For George, success was never really a goal. He preferred to settle into an identity, and just soak in life’s ups and downs until it was time to move on. He’d been doing this long enough that even that transition wasn’t such a big deal, it was easy enough to groom several fresh identities as the future home of his menagerie, slowly transferring enough assets into each to make it possible to be self-sufficient. He always had at least one rarely seen hermit on hand, just in case his current face became uncomfortable to wear.
After doing this a dozen times, the habits were well set, but he was beginning to wonder if he ought to be doing something more, leaving a more visible mark on the world, or accomplishing something with his serial longevity. Finally, he created a foundation, carefully structured so that it was controlled by more than one of his faces, but in ways that left the mundane staff mystified but unwilling to dig too deep. He paid his staff well, and in exchange they gave him a way to achieve works that would span more than one lifetime.
But being apparently immortal doesn’t make one immune to stupid mistakes, and George was certainly no exception. He would occasionally turn up in person wearing different faces, but in the company of the same animal from the menagerie. He found it difficult to deal with the same mundane wearing distinct faces without “knowing” something that was told in confidence to another face.
And he was surprisingly vulnerable to being blindsided by love.
All his lives were devoted first to the care and protection of the menagerie, and the long-lived animals that were drawn to his company and took advantage of its safety. Most mundane staff saw the menagerie as a harmless affectation, something to use as an occasional human interest angle when the press were too interested in their work. Most would have been distinctly uncomfortable knowing that most of the larger cages locked from the inside, and that the place was really run by a committee of the big cats and larger birds, using one of George’s faces to interact with the staff.
But Leanne noticed. She noticed that in one face or another, George was always around. That the animals listened to him. That he listened to them. And that when he was there and everyone thought no one else was listening, they spoke in what was clearly a language. It took her a while to realize that it was a language, one that she had not heard spoken for a century or more, and that several of each of the species were fluent as was George.
She also noticed that in George’s company, animals that in the wilds would never be seen together as other than hunter and prey were prone to sitting down to chat, and even napping.
She noticed all this over the years, as she herself came to work at the foundation and menagerie wearing a series of faces. Something had drawn her to it, and after a time, she realized that George was the magnet. And that part of his charm and attraction was his complete obliviousness. The idea that there were other humans that, like her and apparently George, did not feel time’s burdens was exciting.
But was she going to have to corner George and reveal what she knew?
Only time would tell.