Opus X Book 11 Deception of Age
Humans have been fascinated with the search for eternal life and staying young for as long as stories have been written, in this story they might just have found the answer.
February 21, 2231, Ross 128, New Pacifica, Aurora, Private Residence of Julia Caldo
When every minor reversal is repaid with glorious fortune, it can instill curious thoughts in a woman—blasphemous, by some accounts.
Foremost among those was the idea that something providential—divine, even—must be guiding her path, a sort of blessed destiny.
Julia no longer cared if such thoughts passed into arrogance because the truth should never be ignored. Her successes in the last couple of years vastly outstripped her failures.
She was the chosen one.
There could be no doubt, and this day in human history would eventually go down as the dawn of a new era, even if only a small number of people were there to witness it.
The key to Julia’s destiny looked messy and unassuming as she circled it, tucked away in a heavily guarded back room in her Aurora mansion. A dark-gray platform filled the room, cables and tubing flowing from almost every spare centimeter into the walls and off to configurations of equipment she wasn’t arrogant enough to claim to understand the exact functions of.
Wealth and influence brought her specialists, such as Doctor Selan, a woman standing in the center of the platform peering at a data window.
If the device was the key to Julia’s destiny, the doctor was the locksmith who had created it.
“Is it ready?” Julia asked, keeping her voice calm despite the excitement threatening to shake her whole body. It wouldn’t be going too far to describe her as giddy.
She hadn’t experienced these feelings in over a century.
Whatever doubts she had about her future had vanished in recent months when she learned that the artifacts she’d collected, including those she’d taken from Sophia Vand, were more than she could have hoped. Unexpected breakthroughs in understanding them had led to this moment.
The beginning of her rise.
And what a perfect moment. Julia had been forced to begin to move her timetable forward because of the pressure from both the rest of the Core and those hunting it, including the Last Soldier and the Warrior Princess. However, she’d never forgotten that her plan wouldn’t succeed without being able to take full advantage of the Hunter technology she possessed.
The tech Elias had uncovered on the moon in 2064 and kept from others, unlike the mistakes on Mars, had set these events in motion.
Doctor Selan gave a firm nod. With the gray streaks in her dark hair and the fine lines marring her face, she could benefit from de-aging soon or the blessings of the very device she’d helped create. Julia had a hard time believing the doctor was so willing not to be first.
“Finishing final calibration of the Chalice,” the doctor explained.
Julia arched an eyebrow, disliking that her special moment was marred by confusion. “Chalice?”
The doctor looked over her shoulder. “Oh, sorry, ma’am. That’s what I’ve taken to calling Artifact 324-C. ‘The Chalice of Life’ because it kind of looks like a cup, and ‘Holy Grail’ seemed…presumptuous.”
Julia allowed herself a small smirk. Chalice of Life or Holy Grail? It didn’t matter what they called it as long as it gave her what she wanted.
“What about the Chalice?” Julia pushed.
The good doctor turned back to her computer. “All indications are that it’ll be destroyed in the process.” Doctor Selan swiped her finger across the window, revealing a mottled green tube with a flared opening—a rare piece of Hunter technology recovered by Julia’s agents. “I know I already indicated there would be such losses, but I wanted to make that clear before we use the device.”
“We must all make sacrifices,” Julia replied, staring at the image. “And you’ve been nothing but honest about its limitations, but what of the device? A sacrifice without purpose is nothing more than sacrilege.”
“I’m confident it will stabilize your genetic structure, ma’am.” The doctor smiled brightly. “I’m also confident it will happen without any of the telomeric degradation the previous treatments provided, let alone…” She shuddered, a euphoric look passing over her face.
“N-nothing.” Doctor Selan shook her head. “Far from wrong, actually.” Her voice was solemn, almost reverent. “It just hit me what we’re accomplishing, ma’am.”
“And what is that, exactly?” Julia was always curious about what the lesser sentients thought when they weren’t trying to please her, especially those who lacked the full picture like Doctor Selan.
“You’ll be the first of a new race,” Doctor Selan explained. “We’re turbo-charging the advancement of humanity. Well, you’re not just the first of a new race, you’ll be doing something that reaches back farther than the dream of going into space. You’ll be the first of the true immortals.”
“Yes,” Julia replied softly, not bothering to hide her satisfaction in her tone. “I will.”
“And from there, we can continue on. We can finally unlock our true potential. Just think of what humanity will be able to accomplish. We’ve defeated death or at least aging. Individuals can spend lifetimes mastering skills and knowledge. Brilliant minds will never be lost.” Doctor Selan dismissed the window with a flick of her wrist. “I do have worries about nano-cellular reconstruction and its impact on the aging process, so please try to avoid any serious injuries. I can’t guarantee it won’t restart your aging, despite your already heavily modified body, ma’am.”
“I always endeavor to avoid getting hurt.” Julia smiled thinly. She’d had more close calls than she wanted to in recent years, but a woman didn’t take over the galaxy without taking risks.
Doctor Selan stepped out of the silver circle marking the center of the device and off the platform. “Forgive me for saying so. I almost feel like it’s not enough.”
“Immortality isn’t?” Julia chuckled quietly. “And some say I’m overly ambitious. Could you elaborate on why immortality isn’t enough?” She pursed her lips before continuing, “I’m genuinely curious.”
“No, not that. Immortality is enough, but what I’m saying what we’re about to do is more important than anything to date in human history. I am including the first hyperspace portals in my opinion.” Doctor Selan placed a hand on her chest and took a deep breath, tears welling up in her eyes. “If we’d had this before, we wouldn’t have had to worry about FTL travel. We could make ships that travel for a thousand years, confident the people inside will live that entire time. I understand, ma’am, why you must keep this secret for now, but I feel like we should have reporters and archivists documenting this moment. It is the turning point for humanity, where we change from being the children to the true adults of the galaxy.” Her eyes widened. “More than that. There’s no indication the other races have this sort of technology. This may make humanity the dominant species in the galaxy. We can become the new Navigators or the new Hunters.”
New Hunters. Julia rather liked that idea, but it wasn’t necessary—yet—to wipe out the other species. Depending on how they responded to her eventual domination over mankind, they might prove useful subjects. She was patient.
Humanity would come first.
Julia folded her hands behind her back with a placid smile. Doctor Selan’s statement might be true, but humanity didn’t know enough about many of the Local Neighborhood races to be sure of that.
Not every species would brag about having the key to eternal life when other heavily armed races were around them. All struggle came down to battles over both life and legacy.
Immortality would be the ultimate legacy of the first unending life.
She would avoid the mistakes of the Navigators and Hunters, at least those she knew about. Slow and sure dominion without the secret of her immortality being leaked would be the key.
It would grant humanity the long-term planning and viewpoint they needed against the other species. Perhaps the entire galaxy could benefit in defense of whatever strange creatures might inhabit other galaxies—eventually.
Doctor Selan licked her lips and averted her eyes. “Our agreement still stands, ma’am? I’ll be the second to use it, right? I understand it might be a while, but I’m young, and I can use regular de-aging until then.”
“Of course. This advancement couldn’t have succeeded without your efforts, Doctor. I will be the first to walk through the gates of immortality, but you opened them. Your gift to humanity will be rewarded.” Julia sighed. “But I’m curious about something.”
Julia’s gaze flicked to a wall. “It requires transference from other fully grown humans, yes?”
Doctor Selan rubbed her wrist. “Well, yes. It’s based on the data from the devices you and the other members of the Core used previously, ma’am. I…wish I could say I completely understood why that is, but the sacrifice is necessary, as unpleasant as it is.”
“Don’t worry,” Julia offered. “I had my people collect scum for this: terrorists, killers, that sort of person. No one giving up their lives today is worth anything.”
It was a lie, of course. This was what was inconvenient about working with people with anything resembling a conscience. Lying about higher-level plans was trivial, but having to remember lies about operational details was annoying. It was too easy to slip up, and then people had to die to preserve order.
“Clones,” Doctor Selan spat. “For the future. Force-grown clones. We might be able to transfer the life from those.” She offered a sheepish smile. “It’ll require more research, though. I have concerns about telomeric stability with clones based on the background data you provided me on previous attempts, but I don’t see any option unless we come up with some sort of alternative. It won’t be scalable. There are not enough bad people in the UTC for the transference to everyone else, and while I’ve explored using aliens, everything I’ve found suggests that won’t work. I think we could use Leems to strengthen other Leems with some modifications, or Zitarks to do Zitarks, but we need humans for humans.”
Julia’s careful self-control served her well. The doctor’s naïveté was almost too much.
There were few people Julia allowed to serve her or the Core without proof of their naked ambition and loyalty. People overly concerned with petty traditional morality often would balk at what might be needed to save humanity. Doctor Selan was a special case, a unique individual with the outstanding skills and drive necessary to lead the Hunter life-extension research project.
In the long years since the twenty-first century, when Julia joined the Core and was granted her first taste of extended life, she’d dealt with many talented individuals, but all were inferior to Selan. This woman was key to making Julia’s dream come true.
“The Chalice,” Julia murmured. “Isn’t that more the restrictive element? I’m sure we can come up with some way to fuel the device that doesn’t require the sacrifice of innocents, but I’m doubtful we can locate another Chalice anytime soon, let alone billions.”
Doctor Selan’s eyes lit up. “I’ve been worried about that for a while, but when I was doing some last-minute tuning, I came across some things.”
Julia raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”
“Although I can’t claim we understand the structure of Hunter artifacts well enough to copy them, the Chalice is mostly a biological artifact. I think with time, effort, and resources, we might be able to produce more Chalices ourselves.”
Julia’s mouth twitched, her heart rate kicking up from this rare genuine surprise. “What? Why hasn’t something like this been attempted before?”
“Because it hasn’t been possible before, ma’am.” Doctor Selan turned to another screen and summoned a new window filled with 3D molecular DNA models. “The previous artifacts used to de-age the Core were of a different type with different downstream biological effects, and quite frankly, we now know more about how the human body works and how the tech works. I don’t want to ignore the fact that we got somewhat lucky with the Molino group. Between advances in human technology, the artifacts, and some lucky breakthroughs, I think producing Chalices might be possible. That’s not the case with the other artifacts, so we’ll need to be careful to protect them. There will obviously be some restrictions in the rate of the procedure’s use, but first things first: copying the Chalice.”
Julia’s jaw tightened. “Why is this the first I’m hearing of any of this?”
Doctor Selan looked confused. “I sent a full report to Miss Vand about the potential. You haven’t seen it? On the Implications of Hunter Biotech Replication. I didn’t have direct access to all the Molino group artifacts then, but I assumed she passed on the report. I’m sorry. I assumed you already knew, and when you came to me, your people were rather specific about concentrating on getting this device working, so I didn’t worry about it. The project will be involved, and the important thing was making sure I had the necessary data for the future.”
“Ah. I see.” Julia forced a smile but folded her hands behind her back so the other woman couldn’t see her trembling fingers. “Sophia’s untimely demise led to not everything being passed along. There are many things she was involved in that I’m still learning about.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” Doctor Selan looked down at the floor. “Plus, this was all very speculative until recently. I wasn’t confident it could be achieved, but we’ve had so many breakthroughs with this current project that now I think we can. Again, it’s something that might take years, decades even, but I don’t think it’s impossible, especially since we’ll have you as a research subject. The key will be you, ma’am.”
“Of course.” Julia wrinkled her nose. “I’m sure I’ll be a useful key to others.”
She had been fortunate to recruit Doctor Selan after Sophia’s death. The doctor’s lack of involvement in deep Core politics meant the scientist didn’t question immediately moving her research efforts and accepting orders for another member. She’d brought most of the relevant research with her, but Sophia’s loyal underlings had managed to destroy a lot of her operational records before Julia could get to them under the impression the Intelligence Directorate or the Last Soldier and his team might get their hands on them. Perhaps some even understood who was ultimately responsible for the death of their leader.
Julia marched over to the silver circle and stopped, her hands at her side. “That can all wait for the future. For now, we must take the first step to a better world. Even though I will be the first to benefit, I’m also the first to risk herself.”
Doctor Selan backed up until she was in front of the door, then brought up more windows filled with colorful graphs, numbers, and text. She tapped on a virtual keyboard with one hand while dabbing at the different screens. “Shouldn’t we say something?”
Julia shook her head. “No. Results first, speeches later.”
Selan nodded quickly before she looked down to hit two more keys. “As you wish, ma’am.”
The lights dimmed in the room, and a low whine started up. Julia stood perfectly still, now regretting not having some sort of handholds built into the device, but for all she knew, that wasn’t possible. Momentary discomfort was a small price to pay for immortality.
I win, Sophia, she thought. I have triumphed over all of you. You people became foolish and lazy. You forgot why we began to walk this path.
What is immortality worth? The lives of others? What sacrifices are they willing to make for this technology to be widespread? Keep an eye for more snippets into Opus X Book 11 Deception of Age. Available for pre-order on December 21st, and the whole book will be available for download on Christmas Day.