Immortality: Part 4
The cost of living
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: A showman by the name of Stan Lazarus has been accused fraud by his clients. They claim to have not received the advertised product: eternal life by way of expensive trips through the portals. Stan used to be known on Palinor as Stalanov, an infamous scientist who conducted outlawed experiments for years…
I never call you Zoltan face-to-face. That’s an SDC thing, isn’t it? Or maybe just a police thing. Surnames everywhere. But ZOLTAN, hello. So lovely to get your message. Things are good here. I’ve settled in properly - Bruglia suits me, I think, though it’s not without its challenges/problems/refugee camps/massive social inequality/butwhatcanyado. I think I’m making a difference?
I hope everything is OK your side. I’m looking forward to seeing the new office at some point, though it’s not like I can just pop back. Has to be official business, OR it has to be very expensive. Neither of those are happening any time soon! How is Nisha? NISHA CHAKRABORTY. What a legend. How is she? How are you? Hugs.
Down to business. I looked into the case you sent over. Difficult to track down at first, as the travel arrangements were forwarded through a bunch of different accounts. Which probably tells you most of what you need to know. This guy must have made a bunch of contact on both sides of the portal. Not sure how - would have taken a while. I did manage to get word back from the ‘clinic’. It’s two day’s travel from Bruglia, so I couldn’t go myself, but the local constabulary were pretty clear. It’s definitely not extending anyone’s life. Well, unless you count having a nice time at a fancy spa. If your guy has been selling anything more than that, then, yeah, fraud sounds about right.
That’s not the only thing though. The image you sent over got flagged up by one of the city guards I’m working with. He’s a bit of a nerd when it comes to history - Bakker would like him - and he clocked him straight away. This guy has one helluva past, Zoltan. I’ve attached a transcript from my colleague. I’ll try to get you something more official in the next day or two.
Be well. Look after Nisha. And Clarke. You know what he’s like.
Yeah, he still gets the surname.
On duty: DC Nisha Chakraborty & DC Zoltan Kaminski
Kaminski waved Lola’s letter. “There it is,” he said. “The Max-Earth place is also a big con. This guy’s been selling expensive portal trips to nowhere. Clients get some sort of treatment, but it’s nothing special. The guy’s a fraud.”
“You sound pleased,” Chakraborty said, smiling wryly from where she was sat at her desk.
“Yeah, well, it’s a double-win,” he said. “We get to make a pretty easy arrest, and we also get to laugh at all those rich old people who bought into his made-up eternal life bullshit.” He took a last drag on his cigarette and flicked it into the nearest bin. It was always rich people that wanted to live forever, who obsessed over death and legacy and all that fuckery. Everyone else was too busy trying to live.
“And how’s Lola Styles?”
“Sounds like she’s losing her mind.” He dropped the letter to his desk and pulled out the other sheet of paper - a transcript from one of Lola’s Bruglia friends. He scanned down the document and whistled. “This just got more interesting.”
Lazarus Enterprises turned out to be a smart if minuscule one-room shop on Carnaby Street, little more than an office front for the business itself. Stan Lazarus was taken into custody, assets were seized, and the operation went about as smoothly as any could go.
Kaminski sat across the table in the interview room, looking at Lazarus. The other man looked tired, far from the demonstrative, lively figure they’d encountered a few days prior. “I’ll be very clear,” Kaminski said. “There’s enough evidence to convict you with extreme ease. The combined information from Palinor, Max-Earth and here paints a very clear picture. You can cooperate and make things easier for yourself, or you can make matters worse.” He tapped a finger on the table. “Which will it be?”
“This all feels very petty, doesn’t it?” Lazarus said, sounding bored and irritated. “What are we talking about here?”
“Confidence fraud? You parted a lot of people from a lot of cash, Stan. I haven’t seen the full numbers yet, so you’d know better than me. We could be talking seven, eight years. That could go to four or five if you’re clever.”
Lazarus nodded. “What I’m really looking for here is no press. No big announcements.”
“What, you shy?”
“I like a low profile.”
Kaminski smiled. “Stan Lazarus likes a low profile?”
“Business is one thing. Private matters another.” Lazarus played with his tie.
“No journalists is easy. This doesn’t need to be in the news.” The guy was behaving oddly, Kaminski recognised. That must come with the patience of being around for a while.
“OK, fine, no problem,” Lazarus said, throwing his arms up dramatically. “Yes, I took their money. I’ve very sorry, I express remorse, and so on and so forth. Take me away, won’t do it again. Let’s get on with it.”
Opening the cardboard folder on the table, Kaminski looked at the files inside. “You’re in an awful rush. And all this secrecy, Stan.” He pulled out a sheet of paper and stared at it for a few seconds. Not for any real purpose, other than to unnerve the suspect. “It’s not because you’re actually Stanley Lanova, is it?”
Crossing his arms, Lazarus glared. “Having a stage name isn’t a crime.”
“No, it isn’t,” Kaminski said, “but that’s not your only name, is it?” He watched him for reactions. “Do you prefer Stalanov, or is that only what your friends call you?”
The corner of Lazarus’ mouth curled, a slight snarl forming.
“Anything you’d like to tell me, Stan? Sorry, I mean Stalanov.”
Lazarus leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know who that is. I’d like to call my lawyer.”
“That’s fine,” Kaminski said, pulling more papers from the folder. “Look at all this. You know, it took a while to dig this out. Turns out Lairn city records are a bit patchy, going back a century. Unauthorised medical experiments. Child abuse. Sexual assault. Manslaughter.”
That caused a response. Lazarus jumped to his feet, pushing his chair back. It toppled over. “That’s a lie. That’s all lies! None of that is right!”
Kaminski didn’t move, other than to tap a cigarette out of its pack. “Pick up the chair and sit down, Stan. I won’t ask again.”
“All of that is fabricated,” Lazarus said, sheepishly returning the chair to the table. He sat down and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s either not true, or it is misunderstood. It’s written by idiots who wouldn’t have understood what they were looking at. And it was so long ago! You’re a detective, you know the law. Back then, there wasn’t ‘law’, not like you think of it.”
“Right, so it is you. Good to know.” He lit the cigarette. “Wanted for all these crimes, and you ended up here. And, what, you just hid in London for a century?”
Lazarus’ fist banged down on the table. “You’re missing the point! They all missed the point. It worked! It worked, damn it!” He shook his hands in front of his face. “Don’t you get it? No, of course you don’t. How can I be here, if Stalanov was there, that long ago?”
“Yeah, I get it, Stan,” Kaminski said, clapping slowly. “You’re very old. You’ve lived longer than the average human. Congratulations. Getting away with it for a long time doesn’t make it OK.”
The man’s eyes bulged and he shook his head. “I could have saved everyone. So many have died. Got old and withered away. But I’ve been trapped here this entire time, in this pitiful dimension, without the ability to do anything. Such a waste.”
“Stan. Conning old people out of their life savings seems like a weird hobby.”
“Look!” Lazarus leaned forward and pointed at his head. No, at his hair. “Look at this!”
Kaminksi shrugged. “It’s a nice haircut.”
“Grey hairs! I shouldn’t have grey hairs. But I do. Which means what I did back then, on Palinor, is fading. I’m my greatest success, but even I’m starting to get old.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a few myself. Makes me look distinguished. You know what really bothers me, though? Sometimes in the morning, my knee seizes up, feels a bit frozen. You ever get that?”
“Do you have any idea how expensive the longevity treatments are on Max-Earth? The real ones. It’s extortionate. Plus the travel, plus needing new papers yet again. I can’t go back to Palinor because they’d arrest me, so I have to get to Max-Earth before I age too far. What I was charging those people for was a tiny fraction of what longevity really costs. They were getting a good deal.”
“Stan, it didn’t work. You didn’t give them anything but an expensive holiday.”
A slow, long sigh wheezed out of Lazarus, like a balloon gently deflating. “I can’t go back to Lairn,” he said. “Palinor justice isn’t justice. I can’t go back. Not after all this time.”
Kaminski shrugged. “Extradition is Joint Council territory. Way above my pay grade. I hear it’ss a pretty straightforward process these days.”
“I can give you the names of all the people I was working with. My contacts on the other side of the portals.”
“Sounds good. Give us everything you’ve got, and I’ll see what I can do.”
There was a buzz, then a knock at the door. It opened and Chakraborty gestured at him.
Nodding at her, Kaminski got to his feet. “Excuse me, Mr Lazarus. Someone will be through in a moment to take you to your cell.”
Kaminski breathed deeply as he left the interview room. They were at a local station near Lazarus’ office. “That went pretty smoothly,” he said. “Best notify Joint Council and get that ball rolling. Fairly certain this is going to be transferred over to Palinor jurisdiction.”
There was a look on Chakraborty’s face. The look she had when she knew something he didn’t. He’d seen that look a lot over the years. “I wouldn’t bet on it,” she said, eyebrows arched.
“What is it? I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Just got off the telephone to Robin. There’s been an extradition request.”
“They got that in quick.”
“Not from Palinor. This one comes from Max-Earth. They want him as well.”
Kaminski smiled grimly. Stan Lazarus was popular.
Thanks for reading!
It’s been quite a week. Hello to all the new subscribers. Lovely to have you here!
They always say that it’s the ones you don’t expect that do well, which I experienced this week. When I hit ‘publish’ on my article Why I left Wattpad for Substack I didn’t expect it to be a big one. I thought it was a bit too niche and me-focused, to be honest. The bits in there about shifts in the wider internet seem to have really resonated, though.
Lots of people I read and respect have said nice things about it. The good ol’ Substack networking effect at work there.
Did you know that I recorded an author reading of the opening chapter of Triverse? It was a lot of fun to do, and I thought it might be an extra way to help new readers get on board. You can give it a listen here:
Talking of audio, something that isn’t entirely obvious is that you can actually listen to every chapter of Triverse (as well as my non-fic stuff) if you use the Substack app. Every post has a little ‘play’ button at the top, which effectively turns the thing into a free audiobook. Not as good as having a human read it, but still pretty nifty.
Last but not least, if you’re a writer on Substack you might be interested in a little guide I published on the side, outlining how to get Google Analytics 4 up and running:
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After last week’s excursion to old Palinor, we’re now back with the main storyline. I do enjoy writing Kaminski’s acerbic world view. He’s not as corrosive and unpleasant as Holland, because Kaminski is at his core still a nice guy. But he’s never far from despair.
Talking of despair, have you watched The Banshees of Inisherin? That is a masterful examination of despair. I can well imagine Kaminski going down one of those existential rabbit holes.
This chapter opens with a letter from Lola, presented more-or-less diagetically. That was fun to do, especially as we haven’t caught up with her for a while now. I find with serials there is a lot of play to be found in the writing. Changing things up and breaking the formula every-so-often keeps it interesting for me and, hopefully, for readers. It reminds me of when TV shows used to have 20-ish episodes per season and therefore had more time to play with, especially science fiction shows. That’s when you’d see Star Trek and Farscape and Babylon 5 tinkering with their presentation and formula, which can be very rewarding for regular viewers/readers. Modern shows don’t have that kind of leeway due to being reduced to 8-or-so episodes (and yet still somehow manage to feel flabby and poorly paced a lot of the time).
(talking of B5, there’s a new animated thing on the way this summer. Very exciting!)
Right, time to sign off. Thanks again for reading and supporting my writing. I’m never quite sure how to express my gratitude for that. So, er: thanks.
P.S. last chance for these ebook giveaways:
Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash
"Yeah, he still gets the surname."
At that point the reader snorted. Then had to clean the screen. Allergies and laughter can be a dangerous combination.
Kaminski - who I usually refer to as "Zoltan" in comments, but I'm balancing Lola - is (wilfully) overlooking the obvious fact that Stan has a working procedure. Just dismissing someone who has just been shown to be at least 130 (after all, Stan has to grow up and do experiments before getting caught) as "long lived..." He's a smart guy, but basically has no curiosity outside the parameters of his job. "Case closed." Good enough.
Ah, the anti-aging procedure is finally fading? Ok, took a lot longer than anticipated, but, yeah, Immortality wouldn't even be "one and done."
Extradited to Max-Earth? Interesting...