Wayland stood as a man entered the room. Taking the cue, I stood also.
It was clear that Wayland was in awe of this man He showed great respect as he offered a chair, which the man cheerfully accepted. This must be someone very important indeed. The newcomer was a strange looking man, very old, with long flowing hair loosely tied back at the nape. he had an enormous forehead and a flattened moon-like face that reminded me just a little of someone with Down’s Syndrome. But his green eyes belied any possibility of intellectual handicap. They positively glittered with intelligence and good humour.
Fionntán mac Bóchra, I have the pleasure to introduce my great grandson, on the distaff human side – Alan Waterman. The old man smiled and held out a hand, which I shook. “Sir”, I said, “I am pleased to meet you, Fintan of the Ocean”. He looked surprised , then pleased. “Call me Sam” he said. “it is a name I picked up a few centuries back, more or less by mistake. I like it. “Sam”, I said, feeling, and no doubt looking, rather puzzled.
“Yes, I have frequently been mistaken for the legendary Salmon of Wisdom. So I told everyone to call me Sam N Ovnolic. A joke. It pleases me anyway”. He laughed, and looked at me intently.
“I am very fond of puns myself, though I seem to be the only one amongst my friends who appreciates them”. I said.
He laughed again. “The pun is the finest form of humour. We shall get on fine”, he said to Wayland.
Wayland told me that Sam was the one who could answer some of my cosmological questions, and would also explain to me some of the things I needed to know. After a moment’s hesitation, and a glance at the old man, who gravely nodded, he added “and there is one more service he might do for you – if you wish”.
Before I could ask, he hurried on. “Fionntán mac Bóchra is what might be medically described as a high-functioning hydrocephalic. He is a polymath, polyglot and all round genius yet has only 20% of the brain matter of a normal person. Most of his head is filled with water in his cerebral ventricles.
“Stop talkin’ of me as if I am not here”, said the old man. He turned to me. “Do ye know the cure for water on the brain lad?”
“A schoolboy chestnut.” I said, liking this old chap who could joke about his condition. ” A tap on the head”.
“Exactly”, said he, turning slightly and lifting his tangled pony tail to reveal a small silver valve protruding from his skull just above the nape of his neck.
Wayland interjected. “I have told you how we came here, and how time works differently for us and as a result we live longer than the so called allotted span of humankind. But there is more to it than that. We have an infection. A beneficial infection, one that affects our immune system, positively affects our rate of healing and alters the rate at which we age. The mages – our scientists – have identified the cause of this infection as a tiny self-replicating protein known as a prion. Something very similar to the one discovered a few years ago that causes so-called mad cows disease in your world. Except this is different. It is passed on from generation to generation, probably through mother’s milk. Very few of the folk do not have it naturally by the time they are weaned. If they do not, we have now found a way to inoculate them. Fionntán mac Bóchra (he seemed unable to refer to the old man as ‘Sam’) has a reservoir of the prion in his cerebrospinal fluid. On tap. A few drops in your eyes, and you will see the world as we do, and possibly gain some of the other benefits too.
I did not ask what other benefits. “In my eyes?”
“Yes the quickest path to the brain, though you could inhale into your sinuses if you prefer”. He looked concerned. I guessed that his plans depended to some extent on how I took this offer.
“No it is not that, I am not squeamish. I was just thinking of the old tales of people able to see the folk after one spat in their eyes”.
Wayland looked relieved and pleased. “I told you he was quick, this one.” he said to the old man. To me he replied “Spit works, like any body fluid, a bit haphazardly. There may or may not be a sufficient dose of prions. Cerebrospinal fluid is a dead certainty”.
“Prions. Who would have thought of that?”
The old man grinned. He reached down into his robe and extricated a tiny silver cup which he handed to Wayland, and bowed his head in readiness.