“The Brotherhood of Applied Sciences”
by Deborah J. Brannon
The men were brilliant, marvels and masters of modern science. All the papers would say so, would hail them as the conquerors of death and enhancers of life. Or would have done, if they’d ever heard of Dr. Henry Sexton and Dr. Adam Valincourt. The papers never would hear a whisper, though, and death would continue unchecked, blithely harvesting each life in its time.
Each life, that is, except for two.
Thanks to selling off some less advanced technology, Sexton and Valincourt had extensive financial holdings, a fully automated scientific facility, and a highly paid, tightly controlled security force. They returned to this facility every 60 years (a most sensibly-devised half life, given the times), downloading themselves into carefully engineered 25-year-old bodies which aged but slowly and bore faces of fictional descendants.
Each 60 years, their ritual was the same:
Once they finished with the less flattering conventions of their regular resurrections– coughing up fluid, staggering about, eventually attending to hygiene and dress– they met in a small, blue-painted room featuring a single mahogany table and two wing-backed chairs. On the table waited a tray bearing a decanter of aged brandy and two crystal glasses, carefully prepared by a discreet servant with financially-controlled muteness.
They greeted each other, sat, and talked about life.
At first, the previously sedentary scientists indulged themselves in wildly adventurous lives, throwing themselves into rare game hunting, extreme sports, and the fine art of womanizing. Sometimes, two lives might go by in such blazes of glory, or they might alternate with a more staid existence, focusing on mastering a musical instrument or building a family.
Henry was the first to degenerate: achieving things honestly or even dishonestly became quite passe. In a pique of boredom during his fourth life, he casually pushed his maid down the stars and clattered after her to see what happened. She died: quickly, but somewhat less than instantly. The only thrill for him from that point forward was in the destruction, dissolution: he flirted with the very facet of humanity he had rejected, becoming a connoisseur of the inflictions of pain. He was an addict whose only fix was that one ephemeral moment of fading consciousness in sentient eyes.
Apart from an initial argument borne of revulsion, Adam held his tongue and listened with endearing fascination to each of Henry’s reports. He appreciated his associate’s unapologetic brutality, the thoroughness with which he assessed and mastered the area of human pain and endurance.
“Have you ever thought about practicing your arts on me?” Adam asked suddenly, interrupting the third litany of Henry’s hobby. They were both approximately 350 years old.
“What, old boy?” Henry’s reply was quick, accompanied by a hearty chuckle, but his eyes glittered at Adam shrewdly. “You’re too wily for me to catch! Besides, the one thing I couldn’t abide is loneliness.”
“I feel compelled to point out that you could, at great cost to your time and finances, organize for someone else to resurrect at your side each generation.”
“Pah! And what would I do with a wet-behind-the-ears mate who’s no match to our genius? Our unique understanding measured out in six lifetimes upon this globe? Say no more, Adam, my boy, for I’ll never part from you.” Quite pleased with this outburst of his own sentimentality, Henry raised his glass in a silent toast. His slender partner, bristling at the sideburns in his current incarnation, gave him a smile at last.
“Loneliness is, in fact, the only thing I’m still curious about,” Adam commented after they both drank, and so their conversation continued.
In their seventh lives, Adam quietly returned to being a research scientist. Very quietly: he disappeared from the public, never published, and kept his activities to himself. In fact, unbeknownst to Henry, he never left their facility. He spent 60 years improving their cloning technology, set on evolving to the next level of their project: longer half-lives, slower aging, and improved bodies.
On the date of their next meeting, Adam downloaded as usual, but into one of his new and improved vessels. He met Henry in the blue-painted room, where they got down to the serious business of drinking and debriefing.
After a litany that would leave a war crimes tribunal unconscious with horror, Henry stared moodily into his glass and muttered to the amber-colored liquid: “Sometimes I just don’t remember what a life’s for anymore.”
“You have become the monster that cannot die,” volunteered Adam, sipping carefully at his own drink. Even after 400 years, Henry hadn’t learned his limitations regarding alcohol. He was well into his cups.
“That’s right, Adam, my fella! The monster that cannot die! And what use all this horror I’ve inflicted on my sweet subjects, all this food I’ve served up to Master Death– what use if I do not join him at banquet?”
“Now you want a normal life?”
“A normal life! Pah! I want such a DEATH– an orgy of destruction fit for raging Bacchus, a pile of corpses to summon Death, my love, a pile of corpses at the END of a – a long road of corpses and only then for my spark to be snuffed out. No resurrection, no more, my death at my hand…” A froth of spittle hung from his lips and he stared blearily at Adam. “But you, my boy, I would never leave alone.”
“Well, Henry, I have had a long run with you. Besides, I’m ready to start my experiment in loneliness.”
Henry stared at Adam, his bright gaze dulled, trying to make sense of what he could. “Ready to end… the project?” He whispered, finally.
Adam gave him a smile, a nod.
Henry straightened up, setting his drink down with exaggerated care. His hands shook. “Right. To end so that there can be such an end!” He glanced anxiously at Adam. “Should we do it? The codes?”
Adam gave him an encouraging smile once more, helped Henry rise, and steered him helpfully to their holding rooms. They stopped first at Adam’s: he entered a seven digit code, all lights turned red, and a lysing agent was injected into the preservative fluids embalming his remaining stock of clones. They continued to Henry’s, where he bit his lip, but stubbornly punched in his own code with a soul-deep sigh. They did not proceed for him to see that a third room had been converted to a new clone repository.
They returned to the blue-painted room, where an antique handgun rested in place of the decanter of brandy. Adam entered ahead of Henry, crossing to the table.
“And now we complete our lives, eh, Adam? What a blaze of glory!”
“Yes, you’re all done here, Henry,” Adam said, turning around.
“I’m all–?” A loud report punctuated Henry’s words before he could finish his own statement.
Done, Adam set the gun down, thoughtfully. “I begin my experiment in loneliness now.”