Syntopian Chapter Room, RSA
7:30 PM May 21,2129 (AU 78)
The Agnomen was back. It was whispered among the students. Obliquely referenced among the teaching assistants. Murmured among the assistant professors but talked about only among the tenured, and only some of them. The man had returned.
The college building was old, older than any of the students or faculty, tracing its origins to the romanticized days of the mid-twentieth century, over a hundred years before. Then, it was prudent to have safe rooms in case of some never-realized attack. The rooms became an embarrassment, speaking as they did to naivite and paranoia. Then the rooms became an open secret, available for illicit assignations, prompting the college provost to seal them.
Finally the rooms were neglected, forgotten and eventually reborn as the chapter house for the Mother Chapter of the Honorable Order of Syntopia. Mother, as it happened, was barren. All her children had died as stillborns or young infants. Very few wept at her loss. Mother was a bitch.
The HOS imagined itself an over-arching bulwark of rationality against the inundation of rogue science, unproveable religious faith, and misplaced trust in the rump of the American experiment. Inexplicable to the faithful, over the years it had dwindled to a handful of academics at one university, in one city of the Restructured States of America.
It’s long term goal was to sweep away all opposition to a reunited America and to appeal for immediate annexation by the triumphant Democratic Unity.
The short term goal was rather more modest: kill the Agnomen, Jesse Aaron Johnstone.
Initially, it was a matter of practical science.
They had identified the rejunenating agent to be similar to the one producing Jacob-Creutzfeld, Mad-Cow, or Scrapie. The only unusual quality of the agent was that it was non-replicating in humans except in the original index case, the Agnomen himself. If only they had killed the boy back then, the world would not have changed.
A gray-haired and vigorous man approached the hidden chapter room. He waited for the requisite forty-five seconds before inputting the code into the virtual holographic keypad that appeared to float in front of the wall after the correct hand gesture. A nearly indecernible door slide open and he entered a well appointed high-ceilinged room, lined with books, littered with comfortable leather chairs and sporting a single and somewhat soiled banner across the faux-fireplace announcing: “Synthesis- the Only Rational Way.”
Another figure already occupied a chair in the well-appointed secret room under the Women’s Studies wing of the venerable Mondale Building. The figure smoked a large cigar, sipped a small bourbon and read a day-old Post Dispatch. Without looking away, it spoke to the newcomer, “You’ve heard, no doubt, that the Agnomen has returned from exile.”
“A self-imposed one. He thinks Saint Louis is too hot and humid, Benny.” The first man went to a cadenza and got himself a sherry before sitting at the other side of the fireplace. He sighed, “The Synthesis views this with deep suspicion. Why now? It’s not as if he has any business coming back to civilization. People don’t seem to grasp the potential danger he represents.”
Benny waved his cigar idly, wreathing himself in smoke before speaking,“Harry, to most he’s just a Midway freak! ‘See the Amazing Elderly Man!’ Today, the Ageplay agent is synthed by every vaccine company in the nation. You have to say this for Alyssa Browne, she was open-handed. Probably didn’t make a dime on Ageplay.”
“You sound like one of those religious nut-cases, Benny. Ageplay is already playing havoc with society. There hasn’t been an opening for a full professor in decades. Some of those people even say it’s the healing hand of their god. Jesse Browne needs a little divine retribution.”
“Johnstone, Alyssa married that Scotch guy, Johnstone, but point well taken. Not sure it matters anymore.”
“Scots, not Scotch. A scot is a man and a Scotch is a drink. How can you say it ‘doesn’t matter?’”
“The man has been the Agnomen for so long in absentia that when he shows up, literally within our grasp, the Synthesis has to disband in disgrace. Jesse Johnstone, by his very presence in Saint Louis, destroys the Synthesis.”
“You make it sound so inevitable, Benny. And, no, the Agnomen must be seen to be mortal. At seventy-six, he’s younger than the average life expectancy before Browne got started. His death from apparent natural causes will put the lie to Ageplay.”
“I see you are, as usual, way ahead of the rest of us. Don’t tell me anymore. So the old man is finally going to die?”
“The old man will die.”