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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2233640
Nathan attends a dinner party to celebrate his big discovery - for Quotation Inspiration
This failed to place in the September 2020 round of Quotation Inspiration.

Nathan Williams parked his battered Ford Focus between a Porsche and a Ferrari on the long driveway fronting his employer’s palatial home overlooking the San Fernando Valley. He hated dinner parties, but Celia Martinez—founder and CEO of Martinez Pharmaceuticals Inc.—had insisted he attend.

He adjusted his neon tie in the rear-view mirror and mumbled his mantra, “You are smart. You are successful.”

Who was he kidding? Waiting inside were the other members of the interdisciplinary team Martinez assembled to transform the discovery he made while writing his Ph.D. thesis into a viable medical treatment. All would be more qualified than him. The least accomplished would be Professor Thompson, Nathan’s Ph.D. supervisor, and he was only included to protect the company’s intellectual property.

Nathan took a deep breath and climbed out of his car. Gravel crunched underfoot while garden sprinklers added their own rhythmic accompaniment to his approach. As he stepped onto the threshold, the front door opened, and a Hispanic woman dressed in a catering company’s uniform waved him inside.

He entered an unfamiliar world of high ceilings and ornate furniture like something out of a high society magazine. Laughter and voices guided him into a spacious sitting room where nobody was sitting. Tuxedoed men with grey hair smiled at Stepford wives in cocktail dresses, and he mentally kicked himself for not bringing a date. Of course, the only date he could have brought was his cousin, Norma Jane. He’d never had much time for girls, and sadly the feeling was reciprocated.

More dark-skinned, Hispanic people wandered through the crowd carrying trays filled with glasses, and Nathan wondered if they all had green cards. He grabbed a glass, tossing the sweet wine down his throat to calm his nerves.

Across the room, Celia Martinez stood beside her trophy husband—Colombia’s representative in the Mr. Olympia contest—and a gorgeous woman around Nathan’s age with ebony skin and dreadlocks. Martinez caught sight of Nathan and waved him over. “So glad you could make it. You know Fabio, but have you met Liliana?”

The woman flashed sickeningly perfect teeth and offered her hand. “Dr. Williams. I’ve heard so much about you.” She had a husky voice with an unfamiliar accent.

“Call me Nathan, please.”

Her grip was surprisingly strong, and he hoped he didn’t give the impression of being limp wristed. “Are you a member of Martinez’s top-secret team?”

“One of her specialist bio-chemists.”

“Have you worked on compounds found in Turritopsis dohrnii or any other jellyfish species before?”

“No. However, I have synthesized hormones originally discovered in Phyllobates terribilis—tree frogs.”

Now he understood why Martinez drafted Liliana into the team. Little work had been done on the biochemistry of tree frogs, so she must have experience synthesizing hormones nobody else had studied. As he admired her cleavage, he noticed a rainbow ribbon pinned to her lapel.

He gestured to the ribbon. “Making a statement?” It would be a waste if this gorgeous female were gay.

“It’s not what you think. This is a symbol of my commitment to a better, more sustainable future.”

“Ah, an eco-warrior.”

She nodded. “Of sorts.”

Martinez called everyone to attention. “Please make your way through to the dining room.”

Feeling like Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind, Nathan offered his arm to Liliana, who accepted with a smile. They glided through double doors into a room that looked like it belonged in a palace, with three chandeliers and a long table set for thirty. Place cards ensured everyone knew where to sit, and he was pleasantly surprised to see the “Liliana Cheucarama” place card neighboring his own name.

He pulled out her chair for her.

“Thank you, Nathan.”

He took his seat. “Cheucarama? That’s an interesting name, and I can’t place your accent…?”

“I’m from Panama. I grew up in the forest where the tree frog is found. My family are indigenous Embera-Wounaan people.”

“Wow, that’s fascinating.”

She shook her head. “Not as interesting as what you’ve discovered.”

His cheeks flushed. “It was as much luck as hard work.”

“Don’t be so modest.”

At the head of the table, Martinez stood and claimed everyone’s attention by tapping a spoon against a wineglass. “Thank you all for coming tonight. I felt it important to gather you all together before we commence this historic project. This must be how Oppenheimer and Groves felt at the beginning of the Manhattan Project. What we are about to do together will change the world profoundly, probably within the next decade.”

She raised her glass toward Nathan. “Dr. Williams made this all possible. Now it is our job to make it practical.”

Around the table, everyone lifted their glasses and toasted Nathan. He shrank into his chair, his cheeks glowing.

“Don’t be shy.” Liliana reached over and squeezed his hand. “Enjoy your time in the limelight.”

A catering assistant appeared beside him and placed a bowl of soup on the table. The server was another Hispanic woman in uniform. He noted she wore a rainbow ribbon similar to Liliana’s, though that was likely a coincidence. Rainbow ribbons were common around L.A.

“Hm…smells delicious,” declared Liliana, picking up her spoon.

He followed suit. The soup did smell wonderful, but he couldn’t recognize any of the vegetables floating alongside chunks of white meat. As he slurped the first spoon, he noticed Liliana stirring her soup but not eating.

“Not hungry?”

“It’s a little hot. I’ll wait for it to cool awhile.”

It seemed the perfect temperature to him, and he loved the rich and creamy savory taste. “Do you know what those vegetables are?”

“Yes, actually. Those are yucca and ñamé, root vegetables that grow in the rich volcanic soil near my home village. This soup is made following a traditional Embera-Wounaan recipe.”

“You must feel right at home.”

She picked up an empty wine glass and held it up to the light. “Not really.”

“Do you miss the forests?”

“Sometimes. But there’s no internet in my village, and the nearest research lab is hundreds of miles away.”

Nathan smiled. “At least here you are part of the greatest medical breakthrough of the century.”

“Part of it, but I'm not the person who made this all happen.” She grinned at him. “How did you discover the immortal hormones?”

“I was reproducing some of Dr. Kubota’s carefully documented work on raising immortal jellyfish in captivity when I began to consider the chemical reactions necessary to precipitate the regression of adult jellyfish back to their polyp state. I soon isolated the three hormones responsible and demonstrated that when injected into mice they induce a similar age-regression.”

“But what made you think these hormones would work on mammals? The physiologies of jellyfish and mice are so different.”

He shrugged. “Too many sci-fi novels, I guess. I just wondered what would happen to mammalian cells exposed to the immortal hormones, and the results were much more spectacular than I expected.”

“Spectacular, indeed.” She pointed her spoon at his bowl. “Your soup is getting cold. Everyone else has almost finished, and they’ll be serving the next course soon.”

He glanced around and discovered she was right. “But you haven’t touched yours.”

She smiled. “I tried it, but the cook didn’t quite capture the flavor I recall from home.”

“You don’t seem excited for someone involved in a medical project this huge. Aren’t you psyched?” He lifted his spoon to his mouth.

“Not at all.”

He choked on the soup for a moment. When he caught his breath back, he turned to her. “Don’t you think these hormones are one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science? We could win a Nobel Prize for this.”

“In all honesty, I think it’s worse than the two World Wars and the Holocaust combined.”

Nathan dropped his spoon into the soup with a splash. “W-what are you saying?”

Liliana picked up her napkin and dabbed at some soup on her forearm. “Your discovery is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity.”

“B-but this will prolong many lives and end needless suffering through common old-age diseases.”

She sighed. “If these hormones were successfully synthesized and transformed into a viable medical treatment, who would benefit?”

“Well, those who can pay for it at first.”

She met his gaze. “Think this through for a moment, Nathan. If the medicine is only available to the wealthy, you’ll create a new superclass of immortals who are healthier than their peers and able to continue working for longer so they can outpace their contemporaries in earnings.

“The regeneration process would take them back to puberty, meaning they’ll be capable of going through high school and university again to learn new skills. Over a short period of time, you will cause a deep and uncrossable chasm to grow between the rich and the poor.”

“B-but eventually it will be mass-produced and made available to all.”

“And if billions of people never die, but they keep on having kids, what are they all going to eat? Where will they all live? Until space colonies are a viable prospect, your hormone treatment can only lead to world-wide social and economic collapse. The tensions created and the competition for ever more scarce resources will inevitably lead to the greatest war in the history of mankind.”

He shook his head. “That’s a very pessimistic view of humanity.”

“It’s a realistic view based upon centuries of personal experience.”

He blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“Do you really think you are the first person to stumble across the hormones in Turritopsis dohrnii? My people have studied naturally occurring chemicals for millennia, and I was among the first of the Embera-Wounaan to benefit from the sacred elixir we developed almost two thousand years ago.”

He stared at her poker face for a moment then chuckled. “Funny. You almost had me there.”

Liliana crumpled up the napkin. “It’s no joke. I belong to an elite warrior clan of immortal Embera-Wounaan. Since we first discovered the inherent problems of the sacred elixir, we have protected the secret from outsiders in order to protect the whole world from humanity’s innate greed.”

“Wait. So, if I were to believe this inane claim, you’re here to stop us? All on your own?”

“I am not alone.” She gestured to the catering staff gathered around the room, and they all bowed in her direction. “We are the Rainbow Warriors. We are acting here today to save the whole world tomorrow.”

Around the table, guests began to slump in their seats, some collapsing to the floor.

Nathan attempted to stand, but he found his leg muscles strangely reluctant to move. “W-what’s happening?”

Liliana patted his arm. “Did you know that Phyllobates terribilis, the tree frog I studied, has another name? It’s sometimes called the poison dart frog. My people use toxins extracted from the skin of this frog to poison the darts we use in blowpipes. This has enabled us to defeat many foes far stronger than ourselves, from the Aztec warlords to the Spanish Conquistadors. Today, the same toxin enables us to defeat a major global corporation.”

His vision grew blurry. “W-what did you do?”

“I'm sorry it had to end this way, Nathan.”

“You can't possibly get away with this.”

“Everyone who knows anything about the Immortal Hormones Project is gathered in this room. Because of the secrecy, all the data on the project is locked away inside the Martinez Pharmaceuticals lab. It seems there is an issue with the gas supply, and there will be an explosion that destroys everything.” She gestured to the soup. “Delicious, isn’t it?”

Nathan turned to his soup in horror. The bowl grew larger, but he didn’t realize he was falling until his forehead landed in the soup. Warm liquid filled his vision. It was the last thing he saw.


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