Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By OFW editor:
Published: November 06, 2013
By Maril Swan
“If you were offered a choice of incredible wealth or immortality, which would you take?”
Patricia looked up from her laptop, annoyed at being disturbed. She had chosen this isolated, peaceful spot in the park to work on her thesis. A small, slim woman with the most arresting green eyes stood in front of the picnic table at which Patricia was seated. Her eyes, of that strange hue of green, loomed too large for her elfin face. Very pale with vibrant red hair, she reminded Patricia of a leprechaun.
“Were you speaking to me?” It was a dumb question since they were the only ones in the area, but Patricia, while trying to remain polite, only wanted to get rid of the woman so she could go back to her work. The quiet of the park, the gentle soughing of the breeze through the trees, and the warmth of the summer sun, seemed to help her to think, to put her into the right frame of mind to get her ideas down in a coherent way. Her apartment, with her two room-mates, was always noisy with music or the television or conversations.
“Yes, I was speaking to you.” The woman sat down on the other side of the picnic table, uninvited and apparently unaware that she was intruding.
Patricia’s annoyance turned into a flash of anger. Keeping her voice carefully controlled, she said, “If you don’t mind, I came here to be alone, to work. My thesis outline is due soon and I need to concentrate on it. Please excuse me, but I don’t care for any company right now.”
The woman smiled, revealing a row of very white but oddly pointed teeth. “Just answer the question and I will leave you alone. If you were offered a choice of incredible wealth or immortality, which would you take?”
“What if I took the third option and didn’t make a choice?” Patricia said, smug at having sidestepped some semantic discussion with this strange woman.
“Of course, the third option is always a choice too,” the woman said, her thin, reedy voice revealing an accent that Patricia racked her memory to identify. “It is always easier to do nothing; however, there are consequences even to not making a choice. What if the first two alternatives were real choices, and you could have either by just selecting?”
Patricia glanced across the park, wondering if this woman, whose age she could not guess, had escaped from someone’s care. She certainly acted a bit loony, though she looked normal other than those odd eyes and pointed teeth. How could she get rid of this woman without being rude? Or perhaps, being rude was the only way. Certainly, she has derailed my train of thought and I’ll have to backtrack through my notes to get back on track again. She smiled at her own use of a string of metaphors. Maybe I should follow Lillian’s suggestion and try my hand at writing. It might be easier than the paper chase, trying to get my master’s in anthropology. She thought about the pittance she earned as a teaching assistant at the university, and the other small income from freelance photography. Neither allowed for luxuries or gratuitous spending. The laptop, which she guarded with her life, was a gift from her parents. Incredible wealth? That was a laugh. Never in her wildest dreams could she imagine having any real money. Immortality? At twenty-five, she wasn’t thinking about death, seldom even gave it a thought.
“Look, lady, I’m sure this would be a very interesting subject for discussion, but I’m really busy and I don’t want to waste my time in a useless debate.” Patricia took a deep breath, trying to hold back what she really wanted to say - get lost.
The woman fixed Patricia with a look that sent a shock through her like touching a bare wire. All sound ceased, no birds chirping or dogs barking, no sound of people walking and talking, just complete and utter silence. In that eerie vacuum, the park faded to the periphery of her sight, and her eyes were locked onto the strange woman. The woman’s mouth did not move, but Patricia heard her say, “What if you could have all the time there is and never worry about your life ending? What if you could remain young forever, never face the decrepitude of old age? Or what if you had all the money you could ever want, to do whatever you liked? Never have to worry again about whether you could afford something for yourself or those you love. I can give you one or the other, immense wealth or immortality. All you have to do is choose.”
Patricia’s heart began to race; she felt a tingling in her head like she was going to faint. Despite her scepticism, Patricia found herself half-believing that this woman could really make it happen.
“What are you? God,” she blurted, “or the Devil?”
The woman smiled then laughed, a strange tinkling sound like a bell that tickled Patricia’s brain. “Maybe there’s a third option. What if I was neither? I’m Aerynia, a scientist and an observer of your world. We are conducting research on your species. Through our science, I am able to give you one of the two most desired wishes of the human race, unlimited wealth or immortality. The choice is yours, and the consequences will also be yours. Once you have chosen, we will not interfere in any way with what you do with your choice.”
Patricia held on tightly to the solidity of the picnic table, something tangible, real. Her brain felt like it was trying to expand outside the confines of her skull. “Why me?” she choked out. “I’m nobody special, just a graduate student in anthropology. My family isn’t poor, just middle class. Why offer me this choice, if it’s real, that is.”
“It’s because you’re ordinary, Patricia. No offence, but you aren’t brilliant or beautiful; you have no particular talents. There’s nothing about you that would set you apart from millions of others.”
“How could anybody be offended by that?” Patricia said with a forced laugh. A hard lump lodged near her heart. Why bother? Aerynia is right. I’ll never be anything special. I’ll be lucky to even find a job. What could it hurt to play along with this nut case? At least she’ll go away.
“OK, what if I choose immortality? How will you make that happen? Magic?” Scepticism had crept into her tone, but Patricia was hurt by this woman’s dismissal of her as ordinary, plain and untalented. True or not, it still stung.
Aerynia smiled. “Not magic, just science, though to your species, at its present level, it probably will seem like magic. We will implant an extra organ in your body that will regenerate your cells continuously, so that the natural ageing of your body will never occur. You will always remain the age your are now.”
“What about the unlimited wealth? How will you make me rich beyond the dreams of avarice?”
“That is even simpler. In your world, money travels through an electronic network. We will place large sums in various places in different countries through these electronic transfers. All you need to do is request funds from any account. There will be no end to the wealth that is at your disposal. It will also be untraceable.”
Patricia rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes, hoping this was a dream and when she awoke, the woman would be gone. It was an impossible choice. When she opened her eyes, the woman was still there, patiently watching her. Patricia closed the lid on her laptop with a sense of finality. No point in trying to pick up where she left off. She was too unsettled to even think. But she had to decide. Even if it was all a hoax, she had to pick one or the other of the options. Somehow, she had to find an answer.
Wealth or immortality, but which?
Time slowed down as she made a decision, reversed it, made another, shook her head to clear it and shivered with dread. Finally, Patricia looked at the woman, her choice made.
“Are you certain?” Aerynia asked. Something gently tickled Patricia's mind.
Unable to speak, Patricia nodded. She felt the warmth of approval flickering in her brain, a sudden surge of relief.
“Good choice.” An inner voice said.
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