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Immortal: The First Tango
By J. E. Mayer
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 J. E. Mayer
All rights reserved.
Kalman knew Lisette wanted more of him, but to him she was a wonderful dance partner-nothing more. He enjoyed her company, and particularly the spectacle of her, but they were not lovers. Over the years he had draped many women over himself like formal attire; Lisette was just another one. She was beautiful, with an elegant, classic dancer's body. She appeared to move in slow motion when she walked, yet her fluid, athletic body traveled a distance with economy. With her posture erect and chest out, she was a silhouette when she moved, less human than art in motion.
Octavius Kalman admired a woman with grace and style, and it wasn't lost on him that Lisette pulled her black hair back into a tight ponytail to please him, its brilliantine strands luminescent, even in the dark of night. Cold and aloof to others, Lisette became affectionate and possessive around him. When they were together, her body clung to his—a hand on him, a hip pressed against his a quick kiss that he wouldn't dismiss. He knew if he just gave her the cabezeo, the "look," she would gladly surrender herself to him. He never extended that invitation.
Lisette didn't warm Kalman's blood the way a woman who excited him did. He could sense her complete admiration of him. She offered herself as too much a fan, and fans were like one's children—they were to be protected, nourished, and cherished, not manipulated or taken as lovers.
This night, as they approached the deep-blue and gold baroque tents of the Cirque du Soleil, Kalman sensed Lisette's pride at being on his arm at the black-tie charity event, and he could feel the stares of the many onlookers they passed. Lisette's radiance complemented his tall, athletic body, dark features, and elegant manner; the couple continued to turn heads as they made their way through the receiving line. Kalman knew that Lisette's lust for him grew with every admiring look they received.
Like most other women, Lisette didn't really know him. He projected a certain persona, and she simply saw what others saw: a man whose image was meticulously maintained. He was well aware of his physical attributes—a long, lean frame; a strong jaw; brown eyes with amber halos crowning the pupils; wavy hair with hints of gray; and a pronounced athletic build, dramatic even through loose-fitting clothes. Women often complimented his hands and wrists. His slender fingers belied strong hands, all muscle and bone, and sculpted veins. His wrists provided perfect pedestals—slender, like his hands, but even stronger looking, like corded steel pathways to his well-muscled arms. Kalman's hands moved with a rare combination of precision and strength, yet when they stroked a woman's skin, their gentle touch was electrifying.
Men and women both were attracted to Kalman, and he accepted their attentions as mere social greetings. None of them knew of the disease that raged in his body—especially not Lisette. Kalman didn't allow others to see this inner life. The ones who had seen it could not share their revelation, and the few who sensed the nature of his disease dared not expose themselves.
The virus inhabiting Kalman's body never died, and didn't allow its host to die; generations of mutation ensured the survival of the virus by protecting its host. Kalman's own research into his condition had revealed that cellular regeneration and mutation are common in the human body; many organs, such as the skin, liver, and kidneys, can regenerate damaged tissue. It was not scientifically remarkable that parts of the human body could regenerate themselves time and time again; in this regard, humans were no different than other species. The body's largest organ, the skin, accomplished this feat on a daily basis; it would take just a tweak in the structure of the DNA to spread this regenerative ability to the entire organism.
The virus in Kalman's body provided just that tweak, changing the molecular structure of every cell, enabling it to regenerate. It was then in the best interest of the virus to protect its host—the human—at all costs. Evolved over centuries, the virus created a protection so complete that it empowered its human host with attributes that distinguished him from other humans. He was, in essence, a human fortress in which the virus thrived. Most people would envy the side effects: great strength, good looks, hypersensitivity, high intelligence, an intuitiveness that bordered on clairvoyance, and irresistible sex appeal among them.
When he first studied his disease, Kalman doubted that all his unusual gifts were a result of the virus's alteration of his body. Then his research took him into the social sciences, and he learned how all social and interpersonal skills had evolved to serve a single purpose: human survival. Why else would humans have adorned themselves with all manner of illogical wardrobe, but to advance their survival? Attractiveness, chivalry, insight, empathy, and intelligence weren't just pleasant human attributes; they served to protect the organism, no different than the most mysterious appendage on some tiny creature on the ocean floor. These uniquely human characteristics, worthless to other species, were part of the blueprint of human evolution, and best understood in that context. The virus accelerated that evolution for no other reason than to survive: Kalman had come to understand that fact not as something amazing, but as organic science. The human host must be invincible in every way possible or the virus would perish. This rare disease followed the laws of basic genetics. Kalman understood his disease—both the endowments and the captivity it bequeathed him.
When women encountered Kalman, the virus's gifts overwhelmed their feminine instincts, not for the purposes of mating—the virus didn't spread by such conventional means—but for the virus's own survival. As long as its male host could evoke unquestioned adoration in women, the virus would be safe. A woman's attraction to Kalman had at its foundation a primitive, mindless genetic instinct, not the old black magic, a love potion, or something as brittle as charm.
Kalman's condition was always foremost in his thoughts, not because he was inclined to brood, but because his every contact with reality involved the virus; every conscious thought and action served as a reminder of its effects.
That night, Kalman may have been more aware of his effect on Lisette because of the ambivalence he felt about the performance. Their attendance—Lisette was always provided front-row seats at Cirque's Chicago premiere—marked a standing date. As they approached the entrance tent, Kalman was overwhelmed by the tiresomeness of this once-venerable enterprise; he'd grown indifferent to the colors and designs that once seemed so unique and bold. Now Cirque du Soleil, the brand, was what it had riled against when it first exploded on the entertainment landscape: a familiar and predictable franchise. He thought of it as "Ameri-marketed"—if one Cirque was good, having found success with the public, then several replications were even better.
It didn't even smell like a circus any more, Kalman noted. When it first came to Chicago, Cirque du Soleil set up on a vacant field near the lakefront, on the damp, trampled prairie grasses. The mud after a rain or the dust during an intense Chicago hot spell caused an earthy aroma to fill the performance tents. Now the Cirque set up on fresh pavement in the shadow of a new sports arena. Plenty of parking, easy in and easy out—Cirque had become Disneyesque entertainment.
As blasé as Kalman felt about the Cirque's aesthetic, he still held out hope that the performance would grab hold of him in some way, as it had in the past. He expected the standard fare: clowns walking up and down the aisles as the crowd poured in; the emcee narrating in some unintelligible language; a ridiculous, labyrinthine storyline intended to bind the whole performance together. His expectations were dismally low.
But as he and Lisette walked past the ticket taker and into another tent resplendent with Cirque du Soleil merchandise, none of which compelled a glance, something aroused him. His heart began to pound in a deep, long cadence, and his nostrils flared at a distinct scent. He became lightheaded, and the muscles in his upper body seemed to weaken. Initially, Kalman couldn't distinguish whether he was experiencing danger, fear, lust, or some other instinct. Then an icy sensation filled his heart muscle, as if his blood had been mixed with menthol; the chill flowed through all his veins and arteries down to his extremities. The subtle odor of fresh lily of the valley filled his nostrils, a fragrance so elusive that only a being with heightened senses could have detected it. He knew then what he was being alerted to, and the awareness was exciting, sensual, powerful. The sensations he felt signaled that the virus was raging in another being nearby—maybe human, maybe not.
Lisette's words couldn't divert his attention as he began scanning the crowd. "O, you seem to be someplace else."
Throughout Kalman's life, friends and family had shortened his ancient Roman first name to a simple "O." He particularly liked how Lisette enunciated it, elongating its guttural tone.
"I'm here. It's just that this Cirque extravaganza doesn't grab me tonight." His voice was flat, emotionless as they walked through the tent store through an open area and into the main performance tent.
"It hasn't started yet, love. Don't be so quick to judge."
The smile he directed toward her softened his indifference. "The atmosphere here has become so predictable. I'm just concerned that the performances will be the same. If it weren't for how lovely you look, I'd have left already."
"O, you're so sweet." Lisette squeezed his forearm and laid her head on his shoulder as they settled into their seats.
He kissed her head and breathed in the scent of her hair, as if to cleanse his palate. But the fresh aroma of her shampoo didn't block the smell of lily of the valley, which continued to overpower him.
"Lisette, I meant every word," he said. "You look like a piece of art. And how often in this life do we get to savor a beautiful piece of art that stuns our senses?"
She smiled and lowered her head.
The performance started, and his expectations unfolded. An unstructured melody with the clings and clangs of chimes—a manufactured playfulness distinctly Cirque—blared from strategically placed speakers. At the strike of a precise chord, a creature in a pale-yellow unitard popped up, seemingly from nowhere. It bobbed its head around, mimicking some species of bird. Kalman's mind tried to attend to the activity on stage, yet, as if following its own rhythm, his body continued to be aroused. It knew what to expect next, but no other sign beckoned.
The first creature predictably met another creature and then another, until the stage was filled with creatures, each copying the birdlike movements of its predecessor. Pastel legs moved into the second, third, fourth, and fifth ballet positions, between and around the legs of the other performers, giving the illusion that each creature had multiple appendages. Then the first acrobats pranced onto the stage, costumed in monochromatic unitards of various pastel colors. Their performance consisted of twisting themselves around the body of the largest of the performers, who stood erect—hands, arms, and legs completely outstretched—carrying the full weight of the other performers without the flinch of a muscle. The spectacle was admirable but not stunning. Kalman could have sworn he'd seen them do this before.
That act gave way to one featuring a troupe of tiny people wearing the same style costumes as the previous performers, except in darker blues, reds, and golds. The performers positioned themselves inside stainless-steel hoops, their arms and legs spread wide for control, and then they rolled around the stage frenetically, at breakneck speeds, avoiding crashing into each other by what seemed to be millimeters. Certainly the performance was a frenzy of activity and skill, but to Kalman it seemed to go on too long.
Then with a musical fanfare of off-key notes and pings, a silver trapeze burst from the ceiling to swing freely in the air, sparkling as though electricity were crackling against it—an effect created perfectly by computer-synchronized lighting. From nowhere, a performer in a stunning crimson unitard flew through the air toward the swinging trapeze and grabbed hold of it at the last possible moment before the trajectory of her fall would have propelled her onto the floor of the circus ring.
As soon as he saw her, Kalman felt his heart fill with even more frigid cold, if that were possible, and he knew in an instant that she was the one who hosted the virus.
"O, you have chills," Lisette said, running a hand down his arm. "You're ice-cold. Are you all right?" She could feel the cold that ran through his veins; his shirt and jacket did not dampen its effect.
"I do feel suddenly ill. I may have to get up." Kalman seized the opportunity Lisette had introduced with her question. He wanted to be ready to leave in case he was presented with was some way to get closer to this trapeze artist who shared his affliction. First, though, he would take in her performance. "Could I glance at your program?" He took the program from Lisette's lap and searched for a bio on the performer.
Her name was Mira, and she was from Hungary. There was no last name listed and, true to the minimalist style of the program, no other identifying information. Still, Kalman was stunned by her name. Can this be? How can this be? This woman is in her early thirties, at most. His brain went numb. He stared at her as she twisted and flew through the air with precise timing, but her performance was just visual white noise; his mind was absorbed with images of the past. The Mira in his mind's eye had curly auburn hair that always looked wild and waved across her shoulders. Her eyes were a light matte gray, the most unusual eyes he had ever seen. Her facial features were small and her face angular. Her long, lean body made that beautiful face appear like the pinnacle of a statuette. Beauty was not the only captivating attribute of this Mira from long ago. Kalman recalled her intelligence, her worldliness, and how she carried herself with a grace that put her above other women he had known. He allowed his mind to drift back to those memories as, with abnormally acute vision (the handiwork of the virus), he peered at the Mira on the trapeze with a bit of wonder. She must be a direct descendant—the similarities are unbelievable. Or, could it be possible ...
Her body was long and lean, like that of the woman he'd known so long ago, but of course, her occupation would lend to that result. And she was moving too quickly for him to distinguish her face. But from the few glimpses he caught when she froze in a position on the bar, her face was remarkably similar to his Mira's. Then again, he thought, close relatives could share similar facial features. His studies of his disease had taught him that gene pools can replicate over generations, resulting in an apparent duplicate of an ancestor from some earlier generation. His analytical brain circuited through all the possibilities, as if in cadence with Mira's rhythmic performance on the trapeze. This couldn't be my Mira?
Whoever this was, she had the virus inside her; his physiological reaction to her had made that clear. If she, too, had the virus, it was possible that, like him, she would not age, and that—like him—she would be unusually strong, capable of feats that would defy normal human ability. Balance, agility, coordination, perception—indeed, each physical function would be heightened to the degree that the virus had regenerated her cells. This was just what Kalman had experienced and learned from his own condition. And her performance showed just that. But if this was Mira and the virus had somehow saved her from death, why hadn't she tried to contact him for all these years?
Excerpted from Immortal: The First Tango by J. E. Mayer. Copyright © 2014 J. E. Mayer. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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