturist,” said Gabe, “that I know of, he couldn’t have written viral code. Meridia could do it. She taught applied mathematics for jears.”
“So, are they both in on it?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“How long can Amaré live like that?” I asked.
“As long as he has access to ambient electromagnetic energy, he doesn’t need food for many days. But, without water? Not long. He must stay hydrated and flush his system like anyone else.”
“Damn. That doesn’t give us much time, and we need the time.” I sat there thinking for several minutes, and a thought occurred to me. “How did you get Amaré here?”
“With great difficulty,” he said. “Without Fennec’s loyalty to Amaré, it wouldn’t have happened. I couldn’t get a levitating stretcher big enough, and Fennec’s the one person I know who can lift him. We brought him here in the middle of the night. We couldn’t bring him through the front door, so we came through the catacombs.”
“The catacombs inside the mountain.”
“Yes, we didn’t have the tradition of cremation at the time, and those millions of people who died had to go somewhere.”
“Is there a tunnel in the catacombs that reaches the temple?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s the oldest section of the catacombs. We prepared the bodies in the temple, in the area now known as the observation wing, and took them down into the passage, but we haven’t used it in jears. Why?”
“He needs care, so we cannot keep him here,” I said. “We cannot keep him at our hospital because there’s no way to keep that secret. Can you clear the temple while Fennec and I bring Amaré there through the catacombs?”
“Why? We can’t keep him hidden at the temple, either.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Are you suggesting we take Amaré to Earth?” he asked.
I nodded. “Aiden can go with him; he will know what to do. He studied him long enough, and he knows about Neal’s condition. Fennec can stay with Amaré to protect him, and they can take him through on a levitating gurney from the temple. I know theirs is big enough.”
“You want to use the differential to give yourself time to find a cure,” said Gabe, “I understand that, but if you think one lies waiting for you in Aurum’s vault, I can’t let you search for it. Aurum hid it for a reason.”
“Yes, Aurum hid it for a reason,” I said. “He hid the vault until such a time the Prime determined we needed its contents. Amaré wouldn’t choose to remain this way. From what you’ve said, he didn’t want Dmitry to become Prime.”
“What if Dmitry did this, in part, to force you to find Aurum’s secret for him?” asked Gabe. “Amaré wouldn’t want you to do that.”
“I will have to keep that in mind while I search for it.”
Gabe gave me a harsh look, which appeared worse than the one he gave everyone, but it didn’t deter me.
“Look,” I said, “I want Amaré back. I want Neal back. I want to know who the hell destroyed Rom because I don’t believe Amaré did it. I want to help Pearce get his son. I also want our people to come home, which Magnar says will happen tomorrow when Venn completes the second ship. The temple will have too many people there tomorrow, and Amaré needs medical attention. It cannot wait; if we do this, it must happen tonight.”
Gabe sat there thinking, a scowl on his face.
“You asked for my help,” I said. “This is it.”
“What of our people on Earth. Won’t they see Amaré coming through?”
“The British would have moved them away from the portal. It would cause a media frenzy if they didn’t.”
He took a deep breath. “What do you need me to do?”
I laid out the plan for Gabe. I needed him to find Aiden, letting him know what happened, what I needed him to do, and that I travesti istanbul would meet him at the temple. I required Gabe to clear the temple of people for a while. I didn’t know how he would manage it, but as an elder, I figured he could do it. In the meantime, Fennec carrying Amaré, and I, would make our way to the temple through the catacombs, an unsavory idea for me if I ever had one. Gabe assured me I could find the way, as only one way up existed, and I would know it when I saw it.
On his way out, Gabe sent Fennec up the lift. I felt uneasy with Fennec; he didn’t appear to like me. As he entered the room, I noticed the massive, striated thigh muscles we would rely on caused him to have a distinctive rolling gait.
“Gabe tells me he trusts you.” –so, Fennec could speak in complete sentences of more than two words– “If he trusts you, then I trust you.”
“I appreciate that,” I said.
He gave me a sidelong look. “You look me in the eye,” he said in his smooth basso voice. “Does my size not frighten you?”
“Naw, I’m too busy finding you attractive to be frightened.”
“And I find myself a little envious,” I said, “I always wanted to be bigger.”
“Lift heavy, lift every day, eat a lot, and sleep,” he said. “Your body will take care of the rest.”
“Thanks, I’ll remember that,” I said. “Gabe and I need you to carry Amaré through the catacombs to the temple.” I looked down at the legs bulging from beneath his rather short semi-transparent shorts. They looked larger than David’s legs by a wide margin. “I suspect the trek is farther than it seems.” I stared him in the eye. “I know you have great strength, but can you carry Amaré that far?”
“That is far,” he said. “I don’t know. I will consider it a challenge.”
I nodded. “I’ve never walked through catacombs or stood near millions of dead bodies. That’s challenging enough for me.” I pointed at the door. “Must we leave by the lift?”
“We also have the one-way exit down the staircase. It doesn’t lead straight into the catacombs, but with the blackout party going on, no one will notice.”
“I figured,” I said. “I brought my wrist lamp, but I can’t use it until we get to the catacombs.”
“You and Gabe should get synthetic eyes,” said Fennec. “Just follow me.”
Fennec lifted Amaré into a fireman’s carry. (An efficient means of carrying someone quite a distance, the legs receive most of the strain.) I covered Amaré with the dark coverlet from the bed to minimize what anyone might see.
A pull on the panel opened the exit to the narrow stairs at the back of the building. Fennec and Amaré scraped the walls on the way down. We exited through the one-way door on the ground floor across the darkened hallway from the basement staircase. A couple of people descended into the basement when we arrived. Fennec followed them, and I trailed behind.
The marble basement staircase led to a near pitch-black lower level, soundproofed with an exaggerated “S” shaped sound baffle. It worked well; the instant we turned a corner, we heard low playing music until we turned the last corner of the baffle where the music became much louder, and the little remaining light dimmed even further. They played high-energy music one might hear in a nightclub in Europe.
We crossed the footprint of the house into a cutout cave within the rock of the mountain. I touched the wall on the way. As I suspected, the rich sound of the music and lack of any echoes told me that they had covered the stone walls and the ceiling in tapestries. I would love to have seen them. My eyes wouldn’t have time to adjust to the near abject darkness. I saw various pieces of glow-wear on the hundreds of people. As I discovered later, we passed a few hypostyle halls with a series of iconic columns holding up ceiling braces the width of the room. Together, the spaces made up more than half of a football field. Luckily, I couldn’t see them at the time; I would have had trouble tearing myself away from admiring the architecture. We turned down a long narrow hallway to a room with another sound baffle and a metal door. No one ventured past them as they knew where it led.
When I hear the word catacombs, I think of a smelly, rustic dingy environment. At best, I figured I would find casketless cobweb-covered corpses stacked inside alcoves, or worse, the dismembered bones of bodies displayed like artwork as those found in the catacombs of Paris. I expected the worst possible scenarios, and I should have known better; I was on Jiyū, not Earth.
We exited the baffle into the silence beyond the door, I stepped in front of Fennec, using my wrist lamp. It smelled like old air and stone. I detected no odor of decay from the bodies kept there. They had polished the ornate walls, ceilings, side columns, and metal braces to a satiny shine, and we encountered a raised floor tomb every few meters, on both sides of the path. Upon their tops lay a marble statue of the person entombed there appearing as though they were sleeping. Gold plaques on the sides of the tombs held the names and dates.
We walked quite a while, and I couldn’t tell how far we had gone. “Do you need a break?” I asked.
“I can continue,” Fennec said. “We’re coming upon the passage to the main entrance that Gabe and I used.”
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