And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
Resting a hand against the mossy stone, he pulled himself up the uneven steps. It had been slow going at first, but the movements were gradually becoming more natural, and the tingling sensation that had filled his entire body was almost gone now. Growing short of breath, he paused and leaned back against the cold stone wall, sliding down to his haunches. He closed his eyes and listened to surge and crash of the surf along the rocky coastline below. He took a long, deep breath, and the smell of brine mixed with the lingering metallic taste of blood.
Awakening again, he recommenced his journey up the steps. As he came to the top of the cliff wall, the rugged rocks gave way to a manicured lawn and a building with tall tinted windows. Tossed about in the morning wind, his stained shirt and dirty hair made him look like some twisted creature rising for vengeance.
Losing strength again, his legs buckled, and he sank to his knees. Feeling the matted grass under his palms and between his fingers, he met eyes with someone on the other side of the glass. Her eyes widened, and she covered her mouth with her hands. Others turned to see what she was looking at, and in a moment, they were rushing out the door and surrounding him.
“Dale!” said a man. He was large, middle-aged, and muscular. “Dale, are you okay? Where have you been?” He pulled him up by the arm and placed it over his shoulder.
“Dale,” came the reply from dry lips. “My name is Dale.”
“Get the door!” said the muscular man to the others. A minute later, Dale was sitting on a couch with his back to the windows. The woman knelt in front of him and put a hand on his face.
“Dale, are you alright? Come on, Dale. Talk to me.” She snapped her fingers in his glazed eyes. Blinking, he turned and looked her in the face. Round and smooth like a porcelain doll.
“Hi,” he said.
She smiled slightly. “Hi, Dale. What’s happened to you?” Someone gave her a wet cloth, and she started dabbing his face with it.
“Where have you been? We’ve been worried about you!”
“I was down…by the water.”
The muscular man pressed closer and ran his fingers through Dale’s hair, inspecting his scalp.
“I don’t see any wounds,” he said.
“But look at all of the blood!” said the woman.
The muscular man unbuttoned his shirt and ran his fingers over his chest and stomach. He then pulled his shirt down from his shoulders and did the same on his back.
“Nothing. Not a scratch.”
“Dale,” said the woman, “Dale, is this your blood or someone else’s?”
The door opened again, and a couple of the others ran outside and down the stone steps. Dale looked down at his arms, as if recognizing the blood and dirt for the first time.
“I…don’t know,” he said. “I…think it’s mine.”
They washed out the cloth in a stainless steel sink and started wiping blood and dirt off of his arms and chest. A few minutes later, the others returned from outside.
“This was down by the water,” said a woman. She held out a broken picture frame and the soiled photograph that had been in it. Everyone was silent for a while.
The muscular man started examining his scalp and torso again. “Do you think he fell down there?” he asked.
“It appears so,” said the doll-faced woman.
“The nanobots must have repaired him. Amazing.”
Nanobots. Yes, nanobots.
“He’ll be thirsty.” One of the others poured a glass of water and handed it to the doll-faced woman. She took it and placed it in his hands, closing his fingers around it. “Here, Dale. Drink.”
Dale sipped the water, and it cooled his parched throat, washing the sticky film out of his mouth. He finished the whole glass and handed it back to the doll-faced woman.
“I don’t remember.”
“Don’t remember what?”
“You.” He looked at the muscular man. “Any of you. I know I should, but I don’t.”
The doll-faced woman pulled his face in close to hers. “Dale, you don’t remember me?”
“Isn’t that his phone on the counter?” asked the muscular man. He grabbed it and put it on the armrest beside Dale. It projected some holographic controls that the muscular man took hold of, and an image of Dale’s body appeared in the air above it. He magnified Dale’s head and brought up a cutaway image of the inside of his brain.
“Dale, I’m Larissa. Larissa. Don’t you remember me?” Dale looked back at her blankly.
“No trauma,” said the muscular man. “Everything’s normal.” He looked at Dale in disbelief.
“Well, look at the last eight hours of history” said the doll-faced woman. The muscular man displayed a time-lapse progression of all activity, and some of the others inhaled suddenly in shock.
“There it is,” he said, pointing to red, orange, and yellow blotches in the display. “Look at all of that trauma. It looks like he fell off the edge at 12:48 a.m.”
“You mean he fell from the top?” asked the woman with the picture frame.
“That’s what it seems,” said the muscular man. “It seems his head was just about split in half.” He returned to the display of Dale’s current status. “He’s fine now, though.”
“Should we call an ambulance?”
The muscular man did a quick scan of the rest of his body. “Actually, I would have to say no. He’s completely healthy. No warning signs. Not one.”
“But a doctor should have a look at him at least, right?”
“The nanobot network gives a more accurate diagnosis of his overall condition than any doctor could.”
“What about his memory, then?” asked the woman with the picture frame.
“Well, the nanobots can restore tissue, but restoring memory is a different game altogether.”
Larissa touched the mixture of blood and dirt on the side of Dale’s face. “Come on,” she said. “You should take a shower.”
She took him into a bedroom and pulled some fresh clothes out of the closet. After pulling off his shirt, shoes, and belt, she turned on the shower and set the temperature.
“There you go,” she said. “Are you going to be fine on your own?”
“Well, your clothes and towel are by the sink there. Don’t take too long.”
After she left, Dale undressed completely and got into the shower. He thought about changing the temperature, but it was just right. He wet his hair, poured some shampoo, and started scrubbing out the sand and blood.
Ms. Westhouse was still clutching the photograph she had brought back from the water’s edge. “This has been an eventful morning, I must say.”
Paul pulled a pitcher out of the refrigerator. “Dale squeezes his own orange juice. Have some.” He poured a glass for himself, Larissa, and Ms. Westhouse and her associates. Larissa returned from the bathroom.
“He’s in the shower,” she said.
“Let’s keep the bio display up to keep an eye on him,” said Paul.
“Right,” said Larissa, and she opened the holographic display on Dale’s phone again.
“Yes, Ms. Westhouse, it has been an eventful morning, to be sure. However, I hope you don’t lose faith in our company due to an unfortunate accident.”
“On the contrary,” said Ms. Westhouse, “the events of this morning have shown that this is a technology that is ready to be fully implemented and put on the market.”
Paul sipped his orange juice carefully. “So you will make the investment?”
“Most definitely,” she replied. “Whatever limitations may still exist, I have full faith in the current capabilities of your product and in your ability to continue improving on it.” She sipped the juice. “Mmm. Quite good. You’ll be hearing from my people.” She placed the glass on the counter and turned to leave. “See to your friend. Keep me updated on any lasting effects that the injury may have on him. We’ll see ourselves out.”
Coming out of the bathroom, Dale stopped at the sight of the muscular man sitting on the bed.
“Hi,” said Dale. “Where’s Larissa?”
“She’ll be back in a minute.” He stood up and came close to Dale, looking him in the eye. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
Dale pushed past him and sat on the bed, putting his face in his hands. “I know I should. I know I should, but I don’t. Everything is so fuzzy.”
“I’m Paul Stevens. You and I have worked together for eleven years now.”
“What work do we do?”
“Oh yes, that’s right.”
“Do you remember now?”
“Well, you were talking about nanobots earlier.”
“Dale, what happened last night? Do you remember anything?”
“I just woke up on the rocks. There was a lot of blood. I saw the stairs, and I started climbing.”
“But you don’t remember how you got down there?”
“No. I guess I just fell off the edge.”
“Is Larissa my wife?”
“But are we…?”
“No. She owns the company. Well, her father does.”
“Are you and I friends?”
“I just told you we’ve worked together for eleven years.”
Dale nodded. “I don’t remember anything. Do you think I’ll remember later?”
“I’m not sure. I hope so. I don’t know what we’d do without you in R&D.”
“I used to be married, though, right?”
“That picture. I didn’t get to see it. Was that her?”
Dale got up and went back out to the bar. The picture was lying there on the white counter top. He placed his hands on both sides of it and peered into it as if it were a crystal ball.
“I think I remember her.”
“She was a good woman. Orange juice?”
“Yes, I like orange juice, don’t I?”
“Is this my house?”
Paul poured him a glass of orange juice, and Dale sipped it slowly with closed eyes. He smiled. “Yes, I do like orange juice.” In the other room, he could hear Larissa talking to someone on the phone.
“Dale, I know this is difficult for you, but I need you to try to remember what happened to you last night. Did you just fall off the edge or what?”
Dale shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
“Not at all?”
Larissa came back from talking on the phone and started sipping on her glass of orange juice.
“Are you feeling better now, Dale?”
“A bit.” He looked her in the eyes. She was pretty. “You said the nanobots fixed me?”
“That’s right, Dale. You and Paul developed a proprietary nanobot system that repairs the human body and fights diseases.”
“We three are the world’s first immortals, Dale,” said Paul. “We knew the nanobots would fight cancer and cure diseases, and we knew they would repair injuries too, but until today, we didn’t know the extent of their capabilities. Well, we knew theoretically, but we didn’t dare to assume the actual results would be so promising.”
“Well, that’s amazing,” said Dale. “I’m glad I had something to do with it.”
A tear appeared in Larissa’s eye. She guided him to one of the bar stools. “Dale, do you remember me at all?”
“I think I know your face.”
She patted his knee and nodded. “Okay, I need you to sit here for a moment. I need to talk to Paul in private.” Dale nodded and sipped his orange juice again.
Once they were in the other room with the door shut, tears came more freely to Larissa’s eyes.
“Paul, do you think his memory is gone forever?”
“I don’t know. It might come back, and it might not.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Then we’ll proceed as planned. It will be difficult without him, but the most difficult part has been done already.”
“That’s not what I meant, Paul,” she said, pushing him on the chest. “What will happen to him? What is the good of living forever if you can’t remember anything?”
“I’ve known Tyndale Peterson longer than you have, Larissa, and let me tell you this: he’s better off this way.”
“He never got over his wife’s death. You know that. On the one hand, it was the driving force behind most of his work, but on the other hand, it made him a very sad man. If falling off a cliff has made him forget her, that might just be a good thing.”
“Well, you’re not the first woman to call me barbaric. But look, immortality isn’t any good if you’re just going to be miserable forever, right?”
She sighed. “Well, you do have a point there.” She cracked the door to look at him. “Where has he gone now?”
Paul pulled the door fully open and walked back toward the bar.
“Look!” said Larissa, pointing toward the cliff outside. Dale was standing on the edge, looking down. In a second, Paul was out the door and running toward him, with Larissa close behind him.
“Dale!” he shouted as he sprinted across the lawn. “Dale, what are you doing?”
Dale made no answer. When Paul got to him, he took him firmly by the arm and pulled him away from the edge.
“What are you doing?” he asked again.
Dale turned to his friend. His face was blank.
“I tried to kill myself, didn’t I?”
Paul’s grip slackened, and he took a deep breath. “Yes, I think so.”
Dale looked down at the dirty and damaged photograph, and then he touched the skin on the back of his hand as if it were something foreign. “It’s amazing what we can fix. We can’t fix her, though, can we?”
“Dale, we have her DNA. It’s not like we’re still in the twentieth century, you know – there are things that can be done. Especially since you’re not going to get any older now. You can wait for her to grow up.”
“No,” said Dale, shaking his head. “No, I don’t think that would be wise.”
Paul looked to Larissa for help, but she just stared on, wincing back tears. There was only the sound of the waves crashing below and a photograph flapping in the morning wind.