Who Wants to Live Forever?*

I try not to worry about the future. In the chaotic confusion that has become my life over the past eight years, and especially the last two years or so, I have found it prudent not to look to tomorrow, for tomorrow might not be there. London was swallowed by the darkness, Jasper Cove burned, and who knows what might become of this island or what may become of those of us who live here.  Instead, I have come to appreciate the advice from Horace’s Ode; that which Mr Quelch taught us, long ago in school Latin classes.  How did it go now?  Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.  Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.  Seize the day! It seems appropriate in the unpredictable world I now inhabit. Of course, the future has its bright spots. In around 100 years, from my perspective, it will deliver up a bright jewel in the form of Gwyneth Eiranwen Evans. I would never have thought that this pint-sized, potty-mouthed young woman who affects the speech of a common flower-girl would be the one to slide past my defences and find a space in my heart. I am so glad she did.

That little spot of green by the shore, where we met Gwythyr, has become one of my favourite spots to sit and read.  Gwyn found me there and apologised for running off the previous night, because she had really needed to speak to Valene. I was not worried, since I had known where she was going to be. For all my comments to Giada the previous evening, I did trust Valene. I told her that it was fine, because is gave me the chance to talk to Giada, adding that she was free to ask about that any time she wanted. I asked how she had gotten on with Valene.

Valene had told her that she needed to be more devious, and that she should not worry too much, as many changelings don’t know their true name. This was not so in Gwyn’s case, she believes it to be her full name as her grandmother had told it to her, and admonished her to never tell anyone about it.  She was still worried that Rachel might have heard it when she blurted it out to the King. Personally, I wasn’t sure that Rachel had the wit to remember it, and we didn’t even know if she had listened to the whole of our meeting.

Val’s advice was apparently that she should try to determine Rachel’s true name, which might give her some leverage. The downside of this would be that we would actually have to talk to the girl. I told her about the name I knew – Rachel Spencer – and how she had been a Caitiff back in London, explaining that was a vampire without clan, or, I suppose, more correctly, one who did not know her bloodline. Gwyn said that she found it difficult to talk to Rachel because she would keep going on about how ungrateful we were concerning her supposed sacrifice to save our lives. I had to laugh at that, remarking on how Rachel was often going on at me for not letting things drop.

We got off the subject of Rachel for a while as Gwyn told me that Valene had another visitor that she appeared sweet on.  Said stranger went by the name of Raven, and apparently his interest had been piqued by this realm. I had to laugh at that.

“Everybody seems to be a Raven of some sort. I was a Raven, twice. My friend Catt nearly cut my hand off making me a Raven – she was a Raven Captain, like Major Fuckbeak, only a lot prettier. Padishar is apparently a Raven….  Ah well, it is an interesting realm… possibly in the sense of living in interesting times.” She laughed and told me a joke about how you got laid at a pagan gathering – just page Morgan or Raven. Apparently, in her time, these are popular names among pagans.  Strange choices, I thought later – since many people regard Morgan, aka Morgen le Fey, as an unsympathetic character and ravens are widely regarded as portents of death or doom.  Maybe they are otherwise regarded in the 21st century.  We went from there to talking about Paash. I think I had made some comment about getting her to bake a cake for Rachel, and if she still annoyed us, lacing it with senna pods.  Gwyn grumbled that Paash was probably not in a mood to do any favours, referring back to the recent confrontation.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Half the time, she doesn’t even remember when she gets in her black moods.  Sometimes, I think she is senile.”  I asked if they still had senility in the 21st century.

“Yeah; but they call it senile dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease.” She told me. “Lots of people are studying it to try and find a cure. Cancer is beatable, so who knows? Maybe they’ll figure it out.” She looked up at the sky. “Sometimes I really miss the 21st century.”  That, I could understand, as there were many things I missed about my time, not least, having access to a library.

“How are they doing with the consumption?  That is what took my mother?  Is that still a problem?” I asked, reaching over and petting her tenderly. “It must be hard.  I miss a lot of things about my former life, but I guess I am better at getting used to it.  Life at sea does that.  You’re away from home, sometimes for months at a time.  Your world is tiny, taking a few minutes to walk from end to end, no trees or grass or ponds. The same group of people around you constantly…  Oh, and no women, unless there were some among the passengers, and fraternising was… discouraged.”  I drew her onto my lap, kissing her.  “But, it’s not all bad here.” She snuggled into my embrace, playing with my hair.

“Consumption… that’s tuberculosis, I think? It’s mostly eradicated, but living conditions in some places in the world were causing it to make a comeback. And polio, they cured polio.” I thought about that, speculating on how I might see her time, in 120 years or so. Then, for some reason, I had a sudden access of fear… what could happen in that time?  I shivered and hugged her close to me.

“I am scared too, Gwyn, scared of that,” I told her. “Scared that I will be just the same in 120 years, while people around me grow old and die. I don’t know how to deal with that, and I have nobody to ask…”  I kissed her, almost urgently. “I don’t know and I am scared of that.” She held me closely, kissing my face gently.

“I think I understand,” she said softly. “Valene must be immortal, or nearly so. And who knows, maybe I am too? In 120 years, we could still be friends. You’ll find someone to ask; there’s bound to be another vampire out there who would share some knowledge with you. You just might have to wait a while. If I knew, I would tell you. If I knew everything, I would tell you that, too.” I laughed and told her not to do that, because then we would have nothing left to talk about and would get bored.  I changed the subject again and wondered if we would be able to get anywhere if we took the boat on the river, the one by Val’s den.

“You want to run away?” she asked, locking her hands together behind my neck. “I think there’s nothing beyond the sea. I think we’d row and row, because there’d be no wind, and then we’d turn around and find ourselves just an hour from shore. We could be out there for days, and we’d find nothing.” She shivered. “Would you please kiss me again? I’m starting to scare myself.” I had no problem complying with that request.

“You ask the most dreadful things of me sometimes.”  I did as she asked. “I am not prone to running away, especially when I do not know where I am running to.  I don’t think this place is done with me yet.  Maybe Aoibh is right; maybe we have a destiny here.”  I shrugged, thinking of my arrival in Jasper Cove. “But then, I thought I was going to make a new life, when the boatman offered me his hand, and we know how that turned out.  Of course, had I known who he was then…” I paused for a moment. Had I left myself open to question?  I had not told her all about Greyson, but it was something she should know.  I thought then of Dee’s journal, wondering if I could place that burden on her. I needed another head to help me understand it, but could I do that to her, given Greyson’s warning? Before I could cover myself, she asked if I knew who the boatman was. I guess I was committed now.

“I thought I did, when I arrived,” I told her. “I was convinced he was Charon, but I never thought more about it until the night Jasper Cove burned.”  I made myself more comfortable, lying down and drawing her onto my shoulder. It was time to tell the story. “Way, way back, when I was still in London, I became city treasurer. A young man, an economics graduate from Cambridge came to me, offering his services as my assistant. His name was Greyson, Greyson Devonshire.  He was a very attractive young man, pretty almost, gentle, kind, studious.  We became great friends, and had I the wits to realise it, we may have become more than just friends. I am terrible at noticing when a woman takes a shine to me, much less when a young man did. I think I was loosely aware that he loved me, and even less aware that I loved him.  Had he stayed longer…”  I paused a moment, uncertain. From what Gwyn had told me, attitudes to such relationships were more relaxed in her time, and she had given no indication of prejudice. Fortunately, I was right in my recollection.  She snuggled closer and told me I would fit in well in the 21st century, saying I was a metrosexual, whatever one of those was. She asked if Greyson had any ulterior motive beyond wanting to get in my pants. I assured her that he had no motives that I knew of. In light of later events, there may have been, but surely even he could have known the future.  I continued the story.

“Elections came. There were some irregularities, but we were unable to prove anything, and the mayor I served lost the election. The new mayor sacked us both. Shortly after that, just as I was beginning to acknowledge I had feelings for him, Greyson had to leave London.  I never saw him again. Or so I thought.  Anyway, skip forward a few months or maybe a few years. I don’t know in absolute terms, only that it was a few months of duration for me. I found myself in Jasper Cove. There I made friends, including their majesties, Alec and Isabella.  They treated me well enough, particularly Alec. I liked him, even though we never really got to spend much time together, but there was something odd.  Sometimes, I would see him looking at me strangely, or he would say something… as though we had known each other longer than we had.  Sometimes, it even seemed that he was flirting with me, even in front of Isabella…”  She laughed and said that Alec had flirted with her too. I continued, winding my fingers into her hair.

“The night Jasper burned, I was with Sophia. We grabbed our things and ran, following the fireflies to the bridge at the end of the island.  As I ran across the bridge, I somehow got separated from Sophia and found myself on the boat again, only this time, the boatman was Greyson. Shock doesn’t begin to cover it. He greeted me as old friends do, saying we didn’t have much time. I just sat in the boat, holding on to his hand like a lifeline.  He then explained how he was Greyson, but I had also known him as Alec, but he thought it better to greet me in a shape I knew better.  He had a quest for me, he said, to keep the lore of Jasper Cove, and other things.  He then told me something else. Greyson was not the first face, or name he had worn.”  I stopped playing with her hair and looked at her. “How well do you know the Elizabethan era?” I asked, qualifying that. “I suppose, for you, I should say the first Elizabethan era.”  She told me she was ok reading the English of the time, but was not really up on her history. I asked if she knew of John Dee, Elizabeth’s astrologer, alchemist and other things. She admitted it was not something she knew much about, and had not heard of him.

“Dee was an astrologer, advisor, alchemist, some said magician… pretty much a polymath,” I told her. “Known for, among other things, seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.”  She dismissed that with a snort.

“That’s the sort of thing that draws an urbane chuckle in 21st century academic circles. We don’t believe it exists, of course.” She said. “But I do like a nice polymath, even when the science is suspect.” I grinned at her.

“That’s good to know. But back then, the Philosopher’s Stone was believed to be the base element, from which all other things were made.  It was also supposed to give immortality. Many alchemists sought to discover it. Dee succeeded.” Gwyn stretched her legs into a more comfortable position.

“So Greyson made himself immortal, and he’s been different people ever since, including our Alec.” She nodded. “Right. My disbelief is just going to be perpetually fucking suspended; I can go with that. If that’s what happened, where is Alec–Greyson–Dee? Where is he now?” I shrugged.

“Well, technically, Dee made himself immortal…  well, let’s say he defeated, or at least postponed death.  Who he was in the 200 plus years between then and my age, I don’t know, and I don’t know who he was between then and Alec. As to where he is now, that’s a good question.”  I slipped my hand into my bag, having, for a moment, a slight fear that I may have lost the diary when the castle fell. To my relief, it was still there in my bag. “Greyson gave me some tasks, quests even – to find his son, Malachi, who is with Isabella, so that is done; to be keeper of the lore of Jasper Cove and those in it, which I suppose I have been doing anyway, through my diary… and one last task.”  I thought for a moment, could I ask this of her?  I pulled the book out and placed it in my lap, my fingers stroking it for a few minutes.  I looked at her. “The last task, he bade me to be very careful with, to reveal it to very few, for fear it might bring danger to those who know of it. He even bade me keep it from Isabella…”  I took her hand.  “I need another mind, another intellect, but, I don’t want to place you at risk, our lives are difficult enough as it is.  It is your choice, entirely freely, with no obligation or pressure. If you do not want to know about it, then I will understand entirely and would not love you any the less for it.”  She squeezed my hand, looking at me.  She spoke slowly, as if thinking out loud.

“So, here’s the thing,” she said. “I’m like you. I’m a knowledge ho — whore. I want to know everything. And here’s the other thing. We’re in danger from so many different directions, I’m pretty sure one more won’t hurt.” There was a pause, her eyes flickering from mine to our hands and back again. “And here’s the other thing aside from the other two things. I care about you; you’re telling me important stuff and I’m conscious of everything about you, every touch and every word, and,” she paused again. “See, it’s impossible for me to be dishonest, but I’m trying not to dissemble. Or evade. Or even be a little bit unclear. I do want to know about it. But whether that’s because I care about you and want to make your burden lighter, which would be the morally sound reason, or because I’m becoming just as much of a fatalist as Aoibheann, which would be the what the fuck we’re all going to die anyway reason, or because I just want to know everything, which would be the selfish, typical Gwyn reason, I don’t know. Does that make sense? Is it all right with you if I don’t know why I want to know?”  I smiled and kissed her, aware of a slight tear in the corner of my eye.

“Your reasons are your reasons and they are good reasons. I’m so glad I have you. Life would be unbearable without somebody who doesn’t give me a blank look when I quote from the Bard or Blake.” I chuckled, “Well, ok, I probably give you blank looks sometimes when you speak of post 19th century things, but at least I know you would be able to explain.”  I kissed her again, then picked up the diary. “Dee kept a journal, partly about his quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, and about other things.  I am trying to understand it and make sense of things from it.  Some of what he says might explain some of what has happened to me, to you – for example, the concept of multiple realities. Other things, I am still trying to get to grips with.  Here, have a look at the first two pages.”  I passed the volume to her, handling it with care and reverence. She fluffed my hair.

“I knew I’d be sharing your life with books of some kind, but I get the lap. Put the book in my lap.” I told her my lap was always hers, so she got onto it, and then I handed her the journal. She looked at it, brushing it with her fingertips. She told me that we ought to be wearing gloves, since something like this was probably worth a lot of money, at least, in her day. I shrugged telling her that I usually cleaned my hands first, and since I don’t sweat, I was less likely to mark it. As for the worth of the book.

“Somehow, I can’t imagine in what sane version of reality I could even admit that this document exists, let alone sell it.  And what the heck would I do with a large amount of money here?  What is there to spend it on?  It’s not like I can take you on a luxury cruise to the Americas or something.” I nibbled the nearest ear gently, “Which would be a terrible thing, stuck in a cabin with you for two weeks.” She shivered and complained she was trying to read.  She managed to find a handkerchief in my pocket and used that to turn the pages, agreeing that money would be fairly pointless here. She peered closely at the handwritten pages and I told her it was Secretary Hand, which was appropriate for the period.  She read through the first entry with interest.

“Well. OK. First of all, this is a 21st century fantasist’s dream come true. Words like ‘metaverse’ and ‘multiverse’. Imagine what it would be like to be the first person who ever wrote such a thing down.” I nodded.

“I’m not sure what to make of metaverse, but multiverse – that I can well believe, given the places I have been since… since my world got turned upside down. I like the idea of any one reality being like ripples on a pond, and the idea that maybe you could calculate one or other of them.  I remember when I first read it, I had to laugh, thinking of all the times I tried to convince Wren of the value of mathematics.  I wrote about it in my diary.”  I let her continue reading while I tried to find the appropriate diary entry. Had it really been that long ago?

“There are whole cosmological theories built around this concept,” she said. “It’s well-loved by authors and, yeah, fantasists. So well loved that there are whole libraries’ worth of books written with this concept at their core. And so well loved that I know many, many people who walk around in their daily lives, hoping a portal will open up somewhere and they’ll be whisked into the fantasy land of their choice.” She grimaced. “One of the reasons I was half-convinced I’d ended up in a coma, when I was first in Jasper, is that fantasies like this played a big part in my life, and not just in childhood.” She looked at my diary curiously. “Do you find keeping a diary cathartic? I don’t think I could ever keep one up consistently.” I laughed and told her I had kept one since Mother bought me my first one for my 12th birthday. I was intrigued by the idea of fiction embracing such a concept, even with the benefit of 120 or so years of scientific advancement, compared to my era. I found the entry for the first of June, or, at least, what I estimated to be the first of June, having no idea of the absolute date any more, and showed her the entry.

“How about my idea here, that the fundamental particle is more of a mathematical concept?”   She nodded.

“I do not know much about higher mathematics,” she admitted. “I never studied it much. But, if you imagine a mathematical and physical reality, concept and form, then sure, the Philosopher’s Stone might just as well be an equation, or a concept. I guess it makes more sense than figuring out how to physically turn lead into gold.” I took the diary back, glancing briefly at nearby entries before sliding it back into my bag.

“I never did any of the esoteric stuff – enough maths to be an accountant, but I am sure, if you can describe a circle, or the path of a gun-shell with mathematics, then, maybe maths can describe anything… even the maths that is describing the maths that is…” I tailed off and shuddered, feeling a little lost in that concept. “Now that starts to make my head hurt.  I wonder what the equation for this is.”  I kissed the middle of the back of her neck.  She shivered again and lowered her head, revealing more shoulder and neck. I took that as an invitation and started exploring the additional skin with my lips

“Yeah, it’s a lot to think about, innit? I do know most of my mathematician friends just start laughing if someone starts a sentence by saying, ‘First, consider that you have a sphere…’ and then I sort of lose the plot. You have this knack for distracting me.” I chuckled, kissing her shoulders some more.

“Maybe I’m trying to increase your circulation, get more blood to the brain. I could well be wrong. I don’t think my blood is going to my brain, unless the taunts of certain crude women are to be believed.”  I sighed happily, resting my chin on her shoulder.  “I have no clue what to make of the next entry, which is 66 years later.  He would have been well over 100 years old by then.  I can believe that isolating the fundamental particle could be an anomaly, like isolating a single pole on a magnet, but that that means in terms of the macro existence, I don’t know.  Maybe that fixed point is like where the pebble hit the water in the pond, and maybe there are many Dees, Alecs, Greysons etc out there, all trying to work it out. Heck, maybe now, I’m one of them…”  That thought was definitely something that had not occurred before, and was a little disturbing. “That’s a scary thought.  Now I am involved in this quest, does that make me one of them?”  She giggled.

“Ooh, how old are you exactly, Mr Ballard? The only thing I find comforting there is I’ve recently found my lifespan may be somewhat longer than I’d previous anticipated, myself.” She twisted around and kissed my nose and lips. “Seriously? I think that way lies madness, paradox, time travelling to kill your grandfather, that kind of thing. Of course, it might be that Dee was just a bit full of himself. There are theories that say multiple parallel universes are created all the time, whenever there is a choice to be made, anywhere, creating an infinite number of possible realities– any of which is somehow inaccessible to most people. But not,” she kissed my forehead, “it would seem, to us. Of course how we do it; that seems to be beyond our current level of knowledge.”

“Life is full of paradox and confusion as it is,” I said with a laugh. “Hey, suppose I had got intimate with Greyson.  Would that be incest?  Masturbation?  Or just plain weird? Hmmm… Maybe there is a me out there who played it safe and didn’t kiss you.  Who did what I always used to do, and failed to notice that somebody liked me.  I think I like this ripple better.”  I took the journal back, scanning the pages in the vain hope of further enlightenment. “Well, now you’ve seen it, do you still want to be my Watson?”

“Oh, very much,” Gwyn replied. “I don’t know how I can help you, since my mind runs well farther into fantasy than yours, I think — but I’m willing to give it a shot.” She frowned. “I wouldn’t like that reality where you didn’t kiss me very much either. In that one, I’d be that girl trying to figure out what is wrong with her. It would have too many parallels to my old life. Just one thing, though: why were you worried it would be somehow dangerous for me to read this? Or am I remembering things wrong?” I smiled, riffling through the diary again, to the fateful day when Jasper Cove burned, and everything I thought I knew was turned upside down, again.

“I can only go by what Greyson told me.”  I found the page. “I wrote it down, as best I could remember.”  I read from that entry. “’Keep the journal hidden, even from Isabella if you can,’ he said with a saddened smile.  ‘For I fear all who know of its whereabouts are in grave danger from the secrets written in those pages. For the rest: find Isabella, find my son, and tell her of the task I have given you.’  He turned once again towards the banks, his face hardening, his face determined.  ‘We may not ever meet again Nathaniel, my friend, my confidant; but whatever happens I hope you look upon my memory with fondness, whatever names I have called myself.’”  He face fell, looking sad at what might have been the last words Alec or Greyson ever spoke.

“So, I guess he really is gone,” she said. “I really liked Alec.” I gathered her into my arms, lying back on the rock.

“So did I love, so did I. And I’m not so sure.  Anybody who held off death for, what, 400 years or so isn’t going to go down easily. Maybe we will see him again somehow,”  She snuggled into my arms, sounding sleepy.

“That would be nice. We could take him to Valene’s and pet him like a kitten.” With that, her voice drifted off into the sounds of one sleeping.  I pulled my jacket over both of us and lay down, wishing her pleasant dreams.  I drifted a while, my feelings a mixture of contentment and concern. I had somebody to share my quest, but at what cost?  That was a question I could not answer.

 

Only one person can ask this question… the inimitable Freddie

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