Lucy Mendoza turned the screen displaying a large x-ray toward Wylie, who sat across the desk from her. He tried to appear calm, squinting at the gray objects, recognizing nothing. He looked carefully at her face, searching for a hint of encouragement, praying that the news would be good.
Lucy smiled. “Wylie, your blood work shows normal kidney and liver function, your bone density is that of a much younger man, your prostate is shrinking, and—” she pointed at an oval gray blob on the x-ray— “your testicles are returning to their former size.”
Lucy beamed at her elderly patient. “Undoubtedly, after these many months, the enzyme therapy is working. Tell me, how do you feel?”
“Pretty good. I think my balance is improving and it’s getting easier to put on my socks in the morning. I only have to get up once a night to pee, and I have more energy when I walk my dog.”
“How do you compare your sense of wellbeing to last year when we began this therapy?” she asked.
“Without exaggeration, at least a hundred per cent better. I feel better than I have in years! If I were a religious man, I’d say this was a miracle.”
“As a scientist, I have a tough time believing in miracles, but your progress during the Longevity program challenges that position. We hoped that our subjects’ state of health would remain unchanged as they enjoyed a longer life, but your results along with some of the others suggest that the treatment also promotes rejuvenation.”
“Rejuvenation?” Wylie echoed.
“Yes. As you just noted, you have improved functionality and enjoy a heightened sense of wellbeing. And your test results reflect the condition of a younger man. No promises, but you may be living longer in a rejuvenated body.”
It took a moment for Wylie to absorb that possibility. A broad smile soon showed that he fully grasped the concept.
In confirmation of her joy at Wylie’s progress, Lucy came around the desk and hugged her old friend, kissing him on his hairless forehead.
Wylie Cypher, eighty-seven years old and still working as a board member for various non-governmental environmental organizations, returned her embrace and took stock of the situation. First, a warm hug from Lucy Mendoza always cheered him. Second, he was joyful and relieved that this program was working, allaying fears that his downward path to oblivion would continue unchecked. He now had official confirmation that feeling good was not a dream.
Damnit, he thought, this thing is working. This morning’s erection wasn’t a fluke.
He chose to keep that information to himself. Lucy Mendoza already knew more about his physical condition than any other woman, past or present. A perverse aspect of his nature prompted him to withhold information that he considered irrelevant to the telomerase study. However, he looked forward to discussing his rejuvenated self with his wife, Linda, who seemed to have stopped aging ten years ago.
Lucy released his head and sat in the chair next to his.
“So this is wonderful news,” she said. “It is amazing that your discoveries on the Amazon just a few years ago have led to this. I’m so happy for you.”
Lucy was referring to Wylie’s discovery of incredibly robust vegetable seeds and previously unknown varieties of fruit during a search in the Peruvian Amazon. Among his discoveries was a durian-like fruit that yielded the enzyme that Wylie and other patients in Lucy’s pioneering study were testing. What began as an exploration to find seeds that would thwart Big AG’s suit for patent infringement not only destroyed that litigation, it changed the worldwide use of genetically modified organisms. And the peculiar variant of the telomerase enzyme extracted from the lumpy green fruit was beginning to look like a longevity drug.
“Yes, that’s surely an unexpected result of our expedition,” he said. “I confess that I was skeptical that I’d benefit from the discovery of the strange enzyme, but your good news and the way I feel these days makes me a convert. Thanks, Lucy, for including me in your first trial.”
Lucy acknowledged his thanks with another kiss, this time on his cheek, as intense a degree of affection as she permitted herself. A love affair that she thought was leading to marriage had ended badly as she graduated from college, a distressing event that caused her to avoid further romantic entanglements and direct her formidable intellect and energy to her studies and her work. Top in her class, she obtained a medical degree from Johns Hopkins and a PhD in molecular biology from Caltech. As a post-graduate, she researched human aging factors at the Stanford Center on Longevity. There she attracted the attention of senior members of the Prendergast Foundation, who hired her to lead their research. Lucy had led the Longevity program at Prendergast for two years when she met Wylie, an emeritus trustee, at a Prendergast-sponsored social event.
Wylie was immediately enamored with her, mainly because she reminded him of a favorite granddaughter. She was petite, with a glowing smile, friendly and kind. Wylie quickly recognized the sharp intellect behind her insightful observations. Lucy reciprocated the attraction, impressed initially by Wylie’s youthful outlook and sense of humor, and later, as she learned of his background, by his contributions to society at large. By the time Lucy began her human trials of the telomerase enzyme, she and Wylie were fast friends.
She told Wylie, “When I reach eighty-seven, I want to be just like you—except, being a woman, better.”
“I suspect,” he said, “if you keep exercising that smart mouth, you won’t be permitted to grow up.”
When Lucy and her team had decided to begin their longevity trial, she looked at Wylie through professional eyes. He was in better health than many men his age, without heart disease, cancer, hypertension, or neurological symptoms. He was tall, though somewhat stooped, almost bald, and complained of numb feet, sore joints, and diminished hearing. Though occasionally forgetful, his mind was nevertheless sharp. He always asked perceptive questions during meetings of Prendergast’s trustees. Although Wylie was past the ideal age (early to mid-seventies) for the trial, Lucy’s team wanted to include outliers as well. Some fifty-year-olds and people in their eighties would be included.
Lucy had no difficulty recruiting Wylie for the trial.
“Lucy,” he said, “if there’s a chance this stuff we make me feel even a little bit letter, I’ll be for it in a New York minute.”
“That’s what we hope for, even expect. But it’s a great unknown. You could also feel just as you do now—except for many more years. Or, there’s a chance you will feel worse, or …”
“Meet my maker sooner than expected? Listen, I’ve already exceeded my expected lifespan and have had a great and joyous ride getting here. I don’t believe in God, but if there is one and he wants me, I’d love to argue with him about all his mistakes. Or if Socrates was right, that I will either enjoy eternal sleep or meet all my friends in the hereafter, I’m ready to go.”
Once recruited, Wylie submitted to a series of tests that provided a comprehensive analysis of organs, bones, fluids, and parts of his body that he often ignored. The study had now progressed for fifty-seven weeks, and he was pleased with the results—very pleased.
Lucy patted his hand. “Okay. That does it for today. Considering the progress we’re making, how about returning in three weeks? Stay with the same dosage and call me at once if you notice any changes.”
Wylie squeezed her hand. “Of course. Maybe we can get together before then. Linda doesn’t think I’m telling her everything about these tests. She would love to quiz you.”
Lucy nodded, and Wylie pulled on his coat, buttoning it against the chilly winter afternoon. On his way out he passed Samantha Fix, who was waiting to speak with Lucy.
Samantha was deputy administrator of the Longevity project, a cheerful and efficient woman whose main responsibility was to keep the program’s many scientists and physicians with prima donna attitudes smoothed over and as contented as possible. Samantha had worked with Lucy for almost two years, and though not good friends, they respected each other and worked well together.
Samantha knocked on an imaginary door a few feet from Lucy’s desk and gestured that she wished to sit down.
Lucy smiled at the gesture and waved Samantha to the chair. Samantha grimaced in pain as she lowered herself and Lucy, now carefully monitoring her guest, was alarmed. Samantha’s eyes were sunken and red-rimmed, her face drawn and sallow. She moved as though every joint was aflame. Samantha gasped as she sat, and the sleeve of her smock caught on the chair, pulled back, and revealed an arm covered with pea-sized lumps, some oozing a purplish fluid.
“My God!” Lucy said. “What has happened to you? You seemed fine last week. Here, let me look at you.”
With the practiced eye of one who had interned in emergency medicine, Lucy checked Samantha’s vital signs, examined her face and arms, and gently palpated her back. She drew back from the woman now gently sobbing in the chair.
Lucy had never seen a patient with symptoms like Samantha’s. She seemed to have a combination of a powerful virus and stage four melanoma.
“Sam, I’m going to get you to the clinic right away and have our best people look at you.”
She gently patted Samantha on the back, pressed the intercom for help, and asked, “Any idea how you developed this condition? Have you traveled abroad? Been near sick people?”
Samantha raised her head, exposing wet cheeks and glassy eyes.
“I know it. I did something stupid … bad. Maybe I deserve it. I betrayed you. I betrayed the project. Yeah … and look at me. Not good. Not good. Christ Almighty! Look at me.”
She slumped in the chair, sobbing.
Wide-eyed in confusion, Lucy stroked her cheek, trying to comfort her.