Dr. Juan Suarez, the inventor of eternal youth, stepped from the Rolls Royce and studied the cinder-block church. Father Pablo Suarez, the priest who greeted the inner city parishioners after mass, was not happy to see his own father.
Dad finished off a mineral water and handed the empty bottle to a bodyguard and walked up to Pablo. He was over 150 years old, but looked about twenty-five, with a body-builder’s physique. “What are you trying to prove?” Dad asked.
A couple of parishioners frowned. Pablo hoped they didn’t start an argument. His Nobel laureate Dad was not well liked.
“It might be better for you to leave,” Pablo said to his father.
Dad dabbed sweat off his brow with a polka-dotted handkerchief. “You were almost impossible to find.”
After the door-slamming fight fifteen years ago the priest didn’t think Dad would ever want to see him again. “Maybe I didn’t want you to find me.”
A teenager, one of the countless Indonesian eco-refugees, strutted out of a boarded-up barbecue joint across the pot-holed street. When he approached the Rolls, one of Dad’s goons unbuttoned his Italian suit and brandished a semi-automatic. The youth scurried away.
Dad pointed at the graffiti-covered chapel. “You’ve made your point, working in this dump. But, why refuse rejuvenation? For God’s sake, you look middle-aged.”
Pablo scratched his grey beard. “My congregation can’t afford the treatments.”
“You know we have to ration longevity. The world couldn’t handle it if everybody were rejuvenated.” He sighed. “I don’t want to talk about your damned congregation. I’m not here to debate politics again.”
Pablo wiped sweat off his brow with the sleeve of his robe. It was over a hundred already. He had dim memories of cool April mornings as a child. God. What would summer in North Carolina be like? “You haven’t been to church in a while, have you?”
“Does all that talk about dying and the hereafter depress you?”
Dad shook his head. “It doesn’t have to happen.”
A drunk urinated on the other side of the street.
“It’ll happen to people around here,” Pablo said.
“It doesn’t need to happen to my son.”
“I don’t expect you to understand my thinking. I’m happier now. Freer. I was dreading another treatment. I drank all the time. Thinking of living forever, watching most folks get old, it made me a nervous wreck.”
“You just needed to dry out,” Dad said.
Pablo glanced at the now-empty sanctuary. He pulled the remote from his pocket and activated the force field around the church. The days when churches were open all day for prayer were long gone.
“I went through rehab. I was supposed to make amends to those I had wronged,” Pablo said. “You know, AA — the twelve steps. I realized almost everybody I’d harmed was dead or really old. And it hit me. Why was I still so young? Why was I special?”
“Killing yourself isn’t going to help them.”
Pablo’s voice rose. “I’m not killing myself. I’m just living like most of the world. Nobody in your little club does anything important. They’re on vacation all the time.”
Dad crossed his arms. “They’ve earned it.”
“They’re frat boys, afraid to graduate. You ever think maybe that the only thing that makes life worth living is the fear of dying?”
“I can’t say the fear of dying’s ever did anyone a whole lot of good.” Dad exhaled loudly. “Do you realize how this looks? The son of the company CEO turns down the process. People are talking.”
Pablo laughed. “Is this about the bottom line?”
“That’s not what I meant… I’m sorry.”
Pablo didn’t believe him, but saw no point in arguing. “My church doesn’t even know I’m your son.”
“Are you embarrassed?”
Dad’s question stung. “No, I don’t want the church to become distracted.”
Dad let out a dry little laugh. “So, you preach about salvation and eternal life and how Jesus died for our sins and you’re afraid to talk about real eternal life?”
“That’s not it.”
“The hell it’s not. Sounds like you need a little bit of faith yourself. You don’t think the Church can compete with what my company offers.”
Pablo brushed back his scraggly gray hair. “The Church welcomes everybody. Can your company say that?”
“You’re spouting the same old bull religion’s peddled for two thousand years and you won’t talk about science? Are you afraid of what your flock might say if they knew you were 125?”
“The Church isn’t about me. It’s about salvation for everybody,” Pablo said.
“Jesus Christ, you — ”
“Don’t say His name like that.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right I shouldn’t have sworn,” Dad said. “I think you don’t have an answer for why eternal life on Earth isn’t what — ”
“Earth isn’t heaven.”
Dad’s eyes misted. “If you want to be fifty for the rest of your life, that’s fine. It’s a good look for a priest, I guess. Just don’t let yourself die. My process is always available to you.”
“I’ve been on this planet for longer than I deserve.”
Dad’s voice cracked. “You know I love you.”
Dad hadn’t said that in fifty or sixty years.
The words came easier than Pablo expected. “I love you too.”
A bodyguard opened the Rolls for Dad. A minute later the car vanished down the street.
Peter Wood is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina where he lives with his surly cat and patient wife. He has had stories published in Asimov’s, Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories and Every Day Fiction. “I have no clue where this story came from,” Pete says. “It must be the muse.”