I got kind of burned out on this kind of story in the late 90s and early aughts. So, I was kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed the recap and discussion! Thoughts:
When this story was written, I’m sure that I would have thought of it as a kind of vampire story. There’s a penetration – less symbolic than the vampire’s bite – that corrupts the body and promises eternal life. Also, it may not have been intentional, but Dracula also had 3 sexy vampire ladies to whom he was abusive.
Speaking of eternal life, Daniel tells Bess that the Philosopher’s Stone would have made both of them immortal. He may have been lying, but that does imply that she would not have necessarily had to die to deliver the stone. I’m not sure what that means for the last line of the story – maybe as she got deeper into his confidence, he told her the truth.
At the end of the story Saskia is carrying the stone, which means that Bess could get her cancer treated without hurting the project. She’s choosing to die – maybe in competition with Saskia? I have no idea.
It’s in the text that Saskia has massive damage to her ovaries, but Daniel’s magic, cancer inducing sperm works without eggs. Hence his specific mention of the womb. While inducing cancer does not require eggs, I felt there was an echo on the traditional belief that the man is the seed and the woman is merely the ground in which the seed grows. That fits with Daniel's dismissive attitude to the women.
Finally, did Bess’ pebble really create gold, or did Daniel fake it? It would not be a difficult trick, especially since Bess was motivated to believe. While I accept that Daniel was a true believer, he would not be the first fanatic to fake evidence.