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Authors: James Burkard

Eternal Life Inc.

BOOK: Eternal Life Inc.
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First published by Cosmic Egg Books, 2015

Cosmic Egg Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station Approach,

Alresford, Hants, SO24 9JH, UK

[email protected]

www.johnhuntpublishing.com

For distributor details and how to order please visit the ‘Ordering’ section on our website.

Text copyright: James Burkard 2014

ISBN: 978 1 78279 570 4

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publishers.

The rights of James Burkard as author have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Design: Stuart Davies

Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

We operate a distinctive and ethical publishing philosophy in all areas of our business, from our global network of authors to production and worldwide distribution.

To my wife, Herdis

Through thick and thin with all my love

and

To William Hathaway

Whose encouragement, advice, and inspiration always picked me up when I was down

“Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright

In the forest of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The Tyger –William Blake

Book One of the King of the Dead Trilogy

Prologue

2387 A.D.

Rielly huddled close to the fire. The smoke reeked of burning plastic and rotten wood. He could feel the cold seeping out of the moldy, concrete wall at his back. Outside, the wind whipped through the overgrown ruins of the city, howling down weed-choked canyons of broken concrete. A vagrant breeze blew through the rubble, dusting the floor with snow. Rielly watched it slowly melt.

His backside was numb with cold. He shifted uncomfortably and a white-hot spike of pain drove up his left leg. The leg was splayed at a broken angle just below the knee and a bone splinter pushed through the blood-soaked layers of dirty rags.

He threw a last shred of plastic into the flames. When it was gone…He shook his head. What did it matter? He’d wanted to die almost from the moment he was born. He looked at the pale spray of star-like scars on the back of his hand. Even if his voice and hair didn’t give him away, those stars would. They covered his twisted body with the sign of the Norma-gene and in the Quarantine, where mutants were the norm, none were more hated and feared than the Norma-gene. It’s because we’re special, his mother had told him as she pulled open a door of light in the air and drew out super-strings of power.

It’s because she was special she’s dead, he thought. He was with her when it happened. They’d climbed up from the sewers in search of herbs when they stumbled on a hunting party of mutants, scarred by their own brand of genetic judgment. As soon as she saw them, his mother pushed him into a breach beneath a concrete slab and drew the mutants after her instead.

After they killed her, they came looking for him and he ran. What else could he do? He was only ten years old. He fled
through the ruins of the once mighty city where now only the highest, broken spires poked through the forest canopy. He soon got lost in the bramble-filled labyrinth of rotting concrete and rusting steel that was slowly disappearing beneath the green weight of centuries. He kept running until long after his pursuers had given up, until he could never find his way back to the secret entrance and the Norma-genes living beneath the Chicago Quarantine.

His father was dead, and his mother was all he had. After she died, there was no one who cared enough to risk leaving the sewers to look for him. For five years he struggled to survive and find his way back. Now, it was over.

He’d been out checking his traps. He’d been lucky, two rabbits and a large sewer rat. He’d eat well, but on the way back he got careless climbing over a fallen wall of ice slick concrete. He might have been okay when he slipped, but the rotting concrete splintered beneath his foot, trapping his leg in the hole; and when he pitched forward, the bone snapped.

If his mother was alive, she could have healed it. She was a Norma-gene witch and one of the weirding. She would have opened a hole in the air and pulled out bright strands of super-string power. After she wrapped them around the broken bones, they would have pulled back and knitted together beneath fresh skin. He’d asked her once to heal his crippled Norma-gene body, but she shook her head and told him about the Genetic Wars that ended almost four hundred years ago, leaving countless broken coils of DNA heartbreak that were beyond her power to change.

He stared into the flames, sputtering fitfully across a piece of rotted wood. He was half-delirious with fever and weak from starvation and loss of blood. Maybe that was why when he looked up, he thought he saw his mother sitting across from him. Maybe she really was there. After all, she was a Norma-gene witch. Maybe she could reach back through the walls of death as she reached through the walls of life.

She smiled and raised her hands, weaving them back and forth like when she opened a hole in the world and worked her magic. No hole appeared this time, but she continued weaving her hands through the complex patterns until at last Rielly lifted his hands and repeated the movements.

After a few seconds, a hole appeared in the air above his fingertips. It was as big as his fist and filled with twisting filaments of light. He stared at it in wonder. He shouldn’t be able to do this. No man should be able to do this. It was woman’s magic. He looked up at his mother for an answer but she was gone. When he looked back, the hole had grown more than a foot across; and super-string filaments of light danced and twisted inside.

He was lost in wonder at the sight and did not hear the faint click of claws on concrete, or the low, guttural growl of the large, grey timber wolf that stepped out of the shadows with its mate beside it and its pack crowding behind. They’d picked up his blood spoor outside and followed it in.

As Rielly reached up to grab the superstrings, they were suddenly swept aside by a glaring demon that grabbed his hands instead. At that moment, the pack leader stepped forward, bearing its fangs with a low growl. The demon’s attention shifted past Rielly, who turned to follow its gaze and saw the wolf, crouched, ready to spring. Its mate stood beside it and snarled. Behind her, the shadows swirled with matted, gray pelts and bared fangs.

Rielly felt a sharp, painful tug in his navel, and the demon let go of his hands and became a long swirl of black smoke that shot out of the hole. It brushed past Rielly’s face with a touch like silken ice and hit the pack leader between the eyes and disappeared inside.

The great, gray wolf froze into electrified rigidity. Then, it sank onto its haunches, lifted it head, and howled in a frenzy of fear. Its body began twisting in on itself and bulging out again.
The wolf rolled on the ground kicking, clawing, and nipping at itself as if fighting some invisible enemy.

Its mate stood her ground, alternately growling at Rielly and snarling at her mate. The rest of the pack cringed back, mewling with fear. The she-wolf decided this was all Rielly’s fault and sprang. Once again, he felt a tug at his navel, and another black form shot out from the hole in the world that he had opened and caught the she-wolf in mid-leap.

That last tug of manifestation left Rielly feeling as if a plug had been pulled from his navel, and his life was spilling out like water down a drain. His mind began shutting down. Darkness rushed in from all sides, crushing reality into a pinprick of light. Then there was nothing.

Prelude

2412 A.D.

Isis broke open the slave pens before she fled. It had nothing to do with humanity or compassion. She knew she was condemning them to death in the jungle, but she needed a diversion to cover her escape. The invasion was coming just as her father predicted, and she had to get the warning out.

She lay flat against the outstretched neck of her mount. She could feel the silken softness of its mane against the side of her face as she raced towards the border of the Nevada Quarantine. Behind her, in the distance, the howls of the wolf pack mingled with the screams of dying slaves. Soon the wolves would pick up her trail. Then, they would shape-shift into their real bodies and the God Hunt could begin.

By now, they knew she was gone and that she stole a Pathfinder. Why did it have to come to this? Why did it have to be Rielly who opened the door and let them in? Why did she have to fall in love with the son of a bitch?

With a slight, telepathic nudge, she spurred her mount on. Its muscles uncoiled like spring-loaded steel, driving its hooves pounding down the dirt road. Its muzzle was foamed with exhaustion, but it would keep running as fast as it could until its heart exploded. That was the way they made them.

You knew they were going to infect me, didn’t you Rielly? You knew and you just stood by and let them. “YOU LET THEM INFECT ME!” she screamed into the night, hot tears blowing across her cheeks.

“I beat them though!” She laughed. “I beat their dirty, little, mind parasite! It didn’t get possession, not a hundred percent anyway, not even close!” She could hear her laughter walking the ragged edge of hysteria. Gotta get hold of yourself, she thought
and clamped her jaws tight, biting off the laughter. She had to get out before she lost it completely. That thing was still down there. She could feel it floating in a cesspool of madness at the bottom of her mind.

She thought she could hear its snarling, mewling cries calling the pack to come and tear her apart and take back what she had stolen. She reached down and touched the shaft of the Pathfinder, making sure it was still securely shoved beneath her belt. She had to get it to Diana. She’d know what to do with it.

The thing inside her must have felt her touch the Pathfinder, or maybe her thoughts leaked through, because, suddenly, the cesspool heaved up, smashing against the concrete cap of resolve she’d poured across her mind to keep it down. The cap held for a second and then shattered, and a predatory, howling insanity broke lose, overflowing her mind with visions of rotting blood and body parts and filling her with an insatiable desire to enslave, torture, mutilate, and kill!

By the time she drove it back down and got the cap back in place, she was drenched in cold sweat, gasping for air, and limp with exhaustion. She didn’t know how long she could keep this up. If she let her guard down or was too exhausted to stay awake, it would try again and she might not be able to stop it.

She had to get out before that happened and before they phase-shifted the whole Nevada Quarantine out of her universe. Then, there would be no escape and when they caught her, there would be no mercy.

1

A Shooting Star

“Afraid of dying? You should talk to Harry Neuman. He’s got a contract to die. You name it, he’s tried it. He’s been shot, stabbed
,
drowned, infected, and poisoned and they bring him back every time
.
Hey, they have to, don’t they? He’s insured. Besides, he’s a movie star hero and the best advertisement Eternal Life has got. When people see Harry walking around, they know they’re going to get value for their money. As long as they keep paying their insurance premium, Eternal Life will keep bringing them back just like Harry
.

As policyholder number 001, he’s got free resurrection forever. Even if he wanted to die, he couldn’t. You see, the company always keeps a fresh clone waiting for him. Whenever and wherever Harry decides to cash in, the company always knows. They’ve got a monitor on his ghost ka, his soul. If it leaves his body, Eternal Life just pulls it in before it can go to wherever kas go when people die for keeps. Once that ka gets close enough to Harry’s clone, there’s no stopping it from resurrecting
.

Now, you’d think Harry would be the happiest guy in the world
.
He’s got guaranteed immortality. What more do you want? But I heard that Harry’s not happy. I heard that he’s not going to renew his contract with Eternal Life. I heard other things, things that have no business happening, like people not coming back from resurrection or coming back insane or something worse, things Eternal Life is trying to cover up. Maybe Harry heard them too.”

–Chad Graham, New Hollywood talk show host

Harry Neuman stood on the fluted edge of the marble balustrade. Spotlights outlined him against the night sky. He was a tall, ruggedly handsome man who wore his black tuxedo with casual grace. A vagrant breeze ruffled his thick, black hair. Beneath his feet, New Hollywood spread out, sparkling in the
night. On the horizon a thousand spotlights illuminated the Emperor’s palace, a fairytale confection that even the great Disney would have envied.

Harry looked down and saw the layers of worm-like air traffic come to a halt twenty floors below. That would be the police blocking off the streets and airways. Wouldn’t want any uninsured citizens accidentally killed by falling objects. Eternal Life didn’t need any more lawsuits.

He looked past the spotlights at the guests, sitting at their tables, waiting breathlessly. The band began playing “Auld Langsyne”. A nice touch, he thought. It conjured up images of faded elegance, of brave men standing on the stern of a sinking Titanic. It was show time.

He squared his shoulders and raised his champagne glass in a silent toast to the guests and to the grav-corders, floating just outside the spot-lit circle. He sipped his drink perfunctorily. Then he set the glass down, reached into an inside pocket, and took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said as he shook out a cigarette. “As you know, my contract with Eternal Life ends this evening. To celebrate this ending and the new beginning that Eternal Life has given us all, I thought it would be appropriate to go out in a blaze of glory.”

He put the cigarette to his lips and nonchalantly flicked the lighter. Instantly, his body burst into white-hot phosphorous flames. For a second, he stood there with a slight smile on his burning face. Then, he raised a flaming hand in salute and turned and stepped off the edge of the balcony.

He became a shooting star, arcing down into the glittering chasm of the street. The fire burned furiously in the slipstream of his fall, drawing a long tail of flame behind him. He held his breath to prevent sucking fire into his lungs. It was no use suffering any more than necessary. He’d been through it all before. By his own count he had died fifty-one times, although
never quite like this. The combination of burning and falling created an odd dramatic twist. The public relations boys at Eternal Life already had tomorrow’s headlines prepared, FALLING STAR GOES OUT IN A BLAZE OF GLORY.

The flames were eating away at his face and his thick black hair was a fiery halo. Vaguely, he could feel the terrible searing pain on the other side of the mind block he had set up. As the lights of the surrounding buildings streaked by, he calmly composed himself to die. He would not wait for the inevitable, crushing, traumatic impact. He had suffered the agony of dying too many times for that.

Death had been a harsh teacher, but it had taught him how to block the pain and how to die. With an odd shrug and twist, he stepped out of his body like a man stepping out of a suit of old clothes. His heart stopped in mid beat. The neurons in his brain sputtered on for a few moments and then quit.

Everything that was Harry Newman now floated ghost-like and invisible beside the lifeless husk of his tumbling body. He watched impersonally as it burned its way through the darkness. He didn’t even flinch when it hit the ground in a bursting shower of sparks because that wasn’t Harry anymore…maybe it never had been.

Harry was this luminous energy being, this ghost ka that now rushed down a long, ribbed tunnel towards a beckoning, distant light. It drew him on with its promise of unending peace, love, and happiness. Sometimes, he caught a glimpse of a beautiful woman, a Madonna incarnation of the Goddess, beckoning to him from within the light and he longed to go there.

He tried to steel himself for what was coming, but no matter how many times he had been through it, it always came as a shock more profound than death itself. One moment he was falling peacefully into the light, his ka opening to embrace the warm, loving brilliance, and the next, he was jerked violently aside, his ka dragged around in a wide arc away from the light
and towards the distant whine of the spin-generators at Eternal Life.

With a devastating sense of loss, he watched the light slide away beneath and behind him, and soon he was rushing through a dense, gray fog with only the rising whine of the spin-gener-ators to guide him. In this gray nothingness time and space lost all meaning and so he was unable to say when he first became aware that he was not alone. Black shapes were pacing him on either side, sliding in and out of the fog. They looked like tumbling, fluttering, black rags, without any distinctive shape, but full of dark menace.

He wondered about them. They first appeared two deaths ago. At first, one or two hung on the periphery of his awareness so that he wasn’t even sure they were there. But last time, they had gathered in a pack, following him at a distance. Now, they paced him on either side. He could make out six, maybe seven. Slowly, they closed in. The sense of dark menace grew. In front of him, he saw the fog begin to glow with the sputtering, blue fire surrounding the spin-generators at Eternal Life. By now, their distant whine had risen to a high-frequency shriek. If he could just make it there, he would be safe.

Suddenly, one of the black forms put on a burst of speed and broke from the pack. As it drew closer, it lost its fluttering, ragbag appearance and grew sharp teeth that snapped at him out of a feral, pointed face. Yellow claws slashed and tore inches away. Harry’s ka flared with energy as he pushed his awareness towards the spin-generator, letting it pull him in faster and faster. It loomed beneath him like a massive black hole surrounded by an event horizon of crawling blue flames.

The pack snapped and snarled at his heels. As they closed in, they took on the forms of huge black wolves, their eyes burning with a terrible, inhuman intelligence. Harry fell through the event horizon of cold, blue fire. He was almost home-free when the lead wolf leapt at him. Its claws raked a trail of darkness
through the flaring back of his ka. Harry screamed in agony and tried to shake it off. He could feel it trying to claw its way in, trying to become him.

The impact of the attack started his ka tumbling. In desperation, he exaggerated the motion, whirling faster and faster like a top. He felt the claws tear free one by one until finally the thing lost its grip and centrifugal force hurled it away, shrieking with frustration. Moments later, he dropped through the black hole of the spin-generator positioned over his cloned body. Automatically, the machinery shut down, and Harry sank into and became once again flesh.

His first sense was always a feeling of suffocating heaviness, of being trapped inside thick meat. It was never a pleasant feeling; but this time, he was grateful for the secure solidity of flesh. It was like slamming a solid oak door in the face of a ravening wolf pack. He could almost feel them snuffling and scratching at the edges of his ka. He let it sink deeper into flesh; felt the slow push of blood through arteries, the heavy rise and fall of lungs as they sucked in air. He began feeling all the minor aches and pains that usually hide just under the threshold of consciousness.

Suddenly, he felt a terrible, searing pain rake across his back as if a memory ghost of the attack finally caught up with him and ripped its mark in his flesh. His eyes bulged open; his body convulsed, and he screamed in fear and pain. Foamy amniotic fluid sloshed over the edges of the glass cloning tank he floated in. He tried to force himself up and away, ripping through the maze of plastic life-support tubes and electrode monitor wires. His only thought was to escape the nameless terror that had set its claws in him. Firm hands tried to hold him down as he struggled to clamber out of the tank.

“Harry! Harry, now take it easy!” He heard someone say, but he couldn’t see who it was. He blinked his eyes trying to clear them of amniotic fluid. His breath was coming in harsh gasps.

“Harry, it’s me, Doc Jericho. You know me, Harry. Now just take it easy.”

The familiar voice of the old man cut through the clawing panic. Harry blinked his eyes again. The concerned, bespectacled face of his old friend swam into view. Jericho made a point of being on hand whenever Harry resurrected. He was always a reassuring sight, and Harry felt himself calming down. He looked around wonderingly at the clean, softly lit room. He was safe in the birthing chambers beneath Eternal Life. Here, everything was orderly and familiar. The black wolves had no place among the white-clad technicians, blinking electronic displays, and gurgling pumps.

“Harry, are you all right?” Jericho asked, watching him closely.

Harry looked down at his naked body, dripping with milky amniotic fluid. He could still feel the pain, tearing across his back; but he was safe now, safe in his new body.

In the background he heard a familiar recorded chant, recited over and over again: “You live again, you revive always, you have become young again and forever.” It was the motto of Eternal Life Inc. stolen directly from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, along with the idea of the ka. It was chanted at every resurrection. Even though Harry knew it was just a publicity gimmick, he found it comforting by its very familiarity.

“Come on, Harry,” Jericho said soothingly. “Lie down and take it easy.”

Harry smiled sheepishly and began to slide back down into the warm, fluid-filled tank.

“Jesus Christ, Doc! What’s going on?” Roger Morely, Eternal Life’s CEO, shouted as he burst through the double doors of the birthing chamber. He was still dressed in his black tuxedo and must have hurried down right after Harry’s performance. His fat, florid face was layered with concern as he leaned over the cloning tank and smiled.

Harry looked up into Morely’s pale blue eyes, and something black seemed to flutter across his vision. Harry heard himself whimper in fear as Morely’s pug nose elongated into a feral snout. His curly, ginger hair straightened into a coarse, black pelt; his smile turned into a fanged growl.

Harry felt his fear suddenly turn into a wild, unreasoning rage. This was his world! They had no right to be here. He would not run again. He levered himself up and grabbed a fist full of Roger’s tuxedo. With an inarticulate roar of triumph, he brought his other fist around in a flat, hard arc that snapped Roger’s head back. The black demon face disappeared and Harry was confronted with the surprised, bruised face of Roger Morely. The man was dazed from the blow and tried feebly to pull away.

Just then, Harry felt a sharp prick in his arm. He let go of Roger and swung around, ripping the hypodermic out of Jericho’s hand, but the anesthetic was already taking effect. Harry felt consciousness spiraling down into soft blackness. He could have transferred his awareness to his ka and remained awake but didn’t dare. Instead he let the darkness take him, welcoming its healing oblivion. Slowly, he slid down into the tank of amniotic fluid, floating there gently with the hypodermic still stuck in his biceps.

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