The Games Begin...
The Alexander Resources headquarters was in a nondescript converted Renault transmission factory not far from the Fontainebleau train station. The town was one of the most charming towns on the continent. The headquarters building's rustic appearance belied the extraordinary research going on within its walls and walls of other Alexander Resources facilities around the world. The pharmaceutical and biotech industries were two of the most competitive industries in the world, particularly in the area of human genetic research. Although Europeans were generally opposed to genetic research when it came to genetically engineered crops, in the area of healthcare research, they were somewhat more permissive. Not that geography really mattered at the dawn of the 21st century, as biotech companies had operations that circled the globe. Alexander Research concentrated on stem cell research for the reproduction of human cells in an effort to solve the problem of organ replacement and rejection. The company had graduated from working on non-decaying blood replenishment products to skin that re-generated itself in a controlled environment. Most of the company's research was broken down into pieces and parceled out at facilities throughout the world and exactly how the pieces fit together was known only to Albert and Alexander and a handful of doctors. The remainder of the 1,400 personnel on the company's payroll knew a great deal about their facility's individual pieces of the puzzle, but none knew what the big picture looked like. Alexander resources did not sell any of its drugs or patents directly. Instead it focused on research and development and struck marketing partnerships with many of the worlds largest drug marketers. The billions of dollars these partnership agreements generated provided the lubrication that kept the research machine working.
Ostensibly as a natural extension of its tissue and organ replacement programs, Alexander Resources began cloning research soon after it was established, although no one but Albert and Alex knew enough about the firm's disparate operations to recognize that this was a primary focus of the company. When they finally became experts in the area, it was only a handful of doctors who knew what was really being done. Alexander resources had already succeeded in cloning mice and rabbits long before anyone had ever heard of Dolly the sheep. The critical difference was that Alexander Resources had no desire to publicize its activities. Alexander Cooke ruled his empire with an iron fist and the billionaire industrialist had no desire for anyone to know about his company's cloning research.
Alex was dying. Not in the immediate sense, but in the mortal sense. Like everyone else on the planet, Alex was dying. The difference was that Alex had the resources to do something about it. He decided on his course of action as he approached his 33rd birthday, a little over 30 years ago.
By the age of 32 Alexander had become richer than any single man should be in ten lifetimes. He finally had the resources to deal with the thing that had haunted him for the last sixteen years of his life… death. Every day since the day his brother died so quickly, right in front of him, he found himself grappling with the notion of just how fragile life is. While the picture of death was not always right in front of him, its penumbra was always there. After parlaying almost a decade of currency trading into a fortune more valuable than some national treasuries, he decided to do something about his own mortality rather than just accepting it as had the billions of people who had come before him.
Alexander saw two ways of accomplishing his task of cheating death. The first entailed curing every disease on the planet and overcoming the natural laws of physiology, which make our bodies finite, despite our best efforts. This was, for all intents and purposes impossible. The second, while seemingly implausible, was not beyond the realm of possibilities. It was, in one word, cloning.
A discovery in the jungles of Bolivia allowed Alexander to leapfrog over decades of research to succeed in cloning a mammal just five years after research had begun. In 1972 a team of anthropologists funded by Alexander Resources stumbled across the remains of a long uninhabited camp while they were traveling through the Amazon River basin in northeastern Bolivia. They had spent six months looking for the camp. After literally stumbling across the foundation of the camp, the explorers decided that they likely had found exactly what they had been looking for. Buried under sometimes thick vegetation were broken pieces of microscope mirrors, glass panes and test tubes. The next day one of Alexander's researchers discovered the only thing of value that was left. It was a steel box in which they found notes describing years of experiments by the scientists who had established the camp. The experiments were not typical rain forest observations and the scientists who conducted them were not a random collection of biologists. Rather, the experiments were conducted beyond the watchful eye of the world around them, both because of their nature and because of who was doing them. The experiments dealt with cloning and the scientists were escaped Nazis. The six of them had escaped from Liepzig in late 1944 when it became apparent that Thousand Year Reich would be lucky to survive another hundred days. While their research during the war had been solely confined to the molecular analysis of cells, each knew that they would be painted with the same brush that so accurately portrayed their colleagues as monsters. Although none of the six had ever done experiments on people or even analyzed the data from such experiments, they knew they could not escape the coming wrath. Together they traveled to Austria and then to San Paulo. From there they migrated to the appropriately named Magdalena, a village named after Mary Magdalen, the patron saint of redemption. In Magdalena there was little interest in their work. While occasionally one or two of the scientists would travel into town for food and basic supplies, they never caused any trouble and it was not long before they were simply ignored, which was exactly what they were hoping for.
None of them would ever return to Germany. Stories of Nazi's escaping a disintegrating war machine and heading to South America were everywhere one might care to have looked. With a panoply of cities built with a European flair, the Germans often felt very comfortable there. Over time, with the capture of Eichmann in Buenos Aires in1961 and sightings of Mengele, the Angel of Death, throughout the sixties and seventies in Argentina and Paraguay, it became clear that the stories were more fact than fiction. Rumors of such a camp's existence had circulated for a decade but no one had ever seen it. For years the scientists researched molecular biology, hoping that someday they would be able to emerge from the shadows with a gift that would cause the world to look beyond the darkness they had been part of. They knew that none of them had done the kinds of experiments that the world found so heinous, but none of them wanted to risk the chance of not being believed. They felt that if they could emerge with some landmark breakthrough they would have a better chance of putting up a credible defense. Reproduction of organs for transplant was where they wanted to go. Although the first successful kidney transplant was almost a decade away and the first heart transplant more than twenty years away, their previous work told them that rejection would always be a concern. They were certain that if there was a way to manufacture organs using the genetic material of person in need, the slow journey towards successful transplants could be transformed by a bounding leap. With that leap in hand they expected to be able to rejoin the world and deflect any possible backlash that might be headed their way.
Actual cloning with embryos that grew independently of their parents had been going on in organisms such as urchins and slugs for decades, and data on this research was covered in a variety of research publications. Building on this published experimental data as well as their previous research of splitting cells, the group began transplanting fertilized embryos from a donor to a caretaker in increasingly more complex organisms. What made their experiments unique was their ability to split cells. Given their lack of access to sophisticated manufacturing processes and lacking sufficient funds to purchase the expensive equipment required, they were forced to improvise. It was this forced improvisation that allowed them to stumble across something no one else had thought of, using small electrical jolts to split the cells rather than a utilizing a precisely manufactured microscopic instrument. While they had been unable to clone anything, they had an idea they were close.
They would never know how close they were. Because of a mathematical miscalculation, while they were very close to successfully cloning a complex organism, they would never actually get there. It was like getting on the wrong track at a train station. You might travel in the same direction as your intended train on a parallel track for some time, but at some point the trains diverge and you end up in the wrong place. It does not matter if most of the journey is in the direction you wanted to go, the fact is that getting on the wrong train at the start would determine where you would be when the train stopped.
In early 1958 leftist rebels seeking to overthrow the government set upon the camp. Incorrectly assuming the scientists were on the government payroll, the rebels executed all six men and burned the compound to the ground.
Fifteen years later, Alexander Cooke had the steel box containing the records from their experiments. After analyzing the data for two years, Alex's labs concluded that the scientists had no idea how close they had come to the secret of life. Late in their work they had been pursuing a course of experimentation on splitting cells that dealt with problems of structural integrity of an amoebae's cell walls. Because of a slight error in earlier calculations, they had pursued the wrong path of discovery and could not get to where they wanted to be without going back and starting from the beginning. Unfortunately, they never knew about the mistake. Nonetheless, the value of their work could not be overestimated. Had they not made that error and instead followed the correct path, they would have most certainly been able to clone complex organisms within a decade. As Alex's scientists had this research and a great deal more technology at their disposal, they were able to successfully clone a mouse in 1978. From there they cloned cows and monkeys. They first cloned a human being in 1982. The child's name was Michael and he was a clone of Estaban, a young Peruvian police officer who had accompanied his wife to one of the University of Peru fertility research clinics funded by Alexander Resources. (Estaban was neither asked nor informed about his cells being used for this purpose and he never knew about Michael, who was raised by an elderly couple in Ancon, a coastal town approximately 25 miles north of Lima) No one other than those directly involved in the experiment knew the child was a clone. The birth came and went without incident. In the three years that followed Michael's birth, Alex's scientists studied every physical attribute the boy had and compared his data against Estaban's. (The premise with which Estaban was convinced to visit the clinic regularly was a fictional irregular heartbeat the clinic's doctors claimed they had discovered. It was supposed to be very rare but also very dangerous so they wanted him to come in every six months. The fact that he was paid one month's salary for each visit didn't hurt.) As Michael grew older, it became very clear Alexander's doctors had succeeded. He was absolutely perfect. He was an exact replica of his Estaban.
At its 17 research facilities Alexander Resources employed some of the world's best scientists in various fields. In some cases the facilities were pursuing research that was unique to that facility while in other cases various facilities worked in concert on particular problems. The single, universal area to which every one of Alexander's facilities made some kind contribution was organ transplant and rejection research. In pursuit of finding a biological Rosetta Stone that would give it the ability to decipher the verities of rejection, Alexander Resources' doctors performed pro-bono transplants all around the world.
One of the key elements to Alexander Resources success was its experiments conducted on primates. Most cutting edge work was done on primates long before it was tried on humans. This was true with cloning as well. Once Alexander resources successfully cloned primates, they then began intense transplant research. Just as Alexander had postulated they would, organs transplanted from a clone and the "original" ape worked perfectly. Rejection ceased to be an issue. The primary issue of concern was literally one of size. If the "original" ape was a fully grown 12 year old, a transplant from its clone would not work if the clone was only 6 months old because most organs such as the lungs or the heart would simply not be large or strong enough to sustain the fully grown ape. As such, the utilization of clones for organ replacement demanded a great deal of foresight. Once they had a sufficient number of cloned apes available at its disparate facilities, Alexander Resources doctors proceeded to experiment with the transplantation of literally every organ in an ape's body as well as various parts of the nervous system. Each facility would have a focus, either a section of the body such as the abdomen or spinal cord or a process, i.e. reconnecting nerve endings. The data from the experiments on the cloned simians was compared with data from human transplant patients whose organs came from traditional donors. In every equivalent case the simian transplants were far more successfully than the human transplant.
Alexander Resources collected all of the resulting data on servers located in its South Centre headquarters in Fontainebleau. Here all of the data could be pulled together to create a comprehensive encyclopedia of transplant data. By comparing the human and simian transplant data, Alexander Resources created a roadmap for human cloning transplants that Alexander was certain could somehow lead to immortality.
The data, however, was not for everyone's consumption. Alexander was a master of furtiveness and maintained intellectual firewalls between his facilities. Although different facilities might be working on different parts of the same project, they shared data only to the extent that it was provided by South Centre.
There were a total of ten people on the planet who had unencumbered access to Alexander Resources data as well as a true understanding of the goal of its founder. Beyond Alexander and Albert the ten included six neurologists and two research analysts. Together these eight were referred by its members as the "Group of Eight" a tongue in cheek name that had dark suggestions of China's contemporaneous "Gang of Four". Alexander and Albert set the direction and goals of the research and the "Group of Eight" coordinated the various facilities work in order to achieve the desired results.
The group was founded just a few months after Alexander took possession of the records recovered from Bolivia. From the beginning Alexander Resources was a very secretive place and for those who would have direct interaction with him, Alex was a very serious man. One of the benefits of being about at the Forbes list of the World's 100 Richest people is that you can buy a great deal of secrecy and loyalty. For the eight who would be focusing the research for his company, Alexander made it crystal clear what kind of a bargain he was interested in striking. It would involve a great deal of money and elements that they might find unpleasant. Alexander was generous with his riches, but he expected much in return, the most important element of which was loyalty.
Every person who signed on to the program knew what was on the table when they were recruited. They had to take or leave the deal and its consequences before they were even privy to the specifics of what was required. The consequences for breaking one's word, although never explicitly stated, were understood to be very bad, and they were the glue that kept the program below the radar. There were however a number of carrots as well a stick. Upon agreement to participate, each man would be paid $3 million up front and $2 million a year for the rest of their lives. A mountain of cash, combined with a not exactly vague allusion of negative consequences for talking was enough to persuade 7 of the first 8 people Alex approached. One choose to walk away before any of the specifics were known. His name was Harold Thompson and although he was one of the United State's premier neuroscientists, he came to that position from a very small town in upstate New York. When Alex was discussing the staggering offer with him, Harold could not help but remember the simple adages his uncle Ken used to repeat endlessly when he was growing up. "Nothing in this life is free", Most things aren't easy" and "The harder someone tries to get you to do something, the closer you had better look at what they are not saying." While Harold knew that he would be set financially for life if he accepted Albert's proposition, he knew that if the uspide was that good, the unspoken downside had to be equally bad. He simply told Alex thank you for considering him for their project but that he would have to pass. Harold walked out and never looked back. Harold was the only person who turned down the offer. The ninth person approached agreed instantly and in a period of one week Alex had assembled the greatest combination of neurosurgeons and researchers that had ever been assembled.
The six neurologists did not become full time employees of Alexander Resources. Alexander had wanted each of them to maintain their current status on staff at some of the greatest hospitals in the world. He felt that by doing so they would able to bring to Alexander Resources the collective advances achieved at those hospitals. Their efforts for Alexander Resources typically included two one-month stretches each year working at the world's most sophisticated and secret genetic research facility. The facility was located on La Playa Arena, an island a few hundred miles off the coast of Peru that was owned by Alexander Cooke. Beyond those two one-month stretches, they often saw one another out at conventions or other events but never spoke of their involvement with Alexander Resources. The researchers did become full time employees. Each spent six months on La Playa Arena and the other six visiting various Alexander Resources facilities to follow up on different aspects of data they had provided South Centre.
Each October the ten would meet on La Playa Arena for a week to access the current status of each element of the program, discuss the critical needs and set the priorities for the next year.
At the very beginning Alexander made it very clear that no one was allowed to
discuss the project's existence or their involvement with anyone, including
their families. Albert had argued with Alex that the idea of keeping such a
secret amongst ten people seemed impossible. Alex retorted that as demonstrated
by the lack credible conspiracy proof ten years since Kennedy was assassinated,
money and fear make for a great deterrence.
The best laid plans
Thirty years after the team was assembled it was preparing for its greatest test, which involved the ultimate, a cloned human transplant, between Estaban and Michael. Two weeks before the transplant was to occur, a strange set of accidents on opposite sides of the earth conspired to throw a wrench in the works for Alexander's perfectly choreographed plan. Estaban was hiking with his wife on a trail at the foothills of Andes when a stone upon which he was standing gave way. He tumbled almost straight down the 78-degree incline to the rocky bottom 125 feet below. He was killed instantly. It took two days for the rescuers to recover his body. The experiment would have to be scrapped, at least as it related to Estaban and Michael. There was another cloned duo available, but the necessary pre-transplant physicals and measurements had not been done for them and therefore it would take an additional two months of preparation. A new date was set for exactly two months later.
That date too would prove worthless, but for entirely different reasons. Just days after Estaban's untimely demise another accident occurred on the streets of Paris. Alex was in the French President's box for the Formula One Tour de Paris. He had stepped into the next box to say hello to a young lady when he heard a screaming noise. As he turned, there was a flash of black. The pride of all Spain, René "Le Pistol" Pistolero had lost control of his car coming around the fourth turn. The car went flying end over end breaking apart as it did. One of the pieces of flying debris was the left rear axle, which went hurdling at 200 miles per hour into the luncheon box. Alex turned in time to see the still attached tire heading his way. He attempted to hit the ground. Although the tire missed his head, the universal joint at the end of the axle clipped his spinal cord at the bottom of his back as he was diving towards the floor. Six people, including the "Le Pistol" died in that accident, three of whom were in the box with Alex. Alexander was the only one in the box to survive, and frankly only time would tell if that would hold.
He was immediately taken to the Paris' premiere, if troubled, health care facility, the Pompidou Hospital. It took doctors thirty six hours to stabilize his bloodflow and to arrest the leakage of spinal fluid that threatened to paralyze him from the neck down rather than from the waist down which was the best they could hope for. Two days later Albert, Alex's assistant and confidante had him transferred to the Alexander Resources South Centre research facility, part of the company's headquarters in Fontainebleau. While not a traditional hospital in the typical sense of the word, the facility had the best medical equipment and personnel money could buy. Spinal cord research and neurological studies were the center's specialties and there was no doubt that that was where Alex was going to get the best evaluation possible.
This development literally rocketed forward the timetable for the project Alex had spent the last 30 years funding. Fate had stepped in and there was simply no more time to test. Albert immediately contacted the "Group of Eight" and had five of the eight on private planes headed for La Playa Arena within hours. Two were already on the island, one was just finishing up his month on at the facility and the other was just starting. The last member was David Smith, who happened to be visiting friends in London at the time of the accident. Upon hearing the news he immediately flew to Paris and was with Albert when Alex was transferred to South Centre. He would accompany Albert and Alex to La Playa Arena in a couple of days.
Just as Alex's private ambulance was arriving at the Pompidou Centre, Albert called Laura who he knew had just returned from an inspection of one of the company's facilities in the Ivory Coast and likely hadn't heard about the accident. "Laura, it's Albert" he said into the phone as he was walking out the front door of the hospital trying to be heard over the din in the lobby. "Listen, I know you are on your way to the mountains for a couple of days, but Alexander has been hurt and I need you to postpone the trip and do something for me." "Sure, no problem. I know, I just landed about two hours ago. I just heard about the accident last night. How is he?" She asked. "Better. Stable" he said "We're leaving the Pompidou Centre right now. We're moving him to the South Centre for a couple of days. David Smith is here and he thinks that it may take a little while before we know the full extent of that damage, but that Alex should regain most of his movement above the waist. The Axle severed his spine. It was as clean a break as one could hope for in such a situation. It could easily have been fatal." "Good… what do you need from me?"
"Alexander has a son who lives on Aislado, an island a couple of hundred miles from our facility on La Playa Arena. I need you to bring him to meet Alex". "Uh…OK" Laura said, surprised that she had never heard that Alexander had a son. "Do you want me to bring him here?" "No, he can't come here yet." Responded Albert. "He has a disorder that limits his contact with people and where he can travel. It's an immune system problem…" Albert started to explain the condition but then decided he didn't have time. "Listen, Alex and I will be leaving for La Playa Arena on Saturday. We will arrive on Sunday." "I want you to take Jonathan there so they can be together. You'll find a complete report on the plane."
"No problem." She said "I'll leave first thing in the morning." "No, I need you to leave tonight. Now if you can." She looked down at her watch and just as she thought, it was Thursday. Not certain what 12 hours difference would make since Alex wasn't going to arrive until Sunday anyway, She considered asking why she had to leave immediately but she let it drop, "Uh… OK" she said. "Great! Thanks" "No problem" Laura said as she was hanging up the phone. "Oh, two more things" she thought she heard Albert say. She lifted the phone back to her ear "Yes, what is it?" she asked. "Jonathan doesn't know anything about Alex, so please don't mention him. He wants it to be something of a surprise. It is a long story; I'll explain later. The other thing is that Alex doesn't want news of his trip to get out so don't mention any of this to anyone, particularly the press." "No problem" she said, not at all surprised that even on what might be his deathbed Alex was as secretive as always. "I'll see you there," she added before hanging up the phone. The idea of flying Alex halfway across the world in his condition struck her as rather odd, but if that's what Albert and David wanted, so be it. Although that was one of the few Alexander Resources facilities she had never been to, she knew that La Playa Arena was one of the best facilities on the planet and despite the stress induced by the flight, Alex would get the best care in the world there.
When Albert called Laura had just returned home but she was getting ready to leave again. She had just spent a week inspecting the security situation of Alexander Resources' Ivory Coast facility. It was a small facility but it was easily one of the firm's most prodigious. Ivory Coast, once the heart of a rainforest that covered 320,000 square miles in Western Africa, is now home to the Tai National Forest, which is practically all that remains of that erstwhile grand expanse of nature. The Alexander Resources facility abuts the forest and has easy access to its disparate types of fauna and wide array of organisms from moss to monkeys. The inspection was a follow up to some changes that were made after it became clear that the facility required unusual security measures to deal with potential threats from passing poachers, guerrillas and refugees. While there was little threat of a significant attack because of a military facility not far away, there were occasional breaches to its integrity that needed to be stopped. Laura inspected the fences and monitoring system that had been built to her standards. She was now confident the facility could withstand all but the most brutal of attacks, with government troops nearby if relief was necessary.
Although the temperature during the trip did not get above 93 degrees, the
humidity was stifling and Laura returned to her apartment almost salivating at
the prospect of spending a few days at her favorite place in the world, the
Swiss ski resort of Champéry. She had been finishing her up packing when Albert
called. She loved the resort and had had this trip planed for almost a year. As
she hung up the phone she picked up a stuffed oversized pillow that sat on her
17th century ottoman. She threw it into the bedroom where it slammed into the
bright glass panes of the French doors leading to the balcony. The thump caused
the pigeon sitting on the rail of the balcony to take flight. As she watched him
take off over a nearby roof, Laura wished she could just fly away too.
Unfortunately she couldn't. She felt a flash of despondency at the notion that
rather than relaxing in front of a fire after a day on the slopes she now had to
fly halfway around the world to bring Alex's mysterious son to meet a father
he's never met. The gloom lasted for only a split second and again she focused
on the task at hand and the fact that Alex was laying in a hospital bed. It
seemed pretty easy, and if nothing else it would give her an opportunity to
inspect one of the few facilities she had not visited. As the Gulfstream IV-SP
took off in the direction of the setting sun, she cheered somewhat with notion
that it might not be so bad getting a bit of a tan before going to the Alps. At
least she'd stand out against the snow.
In the world of Formula One racing, spectators eventually grow accustomed to the 120-140 decibel level and can carry on civilized conversations without even noticing the cars roar by. Alex was watching the F1 Tour de Paris in the French President's box with the President's press secretary Philip Angshotz. Alex was only marginally interested in racing but he was very interested in a new piece of legislation that had to do with the tax status of offshore research facilities. The French government was considering taxing the revenue generated by facilities who leased the rights to their intellectual property to for-profit companies. As the supporting research was being used to generate profits for companies not based in France and therefore not subject to French taxes, the idea was that as some of the research was likely done in France, some portion of those profits should be taxed by France. Essentially the government was saying that because the data upon which some companies relied to generate revenues and profits was developed in France, that the government should have the right to tax their profits. That was essentially the same as saying that because the Wright Brothers were the first to fly, that the American government should have the right to tax profits on businesses worldwide that had anything to do with flight, regardless if there was any connection the United States at all. A Turkish airline. A German overnight air shipping company. A Chinese company manufacturing plane seats. It was a ludicrous idea and Alexander knew that such a tax would stifle the willingness of companies, including Alexander Resources, to license their research to for-profit companies and would instead have to set up dummy non-profits to act as middlemen. In addition, they would stop doing research in France all together. The increase in tax revenue to the state from these transactions would be inconsequential relative to the losses due to shifting of research and development jobs. Knowing this, Alex was meeting with Philip in hopes that he would speak with the president during their daily briefings. While it was well known that Alex had a very good relationship with the President and could easily pick up the phone and reach him, he decided on this matter he would rather work through Philip. Given the direct impact the law would have on Alexander Resources, Alex concluded he would have more success if he let the President appear above the specifics of the fray. Besides, Philip and Alex had been friends for years and they loved to bet on just about anything that moved. On this race they had a 10,000 Euro bet going, not on something as straightforward as who won the race, but rather something far more difficult, an over/under as to what the average speed of the winner would be. If the winning driver averaged over 225 KPH on the long and meandering track, Alexander won. If the winners' average speed was below 225 KPH, Philip won.
Standing in the box next to Alexander and Philip was Marta Allera, a 35-year-old ex-supermodel from Sweden who had been staring at Alex since he arrived two hours before. Alex decided to excuse himself and walked over to speak with Marta. "Hello" she had said in perfect English and a smile that radiated. "Hello" said Alex, extending his hand. Just as he clasped her hand and pulled it toward him as he bent to kiss it, they both heard a high pitched gush of air coming from just beyond the box. It was being generated by the wheel and axle of from what used to be René "Le Pistol" Pistolero's car. The wheel and axle were tumbling end over end as they headed over the wall. Out of the corner of his eye Alex could see something coming towards them. Instinctively he picked up his feet and let gravity do its work just as a batter might do if an inside curveball forgot to curve. Alex was able to get below the bulk of the mass flying at him. Marta, her hand still in Alex's, was not so lucky and was dead before her body hit the floor. Alex was struck by the axle and everything turned black. For much of the next three days he drifted between conscienceness and unconscienceness and couldn't really tell the difference between the two. Every day was a never-ending montage of abject darkness, brilliant, blinding light and distant childhood memories. Sounds were muffled but he could hear his own voice as clear as a bell, yet he somehow knew he had not said a word.
On the fourth day he awoke to discover that his spinal cord had been severed and that he had lost the use and sensation of everything below his chest. Luckily there was no major internal organ damage beyond the spine. The doctor, his doctor, was David Smith, an American and the de facto leader of the "Group of Eight." He was perhaps the foremost neurologist in the world and his "day job" was as the head of Neurology at Johns Hopkins. Although David had known Alex for over 20 years, and had known him to be a man of few outward emotions, he still found himself startled by Alex's lack of reaction when given the bad news. It was not that the situation didn't trouble Alex, because it very much did. Rather, he was not surprised because somehow Alex seemed to know the diagnosis before David told him.
Alex wasn't sure how he knew it himself. He didn't know if it was because he overheard someone talking while he had been drifting into and out of conscienceness or if it was something more visceral. The only thing he knew for sure was that the moment he picked up his feet at that race everything turned black. Three days later, as he slowly contemplated opening his eyes, the only images he could remember having seen clearly involved his brother Josh. He saw himself and Josh playing at his parent's house in Greenwich and his grandmother's museum-like home on Cape Cod. Interspersed with those happy childhood memories was the vision of the life literally being crushed out of Josh's lungs. However long he was unconscious it was too long because the one thing he had not been able to escape was the look on his brother's face.
The most difficult thing of all however was the knowledge that everything he had worked for over the last three decades would be lost. He had made his singular goal in life the pursuit of immortality. Now, when he was at the final stage of that pursuit, it seemed that he might pull defeat out of the jaws of victory. He was so damn close after all of these years. He was so close he could smell success, and now this. The one element in his plan that could not be dealt with was a catastrophic accident like the one he had just experienced. As he laid there he knew that if he ceased to breathe everything he had worked for over the last 30 years would all be for naught. The money didn't matter. The company didn't matter. The power didn't matter. They were all simply tools that gave him the power to pursue his goal. Life was the brass ring and it seemed as if he might have just lost his chance to hold onto it.
A couple of times he felt like he could see a light at the end of a tunnel beckoning him forth. It was Heaven. He could tell because his brother and parents were there. They were standing just outside of the bright doorway telling him to come with them. He remembers taking a few steps and then stopping. No, he could not go, he did not want to pass through that door. Funny, he had never believed in Heaven and here it was, beckoning him. Nonetheless, it might be a trap. He was not stepping through that door. He wasn't going to take another step. He stopped in his tracks. He had almost achieved his life's ambition and there was no way he was going to be pulled off of the track now. He turned to run. He felt like he was on a moving sidewalk. As he tried to run away from the light, the moving sidewalk kept moving towards it. It took every ounce of strength in his body to run against the force of that moving sidewalk. After what seemed like hours of running he could finally see the end of the sidewalk. At the end he could see, of all things, a welcome mat. One of those thick brown ones made of some kind of prickly straw. It was sitting at the beginning of the sidewalk that was moving so fast against him. As he was running in the wrong direction, trying to break free of what was no doubt a demon sidewalk, he approached the mat from above. He could read the words on the mat upside down. They said "Welcome Alex." He had obviously somehow passed over it when he stepped onto this sidewalk that led inexorably to the light. He didn't remember crossing it the first time but he knew he was going to get back over it now. Just when he was approaching the end of the sidewalk and almost stepped onto the mat that undoubtedly signaled escape from this journey he had no desire to take, the sidewalk quickened its pace and pulled him farther away as if it were taunting him. "No" he said to himself, this could not happen now! He could not let it happen now. He would not let it happen now. So he ran as fast as he could and leapt with all of his might towards the beginning of the moving sidewalk. He landed squarely on the welcome mat, which indeed proved to be made out of that prickly straw stuff. As his body crashed onto the mat he was filled with a rush of both exhaustion and the thrill of success. He knew he had just barely avoided the siren of death.
In the South Centre room in which Alex lay, David Smith and the phalanx of assembled doctors were at a loss to explain his rapid breathing and sweating, particularly as the room temperature had been set to 23 degrees C (70 F). Suddenly David could see Alex's hands tighten into a grip. His arms moved in a slight backward and forward motion, pumping against the bed. Finally his hands clinched once more then unclinched and stretched out. A moment later Alex's hands relaxed and he opened his eyes and smiled. He knew that he had won and he was out of immediate danger. He looked up at David and smiled "Did Philip say who won our bet?" David was taken aback, not having a clue what Alex was talking about. Shaking his head and realizing David knew nothing of the waggish bet he and the late Philip had made on the race, Alex said "Never mind." Turning serious he then asked "What was that? What happened?" All he knew was that one minute he was standing talking to the beautiful Marta and the next minute he was hitting the ground. Then blackness. David explained everything about the accident and that he had been in and out of a coma for three days. David told him that he was very lucky to be alive. Not only because he had been the only person in the box to survive, but also because had the axle been two inches lower as it flew into the grandstands, he wouldn't be alive today. "Where is Albert?" Alex asked. "I've just called him. He went down to get some coffee. He's on his way back up." Albert came bursting through the door. "Alex!" he yelled, smiling. "How are you feeling?" "Well, I've been better?" Alex replied with a slight smile, "but I'm not complaining." "Well, I'm glad to see that you are alive. We just weren't sure which way you'd go for a while." As Albert walked over and began to reach out for Alex's hand he looked up at David for approval, not wanting to inadvertently do any damage. David nodded and Albert took Alex's hand in both of his and said, "Glad to have you back my friend." "It's good to be back of course. But I wish you had brought me something from the cafeteria. I'm starving!" "No problem. What do you want?" asked Albert. "Believe it or not I could go for a steak right now. I don't know what it is about running a marathon, but it certainly makes me hungry. David, do they have steaks here?" Albert and David looked at one another, neither understanding the marathon reference. David spoke, "Yes, I'm certain they have some and in answer to the question you haven't asked, the answer is no." "Unfortunately for you, you suffered such severe trauma that you won't be able to handle any solid foods for quite some time. I'm sorry Alex, but you are going to have to be satisfied with lots of liquids and Jell-O." Alex closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them with a look of resignation, "All right then, have it your way, but the Jell-O had better be chocolate!"
Alex looked over at the female technician who was adjusting the frequency on the heart monitor that was producing a strong and steady signal now. He nodded towards the woman who had her back to the three men. Taking his cue, David said "Nurse Thomas, can you give us a few moments please?" "Yes doctor" she replied. All three men's heads turned as they followed the hourglass shaped technician as she walked out the door. As soon as the door closed Alex looked up at David and said "Does this change the plan?" "No, other than moving up the timetable, it really shouldn't. Although I must tell you, with the trauma your body has experienced, there is a high risk of cardiac arrest or embolism. We've looked, and we have you on a blood thinner, but with that kind of damage, the possibility that there is a blood clot that we can't see is significant." Understanding exactly what David was telling him, Alex knew that time is of the essence. "When can we move? How long will prep take?" David looked over at Albert and then answered Alex, "We can move you in two days and we can be ready to go on La Playa Arena in 96 hours." "Good, then let's start the wheels moving." Alex said looking up at Albert.
Albert wasted no time. He went out and called Laura. After hanging up on her
he called the other members of the "Group of Eight." An hour later he
returned to Alex's room. "Done" he said as he closed the door behind
him. "Laura's leaving immediately and the rest of the team will leave for
La Playa Arena tonight. We're leaving for South Centre right now and we'll fly
out to La Playa Arena on Saturday." Alex creased his forehead for a moment
as if thinking and then he said, "I don't even know, what is today?"
realizing he was not exactly sure how long he had been in that bed.
"Thursday" Albert and David said simultaneously, David having come
through the door just before the question. He had pushed a wheelchair into the
room and explained to Alex, "Although you'll be laying down on the plane,
we've modified this wheelchair so that you can sit up without putting pressure
on your spine." Looking at the chair Alex said "Thanks." After a
moment of silence he asked: "How long will it take?" knowing both
would know exactly what he was talking about. "Well," David responded
and then hesitated, looking over at Albert for approval. Albert nodded then
David continued "We'll have to wait until we arrive on La Playa Arena to
know for certain, but we should be able to get started in less than a
week." He added, "Don't worry Alex, we'll have you walking again very
The moment she arrived on the island she didn't really care why she had been called upon to do this job. The ocean breeze blew across the door as she emerged from the plane. As she stepped down the stairs Jonathan and Sebring greeted her. The resemblance to Alex was startling. Alex was not a stunningly attractive man in the fashion model sense, but his face had crisp, sharp features and piercing eyes of an almost unnatural sky blue. He had a presence that one could spot from across the room, and although he did not speak a great deal, when he did people always listened. It was the self-assuredness and confidence that comes with being a self made man. Although Alex would be the first to tell you he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he knew that such a start was no guarantee of success. He had exponentially increased the value of the trust left to him by his grandfather to a point where it was now worth more than 100 times the combined value of the trusts left to everyone else in his family. While the self-assuredness was always there, Laura never saw it take the form of arrogance.
It was obvious that Jonathan had that same self-assuredness, albeit with a smile. He almost looked like a circa 1960 Alexander standing before her. Not that she had known Alex then, but she had seen pictures. During the flight she read the information Albert had provided her on Jonathan. He had lived on the island for the last 18 years since he was a baby. He was born with an infinitely rare birth defect that would not allow him exposure to germs of any sort for any extended period of time. Laura felt sad when she read of his condition and the fact that other than Sebring, he had lived alone with no one his own age for such a long time. He was truly a "Boy in the Plastic Bubble" except that his plastic bubble was an island paradise. It struck her as strange that someone with unlimited resources such as Alex would not prefer to have his son someplace much closer, or at least to visit him. When she thought about it however, it really didn't surprise her that much. Alex never ever talked about his family. He never married. He never had any children, or so they had been led to believe, and he never had any pets. All of those things were distractions that Alex neither needed nor wanted. While there was a constant parade of beautiful women on his arm, he never allowed any of them to stay for very long. Once they were beginning to feel comfortable Alexander would decide that the relationship was over so that there would be no ties. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like Alex. Actually, Laura always thought the strangest thing about Alexander was not that he was so oblique, that he seemed to have no emotional connection to the world and people around him, but that such a man would give away hundreds of millions of dollars away annually for charities and research that would help so many people. Then she thought about it from a business perspective and it made perfect sense. By funding research across the planet, Alexander Resources bought itself a great deal of goodwill with recipient governments while at the same time putting itself in legal position to take first advantage of any discoveries made with its help. Laura considered herself a pretty good judge of character and now that she thought about it, after working for Alex for more than five years she could honestly say that she really had no idea of what drove him.
Whatever the history between Alex and Jonathan, or more accurately, the lack of one, it seemed as if this accident had caused Alexander to want to make things right. Jonathan was being taken to La Playa Arena not only to meet Alex, but also to receive a treatment that might cure his condition. The report said that the process was rather complicated, but the fundamental idea behind it was a transfusion that would use Alex's blood to "jumpstart" Jonathan's immune system. Alexander Resources had spent decades studying the phenomena of blood and organ rejection and a big part of that was analysis of the host body's immune system reactions. Some months prior to the accident they discovered that a new gene manipulation technology, when combined with a "filtering" of blood held great promise for curing Jonathan's immune disorder. The scientists had were certain it would be effective from the start, but Alex had not been able to make his way out to the La Playa Arena in order to undergo the transfusion. Unfortunately that delayed the procedure because both men had to be literally within feet of one another for the process to work. Essentially there would be two tubes attached between the men and a pump would cycle blood between them for a period of about three hours. At the end of that three-hour period all of Jonathan's blood would have passed through Alex's circulatory system. That process, supplemented by the genetically manipulated drug would give Jonathan a proper white / red blood cell balance. This would allow his immune system to begin with a clean slate, which should then develop into a normal, properly functioning immune system within a few months. Again it struck Laura as odd that Alexander had not been able to clear his schedule during the past six months in order to allow this procedure to take place. Nonetheless, although the current conditions were not perfect, it seemed to Laura that it was good that Jonathan was getting his chance for a cure now. Luckily the damage from the accident was limited and Alex's circulatory and pulmonary system were working just fine. In what seemed to Laura to be a particularly gallant gesture, Albert said that Alex was adamant about this procedure taking place immediately. In case there was a problem with his recovery, Alex did not want Jonathan to miss this opportunity to live a normal life.
Laura arrived on Aislado on Friday. Her plane landed just as a ferocious storm was moving towards La Playa Arena. The main area of the storm was going to pass to the south, but the northernmost part of it was going to pass right over La Playa Arena. She and Jonathan were originally supposed to leave as soon as she arrived, but now they would likely leave Sunday. Time was not critical as Alexander and Albert weren't going to leave Paris until Saturday and would not arrive on La Playa Arena until Sunday themselves. When she called Albert and explained the situation he was not happy but he knew that with 120-MPH winds it was much too dangerous to make the flight in such conditions. He told her to relax and he would see her on Sunday.
As she stepped from the plane to greet Jonathan and Sebring the first thought that went through her mind was oddness of the fact that someone so sick and fragile could fill out a shirt so well. It immediately seemed strange to her that someone with such a weak immune system could be in such obviously tremendous shape. And it was a tremendous shape. Six foot two, long brown hair and a body somewhere between Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger. From all appearances she was sure he could not have been in better shape if he had been sculpted by Michelangelo.
Standing right beside Jonathan was Sebring, who, as Albert had suggested, was not the most gregarious person in the world. Actually, subdued probably would have been a step up. He was however quite courteous and helpful. He too was obviously in great shape, although the shape of a fit 75-year-old man differed tremendously from that of a 20-year-old, she could nonetheless see he took care of himself.
"Ms. Stenton, nice to meet you" "Thank you. It's Sebring isn't it?" "It is, Ma'am". "Please, call me Laura" she said, gently grasping his hand in both of hers. "And you must be Jonathan" she said. "Indeed I am." Jonathan said with a smile. "It's very nice to meet you." "Please, let me take your bag" Sebring said. "Would you like to come this way please." Beckoned Jonathan as he turned and gestured toward the road that would lead to the cottage a quarter mile away. "How was your trip?" he asked as the headed down the road. "Long, but otherwise quite pleasant actually" Laura replied. "I'm rather sure that King Tut would have been happy to have been buried in that plane" "Well, hopefully neither of us will meet him anytime soon to ask" Jonathan quipped. "You know, this will be the first time I've ever been in a plane, or at least since I was a baby" "Are you anxious?" Laura asked. "I am. Actually excited would probably be a little more accurate. I'm familiar with the physics behind flying, but I'm sure that actually doing it is going to be a lot more exciting." "Well, I'm not at all familiar with the physics behind flying, but I can tell you, it can be pretty exciting sometimes. You'll see. I never stop being amazed at looking down on clouds."
Still standing at the foot of the ramp, Sebring greeted the pilot as he stepped from the plane; "How are you Jack?" "Not too bad, but I'm glad we've got to stick around a couple of days. I need to recover from three days in Barcelona." "More like three nights if I know you" Sebring said, smiling. "You're right, it took Albert two days to track me down. I wasn't planning on making this trip." "Well, we're glad to have you my friend" Sebring said as the two turned to head towards the cottage.
"Here we are then," Jonathan said to Laura, gesturing to the cottage. "Cottage" was a rather humble characterization. It was actually quite large, spreading out over 8,000 square feet. It had been built as a retreat by Ameil Houte, a 1930's California oil baron and it very much looked the part. It was one of two he had built. The second was built some years later and was basically the fruit of an extortion from his second wife. She had so fallen in love with the "Cottage" on Aislado that it was at the top of the list of demands that must be met before she would agree to a divorce. Given that his fortune was forged from businesses that were in some corners (particularly government corners) considered as being "extra-legal," he knew it was to his benefit to solve this problem without a great deal of publicity. He therefore agreed to give her the "Cottage" and decided to build an identical one for himself on an island about 175 miles away called El volcán. Laura looked at the cottage and thought to herself that it looked both out of place and a natural fit at the same time, with a red ceramic tiled roof that seemed more appropriate for a Tuscan villa and windows big enough that they almost blurred the line between inside and out.
Standing there looking at the cottage Laura was sure she would enjoy her brief stay in paradise. Unfortunately, in her haste she hadn't remembered to re-repack her bag and so everything she had was more appropriate for slopes covered with white snow than beaches made of white sand. Fortunately however the room in which she was staying had a few clothes that were appropriate for the climate. She was a little surprised that there were a couple of drawers full of women's clothes but she was happy they were there. She tried a couple of things on until she found something that fit. "Good" she said as she nodded to herself in the mirror.
Later that evening at dinner Laura explained to Jonathan and Sebring that they were going to La Playa Arena for a treatment it was hoped would repair Jonathan's immune system. Both were overwhelmed when she told them that the doctors expected that within six months Jonathan's immune system would be functioning normally and that he would be able to go anywhere. She found she had to consciously keep herself from mentioning Alexander's name a couple of times because it seemed so integral to the reason she was there. But as Albert had said that Jonathan didn't know anything about Alex, she didn't want to end up in the middle of a discussion she knew nothing about. She still thought it was a little strange however. After dinner Laura was not sure who was more full of questions; her, being interested in the life of a young man who had never been off his small island, or him, as Laura was the first woman he had ever met who was not either sticking him with a needle or providing him with something far more pleasurable. Laura was dumbstruck when Jonathan casually mentioned Maria and the other young women who had visited him on the island. Frankly, after reading his biography on the plane she almost expected that he had never met anyone in his life but doctors. In an almost puzzling way she found it fascinating that someone brought up without the standard Western mores looked at sex in such a fundamentally biological way, without even a hint of judgment for either himself or the women who had been brought to visit him. Not that he didn't express some kind of feelings for the young ladies, because he did, particularly Maria, but there was a lack of an understanding that sex occurs most often in the context of an emotional relationship. The fact that such relationships did not exist for him, and that he didn't seem to understand that something might be missing made it clear to Laura that Jonathan did not grasp the truly unique nature of his situation. Nonetheless, as they talked and talked and talked she was amazed by his gentleness, his depth and his passion for ideas. It surprised her to admit to herself that she had somehow expected his growing up almost alone on this island would have caused him to be a beast. She was sure she couldn't have been more wrong if she tried to argue that the earth was flay.
In addition to being a physical god, he was also as well read as anyone she had ever known. The house had a library that would have put many schools to shame. And Jonathan had read most of the books in it. While he was very well read, he did not have a particularly firm grasp on the wonders of the latter half of the 20th century. This paradise was an island in more ways than one. While he read voraciously, he had never seen a television set, never been in a car and had never used a computer. He was not ignorant that such things existed, they simply did not exist on his island. Frankly, having never experienced them he had no notion that he was missing things that seemed so important in the rest of the world. The more Laura discovered about Jonathan, the more she became confused about Alexander. Why did he buy this island with this lavish house for his son, and then never visit him? Never. Nor have a single bit of contact with him? Particularly since Alexander had sufficient resources even twenty years ago to provide him with an appropriately sterile environment anywhere he might have wanted to. And now, with Alex in such bad shape, why was it so important for him to meet Jonathan to meet him now? Was he really trying to make up for a lifetime of neglect or had he, a self-proclaimed atheist finally found God? Then there was the question of why didn't Jonathan know about Alexander? Frankly, Laura was fairly sure there must have been more to this story than she was being told, but she couldn't put her finger on it. There were too many questions and this was probably not the right time to play Sherlock Holmes.
The next morning after breakfast Jonathan promised to show Laura around the island. She was amazed by its beauty. The sunrise was beyond a doubt the most beautiful she had ever seen. With braided hues of purple and orange hiding behind and then bursting through the reeds of clouds, it was like a Jackson Pollock canvas come to life. Jonathan spent the morning showing her his world. The mountain at the center of the island was in reality a long dormant volcano, standing watch over that which it had spawned above the waterline. Wonderful fruits such as coconuts, mangos and pomegranates were ubiquitous and there seemed to be a million different kinds of plants and flowers, most of which she had never seen.
They returned to the cottage for a lunch of rice and crab just before noon. Laura decided she needed to lay down and rest as Paradise could be exhausting, particularly given that she had been flying for most of the last two days. After a couple of hours of sleep in the lazy warmth of the day, Sebring told Laura that she could find Jonathan in the open air gym that lay about 500 feet from the house. Although her approach was almost silent, it was not intentional. She subconsciously slowed her steps as she arrived, not able to make out the rustling sound that grew louder as she approached. When she arrived at the edge of the gym she stood for an unknown number of minutes, compelled with fascination watching the most beautiful male body she had ever seen. Jonathan, oblivious to her presence, was doing stretching and balancing exercises as if he had been drawn from the ranks of Cirque du Soleil. As he moved effortlessly across the mat in the middle of the room Laura could not help but notice the rippling muscles of his chest, back and arms. It very much reminded her of a time when she was a little girl and would visit one of her uncles at his ranch in Texas. She would watch her aunt's thoroughbred walk around their corral. It was as if God had finally found the perfect combination of beauty, strength and grace and poured them all into that majestic animal. Although he was rarely in the winner's circle at the racetrack, for Laura that horse was as most perfect example of the beauty of nature she had ever seen. Until now.
While it was immediately obvious that Jonathan was in good shape from the moment he met her at the airstrip, she had no idea how good until now. Wearing only a pair of knee length cotton pants, his upper body was exposed for all of its breathtaking beauty. As she stood admiring his demonstration, she couldn't help but feel like she was 15 again. As her sandal slipped from her bent left leg, it hit the floor with a crash whose effect was far greater than the sound that it actually made. Immediately Jonathan stopped and looked at her. Flustered and startled by the sound of her own shoe, Laura felt like a girl caught staring at the boy across the room with a pencil in her mouth. Jonathan smiled and beckoned her to come into the room. Room of course being a relative concept; in this case the room was in reality a thatch roof over a 1000 sq. ft. floor. The construction was actually masterful, with four posts on each side supporting the roof without a weight-bearing pole in sight. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you." "No, no, please come in, " he said, waving again for her to come in. "You're very good," she said. "That is a style of Chinese Kenpo Kata is it not?" she asked. Much in the way a play can be interpreted differently by different directors, in martial arts most instructors introduce unique elements into their katas, which are structured sequences of movements intended to train specific actions or reactions and improve coordination and discipline. Elements can be added or subtracted depending on the training objective, but typically the fundamental building blocks remain the same. Many of the elements she had just watched Jonathan execute she had never seen in twenty years of studying, but she was certain it was Kenpo. "Actually it is" Jonathan said. Although I must admit I have mixed things from other disciplines. Sebring requires me to practice them separately, but when I'm alone I mix them." "Well, they work well together." "Do you study?" he asked, referring to the martial arts. "Yes, but I must admit I have not done much working out for the last couple of years." "Well" he said with a wry smile, "you look like you're in pretty good shape to me." Realizing that she was almost blushing, Laura sputtered out "Thank you." Wanting to quickly change the subject before she turned completely red, she said "You promised to take me to the lagoon this afternoon." "Yes I did. Would you like to go now? "I'd love to" she said. He grabbed his shirt and they were off.
As they approached the lagoon Laura was mesmerized. Lying at the base of small waterfall that was the result of a unique freshwater spring, it shimmered like a pool with a mirror on its bottom. "Breathtaking" she said. "Wait till you get to the top" Jonathan said as he bounded up the side of the rocks until he was standing atop the ledge where the waterfall began. The ledge was not high, only about 15 feet above the surface but its view was spectacular…. Standing at the top like a master surveying his land, Jonathan reached out to give Laura a hand up. She looked at him with a feigned disgust as she climbed up next to him and smiled. "You were right, this is spectacular. How deep is the water down there?" she said as she pointed to the crystal clear water directly below them. The bottom of the lagoon was like the optical illusion one sees when flying above clouds, where they seem so close but you really have no idea how far away they really are. She could see the sandy ridges on the bottom, but from the ledge she couldn't tell if the water was 10-ft or 50-ft deep. "I'm not sure." Jonathan said "I'll find out" He looked over at Laura and smiled and suddenly arched forward into a perfect dive, right into the glistening water below. Startled, Laura followed his path until he hit the water. She thought it could not have been more perfect had he been competing in Acapulco. She stared at the rippling water, unable to see exactly where he had gone. "I'd say about twenty feet" she heard him say. She looked up and he had surfaced in the middle of the lagoon beyond the spray of the waterfall. "I'm not certain though, you might want to check for yourself," he said with a smile as he treaded water.
After some feigned hesitancy Laura dove in herself. She knew it was probably not the best dive of her life but in this particular case function was more important than form. She swam down to the bottom and ran her fingers through the sand and let it fall through her fingers. She then looked towards the surface and could see Jonathan's silhouette against the afternoon sky. The water was crystal clear. She swam along the bottom of the lagoon until it she was behind him. She surfaced about ten feet behind him and announced with no clue of what the truth was "Actually, I think it is closer to twenty one feet." "Really?" he said as he slowly spun himself around to face her. "Yea, I think your gauge is a little off," she said. "Well, I don't know about that," he said as he kicked his legs slightly so that he was moving slowly towards her. "I think maybe its your gauge that's a little off" he continued. Laura began moving away from him, but she made sure that she was moving more slowly away than he was approaching. Soon enough the distance between them shrank until Jonathan was close enough to reach out and pull her close. Laura knew that this might not be the smartest thing she had ever done career-wise, but it felt more right than anything she had done in the last twenty years.
After an afternoon of passion at the bottom of the waterfall, Jonathan took Laura to watch the most brilliant sunset she was sure had ever existed. Suddenly, like a schoolgirl, she was imagining all of the possibilities that existed once Jonathan's treatment was complete. Not that she would have minded for a second staying on the island with him forever, but she knew that there were so many things in the world to show him that she couldn't wait to get started. She knew it was ridiculous to let her mind wander like that, after just a day, but she couldn't bring herself to reign it in. What would Alexander think? She still thought it was very unusual that he had never seen his son, but the simple fact that he had spent as much money over such a period of two decades keeping him on this very well appointed island meant that he must have some expectations for him. She decided that Alexander must not know anything about this. As they began to leave the lagoon, Laura grabbed Jonathan's hand. "Sweetheart" she heard herself say instinctively, which struck her as odd, both because it felt so appropriate and because she had not used the word in longer than she could remember. Turning towards her, Jonathan said "Yes?" knowing that she was using a term of endearment, although he had never heard the word before. "We can't tell anyone about this" she said in a sweeping motion back towards the lagoon, suggestive of what had just happened between them." "Why…" Jonathan started to say. Putting her finger to his lips, she shook her head and said "Not Sebring, not Jack, not anyone on La Playa Arena. Not for a while at least. Honestly, I don't exactly know why myself but I just have a feeling that she shouldn't mention anything." She held both his hands now and asked "OK?" "OK" he said with a smile as he leaned down to give her another kiss. They stood there wrapped around one another for what seemed like forever, but in a good way. If that's what she wants, then she would get no argument from him.
When they arrived back at the compound, arrangements were already being made for the next day's trip. Jack would fly Laura and Jonathan out in the afternoon after the storm had safely passed La Playa Arena. They would leave at about two. Sebring would stay on Aislado until Tuesday when Jack returned to pick him up and bring him over. Sebring would have liked to travel with Jonathan and Laura but needed to stay because Albert was having some medical equipment brought to the island. Once he returned home, Jonathan would need a great deal of monitoring to evaluate the procedure's progress. As Aislado did not have the appropriate machines, they were being delivered on Monday. Albert was having a full diagnostic laboratory sent in and set up. They were getting a blood analysis machine, a refractomerer, a molecular microscope, a centrifuge and a number of other machines. In addition to the equipment itself, Albert was having a satellite data transmitter installed so that the data could be sent back to La Playa Arena for real-time analysis. Albert needed Sebring there to instruct the installation crew as to where he wanted the equipment placed. A technician would be arriving with the installation team to ensure that everything was in working order before everyone left. Once Jonathan returned to Aislado, a doctor and a technician would come to the island every other week to run the tests and evaluate his progress. After two months they should be able to make a determination as to whether or not the procedure was going to be a success. If the data indicated Jonathan's immune system was not making progress at that point there were a number of options that could be pursued, but Albert had said that everyone involved was confident it was going to be successful.
This was going to be the first time Jonathan had been off the island for as long as he could remember. He was not enthusiastic about leaving Sebring behind but knowing that he was to follow in a couple of days gave him some relief. Jonathan would be on La Playa Arena for about a week before he returned to Aislado. Although the treatment was expected to be complete at that point, he had been told that it would have to remain on the island for six months to ensure that if it was unsuccessful or took longer than expected for his immune system to get to full strength, he would be in no danger. Once his system was pronounced healthy, it would be safe for him to leave. Once he was cleared to leave, he could go anywhere he wanted and he planned on visiting all of those places he had read about. Although he didn't mention it to her or anyone else at the table, more than anything he wanted Laura to share those experiences with him.
Later that night, after everyone had said goodnight and gone to bed, Jonathan went over to Laura's room, which was almost it's own separate bungalow on the other side of the pool, connected to the cottage by semi-open air hallway. Although she had expected him, she had nodded off to sleep. He stood there marveling at her as she lay there so still. The sheet traced the outline of her shape like sand on a body that had been rolling in the surf. Lying halfway on her side and halfway on her stomach, her silhouette was like dunes on the beach that flowed with subtle grace. He crawled onto the bed next to her and slowly pulled the sheet away. Inch by inch as he pulled the sheet down the length of her body a little bit more of her nearly perfect body came into his view. Laura had always kept herself in great shape and Jonathan could not take his eyes off her. Between martial arts and swimming she would have been hard pressed to be in better shape had she been a professional athlete, yet she remained unmistakably feminine. When the sheet was finally gone Jonathan couldn't help himself. One hand started at her neck and the other at her feet and he lightly covered every contour and curve in between. Feeling a chill from both the light breeze and Jonathan's touch Laura awoke and rolled onto her back to face him as he sat on the bed looking down at her. Smiling, she closed her eyes as Jonathan left no part of her body untouched.
While he had been with other women since Maria had first come to visit him, Jonathan had never known this powerful feeling which now overtook him. Although he had known Laura only for a day and a half, he felt like he had somehow been raised to be in her arms. Just laying there as he was, wrapped around her, he felt as if she knew everything his mind was thinking. Making love to her was so far beyond the pleasure of anything he had ever experienced, it almost made every other experience in his life seem like a mirage. He didn't know how, but he knew that he wanted to be with her more than he had wanted anything in the world, and he was going to figure out a way for that to happen, regardless of how successful this treatment might be. At some point he drifted off to sleep with Laura's hair covering his face like a wonderful sleeping mask.
Waking a little after midnight, Laura was sure she was crazy. Here she was, letting her mind wonder and wander down paths that had suddenly emerged from a chaotic situation driven by this Adonis in whose arms she was now lying. It was crazy on so many levels. At forty-two she was more than twice his age. Although he was as well read and as smart as anyone she had ever met, he was still like a babe in the woods. Everything he knew about the world had come from books or stories, and there was so much he would have to explore. Yes, she would love to show him the world but wouldn't he want to explore it on his own? Adding to the confusion is the strange relationship or lack thereof, between he and his father. Jonathan obviously meant enough to Alexander to cause him to support him in a rather unusual and expensive way for twenty years, and now, despite their never meeting before, Alexander wanted to see him right now when he might be near death himself. It didn't make a great deal of sense, but she knew that things didn't always make sense, particularly with someone as enigmatic and reticent as Alex. She remembered the time his Goddaughter Linda came to Paris for vacation. He had assistants running around for three weeks planning the visit and making sure that everything would be perfect. Then, when she finally arrived, he barely spoke to her and spent less than half a day with her over the entire two-week period. She ended up seeing everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre and the chateau at Fontainebleau, which was right around the corner from South Centre, with various assistants and their families.
Laura knew she couldn't figure all of this out right now, and besides all she
wanted to do was to relax in the Jonathan's arms. She was going to enjoy this
moment and would think about tomorrow, tomorrow. She turned to face the sleeping
Jonathan and she was sure that if there were indeed such things as angels, she
was wrapped up in the arms of one right now. As she pulled him closer he awoke.
He looked down at her auburn hair and was amazed at the way it seemed to almost
glow in the light of the moon. He pulled her on top of him and kissed her breast
as he ran his fingers through her hair. Soon sweat covered their bodies and it
was hard to tell where one stopped and the other started. Finally Laura slumped
down on his chest as they clung to one another as their hearts beat in an almost
perfect unison. They fell asleep wrapped together as one, from their clasped
hands to their intertwined legs and everything in between. They fit together
like the final two pieces of a puzzle that only matched one another and in doing
so the universe was made whole.
The journey begins
When Laura woke just before dawn Jonathan was already gone. He left because she had been so adamant that Jack and Sebring not know about them. He didn't understand her concerns but he respected them. (Although Jonathan knew that nothing escaped Sebring on the island.) Besides, he knew it was going to be a very exciting day and nothing allowed him to calm down and think like swimming. He went out and swam as hard as he could remember swimming. He could tell however that he was not moving nearly as fast as the burn in his arms would have suggested. He had exhausted a great deal of his energy over the last 24 hours and as a result, even though he felt like he was pushing harder than usual, in reality he was essentially moving at his normal pace. Nonetheless, it was a fatigue that he very much liked and he couldn't wait for again. He wasn't sure when or where or how, but he knew he wanted them to be together again. Soon. He thought to himself, despite Laura's concern about anyone knowing, he knew it was a matter of when they would be together again, not if.
After a morning spent talking with Sebring and Jonathan about everything from where the lab was going to be set up to what were the tastiest fruits on the island, the storm had finally cleared over La Playa Arena and it was time to leave. As she was walking to the plane Laura looked up and Jonathan was standing on the plane's bottom step. Jack was already onboard. He turned on the engine and a startled Jonathan jumped from where he had been standing, pretending to be a conquering hero standing on his prize. Suddenly he didn't feel so much like a hero, conquering or otherwise. He knew he had been on a plane once before, when he was brought to the island as a baby, but that did not seem to provide a great deal of comfort eighteen years later when the only transportation he could remember was walking. Sebring hugged him and said that everything would be OK. "You'll be just fine and I'll see you on Tuesday." Both men's eyes were beginning to glisten, and neither would have dared to wipe away a tear so both were glad that no tears actually formed. Shaking Laura's hand with a knowing smile, he said "Take care of him Laura." "I will. I promise." she said as she leaned over and kissed Sebring on the cheek. He blushed. She then turned and followed Jonathan into the plane and pulled the door closed behind her. Suddenly the cockpit door opened and Jack walked out. "Are we ready here?" he asked. "Just about, I think" Laura said as she pointed to the seat on the left near the window. "Jonathan, you sit there." "I'll sit right next to you." "Jonathan, don't worry, I'll get you there safely" Jack said. "There is nothing to be afraid of, I've made this trip probably a hundred times since they brought you here" he added, smiling at Jonathan. Jonathan, who was more nervous than he thought he would be, gave a half smile in return. "I know you will Jack, thanks" he said as Jack went back into the cockpit and closed the door behind him. "We lift off in two minutes," he said before he closed the door. Laura grasped Jonathan's hand and told him that it was fine and led him to his seat. He leaned over and peered out the window at Sebring and waved. As he sat down, he picked up the pieces of the seat belt and had no idea what they were. "Here" she said, "that's the seat belt and it goes together like this" as she snapped it into place, making sure it was loose enough so that it would not be too unsettling. She reminded him that flying was one of the safest forms of transportation in the world and told him that she had been on hundreds or perhaps even thousands of flights herself. She also reminded him that he had knew a great deal about the laws of aerodynamics and that the principles of the science were sound. He took a breath and smiled. He knew everything she said was true, and he had to admit it calmed him down somewhat. He didn't particularly like the smallness of the plane, but he knew that it was the only way to his future and he needed to do this. He looked at her as she clasped his hand. Laura turned to make sure that the cockpit door was closed and she leaned over and kissed him on the lips. He closed his eyes and was enveloped in her momentary sanctuary. It was all too fleeting as the plane started to move.
At first Jonathan felt as if he was going to be swallowed into the seat as the plane picked up speed and began to lift off from the airstrip. For a moment he felt immobilized, unable to move from his seat. As the plane ascended he found himself leaning forward, looking out the window to follow the shoreline of Aislado as it at first rushed by then simply began to vanish in the distance. He was amazed by the compound he lived in his whole life. He had spent his almost his entire life there and could walk the entire thing from one side to the other with his eyes closed. Nonetheless, he found it fascinating that he had never realized what its actual shape was. From above he could tell that it was a letter H. The H no doubt stood for Houte. Ameil Houte. The California oil baron who had built the compound some time in the 1930s. "Ameil Houte?" Jonathan said to himself. Why did he know that name? It had never been in any book he had read, and he was sure that he had never seen a picture of him. Then suddenly he remembered a conversation he had with Sebring when he was about 14 years old. Now that he looked back on it he remembers it was one of the most enlightening conversations of his life. He and Sebring had been walking on the beach one evening as they so often did. Jonathan would typically pepper Sebring with questions about places he'd been or people he'd known or things he had done. Jonathan was always rapt with attention. Sebring's words could paint a picture more evocative than any book he'd ever read. His stories of women, wine and gambling in Hong Kong always brought a smile to Jonathan's face. Sebring had grown up the youngest son of a Chinese family who built their fortune as trade brokers on the Portuguese island of Macau the early part of the 20th century. As a young man Sebring Loi was certain he had done and experienced just about everything one could experience in this world. By the time he was 23 his family's fortune was gone, his father having backed the wrong horse in the battle for mainland China. After being taken from the highest economic rung in society to the lowest, Sebring was at a loss to find his way. Unfortunately it was a false bottom. Things would get worse. Three months after Mao Tse Sung succeeded in causing Chang Kai Shek's forces to retreat to Taiwan, Sebring's father and mother and his two brothers were captured by the Red Army in the harbor town of Gaungzaou where the family had owned an estate. Living as they were at the time on Macau, they had bribed an entrepreneurial sergeant from the Red Army to escort them to their estate so they could gather some belongings and then guide them back to the still Portuguese controlled island. After removing as many items as their wagon could hold they were ready to leave. As the family waited for their escort, a company of Red Army soldiers approached from an intersection ahead. They had been deployed to stop the looting of formally capitalist property that had now been rightfully returned to the state. As Sebring's father looked around nervously for the sergeant he had bribed, he was nowhere to be found. He was actually back in the house, which in reality resembled a palace, gulping down what was left in a bottle of French brandy and stuffing his pockets with Cuban cigars. Just before he opened the door to rejoin the Loi family, he heard a commotion. He realized he was supposed to be outside but he stopped to peer out the window. As he approached the door and looked out its small diamond shaped windows, he knew he was too late. Sebring's father kept telling the captain they were merely working for a sergeant who had orders to bring these goods to the home of the local party secretary, but the explanation was in vain. "Go ahead, look in the house" Sebring's father told the young captain who could not have been more than 20 years old. "He's in there right now making sure there is nothing else the secretary would like." They had worked out a plan that if they were caught the sergeant would simply say that they were transporting goods to the home of the local party secretary. While the idea of property that formerly filled the homes of the capitalist exploiters being brought to the home of a Communist party leader might have sounded disingenuous and ludicrous, in reality, many party chief's homes were filled with furniture, jewelry and art that had formerly adorned the homes of the hated capitalists. In what must have been the ultimate irony, the homes themselves were often taken over and became residences of those who spent their days spewing invective against the very people who built them.
The sergeant, realizing that his breath smelled of brandy and his pockets were filled with contraband cigars, became frightened. He was certain that the captain would not believe him and he knew that the penalty for helping any of the profiteers who had savaged the country under Chang Kai Shek was execution. Inconspicuously peering out the window he saw the soldiers coming toward the door. He looked at Sebring's parents and could see the anxiousness on their face. For a brief moment he thought he might be able to convince the captain, but the thought was fleeting and gone in a split second. Knowing that he could not pull it off, he decided to run. He turned and ran through the formal dining room, which led out to a large patio in the back. Beyond the patio was a small sloping meadow that stretched out to a line of trees. Almost crashing through a glass door he didn't see, the sergeant quickly opened the door and rushed out, quietly closing it behind him. Running with all the might he could muster he covered the 200 meters in what he was sure would have been a record in any Olympics. Reaching the treeline he quickly ducked behind one of the trees. Slowly he gathered up the courage to look. He peered around the tree and could see the two soldiers standing on the patio looking about. He had reached the treeline just before they entered the dining room and had they actually been looking out the window when they entered the doorway they would have seen him leaping for cover. As it was, they were too fascinated by the giant mirrors and the gold cornices to notice. When they finally did examine the treeline there was nothing to see. As they walked out on the patio the younger of the two stopped, thinking he might have seen something in the grass beyond. He approached the end of the patio and the flash of light seemed to disappear. He stared for a moment and then decided it was nothing. In reality the nothing he saw was the reflection of the setting sun off of the gold label on one of the cigars the sergeant had dropped as he was running. Because of the angle of the sun the frightened sergeant could clearly see that he had dropped at least half a dozen of the cigars, but most of them were hidden in the unkempt grass. Holding his breath as the soldier stared out towards the treeline, the sergeant finally exhaled as the soldier stopped and the pair of them walked back into the house. Sweating, with his heart beating faster than he had ever known, he leaned back against the tree and slid to the ground. As he sat there he began to sob uncontrollably, knowing that he had just sentenced the Loi family to death. Shortly after the soldiers reported finding no one in the house Sebring's parents and brothers were ordered to stand with their hands behind their backs and face the gate at the front of the estate they had been preparing to move into for much of the last two years. As she was standing there Mrs. Loi could only think of her son Sebring who had not made the trip. He had been picked up the night before in a Hong Kong brothel and would be spending the next six months in jail, having been accused by the son of a prominent publisher of cheating at cards. Although it became apparent in less than a week that Sebring was innocent when his accuser was killed in the same brothel with five aces in his hand, his paperwork was somehow misplaced and it took him almost half a year to secure his own release when no help seemed to be forthcoming from outside. Upon returning home and finding no one there, Sebring could think nothing but the worst. He searched everywhere he could imagine in both Macau and Hong Kong and surreptitiously returned to his family's estate in Gaungzaou six months later. The homes were now occupied by party officials and no one had seen anything, or if they had they were not saying. Knowing that the family had planned to return to Gaungzaou the day after he was arrested, he was certain he knew what had happened. If not the details, certainly the outcome. He left with no more answers than he had when he embarked on his dangerous journey.
It was not until two years later that Sebring would know for certain what happened. A woman who had been a maid at a house down the road from his family's estate had escaped to Macau. She knocked on his door one Saturday afternoon. "Yes, can I help you" he said. "Are you Sebring Loi?" she asked. "I am" he responded as she stared into his eyes. As soon as he responded her eyes closed and her hands fell to her sides as her head dropped and she began to cry. Sebring stood there watching this woman he had never laid eyes on before then stepped towards her. "Ma'am" he started, unsure of what to do "Is everything OK?" As soon as he heard the words escape his lips he felt like an idiot, as it was obvious that things could not be OK. "Is there something I can do for you?" She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. She slowly reached out for his hand. "No, it is what I can do for you. I promised your mother I would give this to you" she said as she held out a small onyx locket his grandmother had handed down to his mother. Staggered, Sebring leaned against the doorway with one hand and grasped the woman's hand with the other. "Where is she? Is she OK?" Now the woman began to sob even louder and shook her head as she looked down. "No, I'm afraid she is not." Although he had long imagined something terrible had occurred, he had always hoped against hope that he was wrong. Now there was going to be no escaping the reality of it as he stared at his mother's locket. As he steeled himself against the emotions that were rushing through him, Sebring asked the woman how she had come into possession of the locket. She told him that she had been cleaning the kitchen in a house down the street from his family's house in Gaungzaou when she heard the shots. There were four in all. After they fired the weapons the soldiers had simply walked away, knowing that locals would bury the bodies so that packs of scavenging dogs would not rip them to shreds. After the soldiers left, the woman was the first to the gate where the four bodies lay. All four had been shot in the back of the head. As she pondered the scene before her, the old woman shook her head and cried. How could they be so brutal? The Red Army's brutality was well understood, but it was one thing to imagine it on a battlefield or somewhere out of sight, and here looking at this it became sickening in a way she had never imagined. Although a clean shot to the back of the head almost universally meant instant death, as occurred with his father and two brothers, Sebring's mother survived for some time. Standing beside the bodies the old woman noticed that the woman on the ground was staring up at her nervously, with tears streaming down her face, mingling with the blood from the wound from the back of her head. Her mouth was moving, as if she was trying to say something. The old woman knelt down beside Sebring's mother. "Please…" she said as she stared up. "My… necklace… please take it." The old woman looked down at the golden necklace that had been hidden under Sebring's mother's shirt but now was sitting above the collar. "Please take it to my son, Sebring Loi." Her words were nothing over a whisper and the old woman could tell that there would not be many more. "Where?" asked the old woman. "Ma… Ma… Macau, Front Street" the dying woman said. "Please tell him what has happened…" As the life of Sebring's mother faded away, her eyes stared straight at the old woman kneeling next to her. Crying, the old woman reached down and closed Mr.s Loi's eyes and gently removed the necklace from around her neck. She placed the necklace and attached locket in her pocket. Later that afternoon a party from the neighborhood did exactly as the soldiers knew they would and buried the four behind the estate for which they had such grand dreams and in which they had spent so little time. The woman committed the name to memory, Sebring Loi. There were no doubt thousands of Lois in Macau, but probably not many with a European first name on Front Street. It took her almost two years before she was able to escape from the yoke of the Communist regime. Her son secured passage into Macau by bribing a merchant ship captain to allow them to hide in empty containers that had been used to ship fertilizer into China's southern provinces from Portugal through Macau. They spent three days in the container as it sat on a dock in Macau before the captain sent someone by to release them. After reuniting with family who lived on the island, it took her only a week to find the Loi house where she now stood before Sebring.
Sebring held the locket in his hand and stood looking at the old woman. As his hands were shaking she grasped them and said "I'm so sorry." "Thank you" he replied. "Thank you so very much, I'm not sure how many people would have kept that promise." Pulling himself together he asked the old woman "Is there anything I can give you for your trouble? I would be honored if you would allow me to give you something." "No, no" she replied "It was my honor to carry out your mother's request. Thank you nonetheless." With that the old woman turned and left and Sebring never saw her again. Finally he knew for certain that which he felt he had known since he was sent to jail. Now, as the brutal reality of what had occurred to his family set upon him, Sebring found himself suffused with feelings of guilt. If he had only been there. While in his head he knew that the only difference between the events as they occurred and how they might have been had he been there was that there would have been five corpses instead of four, it didn't assuage his feelings of guilt in having survived due in large part to his licentious behavior. Never having been much of a spiritual man, something seemed to come over him, which he could not explain. At that moment it became clear to him that he had been saved for a purpose. He had no idea what it was, but he knew there was something he was meant to do. Although he had nominally been a Buddhist his entire life, he now became a devout re-convert. After spending four years living on alms in a monastery on Macau's northern coast he decided his calling was not to be found on the island. He traveled to the Shaolin Temple in the Mainland's Honan Province; one of the wells from which both modern Buddhism and Chinese martial arts had sprung. Spending 25 years there he found both inner peace and physical discipline. On his fifty-fifth birthday he decided that the time had come for him to leave. There was something out there waiting for him and today was the day to go looking. He simply awoke one morning and left, saying nothing to anyone and leaving no notes. He traveled across China along the Silk Road, into India and Nepal where Buddha found enlightenment and on to the Mediterranean. Once there he traveled to Nazareth where some believe Christ returned after having traveled to India and met Buddha. After spending six months traveling throughout the Holy Lands, Sebring found himself in Beirut, which was at one time known as the Pearl of the Middle East, but now more closely resembled Eastern Europe in 1945. It was here that Sebring met the man who would change his life. That man's name was Albert…
A bit of turbulence jarred Jonathan back to the present. He quickly grabbed
Laura's hand and looked over at her. She smiled and put her other hand on his.
"Don't worry, it's just a bit of turbulence. It'll only last a few
seconds" she said. He smiled and looked back at the brilliant blue horizon
spread out below them. His mind started to return to his conversation with
Sebring but they began their descent and he once again found himself drawn back
to the present.
La Playa Arena
The flight was a little over an hour and surprisingly smooth given that they had to fly over the last remnants of the storm. It was early afternoon when they arrived. Robert Shipply, the chief of the security detachment was there with two stewards to meet the plane. "Hi Laura! Welcome to La Playa Arena" he said as Laura stepped off of the plane, followed by Jonathan. "Thanks Robert" she replied. She was his direct supervisor and the two knew each other well, having interacted with one another a number of times both at South Centre as well at other Alexander Resources locations. Robert took the two of them to the research compound in one of the facility's Range Rovers. Laura silently thanked whoever put the compound so close to the airstrip because if it had been much farther away she felt she might be forced to strangle Robert who could be annoyingly talkative.
For Jonathan, he enjoyed the ride as it was the second new form of transportation he had experienced that day. He looked around in amazement. La Playa Arena was much different than Aislado. There were many more buildings, there was no volcano in the middle of it and there were, it seemed to Jonathan, a thousand people were milling about, (in reality less than a dozen) most wearing clothes he had never seen. Laura had been in just about every Alexander Resources facility in the world and other than South Centre, this one was the easily the most impressive. Set approximately a hundred yards from a rocky bluff that lead to the ocean below, it had a brilliant white façade and a red tile roof that matched a thousand summer homes she had seen in The Algarve in Portugal. A properly uniform home in the Algarve included white walls, a blue pool, a patio and a red tile roof and this facility would have fit right in. As the Algarve was a favorite summer retreat of the British, Laura wondered if Albert had been the force behind the design. The interior was even more spectacular, with a foyer that would have been just as appropriate in four star hotel as it was here in this research facility. The entrance lead to a faux two story foyer where the second story was in reality simply door shaped windows that allowed in nothing but brilliant light. From the Foyer were six hallways, three on each side. The hallways on one side led to the small bedroom suites and various offices while on the other side the hallways led to the larger bedroom suites as well as the labs and offices. The third hallway on each side of the foyer led to either side of the pool, which was located beyond the meeting rooms and study, which were directly across the foyer from the entrance. Jonathan stood at the center of the foyer and looked around in awe…
Alex, Albert and David had arrived on earlier that morning. Alexander's progress had been amazing. In less than a week he had regained almost complete movement above his waist and could talk, albeit with a very gravely voice. Albert said that the doctors too were amazed by his progress and they were convinced that it was only because Alex kept himself in such tremendous shape. The biggest concern for doctors was his weak breathing which had persisted after the accident. It sounded strange, but he was lucky, in that the accident left him with a perfect spinal break and the cord itself was pinched just at the break, keeping the spinal fluid from leaking. That fortuitous fact is what allowed him to retain feeling and movement above the break, which was at the base of the spine. The important consequence of this "lucky" break was that his lungs and heart still functioned properly without outside assistance. He retained movement and feeling from the waist up, although sitting up caused him to grow tired quickly. Alex was taken to his bedroom to get some sleep and Albert immediately set about making arrangements for the planned events.
Robert showed Laura and Jonathan to their rooms down the hallway on the left where the smaller bedroom suites were located. Jonathan's room was halfway down one the left while Laura's was at the very end on the right . As soon as Robert said goodbye Laura left her room and went to Jonathan's. Sitting on the bed he looked up at her through the open door. He smiled pensively, like a child sitting alone in the classroom on the first day of school. He shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands "What now?" "I'm not sure" she replied. "Let me go and find out and I'll be right back." Looking at him sitting there rather uncomfortably, she added "Try and relax," knowing of course that he could do no such thing. She turned and went to look for Albert, whom she found in the study. He was standing behind a desk talking, but there was no one in the room. He saw her and waved her in, picking up the headset. He had been using the speakerphone but now he obviously didn't want her to hear both ends of the conversation. "No, don't you let those bastards see a single file until Laura and Franklin get there." He said as he smiled at her. "Got it?" He boomed into the phone not really wanting or expecting an answer. He got one nonetheless and said "Good! Now get them the hell out of that office." He hung up the phone. "Hi Laura" he said as he walked over and took her hand and kissed her on the cheek. "How is Jonathan?" he asked, "Pretty nervous?" he added, not waiting for a replay. "Well, he did fine on the plane and I think now he is just soaking in what's around." "How's Alex" she added. "He's fine, he's just resting."
Changing subjects she asked, "What was that all about?" referring to the conversation she had walked in on and in which her name had been mentioned. "Oh, that" he said, "that is unfortunately the reason I'm going to have to ask you to delay your vacation again." She tilted her head ever so slightly in a questioning manner. "I need you to return to Paris tomorrow. The wolves are circling." He explained that an emergency situation had arisen as it relates to the management of Alexander Resources. In light of Alex's accident there were a number of outside directors who were trying to make an end run on management. A number of years ago Alex had a paragraph inserted into the company bylaws stating that if the Chairman and CEO were ever incapacitated for over 72 hours, the vice chairman of the board would take control of the company until he was able to demonstrate his fitness for management. Now, the Vice Chairman has exercised that clause and says that he is running the company. The board has become very unhappy with Alex over the last few years because he's cut dividends at Acxisis." Laura nodded at the mention of Acxisis, Alexander Resources' publicly traded subsidiary that was, by law, majority owned by the foundations represented on the Alexander Resources board. Albert continued as Laura nodded her head in recognition of Acxisis. "As Alexander cut back dividends at Acxisis, the foundations felt the pinch to their bottom lines. Now, this is they want to take control and change the policy. If they succeed they could bleed billions of dollars from our research coffers within months." Laura was familiar with the renegade members of the board and the fact that they had tried to take over various elements of Alexander Resources on numerous occasions. Typically they did so by utilizing some obscure element of securities law in one country or another. While Alexander always admitted that the way he structured Alexander Resources board was one of the few mistakes he had ever made in business, he never worried about it because he was always in control.
Despite Albert's concerns for the boardroom chaos, Laura was taken aback by his request that she return so quickly and simply muttered "OK, no problem." That was a lie. It really was a problem, but she'd figure out how to deal with that later. If nothing else she could go and handle the situation in Paris and then tell Albert that she wanted to return to La Playa Arena for a formal security review. Putting those thoughts behind her she wanted to focus on Jonathan and Alex, although Albert was not done. "The boat carrying jet fuel should arrive around 10:00 tomorrow morning and you and Jack can leave soon thereafter," he said. "OK, no problem" she said again, hoping that Albert did not notice her trying to pacify him so that they could talk about what she wanted, Jonathan. "Now what's going on with Jonathan and Alex?" she asked. "Well, we will all have dinner tonight" he replied and then continued "and then tomorrow morning David will start Jonathan's physical." Albert was of course referring to David Smith, who had accompanied Alex and he from Paris. Laura knew he was on the island but had not yet run into him. Albert continued, "After the physical is done tomorrow or Tuesday, both Jonathan and Alex will start on a liquid diet for about three days. They can't have any solid foods for 72 hours before the transfusion begins. Sebring will arrive on Tuesday as well and the procedure should take place on Friday morning. While the transfusion will only take three hours, the drips will take another nine and the whole thing should be done in about twelve. Then both will have to rest for about three days and by next Tuesday both should be in good shape. Jonathan will stay here a couple more days and he should be back on Aislado by Friday or whenever the team feels he's ready he'll head back. Alex will probably return to Paris at about the same time.
She looked down at her watch, which said it was 6:00 PM and looked up to Albert. "What time is it here right now?" He looked at his watch and smiled, "You know, I don't even know, I'm still on Paris time." He picked up the phone and barked into the mouthpiece "What time is it." 7:00 the voice on the other end of the phone replied. "Thank you." he said before hanging the phone up. It's 7:00. We'll eat in fifteen minutes. I'll get Alex and you bring Jonathan and we'll meet next door in the dining room.
Laura went back to Jonathan's room. The door was still open and he was still sitting exactly as she had left him. "Are you ready?" she asked. Somewhat startled, he bolted to his feet and said "Sure." Realizing he wasn't sure what they were supposed to be doing the asked, "For what?" "We're going to have dinner with Alex and Albert," she said. "Do you know who he is?" she asked about Alex, knowing that he knew a little about Albert. "No, but I assume he has something to do with my being here, but I'm not sure." "Well, we're going to meet them now." She was flustered because she didn't know what to say about him, or really Albert for that matter. She didn't have enough time to go into details but she didn't want to leave him hanging. "Look," she said, "if everything isn't cleared up by the end of the night, I'll tell you everything." "OK?" she asked waiting for a nod from Jonathan. He nodded and she said "Good, it's time to go."
As they walked to the foyer they passed David Smith. "Hello Dr. Smith" Jonathan said as he passed. "Why hello Jonathan," he responded, "how are you feeling? It has been some time." "I'm good thank you" Jonathan replied, shaking the doctor's hand. "Yes, it has been a while. It's good to see a familiar face." Jonathan added. Although the last time he was there was approximately two years ago, David had come to the island probably a dozen times over the last twenty years as part of the teams that gave Jonathan his bi-annual checkups. Jonathan had always liked Dr. Smith, particularly as he had always brought him lollipops when he was a child. "You don't have any lollipops do you?" Jonathan said with a smile. "No, not today," David replied. Albert was coming down the hall, from behind Laura and Jonathan. He gave David a subtle nod, which David knew meant that he should leave. "Well, Jonathan, have a good dinner." he said abruptly and turned to leave, adding "You too Laura." Before Jonathan could ask him if he wanted to have dinner with them, David was around the corner and there was a booming "Hello, Jonathan" coming from behind him. "My name is Albert and it is nice to finally meet you. I'm an old friend of Sebring's." "Yes, he has mentioned you. It is nice to meet you as well." Gesturing towards the dining room located at the rear of the foyer, Albert said "Shall we have dinner?" As the three began to move towards the dining room Laura asked "Is Alex going to be joining us?" "No, I'm afraid he won't be. I just talked to him and he's not feeling very well. He sends his apologies but he's sure he will be feeling much better in the morning." Albert opened the glass door to the dining room that looked like it doubled as a conference room. Rather staid, it had a brilliant view of the ocean although at this hour there was not much light left to be seen over the horizon. The three sat down at the end of the enormous table that had been set for only three. As soon as they sat down a waiter clad in white walked in from the adjacent kitchen with three plates. The dinner was grilled mahi and rice. Albert wanted to make sure that nothing too rich or exotic was served, as he didn't want to upset Jonathan's relatively inexperienced digestive system. Throughout dinner Albert wanted to make small talk about the flight, the food and even the weather, practically everything except what Jonathan really wanted to talk about, which was how he came to be on that island at that time. Not that Jonathan asked any questions, because he didn't. He really didn't have a clue as to where to start. Finally, after dinner was over Albert asked Laura and Jonathan if they would like some dessert. "Well, if neither of you mind, I'm going to have a cigar and a brandy." Neither of course minded and the waiter brought out a bottle of Courvoisier VSOP and three snifters. "Shall we sit out on the terrace?" he asked as he gestured towards the doors leading outside. He opened the humidor next to the bar and reached in and pulled out a El Corojo, considered by some to be the best cigar in the world, from the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba. He sat down gesturing to the two chairs facing him as he lit his cigar. "Please, have a seat." Both Laura and Jonathan sat in the comfortable bamboo chairs, but neither one of them was particularly comfortable. After a few minutes of sitting in silence, Albert spoke up "Well, Jonathan, I know you probably have a million questions." Jonathan nodded his head. "Well, I'm not going to answer all of them tonight. I can tell you a few things however. Tomorrow you, Alex and I will sit down with our team of doctors and explain exactly what the situation is and what you should expect. The thing I want you to know more than anything else is that on our team we have collected literally the world's best doctors in their specific fields." Jonathan looked over at Laura and she nodded her head. They were indeed the best doctors in the world. She knew they were amongst the world's most sought after doctors and had been meeting annually for an Alexander Resources research symposium for over twenty years. Albert continued, "we will all sit down together and explain everything and answer any of your questions." "The only thing I'll tell you tonight is that you are indeed a lucky man. You have two of the best men I've ever met looking after you." He continued, "One is Sebring and the other is Alexander Cooke." "Did Sebring ever tell you how we met?" Nodding his head, Jonathan "It was in Beirut wasn't it?" "Indeed, it was, a little over twenty years ago. We met at the Church of St. John the Baptist. Beirut was a difficult place then. It was a far cry from its glory, but at the time it still had remnants of order, but they were being torn away, fast. You know, that is actually where your name came from." "Really?" Jonathan asked. He looked at Jonathan and nodded his head. "Really" Albert responded. "You were born about four months later. Alex, your father, didn't have a clue what to name you, and Sebring suggested Jonathan, after that magnificent church." "Like I said, I can't tell you everything, nor can I answer all of your questions, particularly the whys. I wouldn't feel comfortable answering those questions, but I'm certain that Alexander is prepared to answer all of them. But that is for tomorrow. Tonight I'll tell you a couple of things. The first, and perhaps most important thing is that you were the product of a passionate union between Alex and your mother Brooke. The two met twenty-two years ago in Australia when Alex had gone there to establish our Sydney research facility. Your mother was a beautiful woman, smart and charming. She was one of the doctors we were considering hiring to run the facility. The two began a whirlwind romance and were married three months after they met. They lived in Sydney and your mother became pregnant with you." Jonathan was riveted by all of this. He knew that his mother had died at childbirth, but he never knew much else. Sebring never wanted to talk about what ever became of Jonathan's family. In reality, Sebring could never bring himself to tell Jonathan about his family because of he despised Alex. Not for anything he had ever done to him, on the contrary, Alex had been completely polite and graceful the few times they had met. No, Sebring despised Alex for the way he treated his own son, Jonathan. Although Sebring could not have loved Jonathan any more if he had been from his own blood, he found it appalling that simply because his son had a disease that he would banish him to an island somewhere and never have any contact with him. Ever. Albert had said that it was because Alex could not take seeing Jonathan because he blamed him for Brooke's death. "I know" Albert would say "I know it's crazy, but you have to understand, Alex has this strange obsession with death and he wants nothing to do with it." "He's not abandoning him" Albert would go on, "he's giving him everything that he could need to eventually grow up safely, and he is spending millions of dollars to find a cure." "Sebring" Albert would say so often "give the man a break, he simply can't bring himself to look at Brooke's death in the face, and that is what he saw when he looked at Jonathan." Sebring never believed that, but he would always let the subject drop if it came up.
Albert continued speaking to Jonathan, "Sebring never told you any of this because he was afraid you would feel somehow responsible for your mother's death, which you weren't. She went into shock. There was nothing anyone could have done." Jonathan sat with his head in his hands. He was not crying, but he felt a very strange feeling of exhaustion. "I'm sorry about all of this Jonathan. I realize this is probably not the best time in the world for you to hear something like this, but in all honesty, there would likely never have been a good time. Alexander will talk with you tomorrow and explain everything. I know this must be very strange for you, but you have to believe me, everything from Sebring to the bi-annual physicals to the women were done with only one thought in mind, what was best for you. It may seem very strange now, but I promise, in time it will all make much more sense." Albert stood up and put his hand on Jonathan's shoulder. "Jonathan, the world holds wonders you've never imagined were possible and everything it has to offer will be yours for the taking in six months. You will finally be able to visit all of those places that Sebring has told you about. There will be nothing you can't do, there will be no place you can't go once you are healthy. I hope you will find it in your heart to give Alex a chance to make up for the time he now realizes he's missed." Jonathan looked up at Albert and nodded his head without saying anything. Albert looked at his watch, which read 9:45 and said "I know this has been a very hectic day." "I don't know about the two of you but I'm on my way to bed. I'll see you in the morning." He walked to the door and turned around, "Laura, the fuel is scheduled to arrive earlier than expected so Jack thinks you can take off around 9 AM. Have a good night." He then turned back around and walked through he door, never noticing the startled look on Jonathan's face at the news that Laura would be leaving in the morning. Jonathan looked over at Laura and she raised her finger near her mouth and shook her head, signaling that he should not say anything. Laura then suddenly got to her feet and rushed to the door. Pulling it open she said "Albert." He turned. "I want to check a couple of things online before I go to bed. Is there a computer with Internet access I can use?" Albert thought for a moment and replied "Yes, I think the one in the secretary's office is online. I'll tell the guard, he'll show you the way." "Thank you" she said, closing the door. She turned and Jonathan was staring at her. "What does he mean you have a flight to catch in the morning?" "There's a mutiny going on in the Alexander Resources boardroom and I have to go and sort things out. I'm leaving for Paris in the morning. As soon as I get that straightened out I will be back I promise. I hope that I can be back by Friday or Saturday, but I just don't know." She walked around behind him so that he was between her and the window. Looking out into the foyer to make sure that Albert was not coming back she put her hands on his shoulder and neck. "Sweetheart, you will be fine. Like Albert said, they have some great doctors here to take care of you. I know David, he is probably the best neurologist in the world," she said as she massaged his neck. "Besides, Sebring will be here on Tuesday." He reached up and held her hands tightly to his neck and closed his eyes. He didn't want her to go. He didn't want her to go tonight. He stood up and turned to look at her. He clasped her face in his hands. "Will you stay with me tonight?" he asked. She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly "I don't know, I'm not sure it's such a good idea with everyone walking around and the security guard sitting right off the hallway." She still couldn't figure out why, but she simply knew that it was a bad idea to let on that there was something between them. He looked at her and said, "I don't care about any of that. I care about you." "I know" she said, "I feel the same way but we have to be practical. Until we know when I'll be getting back, I don't want to upset the apple cart." He looked at her quizzically at the reference. "There are a lot of things going on right now and I don't want to mess anything up." "All right then" he said, "but I want to see you first thing in the morning." He added, "You know, I'm actually a little more tired than I thought I would be." "Well, given the day you've had, that doesn't surprise me," said Laura. As they approached the door, Laura stopped Jonathan in front of that part of the wall that sat between the door and the panel window. Certain that no one could see them, she turned toward Jonathan and whispered, "I want you to know that there is no place in the world I would rather be tonight than right beside you." He smiled as his heart jumped at the sentiments that mirrored his own. "I'll try and get there, but don't wait for me." With that she opened the door. As they walked through the foyer, they were so close the backs of their hands kept brushing against one another, but neither one grasped the other. Laura was being very cautious; she didn't want anyone to see them holding hands or exchanging any kind of affection. They stopped at the guard's desk. Laura reached out squeezed one of Jonathan's hands in a supportive rather than romantic way. "Well Jonathan" she said, "I know you've had a rather chaotic day so I'm sure you won't have much difficulty getting to sleep." "Thanks Laura, I appreciate all of the help" he replied, understanding the sudden formality was for the benefit of the guard on duty. He turned and went to his room.
Laura turned to the guard. "Hi, I'm Laura" she said, extending her hand but not really interested in making small talk "Albert mentioned there was a secretary's office around here where I could get on the Internet. Can you tell me where it is please?" "Yes ma'am, it is down that hallway there," he said, pointing to the hallway on the other side of the foyer from the one Jonathan had just walked down. "It is the second door on the right. Albert had me to open it for you so you can just walk right in." "Thank you" she said as she started down the hallway.
At a minimum she needed a copy of the bylaws, but what she really wanted was to get some news about exactly what the hell was going on back there. She knew that anybody in Paris would be loath to talk on the phone about what was going because one never knew who was listening. But she figured they would be far more open to discussing the problems via Instant Message, which was silent. She logged into her IM account and tried to find a couple of people. No one was online. She looked at her watch, which read 10:00. She realized it was lunchtime in Paris and there would be no one to get hold of for at least an hour. The next thing she did was to remotely log into her personal server at the office and pull up a copy of the company by-laws. It took her a couple of minutes because the security system she had installed utilized the 1024-bit encryption, the most powerful encryption offering available. It was almost as secure as storing the company's records on the moon, but a lot more accessible. She printed the bylaws and started to go over them. After three times losing her place she realized she could not concentrate on that oblique language right now. There was way too much going on and she was too tired. She decided to play a game of solitaire and waste some time while until someone showed up on her IM Buddy List. As she stared at the computer's brilliant monitor she wondered how the hell they had gotten a 19-inch flat panel here at the end of the earth while she still had a box like 17-inch CRT monitor on her desk. She quickly realized that she spends so little time at her desk that she barely sees it anyway. She looked around for a solitaire icon but couldn't find one. Lots of companies removed the icon so employees would not be tempted to waste hours a day playing the highly addictive game. She decided to search for the Games folder in the computer's file listing. She typed in 'Games' at the Search prompt and hit enter. The fast machine returned the results in a split second. "Damn" she said, there wasn't a Games folder, which meant that the game had likely been removed. There was a folder with Games in the name, but it was called Monkey Games. She decided that she would simply search for a solitaire file. Often times the game folder was deleted but the individual games remained. She typed 'solitaire' in the Search box and hit enter once more. Again, nothing. "Damn" she said as she looked at her watch. It was only 10:15, which meant that there was obviously still no one at the office with whom she could talk. Suddenly she remembered that she would have to cancel the new reservations she had made for the Hotel de la Paix on the way to the airport. As the taxi was taking her to Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris, she had called the hotel and told them that she was not going to be arriving as scheduled. She had them push back the reservation for a week. Now she was obviously not going to make that either. As a frequent and very much appreciated guest of the Hotel de la Paix (particularly by the staff) Laura was allowed to make reservations or cancel them at anytime, even online at the hotel's website. Typically she simply logged onto their site and left a message stating her arrival date and time and the concierge would arrange everything from airport transportation to lift tickets. She didn't even have to tell them when she was leaving. She was welcome to stay as long as she liked. This time unfortunately she was canceling the reservation, which she knew would prompt a note and a flower to be sent to her office at South Centre by Hanns, the bell captain. He was a wonderful old man who always had a wonderful smile that lit up every day. He had been sending her thank you notes, birthday greetings and Christmas cards since she first made his acquaintance. She had always assumed that he did that with all of the five star hotel's guests, but in reality while everyone did receive a thank you card and flower, everything else was just for her. He was smitten with her the moment she first walked in the door about four years ago. She was the spitting image of a girl he had known forty years before. He always liked to imagine that Laura was her daughter and she was a living greeting card from her mother. While he knew it was not true, the two hit it off from the start and both enjoyed maintaining the ruse. After canceling her reservation she still had another half an hour before anyone was back at their desks. She looked at the computer and tried to think of another game that might be there, as she was not particularly enthusiastic about surfing the web and needed a half an hour of mindless distraction. No poker. No chess. Nothing. When she couldn't find any other games she remembered the Monkey Games folder. She looked on the desktop for a Monkey Games icon but there wasn't one so she went back to the search prompt and pulled up the folder again. Clicking on the folder presented her with a number of files, none of which was a game. Instead, the files were Word documents. For the hell of it she clicked on the file named Monkey Games file just to see what it was. It was a document about 50 pages long. She began to read and discovered that while everything dealt with monkeys, these certainly weren't games. The document chronicled organ transplant research. Given that the actual medical part of Alexander Resources never really fascinated her, she went to close the file. Accidentally clicking the full-screen tab rather than the close button, she suddenly found herself drawn into the document.
The data discussed studies on stem cell research and organ rejection experiments done on a number of pairs of primates. What she found particularly compelling was the fact that according to the data, the primates were clones. "Impossible" she said to herself. It had only been within the last decade that Dolly the Sheep had been cloned. There must have been something wrong here because these files discussed cloning of monkeys that went back over 20 years. She found herself inexplicably compelled to keep reading. The document talked about the cloning work starting more than thirty years before and that many of the first tests were done at South Centre. "Amazing" she thought. She had always known that one of the fundamental areas of study for Alexander Research was organ transplant rejection. Here this file talked specifically to that idea. The cloning almost seemed to be an aside. The goal was to fight organ rejection and cloning seemed to be the solution. The file discussed pairs of a variety of animals that had been cloned, but the primary focus apparently was the use of primates. The file discussed the progression over the years of organs and muscles and even bones being transplanted from one clone to another. Each transplant would be more complex than the last and the outcome was always the same. In every single case of a cloned organ being transplanted between clones, the transplanted organ took with no rejection. Laura knew this was of supreme importance because beyond finding a sufficient supply of donated organs, rejection remained the most difficult aspect of transplants.
All of this caused her to recall a quote she had heard some years ago not long after she arrived in Paris. There had been a great deal of public criticism of cloning research. One of the scientists who had spoken at a conference supporting cloning and stem cell research was quoted as saying, "The most efficient way to avoid organ rejection was to replace the organ with a copy of itself". She remembers thinking that that made a lot of sense, given that Alexander Resources began life as a research facility looking for drugs that inhibited rejection in organ transplants. Research data on this subject matter was not unusual, but what was unusual was the extent to which they had obviously been successful.
As the success continued, the transplants became more and more complex, from multiple organ combinations to age differences between the clones to even clones of clones. She read on with fascination as through trial and error she read about the almost machinelike progress they made. At the end she found herself in awe. She had known that science could do a lot, but she had never really delved that deep into the actual medical workings of Alexander Resources to notice one way or another.
Upon closing the Word document she looked at her watch. It would be about 15 minutes before anyone would be back at their desks. She surveyed the Monkey Games folder and noticed a file called Popeye, with a tiny picture of the rather robust cartoon character smiling. She didn't have a clue what it would be, but she decided to click on it anyway. What she found was utterly unexpected, but nothing but consuming. The icon opened an Excel spreadsheet that chronicled the results of the bi-annual physicals given to Jonathan over the last decade. The final entry detailed the results from his last exam, less than three months before. The file paid particular attention to his nerve structure. The further she read, the less this document seemed to make sense. According to it, Jonathan was in perfect health, literally. Beyond simply being in perfect health physiologically, he was an almost perfect anatomical specimen. From cardiovascular efficiency to physical strength to dexterity to reflex control he was almost a perfect specimen of a man. She thought to herself about the physical closeness she had shared with him over the last 48 hours. Sebring had certainly done a phenomenal job in turning him into a modern day Hercules. She wondered why there was no mention of his disease.
Suddenly she became very aware of her tiredness and she knew that it be no use trying to start an IM conversation with anyone at South Centre. She would simply talk to them Tuesday as she would arrive too late tomorrow night. She didn't know if it was the last 48 hours catching up with her or just the jumble of emotions but either way she knew she had to get some sleep. She turned the computer off and walked out the door, locking it behind her. "Good night" she said as she passed the guard desk. Knowing that he would likely be looking at her the entire time, she decided there was no way she was going to go into Jonathan's room. As she turned into her room she looked at the guard just to see if she was right. She was. She waved and went into the room and fell face forward on the bed. Half asleep, half not, her mind wandered. While she was not prone to falling in love after just 48 hours, she had certainly done it this time. She was sure it was not a good idea to mention their relationship to anyone right now, although for the life of her she was not entirely sure why. That damn file with his physical data only made matters worse. The whole damn situation was just a little strange. In the fog that comes on the cusp of sleep she didn't know for sure if there was anything there or if it was just her naturally inquisitive mind that was finding shadows where none existed. She knew there was no way of getting out of leaving that morning, but she was determined to make sure she was back here in less than a week. She wanted to stay and wait on the results of Jonathan's treatment but she could feel that somehow that was not going to happen. Besides, Sebring would be here in two days.
She had a gift, although sometimes she thought it was something of a curse. Regardless of what time she went to bed, her body always woke her six hours after she started sleeping. When she was not alone that could offer a pleasant way to start the day as she thought there were few things in life that could compete with making love in the morning in that semi-conscious state where nothing in the world has yet to come into focus and the only people in the world are you and the person in your arms. On the far more frequent days when she woke up alone it seemed more like a curse. Today she was definitely alone.
As she rolled out of bed she went to the bathroom and took a shower, starting with hot water then slowly turning it cold so that when she emerged from the steam filled room she was fully awake. After getting dressed into clothes she had taken from Aislado, she walked to the dining room. It was 7:00 and Jack was leaving through the dining room. He had been talking with Albert and Alexander who were out on the patio that connected the building and the pool. He smiled at Laura and said "The boat came in a little early so should be ready to leave at 10:00. Is that OK?" he asked, but they both knew it was rhetorical. She smiled and said "Sure." "Great." he said, " I'll see you then," as he turned and left.
"How nice to see you Laura" Alexander said with his typical greeting as sat in his wheelchair half in the dining room half on the patio. "Thank you for all of your assistance. I do greatly appreciate it".
She walked around the table to say hello. As she was walking around to greet him, Alexander raised his left hand to shake hers in a familial and friendly way. Without realizing it, she took note of contours of his arm. His arm was perfectly shaped and his veins were a Red Cross nurse's dream. She also noticed a small birthmark on the inside of his forearm. It was not a large birthmark, but was conspicuous because of its shape. It was about the size of a quarter in diameter with a dark crescent bisected by a straight line. She found it quite interesting because Jonathan had the same birthmark. It looked more like a tattoo than a birthmark, but it was definitely the latter. As it was not her intention to discuss her rendezvous with Jonathan, she didn't mention the similarity. Alex was gracious, as he had always been. Although the David wasn't allowing him any solid foods, the kitchen would be happy to make her whatever she might want. "Thank you" she said. As Albert began to push him out to the far end of the pool where the sun was just beginning to come up, Alex said stopped him and looked up at Laura once again. "I just wanted to thank you again for putting off your well deserved rest to bring my son to the island. After you get back to Paris and solve this board problem, why don't you take a couple of weeks off and go wherever you want? It doesn't matter where. On me." She looked at him with a face that conveyed nothing about her reaction to what was certainly a generous offer. "Before you can protest" Alex said, although he saw no sign of protest or anything else, "I insist and I will hear no arguments." "Thank you very much Alex." she responded, "That is very kind of you. It was no problem. Jonathan is a very nice young man." "Yes, he is. Thank you." She knew better than to ask him about how he knew what kind of a young man Jonathan was, having never met him. Alex did not speak about family and there was no getting around it. Last night was the first time she had ever heard the story of Brooke, and that had come from Albert. "Is he out here?" she asked, looking around? "No" said Albert, "He got up about two hours ago and David took him over to the lab to give him a sedative and begin the physical. Apparently he couldn't sleep all night. "Well, that's not surprising given the day he had yesterday and what he was expecting today" Laura said, trying as hard as she could to hide the disappointment she was sure was scrawled across her face. "Well, I know David will take good care of him" she said. After an awkward moment of silence where no one knew what to say, Laura broke the silence, saying she was sorry to hear about his accident and that he looked in good spirits and great health given the traumatic events of the last week. Albert once again began to wheel Alexander out to the end of the patio where the sun was just hitting the pool, which was interestingly filled with salt water. A salt water filled pool was something Alex had wanted for years since he first saw one in the Vanderbilt's Breakers mansion in Newport RI many years before. Unlike the Vanderilts, the water temperature here was kept like at a temperature of 115 degrees. Short of the Roman baths heated by natural springs scattered across Europe, this pool was undoubtedly the most comfortable body of water in the world, particularly for a 65 year old man trying to recover from such a tremendous injury. Laura thought it a bit unusual that a doctor considered it appropriate that someone with an injury such as Alex's to be in salt water. Nonetheless, as Albert and one of the security personnel lowered him into the water, it was obvious that Alex enjoyed it tremendously. The water was only two feet deep at the shallow end so he could relax and sit in the corner for hours, which was exactly what he had planned on doing.
Laura smiled and said "Well, if you'll excuse me now, I want to walk down to the beach for a moment before I fly back to rainy Paris." She wanted to clear her head and she thought a walk on the beach might help. While she would love to have gone swimming, she limited herself to walking in the gentle surf. The swimming for the day was being done in her head. She kept going over the events of the last four days. There were so many contradictions or things that seemed to be out of place, but she couldn't quite figure out why. Something just didn't seem right, but she realized that a big part of the confusion might be feelings for Jonathan getting in the way. Feeling like a schoolgirl was not something she had done much of while she was actually in school so she found its appearance now particularly annoying. Nonetheless, she couldn't get the feeling of unease out of her mind.
Returning from her walk she passed Alexander as he relaxed in the pool. She commented that he looked very comfortable and that he must be feeling better. He said that the salt was nature's best medicine and that he was indeed feeling good. In a voice whose ring Laura thought laid somewhere between rhapsodic and melancholy, Alexander reflected that he was "sitting in paradise with a clear head, a cold vodka and great book" (he held up his copy of Universe in a Nutshell; Stephen W. Hawking) "What more could he want?" he questioned.
Indeed, what more could he want? She wondered what this man who had been so vital and vigorous, both in mind and body would do now that half of his limp body was confined to a wheelchair. She imagined he must feel like Superman in the comic book, where he weeps as he watches his father lay dying in his bed "I'm the most powerful person in the world and I can't do anything at all!" No doubt Alexander had always carried himself with the confidence of Superman. If there was ever someone who had the drive and the resources to find a way to repair the damage, it was Alex. After all, had he not spent the last thirty years funding the science of regeneration of the body?
Those thoughts were crossing her mind as she continued toward the doorway that opened into the foyer, just as she approached the door she smiled at Alexander, who had paused for a moment. He continued, "Besides, I have complete use of the most important organ in the human body." As he spoke Alexander tapped his index finger against his temple, which she knew meant his brain. She never saw the smile that he was wearing. Against the sea of white that was his robe, his birthmark drew her focus like the white nose on a midnight-black cat. Suddenly everything started to move in slow motion. She felt like she had been hit by a train. It was like a blinding light had been switched on and illuminated the darkness of a pitch-black room. She was having a difficult time maintaining her own movement forward. In that fraction of a second everything became clear. It was like watching all of the cards fall into place in a game of solitaire after flipping over the nine of clubs that had kept everything from moving forward.
So many thoughts of the last 72 hours rushed into her head at once. Why had Alexander never contacted Jonathan? Why was it so important for Alexander to meet Jonathan now? Why had the results of the physical pronounced him literally perfectly fit? Why were there no comments in those results about his condition? How could a man with such a weak immune system maintain the regimen Jonathan had followed over the last twenty years? As all of the pieces seemed to fall into place, the quote that was jogged into her memory last night by the Monkey Games file posted itself in the center of her consciousness: "The most efficient way to avoid organ rejection was to replace the organ with a copy of itself." Her mind immediately went back to the file itself. The doctors apparently considered a brain transplant as the Brass Ring. If that could be done that meant that every organ in the body could be transplanted. Through trial and error on a variety of animals from mice to rabbits to dogs, the surgeons discovered that using stem cells from a fetus of the corresponding species to coat the nerve endings of the brain just prior to removal extended the time allowable between harvest and transplant dramatically. This coating slowed the neuron flow allowing for a more precise extraction and implantation maneuvers. As the process of reconnecting the nerve endings required great accuracy, this extra time made the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful transplant. This was particularly true with the complex array of neurological circuitry involved with primates. When the process was perfected in less sophisticated animals it was time to apply what they had learned. The teams went through 14 sets of chimpanzees until they were successful with their first primate brain transplant. The "original" chimpanzee was named Jeffery. He was 10 years old when he was cloned. William was his clone. The transplant was done when William was three years old. Jeffery was picked because he was among the smartest apes in the compound, which Laura realized was the facility she had just visited in the Ivory Coast. Not only did Jeffery have a vocabulary of over 100 words; he was by far the most intelligent when it came to problem solving. William on the other hand never had any intellectual training at all. What he was trained at was gymnastics and a variety of tasks that required a great deal of manual dexterity such as balancing a spinning basketball on a finger or kicking a soccer ball on his knee.
The operation was a spectacular success. It took 2 days for William to regain consciousness. It took another 2 weeks for him to regain complete motor control, although he was able to speak after just a couple days. Through a variety of mobility and skills tests, it became clear that the transplant had been a resounding success. The primary goal of the experiment was to see if Jeffrey's 13 year old brain could be transplanted into William's 3-year-old body. Once that was a success it was critical to understand what characteristics the resulting chimp would carry. It soon became clear that the team had succeeded to a degree they had hoped for but not seriously considered. The chimp that now had Jeffrey's brain in William's body had both the intellectual capacity of Jeffrey and the physical traits William. On a series of exams his scores literally mirrored those of Jeffrey before the operation and exceeded by far the scores William had previously achieved. In addition it became clear that he also retained all of the physical abilities that William had, including both dexterity and reflexes. The joyous doctors realized that they could not have crafted a more desirable outcome if they had wanted to. Literally they had taken the best capabilities of two different chimps and created one who was superior to both.
Suddenly the thought that careened to the center of her mind was the one she had as Jonathan lay across her lap as she leaned against the headboard of the bed the first night they had made love. He was glistening with sweat as she ran her hands over the contours of his shoulders and kissed every ridge of his perfectly muscled back. As the moonlight danced with every breath he took, it occurred to her that he was so perfect it was as if he had been created rather than born. That was it… He was created… It was right there in Monkey Games: Jeffery and William; Alexander and Jonathan. Jonathan WAS Alexander.
Monkey Games… Jonathan was Alexander's clone. Unimaginable… She didn't know how or why, but it was obvious now… William and Jeffery were simply the trial runs… The accident had no doubt rushed up their timetable, but the conclusion was unmistakable… Just like they had done with the monkeys, they were going to transfer Alexander's brain into his a new body… Jonathan's. She was right, it was not just by chance that Jonathan was in perfect shape, it was by design, he was actually raised to have the perfect body… For Alexander to use.
Unbelievable… in her entire life she had never heard of such a coldly calculated plan. How many people were in on it? It had to have been more than twenty years in the making. How many people knew about it? Albert? Yes! David Smith? Yes! Jack? She didn't know. Most importantly, Sebring? How much did he know? He had to know something. She had no idea what the answers to any of those questions. They kept running through her head. For what seemed like an eternity, images and voices of lies and deceits flashed through her head, followed by an array of roads to be taken. Although she felt like she had been standing there immobilized in front of Alex and Albert for an hour, in reality the elapsed time was only a matter of seconds and Alexander never saw the sign of recognition on her face. As she waved goodbye to he and Albert, she knew there was no way she was leaving that island alone.