If you could live forever, what would you die for?
Five hundred years ago, a group of Spanish conquistadors searching for gold, led by a young and brilliant commander named Simon De Oliveras, land in the New World. What they find in the sunny and humid swamps of this uncharted land is a treasure far more valuable: the Fountain of Youth. The Spaniards slaughter the Uzita, the Native American tribe who guard the precious waters that will keep the conquistadors young for centuries. But one escapes: Shako, the chief’s fierce and beautiful daughter, who swears to avenge her people—a blood oath that spans more than five centuries. . .
When the source of the fountain is destroyed in our own time, the loss threatens Simon and his men, and the powerful, shadowy empire of wealth and influence they have built. For help, they turn to David Robinton, a scientific prodigy who believes he is on the verge of the greatest medical breakthrough of all time. But as the centuries-old war between Shako and Simon reaches its final stages, David makes a horrifying discovery about his employers and the mysterious and exotic woman he loves. Now, the scientist must decide: is he a pawn in a game of immortals. . . or will he be its only winner?
Here's an excerpt of Christopher Farnsworth's The Eternal World:
C I UD A D J U Á R E Z , M E X I C O T W O W E E K S A G O
THE BUTCHER CROSSED the bridge on foot at El Paso. With a few days in the sun, he was dark enough to pass as one of the many day laborers on their way home to Juárez for the evening after long hours cleaning, cooking, and mowing the lawns of white people.
He wore sagging dad jeans and a T-shirt that said Metallica and a sweat-stained trucker cap, all fished out of a Goodwill bin. His face was still unlined, his body strong and young. One woman glanced in his direction and gave him a friendly smile. He smiled back, showing all his fine white teeth. She looked away quickly, and surreptitiously crossed herself.
He tried not to laugh. It wasn’t easy. He wanted to tell her that he’d believed once, too. Now he knew better.
Now he was God, or as close as any of these people would ever see. Once, he had been Juan de Aznar y Sandoval. For a while, he’d variously been known as the Moonlight Murderer, the Servant Girl Annihilator, Bible John, and the Torso Killer. Now he was known best as El Carnicero, El Ver- dugo, El Sanguinario—the Butcher of Juárez.
Juárez was a city regularly drenched in blood. People died every day in the relentless drug war between the cartels and the military. So many died that the government was unable—or unwilling—to keep an accurate body count. The usual estimate was about eight murders a day. In a city where life was so cheap, it was easy to lose track.
It took real effort to rise above the usual background noise of gunfire.
But over the years, people began to notice: young women—girls, really— who worked at the maquiladoras, the factories that straddled the border, were turning up dead.
In 1993, seventeen women were found slashed, strangled, mutilated, and, in one case, burned. They all suffered similar cuts to their breasts. The next year, at least eleven were killed. Eighteen the year after that, and more the year after that, and after that.
The victims, all girls, were drawn to Juárez from their villages in the country with the promise of good jobs. Their pictures began to appear in the newspapers, the faces beaming right next to graphic descriptions of the rape and mutilation their bodies had endured.
People finally began to count all those faces, and all the bodies found in fields or vacant lots or back alleys. Some people got as high as four hundred over a ten-year span.
The police said that was impossible. They said no one man could be responsible for so many deaths. When the outrage over their inaction became too much, they would arrest someone and try to pin all the murders on him.
But the girls kept dying, no matter what the police did or said.
Now most people, if they thought of him at all, believed he was an urban legend. There was even a song about him. He heard it played on a cheap portable stereo as he was walking over the bridge one night. It took him a moment to realize that someone had composed a narcocorrido about him:
Oh little girl,
watch where you walk tonight,
Oh little girl,
watch where you go,
Don’t you know the Butcher is waiting for you,
Stay here with me tonight,
Idiots, he thought. Singing hymns to the man who was slaughtering them. The narcocorridos were full of praise for the lords of the cartels, or their gunmen—he’d even heard one about Osama bin Laden. It only confirmed his belief that these people were in love with death, a whole culture bent on suicide, like a herd of cattle running over a cliff.
But he had to admit he found himself humming the tune. It was catchy.
Aznar was not stupid. He was careful. He changed his signature style every other victim now, so that he could not be tracked by the slashing of breasts or a particular weapon or method of murder. He could control the urge for months at a time, staying in his cheap little hovel on the Texas side of the border, keeping quiet, keeping to himself.
But eventually, he would realize, why bother?
He had passed from reality into folklore. No one would ever catch him, because he was like the weather now: simply a condition of life, inevitable and uncontrollable. The police would not even try to stop him, be- cause that would be admitting he existed. The citizens would simply accept him, and every time another body turned up, they would shrug and move on. People still had to go to work, go shopping, and raise their kids. They had their own problems. That was Juárez: proof that people could get used to anything.
This is why he loved the walk across the bridge. For him, Juárez was a playground, and every time, it made him giddy as a child.
Tonight, the Butcher was back.
THE GIR LS FILED OUT of the factory like an offering made just for him. He scanned their faces, looking for the right one for tonight as they hurried back to their little shacks. They would get some food or some sleep or change into their good clothes and hit the clubs that stayed open into the early morning to cater to them.
No one heeded the warning in the song about the Butcher. There was simply no way for women to stay off the streets in Juárez after dark. The factories worked around the clock, manufacturing plastic toys and gadgets to fill the shelves of the stores up north.
Every night, he had his choice of targets. A seemingly endless supply. That’s not to say he didn’t have a type. He did. Anyone looking at the photos of his victims would see the common threads binding them all together. All were young, late teens or not far into their twenties, attractive, and, at least superficially, resembled one another. They could all have been sisters, or cousins, from a very large and very unlucky family.
But no one would know the real reason he chose them all. They all looked like her. He would never get tired of killing her. He thought of it as practice for the day when he’d finally get his chance at the real thing.
For tonight, he’d have to be satisfied with another stand-in.
He waited outside the gates of the factory—this one assembled toys from plastic components made in Taiwan and then shipped them back across the Pacific. Many of the girls on the line weren’t much older than the children who’d play with the finished products.
He ignored them. It wasn’t that he valued them or thought them innocent—none of these mongrels were innocent, in his mind—but they did not look enough like her.
Then he caught a glimpse of an older girl, already turning in a different direction from the stream of night-shift workers.
He caught himself. She looked so much like her, he had to be careful not to stare too hard. He didn’t want anyone to notice him. But the resemblance—it was too close to let her go. She would be perfect.
He waited an appropriate length of time, and then was drawn after her down the same dark streets.
JUÁR EZ WAS BOTH TOO poor and too corrupt for streetlights or side- walks off the main avenues. The shadows were deep enough for him to hide every time the girl looked over her shoulder. She knew he was there, but she couldn’t see him.
She must have lived in the cheapest possible rentals—the slapped-together houses on the far end of the city, parallel to the river and near the railroad tracks. Quite literally, the wrong side of the tracks: bodies were dumped here all the time, along with whatever trash and waste that couldn’t be recycled by the countless scavengers and pickers. The shacks were often just four walls and a roof put up over a dirt floor, without water or heat or electricity. The people who lived there were either new to Juárez or had simply given up.
She looked new. Her dress still had some white in it, and there was still some life in her movements.
Aznar was happy; she was going to be worth his effort.
She abruptly turned into an alley between the shells of two buildings near the tracks that had been burned out in a recent dispute between the cartels and the military.
It was time for him to show himself.
He moved out of the shadows, almost gliding over the dirt and broken concrete. He’d try to take his time with her, but he knew it was going to be over quick. The first one of the night always was. And anyway, he could still catch at least two more before morning.
Aznar entered the mouth of the alley and deliberately knocked over a pile of trash. Old cardboard slithered to the ground, taking several wads of plastic bags with it. It sounded nicely ominous to him.
He already had his knife in his hand. He’d planned on gutting his victims tonight, pulling out their entrails and showing them off in the moonlight. It was a cheap, handmade thing—once a kitchen knife, now wrapped with duct tape for a handle, sharpened to a razor’s edge. It was ugly and mean and perfect.
He wanted her to turn and see him. He wanted to see the fear in her eyes. She wasn’t there.
Impossible, he thought. He was faster than her, faster than anyone could be, and there was nothing big enough for her to hide behind here.
He ran to the end of the alley, frantic with disappointment.
He saw a soiled dress, still white in places, in the corner of his eye. She dropped on him from above, leaping from one of the dead windows in the empty building.
It was a twenty-foot fall from the window to the alley. No ordinary girl could have made the leap without breaking bones.
But then, no ordinary man could have taken the force of her landing without breaking his neck.
He fell and rolled away from her, and regained his feet instantly. They stood and faced each other.
It wasn’t a girl who looked like her. It was her.
In disbelief, he said her name: “Shako.”
She returned his greeting. “Aznar,” she said. Then they went for each other.
SHE WOULD HAV E LIK ED to be able to deal with Aznar from a distance. He was dangerous. But she had to be sure it was him. She had to see him face-to-face.
He was good with the knife. He turned it expertly in his hands as he advanced on her, alternating between short, stabbing thrusts and wide slashes that drove her back. He moved so fast the blade seemed to flow like water in the dim light. But she’d seen it before. He’d changed nothing, apparently learned nothing, since their last encounter.
And she was not defenseless.
She took a flat wedge from the holster she wore like a garter on her thigh. With the press of a button, it sprang a telescoping handle. She took the grip in her left hand, and then, when Aznar stabbed at her again, swung hard for his skull.
He barely dodged in time, the metal ax coming within millimeters of his eyes. It was crafted of a titanium alloy, a high-tech re-creation of a tomahawk.
She was not above using guns or bombs or even missile strikes if it came to that. But it was important to her that all of the Council see her face before they died. Given the chance, she would stick with the old ways.
Aznar fell on his back, his feet sliding out from under him in his sudden retreat. She slashed downward, and realized her mistake. This was a feint, meant to get her overextended and off-balance. He stabbed upward, coming out of a crouch.
She pulled back and caught his knife with her ax hard enough to send sparks flying, but not hard enough to knock it from his grip.
She didn’t let up. Didn’t let him up. He was still kneeling, still slashing desperately at her. She swung for his head again, and, when he ducked, drove her foot into the bridge of his nose. There was a sharp cracking noise and Aznar flipped over onto his back.
He thrashed wildly, scrambling on the ground on all fours. She realized
Aznar was going to run.
No. Not this time. She thought she’d had him in Serbia; she wasn’t going to let him get away again.
She leaped forward and sliced through the meat of one of his legs with a stroke that almost looked like a golf swing.
He screamed and bucked as if electrocuted. He never could handle pain. Not at all, she remembered.
Before she could lift her ax again, however, he turned and threw his knife at her.
It buried itself in her left shoulder, up to the hilt. Her arm went numb: he’d taken out the nerve cluster there as deftly as a surgeon.
He struggled up from the ground and gave her a lupine grin.
“Don’t look so pleased,” she snarled. Wincing, she yanked the knife from her body. A fresh gout of blood ran freely, soaking the top of her dress. “I’ve got your knife.”
She held the knife in her near-dead hand and clumsily transferred her ax to her right.
His grin grew even wider. “Keep it,” he said. “I’ll use this one.”
And he drew another, just as large and ugly as the first, from under his jacket.
She staggered back a few steps. He came after her, limping.
He adjusted the rhythm of his attack now, putting his weight on his good leg as he stabbed at her, then dancing back, favoring the bad one, when he dodged.
She clumsily parried his blade with the ax, but he broke through her defense easily. She thought he might have nicked her lung. Breathing was becoming difficult.
Within a few more seconds, he’d opened shallow slashes on her arms, her breasts, and her legs.
He was enjoying himself now. She could see it in the orgasmic light in his eyes, his smile now almost serene. This was what he lived for; he was toying with her.
She wasn’t worried. The cuts Aznar had inflicted were superficial. They would have closed instantly if her body were not already trying to heal the major wound in her shoulder. Even the nerves would knit themselves back together, good as new, in a matter of hours.
After all, it wasn’t like Aznar had dipped his blades in poison. She had.
A little of the light went out of his eyes at first. A string of drool fell from his lips, and he began to look confused. He redoubled his efforts, pushing harder, stabbing, trying to close in for the deathblow.
He couldn’t do it. He was getting slower. His leg still dragged, when it should have healed as fast as she could. Sweat drenched his face for the first time, despite the warmth of the night.
The next time he brought up his knife, she swung and knocked it away easily. He looked shocked, and then it finally occurred to him what had happened.
She saw it then, in his eyes. The hate was still there. The rage, and the sense of wounded vanity. He never believed he was subject to the rules, even when they were all still mortal.
But above all, she saw the helplessness.
The poison was only slightly weaker than the one she used on the tips of her arrows. It paralyzed before it killed. But that only meant it worked slower. It was still working, implacably shutting down the connections between Aznar’s brain and his body, like turning off light switches in a house one by one, until the entire structure was completely dark.
It was almost over.
Aznar knew it, too. He was many things. But he was not stupid. He ran away from her.
She was caught flat-footed, her weight still on her back leg, ready to parry his next attack. Even with the drug in him, he took off like a shot.
Damn it. All this time, and he could still surprise her.
She raced after him. She would not let him get away. She still wanted answers before he died. Forever, this time.
AZNAR FELT SUR PR ISI NGLY CALM, even as his breath hitched and his legs went numb. He did not expect it to end like this, in the ass end of a diseased slum.
But he always knew it would end somewhere. And he knew, with un- shakable faith, that nothing waited for him. There would be blackness, and then, whatever he was, whatever he had been, would be gone.
It occurred to him that he had nothing to fear. That his faith had always been much more about suffering through Hell than embracing the joy of Heaven.
Shako was right on top of him now. He turned to look at her, could see the triumph and determination in her eyes.
Then he tripped and went down hard.
His skull rang against metal. He realized he’d fallen on the railroad tracks. He got to his knees and brought up his knife again, just in time to keep her from leaping atop him and finishing this.
She stood back, wary. He kept the knife up. She could afford to wait. His arm already felt heavy. The poison was still working in him. Soon he’d be helpless.
He could see that she had something to say. Of course, she would want to talk first.
“Where do you keep your source?” she demanded.
He almost felt cheated. She wanted to collect the Water. How boring. She was speaking in the formal, correct Spanish of the old days. It sounded almost like a foreign language in this debased time and place.
He did not return the courtesy. “Go fuck yourself,” he said.
She grinned and danced forward, blurring quick, and sliced open his cheek with his own knife.
He hadn’t seen it. He was too dull now. The pain burned as if his skin was etched with acid.
He screamed. Blood and tears poured down his cheeks.
“It’s amazing how the poison paralyzes but doesn’t numb, isn’t it? You can still feel everything. At least, that’s what I’m told.”
He unleashed another stream of obscenities at her.
“Such language,” she said. “They used to call you the Saint, behind your back. Saint Juan. Did you know that?”
He nodded. He knew. He could still hear the jealousy and bitterness in their whispers, even now.
“You were always so pious. So correct. And look at what you’ve become.” She glanced around the alley and then back at him. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I always knew what you were, deep inside. I always knew what you said about me to Simon. How he should not defile himself, laying down with the lower creatures.” Aznar wheezed, as close as he could come to a laugh. “If only he would have listened.”
Another quick slice with the knife, and the tip of his nose was gone. He growled rather than screamed this time. The indignity of this was beginning to gall him.
“Yes,” she said. “If only. But he didn’t. Now we’re here. Now you only have a few moments left to live.”
She showed him the knife again.
“If you want to live them as a man, Saint Juan, you should tell me where you keep your supply.”
Aznar felt his first stab of genuine fear. He would not allow himself to be violated like that. In all his years, he’d never allowed that.
He tried to stall. “You must know. You must have been following me.” “I’ve been watching you for weeks. I’ve seen you come in and out of that little hole where you hide. I know there is some there, but you need more. You couldn’t hold enough there to survive for this long. Where do you go when you need more?”
The world was growing dim, but something still clicked in Aznar’s brain. He felt a vibration in the tracks. She’d just given him the key. With that one word.
“Weeks?” he asked.
She seemed to realize her mistake. She ignored the question. “Where is it, Aznar?”
“You’ve been following me for weeks?” He wheezed, laughing again. “Then you must have seen. You must have watched.”
He saw the shame in her eyes and wanted to get up and dance.
In the distance, the sound of the train whistle. She heard it, too, but she was distracted.
Because he had taken another girl, only last week. She had seen. She must have known. That’s how she knew his patterns, how she put it all together, and how she set this trap.
And she did nothing to stop him. She let him kill an innocent, just to see if she could find out where he kept the Water.
“You let me kill her. Her blood is on your hands.” “I didn’t—”
“That’s right. You did nothing. Nothing at all. Oh, Shako. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps there is a Hell after all. And I will be so happy to see you when you join me there.”
Her face went dark. He’d seen that look before—just before she killed him the last time, in Serbia.
The ground shook under them both. The train was hurtling toward them. Those Walmarts up north were hungry. They needed to be filled. The trains had to run on time.
Now or never.
With all his might, Aznar flung his second knife at her.
This time her shoulder wound and her distraction made the difference. She had to fall over backward to avoid the blade plunging into her throat.
Aznar forced his nerveless limbs to move.
He flopped off the tracks just as the freight train barreled between him and Shako.
With his last bit of strength, he reached out and caught one of the cars. He only barely felt his legs bouncing and dragging on the gravel as the train pulled him up and away.
His blood ran onto the dirt. His body was filled with toxins and he la- bored for every breath as he rolled himself into a filthy boxcar.
None of it mattered. His long, happy life would continue. He had beaten her again.
SHAKO WATCHED ALL THE cars of the train pass along the tracks. Grit and dirt blew into her eyes. He was gone. But she had to be sure.
She found his blood on the other side of the tracks. She followed it for a mile, until the splatters became drops, then the trail ended completely.
He was gone. This time, unlike Serbia, she didn’t even have the satisfaction of killing him temporarily.
Shako walked back toward the city center, where she had a hotel room waiting with a change of clothes and identity so she could get out of this place.
She did not feel any guilt. She told herself that, over and over. It was not her fault, or her responsibility, what the men of the Council chose to do.
What mattered was making them pay. That was enough for Shako. She had her mission, and if there were innocents who died along the way, then so be it.
She had her mission. That was enough. It had to be.
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BUSINESS SECTION, PAGE ONE:
CONQUEST BIOTECH’S STOCK PLUMMETS AFTER SON STEPS INTO FATHER’S JOB
Simon Oliver III, the chief executive officer and chairman of the leading biotechnology firm Conquest Biotech, passed away unexpectedly late Sunday night, according to company officials.
The same press release also announced that his son, Simon Oliver IV, was elected to the chief executive’s position in an emergency board meeting convened via telephone.
The news hit just before stocks began trading on Monday. By noon, Conquest had lost nearly thirty percent of its value.
Although the stock price stabilized before the end of the day, analysts said that the reason is obvious: Mr. Oliver is not ready for his father’s job.
Mr. Oliver, 23, is better known for his activities outside of work hours. He has been linked romantically to everyone from supermodels and porn stars to reality-TV mainstays such as Kim Kardashian. (A representative of Ms. Kardashian said that she and Mr. Oliver were simply good friends.) His only previous attempt to involve himself in Conquest was a disastrous attempt to diversify the company in movies and music videos, which ended in several lawsuits. A 2009 drug charge against him was dropped after he agreed to enter a rehabilitation program.
Conquest, best known for its series of antiaging pharmaceuticals, has met or beaten earning expectations every quarter for the past five years. But it is facing an expiration on the patent for Revita, its most popular—and profitable— drug, which is used to increase cell vitality and spur synapse growth in elderly patients.
This, plus the selection of Mr. Oliver, has big investors looking for the exits, said Irfan Khan, an analyst with Bank of America Securities.
“Right now, Conquest needs another home run, and they’ve brought up a kid from the minors who’s basically in- capable of finding a bat, let alone hitting it out of the park,” he said.
But the investors are essentially powerless to change the selection, no matter how far the stock drops. While anyone can buy common stock in Conquest, the Oliver family, which founded the company in 1946 as a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals for the U.S. military and other customers, still controls the majority of special voting stock—giving them a 3-to-1 advantage over other voters. Every member of the board is either related to the Oliver family or one of the original employees of the company.
Until now, investors have been willing to trade their lack of control for the exorbitant profits and dividends that Con- quest has always delivered, Mr. Khan said. But with someone like Mr. Oliver at the helm, the big financial firms have decided the trade-off is no longer worth it.
Through a representative, Mr. Oliver and Conquest declined to comment for this article.
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