Fortune Favors
his right, which held the pen, was adorned with a gaudy, gem-encrusted ring. Impulsively, Kismet tried to get a better look at the ring, and in so doing, drew attention to his presence. The tall man inclined his head in a polite nod, revealing eyes the color of gypsum, then returned to his labor.
    “What’s it say?”
    The scribe looked up, a faintly perturbed expression flickering across his features. Kismet smiled, hoping to put the man at ease, but saw no change in the gray eyes. He risked extending a hand to the man. “I’m Nick Kismet.”
    The man's expression softened just a little, but he disdained the handclasp. When he spoke, his enunciation was precise, with just a hint of superciliousness but no discernible accent. “Dr. John Leeds, at your service.”
    In the corner of his eye, Kismet saw a man wearing the common uniform of a ship’s steward enter the lounge. He felt an inexplicable compulsion to remain with the strange scholar, but the hunger and fatigue in his body argued that he should take his leave. “A pleasure making your acquaintance, doctor. Enjoy the cruise.”
    “It is the Epic of Gilgamesh.”
    The quiet voice froze Kismet in mid-step. He turned back. “I take it you’re not a physician, Dr. Leeds.”
    The statement elicited a faint smile. “No. My field is comparative theology. I am also—if I may be so bold as to say it—an expert on mythology and the occult.”
    “Thus your interest in one of the world's oldest fairy tales.”
    Leeds laughed, but his icy eyes froze away any hint of mirth. “My interest is not purely academic. The quest of Gilgamesh is one that I happen to share.”
    “As I recall, Gilgamesh was looking for the secret of immortality.”
    “Even so.”
    For a moment, Kismet could only stare in mute disbelief at the other man. When he at last found his voice, he averted his eyes, gazing instead at the amber contents of his glass. “Gilgamesh never found it. What makes you think it’s there to be found?”
    “Actually, Gilgamesh did find it. In the legend, Uta-Napishtim, the only man to be given the gift of immortality, told Gilgamesh of a plant which could give him eternal life; a plant that grew at the bottom of the sea. Gilgamesh recovered the plant, only to lose it to a hungry serpent.”
    “I stand corrected.” For some reason, Kismet got the distinct impression that Leeds didn’t think of the Epic as a fairy tale. “So do you think such a plant really existed?”
    “Straight to the point, Mr. Kismet? What if it was that simple; eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, and live forever? Would you not do so in a heartbeat?”
    Kismet was already regretting having asked, regretted having even introduced himself to Leeds in the first place, but something about the man—maybe it was his self-confessed quest for immortality, or maybe just the fact that Leeds came off as an arrogant bastard who needed to be taken down a notch—compelled Kismet to stay. “Who wouldn’t? But if such a plant, a Tree of Life, existed, someone would have found it by now.”
    “And why do you believe no one has?”
    Kismet contemplated the prism for a moment. “So this...the Epic of Gilgamesh is factual?”
    Leeds smiled again, a humorless grin that lowered the temperature in the air-conditioned salon by several degrees. “Theologians cannot help but recognize the similarities between characters in the Epic, and those mentioned in the Bible. Gilgamesh is certainly Nimrod, the king who would be a god. Uta-Napishtim the immortal who survived the Great Flood, is Noah. Genesis also speaks of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; doubtless the same plant Gilgamesh sought. Its placement at the bottom of the ocean would be an allusion to Eden being lost to the Flood.”
    Kismet stroked his chin thoughtfully. He wasn’t a believer, but he knew enough about both theology and mythology to hold his own in the conversation. “Okay, I'll buy that. Of course, the Bible records Noah’s death,

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