Authors: Greg Bear
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Thrillers, #Suspense fiction, #Science Fiction, #Conspiracy, #Immortality, #Immortalism, #Biotechnology, #Longevity
By: Greg Bear
Category: fiction action adventure
Vitals begins with a harrowing descent to a netherworld at the very bottom of the sea and then explodes to the surface in sheer terror. Hal Cousins is one of a handful of scientists nearing the most sought after discovery in human history: the key to short-circuiting the aging process. Fueled by a wealth of research, an overdose of self-confidence, and the money of influential patrons to whom he makes outrageous promises, Hal experiments with organisms living in the hot thermal plumes in the ocean depths. But as he journeys beneath the sea, his other world is falling apart. Across the country, scientists are being inexplicably murdered including Hals identical twin brother, who is also working to unlock the key to immortality. Hal himself barely eludes a cold-blooded attack at sea, and when he returns home to Seattle, he finds himself walking into an eerie realm where voices speak to him from the dead .. . where a once-brilliant historian turned crackpot is leading him on a deadly game of hide-and-seek .. . and where the beautiful, rich widow of his twin is more than willing to pick up the pieces of Hals life and take him places he's never been before. Suddenly Hal is trapped inside an ever-twisting maze of shocking revelations. For he is not the first person to come close to ending aging forever and those who came before him will stop at nothing to keep the secret to themselves. Now every person on earth is at risk of being made an unsuspecting player in one mans spectacular and horrifying master plan. From the bottom of Russias Lake Baikal to a billionaires bionic house built into the cliffs of the Washington seashore, from the darkest days of World War II and the reign of Josef Stalin to the capitalist free-for-all that is the United States, Vitals tells an astounding tale of the most unimaginable scientific secret of all exposed by the quest for immortality itself ..
Also by Greg Bear
Songs of Earth and Power
The Infinity Concerto
The Serpent Mage
The Forge of God
Anvil of Stars
Queen of Angels
Foundation and Chaos
The Wind from a Burning Woman
Tangents editor New Legends
A Del Rey Book Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group
Copyright 2002 by Greg Bear
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the
United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random
House, Inc." New York, and simultaneously in Canada by
Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBL1CATION DATA
can be obtained from the publisher upon request.
Book design by Holly Johnson Interior illustration by Tony Greco
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition: January 2002 10 987654321
For Poul Anderson, my friend, who decided not to
Our bodies are made of cells. Mitochondria are the parts of our cells that generate the energy-rich molecules we use every instant of our lives.
Billions of years ago, mitochondria were bacterial invaders, parasites of early cells. They joined forces with their hosts; now they are essential
"My mitochondria compose a very large proportion of me. I cannot do the calculation, but I suppose there is almost as much of them in sheer dry bulk as there is the rest of me. Looked at in this way, I could be taken for a large, motile colony of bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, micro tubules, and neurons, for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter." --Lewis Thomas,
"Organelles as Organism," 1974
"We love Comrade Stalin more than Mommy and Daddy. May Comrade Stalin live to be one hundred! No, two hundred! No, three hundred!"
--Song sung by Soviet children, early 1950s
MAY 28 SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
The last time I talked to Rob, I was checking my luggage at Lindbergh Field to fly to Seattle and meet with an angel. My cell phone beeped and flashed Nemesis, code for my brother. We hadn't spoken in months.
"Hal, has Dad called you?" Rob asked. He sounded wrung out.
"No," I said. Dad had died three years ago in a hospital in Ann Arbor. Cirrhosis of the liver. He had choked on his own blood from burst veins in his esophagus.
"Somebody called and it sounded like Dad, I swear," Rob said.
Mom and Dad were divorced and Mom was living in Coral Gables, Florida, and would have nothing to do with our father even when he was dying. Rob had stood the death watch in the hospice. Before I could hop a plane to join them, Dad had died. He had stopped his pointless cursing--dementia brought on by liver failure--and gone to sleep and Rob had left the room to get a cup of coffee. When he had returned, he had found our father sitting up in bed, head slumped, his stub bled chin and pale, slack chest soaked in blood like some hoary old vampire. Dad was dead even before the nurses checked in. Sixty five years old.
It had been a sad, bad death, the end of a rough road on which Dad had deliberately hit every bump. My brother had taken it hard.
"You're tired, Rob," I said. The airport, miles of brushed steel and thick green-edged glass, swam like a fish tank around me.
"That's true," he replied. "Aren't you?"
I had been in Hong Kong just the night before. I hadn't slept in forty-eight hours. I can never sleep in a plane over water. A haze
of names and ridiculous meetings and a stomachache from French airline food were all I had to show for my trip. I felt like a show dog coming home without a ribbon.
"No," I lied. "I'm doing fine."
Rob mumbled on for a bit. Work was not going well. He was having trouble with his wife, Lissa, a blond, leggy beauty more than a few steps out of our zone of looks and charm. He sounded as tired as I was and even more confused. I think he was holding back about how bad things were. I was his younger brother, after all. By two minutes.
"Enough about me," he said. "How goes the search?"
"It goes," I said.
"I wanted to let you know." Silence.
"What?" I hated mystery.
"Watch your back."
"What's that mean? Stop screwing around."
Rob's laugh sounded forced. Then, "Hang in there, Prince Hal."
He called me that when he wanted to get a rise out of me. "Ha," I said.
"If Dad phones," he said, "tell him I love him."
He hung up. I stood in a corner of the high, sunny lobby with the green glass and blinding white steel all around, then cursed and dialed the cell-phone number no go and all his other numbers.
Lissa answered in Los Angeles. She told me Rob was in San Jose, she didn't have a local number for him, why? I told her he sounded tired and she said he had been traveling a lot. They hadn't been talking much lately. I spoke platitudes in response to her puzzlement and hung up.
Some people believe that twins are always close and always know what the other is thinking. Not true, not true at all for Rob and me. We fought like wildcats from the time we were three years old. We believed we were twins by accident only and we were in this long road race separately, a fair fight to the finish, but not much fraternizing along the way.
Yet we had separately chosen the same career path, separately become interested in the same aspects of medicine and biology, separately married great-looking women we could not keep. I may not have liked my twin, but I sure as hell loved him.
Something was wrong. So why didn't I cancel my flight and make some attempt to find him, ask him what I could do? I made excuses. Rob was just trying to psych me out. Prince Hal, indeed.
I flew to Seattle.
JUNE 18 THE JUAN DE ffUCA TRENCH
We dropped in a long, slow spiral, wrapped in a tiny void as shiny and i black as a bubble in obsidian, through eight thousand feet of everlasting night. I had a lot of time to think.
Looking to my right, over my shoulder, I concentrated on the pilot's head bent under the glow of a single tensor lamp. Dave Press ' rubbed his nose and pulled back into shadow. It was my third dive this trip, but the first with Dave as pilot. We were traveling alone, just the two of us, no observer or backup. Our deep submersible, Mary's Triumph, descended at a rate of forty-four feet every minute, twenty seven hundred feet every hour.
Dave leaned forward again, whistling tonelessly.
I narrowed my vision to fuzzy slits and imagined Dave's head was all there was. Just a head, my eyes, a thousand feet of ocean above, and more than a mile of ocean below. For a few seconds I felt like little
;i black Pip, tossed overboard from one of Ahab's whaleboats, dog, j' paddling for hours on the tumbling rollers. Pip changed. He became ' no lively dancing cabin boy but a solemn, prophetic little thing, thinly i of this world, all because of a long swim surrounded by gulls and sun. What was that compared to where we were, encased in a plastic bubble
and dropped into the world's biggest bottle of ink? Pip had had a bright, cheery vacation.
One hundred and eighty minutes to slip down into the trench, two hundred minutes to return, between three hundred and four hundred minutes on the bottom, if all went well. A twelve hour journey down to Hell and back, or Eden, depending on your perspective.
I was hoping for Eden. Prince Hal Cousins, scientist, supreme egotist, prime believer in the material world, frightened of the dark and no friend of God, was about to pay a visit to the most primitive ecologies, searching for the fountain of youth. I was on a pilgrimage back to where the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had taught us how to die. I planned to reclaim that fruit and run some tests.
This blasphemy seemed fair exchange for so many millions of bright-eyed, sexy, and curious generations getting old, wrinkled, and sick. Turning into ugly, demented vegetables.
Becoming God's potting soil.
A mile and a half below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, humans are unexpected guests in a murky and ancient dream. Down there, nestled in the cracks of Earth's spreading skin, islands of heat and poisonous stink poke up from shimmering chasms flocked with woolly white carpets of bacteria.
These are the best places on Earth, some scientists believe, to look for Eden--the Beginning Place.
I zoned out. Napped for a few minutes, woke up with a start, clonked my head on the back of the metal-mesh couch. I was not made for submarines. Dave tapped his finger on the control stick.
"Most folks are too excited to sleep down here," he said. "Time goes by pretty quickly."
"Nervous reaction," I said. "i don't like tight places."
Dave grinned, then returned his attention to the displays. "Usually we see lots of things outside--pretty little magic lanterns of the deep.
Kind of deserted today. Too bad."
I looked up at the glowing blue numbers on the dive chronometer. One hour? Two?
Just thirty minutes.
All sense of time had departed. We were still in the early stages of the dive. I sat up in the couch and stretched my arms, bent at the elbows. My silvery thermal suit rustled.
I liked Dave. I like most people, at first. Dave was in his late thirties, reputedly a devout Christian, short and plump, with stringy blond hair, large intelligent green eyes, thick lips, and a quick, casual smile. He seemed a steady and responsible guy, good with machinery. He had once driven DSVs for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. lust a month ago, he had signed on with the Sea Messenger to pilot Owen Montoya's personal research submarine, his pricey and elegant little toy, Mary's Triumph.
It was cold outside the acrylic pressure sphere: two degrees above freezing. Chill had crept into the cabin and the suits barely kept us comfortable. I avoided brushing my hands against the two titanium frame beams that passed aft through the sphere. They were covered with dew.
Dave grunted expressively and squirmed in his seat, not embarrassed, just uncomfortable. "Sorry."
My nostrils flared.
"Go ahead and let it out," Dave suggested. "It'll clear."
"I'm comfy," I said.
"Well, you'll have to put up with me. Rice and macaroni last night,
lots of pepper."
"I eat nothing but fish before a dive. No gas." That sounded gee ky and Boy Scout, but I was in fact comfortable. Be prepared.
"I'm trying to lose weight," Dave confessed. "High-carb diet."
"A few more lights?" Dave asked. He toggled a couple of switches and three more tensor lamps threw white spots around the sub's controls. He turned their focused glare away from two little turquoise screens crammed with schematics and scrolling numbers: dutiful reports from fuel cells and batteries, the onboard computer, transponder navigation, fore and aft thrusters. When we were at depth, a third, larger overhead screen--now blank--could switch between video from digital cameras and images from side-scanning sonar.
All we could hear from outside, through the sphere and the hull, was the ping of active sonar.
Everything nominal, but I was still apprehensive. There was little risk in the DSV, so Jason the controller and dive master had told me before my first plunge. Just follow the routine and your training.
I wasn't afraid of pain or discomfort, but I anticipated a scale of life that put all risk in a new perspective. Every new and possibly dangerous adventure could prematurely cap a span not of fourscore and ten, but of a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand years ... So far, this was just an itch, an attitude I was well aware needed adjustment. It hadn't yet reached the level of phobia.
At twenty-nine years of age, I worked hard to avoid what Rob had once called the syndrome of Precious Me. I could always rely on Rob to provide sharp insight. In truth, part of me might have welcomed a little vacation. The void might be a pleasure compared to the anxious, egocentric perplexity of my recent existence: divorced, cellphone guru for radio talk shows, semi celebrity beggar-scientist, mendicant, dreamer, fool. Prince Hal, my coat, my vehicle, forever and ever.